LIA Restaurant in Valéncia

When we landed in Valéncia July 8, 2020, I’d noticed this restaurant near the Mercat Centrál – and we finally tried it for the first time May 8, we were so pleased! An interesting menu and delicious food and service. We returned again with Andrea & Phil on May 28, and they were equally impressed. LIA Restaurante Valéncia

Valéncia 2020-2021

Background Note:

November 11, 2019: We were flying back from an eight-week stay in Spain to our home since September 2014 in Cuenca, Ecuador. This was our third visit to Spain, and as we departed from San Sebastian/Donostia, I said, “let’s more to Spain!” Ken agreed, and we decided that our next adventure would be… relocating to Spain! We wanted to live in Europe. We’d done dozens of Home Exchanges since 2009, and the last one, in San Sebastian/Donostia, just sealed the deal. Cuenca is a great city, and we made many close friends, but Spain just ticked off all of the boxes. Great infrastructure – roads, rail, air, biking lanes in cities and bike-share programs, pedestrian safety; good health care, interesting culture, and we were thinking, Valencia weather.

We returned to Cuenca and engaged the trustworthy and very able facilitator Monica Gonzaga who shepherded us through the visa application process. We submitted our paperwork successfully on February 5, at the Spanish Consulate in Guayaquil.

Then we took off for a two week wine and hiking tour in Argentina with Esteban Coobija Arévalo, our esteemed guide and great friend, who is based in Cuenca and with whom Ken had enjoyed many, many great hikes in the Cajas. We joined a bunch of other expats and had a blast! If you would like to see the itinerary for our wonderful tour that included great hotels, dinners, wine tastings, hikes, biking, and visits to museums and Cathedrals, just contact me for the link.

May be an image of 10 people, including Esteban Coobija Arévalo, John Keeble, Jolene Wilson-Glah and Bob Itami and people smiling

No photo description available.
We had many opportunities to enjoy the wines in Salta, Cafayate, Cachi, and Mendoza.

On Wednesday March 11, we flew from Buenos Aires back to Guayaquil, and on Thursday March 12, as planned we visited the Spanish Consulate to have our new Spanish residency visas inserted into our passports. All went smoothly but by that time, covid-19 had been pronounced a pandemic. I just was reviewing our Facebook posts from that date and see that someone in the USA asked “how is Ecuador handling the covid-19 outbreak.” And Ken had answered that just the schools were closed, but otherwise no changes.

May be an image of 3 people, including Ken March and Monica Gonzaga
Exito! Spanish Consulate, Visas in our Passports – with Monica Gonzaga

With our new visas in hand, we had planned to visit Valencia for two months, April 1-June 1, but on Monday, March 16, 2020, our world as we knew it, changed. For everyone. Our airline flight to Valencia was canceled.

But, luckily for us, we were rescheduled for July 7, 2020.

And in the nick of time! For we only had until July 12 to register our visas in Spain! And to do that they require at least a six-month lease. And health insurance, of course. A year-long policy. So. The decision was made. We were moving to Valencia. We hustled and sold most of our stuff, stored some stuff, and packed our suitcases.

July 6, 2020. Thank you Orlando Sigüenza for a comfortable and safe drive with our eight suitcases and two backpacks from Cuenca to Quito, with our overnight in the airport Wyndham Hotel.

May be an image of 2 people, including Ken March
At the Wyndham Quito Airport the night before our flight to Valencia via Madrid July 7 2020

We landed in Valencia on July 8, 2020, and on July 9 we found our new apartment and moved in on July 15… thank you, Carmen Freund! Our apartment is a spacious two-bedroom/two-bath on Plaza de la Reina, with a great terrace. Our building is about fifty years old, and we’re on the top floor.
However, as comfortable as we’ve been, since April we have lived in a construction zone. Now almost a year later, we’re moving to El Cabañyal.

