Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Afternoon walk.

We very rarely get such a low overnight temperature as last nights....when I opened the front door to take the dogs out this morning the thermometer said 0°.   At first I thought maybe the battery had gone but then it wouldn't have any figure on it at all,  and there was frost on the cars,  at the side of the road,  everywhere was glistening.   Definitely  hood up and gloves on type of morning.   And the oranges were oh so cold,  when I tried to pick them  my fingers hurt  so I did that with gloves on as well.

But then the sun has shone all day, lovely clear blue skies and after a trip to the shops this morning, a bit of  housework - not much, cleaned out and relaid the woodburner for tonight and a bit of a dust around - just enough.   Then after lunch as John was busy with other stuff,  I took the dogs for  a lovely long walk along the GR7 footpath to the river below El Golco.   The rosemary bushes are in full bloom and buzzing with bees, the gorse is starting to bloom too so there are spots of bright yellow amongst the blue of the rosemary.

Monty had a wallow in the water when we got to the river but Pip seemed a bit wary and only paddled far enough to have a drink.  The temporary wooden bridge built when the river changed course 2 winters ago is still there but not used by the look of it.  The concrete one is still joined up with the other bank where I suppose someones rebuilt it as there was a huge gap.

The first sight of El Golco from Montenegro

A much calmer river than after the bad winter rains of 2 years ago. 

The path to the river is mostly a single track, occasionally wider, but with terraced land either side.  Then suddenly this.....

 about 10 metres of dry stone wall, the land above doesn't seem to be any different there than anywhere else along that stretch.

The view on the way back is looking east towards Sierra Gador, still with a snowy top.

So an hour and a half walk in the sunshine, lovely and warm as well as yesterday there was a very cool breeze coming down from the snowy mountain tops.  Hopefully 2 sleepy dogs tonight,  that makes it sound as if they don't sleep well, they do, but a lie-in past 8 o'clock would be nice.  It might be warmer then outside too!

Friday, 27 January 2012


Did I mention when my new phone fell in a large bucket of white paint?????

We were painting the outside wall yesterday morning,  nice sunny day,  I put on an old work-shirt of John's to keep my t-shirt clean from paint splashes and put my phone in the  top pocket.  I have a phone holder that clips on the waistband of my trousers but that was indoors, I also have a knitted sort of thing that you put your phone in and  that you hang round your neck but that too was indoors.   You know what's coming don't you?  

I lent over the paint bucket too far, my phone fell out of my pocket and it landed keypad side down into the paint.   John said something along the lines of   "well, that's well and truly *************!"     'Don't panic'  I said as I rushed indoors with paint covered hands and phone, grabbed an old cloth and wiped the excess paint off the key pad.  Another cloth, more wiping and eventually the  phone appeared from the mess,  cotton buds,  tooth picks for those awkward edges,  tried to use it and yes!  it's fine.  Slightly off colour looking which is perhaps understandable  given where it's been but at least it works.

The paint was thick and gloopy,  if it had been a bucket of water it would have sunk without trace but it just went splat onto the surface.

But why do things always fall face down? 

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

And that was another fiesta.

Another week gone by, another fiesta in Yator -  the big one this time, San Sebastian, but quieter than usual.  Lots of cars in the village but not so many people there at Saturday lunchtime.  Some years you can't get near the tables of food it's so crowded, this year there were less people and less food too.  This morning when I was on my way out I spoke with Eduardo and he said people don't want to pay for fiesta and if they don't pay there is less in the 'pot' for the next event and so it goes on.   Payment is almost voluntary,  when you are around over the weekend, someone will come up to you with a large book, write down your name and you pay what you think is right.  If they don't find you, you can always go and find them or pay more next fiesta.  But if you don't pay anything, and neither do lots of other people,  then the fiesta fund gets smaller and smaller.

