I recently turned thirty and what better way to celebrate than to travel somewhere mellow and relaxing with your besties. Nick, Sal, Tabitha and I headed for Southern Spain where we rented a villa up in the mountains near El Gastor. It even had a view of this beautiful lake.
As soon as we arrived we went food shopping crazy at the huge Carrefour store near Malaga airport. I always like to head to Carrefour at the beginning of a self catering holiday because they have all of the essentials as well as a good natural / eco section full of tofu, seitan and soy yoghurts.
We cooked an awesome first night meal of seitan steaks and paprika and garlic chips accompanied by a simple green salad.
The next morning Nick whipped up one of his epic tofu scrambles and Sal and I re-purposed the leftover chips into home fries and fried some mushrooms whilst Tabitha made toast - by far the hardest job because there was no toaster and the grill was super erratic!
Later that day we went on a trip to Seville where we made a beeline for Veganitessen. I'd read about them online and I am always excited to try a new vegan bakery. I'm in awe of their boxes, I wish I could afford boxes this pretty for Operation Icing!
We bought almost everything. My favourite thing was the Chocolate Coconut cake you can see peeking out at the front underneath the vanilla glazed palmerita.
There are also chocolate covered croissants in there somewhere but more about that after lunch!
After a little more shopping at the Centro Ecológico Gaia health food store we went for lunch at their restaurant, Restaurante Ecológico Gaia, which is just a few doors down. We started the meal with some of the tastiest beer I've ever had. I'm not a huge beer person but it's certainly growing on me!
Before our meal they brought us delicious bread and a plate of some of the most amazing oily potatoes and tomatoes I've ever eaten. I took the worst picture of these so you'll have to pop over to Sal's blog, Alien on Toast, to see her pictures.
Not realising how huge it was going to be I ordered the gazpacho...
...and the hummus plate.
I did a frankly terrible job at finishing both of these perfectly simple and delicious plates of food because that soup was really huge and I'm the slooowest soup eater in the whole world! I don't know what my soup issue is, I can take down a burger in a matter of minutes but soup defeats me. What the hell stomach?! Thankfully my fellow diners helped me scoff the leftovers. My favourites were the regular and beetroot hummuses (hummai?!) and Tabitha was a bit in love with the moroccan dip.
After lunch we walked around the city.
And stopped off by the river to eat some dessert. I decided to go for something small and this chocolate covered croissant was perfect. We wished we'd bought more of these but we were buying a lot of stuff and it would have been rude to the people behind us in line to clear them out entirely!
My actual birthday couldn't have been more perfect. I woke up to everything the five year old living inside me dreams of, there were banners, balloons, and a whole lot of pink and Hello Kitty! What's even funnier about this is that my friends didn't decide on a theme, they all just brought a few things each and this happened. They know me so well!
After a present opening frenzy Sal and Tabitha made Oreo Pancakes with Cherry Syrup for breakfast. There were no recipes they were just winging it because they're awesome like that and obviously they were delicious.
We spent most of the morning and afternoon lounging by the pool, listening to music, and swimming. It was the best day. After lunch Nick surprised me with this cake he'd baked the night before. Okay, so it wasn't really a surprise. It was a small villa and he kept calling people into the kitchen to help him with his "special project", so, not subtle, but still awesome! Nick's never baked before so to whip up a cake this delicious in a kitchen with no measuring equipment and only one glass oven dish is crazy impressive.
The cake was lemon and it had an apricot glaze on top. Perfect. I love lemon cakes and I hardly ever make them myself.
We ate the cake poolside with some pink champagne sipped out of paper Hello Kitty cups. Classy!
Spain has a whole lot of vegan friendly snacks, my friend Carmen introduced me to these Tortas de Aceite in Barcelona last spring and I saw them all over Andalucia. I didn't see a single non-vegan packaged version of these sweet, flaky, anaise flavoured treats but obviously check the labels.
Palmeritas are another delicious sugary sweet Spanish pastry, I saw vegan versions in every supermarket I went to.
I was also pretty excited when we spotted these ice creams in Spanish supermarket chain SuperSol. They were just like a miniature vegan Magnum.
We hadn't planned on eating out much on this trip but we'd heard that there was a restaurant with a beautiful view in nearby village Zahara de la Sierra that apparently had some vegetarian dishes hidden away in their meat heavy menu. We figured we could just drink the cocktails and look at the the view if there was nothing we could eat so we decided to check it out.
The chef at Al Lago turned out to be from the US and both him and his wife know their stuff when it came to veganism. It's always reassuring when someone hears vegan and says "so vegetarian but no eggs or dairy?" Yes, pretty much! That's a way better jumping off point than the blank stare you're sometime met with as a travelling vegan.
We ordered the Paella which you can see was full of plenty of veggies and topped with delicious sweet roasted peppers. I normally hate peppers but these were super delicious and we polished off the paella in no time.
Tabitha ordered some grilled asparagus which looked perfect. Their was also a vegan gazpacho on the menu and I'm pretty sure there was one more veganisable thing but I can't remember what it was.
We were also excited to find that there were vegan sorbets on offer. There were four fruity flavours but the lemon contained egg so we picked between the mango, green apple and berry. I went for green apple because it's not a flavour you see often and OMG it was delicious, I wished I'd gone for the triple scoop.
After dinner we took a walk through Zahara de la Sierra's winding streets, it's a really beautiful place with it's whitewashed homes and wonderful views.
On our final day we had to check out of the villa early and our flight wasn't until the evening so we had the whole afternoon to explore Malaga. Obviously we headed straight for the first entirely vegan restaurant of the trip, El Piano. There's an El Piano location in York and I hadn't realised that they're actually a small family run chain with two Spanish locations as well.
This cute little take out spot has a few tables outside and there was so much delicious vegan food to choose from that we all had a tough time making a decicion.
You get to pick four items to pop into your large food boat and in the end I chose the mushroom and spinach stuffed crepe, a fruity cous cous salad, falafel and potatoes with oregano. I topped it off with a super garlicky sauce. Other options included chilli, dhal, paella, hummus, salads and mini shish kebabs.
My favourite part of the boat was the stuffed crepe, the mushrooms and spinach were cooked in a beautifully creamy sauce. I'm thinking that I need to re-create them at home soon.
Obviously we had desserts, Nick and Tabitha chose chocolate brownies...
...and Sal and I went for chocolate raspberry and chocolate orange tarts.
I enjoyed the chocolate raspberry, the raspberry topping was a little like jelly which I thought was a good thing but Sal disagreed! She much preferred the orange custard tart with the chocolatey base which I would have also happily eaten more of. The less said about the brownies the better, I think Nick put it best when he said "you can tell this place is sin gluten"! Now this isn't entirely fair as I've had some great gluten free brownies but these were a bit of a miss.
Overall El Piano was a definite hit, it's in a great part of the city, the people working there were downright lovely and aside from the dry brownies the food was delicious.
We had the best trip, I love Spain and I feel super lucky to have been able to spend my birthday with such rad people. So far being thirty is awesome!
Nick and I with Zahara de la Sierra in the background.