Sunday, 29 December 2013

A snapshot of our Christmas

So that was Christmas week -  mostly sunny and bright and quite warm,   except for the day itself when it was wet and windy.  We weren't the only ones to have wet and windy weather in the world,  family in Sydney had rain too,  as did UK,  at least we only had one brief 10 minute power cut.  Airi had just plugged the hairdryer in when the lights went out - she thought she'd blown up something but it wasn't her or the drier just the weather.

A week in pictures...
 .... the angel is firmly back on her perch at the top of the tree now

...lights over the arch and along the grape vines

...Monday 23rd in the afternoon,  exploring the wind damaged tomato and chilli plants

...Christmas eve lunchtime,  early start for the Santa hats,  although Elliott wasn't convinced it was a good idea.

...Christmas day in the morning,  the first presents,  wheels are so fascinating!

 ....woolly jumper number 1 for me,

 ...and a cashmere one  from M&A,  plus a magic jacket for John - it rolls up into a tiny bag!

...and a fluffy jumper for Airi

The evening of Boxing Day we were all invited to a buffet supper at a friends' house in Yátor,  there were 12 of us plus Elliott and their 10 year old son,  who luckily for Elliott had a nice red shiny sturdy car that he pushed around the carpet and turned it over to spin its wheels.  Lots of hot tasty food - chilli,  jacket potatoes,  chicken,  salad,  cheeses and biscuits,  patés,  and a large sherry trifle.  Not much left after we'd all had a plateful or two...

We left them at 10pm to get Elliott into bed although he was still going strong and playing.

Next day,  tree pruning in the sunshine,

...a beer break in the afternoon of the 27th - we'd been pruning the olive tree and cutting up the branches - hot thirsty work!   Elliott was supervising from his high chair under the sun umbrella.

 ...and then yesterday the 28th we went down to Salobreña in the morning - as you can see it was windy and grey, both the sea and sky.

 ...but looking in the opposite direction,  the sea is really blue. 

 ... then lunchtime.  We went to La Bodega de Salobreña,  within walking distance of the bus stop as M&A had booked the bus to Malaga for their evening flight to Paris.

 ...pez espada a la plancha  (swordfish) for Airi

 ...tortilla gambas  (prawn omelette) for me

 ...and 2 plates of solomillo de cerdo  (pork fillet) for J and M

add a drink each,  then a bottle of house red at 7 euros and we shared a bill of 62 euros.

We waved them off on the bus and did a little restocking at the supermarket before coming home.  By the time we'd put the shopping away  the clouds had lifted and the sky was blue but only just warm enough to sit out and catch the last dying rays for an evening drink.

Today we have a very confused Pip dog.  Monty took very little notice of a baby crawling round the carpet,  walking along holding onto the furniture, or sitting playing with toys,  whereas Pip seemed to think Elliott was another puppy.   He didn't know what to make of her either,  but was happy to watch them from  his highchair.   She got very distressed when he cried, followed him when he was crawling around,  when he headed off into our bedroom she followed him,  circling around almost as if she was making sure he was ok.  Today she keeps going into their bedroom and looking for them,  but they aren't there.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas clean up again

It started off as quite a nice day yesterday,  washing out on the line early,  then came a few spots of rain - just enough to get the washing put into the tumble drier - then we had a heavier shower, but after lunch it cleared up and we were back to blue skies and a nice sunny walk up to Yegen.

During the morning I got the Christmas decorations out and put the tree up on the terrace as normal,  it looked really pretty even in daylight and even better at night.

Then at about 5 o'clock the sky went  dark,  a breeze started,  then it went windy, and windier,  and windier.  We did our usual batten down the hatches routine,  stacking chairs,  moving garden tables to a safer place - we know just what to expect now.  And boy,  did the wind blow last night!!!  It battered and howled round the house from sunset till sun rise.  It kept me awake for much of the night,  I laid there wondering where we'd find stuff this morning.  Would the tree still have any decorations left?  What about the angel on the top - where would she have ended up?  The tree itself is bolted down onto a secure base so that didn't concern me,  and we've had windy nights before when the tree has been up,  but there's a first time for everything!

As it happened, the angel had only fallen under the tree,  a few ornaments had come unhooked and were also on the floor,  but what a lot of leaves everywhere!  Every corner of the terrace,  under the table, down the stairs, in my trainers, I eventually swept up a sackful!  And then another sackful floating on the pool, the carefully stacked chairs were definitely not stacked any more and weren't far away from falling in the pool with the leaves.  The table was upside in a flower bed,  the watering cans had blown down a terrace - and we'd left them full up so they wouldn't move.  I have no idea what strength the wind was and am just so glad that although it lasted for 12 hours or so,  it doesn't happen very often.

