Thursday, 29 December 2011

And finally - for this year -

One last Christmas photo of  the gold and silver pine cones, some on bases John made from pieces of pine or olive wood, surrounded by holly lights Airi bought from Paris, and with a sad looking polar bear waiting for next Christmas to come.

Hope next year brings everyone health, wealth and happiness. 

Thanks for reading my ramblings this year,  more to come  in 2012  :)

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

A snapshot of Christmas

Doesn't Christmas come slowly and go so fast!   It was only last Thursday when we did the trip to Malaga to pick up Mat and Airi   (4pm, still 24° down  on the coast)   drove home along the coast road with a wonderful sunset behind us - both Mat and Airi taking photos through the car windows of the sea shimmering gold and red as the sun got lower and lower.  Arrived here at about 6.45 and still not quite dark, the horizon was glowing still.

Next day we did a trip up into the pine forests above Mecina Bombaron to walk the dogs and collect pine cones.  Enormous ones up there, about 6 inches or so,  some bigger and better than others so although we took a big bag to put them in, we started throwing some away and only keeping the very biggest and best.  

On the way to the pine woods

Christmas Eve was last minute food preparation for me, figgy pudding cooked so it only needed reheating on the day, but I can't think what else we did!  Oh, made some silver and gold Christmas cones for the  table, plus Airi made this 'hedgehog'.    John was duty chef that night - he made a huge paella  that we weren't sure we'd eat but there wasn't much left, just some rice for Monty and Pip. 

Christmas morning wasn't as sunny or as hot as it had been but still very nice.  A bit of a nip in the air so when our friends walked up to join us for coffee, mince pies, cake, cream and brandy butter - a bit big for elevenses but it's only once a year - we had that indoors in the lounge.  With the sun streaming in through the window it was lovely and hot.

Presents were opened mostly in the morning although I think we kept a few back till later.   Mat and Airi found Xmas stockings on their bed post late on Xmas eve  but managed not to open them till the morning.  I couldn't put them on the end of the bed in case Pip discovered them and the contents....chocolate money and  chocolate covered almonds amongst other things. 

Boxing Day we went up to Granada for a walk around the tiny streets near the cathedral, full of Morroccan goodies - leather bags, so many different  types of lights, woollen clothing, tea shops, spice shops, all  sorts  of sights and smells.  John bought me a wonderful all-in-one hat and scarf with a long, long pointed hat ending in a tassell half way down my back.   It's frosty overnight at the moment and although I have a scarf and gloves my head and ears get very chilly.  Plus when we get the big winter winds I don't have a hat to keep me warm.  Or I didn't, now I have my "scat"  (scarf and hat)   or  should it be a  "harf" ?

Had lunch in a lovely tapas bar where we ate a mixed cold platter and mixed hot platter of tapas.  Hot included salmon covered in melted cheese, tortilla, bacon with blue cheese, lomo with tomato, pork filled croquettes, slow cooked pork with roasted peppers, and fried habas.  The cold platter had  4 different cheeses and 4 different pates on, smoked salmon, jamon, smoked lomo, smoked  trout, different chorizos, all on a bed of salad and topped with toasted almonds, plus a basket of bread.  Add a glass of wine each and  that was lunch.

More walking, more photos, bumped into Mariano and Marie-Carmen out for lunch,  quick chat with them then it was time to go round to the bus station for Mat and Airi to get the bus to Malaga.  They stayed overnight there, went out with friends from Paris who just happened to be in the same city at the same time, then they were flying home this morning.

And that was it - all finished.  

Monday, 19 December 2011

Ho Ho Ho..

Ho ho ho, it's cold outside.  Not as cold as some parts of the world but for Southern Spain, 4° at 9pm is pretty chilly.  Just done the last dog walk of the day, well wrapped up in a fleece, scarf, woolly socks and gloves.  At least the house is warm and cosy, both wood burners simmering away keeping us lovely and snug.

During sun-up it's fine outside in just a t-shirt and light top - I tend to add a cardi or zippered top to my t-shirt as one minute it's warm enough not to need the extra layer then the next minute is too cold.....or maybe that's an age/hormonal  thing     :(

With ho ho ho in mind, Christmas will soon be upon us and without saying too much about what we've been doing, the house is sparkling...  decorations are up,  the lights are on the tree,  wine glasses gleaming, silver and brasses polished (not that we have that much but at least it's all shiny)  as much food as is possible to pre prepare has been done, presents wrapped...

And the reason I'm not saying too much about food and other things  is because Mat and Airi are coming  this week and we want them to be surprised and hopefully delighted with the food and decorations that we have done.  This will be a special Christmas,  their first together, and they are now engaged and planning weddings.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Creepy crawlies

Moving in, taking up residence, on it's last legs, don't know what to call this one! 

Two days ago a praying mantis arrived at the outside sink and spent all day resting on the edge, then gradually and oh so slowly, climbed up the wall and along towards the laundry area.  Because everything was done in slow motion I came in and googled praying mantises - or should that be manti - and apparently  they only live 10 to 12 months with the males dying first as they get eaten by the female after - or even  during - the mating process.  She bites off his head!  Then when the female has laid her eggs in the autumn she will die during the winter months.  So the chances are that this is a female and as I said 'on her last legs' as the weather is getting colder and soon her time will be up.

Today she spent the early part of the morning on the front of the washing machine cover but moved to the  tumble drier cover when I put the washing in.  Late this afternoon she'd gone but John said she is down in the courtyard on the outside of a large geranium  tub.  She's still moving  but very slowly.  How Pip and Monty haven't seen her I don't know,  Pip would probably be frightened and bark at her while Monty would have a good sniff then go off and lie back down in the sun.

Pruning time in the front garden today, a huge pile overflowing the wheelbarrow of roses, geraniums, chrysanthemum prunings.  Just about to tie up a wayward plant when I saw this huge spider sitting in it's web strung from rosebush  to sage bush.  No pruning near this!  I'm sure it's got teeth!

Friday, 9 December 2011

ITV time again

At this time of the year we don't get up until the sun is well and truly above the horizon - or in our case above Sierra Gador.  But today the 4x4 had its 2 yearly ITV test and we'd booked it in for 10.30.  Which didn't seem too early but then when we worked back the timings, we realised we'd have to leave home at 8.45.....down to Yator, via Cadiar, over the Contraviesa, along the coast road, through towns that would be waking up as businesses opened, book the car in and pay the 35 euros it costs.  We arrived at 10.15,  but didn't get called till nearer 11am.  Such is life.

So we were up earlier than usual,  and as I opened the lounge curtains and shutters I saw the   reddest sky I have seen in a long time.  Unfortunately the camera didn't capture the full extent of the colours,  it spread left and right of Sierra Gador,  a huge red glow that brightened as the sun rose.

As we drove down to the coast the sun was shining through the low clouds and it looked really pretty.

After the car passed,  another 2 year sticker for the windscreen issued,  we had a little retail therapy consisting mostly  of food and drink for Christmas - and hopefully longer considering what we went for and what we came back with!!

Todays bargain - John went into Aki for some cup hooks, sandpaper and  came out with a pair of very large red Xmas bells to hang up, probably in the garden.  Why bells?  As he went into Aki most of the people coming out were carrying them and they were on a 2 for 1 oferta so why not have some too?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Do we need Christmas cards?

If you walk down the average high street or shopping centre in many places, there are always lots of card shops.   If you do the same in Spain you will not see card shops but shoe shops.  Wonderful for shoe-a-holics but not so good if you just want some nice cards for friends and family back home.

Most people have email but not all,  some would be quite happy with an email greeting, but somehow it seems very impersonal and a card - especially one chosen for a person rather than out of a box of 36 - seems better at this time of year.

Cards are very rare here,  surprisingly there are some quite nice ones sold in the local tabac, but not Xmas cards, nice cards in El Corte Ingles but a day in Granada seems a bit extreme just for some cards so imagine my delight when I saw some Xmas cards today in Ugijar.  OK, so I was in one of the bazaars - think Woolworths-ish,  everything you didn't know you needed at a very reasonable price.

