Wednesday, 29 February 2012

I don't believe it!

Came indoors an  hour ago  to write something,  left a garden bathed in sunshine,  freshly cut wood still outside waiting for stacking,  chairs out,  cushions on them,  John's tools all waiting to go in the shed tonight....

a big gust of wind blew in through the open bathroom window, the door slammed shut, Pip came running under my chair, so I thought I'd better go and see why the sudden wind.  And it's all cloudy out there and raining!  Nothing on the forecast for today - where has it suddenly come from? 

John's got his tools in before they got  too wet and is now working in the shed not outside.  Pip and Monty have gone in their kennel and I've got the chairs and cushions under cover.  What a difference in an hour.

This week.....

We have had the most glorious weather recently,  breakfast as well as elevenses and lunch out in the garden and we haven't been coming indoors till 6.30 or so in the evening.  By the time we've cooked and eaten, washed up, fed and walked the dogs, it's quite late.  So that's why there hasn't been anything written for a week, not that we aren't busy, just haven't got around to sitting down here at the computer.

Still gradually pruning the olives and dealing with all the greenery.  That's what takes the time,  John can cut  out big branches really quickly but it takes ages to clear up afterwards.  We've also started digging some of the vegetables beds over, they are looking lovely and green but full of weeds, fortunately easy to dig despite the lack of rain.  I pulled out all the chilli plants and put the chillis to dry out ready for grinding, then dug and replanted with herbs.  Rows of sage, basil, parsley, coriander, rocket and chives.  Last years mint bed seems to have died off, maybe it'll regrow now it's warmer.  But there is lots growing in the running water up at the fuente so I pulled some out yesterday morning and have  got it in a large pot of water.  It's happier 'growing' like that than in a pot of soil.

After the deep freeze of early February,  most of the geraniums are brown and floppy but the new growth at the base looks ok.  I'm leaving them till winter is definitely over before pruning the old stuff out - just in case it gets chilly again.   We also have a dozen or so plants in pots and they are all crunchy.  They were only rooted cuttings from last spring but I don't think they'll pull through.  I've emptied the pots out this morning, and will have to replant - assuming we have enough cuttings available.

And we've had friends drop in the last couple of afternoons,  2 couples who walk a lot and stop for a chat when they're passing by.  Sometimes it's cup of tea time, sometimes it's late enough for a glass of wine, as was the case yesterday  - and the day before, now I think about it! 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Kill or cure.

We have four grape vines in the front garden which provide a nice shady walkway from the gate to the house, but  they don't produce many grapes any more.  The last time we can remember  having a really good crop was way back in 2005.  Every year we prune,  they flower and set bunches of grapes,   but then dry up before they get plump.  In fact one year we didn't bother to prune just to see if that made any difference but no.

Everybody here is an expert  - no matter what you're doing the comments will be something along the lines of " you don't want to do it like that".   Manolo showed us how to prune our vines when we came here and after he died we pruned as shown,  then along came Manolo's brother Estaban  who said "you don't want to do it like that" and cut each branch down exactly one bud shorter.

Fernando said only to leave three branches off each vine, then each branch from  that must be cut down to 3 or 4 buds.  Manolo used to say about 3 buds,  but his brother cuts them shorter leaving only one bud - or two at most.   Which way is right?  All we know is that we are not getting many grapes and you can't make wine without grapes!   Luckily we have grapes from other neighbours vines for wine.

So today was kill or cure day,  we've done a combination of everyone's advice from over the last 8 years.  John did the cutting as my pruning last year didn't make a difference,  hopefully this will do the trick.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Oranges, lemons and chillis

Oranges, lemons and chillis equals marmalade.   We've almost eaten the jar I made  to see if it would be nice, the thought of chilli for breakfast does seem strange, but I can assure you it's not.

The day before yesterday I made a complete batch of it - 4 one pound jars added to the rows of orange marmalade and lemon and orange on the shelf in the kitchen.  And very colourful they are too.

So the recipe....all in pounds and ounces as it's pre-metric!

2 pounds of fruit, half lemons and half oranges

18 fluid ounces of water if you're using a pressure cooker, double that if not.

4 chillis - may need more but add some and taste as it's cooking.  You can always add more but you can't get them out if it's too hot!

3  pounds of sugar

Put the whole, entire, not chopped up, lemons and oranges in the pressure cooker, with the water, bring to high pressure and cook for 15 minutes.  In a pan I'm told it'll take about 2 hours to get the fruit to the same softness - go and buy a pressure cooker!  

