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Nancy’s Trips – La Rioja Wine Region (Spain)

In Nancy's Articles On August 9, 2014 0 Comments

On April 11, 2014, my husband I drove from Victoria-Gasteiz (located in the Basque region of Spain) and set out for the autonomous community of La Rioja.  Driving into the Rioja valley is fairly straightforward and the scenery is spectacular.

ImgeLaguLookoutOur first stop was at the medieval city of Laguardia, located in the province of Alava. This 13th-century city is a perfect gateway to La Rioja. Perched up high and on rock foundations, the city remains intact. It is surrounded by walls, ramparts and has four entrance gates.


In the Middle Ages, Laguardia had 2,500 inhabitants. Although the town has not changed much, its population presently consists of 1,500 people. I certainly did not expect to find a well-conserved city such as Laguardia. We drove through one of its gates, Portada de los abuelos. Since vehicles are not allowed to drive through town, we parked here and began our walking tour.

We immediately noticed thirteenth-century reliefs outside the church, Iglesia de San Juan. Since I am so enamored of history, art and culture, you can imagine my amazement!

ImgeLaguChrchReliefMy husband and I immediately felt transported to centuries past. As we walked through the main plaza of Laguardia,  I quickly obtained the town’s historical information.

ImgeLaguPlazaAlthough it is small, Laguardia’s streets are lined with bakeries, a few restaurants and bodegas or wineries.


We visited Bodega El Fabulista – this is one of Laguardia’s most famous wineries.


Here, we were escorted to underground tunnels that were once used for food storage during times of war in the Middle Ages. When wine production took off in the region, these underground tunnels were found to be ideal for the fermentation of grapes.


I was astounded to discover (through our guide) that some of the floors inside Laguardia’s homes date back to the 15th and 16th-centuries.


As we treaded along ancient pavements,  we noticed two tables holding some awesome sculptures. They were entitled, Esculturas de el viajero or The Traveler’s Sculptures. Aren’t they cool?

ImageEsculViajOur next stop left me flabbergasted – it was the wine bodega called Marques de Riscal , dubbed “The City of Wine”, located in the town of Elciego. From a distance, I immediately spotted the oeuvre of Frank O. Gehry (he also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles). As I stood there with my mouth agape, I had no words to describe this architectural masterpiece.


The building designed by Gehry is a hotel and not the winery itself. To me, the Hotel Marques de Riscal is a living, breathing marvel. The colors of the aluminum panels are symbolic of the wine produced here. Deep purple reminds us of red wine, while the gold panels stands for white wine. Finally, the silver panels represent the seal placed over the cork and bottle top. I think this is such an ingenious idea!

Image.MarquezRisHotelThe hotel boasts about 43 rooms, including 9 executive suites. While rates are high, it is quite a treat to spend some quality time here. At sunset, while standing on their balconies with a glass of wine in hand, hotel guests can enjoy unsurpassed views of the vines, the town of Elciego and the Sierra de Cantabria – the local mountain range. There are two restaurants featuring the haute cuisine of La Rioja. The Restaurante Gastronomico Marques de Riscal features a list of 300 international wines.

This brings us to the winery. One of the oldest wineries in the Rioja region, Marques de Riscal was founded in 1858 by Guillermo Hurtado de Amezaga.  Today, this bodega exports 60% of its wines to nearly 100 countries.

Image.MarquzTourVinesYou’ll learn all the details of wine production through amazing tour guides.  The interiors of the winery are astounding, not only because of the enormity of the production but also because they sparkle!

MrqzBarrelVaultOne of my favorite parts of this wine tour was, of course, stepping into the wine shop and restaurant. Beginning with the personnel, there’s much that impressed me. Undoubtedly, Spaniards are extremely courteous to their visitors. At Marques de Riscal’s shop, I felt at home. The service I received here was beyond all of my expectations.


ImgeMarqzBodegaThe wine selections are fantastic and the gastronomy items are delightful.

ImgeMarqzWineOrngHave you ever heard of wine salt?