It was pretty hot landing in July in Valencia
Plaza de la Reina – the newly renovated plaza – half the plaza taken over by the entrance and exit for the parking garage
The original Plaza in 1953 with a fountain – pre-underground parking

From written by Miodrag Pepic
Reconstruction Of The Plaza De La Reina: A Facelift For The Queen Of Valencia

The long-awaited reconstruction of the Plaza de la Reina starts today, Monday 26 April, just three days after the works around the Mercado Central area began, opening the Ayuntamiento to sniping about timing since it will render the central area and Ciutat Vella effectively a building site…

After a wait of around two years for the start of these two renovation projects in Valencia’s centre, the Plaza de la Reina and the Mercado Central area, they are both starting at the same time – the latter on Thursday last week, and the former today. Because they will cause complete chaos in the Old Town, critics are claiming that it reveals the fact that the City Council has already written off the upcoming tourist season.

The City Council justified the fact that both sets of works begin at the same time by stating that the works are projects by two different departments, leading to one wag on social media saying, “There are obviously no phone lines in the Ayuntamiento building”.

Reconstruction of the Plaza de la Reina was due to be completed by the start of Fallas 2022, and the works around Mercado Central by June 2022. So everything will be ready by the summer of 2022, when tourists are expected to be able to return. When they do, they will find a completely redesigned Plaza de la Reina.

The square is to be completely pedestrianised, and a 115-tree urban forest planted. A new area will also include benches, kiosks, a children’s play area, public restrooms, drinking water fountains, a Valenbisi station, underground garbage containers and newly designed loading zones. The most significant change will be the installation of massive awnings that will protect people from the harsh Valencian sun and make this area the most appealing location for a restaurant. When completed, the total space will be nearly 12,000 square metres, possibly making it the premier selfie hotspot in Valencia.

plaza de la reina valencia

Around 1,700 businesses in 70 streets will be affected, estimates say, but large companies with annual invoices of more than €1m will receive a 95 per cent discount on the Economic Activities Tax. Aside from major hotels, however, few businesses will benefit from this, so it remains to be seen what provisions the government and the Association of Merchants of the Historic Center and the Ensanche will be able to provide.

The renovation of Plaza de la Reina will begin with closure of parking spaces, so if you plan to drive to the city centre as of today, it will be tremendously difficult to find a parking space anywhere. This might have the welcome effect of forcing Valencian drivers out of their cars, finally, given the excellent infrastructure with regard to public transport, not to mention the dedicated bicycle lanes that criss-cross the city.

A nice reporter from Levante noticed my video posts in the Facebook group Valencia Expats and asked if he could edit some for an article – click here to view.

A reporter from Levante noticed my posted videos on the Facebook Valencia expats page and asked if he could share them. Por supuesto!

Sweet Potatoes & Spices

This week I’m featuring information about where to buy sweet potatoes and spices here in Cuenca, EC. In response to an article that I wrote on Cuenca HighLife, readers submitted tips for locating and cooking sweet potatoes (camotes) and different spices. Thanks for all of your contributions!purple_sweet_potatoes

Thanks to those who wrote in about where to find the best sweet potatoes in Cuenca, what are they called, how to best prepare, etc! Lots of good info:
A number of readers wrote to say that sweet potatoes are called “camote” or “camote amarilla”, and are found in a number of fresh mercados in the city.
Cheri wrote to say, “Many vendors sell the purple sweet potatoes, but the ones we’re used to in the States are called “camote amarillo”. We buy them at Feria Libre…and have heard they’re at the 10 de Agosto mercado. “
Other readers have also commented about using a microwave to start them off (I like to do this too): Bob reminds us to use a fork or knife to pierce the skin in a few places before microwaving (and scrub and rinse).
Gary at Gary’s Cakes & Bakery wrote, “The yellow orange sweet potato is called a batata, pronounced using the soft b or v sound. Most mercados do not have this but carry the purple camote. The camote has a similar flavor and texture but is not the same as the batata.
Here in Cuenca, water boils at about 198 F. If one is making a candy, you have to adjust the temperatures on your candy thermometer down by those 14 degrees F. When baking, it is a good idea to buy an oven thermometer and check the thermometer against the dial on the oven. I have found most ovens are way off the mark of the dial.
And Kathy wrote also about the “sweet potato lady” at the Feria Libre “who sells the best sweet potatoes I have ever had anywhere, hands down. The potatoes are from Peru (I just learned Peru has 3,000 kinds of potatoes). They look more like yams and it cost me about $1 for 5 big ones and she also sells dried chili peppers and Peruvian dark beer. I cook them in the oven at about 350 degrees for an hour and a half. You could also use a slow cooker. So the difficult part is where in the Feria Libre is this lady? (who is very sweet and looks like a kindly grandmother). She is not with all the other folks who sell potatoes. A friend found her by asking for sweet potatoes (camote) and I would add “de Peru”.