10 cards for 75 cents. They do say that you get what you pay for and  I should have stopped at that point and not bought any but in fact I bought 2 packs.  When we opened them tonight we just started to laugh.  Cheap and tacky doesn't begin to describe them.  Bright and garish does. So flimsy that they don't stand up.  Thin paper - apparently photocopy paper is 80 gsm, these can't be much thicker than that.  John said if we glue them together to stop them bending we could  hang them up as decorations.....then we thought we could cut them up and use them as labels for presents.... maybe if we don't get any/many cards we can hang them up and pretend we still have cards sent to us.

So if you are reading this and expecting to get a card from us this Christmas,  sorry, but not this year. 

And back to my original question.  Do we need to send cards at all?  It's just as easy to pick up the phone and wish someone a merry Christmas, send a picture and a message to those who have email and in these days of austerity, much more economic, although I'm sure the post office won't agree with that!

PS - we had a bonus with our cards, someone can't count and one packet had 11 cards in it!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Early this morning..

Sunrise as seen from our living room window, this morning.   Not much to say about it except  what gorgeous colours.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Skiing in Spain

For those of you who don't know, the Sierra Nevada ski slopes are now open and have been since last weekend.  It's very rare to see anything written about this resort, most ski reports concentrate on the usual places: Italy, Austria, France and Switzerland but the resort here once held the Winter Olympics and also the Ski World Championships in 1996.

There is a live webcam   here,   this is a snap shot from that,  there are 40 kms of ski runs now open.

There's also an article in the Ideal newspaper with some photos and links of the area - it's all looking very wintry indeed.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A little light pruning.

September last year Fernando pruned - if that's the right word - the mulberry tree and since then it has done what it does best, grow and grow and grow.  It gets to the point where the front garden is very shady and the flowers don't bloom as much as they should.  That's when we think about cutting it again. 

November 9th, full of leaves

The leaves have finished dropping, most of them have been raked up and are in the compost heap although there are still some further down the land which may or may not be raked up, depending on other things which need doing.

It's much easier to see which branches need to come off when the tree is bare,  so today was pruning day.  Up went the ladders, up went John and down came the branches.  We aimed for the middle ones that grow straight up - and block our sun - leaving the sideways growing branches for shade as when Carmen comes, she likes to sit under the tree in the summer afternoon.

A little light pruning
From down on the ground or in the garden it's difficult to appreciate just how much the tree has grown.  But we measured some of the branches and it's grown between 8 and 9 metres in 14 months.  And it's not  watered, or not deliberately, just rain and whatever it gets from the ground.  No idea how far  the roots stretch, hopefully away from our garden as it's got quite a lean on it - at least if it ever falls over it's pointing away from us.

Four hours later, most of the log store nearest the tree was full, there are still some branches to cut and trim down tomorrow, but the bulk of it is done.  But what a mucky job, the tree leaks a white milky sap which is very sticky but luckily washes off clothing and skin. It is quite a light weight wood which doesn't take long to dry out so by the time the cold January, February and March evenings come, it should be dry enough to burn in the fire. 

Monday, 28 November 2011

Why do slippers always stretch?

I bought the most wonderful comfy pair of slippers last Tuesday - not the most beautiful I'll admit but so warm - and they were snug.  I thought that they'd stretch slightly as slippers always seem to but that wearing them with socks  would be ok.   One week later they are like small boats slopping around my feet....John says if they get much bigger he'll wear them and I can buy another - and much smaller - pair.

So why does this happen??  I realise they are made of fabric which has some looseness, but so do my clothes and they don't go saggy and baggy.  All slippers that I've bought seem to do this, I'm not getting at this particular make of slipper.  I've had well-known high street brands in the past, locally made uk ones and  cheap and cheerful from the local market.  Some wear better than others and the price doesn't seem to have any relationship to the sagginess or bagginess or even the quality of the finished slipper.

Do I buy cheap and cheerful and frequently?  Do I buy something more expensive and then mutter and moan when  they don't last longer?  Do I give up on slippers altogether and wear sox indoors (but then they don't keep my feet warm....  )          I have some very warm and  toasty slipper- socks  that do what they are supposed to:    i.e.  warmth and slippers all in one.......but they are hard to find and I have been lucky enough to have been sent them as a pressie.

When I find the perfect slipper which I'm sure must be out there somewhere, probably at some astronomical price - or maybe not in these days of financial doom and gloom - then I'm sure I'll be ready to give them a 'road test' and report back.  Any slipper makers out there reading this - please take note!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

To the shops

It was a lovely sunny day on  Tuesday so we thought we'd  take some time out  and go to  Roquetas for the day.  Not especially  to shop for anything definite, just for look around, although my phone needed  replacing as for some reason it won't take the sim card anymore, just says 'insert sim'.  Luckily we had an old fairly huge nokia tucked away that I've been using recently.

I did want to look at Christmassy stuff, maybe a new tablecloth and matching napkins,  there is a really nice shop in the Gran Plaza called Casa, so thought we'd look in there first.  Parked the car, up the escalator, turned right - whoops, no Casa, just another shoe shop.  However as we were there we  took a look inside.  Don't often go shoe shopping, our needs are quite basic, limited to wellies,  trainers and crocs mostly.  'Best' shoes are still ones we've had for ages as high heels (for me obviously!)  don't get worn much.

But I did fancy a nice pair of warm slippers, even though we have rugs down on the floors upstairs, the kitchen and dining room are only tiled and feet get chilly!   They had loads of slippers, really spoilt for choice, the ones I bought were some fluffy ones but grey not beige and sadly no bobbles    unlike some that were on sale.

But they did have some super smart wellies that I was tempted by but didn't buy.....a wonderful pink pair and if you've looked for  boots you'll know what I mean.   At least I know where to go when my Hunter green ones finally bite the dust.  The leak is only on the top of one foot at the moment so as long as I don't paddle too much in the puddles,  my foot stays dry.  The other boot is perishing along the join but about halfway up the length of the leg, mid calf ish.

Sorted out a phone,  had a nice lunch rather than a rushed fast food meal as we quite often do,  did some food shopping  and  after much measuring and pricing of wood versus chipboard,  bought some 'planks' to make cupboard doors.  There are 3 recessed areas where we store stuff but - usually in the winter, maybe because it's  cold or nesting - we have had a rat trying to set up home in the boxes.  So cupboard fronts will be made and then they won't be able to get inside.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Currently cooking...

is one of the half legs of jabalí from last weekend.  Alongside that are chunks of calabaza from Paco which he gave us last week.  Actually I did a swop with him for a bag of strawberry plants, we'd heard his tractor working so I said to John I'll go up and ask  if he'd like the plants in return for a calabaza.  He said most of the ones he  had left were quite small but take what  I needed, so I had 2 small ones.  About an hour later his elderly mother came trotting down the road in her slippers (as is normal,  they actually sell slippers for the house or campo)   and she had 2 more much larger calabaza tucked under her arm for us.

Ready to cook later is a pan of kale which has escaped the beady eyes of the butterflies and subsequent caterpillars and the leaves are also totally free of whatever the grey fly thing is.  And not a netted cage round any of it either!    Whereas the brussel plants are going to be a total write-off - completely infested with bugs.

And for  even later,  there will be an apricot upside down cake.  Don't remember buying apricots or being given them,  but there are two boxes in the freezer labelled 'halved, stoned, sugared',  but not dated....     

The nice thing about an upside down cake is that I can cook it in the microwave when we need it.  Ok, so it has a pale top,  but as that then becomes the bottom it doesn't show,  also we don't need to leave the oven on, and anyway  we are usually too full straight after  the main course to eat a pudding.  First we feed the dogs, do the washing up, take them for a walk and then have our pudding.