So that's why it's clean up day again.  I was going to make mince pies this morning but will do them tomorrow instead.

And if I don't get time to write between now and next Wednesday - a very happy Christmas to everyone.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The end of an almond tree.

We don't have many almond trees on our land but the ones we do have produce big,  fat, quite roundish shaped almonds.  They are a variety known as Marcona,  special to Spain but getting more popular apparently elsewhere according to this cookery site.   There is more about the marcona  here  as well.  The other trees around us produce a much smaller narrow nut and they are harder to shell.  Harder because of the way we shell.  We haven't yet found a nut cracker that will break an almond shell,  the nut cracker gives up first,  the locals - well,  you see them with a small hammer and the almond on maybe a stone,  or a very old well seasoned log stood on it's end,   I've found somewhere over the past years a very handy hand-sized stone,  and I crack the nuts outside  on the  concrete top by the sheds.  All works well usually,  the concrete top has nut shaped divets now in it,  but the small narrow nuts are more difficult to line up and more often than not,  I'll end up with a sore finger where the cracking stone has caught my skin.

The nearest tree to the house is also the nuttiest and easiest to reach as it grows by the sheds and overhangs the roofs.  Or should that be rooves?  But it is also the only almond tree that always,  without fail,  gets an infestation of aphids,  sticky stuff,  ants and wasps every spring and on through the summer.  And so every year we spray  the tree with a soap and water mix,   it seems to work for a few days and the wasps go away,  then back it all comes again.  We get through a lot of washing up liquid!

And so going in and out of the shed is not pleasant,  especially for me as I have an allergy to wasp stings and swell alarmingly if stung,  the ground under the tree is just awful and sticky,  we made a flat work area to do small jobs,  maybe potting plants,  but can't use it,  so this year we decided that as soon as the almonds were off, and the leaves had fallen,  we'd cut it down and find a better use for it as firewood.

But the leaves still haven't fallen and now there are flower buds on it!   But better late than never,  so down it came on Wednesday.  All cut up into wood burner sized logs,  split if needed,    and the sticks and twiggy bits all put for drying as good fire-starters.  Should give us an extra good few weeks of warmth.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

ITV time again

Today has been another ITV day,   the ITV (Inspección Técnica de Vehículos)   here being the equivalent of the UK  MOT annual car inspection,   except that here it's not annually until your car is 10 years old,  before that it's every 2 years,  unless you have something that is a small van or furgoneta,  when the rules are different.  It's not easy living here you know! 

We'd booked a test time of 11.30,  got to the test station at Orgiva at just  gone 11.15,  hoped to be seen early,  but even though no-one else was going through the process,  we waited and were called exactly on time.  And sailed through,  out in just over 10 minutes with this year's sticker for the windscreen. 

I'd hoped for some photos of blue skies and snowy topped mountains,  blue skies yes,  but snowy tops no.  Just a dusting of white stuff way up high.   Coming home though was a flock of goats heading up a steep hillside,  following the contours of the hill.

Can you see them?  Just above the 'orange'  tree? 

This afternoon we've been tidying up stuff,  the mulberry has finally given up some of it's leaves,  and we raked a sack and a half of leaves for the compost heap.  Also the walnut is dropping nuts and leaves - we picked up a couple of dozen nuts and picked more from the tree.  Most are good,  there is the odd one that is black and yucky inside which will go into the compost.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

A date for my diary...

but not that sort of date.  

We have 4 palm trees outside our house,  each year they produce some kind of a long, flat pods which open up into lots of small 'flowers' for want of a better word.  Small,  pale,  almost rubbery feeling buds.  Eventually the whole branch-like pod thing dries up and the next year the trees do it all again.  Next door however,  their palm trees produce a long pod which opens up and from it hang loads and loads of green, large, coffee- bean -shaped seeds.  They always drop off,  usually after they've gone brown but are always dried up.  We've always assumed that they are the seed.

Until this summer,  when we were next door talking to Miguel and Marie-Carmen and he said that the datiles still weren't ready even though they were dropping onto the ground and some were brown.  Datiles?  You mean dates that we can eat?  10 years living next door and I didn't know we had fresh dates growing!  Wait till they're brown - and we are assuming they also have to be sticky feeling like the ones you see in the shops - and then help yourselves.

So we are waiting and waiting.  Today they looked like this -

going brown maybe, but not there yet.