We don't usually go down for the evening dance, by the time it gets started either we've had  too many glasses of wine to drive down, or it's so late we're ready for bed.  Some friends from UK who have homes here as well,   had dinner together on Friday night and at 11.30 they wandered across to the salon to find it still empty but apparently it did get going by midnight.  Then finished at 7am.   Followed by another all night session on Saturday night.  And a late night on Sunday too. 

In the vegetable garden, what is growing is doing well.  Coriander, pak choi, lettuces, broad beans and peas were all planted October or November time and are very healthy.  Chillis left from last year are all red and slowly drying on the plants,  sprouts are still sprouting although quite tiny ones, cabbages are slowly getting hearty and kale is still making new leaves, the sugar beet that was too small and ignored has taken on a new lease of life and is looking very healthy.  Unfortunately though, something has decided to take a regular short cut through one of the broad bean and pea beds, cutting across the coriander and lettuce rows and exiting  via the pak choi.   Could be a small dog or cat or fox, or one of those chasing the others.  Most days I have to mound up soil around bent or broken stems and hope that not too much gets too damaged.   Broad beans are very forgiving, they just grow again from the base and if the stem isn't completely snapped the plant will continue to grow but with a curved stem.  It just heads on up to the sun and ends up U- shaped.

Still picking and juicing oranges, still pruning for firewood, other on-going jobs around the place that we start and stop according to the weather and time available.  Olives?  The mill this year is paying 26 cents a kilo, the lowest we've ever heard of.  8 years ago we were getting 79 cents.  Not many on the trees, not worth the work.  It takes the same amount of work per tree to get 1 kilo or 10 or 100.   What there is on the tree is probably worth more as compost/fertilizer and left to drop and rot back into the soil. 

Thursday, 19 January 2012

10 to the litre

This doesn't refer to petrol consumption but to the number of oranges we pick to get a litre of juice.   Started picking on Tuesday morning,  24 oranges gave us just over 2 litres and today I picked 33 oranges which when juiced gave us a very large jugful.  The jug holds 3 litres and it was full to the brim.  Last year we juiced more than we could easily drink and ran out of bottles to freeze it in, so then we started to keep empty juice cartons when we bought juice out of season.  Rinsed, dried and stored the cartons in a dry place, now we only have to rinse them again and sterilize them - just in case - and the fresh juice can be poured into the cartons and frozen for the next 'out of season' months.

So it's orange juice for breakfast - plus coffee of course.  Can't start the day without a large mug of café con leche.  Orange juice  in the evening - plus a little bit of vodka - and a lot of ice.  Tomorrow morning I'll pick some more and that will  probably all get frozen.  Next time we're out at the shops we'll get some sugar and make some more marmalade.  Last years was tasty but a bit too solid -  think what it must be like if it needs 30 seconds in the microwave before you can get the spoon in it - different recipe this year so hopefully slightly softer.

So oranges with everything at the moment, and then the juiced halves go on the top of the woodburner to dry out in the evening giving  a lovely orangey smell to the lounge,  when they're dry  they get burnt in the fire  and another batch goes  on the top for drying.  If we get overwhelmed with orange skins, they go into the compost heap.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Firewood again.

Chain sawing for him,  trimming off anything that the loppers can cope with for me,  more chain sawing and then log splitting.   After we've stacked the wood in the log store we start - or try - to deal with  the enormous piles of greenery that we're left with.  We did this all Saturday afternoon and got rid of everything from Wednesday and Thursday's tree pruning  but haven't done anymore till today as the weather got too cold and cloudy on Sunday followed on Monday by a very grey day.

Low cloud, drizzle in the morning, snow showers in the afternoon, more drizzle later in the evening followed by gusty winds in the night.  Not a day to be outside doing anything, so we lit the fires and stayed in cooking, reading, doing not much at all.

