A small rock in the Atlantic

All about the island of La Palma, in the Canaries.

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Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Divine Biscuits from the Cistercian Convent

The Cistercian convent at Buenavista in Breña Alta, La PalmaThe Cistercian convent at Buenavista in Breña Alta, La Palma

The Cistercian convent of the Holy Trinity at Buenavista in Breña Alta is surprisingly new. It was founded in 1946, and it's the only closed order on the island. I was surprised to find out that there are only ten nuns who live there.

The convent has a small shop. I first went there about eleven years ago, in search of a rosary made of dragon-tree seeds, for a Catholic friend who was losing her eyesight. The seeds are big enough that you can feel your way through the prayers, and she was delighted. At the time, the shop was still in the older part of the building, and to my eyes, very exotic. The room was rather dark, and seemed darker because of the wooden paneling. The nun who came to serve me stayed behind a tiny barred window, as though she were in jail - until she saw that I had a toddler with me. Then she disappeared, and came round to my side for a good coochi-coo.
A Cistercian nun in the convent's shop, Breña Alta, La PalmaA nun in the convent shop

The new shop is much airier, as you can see. They still sell rosaries and religious medals, but they're best known for their biscuits, pastries and fruit liquors. Since they're handmade, they're a bit on the expensive side (these were €4.50), but they're delicious. My mother-in-law always used to say, "God knows what they put in them, but they taste divine."

Biscuits from the convent at Buenavista in Breña Alta, La PalmaBiscuits from the convent at Buenavista in Breña Alta, La Palma

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Friday, 6 November 2009

San Andres

The Square, San Andres, La PalmaThe Square, San Andres, La Palma

San Andres is a very pretty little village in the northeast of La Palma. From Santa Cruz, you take the main road north until you're almost at Los Sauces, and then take the little road down towards the coast (yes, it's signposted).

The church was built in the early 17th century, when La Palma was rich from transatlantic trade. It's supposed to be beautiful inside, with two particularly good Flemish statues. Unfortunately every time I've been there, it's been shut. But there are lots of lovely old houses (it was the first part of the region to be settled after the conquest) and the square is particularly delightful.

Even better, there are two restaurants and a bar, all nearby. So you can admire the view while you eat. The restaurant on the lower level serves very nice fresh fish. I haven't tried the one higher up (with the red parasols) but a friend tells me they do very good tapas.

Old lime kiln, San Andres, La PalmaOld lime kiln, San Andres, La Palma

There's a footpath running north along the coast from the village to Charco Azul and Puerto Espíndola. One of the first thing you see is this limn kiln, which is being restored. At one time, everybody painted the insides of their water tanks with lime to kill off the bugs, and most people painted the outside of their houses with lime, too.

The path is paved, and smooth enough for a wheelchair or pushchair, but the climb back up into San Andres is steep, and I think it would be rather hard work.

Last time I went along the path, we found this baby gecko (Tarentola delalandii). Since the adults are about 6" (15 cm) long, it must have hatched very recently. Good luck to it - they're on the red list of threatened species.

Baby gecko, Charco Azul, La PalmaBaby gecko, Charco Azul, La Palma

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Tuesday, 22 September 2009


Gofio made with chicken stock
Gofio made with chicken stock, and chicken stew.

Gofio is sort-of cooked flour (you toast the grains before you grind them) and it's been a staple of the Canarian diet since pre-hispanic times.

In principle, you can use just about any grain, although the commonest ones are wheat and maize. In times of famine, there's even a fern root you can use, although I believe it's very bitter, and not something you would chose to eat if there was anything else available. We like the whole-grain multi-cereal one best.

Gofio tastes better than it sounds -- OK, so that's not difficult -- and it's very versatile. You can mix it to a stiff dough with stock and serve it in place of mashed potatoes (like the top photo) or with warm milk instead of breakfast cereal (like the bottom photo). In fact most Canarian babies have gofio and milk just before bed, rather than baby-rice and milk. You can mix it with mashed bananas, a little sugar, and orange juice or milk for dessert, or put it round your pork scratchings to make chicharones,which are very nice to nibble with a beer. And if you're hiking past a spring, it also makes a light-weight lunch. Just add a tin of sardines and some finely chopped onion.