This time last year,  well actually November,  we discovered that the nispero tree that we'd thought was a medlar,  was actually a lumquat.  Wonder what we will find out next year!

Odd things flowering still,  the iris now has even more blooms on it and yesterday I found this honeysuckle in flower! 

Last but not least,  sunrise this morning.  There was a thin cloud below Sierra Gador,  hugging the ground,  with the sun coming up as we went out for our walk at 8.15.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Autumn wine colours

We thought we'd have a tidy up of the wine shelf this afternoon - although a lot of the wine was in 25 litre barrels which obviously were on the floor as they are far too heavy to lift onto the shelf.

3 hours later......we've siphoned, sterilised, re-bottled,  tasted and tasted again just to be sure everything was good and have now got all the various wines into slightly more manageable bottles.  Some are still in 25 litre barrels,  some in 10's,  some in 5's,  and a few in ex lemonade 1.5 litres.

It's  a good job that we don't throw these empties away because as we siphoned the wines off their settled yeasty base,  we stopped and said well, if that goes into that one, then we can clean that and put that one into 2 fives,  this one can then go into that one when its been cleaned out......and then we had to try and keep track of which wine was where, we made several different batches of white over a month, then rosado, then "the last of the summer wine" which is slightly pink but fruity.

Confused?  So were we!  But it's done,  its all been labelled,  there's a bottle or two of white and rosado ready for drinking and a glass in front of me as I write this.

And as you walk into the kitchen,  facing you is this very colourful shelf.

Pear,  strawberry,  black fig,  white grape,  rosado,  with white fig and 'the last of the summer' mixed grapes behind and the 10's and 25's - mostly white and rosado - lined up in front of the shelves on the floor.  All in all,  about 240 litres or so.  We'll try not to drink it too fast!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Black Friday?

Apparently today is also known as Black Friday,  the Friday  after Thanksgiving in America regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.   And now this seems to have come to other parts of the world.    We don't often watch tv,  in fact the last time we had the television on was for the Wimbledon men's finals...... but we do read the news on-line and so keep up with current events, even if they don't always seem to have much relevance to our day to day life.

So this morning,  lots of stuff in the papers about Black Friday,  special deals in the shops,  people apparently trying to buy more than they could - one discounted item each - and some problems.

We had to go into Cadiar today to meet some very kind people who are lending us baby stuff for over the Christmas holidays, thanks to Anna we have a cot,  thanks to Ruth we have a car seat,  also we needed to replace the windscreen wipers  (23 euros for all 3,   and fitted)  Although they  don't get much use  - lack of rain and we don't go out much - we are due to take the car for its ITV (MOT) soon and they needed changing.

And then on to the fruit and veg shop.  Which is what got me thinking about buying in bulk and cheaply.  I joined the queue,  quién es la última  (who is last?)   I asked ...  the man at the front came with his own crate for his shopping,  he got it weighed and then asked about the price of the apples.  2 euros for 3 kilos.  He got a crate full of apples,  12.5 kilos!!   Big family?  Lots of cooking to do?  It does you make you wonder!  

And then my turn,  a bag full of onions,  4 or 5 kilos, whatever fits,  it doesn't matter. 

 Ginger ?  yes. 

 Limas? (limes)   I need 12.   ¿Cuántos  (How many)   you need 12??  

Now when the man in front asked for a crate full of apples - 12 kilos - not a raised eyebrow.  But when I asked for 12 limes I got the 'how many?' raised eyebrow question.  Maybe he doesn't know about our lime pickle recipe,    he doesn't know what he is missing!

So this afternoon another sunny walk,  only 11 in the shade but lovely in the sun out walking.  The big billy goat was making the most of the mulberry tree by the chapel....

and there is the first dusting of snow on Sierra Gador....

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Menu del dia.

In the days of old,  before the new super fast roads came,  the roads were narrow and windy and went from village to village,  not always the quickest of journeys but never very busy either.  Now the roads are straight and fast,  still not much traffic but  you have to make a deliberate effort to see the villages now,  no doubt that they are much quieter places but the local shops and restaurants must surely have noticed a difference.

One such village is Cherín,  there is a restaurant on the edge of the village that we have stopped at a few times in the past for menu del dia,  it was always very busy - not so busy that we've had to wait for a table, but the restaurant tables overflowed into the bar area last time we were there.  But since the new road has by passed the village we  haven't stopped.  Until today.  We were on our way back from Berja,  it was almost 2pm so lunchtime here,  John suggested we stop and see if they were still in business. 