Tomorrow we are going to have jabalí again as yesterday when I was rearranging the meat in the freezer some got left out by mistake.  Only the fillets,  they are quite small compared to the pork fillets we buy, these weigh about 200 grams each.  Perhaps I've been watching too much Masterchef recently, but I'm going to make 'beef' Wellington.  Or should that be jabalí Wellington? 

And talking of wellingtons, (what a link!!!)  my much worn and loved welly boots have sprung a leak!   I know they've been around a long time and today have found photos of me wearing them at Malham Cove back in 1988.  I wonder if Hunter Wellies will give me a replacement pair after all this time...

And as a footnote - sorry, couldn't resist that -  jabalí is almost a cross of lamb and beef as far as taste goes.  If it's roasted, served with mustard,  horseradish sauce and yorkshire pudding as we did tonight,  you'd be forgiven for thinking that you'd eaten beef.  And if it's roasted with garlic and rosemary then served with mint sauce or mint jelly you'd think you were eating lamb.  But certainly not pork.  It's a dark and slightly gamey meat,  nothing like the pale colour of pork.   Also an excellent substitute for steak in pies and casseroles and what makes it even more attractive is that it's free!

Friday, 18 November 2011

Olive bundles.

Although we live closer to Yátor than Mecina Bombaron,  Montenegro is part of an area called Alpujarra de la Sierra which also includes Yegen and El Golco.   We can see Mecina, when the Ayuntamiento broadcast messages we can just about hear them although they are not clear enough to understand - although I'm told  that  some people in the village can't make out the message either!  It's about a half hour drive round to Mecina which is quite a way when you just want to find out when the bonfire permissions are going to be available.  We've asked  twice now and each time been told 'maybe in a couple of weeks' - what we want to do is prune the olives and burn the trimmings.  (Yes we could phone but we'd get the same shrug.  We try to do a round trip when we have other places to go to as well.) 

Not a huge problem you'd think.  Must be a way round this.

Pottering in the kitchen a few days ago, I had a bit of a brainwave.  We keep loo roll middles as seed starters but don't actually use very many so have a big pedal bin sized bag hanging in the shed.  What if I cut the olive trimmings  down into small sticks, pushed them into the loo roll middles, stacked them into the empty (and not needed at the moment) fruit and vegetable drier, then burnt them in the wood burner?  Surely a better use of heat to warm us up indoors, rather than the atmosphere?

Complete and utter success.  What a brilliant idea, even if I do say so myself.  OK, so we've run out of loo roll middles but have a lot of newspapers from friends who share their old papers between three of us as fire starters.  Roll up a sheet of paper,  wrap it round your bundle and carefully, very carefully so the paper doesn't rip, pull tight.  After a day in the drier, even this time of the year, they dry out and  burn very well.  If the leaves are green it's a smokier fire but that's outside, the heat given off is the same.

So I've been making bundles - trying to think of a good name for these -  and can make 24 an hour and we use about 24 in an evening, supplemented with chunks of split wood later on for longer burning time which lasts into the night.

Will we bother going to ask about a licence?   Not sure now, we're pretty certain they've been issued as we saw fires a few days ago but if I can find an hour a day - especially when the sun is shining - it's quite a pleasant job snipping up leafy bits and tieing bundles.   And certainly rewarding when the house warms up so quickly.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Another foody afternoon

After yesterdays mega big jabalí cooking session, we thought today would be a bit more like normal....we do tend to have days when we do certain things so today was supposed to be like that.

I did a quick trip into Cadiar first thing for a few bits and pieces, put the washing out when I got back, John was doing other stuff, then we were cutting down some firewood trimmings before we had a quick lunch.  Don't tend to eat a big meal then, a sandwich or bowl of soup is usually enough then we have a bigger meal at night.  Opposite way round to the Spanish, but even after 8 years here, we still haven't got used to eating more at lunch time and less in the evening.  And a late lunch at that - they eat about 2.30 or 3pm.

Anyway, at 3pm the phone rang...Mariano.  'Have you eaten?'   'Yes, but not much, why?'  'Well,  come for lunch,  both of you'  'What now?'  'Yes, in half an hour?'

So up we went to find him, his  mujer  Marie-Carmen, his brother in law  Antonio, plus a nephew Javi  and his girlfriend Vanessa - she was cooking a huge paella.  We went indoors  to eat where the open fire had a huge log smouldering.  Mariano disappeared off to his seemingly endless drink store for  red wine and beer with the meal.  After that we had apples that had been  sugared, brandied,  wrapped in foil and baked in the embers, coffee and pastries, more brandy or whisky or ron (dark rum)

The sky outside got gradually darker - not because it was very late but the rain clouds were gathering.  First a light drizzle, now a bit heavier.  We left at just gone 6pm, Javi, Vanessa and Antonio left as well as they had to drive back up to Yegen and the pista can be a bit slippery when there's been a bit of rain.  Not a nice drive in the dark although I think they will have got home before it was too dark.

So another long foody afternoon, one of these days we will be home in time  to cook ourselves a meal!  But these impromptu meals are lovely, and it's good Spanish practice for us - not having neighbours here all the  time means we don't get to talk spanish as much as we'd like. There's only so much conversation you can have with your local butcher!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Food, food and more food


11:00 horas. Excursión etnobotánica por el sendero de la Fuente de la Salud.
11:00. Ethnobotany tour along the path of the Fountain of Health.
14:30 horas. La Gastronomía  tradicional en el otoño de Yegen. Degustación de productos de la tierra en el Salón Cultural 
14:30. The traditional cuisine of the autumn in Yegen.  Tasting of local produce in the Cultural Hall.
22:00 horas. Velada Musical en el Salón Cultural.
22:00. Musical Evening in the Cultural Hall.

This is what was advertised for yesterday in Yegen, and as we had agreed to meet some friends who are over on a walking holiday  we thought we'd walk up and enjoy some of the day's events.  They are staying up in Berchules and followed the footpath across country via Mecina Bombaron, down through El Golco towards Montenegro where we met up and walked to Yegen together.  They'd done 3 hours by then and were in need of a cold drink so we stopped at the first bar we came to for a beer and tapas - costillas in a picante sauce plus slice of bread.

Onto the next plaza, another bar, another drink or two, this time with bacon on a slice of bread followed by a slice of garlicky lomo on bread.  And olives.   Despite the lack of crowds flocking to the salon, we wandered round and popped our heads in the door for a look.  People? Yes.    Lots? No.  Probably about a couple of dozen at most.  Lots of food to eat?  Not really, not what we'd expected anyway.  We'd  thought there would be different foods to taste and possibly buy, local cheeses, honey etc but in reality they'd opened a bar and were cooking local meats for tapas.  So more costillas, morcilla (black pudding)  panceta, longaniza (a sausage)  bread of course - can't have tapas without bread - crisps and olives.

Enjoyable but not any different to being in one of the bars except the bars have chairs and tables so are more comfy!   So onward and upward we went - Yegen is quite a steep village and we started at the bottom.   Next two bars were shut, probably just as well as afternoon drinking can be tiring.  Stopped at the last one - Cecy's - where we sat outside to keep an eye out for Omar who was coming from the hotel to pick up our friends.   Another couple of drinks and more tapas,  cheese with slices of bread,  then lovely crispy fried fresh anchovies (nothing like the strong things they put on pizzas) and more bread.

I think the bread is to soak up the alcohol although they do say it was a lid - tapa - to keep flies out of your wine.  Then things were added to the bread like cheese or jamón hence tapas.  

John and I set off back home and were about half way down the pista when Antonio came back from a days hunting up in the Sierras and offered us a lift.  A big group of them had been for jabalí,  2 cars were towing double-decker dog trailers, couldn't count how many dogs in each, but John reckons more than a dozen.  And in the back of Antonio's pickup was a large 30 kilo jabalí.  I'd seen Antonio earlier in the morning when I took Monty and Pip out and he'd said we could have some meat if they were lucky with the hunt, so we stopped at his house and waited while they skinned and jointed it.  Not something I'd seen before, being a bit on the squeamish side, I like my meat to be a bit less animal like.  But it wasn't that bad although I didn't watch them cutting off the head......last seen with the skin in a wheelbarrow.  No idea where that ended up.