After 15 minutes, turn if off and leave till cold.  After about half an hour the fruit is still hot but with care and rubber gloves it can be handled, but what's the rush?  When it's cold, carefully scoop out the middles of the fruit and put into a separate pan, put the skins to one side for shredding back into the cooking juices.  Shred or chop as much as you like, some people like thin shreds, some like chunky marmalade.  Any not used, add to the pan of fruit middles.  Simmer this to release the pectin from the pulp and pips -  maybe needs a little more water if there isn't enough fruit juice - then sieve it back into the cooking juices.  Finely chop the chillis and add now.  Then add the sugar, heat till dissolved and boil till it reaches setting point.  Mine took 10 minutes, depending on where you live and what altitude you're at, it could be  quicker. 

Leave it to cool, stir and bottle. (or should that be 'jar'?)   If you don't leave it to cool all the fruit will rise to the top and it won't look half as pretty on the shelf.


Friday, 17 February 2012

Snow for some...

But not for us.  The first rain for a very long time arrived yesterday afternoon, drizzle to start with then a bit heavier later, although the forecast said snow we didn't get any.  But we woke up to this to the north above Mecina Bombaron,

and this to the south over the Contraviesa.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Completely fixed

The water pipe and the acequia tubo have been replaced,  it had been done yesterday morning when I went out with Monty and Pip.  Must have happened on Monday afternoon.   In true Spanish style the old twisted melted pipes have just been left on the charred terrace above the path, out of sight but not taken away. 

We were at Motril yesterday, the Polo had it's annual outing to the ITV station for checking.  Despite being over 11 years old now it sailed through the tests with no problems and now has a new sticker in the windscreen valid for another year.  We stopped for a quick fast food meal before shopping and stocking up.  What ever happened to cheap fast food?  2 meals, fries, large cokes,  13.30 euros.  As part of our shopping we bought something extra nice for dinner last night as it was San Valentin.  2 entrecote steaks,  a dozen large fresh prawns, some ceps, mixed bag of  ready done salad and a bottle of wine,  it was cheaper than our fast food lunch.  John made some croutons for the salad and I did a cesar dressing to add as well, plus a sprinkling of parmesan.  Total cost was under  12 euros.  And I know which took longer to eat and was tastier too.

14° and warm sunshine down at Motril yesterday, but  as we came up over the Contraviesa there were clouds ahead of us and it was only 8° here with a cool breeze as well.  Almost the first thing we did when we'd got passed the excited dogs - we'd  bought some chips home from lunch for them - was to light the fire in the lounge.  By the time we'd unpacked and put everything away, it was warming up nicely.

Monday, 13 February 2012

A temporary bandage

Although the water  is now running again, and our tank is staying full so there is plenty of pressure  in the pipe,  the pipe hasn't been replaced but has a temporary bandage.  At least, we assume it's temporary!   The worst burst is bandaged, the little pinhole sized holes are still spurting water, but enough is getting through  to reach every house.

Frozen plants from the spurting water.

The section of  acequia tubo from the melted part up to the next  'gate'  (that changes the flow onto someones land,)  has been dug up and the channel levelled.  Whether that is in case someone needs to use the acequia water or in preparation for new tubo remains to be seen.  The water could run over the levelled channel if it was needed but I can't see who'd want to water in these cold temperatures.  The broad beans are suffering enough without cold water around their roots.

Sad looking broad beans, minus 7° again last night.

Not ours, these are further up the road.
Our beans are surprisingly healthy today,   one bed hasn't really recovered from the small animal feet that bent them over as it took a short cut through a few weeks ago  but at least they aren't frosted like these of Paco's.  The lettuces are fine too as is the coriander and I have just found 6 ripe strawberries!  

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Remember this?

End of October  2010,  there was a fire raging around the cortijo of Miguel at the top end of Montenegro.   Helicopter, fire brigade and the Medio Ambiente  were all involved  putting it out.

Friday morning when I went out with Monty and Pip, there were 2 plumes of smoke coming from about the same area,  slightly lower and further to the left of the cortijo this time though.  I always take my camera when I go out,  and  did wonder what on earth was alight at 8 am.

And this is what I found,  3 or 4 terraces smouldering, an olive tree still standing but alight, the main acequia tubo which provides water to everyone's land completely melted and ruptured in at least one place,  and worse still the drinking water pipe burst in at least 4 places with water spurting out everywhere.  I rang John and told him,  we only have a small tank and didn't know how long since this had happened, though when he looked we still had half a tank of water.   The dogs were very agitated, probably the smell of the smouldering land as they don't like fire.  Came home, rang the neighbours who knew about it as it had started the previous afternoon.  We can't see that area as we are a few hundred metres downhill and round the bend.  Those who did know had put out the fire, most of it anyway.