When the clouds lifted on Monday morning there was snow on the Contraviesa,  on the hills above Mecina Bombaron but not here.   It tried to be nice yesterday, the sun  really did try hard to peek out from the clouds but still too cold if you weren't actually in the sun doing anything.  However today's been great.  All the washing caught up with, dried and put away,  and  another tree tackled.  John cut off an enormous  trunk that was overhanging the bottom land, tied it up with rope first so it didn't disappear into the undergrowth (overgrown bramble patch actually) and when it was down we saw that it was mostly hollow and riddled with ants. 

It's now cut up, logged, split and  stacked,  and the ants are scurrying around looking for a new home.  A few more branches to deal with tomorrow from that tree then it's on to the next one.  

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Winter food favourites.

This time of year we keep a close eye on the weather forecast as we normally get some rain or snow or wind or maybe it'll stay sunny for a bit longer!  But what we don't to do is start an outside job and find it suddenly gets too cold to be painting a wall and that we've wasted time and money.

With that in mind, and the forecast saying cloud and not much above 10° yesterday, I thought I'd have a cooking morning.  There was steak and kidney with lots of gravy left from the night before, mince in the fridge, lots of potatoes and onions,  so I had a pie making morning.  Meat and potato pies may not sound exciting but with slow cooked onions for flavour, browned mince, add the cooked diced potato and finally a spoonful of gravy - steak and kidney yesterday but any left over gravy is good - and you have a really tasty pie. 

I made one batch of pastry and used that up,  made another lot too,  the end result was 11 individual meat and potato pies,  another 4 that I added curry paste to the gravy for a bit a difference,  4 steak and kidney pies, and then we had some for lunch as well.  There was flour everywhere, except in the storage box, need to go and stock up soon!   But we have lots of instant-ish lunches and evening meals.  Pre-cooking the filling, glazing the pastry with egg and then freezing the pie,  means it can come straight out of the freezer and into the oven - it just needs 40 minutes at 200°.   Plus, depending on your appetite, a big buttery jacket potato, or maybe some crunchy chips. 

Definitely winter warming food.  Otherwise known as comfort food.  Along with rice pudding,  steak and dumplings,  shepherds pie and pickled red cabbage or beetroot,  big hearty soups and crusty bread,   hot spicy wine,   porridge for breakfast,  ...... there are some lovely things about winter time involving food and drink!

Any more favourites anyone?

Friday, 13 January 2012

New cushions.

This is not an advert, I'm not on commission on anything like that but I do think when you get quick efficient work done it's surprising.  It shouldn't be of course, when you're paying and someone says this is the price and this is the timescale.....

We have a black corner unit in the lounge, not leather but you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference.  Over the last few months the surface of the corner cushion started to crack and split.  I kept thinking I'd better take it to the upholsterer in Cadiar, of whom we'd heard good things, but as Christmas got closer and closer and we'd still not done anything about it, John said maybe we'd better leave it  till the New Year as we don't know how long it'll take and we don't want Christmas with a cushion-less seat.

Wednesday I finally got round to taking it into Juan's shop - more like a workshop than a plush store - showed him the problem and he pulled a roll of fabric out of the corner of the room, said it's 10 euros a metre and will cost 15 in total and be ready in the morning.  Amazed doesn't describe what I thought, I did double check the price with him - are you sure that includes your work?  yes, quite sure.  And ready tomorrow morning?  yes, quite sure.

Now I'd also heard that he will give you the old cushions and covers from re-upholstery jobs if you want a dog bed for your pet, so I asked and he said you can have this one.  A nice cherry red fabric, feels like suede but isn't, and how much would you like for that I asked?  Nothing, it's only going in the rubbish, you can have for free.

So yesterday morning I collected the re-covered seat cushion and Pip is now the proud owner of a cherry red dog bed.  That means Monty can stretch out at night on the previously shared bed without squashing her.  And it was 15 euros for the re-covered cushion and nothing for hers.  And all within 24 hours as promised.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

2 out of 3.....