A quick wash down with the hose pipe,  meat in a very large bowl, (basically they cut it up - 4 legs and a full sized rib cage)  quick discussion amongst the 4 hunters who were there.....'would we like all the meat?'  They had shot 3 and the others had enough so home we came with it all.

This morning we've been trimming, jointing, dicing and slicing,  freezing and making stock.  The end result is 8 joints (we halved the legs)  totalling  13.5 kilos,  8 bags of diced steak for casseroles etc totalling 4 kilos, 2 solomillos (fillets)  and more still to come.  Both slow cookers are full of ribs and bones, with garlic, red wine and water to make stock and soup.  Going to leave them for a while longer till the meat has all come off.  The big slow cooker holds 6.5 litres and it's full to the brim.  Plus there are 2 large saucepans full of scrappy stuff that is going to be frozen for the dogs.  I did wonder where the kidneys and liver were - John said I'd have to go and delve in the wheelbarrow leftovers for those - yuk!

All in all a good weekend.  Oh, and our friends know that we have a collection of geckos outside on the terrace walls and bought us a lovely one to join the others.  We also have lots of real geckos, I wonder what they make of these static ones!


Wednesday, 9 November 2011

After the rain...

After the rain  we've had wall to wall sunshine,  hardly a cloud in the sky during the day, just a bit of haze seems to come over just before sunset.  And when the sun does set, the temperature plummets.  It's like someones turned off the heating  out there,  so we do a quick dash indoors and light the estufa.  I know I said we hadn't needed it, but over the last few days it's been alight every evening. 

Just got a quick photo of the mulberry tree tonight as the sun was setting, it's really autumney.

A few weeks more and all those leaves will be down on the ground - hopefully we can get them raked up and into the compost before they blow away. 

The first broad beans are up, as are lettuces and pak choi.  That's a new one for us,  supposed to plant it in the spring but our autumns are so mild they are like a second spring and as the lettuce grows again now I thought why not try it?  It will be planted  again in the spring  the same as the lettuce seeds do.  Just waiting for the coriander and parsley seeds to spring into life - they all went in the same day so shouldn't be long now.  More beans went in the week after,  the garlic beds are prepared and I just need to sort through last years crop that we stored to see what is worth eating and put some aside for replanting.  It hasn't all stored that well, a bit rubbery feeling so don't know if we should eat it or not.  But as there is plenty of space, it'll probably get planted and if it grows that's good, if not - well, never mind.

Friday, 4 November 2011

The rain in Spain...

is mostly in our front garden at the moment!  Take a look at this......

...... then came the wind and in the background - maybe not so loud because of the noise from the rain - there is thunder and lightning over the Contraviesa.

Not a day to be outside.  Managed a quick walk this morning in the drizzle - the weekend though is going to be dry and even sunshine breaking through.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Anardana - pomegranate seeds.

Yesterday there were more pomegranates bursting open although not as many as before so  today I juiced them and made more grenadine.  I intended to keep it as a juice but for some reason today's batch was much sharper than before, same tree so no reason to be different but it was,  so now we've a litre bottle in the fridge alongside the others.

Some friends were here Tuesday afternoon to use the mill that we have borrowed - they needed to crush some barley, I think to make beer with.  They also have pomegranates but instead of throwing the seeds away, dry them and use them.  So off to google I went today and came up with this little lot. 

Pomegranate seeds are called 'anardana'   which comes from the Persian  anar + dana  = pomegranate + seed.   The seeds are dried, can be roasted and ground, or soaked in water then used in cooking, in Indian cuisine, for chutneys, in granola style bars, on salads  and many other things.  Loads of recipe ideas out there, this one looked especially delicious and will probably be one of the first we try - partly because the name of the blog caught my eye....sinfully spicy.    There is information plus a list of culinary uses on this site   plus  65 recipes using the seeds.  Might have to dry some more!

Not sure how long they will take to dry at the moment as we are having a wet and sometimes blustery day  and the forecast is wet for tomorrow as well.  No point putting them outside in the dryer as there isn't any sun to warm it up.  If it was cold as well then we'd have the woodburner alight and I could dry the seeds near it but  as yet we haven't needed it as it's not cold indoors.

Normally by November we've some sort of heating in the evening, maybe a gas fire on for a couple of hours or the woodburner but the house hasn't yet lost all it's stored summer heat.  A few more damp drizzly days will do it though - especially as today it's only been 14° outside (forecast of 12°)  and they reckon on a high of 9° tomorrow.   

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The too tomatoey tomato soup.

If that sounds a bit odd then bear with me....

This time of year we're at the end of the season for most of the vegetables so I don't go daily to pick,  yesterday I went out to one of the chilli rows - we have 5 different sorts growing in different places -  and noticed that there were ripe tomatoes on the same terrace.  Only a few days ago they were small, hard and green,  but now they were small,  red and juicy.  Not a huge amount, but a good mixing-bowlful.  Some had brown marks on the skin, almost like stretch marks but inside the fruit was fine.  So I cut off any bad bit, quartered them, put them in a pan on a low heat and left them to simmer for about half an hour.  Or maybe longer as I forgot about them, luckily they didn't boil dry.  Into the liquidiser,  pushed through a sieve,  added some sauteed garlic and fresh basil, black pepper and a bit of muscovado sugar and tasted.  Wow!  Absolutely wonderful.  Back into the liquidiser to smooth out the garlic and herbs, then a sample upstairs for John to taste.

Now he's not a huge tomato fan, likes them cooked in things such as spaghetti, chilli, curry  and  as a pizza base, but can't eat them raw on salads.  However he said it's very tasty so I thought we'd have it today for lunch. 

2 large steaming bowls of fresh tomato soup, served with a mollete (see here and here for what they are...... )  but it didn't seem to be going down as well as I'd hoped.  Not nice?  Nice enough, he said but a bit too tomatoey.  'Well what do you expect from tomato soup made from fresh tomatoes, and anyway you like tomato soup'  said I.  I like, he said, tinned tomato soup because - like ketchup - it doesn't taste of tomatoes.  'And the tinned stuff is cream of tomato soup so maybe if next time we added cream it might be more like the 'real' thing.'

Does he really think there'll be a next time??  For me certainly but  he might get something else to eat. 


Saturday, 29 October 2011

La granada

or as it's more commonly known, the pomegranate.  The fruit is included in Granada city's coat of arms and  one of the gates to the Alhambra is called the Gate of the Pomegranates.  It appears all over the city in one form or another, laid into paving using tiny stones, on the tops of the posts at the side of the road.....

October is the time when ours start to split, usually after the rains have come.  I read that the rains cause them to swell just that bit more and then they burst open, a lovely dark ruby red inside.  Messy to de-pip  (if that's the right word)  no matter how careful you are some of the juices spray everywhere  so I now do them into a bowl of water.  The papery layer that the juice sacks are covered with then float to the surface and are easily scooped off.  You don't want that layer to go in with the juice as it's very bitter tasting.

There were 16 ripe pomegranates on the tree  this morning so I thought I'd better pick them before the birds got  to them.  What seemed like ages afterwards I finally had a large bowlful of juicy red arils (thanks wikipedia - not seeds at all)

They went into the liquidiser, then I strained the resulting juices off into a pan,  1.6 litres of deep red juice. 

For a change this time we thought we'd make grenadine which is a syrup of pomegranate juice.  You need to add an equal amount of sugar to the juice, bring it to the boil, simmer for about 10 minutes till it's syrupy, cool and bottle.  End result today, 3 bottles of grenadine. 

on the left, yesterdays marrow waiting to be cooked
Next stop,  online recipes to see what else to use it for.  Primarily it's for drinks, be they alcoholic or not.  This site has it listed as an ingredient for 583 drink recipes!   Also lovely mixed with lemonade, tonic or sparkling water as a refreshing summer drink  and  then I found it recommended as a glaze for pork, duck and chicken,  poured over icecream, and as a pancake syrup amongst other things.