An olive tree still standing and still burning.

Remains of acequia tubo and a burst water pipe

So we have been without water since then.  Luckily there was plenty in the tank for cooking and drinking, we also have the pool water for other uses (flushing the loo mainly)  but as we didn't know when or who would repair the water pipe we have held off having a shower - until now.  Just been out to get some firewood and heard water gushing back into our tank!  As soon as it's full I'm going to have long hot shower and most importantly a hair wash.  I did have a good wash yesterday morning so I don't feel too dirty but 3 days without a shampoo is not nice.

I don't know what will happen about the acequia tubo, it comes in 3 metre lengths and slots together, most of it is underground so it'll mean digging it out first.  Sods law says that it'll be 2 sections or more  here -  and we haven't been to look at the rest of the burnt area.  Although the tubo is buried there, the heat may well have caused some damage.   Luckily no-one needs to water vegetables much at the moment.  Lots of broad beans and onions growing around people's land,  but the melting frosts will hopefully keep the ground damp enough for now.  Luckily our water tanks are full enough for the peas and beans  that we have growing. 

Saturday, 11 February 2012

A cloudy morning!

Hovering this morning over the hills above Mecina Bombaron.........

The moon was still up to the left of them, but the sunshine was catching the clouds as it popped up from behind Sierra Gador,  hence the colour of the clouds.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

After the deep freeze

Then came the gusty gales.  The last 2 nights we have been battered by high winds from the north, we could hear the roaring sound way up in the Sierras during the day,  it sounds like a train is coming down our way and fast,  but although it was gusty during the day, it only really got windy after sunset.  And boy, was it windy.  Whistling through gaps in the old doors and window frames, howling down the chimney and rattling the wood burner tubo, it seemed to be all around us.  

We know from past winters where to stack chairs so  they don't blow away,  lay down the sun umbrella on the ground - it's too  tall for the shed -  but even so in the morning we always check everything is ok before we let the dogs go out exploring the garden.  In past years the gates have blown open, ripped off their hinges actually, but now they are reinforced so that can't happen.  Just lots of leaves and twigs everywhere to be swept up.  I should have left them really as the same thing happened 2 nights running so I could have saved myself a job.  The forecast for tonight has gusts up to 47 km/h - maybe I'll be sweeping again tomorrow!

In between the gusts, the sun has been quite pleasant.  Even to the point that I was outside this afternoon in a sleeveless top, but only for an hour until the next big clouds and cold gusts came.  The lettuces have recovered well but the broad beans are nearly all bent over and touching the ground.  Not exactly broken and I'm sure they'll carry on growing, I hope so as the peas need something to cling onto. 

The frozen geraniums are now brown and crunchy so there will be some severe pruning to be done when all this cold weather has gone.   The new growth at the base is ok, protected probably by the now frozen top growth.  

We haven't done much outside for obvious reasons in the last few days,  walked with Monty and Pip to Yator  to empty the mailbox,  picked and squeezed oranges,  frozen the surplus, moved firewood around to make sure there's always plenty in the nearest store,  John has found paperwork that needed filing and is doing computery things. 

The marmalade!   We have had hot  buttered toast with the new  lemon, orange and chilli one, which is absolutely delicious.  I would think that even if you were not a chilli person, the gentle warmth it gives you would still be  enjoyable.  Especially in this cold weather.  When we next go shopping,  sugar is on the list of things to buy,  then I'm going to make a complete batch of  it rather than just the one jar we did as an experiment.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Frozen flowers

Frozen flowers, floppy lettuces - the lollo rosso anyway, the iceberg lettuces don't seem to have been affected by this cold weather yet.  Maybe that's why they are called icebergs? 

Even colder last night,  the garden thermometer read -8.9° at 8.30 this morning.  Yup, minus 8.9.   Strangely enough the flowers in the front garden are not the ones that have gone crunchy, it's the geraniums and pelargoniums in the side garden that have been badly affected which makes me think it was even colder down there.   The skies have been clear both day and night recently so although it's  ear-numbingly cold,  there isn't any frost as everything is so dry.  The dog's water bowls froze over last night and the night before though,  much to their amazement.  I hadn't noticed until they tried to drink from them when we got back from our morning walk.

Too cold to even think about being outside so I've had another marmalade making session, this time I did  lemon and orange marmalade and put some of the mix into a separate pan with a chopped chilli,  I just  made one jar to try.  We've licked the spoons clean and both taste really nice.  In fact John thinks the lemon and orange marmalade is nicer than the orange one as it has more of a tang.  The oranges we use are for juicing and quite sweet, and so it's more of an orange jam.  With equal amounts of oranges and lemons, the result is sharper.  Looking forward to breakfast and hot buttery marmaladey  toast.

