Friday, 29 July 2011

Only 6 for dinner..

but this time we weren't cooking.  We went to dinner with some friends in Yator on Tuesday night  and had lots of tapas followed by a Morrocan style meal - chicken with apricots and cous cous.  Plus of course some drinks, mostly red wine which somehow got splattered on the cloth.  Add the colour of the sauce from the chicken which also dripped and the cloth was quite colourful!   No clearing up for us this time though - last Saturday morning we spent nearly 2 hours tidying up despite washing and clearing up as we cooked  on Friday evening. 

Another batch of tomatoes and strawberries through the drier today, we now have almost 3 jars of dried tomatoes which doesn't seem much but it's about 10 kilos of fresh ones.  I used to dry them halved but as these are big tomatoes - variety Simona, a bit like beef tomatoes, they take too many days so I quarter them and then they only take 2 days to dry.

Watering continues on a regular basis, picking as well, plus time-out in the afternoons when it's at its hottest.  The pool thermometer says the water temperature is 28° - that's probably right as the air temperature is 30+ in the afternoons.

The pear tree is now ready for picking, the pears are going rosy although still crunchy but they ripen when they've been picked.  Just need to find somewhere coolish to store them.  The kitchen is the best place as it's the old bodega and is the coolest place in the house, the temperature doesn't vary much at all.

August coming soon so most of the cortijo owners of Montenegro will be here for their fortnights holiday.  Our neighbours arrive this weekend for 3 weeks, Mariano and his wife on the 12th for 2 weeks and Antonio and his family for 2 weeks as well -  Antonio is our jabali supplier.  It's going to be a busy place and much noisier too what with the children next door  splashing in their plunge pool and their dogs running around barking.  Still, it's good language practice for us and nice to see the cortijada  lived in. 

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Dinner for ten.

There aren't many drawbacks about living the good life, being almost self-sufficient in fruit, vegetables and  wine, with the bonus of jabali (wild boar) every so often, but it means that because we don't go out very often we don't see friends very often either.  Some live as we do, growing fruit and vegetables and wine making but with live stock as well - chickens and rabbits mostly although some also have goats.   One couple we haven't seen since fiesta here in May although we can see the roof of their cortijo in the valley below.  We only go out about every 10 days or so, maybe not even that much, and they do the same.  But not on the same days as us, and not to the same shops.

So we decided to have a get together last night for 10 friends  - a curry night as we all enjoy  spicy food - and to catch up with with everyone.  I am the onion bhaji specialist, John is curry king.  Yesterday morning I made 72 bite-sized bhajis  (7 finely shredded onions, garlic, ginger, chillis, gram flour and curry paste plus water)  We had those as a starter with a large platter of poppadoms plus mango chutney, lime pickle, yoghurt and mint dip and chopped tomatoes.  All home made apart from the poppadoms which came from an Indian shop in Paris - thanks Mat.

Next a quick batch of bread dough to make naan bread with sultanas in (should have been sliced almonds too but couldn't find any on the shelf)  while John spent the afternoon brewing curry sauces.  A large selection as not everyone likes the same heat in their curry so we had a vegetable one,  bombay potatoes,  chicken madras,  prawn puri,  pork podina (marinaded in yoghurt and mint) and jabali vindaloo (marinaded in red wine and garlic to start with.)

Plus a large bowl of pilau rice with many added extras, so tasty and fluffy.  I can't recommend highly enough this was a Christmas present a few years ago and it's wonderful.  Follow his instructions for rice and it's impossible to have sticky boring white stuff ever again.

But back to last night,  plenty of food, lots of variety of flavours and heat and enough left for us for another meal.  Then to follow strawberry flan with ice-cream and cream.  Yes, more strawberries and I've picked more again today.

Everyone bought wine with them so plenty to drink too.  Then as we sat talking later on, the conversation got round to 'where can you go if you want to go dancing'.   'Wait for fiesta'  was the general opinion but we put on the music  and the terrace became our dance floor for the next couple of hours.  Photos were taken but not yet looked at.  They may appear here if not too embarrassing!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Sundried tomato puree.

The first of this years  tomato crop are in the dryer, we've been picking enough to eat for about a week but now there are too many  so they will be for 'out of season'.   But another job that needed doing was to make space on the kitchen shelves for this years dried fruits and vegetables. 

There were still 2 jars of dried tomatoes from last summer but no tomato puree so Thursday afternoon I put the tomatoes into boiling water to soak and then simmered them for about 10 minutes before liquidising.  You need equal amounts of tomatoes to water and that's it.  The hardest part is getting all the puree out of the liquidiser, I don't put all the cooking water in with the tomatoes but keep some back and use that to rinse it out afterwards.  It can always be added to the puree if needed - it's easier to add it than to remove it!  While it's still hot I put it into sterilised jars and when cold, into the fridge.  Don't know how long it lasts as we always use it quickly.

The strawberries dried very quickly and have such a wonderful intense flavour.  A dinner plateful - 2 layers actually - have dried so much that they only fill an ex-mint jelly jar.

We have one and a half kilos of apricots in the kitchen which we were looking forward to eating but they are very disappointing -  no juice at all - at least they won't take long to dry as we reckon they're half way there!   I thought about cooking them and then freezing for winter pies and crumbles but drying and storing in jars make much more sense especially as it's free and there is more use for dried fruits which can be rehydrated if needed.  Just need to get the tomatoes dried so there's some space for the apricots - but more strawberries coming - need a bigger dryer!