Chuck wrote to say, “The Comote lady is Amanda. Her booth is easy to find. Go to the street, parallel to las Americas, in back of the fiera libre. About mid block, look on the opposite side of the street from the market for a tienda named ¨Abcderia Israel¨. Directly across from that tienda is a small square building with bars on the windows. Amanda´s booth is between the small building and the market proper. Amanda sits with her back to the small building. When she sees a gringo approaching, she usually holds up a comote amarillo cut to show the yellow orange color because she knows that gringos prefer them to the purple variety, which she also sells.

Comote is a Nahuatl (the language spoken by the Aztecs) word. When we were in New Zealand, we were surprised to be see comote on the menu. We then checked the grocery stores and found sweet potatoes marked as comote. We also saw them labelled kumara, which is a Quechra word from Peru. We think this is linguistic evidence of pre European trade between Polynesia and Central or South America.”

Lucia y Yanni from Nectar wrote to say…”the sweet potato variety that one can mostly find in Cuenca is a purple inside that once cooked, smells like a rose. Check for freshness by digging you nail bypassing the skin and if it is soft – it should not be brown on the outside. Our preferred method of cooking: Brush and wash: add some water to a pan with the potatoes and bake, covered, in a pan with a little water at about 200 degrees Celsius for about 30 minutes, then keep checking with a fork until soft. Or boil them on stovetop. after they are cooked, you slice them in half lengthwise and put them in a skillet cut side down with coconut oil, or a sunflower oil to sear that side for a few minutes, until you hear them sizzle. Sprinkle some cinnamon on the seared side. Yum!”
Regarding a good place to buy spices, a reader wrote to describe three: One on Remigo Crespo next to Boyoca, just east of Unidad National: very small, look hard. Another is a block and a half from the flower market downtown, on Padre Agurire between Presidente Cordova & Juan Jaramillio. It’s very small but has many good spices. The last one I use is by Mercado Doce De Abril. It’s on the corner across the street from the market.”
“Kong’s Mom” has some great recommendations: “My spice, grain and nut ‘go-to’ place in Cuenca is Esafran located on Padre Aguirre between Pres. Cordova and Juan Jaramillo in El Centro just south of the San Francisco market. The glass counter is full of nuts and spices and is almost flush with the sidewalk. You verbally request the items you want and the clerk brings them to you at the counter. This store stocks loads of items at fair prices e.g. golden raisins, dried cranberries, mustard seed, thyme, rosemary, cloves [whole and ground] along with a good selection of nuts e.g. peanuts, walnuts almonds [whole and slivered] and hazelnuts. Also quinoa, whole oats, sesame and flax seed can be found along with a host of other seeds, grains and goods for baking.
For cayenne, I just recently found a source at ‘Live Green Superfoods’ at their store at Luis Moreno Mora 323 y Francisco Moscosco. They have another store at Gran Colombia y Padre Aguirre but I don’t know if they stock cayenne there. To check on supply at this store you can contact owner Marcelo Garcia at or check out their Facebook page livegreensuperfoods.

Small Changes, Big Rewards for Weight Loss

We are so lucky to live here in Cuenca, Ecuador, the land of an abundance of interesting and exotic vegetables and a cornucopia of fruits – however, this bounty of produce doesn’t mean that it’s any easier to lose weight and keep it off.  Many have brought their S.A.D. (Standard American Diets) with them – and it’s not hard to understand why – just about everything you can find in American grocery stores is available here in Cuenca.