Looking across to Cherín

Only a couple of cars plus one articulated lorry outside,  half a dozen people eating, so plenty of room for us.  One thing that hasn't changed is the menu,  not what you have as a choice but how you are told about it.  Nothing written down,  but rattled off at high speed by the waitress. 

First question,  do you want salad?  yes please.  Next question,  and to drink?  Water, wine or beer?  It doesn't matter which you order,  you get a litre of it and drink as much as you like.  So we had wine,  local rosado,  very nice.  First plate is either - and here we can only remember 3 dishes,  arroz (rice),  asparagus with garlic mayo and salad (for me)  and  bacalao (salt cod) with vegetables (for him).

Second plate is either pork chops (me),   steak (him),   salmonete (red mullet),   costilla (ribs) in sauce or a la plancha (grilled),   calamares (squid),   a fried fish platter,  or  an alpujarran platter which includes jamón, morcilla (like a black pudding) usually an egg and everything comes with chips.  Plus a large basket of fresh bread.

And if you've managed all that then there is pudding,  arroz con leche (rice pud to you and me but cold)  cheese cakes, chocolate tarts,  whisky tart,  tiramisu,  flan (creme caramel-ish)  and when you've finished that,   don't forget there is coffee.

The biggest surprise of all that though is when you ask for the bill.  10 euros each.  For 3 courses,  salad,  bread,  just about all you can drink,  and coffees. 

Needless to say we are not thinking of cooking tonight! 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Sunshine and frost!

We have had a lovely warm autumn,  even now if you're out in the sun,  it's glorious.  So not surprisingly there seems to be some confused plants.  A clump of iris that normally bloom in May  or June,  have decided to bloom again.  Only  one clump,  quite a shady clump,  none of the others are showing any signs of thinking that it's spring again.

A view taken from the pista on our way up to Yegen the day before yesterday,  sometimes the sun just shines in the right place and you can see so many hills and valleys and colours.

We all went yesterday afternoon for a stroll in the sunshine,  Monty got so hot that he laid down in the running water up at the fuente,  and even Pip paddled with all four feet which is unlike her.  She normally stands with one foot on dry land,  or holds one foot up as if poised to run.

And then this is morning it was oh so cold.   4.5°.    I even thought about gloves, especially when we reached the big fig junction where we go left on the GR7 towards the fuente.  Very white and frosty on the open land and the long grass at the side of the footpath.  But no frost here,  only 200 metres or so difference in distance,  I suppose we are just that little bit more sheltered and that little bit lower.

Sunrise this morning...

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Goats and gloomy skies.

After our walk the day before yesterday,  both Monty and Pip now stand looking hopeful after lunch,  as soon as I'd folded the washing yesterday afternoon they rushed around and around the front garden,  in and out of the house,  getting more and more excited.  And that was before I'd got a woollie on or shoes!   But the sun was shining and I had no plans for the next hour so off we went up to the cemetery at Yegen.  John was busy tiling shelves in the kitchen and I didn't want to stop him.....

A lonely almond tree

Surprisingly warm out walking in the sunshine,  I tied my woollie round my waist as I didn't need it.  I bumped into one of the Paco's,  he asked how we were,  said he'd been watering his olive trees,  and how are they I asked?   Lot's of olives this year?  A shake of the head and a nod,  yes there are olives, but all bad,  full of bichos (insects),  dry and already dropping onto the ground with every gust of wind that blows.  He always comes and harvests his olives,  leaves the sacks at the corner by the big fig and Eduardo  from the olive mill comes up to collect them. 

We had a nice quiet walk up in the sun.    We went just past the cemetery  as there is usually an acequia running,  water for the dogs if they need it,  and on the corner is a tree with extremely large leaves.  The tree itself is not big,  maybe 2.5 metres tall and wide,  but the leaves.....well,  here is one with my hand for comparison.  Any ideas what tree it could be?

A change in the weather today though,  no blue skies in fact the sky is extremely dark towards the north and getting darker.

However we have been for a walk although not as far as yesterday.  Up to the fuente and back.  First though we had to get past the 4 billy goats gruff!  Big billy goat reared up on his back legs but then ran into the bushes as far as he could get as he was tied to a plant.  One of the others ran up the opposite bank as far as she could with her rope tied to a clump of grass,  but baby billy goat didn't stray far from it's mum and she was tied to the lamp post. 

The 3 billy goats,  and Christmas dinner  :(

However on the way back they all tried to run away,  the 2 tied to grassy clumps managed to pull themselves free and the baby ran all over the place till we were past. I went to tell Paco his goats were free but he'd heard the bells jingling frantically and said not to worry, they wouldn't go far.   You've another one,  I said,  quite young.  Oh yes,  that's for Christmas he replied.  Oh no!  So cute!    No, that's life,  he said.