Something for everyone!

Friday, 28 October 2011

Roasting chestnuts

We had a kilo and a half of chestnuts yesterday which we roasted in a *holey* pan - not over an open fire.  We were given the pan soon after moving here but don't use it very often as the chestnuts don't grow this low - they are all up around Mecina and Yegen.  Probably lots of other places too but that's the nearest they come to us.

It took ages to cut the cross in them all, I'd read somewhere recently that it's easier to open them after roasting if the cross goes across the top of the chestnut then as it roasts, the cross opens up and you have something to pull on.  And that worked well.  But the nuts need opening when they're still quite hot as the inside layer  seemed to come off much easier when more hot than cool.  Didn't matter for the ones we ate as we peeled but I wanted to freeze some them for chestnut stuffing to have with the Christmas turkey.

Monty and Pip sat as close to the kitchen table as they could get to catch anything we dropped, don't what they made of all the painful oohs and aahs as our fingers got hotter and hotter the more we peeled.  We ate quite a lot I thought, but still had 800 grams left over for the freezer.  And all the shells are in a bag ready to go into the woodburner when we light it.

Locally there is a celebration of the chestnut,  any excuse for a fiesta!   It's the 15th year they've celebrated!     Jornada de la Castaña   'The Day of the Chestnut'  is on tomorrow,  Halloween celebration tomorrow night and  the 4th Jornada de la Seta   'Day of the Mushroom'   is on Sunday.  This is the programme of events that are happening up until Christmas in both Mecina and Yegen. 

Half an hour later....

Just had a quick break as Fernando stopped on his way past,  he has left us 6 large aubergines and a marrow, or at least I think it's a marrow.  I always assumed marrows were green like a large courgette and he called it a calabaza - calabazín is a courgette, this is the big version.  But it's orange not green, the last one we were given by Paco was a green one, again a calabaza, and some we roasted with the Sunday joint, the rest I added to the soup pot.  So I'll put some round the roast on Sunday and maybe make soup again....  I wonder if it freezes then I could add it to stews and curries when needed.

**re:  the holey pan.  Looks like a frying pan but with holes in the base and with quite a long handle.  Probably easy to make out of an old pan,  ours came from the local market and I think was about 75 cents.

Update...the calabaza weighs  2.5 kgs,   it's about a foot long and more of a pale golden honey colour than orange.   Maybe it's just  a ripened version of the one we had before?

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Better than we thought.

We were prepared for the worst  but  - so far at least, we've only had overnight rain.  Quite hard rain in the night I think as it woke me up, but it stopped early this morning.  This afternoon has been quite sunny and although there were huge clouds to the north and south of us we managed a nice long walk before the clouds gathered again.  Looking out now, we are completely covered and it's looking oh so gloomy.

One of my favourite walks is along the section of GR7 heading towards El Golco,  it's wooded and green to start with then opens up into a more rocky path with rosemary covered slopes either side.  Problem is that the green end gets very overgrown, probably due to the spring here in Montenegro overflowing and encouraging the growth.  Not so much undergrowth as overgrowth too.  In the summer it's almost impassable  unless you're in trousers which I'm not then - too hot - and I don't like bramble scratched legs.  And in the winter especially after rain,  it can be too wet from the branches and overhanging leaves.  Normally the path is kept clear by the medio ambiente guys who come and strim it.  Not this year  though - no idea why but possibly budget cuts.

However, yesterday morning 2 guys came down the track from Yegen, not medio ambiente and not driving a Junta de Andalucia vehicle either, they stopped at the Yegen, Montenegro, El Golco  junction of paths and as we walked past they were getting the strimmer up and running and we could hear it all morning.  We've just been to take a look and go for a walk and the path has been cleared as far as Cortijo Miguel which is a ruin about half way along, pretty much where the lush green stops and the rosemary bushes take over.

This is near where the over flow from the spring runs across the path.
With the sun shining through the overhanging trees it looks like a green leafy tunnel.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

At last, it's rained!

At last we've had some autumn rains ranging from - on Thursday afternoon - an all-out thunder and lightning 'event' as the weather forecasters seem to call these things nowadays,  to a grey drizzley day yesterday and then over lunchtime today the rain came again, and the wind blew loads of leaves, remaining almonds and dead bunches of grapes down.

We raked up the leaves and put them in the compost, Monty and Pip tried to eat all the dried grapes before I got to them  for the compost,  we collected the almonds that we'd not been able to reach when we harvested - much easier picking them up off the ground - and then checked the forecast to see what else is coming our way.

It looks like it might be time to batten down the hatches at least for tomorrow and maybe later in the week as well as there is more on the way.  But it's the first rain that we can remember since the start of June and that was such a small shower that it was over and done with without really wetting anything.

John was passing the Ayuntamiento in Mecina Bombaron last week and stopped in to ask about the permissions for having bonfires.  They usually run from the start of November till the end of April - depending on the weather conditions.  This year they said the medio ambiente won't come to do the permits till after it's rained,  which  day of the week do they come?  when it's rained.

So now it has rained, but we don't know if it's enough for the  permits to be issued.  Next time we're passing by we'll take last years permit and leave it there to be re-issued and collected later.   It'll be olive pruning time soon and we want to burn the trimmings.  They take a long time to rot down in the compost even after going through the shredder and being layered with other fruit and veg waste, so alternate years we burn and add the ash instead.

Of course, along with rain comes a drop in temperature.  So off with the summer bed cover - a cotton throwover, and on with the heavier cosy bedding.  The rugs have come out of their bags and are down on the floors - the tiled floors suddenly get cold and once that happens they won't warm up till next year.  The wood burners are laid ready for lighting,  scones and jam for elevenses  yesterday and a rice pudding in the slow cooker for tonight.

And next weekend the clocks change - autumn is here!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Winners and losers.

Some plants are always winners and some have  big  'hit or miss' years.  We've made a list of this years planted vegetables and fruits called "foolproof, very insecty, not worth the hassle and just enough to eat".

Under foolproof comes strawberries, every type of bean, peas, kohlrabi, chillis, aubergines, sugarbeets, garlic, cucumbers and lettuce.

Under the insect heading comes cabbages, brussels and kale.

Not worth it (cheap to buy for the amount we need) cauliflowers, sweet potatoes, onions, sweetcorn, courgettes, celeriac, parsnip, swede, leeks, peanuts, radish.

Grow enough just to eat as an extra - carrots, tomatoes and potatoes.

A bit of a mixed up list as things like courgettes should grow well and some years they do, but we don't eat that many and when they don't do well like this year, it's something we think is easier to buy when needed rather than digging and planting then getting a glut that we don't want.

Onions are a strange one, they always grow but never swell very much - I use them more for salads and pickling.  Bought a sack last week - 30cents a kilo.  Is it worth buying the plants and then looking after them for the  6 months they are in the ground? 

Tomatoes we have always grown lots of, this year no-ones have done well and although we have lots dried, they are cheap to buy in season (3 kilos for 1 euro) and large tins of tomato triturada (sort of pulped) work out even cheaper per kilo than that.

Potatoes need loads of space as we seem to eat lots over a year and I'm not sure we could ever be self-sufficient but if they sprout in the kitchen, then we plant them and eat them as tiny ones with mint and butter - so we grow them as an extra.

This years carrot crop was amazing, we grew round carrots, and for using in salads and as a baby veg they were lovely.  But now they've all gone so we're back to buying them.

Cauliflowers took a lot of space for many months, some bolted and some didn't stay white but sort of tasted ok, especially under cheese sauce when you couldn't see the colour.  Worth it? Probably not,  but worth trying. 