If your goal is weight loss and better health, but you’re loathe to “go on a diet” because you hate that feeling of deprivation so typical in restrictive diets, try this trick.  Make ONE change each week, and see what happens…just by adding less fat to your food, or substituting a non-calorie beverage for a high calorie one can produce calorie deficits that show up in pounds and inches off.

Make some small changes and see how quickly the pounds can come off.  Small changes in what you eat and drink can have HUGE benefits!

On a baked potato:potato with salsa

Skip the added fat – save 100 calories per pat of butter – replace with 2 tbsp of fresh tomato salsa and…

…realize the potential to save 8-10 pounds of calories per year – by reducing 75 calories per day.

When dining out – you order pasta:

Gourmet fish, Mediterrean style

An entrée of pasta and cream sauce has about 1200 calories! You select grilled fish and vegetables and save at least 400 calories…you are more satisfied from lots of lean protein and fewer refined carbs…

…realize the potential to save up to 12 pounds of calories per year!


Your typical breakfast is a bran muffin:

A bran muffin might sound healthy, but they’re typically full of oil and sugar…it can have more than 500 calories, depending on it’s size…because it’s full of sugar, it shoots your blood sugar up, then crashing down, making you feel hungry within just a few hours.

cereal milk berries

Instead you switch to a cup of whole-grain, low sugar cereal, a cup of low or nonfat milk, and a full cup of berries…

…you reduce the calories for breakfast by at least 200, you feel better! There’s a potential for creating a 20-pound weight loss calorie deficit in a year!


Your habit is to drink a can of soda in the afternoon – you like that caffeine pick-me-up…

Each 12-oz regular soda has 150 or more “empty” sugar calories – shoots your sugar up, and crashing down again.  Instead, you reach for water, agua con gas, or a diet soda …

Potential calorie savings daily over the year equates to almost 16 pounds of fat – just skip the sweet stuff.

By the way, if you’re watching your calories, that 12-oz glass of juice has as many calories as a 12 – oz soda!  It would take at least 5 or more oranges to make a 12-oz glass of juice – would you peel and eat five oranges in a sitting?  No, you’d be full at 1 or 2.  Skip the juice, drink herbal tea, or water – and lose weight with just a few heorange instead of OJalthy changes. It’s hard to eat an excess of calories from fresh, whole vegetables and fruits, but it’s oh, so easy to quaff calories quickly when you’re drinking juice.




Take a look at your usual diet – and then make it better!  Just a few small changes can pay off big-time.  You can save hundreds of calories daily, thousands yearly just by ditching fried foods and choosing baked, broiled, grilled or sautéed.  Hundreds of calories saved by cutting back on added fats like buttering your bread or over-using salad dressings and added cheese means 10, 20, 30 pounds lost within one year, just by making your choices reflect your goals.

Pizza – Making it Healthy!

I had some friends over for dinner recently – I made pizza – whole wheat flour and semolina crust, topped with lightly sautéed spinach, onions, garlic and tomatoes.  I’ve found this very nice reduced-fat (30% fewer calories from fat) mozzarella cheese from SuperMaxi.  I’ve got a nonstick pizza pan that is ancient!  But it still works, and I don’t feel uncomfortable about eating two slices, knowing that I’ve chosen ingredients that won’t break my calorie bank.

I’ve recently joined the mailing list for America’s Test Kitchen – they review cooking equipment, post recipes and lots of great info about food science.  I enjoy Chris Kimble’s weekly podcast – he’s low key, philosophical about food, and his interviews are always interesting – I listen as I’m walking on the Tomebamba river in the morning, or as I’m walking to Spanish class.  I recommend it!