I think we'll stick with an oven-ready  turkey for Christmas dinner.   I couldn't do that,  fatten  it and then eat it.  I like my meat to be anonymous;   dead,  boned and skinned,  not quite shrink-wrapped and bar-coded,  but not far off. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Getting cooler...

Cold but sunny today,  ok if you're outside doing something and good enough to dry the washing but not warm enough to sit in,  John took his cup of tea outside after lunch but didn't stay out long,  I'm not sure what got cold first - him or the tea.   And when I asked if he was coming out for a walk this afternoon he didn't seem to think it was quite what he wanted to do.   Of course Monty and Pip thought it was a wonderful idea and leapt and bounced while I got a woollie on and my boots and we set off for the stream that runs below el Golco.

The clouds had started to gather by then,  these were off to the west of us,  space ship clouds usually mean big winds high up.

Out of sight of Montenegro the path starts to curve round the hillside and dip down to the river where there are lots of poplars - álamo - all changing colour now.  On down to the stream which seems to be running deeper than last time we went,  the banks seem more cut away and there are huge clumps of reeds growing by the sides.  We haven't had any heavy rain since the 3rd week of September but a lot of water will have passed through on it's way down from the mountains so that's probably caused the deeper sides.  We did manage to get down to a shallow edge though,  paddling for Pip and wallowing for Monty.

We lit the first fire of the winter the night before last,  the mornings have been getting much chillier and over the last week the temperatures have dropped a degree or so each day,  this morning it was only 4.7 on the terrace and we haven't reached double figures during the day for 3 or 4 days now.  Luckily the sun has been shining,  and shines in the lounge and dining room windows all day which helps keep the house warm.  But by sunset - time to light up.

We were lucky enough to be given - or rather we could take the wood if we did the work - all the eucalyptus wood when Miguel wanted his tree cut down this summer.  I expected it to dry out quickly which it seems to have done,  but also to then be very lightweight and to burn quickly,  unlike olive and almond which are very dense and burn slowly.  But we've used it the last couple of nights and haven't used any more chunks than we normally would.  Which is a pleasant surprise as it means it'll last longer than expected.  We do have almond and olive logs as well,  but they are all at the bottom of the wood pile,  our intention was to mix the woods but somehow that didn't happen. 

I found the website for the Sierra Nevada ski station again yesterday and looked at the webcams.  Not surprisingly there is snow up there,  here's the link to the main page,  and from there you can find lots of info about the place.  Maps of the ski runs,  weather forecast - cold -  and on the webcam page is a short video of the area. 


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Autumn in Montenegro

Up until yesterday afternoon,  the skies have been clear and blue,  then the forecast changed and at 3pm we got the first spots of rain.  It drizzled all evening,  never very heavy rain,  just what we call nice rain that soaks in and does the ground some good.

We picked the first of the runner beans for dinner last night,  but the huge runner bean terrace on the way up to Yegen is now being cleared out,  half the caña is out and in bundles for storing,  although there still looks to be some greenery on the plants that are still to be removed.

Our neighbour's quince tree is still unpicked,  the branches bending under the weight of the fruit - it seems a shame for it to go to waste but we have enough made into chutney,  frozen for puddings and pureed to use instead of apple sauce.  There is only so much you can do with fruit and only so much you can store.

And now at last the trees are beginning to change colour and drop their leaves,  I took these photos yesterday morning.

But for these poor specimens,  well there isn't a lot left,  someone has started pruning - if that's the right word - their olive trees.  Normally the tree is 'doughnutted',  the middle branches are taken out for the light to get in and for ease of harvesting,  sometimes though the trees are so big they are taken down to the stump and the new growth from the base is left to grow big and strong.  This seems to be something totally different though!   Maybe they haven't quite finished,   but what were  lovely olive green rows of trees are now bright white stumps.  

Sunday, 10 November 2013

I'm back!

You may have noticed that I've not been here and that's because I've been to England to see family.......

The sun was there too,  as were some gorgeous autumn colours as the leaves are changing,  I took an umbrella as a precaution and it only rained once,  that of course was the afternoon I left it indoors - I hadn't needed it so far and it's just one more thing to carry - and so the heavens opened!  Is that Sod's law?  What can go wrong will go wrong,  or some such phrase.