ImgeMarqzWineSaltThe wine shop restaurant looked so inviting. I didn’t get to enjoy any tapas (Spanish appetizers) here because our visit took place early in the morning. However, we’ll make some together in my upcoming culinary course.

ImgeMarqzRest I  suppose we’ll  have to return to Marques de Riscal soon. It was fabulous!


I highly recommend a trip to the medieval town of Laguardia and the winery, Marques de Riscal, both located in La Rioja region

Also, be sure not to miss the Haro Wine Festival in the town of Haro, in La Rioja region. The celebration takes place on June 29, the feast day of the town’s patron saint, San Pedro. Dressed in white and adorned with red scarves,  everyone  follows a procession through town. After a mass, the wild ritual begins – everyone tosses wine on each other until they are completely drenched and turn PURPLE!


All Text & Photographs © 2014 Nancy DeLucia Real, with the exception of photographs re: Bodega El Fabulista and Haro Wine Festival above.











Trips & Tips: The Bilbao Adventure (Guggenheim Museum & Batzokia Restaurant)

In Nancy's Articles On June 17, 2014 0 Comments

My recent trip to Spain (from April to May, 2014) lasted one glorious month. Traveling from north to south, every day in Spain proved to be adventurous and educational.

On April 7th, my husband and I began our adventure in the Basque country (Northern Spain). We rented an apartment in San Sebastian and went on day trips from there.

As an art historian, I couldn’t wait to get to the city of Bilbao, home to the Guggenheim Museum which opened in 1997. Architect Frank Gehry designed the structure which is made of titanium, glass and limestone. It was hailed the most important building of its time. Although it was a gray day when we arrived, the museum’s curvilinear exterior was dynamic, as though it were a living, breathing organism.

As we walked around, we were pleasantly surprised by Jeff Koons’ colorful Tulips in Bilbao sculpture. Tulips was created by the artist and permanently installed at the Guggenheim Bilbao in July 2006. Isn’t it delightful? Koons is well-known for his balloon animals, made of stainless steel, with a mirror-like finish. He also designed the cover for Lady Gaga’s third album, ARTPOP, released in 2013.


Architecture is a work of art (the art of making buildings). As such, it is best viewed from different perspectives. Walking further around the museum, we discovered a sculpture, Maman, created by Louise Bourgeois in 1999. This monumental spider is made of bronze, marble and stainless steel. The artist made this as a tribute to her mother, a weaver. While spiders are predators, they weave cocoons and can thus be seen as maternal symbols.

When standing directly below Maman, you can look up and see the spider’s belly, consisting of a black net containing eggs. I think it’s so cool to look up and see those large white eggs!


The exhibitions and objects from the permanent collection of the Guggenheim Museum are organized by the Guggenheim Foundation and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

Once you enter the museum, you should first view Richard Serra’s The Matter of Time (see image below). Here’s a tip: take the elevator up to the next floor and get a birds’ eye view of this mind-boggling installation. It is composed of rolled sheets of steel which are curved along the horizontal and vertical axes, as though made of tin. The solid sheets are 2 inches thick, up to 50 feet long and 14 feet high. Due to their excessive weight, the only rolling mill in the world that could handle them was the mill at Siegen, Germany.

Notice the spaces between those sheets. As you walk through the spaces, you are at once inside the art object as well as a part of it. You can talk or shout – listen to your echo.


As I walked inside these immense steel walls, I found myself disconnecting from the world around me, losing sense of  reality or time. It was so awesome! The photo below was taken as I stood between Serra’s steel units.


As soon as I walked into the galleries and saw this painting, I said, “Mmmm, the bodies are missing. I wonder who made this?” The artist is José Manuel Bellester, from Madrid. His masterpiece is called Raft of the Medusa, a photographic print on canvas, 2010.  

Bellester looks at the works of past masters. He then removes the characters but keeps the background. These magnificent pieces are a result of combining digital photography and painting. While contemplating  this object, you could almost imagine yourself stepping onto the raft.


