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.