They do say that 2 out of 3 isn't bad,  but when it's relating to your olive harvest - or lack of olives to harvest - I don't think it's good at all.  Last year we had a very small harvest and the year before they were full of the olive fly and those olives that managed to hang on to the tree till January, then got blown off in the winter winds.  This year  about two thirds of them are shrivelled and infected with the fly.  They don't stay on the tree long, the mill won't take them off the floor, the quality of oil is not good - the acidity is too high - so another year with no oil.

We do have some trees that are of a different variety, small trees but big olives, excellent for brining and they ripen much earlier.  So at the end of October/beginning of November I picked enough to refill the spaces on the shelves.  Last year I did half with garlic in the oil but they didn't taste that much different so this year they are just all in oil.  The oil isn't wasted, it gets used in cooking, as does the oil from storing the dried tomatoes.

Having said that, the oil from the local mill is not ours, it's a cooperative, and it's just as cheap to buy oil when on offer at the supermarkets as to work like mad for a couple of months, take the olives to the mill, pay for the processing and then find extra virgin on offer for the same price but without the work.  As they say, that's a no-brainer.  We still need to prune to get the firewood but without picking off the olives, it's a quicker job and can be done at a more relaxed pace, not when the mill is open.

None of this is good news for the mill though, last year they said that the less people harvest due to the low cost of buying oil,  the less people  live on their land and tend to it, the less production there is........the less likely it is they will be able to continue opening the mill.  It's a family run business  and has been for a long time.  Sad if it comes to that but where's the incentive to pick them?  One of our neighbours did his last week, the lorry came up from Yator to collect the sacks of olives,  he took his harvest as oil but for 30 cents a kilo, is it really worth doing it for money?  To put it in perspective, it works out at about 2 euros an hour.

But for firewood, it is worth pruning.  We've  found that the drier that we use in summer for tomatoes, figs etc is very good for rapid drying of wood. This time of year it's  empty but still hot from the  sun and wood starts to dry and split within a couple of weeks.  Handy to know just in case winter should arrive before we are fully re-stocked.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Early almond blossom

The sun has been shining for days and days now, in fact we can't remember the last time it rained,  the temperature has been high enough for me to change into a summer skirt by about 11am- ish  but back into trousers by 5pm as the sun goes down and loses it's heat.

At the start of this week, we were basking in 18 or 19° and one day it was 21° - a bit unusual even for here in early January.  But today although blue and sunny it's down to just touching 15.

The result of all this sunshine is early almond blossom.  We first saw some  when we went over the Contraviesa on the way to the airport before Christmas, but now our almond tree opposite the front gate is in  bloom and I noticed this morning that the trees on the hillside behind us are also flowering.  It was cold overnight - a touch of frost on the open ground - just hope the flowers don't get frosted otherwise there goes the almond crop for the year.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Just when you think it's all over....

Just when you think it's all over another fiesta explodes with daytime rockets and evening firework displays.  Christmas, New Year, then Yegen's fiesta is the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of January, last night was the 3 Kings celebration, today is Epifania del Señor and during all that there are seemingly random rocket explosions. 

On the evening of the 2nd, Yegen's firework display started just as I was about to take Monty and Pip for their last walk of the night.  She doesn't like fireworks, or rather doesn't like the noise, and runs to hide under the bed.  Couldn't take her out during the display which is normally quite quick and nothingy, so we waited in the garden for it to finish.  But it went on and on, John came out to watch with us, there were multicoloured fireworks which lit up the sky for about 15 minutes.  So much for the times of austerity!  Not sure how big Yegen is -  the population listed is for Alpujarra de la Sierra which is Mecina Bombaron, Yegen, Montenegro and El Golco.  This whole area only has a total of about 1100 people so a good display for the size of the village.

Today was Epifania del Señor,  we heard rockets being sent up from Yator and there was lunch in the salon, but as we'd been out for lunch yesterday with friends decided not to have two days out as there are things to be done.  There is also a dance tonight - starting at  10pm which normally means sound check time, followed by a few of the youths and the girls looking in the salon, it won't get going till nearer 11pm and won't be lively till nearer midnight.  Probably give it a miss.