Tomorrow - Sunday  - is watering day and having done a last walk round everywhere just before sunset, I know that there are more tomatoes and strawberries waiting to be picked.  

It's time now to put my feet up and  have a large glass of wine .......or maybe two.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Early starts.

Early starts, lazy afternoons and late finishes - that seems to be the pattern at the moment.  Up and out with Monty and Pip by 7 o'clock for a good long walk before it gets too hot.  Even at that early hour it's about 22° but still fresh feeling.  Usually manage to pick some capers and then when I've a jar full and they've been brined for a few days, they get put in a 50:50 water and vinegar mix for storing. 

The fuente at Montenegro is still in full flow and so far this summer we haven't had to open the deposito tap to water our land as the overflow has been enough.   Instead of dumping the excess water down to the river as sometimes happens, we leave it flowing through the acequias and then it's always available if anyone needs it.  Plus, as our neighbours said, it's nice to hear the sound of running water.   And as the deposito is always full, if anyone needs lots of water to reach far away olives, there is plenty to provide a good whoosh.

Some of the fruit and vegetables are getting watered twice a week, especially the strawberries, borlotto beans and cauliflowers.  The aubergines, chillies, peppers, cucumbers and courgettes are done first thing every morning while they're in the shade.  The lettuces get done every evening as that is their shady time.  And in between times, we refill the storage tanks from the running water. We use pipes from the tanks to water the vegetable beds as the acequias run mostly round the edges of the terraces.  In some places we have diverted the water to fill channels around raised beds but  it's not always possible due to the slopes on the land.  Not huge slopes but it's easier with hosepipes. 

Picking, freezing, drying and bottling fruit and vegetables is an on-going job  now - picking and weeding while we water just becomes a habit.  I have an old paint tub with string, trowels, scissors, tiewraps, carrier bags, secateurs, labels, pens and all sorts of bits in that I take with me whenever I go to any of the veg patches as you never know what's going to need doing. 

Afternoons are relaxing times, for a couple of hours after lunch when it's really too hot to be doing much, we  take time out to swim, read, just chat and do nothing till the evening watering session followed by a drink or two and dinner.  And then after the last dog walk about 9.30, that's it for the day. 

Yesterday we were invited out for lunch at a friends house in Cadiar.  "Can I bring anything.....a bowl of strawberries for dessert possibly?"  Yes, still picking about half a kilo everyday.   So we had strawberries and cream after lunch but also they had a pot of melted chocolate to dip the strawberries  in first -  so yummy.

Lots of house martins still flying around.  They come swooping in one end of our terrace, hover around the beams and swoop out again, sometimes coming down very low.  But they haven't nested here yet.  Don't know if that's a good thing or not.  I don't want all the mess they make, but aren't they cute!   John took this photo today when he was down at a friends  house in Yator.  The nest has been there all spring but today was the first time he's seen any chicks. 

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Drying time.

The summer before last John made a small temporary dryer for drying tomatoes and fruit in - it worked so well that we used it last summer as well but this year  he has made a bigger one.  Completely different in shape, catches the sun from early morning as it creeps over the trees to almost sunset, although at that time the sun is not on the front of it but the side.  Still keeps the temperature high though.  The temporary one was a converted window on short legs with a black plastic base and didn't have much space to dry a lot at once.  This new one however has 4 drying trays in it and at the moment we have 2 trays of black figs and 1 of white mulberries in there.   It reaches a peak of about 60° inside between 2 - 3 pm.  Ideal drying temperature starts at 38° -  45° is better and 50° quicker still.  If it gets too hot things start to caramelise which isn't what we want!

Not sure what I'm going to do with the mulberries, it's more of an experiment as there was space and they were dropping off the tree.  Maybe put them in muesli?  Also we have a glut of strawberries again,  picking about 1 kg a day and even though we try, we can't keep up with them.  When there's space they too will go in the dryer - apparently dried strawberries are very nice added to cookie mixture, with cornflakes, in muesli or added to scone mix. Today's glut has been liquidised and frozen for using out of season - in a trifle?  on one of those sponge flan bases and then topped with cream and other fresh fruit?  Strawberry daiquiris??  Well John made us  one each a few nights back and it was more like a dessert in a glass not a cocktail.  Really thick and difficult to drink, could have done with a spoon not a straw.

And in the vegetable garden things are looking good.  The garlic has been harvested, we are picking/pulling carrots and kohlrabi as needed.   Growing well are kale, red and green cabbages, brussels, cauliflowers, sugar beet, swede, dwarf borlotto beans - some nearly ready for picking -  tomatoes - just started to pick this week - chillis, aubergines, peppers, cucumbers, courgettes and lettuces - cutting lettuce leaves as and when needed.  The leeks and celeriac are still rather small, not sure if they'll do well but there's plenty of time for them to do something. 

Some small onions are nearly ready for eating, these were the 'free' onions that I have mentioned before.  When you prepare an onion, cut off the root end and plant it.  After a few weeks it will put up a shoot and new roots will grow too.  If it makes more than one shoot, carefully divide the onion and replant.  Doesn't always work but if they were going into the compost anyway it's worth a try.  Mine have never grown as big as the original and so I use them for salads or as  pickling onions.

And did I mention strawberries?   It's our watering day today, the water is just running round the land now soaking in and everything is done, I just go and check it's all ok every so often and each time I find more ripe strawberries!  Either I'm not looking properly or they are ripening very quickly.