Back home yesterday via an overcrowded, under stocked supermarket.  Seemed to have caught them in the middle of the Christmas shelf stocking-up.  Nothing was where I expected it to be,  there were Christmas goodies where I thought the  sultanas used to live,  there were Christmas goodies where the beer should be,  I found that on the pet food aisle! At least Christmas comes to the shops later here,  I read that it appears in some UK shops even before Halloween and November 5th bonfire night.

So today I've done the washing - or rather loaded the machine twice - watered the chillies, peppers,  celeriac,  beans, peas and strawberries (you don't want to know do you?  another half kilo,  sliced, sugared and Muscateled for dessert tonight)  The runner beans are now beaning and the peas are way above their first supporting strings so I need to put another row of string on.  The peas I planted on the 31st October are just appearing today.  John's kohlrabi seedlings are looking very healthy as are his lettuce seedlings and coriander plants so we are going to plant them out this week.  We watered their new beds this afternoon,  so the ground will be nice and damp and warm for them.

Also currently ripening are our pomegranates,  and they are huge!  The trees are not that big and the branches are not that strong and so they are bowing (boughing?) maybe bending is better but whatever,  the branches have bent under the weight.   I like them,  and have eaten 3 so far,  last year we made grenadine but don't use it very often and don't need to make any more,  so it's a race to see who can eat them first, me or the birds.  As soon as they've split open the birds get in there pecking but - and  I must check this before I pick too many - I think they keep for quite a while if picked when ripe but not split.

Talking of warmth,  still 18 in the shade today, John says it's been like it all week as well,  and the forecast isn't any different.  So no heating on yet,  the windows are open all day to let the sun in and keep the temperature up indoors,  long may this last!

Friday, 1 November 2013

Who turned the temperature down?

We don't notice much difference when the clocks change apart from the sun coming up an hour earlier,  that makes Monty and Pip more alert earlier and of course it gets darker earlier.  But normally the temperatures stay pretty much the same,  apart from this week that is.  My normal routine is to get up,  pull on shorts and t-shirt,  take the dogs out while John sorts out the coffee,  opens windows etc,  and it was like that until Tuesday morning. 

On with the shorts and t-shirt,  socks and trainers,  extra woollie around my waist in case,  and out the front door.  Woo!  Cold legs!  Looked at the thermometer and instead of the 16 to 18 recent overnight temperatures, it said 12.  And on bare legs,  that   6 degree drop was chilly.

It was back to normal by the time the sun came over the trees,  and we had our coffee on the terrace as normal,  but by 6pm when the sun went down over the hill,  who turned off the heating?  Just the sun going makes so much difference. 

So now I go out in the morning in trousers, down to  10° this morning  :(  change into shorts for the sunny (in the shade temp)  of 18°  :)  back into trousers at night.  Carpets down on the floors for the winter months as of yesterday morning,  autumn must be coming soon although still no rain, wind or leaves down. 

The last of the summer grapes are in,  we thought we'd done them all apart from the not-yet-black ones,  and they still weren't black but by the end of October how can they ripen any more?  So out we went with the buckets and mangle and now have the final final final picking - about 35 kilos - hopefully 25 to 30 litres more once pressed.

The runner beans have run up their poles and along the  cross supports, some are up into the olive trees and most are in flower so hopefully beans will be coming along soon.  The second batch of peas are in,  with the first lot clinging onto their criss-cross support strings.  

Strawberries......I know....boring isn't it!   But another 700 grams today. Doesn't seem too many when you're just picking them but then you think, now what?  This year we've dried, frozen,  pulped, lollied,  wined,  vodka'd,  had with cream,  with ice cream,  jammed,  crumbled,  sponge puddinged, had as part of a fruit salad,  eaten just as they are straight from the plant......have I forgotten any versions?   So this weekend back to the strawberry almond crumble with cream.   Bad for the waistline but oh so tasty.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Twice cooked strawberry jam.

When I finally got round to doing something with the strawberries,  we'd picked a few more and eventually ended up with 1.8 kgs of de-stalked ready to use berries.  There was only 1 jar of regular  'with lumps'  version  on the shelf,   3 of the smooth version that John likes though,  and although we don't eat a lot of jam we also don't have such a glut every year.  So jam it was on Thursday morning.  But for some reason,  no matter how much it cooked it didn't reach setting point.  We are high up - 890 metres above sea level - boiling point is lower,  almost 3° lower than at sea level,  so recipes have to be adapted and after 10 years here I know all that.  An extra egg to keep cakes and yorkshire puddings from collapsing,  less fat,  less baking powder,  increased  liquids,  longer cooking time in the pressure cooker etc.  And there are lots of cooking at altitude web sites out there for help.  But none of that helped my jam!  Eventually I just gave up and bottled it hoping it would magically set overnight but on Friday morning when I tipped a jar sideways it was still soft.  Well, runny would be a better word.