Here’s the image that inspired Bellester –  Raft of the Medusa, an oil painting by Théodore Géricault, made 1818-1819, The Louvre.


Next up, we saw The Body That Carries Me, by Ernesto Nieto, a native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The works of this artist are designed to be walked through, inhabited, smelled and felt. By going through the art object, the viewer (in this case, the participant) experiences his or her own body, mind and senses. Nieto debates the plight of humanity –  the temperature, movement and language of things we come into contact with are the essence of our existence.


I observed school groups interacting with The Body That Carries Me. I heard students shouting with glee as they sank into soft materials, holding onto the seemingly fragile netting. Were these children experiencing the insides of their own bodies? Was it warm or cold? Did they feel free or trapped? Just as the students try grabbing onto whatever they can to stabilize themselves and run forward, I feel that this is what we do every day of our lives.

Like children, we were overtaken by hunger pangs and desperately needed to eat. We found Batzokia, a restaurant located at Tenderia, 17 Bajo. From the moment we walked in and were seated, it felt as though our hosts had been waiting for us (this was an impromptu discovery, btw). We chose the menu de el dia (menu of the day). It cost 20 euros per person, including wine.


I ordered white and my husband ordered red wine. The wine was excellent, dry with a smooth finish – this is how I like it. I was shocked to learn that both bottles would be left on the table throughout our meal – thank God we traveled by bus that day!


For the appetizer, I ordered a potato salad. If this isn’t art on a plate, I don’t know what is! All ingredients in the foods prepared at Batzokia are locally grown, in the Basque region of Northern Spain. The potatoes tasted earthy; the shrimp was wild and sweet (unlike the bland flavors of farm-raised shrimp).


Victor (my husband) ordered seafood chowder – the flavors were subtle, fresh and robust.


The main dish consisted of filet of codfish. It had that melt-in-your-mouth freshness. Practically jumping out of the ocean and onto our plates, the baccala was not “fresh frozen” as in most restaurants.


Finally – the part I die for – DESSERT! It consisted of puff pastry with homemade chocolate gelato and Chantilly cream. How’s that for a grand finale?


The ambiance at Batzokia is casual, cool and trendy. The servers are extremely professional with their attention to detail and their warm personalities. Based on your preferences, you hear their true opinions on what dish might be best for you.


 I enjoyed Bilbao so much that I would hop on a plane and fly back there just for the day!

For info on Guggenheim Bilbao, go to:
For info on Batzokia Restaurant, go to:

Text and Photographs ©2014 Nancy DeLucia Real
Exception: Photograph of Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault is in the public domain of the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.


Jaguar Forest® 100% Organic Coffee

In Nancy's Articles On February 22, 2014 0 Comments

In the past few years, I’ve been looking all over Los Angeles for a delicious cup of coffee with character and a smooth finish. Btw, I’m a coffee addict, so my brew has to be satisfactory no matter what mood I’m in or what time of day it is.

As far as getting a great cup of java at a moment’s notice in L.A. or in other cities, you can’t just “step out” of your car and find a rich-tasting brew at big-name coffee bars or shops. If you’re lucky enough to find excellent coffee brewed with single-origin Arabica Beans (this is one premium coffee bean, as opposed to a blend), you’re dishing out almost $5.00 per cup.

Recently, I found high-quality coffee that is rich and smooth: Jaguar Forest® 100% Organic Coffee (hereinafter referred to as “Jaguar Forest®)”), made from single-origin Arabica beans. These organic beans are from one source and are grown in the shaded forests of Chiapas, Mexico – the natural habitat of the jaguar.

Stumbling around my own habitat every morning, I always need a cup of Dark Roast coffee  – it tastes bold and has a smooth finish. Now, do you coffee nuts out there realize what this means? It means that it tastes deliciously nutty. And the finish lingers with NO BITTER AFTERTASTE!