The biggest disappointment as always are the cabbage family.  Love sprouts, red cabbage and green cabbage,  no problem growing them but those pesky butterflies and caterpillars drive me mad!  This years kale is growing very well and tastes wonderful - but needs so much cleaning before cooking as the little grey flies are tucked up tight in the curly edges.......but we'll persevere.   We always plant them in different places - this year they are spread over 3 different areas in the hope the butterflies won't find some.  One year we'll win!

But the gold star of the crop has to go to the strawberries  and the bean family.  Never let us down,  no insect damage, the beans bend with the wind, the birds eat other fruit and leave the strawberries to us, just give them plenty of water and sun and pick and eat.  Wonderful.  I wish all fruits and vegetables were so easy.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Planting by the moon

Not by moonlight, but by the cycle of the moon!   What seems like many years ago, but was probably our first spring here, Manolo came round one day asking if it was creciente  - what crescent?  de la luna   he said as if that made it any more obvious.  But what he was referring to was an age old custom of doing things by the cycle of the moon, when it's rising you plant things that grow up - leafy, herby types of plants - and when it's a waning moon you plant root vegetables.   There's more to it than that, but basically that seems to be how it works.

I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when I saw a link to this website about planting according to the different moon phases and  I read it meaning to try something and see if it grew any quicker than expected.  I sent the link on to a friend and then forgot all about it....when I next saw her she said thanks for the moon guide, the coriander and parsley both appeared after 2 days!  Really quick, especially for parsley which  is apparently very slow to germinate and I find almost impossible to grow! 

I've had a look for this week and it seems I have a bit of a break from planting as the moon is in it's last quarter and we can concentrate on digging, weeding and composting.    Apart from today that is as I have a day off  'cos it's my birthday.

Opened my cards and a present over breakfast, went out for a coffee and then spent some money on myself,  then later we had lunch and  drinks with  friends.  Another lovely sunny day, clear blue skies and not a sign of autumn yet.  Long may it last. 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Colourful quince.

Another day, another batch of quince to deal with.  But not chutney today although I started off the same:   peel it,  core it, and chop it.  It wouldn't all fit in the pressure cooker so some was simmered in a pan and look at the difference in colour! 

Ready for roast pork...

 I think the longer it's cooked the deeper the colour and the pressure cooker is a very intense way of cooking.  Much less water, much quicker and a different colour altogether.  So it was all cooked, drained, pureed, then some was frozen for serving as 'apple sauce' with roast pork while the rest was put back in the pan, an equal amount of sugar added and it was then simmered until thick, then cooled, poured into containers and is now in the fridge.

and ready for some good strong cheese.

 This is traditionally served with cheese at the end of a meal although it's very nice on hot, buttery toast too.  And possibly on scones instead of jam? Worth trying I think!

PS: Just  look at the colour of this sky!  Finished with the quince at 3pm, came upstairs to find it was still 26.7° in the shade so had a couple of  hours by the pool reading and topping up my tan just in case autumn should come soon.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Todays offering...

I've finally got round to doing something with the quince that I picked last Tuesday, luckily they last for a few weeks after picking.  I make some sort of chutney every year with some of them and a few years ago - 2009 to be precise - I found a recipe that included lots of Indian spices such as cardamom seeds, coriander seeds, turmeric...  Unfortunately my filing system/recipe file has totally let me down and I can't find any trace of the original recipe.  So off to google I went, put in the fruit, spices etc that I think went in the chutney and up popped a recipe from Turkey.  It didn't look familiar, don't think it's the same one, but that's what I've made today although with a bit of tweaking of the ingredients.

The end result but only using half the quince.
It's a 2 stage recipe, day 1 you peel, core and chop 2.5 kilos of quince and put in a bowl then cover with 700g of brown sugar.   I used soft brown but not dark.  Cover with cling film - or a shower cap - and leave overnight.

Day 2, put the sugary quince into a large pan - I used the pressure cooker - and add these spices..... Dry roast 1 teaspoon cumin seeds and 2 teaspoons coriander seeds and grind.  Add to fruit along with 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds, 1 teaspoon turmeric powder, 2 or 3 teaspoons grated ginger, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 8 cloves garlic finely chopped,  2 spanish onions finely chopped, 2 teaspoons salt, and chilli. 

(chilli is to taste, the recipe said 1 teaspoon of cayenne but I added 1 fresh chilli absolutely no chilli taste at all, added 1 more, and 1 more, 4 in total but I wanted a fruity chutney with some kick.)

To all the fruity spicy mix add 500ml of white wine vinegar and pressure cook for 10 minutes on high,  reduce pressure with cold water, mash fruit down using potato masher,  add remaining 300ml of vinegar and simmer till thick.  Don't know how long it would take to reach that consistency if cooked without a pressure cooker, this took 40 minutes in total.

Put into sterilized jars until - well, most chutneys you have to keep till they improve.  We ate the left overs tonight as there was just a bit too much for 11 jars and it was wonderful. 

PS:  the caterpillars are back...on the biggest, best red cabbage that we have - or had!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Cabbages and caterpillars.

What is it with caterpillars and cabbages?  I know they have to eat but why our veg?  The seeds germinate well, the small plants get transplanted and continue happily in their new place,  I make cages out of netting and still the butterflies manage to get in.  They seem quite happy to eat both red and green cabbage, brussel sprout plants, kale but - luckily for us - not cauliflowers (yet!)  The netting has quite small holes, sold either as pea or bird net, but I have seen a butterfly in the cabbage cage and then as I watched, it folded it's wings and went out through the net.  It was the middle of the morning,  I was stone cold sober,   I wasn't imagining it.

So how to stop them?  I check all the vegetables every morning and sometimes again late afternoon, pick off any caterpillars I find and put them in a bucket of water  (they don't swim very well),  but yesterday when I went to water the vegetables and the olive trees I found that the caterpillars had moved on to the kohlrabi and swede leaves!  Some days I find one or two leaves of a plant completely stripped back to the framework of the leaf but no caterpillar around.  Maybe something else is getting in the cage and eating them but there's no way a bird can get in. 

It's very frustrating and annoying - lots of our time and effort goes into the preparation of the land, digging, weeding, watering, just to fatten up a family of cabbage white butterflies and caterpillars.  And that's not even thinking about the aphids which get onto the plants as well.  Sort of a grey fly thing, tiny and very difficult to get rid of.  Maybe something to do with the caterpillars as we always seem to get both,  not one or the other.  But they don't strip a plant bare and can be washed off the leaves eventually.  Took 5 washes to get the kale clean on Sunday but it can be done. 

I know you can live in harmony with nature and that wasps, ants and ladybirds etc all do their bit to eat as many insects as possible.  There's no way we want to resort to sprays as we like to know what's going on our plates so all we can do is plant far more than we need and hope the caterpillars appetite doesn't grow when they see the extra veg that we have planted. 

One of the plants that nothing touches are the strawberries.  I made 2 new beds yesterday and planted out 40 small plants from runners.  They've been rooting in yoghurt pots and have grown out the bottom of the pots now, so I cut them away from the mother plant and transplanted them.  There are still another 37 in pots.........and lots more that have 'run' and rooted themselves in between the parent plants.  I'm going to leave them all for the time being, and next summer see how well this years 2 year olds fruit.  If they don't do well, then they'll come out this time next year and I'll use that space for something else.  Not desperately short of space so no need to get rid of them just yet.  The original mother plant is now 4 summers old and still producing fruit and babies.  This years plants are still giving us about half a kilo a week, enough to have with cornflakes for breakfast.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

It's wine time again

Out first thing this morning with lots of buckets to collect as many grapes as we could for this year's wine making.  The grapes started off well this year but for some reason many of them have shrivelled up.  Not just ours, our neighbours too and the many Paco's here also have less grapes.  So we've picked everything within reach and although not as much as last year, it all helps.