As I said at the beginning,  just when you think it's all over,  another one is being planned.   Yator's main fiesta is in January.  They celebrate San Sebastián Mártir  - January 20th this year -  so I'm assuming that weekend will be fiesta weekend.  But not always!  Just to surprise you, sometimes it's the 3rd weekend of the month,  the weekend before the day,  not the one closest to the day.  Confused?  So are we some years.  The best person to ask is Roger at the bar as it will be a busy weekend for him.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Big birds - Vultures?

Just having an afternoon cuppa in the sunshine, chatting together and thinking how quiet it was for a holiday Monday, when I happened to look up and saw a  flock of big birds soaring high above us.  Ran for my camera, John got his as well and we took lots of photos.  I took over a minute of slightly grainy video footage - the birds were really a bit high up for my camera - and John  took  these  (actually he took 20 but these are the edited highlights)

Altogether there were 10 birds,  having looked at the bird book we think they are Griffon Vultures, although we get Bonelli's eagles here, they only ever come in twos, the only big birds that come so many  together are the vultures.  And they are big!    They have a wing span of almost two and a half metres and are about a metre long.  They swooped and soared around above Montenegro then gradually drifted up the valley towards Mecina.

They look so graceful that it's hard to imagine just how big they really are. 

Ps:  the sky really  is that colour,  18° in the shade again today,  not a cloud in sight and nothing apart from sunshine on the forecast either.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Year thoughts.

Every New Year brings new thoughts about what to do with our  land :  what shall we grow, what is easy to grow, what is best bought when in season and cheaper than doing it yourself.....

Each year we seem to be  growing more and more,  that obviously has to be stored so we now have 3 freezers running, plus jars of dried, brined or vinegared stock.  Drying and storing in jars is the most economical,  buying in season actually works out cheaper sometimes when you take into account of these things.....seeds- compost- pots- bottling- gas- electricity etc.   Add to that the immense amount of time we spend digging and rotavating, planting and weeding, watering and harvesting, and at the end of it there might be a bug-infested soul destroying crop!

So this year we have decided to grow things that are easy and reliable,  such as beans and peas,  chillis and strawberries,  kohlrabi and globe carrots,  kale and lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers in smaller numbers so we have enough to pick and eat as and when needed,  squash and courgettes in the newly built raised side garden bed - again, only enough to eat without the need for another freezer.  Plus we want to grow things that can't be bought, such as horseradish,  but we've given up on swede, turnip and sweet potato, there are easier alternatives to those such as squash.

We always try to grow onions and garlic, with some success, but never achieve the size of onion that we can buy locally.  25 kilo sack for 5 euros 50 cents - 22 cents a kilo / 59 huge onions.  Can't get them to grow that big, ours are only pickling size at best!  Our garlic always grows but never very big and this year it didn't store well, all went soft and although I've planted it in the hope something may happen there is no sign of anything yet.

Potatoes are another extra, we plant sprouting forgotten ones and if they produce enough for a few meals it's a bonus but it's easier to buy them.

But the strawberry plants are flowering and fruiting again, we had fresh strawberries on the Christmas trifle,  they seem to be unstoppable.

We have plenty of other things to occupy ourselves with,  we won't be sitting by the pool all day bored stiff and it would be nice to get out and about with Monty and Pip for long walks.

These new year thoughts may yet change as we look at the seeds we have left  from last year, look at the land and the amount of compost that needs to be dug in,  I'm sure we've thought all these thoughts before and ended up planting as much if not more than the previous year - but we don't have room for another freezer, the shelves are full from this year, so it'll have to be grow to eat only.   And I'd like to have a year that doesn't involve spending  every Sunday  watering,  and filling storage tanks for the coming week.

Whatever your plans, thoughts, and resolutions are for the coming year, hope you have a good one.