I don't like to mention the dreaded rat word, but this morning John saw that it/they have tried to gnaw through the wooden doorstep into the shed where he stores the wood.  Proper wood for making shelves, cupboards and such like, not firewood.  Expensive stuff to buy here so it's the last place he wants them.  2.30pm and it's reached a high of 5°,   he's out there now, wrapped up warmly,  putting a metal panel on the bottom of the door to deter them.  Little *******!   I know they get cold and want a warm, cosy place  to live but I wish they'd find somewhere away from us.  At least we are slowly reducing their available homes.  Maybe they'll take the hint  and move.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Bitterly cold for Southern Spain.

Chilly!  Minus 5 this morning at 8.30 and it  just about struggled up to 8° by lunchtime.  Clear blue skies and a bitingly cold wind coming down from the north.  But no snow and a frost-free night despite what the forecast said.

Picked some very cold oranges again today, juiced 2 litres for the fridge and made the first batch of marmalade.  Different recipe to last year, this is mother's marmalade, tried and tested over many years and hopefully it'll work as well for me.  At first sight, it has set really well but still has some movement in the jar, unlike our last years "microwave before even trying to get a spoon in it"   variety.  

The lemon tree is heavily laden so I thought about making lemon marmalade, then wondered if it would be too sharp tasting, maybe it would be better to make lemon and orange mixed, then I came across a recipe for lemon and chilli marmalade!  I wonder if that's a bit too much to cope with at breakfast?  Maybe a jar or two just to try.  If it's not nice I'm sure it could get used in some sort of sweet and sour type of sauce or as part of a marinade.  The chillis are just about hanging on the bushes,  drying on the plant really, a bit wrinkly looking.  And despite this cold weather the lettuces and pak choi aren't suffering at all.  I thought they'd have frozen and gone floppy and soggy looking.  Unfortunately I don't think they're going to be picked in the near future, it's not salad weather at all.

The almond blossom is hanging on but with these low temperatures I'm not sure we'll get many almonds.  Took this photo from the lounge window yesterday afternoon looking across to the Contraviesa.  Used the proper camera with a big lens as it is about 4 miles away.
There  are hundreds of  trees in bloom out there, pink and white although that's not obvious partly due to the grey sky and big clouds we had then.  It looks just like some one's thrown cotton wool balls everywhere.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Rats, bloody rats.

I might have mentioned rats once or twice before,  we usually find evidence of them trying to nest in boxes or wood piles, the Christmas tree box had been nibbled at sometime over the last year,  sometimes we find an abandoned nest in a box but over the years we have protected most things.  The shed has wire mesh over the air vents,  shelving has now become cupboards, and the wood is stored further away from the house as we don't want them too close.  I don't think we'll ever be rat-free, after all we live in the country,  other friends have lots of cats to deal with them but 2 dogs is enough for us.  Our neighbours have 2 cats which we see around here so maybe they help keep the population under control.

But they do nest, or find nesting material,  in the most inconvenient places.  Last Wednesday I went into Cadiar in the 4x4 as we had empty gas bottles to replace and the car hadn't been used since December 28th!!   A month is longer than normal not to use it so it needed to go out.  All was fine down to Yator,  but driving into Cadiar which is gradually uphill, the car was very sluggish, wouldn't accelerate, 2nd gear just juddered but finally got there very slowly in 3rd.  Rang John, said I don't think it'll get home as that's even steeper so when I'm finished in town I'll take it straight to the mechanic.  He came in the other car - thank heavens we've got 2, as I had  bought 4 gas bottles and a sack of potatoes ,  and we left it for Luis to look at.  It was overdue a service but only in time not in mileage - or kilometres -  we've only done just under 5000 in the last 2 years.

Luis rang Tuesday evening to say the car was ready so we went to collect it yesterday.  And the problem had been the air filter,  but it wasn't blocked with dirt or dust, but had been eaten away by rats, the chewed up middle had been rolled into a ball and then sucked into the air inlet when I went out!!!  He'd kept the air filter to show John,  it had gnaw marks from the rats teeth in the plastic.  So what to do?  It only takes a few days for them to set up house somewhere and we can't go out every day.  And we can't protect the car with wire mesh either!  The bottom of the washing machine now has a wire mesh base as they ate through the water inlet tube a few  years ago (the machine lives outside under cover)   and a mouse got into the kitchen once and nibbled the insulation around the oven, the foil lining from that dropped down onto the electric contacts that work the light and spark and shorted it out so that is now wire meshed around the hole.  

What or where will they try next?