We bought a fruit press a few years ago for squeezing the grapes which up till now we've chopped in the food processor.  But that's not designed for kilo after kilo of grapes and also it takes longer as we have to pick the grapes off  the bunches.  So this year we invested in a 'crusher'  - looks a bit like a wheelbarrow top with a handle - it bursts the grapes ready for squeezing or fermenting then squeezing, depending whether you want red or white wine.  It's very similar to this one.....

Picked 18 buckets of grapes altogether......

While on the hunt for grapes, I noticed the quinces were dropping onto the ground, it's only a small tree, but has provided 24 fruit for another day's work.  Probably make chutney as we still have some frozen from last year for pies/crumbles and I have a good recipe for a spicy chutney, a good alternative for when the mango chutney runs out.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Pickles and chutneys

Most of the pickles and chutneys we make are using our own fruits and vegetables but there are a couple of exceptions, hot lime pickle and mango chutney. 

Hot lime pickle and mango chutney are both favourites,  lovely served with a plate of poppadoms together with yoghurt and mint dip before eating the curry main course.  I also make a spicy aubergine pickle to have with it, but those we grow and I make the pickle when we have too many to eat and don't need any more in the freezer.

We saw hot lime pickle for sale over here, think it was about €4.50 a jar,  the recipe I have uses 12 limes and makes 2 jars.  The first time I made it, they cost  €2.50, the next time was a few months later and in a different shop and they were nearer 3.50.  Maybe slightly out of season or something.  Anyway with a few teaspoons of spices and quite a lot of chilli it's no different from the real - and more expensive -  thing.

Mango chutney is another one we make but buy the fruit,  the last batch I made when John saw two mangos  for a euro - that made 2 jars as well.  

And the spicy aubergine pickle is another tasty one.  Quick, simple to do and tasty although like a lot of pickles you do have to leave it to mature for a few weeks.  Although you can eat it straight away, the flavour is so much better after a few weeks in the fridge.

So the recipes....

First up,

Hot lime pickle
Take 12 limes, juice 4 of them and cut the remaining 8 into small, teaspoon sized pieces.  Put in a bowl with 6 teaspoons of salt. Stir well, cover, put in fridge and  stir daily for 4 days. 

Day 5: dry roast 1 teaspoon each of cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and grind.  Add 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder and 5 of chilli powder.  Mix well,  add to lime mix and keep for 3 more days.  After this time the lime skin should be soft, if not keep a few more days.  Put into sterilized jars and keep for a few weeks - if you can!  Fills 2 ex-mayo jars.

Spicy aubergine pickle
Dice aubergines, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix with enough turmeric to coat them, then fry in enough oil till they go golden brown (about 5 minutes)   Add chopped garlic, 1inch piece finely chopped ginger root, 3 teaspoons garam masala and 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper.  Simmer till aubergine is soft.  No precise amounts of aubergine to garlic - it's all in the tasting!  Should be quite oily though, the recipe says 2 cups oil to 1 and 1/2 lbs aubergines.  I just make it as and when I have too many aubergines so it's a bit  hit and miss but still tasty.  Bottle, put in fridge and as before, keep it as long as you can as the flavours improve after a few weeks.

Mango chutney 
3 mangoes, peeled and cubed, in a bowl with  200g soft brown sugar,  (I think the darker the better for a really rich flavour) 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger.  Mix and leave for about 2 hours.  Then put into a heavy-based saucepan with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 chopped garlic cloves, 1 large chopped onion, 400ml white wine vinegar and stir constantly till cooked and thickened. (recipe says up to 2 hours but it's never taken that long).  Leave to cool, put into sterilized jars and into fridge.  As before, keep if you can for a few weeks.
Makes 2 jars.

All you need now are some poppadoms, some cucumber raita, yoghurt and mint dip and a very large plate!


Tuesday, 27 September 2011

There is such a thing as a free lunch!

We were in Yator yesterday morning and when we'd finished it was almost lunchtime.  Didn't have anything planned to eat here so thought we'd stop in at the bar for a beer and tapas - Roger's tapas being almost meal sized.  (not sure how to spell his name, it's pronounced like the  Rocher in Ferro Rocher chocolates and maybe - in Cuba where he's from -  that's how it's spelt)

Although the sign on the door says Lunes descanso (Mondays resting -   a day off) there were a few people outside,  and another guy inside with a beer.  But when we asked for a drink Roger said not here, let's go over to the we went across the square wondering why.  Yes,  Monday is their day off to cook and clean but he would rather have a beer with people leaving his long-suffering other half to do  the work.  Eventually 5 of us were in the salon, another couple came and went and it turned out that there had been a 'do' Sunday evening and we were drinking the barrel left from fiesta plus eating the tapas too.  Dishes of olives, patatas pobre, slices of cheese and fresh bread.  (The salon is the village hall)  Some melons left  over too so we were given 2 of them to bring home.

Fernando came in looking dusty (and in need of a beer)  but he'd not been harvesting almonds as I thought but runner beans - would we like some?  Back he came with a carrier bag -  weighed them today, 4 kilos.

One of our fellow drinkers said he was only staying for one beer as he was off to Cadiar for lunch.....then he had another, and another, and so did we, then he said "I'll cook, lets go up to my house" so we did - four of us - and had rather a mixed meal...sardines, fried eggs, fried frankfurters, jamon and chillis fried together, a salad of tomatoes and onions,  bread (bit dry but couldn't have been the previous days'  as they don't deliver on Sundays) and a bottle of somebody's  home-brew.
A bit surreal really, the 'chef' who'd gone out dressed for a restaurant in his very smart white chinos and striped shirt,  plus hat,  took off his shirt so it didn't get splashed on and replaced it with a wonderful flowery apron.  Wouldn't let any of us help prepare the lunch or tidy up afterwards.  A cup of tea followed at another house then I was given 2 house plants in need of a little bit more tlc than they'd been getting. The 'chef'  was last seen heading back to the bar - plus shirt, minus apron - whereas we headed home with all our goodies.

And when we asked for the bill from the bar/salon - Roger thought about it then said  "nada. "

A wonderful afternoon, although a bit longer than we'd anticipated!

Friday, 23 September 2011

First day of Autumn

The first day of Autumn and late this afternoon came  the first rain we've had since June 6.  Actually, we don't remember rain then but the gardening diary that we keep says "thunder and showers 1pm and 6pm". 

It was a lovely clear sunrise - I went out early with Monty and Pip for a walk but as the sun rose so the clouds gathered and although the sun was there it really struggled to get through today.  Not cold, but not hot either.  Then later this afternoon a breeze picked up, I put all the sunbed and chair cushions away just in case,  as we know from past years that the weather can change really rapidly.  About 6pm, a few drops of rain started then we had a fairly steady drizzle for a few hours.  Enough to dampen the ground, it smells really earthy outside.  Took off the covers from the compost heaps to let the rain get in them too.

It seems to have stopped now, took the umbrella out with me when we went for a last walk this evening but only a few spots coming down.  Tomorrows forecast is back to sunshine, although it is cooling down now.  Some of the leaves are starting to drop, especially the almond trees, when we knock off the almonds the leaves come down too, but they all get raked up and composted.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Lots of chillis.

About 4 years ago one of the many Paco's gave us a long string of dried chillis,  2 different types,  1 long and dark red, the other small and round and very hot.  We called the round ones Scotch Bonnets although they weren't because Scotch Bonnets are squashed looking and these looked like small fat peppers. And the long ones just became known as Paco's long reds.

We saved seeds from both types and grew them for the next couple of years,  ate fresh and dried and again saved seeds.  Last year they seemed to take forever to germinate so we bought 10 chilli plants as well which produced  nearly 500 very hot, very small chillis.  (I know because  I counted them when I picked as I couldn't believe how many chillis such small plants could produce)

We also grow jalapeños - some years we have had almost a forest of them, this year less grew but still enough.
Jalapenos in the sunshine
The normal hanging down type

But the strange thing is the way the chillis from Paco grow.  All our other chillis grow hanging down from the plant but both of Pacos varieties grow upwards.  And we have no idea what type they - any one recognise them? 