The Medium Roast coffee by Jaguar Forest® is perfect during the day. Its flavor is rich and smooth, with chocolate notes and a hint of caramel (with half n’ half cream, it’s almost orgasmic, but not quite!). A cup of this coffee is great with dessert, but definitely stands on its own.


When I pour myself a cup of decaf, I can even drink it at night and not feel the “jitters”. This coffee is as smooth and flavorful as the Dark or Medium Roast varietals!


I also discovered that Jaguar Forest® is a proponent of international Fair Trade regulations which help create better trade and living conditions for people. In this vein, Jaguar Forest® works with cooperatives consisting of coffee-producing families. People work together and receive fair compensation for their family members, including better healthcare and educational resources.

All of the above facts and the great taste of Jaguar Forest® 100% Organic Coffee were the reasons why I chose this product for the 2014 launching of The Kitchen Buzzz Shop!

Wanna buy a bag or two of this great coffee at a fantastic price?
Go here: The Kitchen Buzzz Shop

Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery – Home of “The Godmother”

In Fun Foods, Nancy's Articles On January 18, 2014 0 Comments

What’s all the hubbub about at Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery (hereinafter referred to as “Bay Cities”)? For most people, it’s about the pre-made, fresh salads, pastas, eggplant parmigiana, meatballs, deli meats and desserts. However, among all those selections, there’s one item that is the VIP of all foods here! Standing on its own, Bay Cities even pays tribute to it.

It is the “Godmother” sandwich!

Eating this sandwich is almost surreal – at first, you bite through a golden crust of soft, freshly-baked bread (it’s made every morning on the premises). Then, you sink your teeth into ham, domestic provolone, mozzarella cheese, salami, peppers, lettuce, tomato, mustard, mayonnaise and more. The experience of tasting all these flavors simultaneously is HEAVENLY!

The wonderful personnel at Bay Cities knows that you can’t wait ’til you go home to enjoy the sandwich. So as soon as you dash out the door, you’ll find tables and benches where you can instantly devour the “Godmother” in peace. No distractions, please!


Bay Cities is one of the food sanctuaries I run to for “hard-to-find” ingredients. You name it and Bay Cities has it. Let’s start with the artisanal pasta varieties that I love so much! Are you looking for chiocciole or ziti? Look at how deliziosi they look – hard to choose, isn’t it?


If you want to treat your dinner guests to something unique and colorful, then I suggest the Italian Harvest® Organic Orecchiette. Orecchiette is an Italian word for “little ears.” Orecchiette are from the southern Italian regions of Puglia and Basilicata.


You still need a sauce. You can start by purchasing tomatoes in glass jars. Go ahead and select your favorite brand.


You will probably need premium quality olive oil to start making that sauce.


One of the brands I prefer is none other than our local Ojai Olive Oil Company® 100% Organic olive oil. If I run out of this pure olive oil, I can quickly pick up a bottle or two at Bay Cities in Santa Monica, instead of driving 125 miles into the Topatopa mountains.

Bay Cities also carries my favorite flour for making pizza.
If you’re not sure about what cheese you need, Lawrence is the cheese meister and is sure to guide you in the right direction.

How about dessert? Since it’s a few weeks after Christmas and New Year, Bay Cities still carries Italian traditional panettone used during the holidays.


Tre Marie Panettone® is my favorite brand. This panettone is moist and rich with luscious ingredients. Notice all the fruit Tre Marie® Panettone contains. I’m sure you’ll want to rush back into Bay Cities to buy a panettone for dessert. You can order a coffee or cappuccino and enjoy it outside before heading back home.


Oh – I forgot something! I’ve gotta go back inside to get that beautiful dish I was looking at and, of course, Bay Cities’ delicious, homemade bread. Buon Appetito!

Text & Photographs ©2014 Nancy DeLucia Real
[except for Antimo Caputo The Chef’s Flour photograph]

Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery
1517 Lincoln Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA. 90401

My Bittersweet Canning Education in Italy

In Nancy's Articles On September 13, 2013 6 Comments

As my summer canning classes wind down, I’m transported to my upbringing in Italy. As I reminisce on how I came to master these wonderful canning techniques, I simultaneously feel joy and pain.