So back to google for more help and ideas,  basically I needed more pectin or a pectin rich fruit to add.   And on the gransnet  forum (quite appropriate now I'm a gran)  I found the perfect answer.   We have  lots of quince trees around and always have quince in the freezer as they make a lovely crumble or pureed as an alternative to apple sauce.  Also in the fridge are pots of dulce de membrillo,  or quince jam,  which is delicious served with blue cheese.  And quince are extremely high in pectin. So I softened a tub of membrillo,  and added it to the jam.  Won't you need to soften the jam J asked, to get it out of the jars?  He didn't see quite how runny it was,  and no I didn't,   it just poured out.  Another 20 minutes of cooking and it finally stuck to the cold saucer.  Woo hoo!  Deep joy and all that.  There was a bit too much for the jars,  although 1 small jar less than I'd started with,  so we ate that on toast yesterday morning, hoping it wasn't too hard to spread.  But perfect. 

Really we ought to keep pectin for those runny jam days,  we could make it from any extra quince we have and I have a note of how to do just that. The quince have to be cooked and strained through a jelly bag,  then the liquid boiled  down by a half,  it doesn't keep fresh,  it has to be used in a week or frozen,  the strength of the pectin depends on the ripeness of the fruit,  there is a test using grain alcohol - ie vodka -  and I think it was 1lb quince + 2 cups water should give half cup of pectin,  but I'd need 3/4 cup per 4 cups of jam......I made 6 jars this week,  so lots of pectin needed....   at this point I was beginning to  think of the extra time, the extra gas,  and that  it might just be easier to buy some and keep in stock.

And maybe a jam thermometer?  Although I'm not sure about that with the altitude issue,  more research and reading I think.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The last grapes - maybe.

Possibly the last of the grapes done today,  the bunches that should be black still aren't and we're not sure why.  Some are changing colour but not to the shiny black that we are used to seeing,  more of a gone-off murky black colour.  Not looking good.  But it's only 1 vine and only produces about 5 litres of wine so it's not  such bad news.  Last Tuesdays 62 kilos pressed out yesterday and we got 55 litres from that,  today we've picked and mangled 35 kilos of pretty pink ones,  more dusky that pink,  should make a nice rosado and the sugar levels were higher than last weeks so probably higher alcohol content when finished.  Yum.

Had a quick tot up when we'd finished and washed everything and put it away.  Currently queueing up on the shelf are 26 litres of pear wine,  16 of strawberry,  17 of black fig,  20 of white fig,  with 115 of white (grape) wine fermenting and settling,  with a further possible 30 from today's rosado.  A respectable 224 litres,  half a litre a day plus enough for fiestas and holidays.  That may sound a lot, but it's less than a bottle for 2 of us,  not much to have with dinner and a glass or two in the evening. 

But because we don't have many black grapes -  or any this year - we can't make tinto,  however we do buy a very nice tempranillo from the bodega in Cádiar for 2 euros a litre,  it's local wine from the Contraviesa,  he also sells a nice white as well,  that's only 1.90,  but we have plenty of our own now.  So on those prices we've made quite a few euros worth this summer,   some things are well worth spending time and effort on,  especially if it's something that we use a lot of - such as wine - or can't buy easily - such as a wide variety of chillis, or kohlrabi,  or celeriac.  I wish sometimes that we had better soil so we could grow parsnips and swede,  but  we use squash or sweet potatoes instead which do grow well.

Señor seed starter extraordinario  has excelled himself again,  every lettuce, kohlrabi,  pak choi and coriander seed that he put to germinate in  damp kitchen paper has worked and they are now in seed trays and almost about to produce their second pair of leaves.  Maybe I'll get him working on the parsnips,  our seed pots are about 6 inches deep so possibly a parsnip for each.......might work if they are in compost rather than the ground.

It looks as if autumn might finally be arriving,  cloudier today and a bit of a breeze too - soon be time to get the leaf rake out and do the daily rake-up and compost run before they all blow away.  A quick trip round the strawberry beds this afternoon as rain, or drizzle at least, is due overnight and tomorrow and they'll only rot if not picked,  and surprise surprise,  1.4 kilos again.  Now what shall we do with them this week?  Ideas on a postcard please....or leave a comment.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Wonderful smells from the kitchen.