 Susan’s PizzaScreen Shot 2015-06-03 at 08.22.50

Here’s a recipe for my pizza:

Depending upon weather conditions and where you live (high humidity, altitude, etc.), you may need more or less flour, so go slowly.
I use a Kitchen Aid Mix-master with a dough hook attachment.  I’ve had this model for more than 12 years and it still works perfectly, but any stand mixer with a bread hook will do.  By the way, since the dough needs to be kneaded, a blender won’t do.  You can also make the dough the old-fashioned way and burn some calories at the same time.  Add flour to the yeast mixture slowly, a ½ cup at a time, mixing well with a wooden spoon until dough can be turned out onto a floured (preferably cool) surface.  Then, knead for at least 6 minutes (adding remaining flour), until dough is elastic.

Pizza Dough
1 cup warm, not scalding, water
1 packet or 2 Tbsp active, dry yeast

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp honey
½ cup whole wheat flour
approximately 3-5 cups unbleached bread flour
1.  Place warm water, yeast, and honey in the bowl of the mixer.  Stir to dissolve
yeast, add ½ cup of whole wheat flour, stir until incorporated, and wait about 15 minutes, until it gets a bit bubbly.

Using the dough hook attachment on slow speed, add bread flour in about ⅓ cup at a time (about 3 cups—or more as needed) and then increase speed and knead until dough comes together and doesn’t stick to the mixer bowl.  You should be able to stick your index finger into it and leave a slight impression—it shouldn’t be too sticky to handle.

Coat a large bowl with cooking spray, place the ball of dough in the bowl, turn once to coat, then cover with plastic wrap or your bowl’s cover. Let sit for 30 minutes until the dough approximately doubles.  Now you’re ready for pizza!

Punch down and follow directions for pizza below.This recipe makes enough for two thin-crusted pizzas. You can also refrigerate dough in a large zip-lock bag—just shoot a quick spray of cooking spray inside—for about two days.

Before making the topping, “stage” your dough.  Roll out or spread in a nonstick pizza pan or rectangular pan that’s been sprayed with cooking spray and cover with a dishtowel—let rise a second time, at least 45 minutes. The recipe for dough makes one large pizza…with a thin crust.  Do this so the dough has a chance to raise again—it makes the crust good and chewy.

Pizza Topping
Cooking spray
red pepper flakes: ⅛ tsp (optional)

red onion, small diced (about 1/2 cup)

garlic, 2-3 cloves, diced

spinach, fresh, 10-oz pkg, rinsed and patted dry – or try collard greens or kale
mushrooms-sliced, 1 cup—I like Portobello, but any will do!
tomato-fresh, 1 large or 2 medium, chopped

Fresh basil – 1/2 cup shredded (optional) or 2 Tbsp dried Italian herbs
Part-skim mozzarella cheese—or any shredded hard cheese like Parmesan-shredded or grated

Coat a nonstick sauté pan with a quick spray of cooking oil and heat over low-medium heat.

Sauté red pepper flakes over medium heat for 1 minute.

Add red onion and garlic; stir and cook for 2 minutes – don’t let garlic burn – it will turn bitter.

Add spinach or other greens; cover and cook 3 minutes; uncover, stir, cover, and cook for another minute or so, until wilted.

Stir in mushrooms and continue to cook, covered, for about 5 more minutes; uncover and cook for 2 minutes until all liquid is evaporated.

Let cool about 10 minutes, and then spread over the dough.

Sprinkle on chopped tomato and basil, and then sprinkle on cheese.

Bake in the middle of the oven at 455 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until cheese is browned.

Optional additions:


Tofu, shrimp or sardines:  Boost the protein by adding tofu, fresh or frozen shrimp or canned sardines.  Use firm tofu, drain and pat dry, and cut into medium dice.  For the shrimp, use fresh or frozen small-medium; rinse and drain sardine.  Scatter over the pizza before sprinkling on the cheese.
Makes 8 slices

Nutritional information per slice (approximate):
Calories 207
Fat 2-3g
Saturated fat 1g
Trans fat 0g
Cholesterol 4mg
Fiber 5g

Sodium 100mg
Protein 8-10g (depending if you add fish or tofu)
Carbohydrate 5