Between the ages of 9 and 13, I lived in the province of Avellino which is in the Campania region of Southern Italy. My family and I were living in my paternal grandparents’ home. At birth, my father decided to name me after his mamma, Annunziata Falco DeLucia.

Yes, I am Annunziata DeLucia, aka Nancy DeLucia Real (“Real” is my married name). Annunziata means “Announced” or “Annunciation” – my name commemorates the Annunciation of Mary. Here’s my favorite depiction of the Annunciation by Fra Angelico. In this scene, the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive by the Holy Spirit and become the mother of Jesus. In almost every depiction of the Annunciation, Mary always looks either scared or annoyed with the enormous task she’s been given.


That’s exactly how I felt in the summer of 1970 – annoyed at what a terrible summer I was about to have. During the school year I had really looked forward to hanging out with my friends in our paese or village.


However, after giving me just a few days of summer freedom, my Nonna escorted me to greet the workers of her 100+ hectares of land. They laid out truckloads of peaches and plums all over the courtyard. I was told that we had to convert all those kilos of fruit to preserves.

My maestra or master was Nonna Nunzia (that’s her nickname and mine, of course). She told me we had to fill a few hundred jars with our homemade delicacies. Dio mio (this means, “Oh my God!”)! Would I ever be free to see my amici or friends in the village piazza?

I was so good all year, reciting all that text about Alexander the Great, Emperor Hadrian and the majesty of the Roman Empire by memory, each day in front of a whole class. Why couldn’t I join in the fun and go with my friends to Paestum – a beautiful beach at the Tyrrhenian Sea?


My friends and their families were all headed there, except for me. I could just imagine everyone going to visit the 6th-century B.C. Greco-Roman temples dedicated to Poseidon, Hera and Athena, also located at Paestum.


But not me. My reward for being the best student of the year was to get stuck in a canning project with Nonna. She’d make sure I was smorta or dead tired for the next month. And then, with the excuse that “it’s too dark for you to go out,” I knew I was in a jail kitchen!

Early in July, we worked on fruit. My daylight hours were spent washing, cutting and pitting plums and peaches. We cooked the fruit, canned and labeled it. For the next year, our family members would be spoiled with delicious homemade jams and preserves.

In August, Nonna’s farmers brought us the tomato bushels. I could see all the pomodori or tomatoes, but no hints of freedom, cinema or ragazzi – these are sexually-charged Italian boys with Dante-like poetic skills. With their cool looks and smooth, romantic tactics, all of our defenses went through a rapid meltdown!


Back to the tomatoes for now. They were grown from natural seed (hailing from the previous years’ crops) – and they were not “GMO’s”. I boiled the tomatoes for a few minutes and thought this was the last step in our canning project. In reality, sorting through those tomatoes would take days.

Eventually, our truly “vine-ripened” tomatoes were transformed into food ingredients for winter cooking. Our finished masterpiece took the form of whole peeled tomatoes and tomato puree – all canned and ready for the pantry shelves.

The orto or vegetable garden produced a bounty of eggplant, zucchini, onions, garlic and bell peppers. These ingredients went into our stufato di verdure or ratatouille for canning.


I finished all my work by mid-September. And then, my freedom finally arrived – school! The class benches we sat on seemed to be remnants from the Middle Ages – not deeper than 8 inches. This was not great for us annoying and complaining adolescents! As for me, the discomfort was heavenly compared to all that summer work in the courtyard!

Although it has been a “no pain, no gain” education for me, here I am, Maestra Nunzia, happily sharing my passion for canning techniques, international gastronomy and art history with all my sous-chefs!

Nonna Annunziata, if you can hear me, mille grazie per tutto cio che mi abbia insegnato! This translates to, “A thousand thanks for all that you taught me.”


Text and Two Photographs (canned preserves & Nancy in kitchen with
sous-chefs) ©2013 Nancy DeLucia Real