The 'Scotch Bonnets' - or may be not.
The long reds that grow up!

I know, looks more like a pepper but it's a chilli.
If you like jalapeños and cream cheese, then for a quick tapas, cut the chilli in half lengthwise and fill with cheese and eat.  Removing the seeds is up to you, depends on how much spicyness you like. 

Jalapeño Poppers.
For a hot tapas - takes a bit longer but it's worth it - slit open a jalapeño and carefully fill with cream cheese.  Easier to do with an piping bag for icing than with a teaspoon.  Leave on the stalk, dip the jalapeño in tempura batter and holding the stalk carefully lower into hot oil.  When the batter has started to brown you can let go of it.  If you just drop it into the fat it'll probably sink and stick to the basket.  We first had these as a bar snack in Rochester, New York, we  found them in England but breaded not battered - a bit on the stodgy side.  Tried making and freezing them but the chilli seemed to lose it's crispness, much better made fresh.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Catching up.

I'm still here - I know it's nearly 2 weeks since I last wrote anything but I've  been busy with one thing or another.  Still watering the vegetables on a twice weekly basis but there are less to water now as the borlotto beans are beginning to dry out and are being picked for seeds and  the sugar beet is frozen,  but the cauliflowers, swedes, carrots, kohlrabi, chillis, peppers, aubergines, tomatoes, cabbages, kale and sprouts all need water still.  And we mustn't forget the strawberries.  Picked half a kilo this morning and we now have about another 30 runners potted up into old yoghurt pots.  The roots haven't yet come out the bottom of the pots so I'm leaving them for a few more weeks,  last year I planted them into a new bed at the end of September but lots of them died off.  I think it's still too hot - 30° at 4pm today -  they need the sunshine for the fruit but it's too much for a small plant to cope with.

Filled the drier with very ripe tomatoes this morning, they haven't been picked for a week and were very red and juicy.  Kept enough in the kitchen for us to eat until the next batch have fully ripened.  63° in the drier at 4pm, still getting very hot in there, even though the sun is lower in the sky.

I was away for a mid - autumn break last week from Tuesday till yesterday lunchtime.  John was chief vegetable waterer, dog walker and cook.  He's renamed Monty and Pip "the clingons" as they didn't leave his side during that time.  Normally they come for walks with me  and first thing in the morning they come to my side of the bed to make sure I'm awake.  But of course there was nobody there so they were a bit confused, especially Pip.  I have a suspicion that she slept up on the bed to be close to him at night as well. 

So that just about sums up the past fortnight,  we had friends over for dinner one night and they stayed here before going back to England the next morning,  but apart from that we've been doing the usual things.  The red chillis are strung up under the terrace drying, there are bunches of sage drying in the breeze too,  I've pruned down a geranium that had got way too big and collapsed on top of a sage bush, John has rebuilt one of the raised vegetable beds that was edged with  pallet wood but is now done with mini-bloques,  (half the thickness but full sized in height and width)  and we have plans to do the other 2 beds before next spring and fill them with fresh compost to give the plants a really good start in life.  We don't have many almond trees but the 2 closest to the house have been picked, husked and stored.  Now we need to get the other trees picked before the almonds drop off and roll down the slope into the  brambles.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Sugar beets.

Seems like a long time ago, but way back in June we were given some vegetables from one of the many Paco's which we realised were sugar beet.  Planted as he said, watered when he did, then watched them grow.  OK, not all of them grew wonderfully well, but as an extra and for free anything is good.  We googled at the time to find out what we could do with them:  boil, roast,  make into chips, fry sliced like crisps, grate raw for salads, even bake whole like a jacket potato!

This week the biggest ones have started lifting out of the ground, so we re-googled and when they are about 10cms plus across, and have grown for approximately 45 days, they are ready for eating.  I think that if they are grown for animal food, as Paco's are, it doesn't matter if they are left in the ground and get tough and woody - maybe a pig isn't as choosy about these things as we are!

Out came the biggest yesterday, the first one - and the smallest - we peeled and cut into sticks for eating raw.  Crispy and sweet and very delicious.  The next smallest we peeled and cut into carrot sized  pieces and cooked along with the carrots for dinner last night.  Again, delicious.  The flavour?  Think parsnip but sweeter.  Think of a just pulled baby carrot.  They are crisp like a turnip but sweeter.  (That's if you cook your veg like we do - certainly no soggy veg in this house)    The biggest ones weighed in at between 600 - 700 grams and they have been prepared and frozen for the winter.  There are more in the ground, hopefully they will carry on growing and fattening up.  And apparently the tops can be eaten too, a bit like spinach.  It's surprising how many green leafy tops are edible that you throw away...kohlrabi, beetroot, sprout tops, even the small  leaves from the horseradish plants.

Not pretty things, but tasty.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Not my flowers....

These aren't my yucca plants - they grow just up the road and are our neighbours.  Came into bloom earlier this week and don't they look amazing!   There are two of them, took these photos early one morning just as the sun was catching them.

What you can't see - or hear, obviously, are  the bees buzzing around the flower spikes. 

Monday, 29 August 2011

Almonds in August?

Over the past couple of days the almonds on one of our trees have been opening and I have started to pick them.  It's a tiny tree, more of a bush than a tree, about 1.5 metres max, but is absolutely laden with almonds.  We don't remember ever having almonds ready to pick quite so early - sometimes there's a tree with almonds that start to split  in  early September but August?? 

Once upon a time this particular bush-tree was a proper tree, tall and leggy, but totally unproductive and prone to greenfly and nasty sticky stuff all summer.  So late one autumn a few years ago, it was cut down to the base, and a very large base it was.  Took ages to cut through it, even longer to cut the trunk into chunks and longer still to log the chunks.  But it made wonderful firewood!  The next year nothing much happened apart from some new growth but this year all that new growth flowered beautifully and each flower made an almond and now we are picking them. 

The end result from today's picking was one bucket of almonds and two buckets of husks, the husks will be dried and kept for the wood burner.  When the almonds have dried out and have been shelled, the shells also go in the wood burner.

Outside now there is thunder rumbling away down south and lightning flashing - lighting up the garden.  Not enough clouds for rain and nothing is forecast but we quite often get this happening in late summer.  Maybe a build up of pressure?  Rain would be quite nice, not had any since the first week in June when there were a couple of showers. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A few more fiesta photos

The most enormous paella!

After lunch, waiting for the foam. Me, talking to son.

Bubble girl, Airi.

John and Mat with womble feet!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Outdoor living.

One thing neither of us really enjoy doing in this hot weather is cooking indoors.  The kitchen gets hot, we get hot and it's not nice.  But earlier this year some friends who were redoing their kitchen offered us their cooker and sink unit - if we could find a use for them.  'An outside cooking area'  we thought and put the cooker  in the shade of the olive tree out by the pool.  It's a 5 burner gas cooker and as gas is bottled here the cooker can live anywhere, doesn't need fitting near a socket.   I made it a cover for when it's not used and to keep the winter rains off it, John made a frame to fit the sink unit into and we started to cook out there.

We prepare food in the kitchen,  then bring it up to cook.  There is a spare set of china, cutlery and assorted other things stored in the caravan - salt and pepper, olive oil, glasses and such like.   The sink can only be described as functional - it's obviously not plumbed in as it's outside the caravan on a frame, so after washing up when you pull the plug out you must make sure there's a bucket underneath to catch the water otherwise you get splashed.  Then the water goes onto the plants, it's not wasted.

Made a wonderful pizza for lunch last week, well 2 actually as there were 4 of us,  and the oven needed to be very hot to get a crispy base - the thought of that indoors didn't bear thinking about but outside in the shade was fine.

So, a panorama of photos from around the pool.  

First is the drier for fruit and vegetables,  a kindling store,

a sunny sunbed, shaded seating area, shady sunbed

shady cooking area and caravan with sink outside.