But don't confuse it with flour and try to bake a cake with it. Trust me, you'll get something closer to a cannonball than Victoria sponge.

Gofio and warm milk, for breakfast

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Monday, 17 August 2009

Balcon Taburiente Restaurant

The patio of El Balcon restaurant, Los Llanos, La Palma, Canary Islands
The patio at Balcon Taburiente restaurant

There are several restaurants in La Palma with amazing views. If you fancy an amazing view with your dinner, there are several restaurants on La Palma which can oblige. For example, there's Balcon Taburiente restaurant on the edge of Los Llanos, clinging to the edge of the Angustias ravine.

I haven't had more than a coffee there myself, but I've heard good things of the food. Certainly, they're very friendly, even if you turn up with a large dog. As a guide, the most expensive thing on the menu is garlic or onion steak for €13.80, and one of the cheapest main courses is a pork chop for €6.80.

From the centre of Los Llanos, take the road to the Caldera, signposted in brown. When you reach the edge of the cliff, turn left (turning right leads into the Caldera) and you'll find it on your right after maybe 100 yards. There's a not-very-obvious car park opposite.

They open from 11 am to 11 pm, except on Sundays, when they shut an hour earlier, and Tuesdays when they're shut all day.

The view from El Balcon restaurant, Los Llanos, La Palma, Canary Islands
The balcony at the Balcon Taburiente restaurant

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Sunday, 31 May 2009

Wrinkly potatoes

Canarian wrinkly potatoes

Saturday was Canary Day. Like the national day in most places, it's an excuse for lots of patriotism.

I'm busy with a long, complicated translation which my customer wants by yesterday, so I managed to miss most of the celebrations.

So here's a picture of some traditional Canarian food - wrinkly potatoes. As you can see, they're small potatoes, cooked in their skins. Actually they're boiled in very salty water - you can use sea water - for at least 20 minutes, then allowed to dry with the remaining heat. They come out very tasty. Some people peel them before eating, some don't.

They're usually eaten with a sauce called mojo, which will probably be the subject of my next post.

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Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Canary Style Green Beans

When I annouce that we're having green beans for dinner, our 11-year-old usually says, "Thank you, Mummy!"

I don't think I'd get that reaction with plain boiled beans. Of course, it helps of the beans are really fresh. These came from Puntagorda farmers' market.

Serves four polite people or three hungry ones as a main course.

About 700 g of green beans
150g bacon (in narrow strips)
2-3 cloves garlic
1 red pepper
1 small-medium leek or onion.
1 stock cube (vegetable, ham or chicken)
Olive oil to fry.
A large frying pan or wok.


Chop the garlic finely. Chop the leek or onion and red pepper fairly coarsely. Fry garlic, leek, pepper and the bacon over a low heat while you top and tail the beans. Add the beans, stir and put on the lid.

Ignore for about 20 minutes (apart from occasional stirring) while you have a glass of wine and chat to your other half.

Serve with bread and butter.

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Friday, 11 April 2008

Fish on La Palma is usually delicious because its very fresh. Well it should be, given the amount of ocean surrounding the island.

I once went with friends to a shack on the beach at Punta Larga (since closed) where we had to wait, because the cook was having her own lunch. As we sipped our beer, a man came up out of the sea with two fish on a hook and disappeared into the kitchen. We had the same fish for lunch.

The Canaries are well off the continental shelf, so most of the fish you get here are from deep water. You can get cod (bacalao), hake (merluza) and sometimes salmon (salmon, but pronounce the "l"), but they've come a long way. If there's no translation for the varieties of fish on the menu, they're probably local, not available in England, and fresh.

The catch is that they gut the fish, but they don't cut the heads off, and the eyes do rather stare at you accusingly. If you don't want an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with lunch, it's best to order a slice of a large fish. Medregal is a white fish. Rabil and bonito are oily fish. In fact bonito is a close relative of tuna.

If you've never had a tuna steak before, the taste is pretty much what you'd expect, but the texture and appearance is very much like a pork chop. In fact the first time I had one, I wanted to tell the waiter that he'd made a mistake. I'm glad my friend stopped me before I caught the waiter's eye.

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