My personal chef is downstairs preparing a birthday dinner,  I'm not allowed to help so I'm sitting in the late afternoon sun enjoying a glass or two of El Gaitero cider,  according to some more ciderey people than me,  it is the champagne of ciders,  certainly when amazon sell it for £5.45 a bottle,  it isn't cheap local stuff.  There is a lovely small of prawns, fish stock, garlic and who knows what else wafting up from the kitchen,  steak is involved too, I know because I bought it on Wednesday when out shopping.

Back a few days to Tuesday,  we picked and crushed the last of the white grapes,  62 kilos after de-stalking them,  apparently grapes are 90% juice so that should squeeze out another 55 litres or so on Monday.  Then Tuesday we will pick the rosy blush grapes for a rosado.  The only  black grapes are still not black but last time we  didn't pick them till October 28th so a week or so to go yet.

Wednesday morning was a shopping and coffee with friends morning,  that meant plant stuff- picking, watering, checking on the weeds etc didn't get done till Thursday.  It's unusually hot for October,  18 or 19 overnight and around the high 20's during the day.  And since those 2 storms of  a month ago,  no rain either.  So although by now we usually only need to water veg weekly, at the moment we are doing it twice weekly.  The squash are still producing fruits,  more now than in the summer although they are not so big yet.  And so are the strawberries,  another kilo for the weekend!

Yesterday was more routine than anything,  house cleaning, washing and ironing- actually I didn't iron anything, but it's in the basket ready -  and we cleaned the pool too.  Although I  haven't been in since my last dip on the 4th,  I was very tempted this afternoon,  the water is shimmering, the floor is clean and the sun was so warm on my skin but I didn't do it.  Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Really juicy white ones.

Those big juicy grapes that we "mangled" last week have spent a week fermenting and today went through the press.  Every morning we stir the buckets of brewing grapes as the grapes float to the surface and form a kind of crust,  on pressing day we don't stir but find it quicker to scoop off the grapes, pour the liquid - plus any grapes that we've missed -  through  the press until it's full, then squeeze.  When I say squeeze,  I don't mean that really,  there are wooden blocks that fit in the press and a handle with a ratchet that gives the necessary pressure to force out the juice.  Then add more grapes or liquid and squeeze again.  We can press out 6 buckets of fermented grapes at a go,  what is left is a very dry 4 inch thick lump which goes up to the compost.

The end result today is almost 70 litres of white wine - or potential wine.  It needs to finish fermenting,  settle,   be siphoned separating the wine from the sediment,  mature - possibly -

And then drink!

Tomorrow more juicy white ones,  and maybe juicy blush ones too.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Cracking on!

Autumn's almonds are still happening,  we have one tub left to shell,  and one jarful of shelled ones that need blanching  but we have nearly cracked it!   Sorry, not meant to be a pun,  but almonds....cracking.... I know, I'm sorry.

Strawberries too are still happening,  I froze a kilo last week,  can't keep making and eating strawberry crumble nice and rich though it is,  all that weight that we've lost this year will be creeping back on around the hips and waist if we're not careful.  ( 1 stone for him,  1.5 for me  :)  )  But yesterday there was another 600 grams,  so another google for hot strawberry pudding ideas came up with a variation of a sponge.  Strawberries, brown sugar  and lemon zest as a base,  a sponge topping with orange zest,  then baked in the oven.  I used 4 microwavable individual ramekin style pots,  much quicker and fuel efficient even though you don't get the nice brown crispy cake top.  But with cream poured over,  does it matter?

John's seed starting process is still working wonders,  on Tuesday he put lettuce,  pak choi and kohlrabi onto damp kitchen paper.  Every morning he sprays them with water and checks, not expecting to see anything just yet,  but today all the trays had germinated and put roots out into the paper.  Some seeds he's managed to lift off and lay onto sifted soil/compost,  some he had to cut the paper up so as not to damage the roots.  As they grow, so he will add compost around them until they are big enough to plant out.

The peas  that I put direct into the ground on the 3rd have appeared,    little clusters of leaves,  and they've been watered today.  The habas - broad beans - are also up.  The acequia has been running although it's not our week, this time of year is not so regulated and so we make use of it when we can.  We have extra hose pipes that I put  in the running water and catch it,  then it trickles onto the land nice and slowly.  The runner beans are running up the poles,  although not beaning as yet.

Tomorrow morning we start next weeks wine batch,  first of all we are going to press last weeks 12 buckets of very fizzy white grapes,  hoping for about 50 litres but they do surprise us sometimes so we have more barrels  ready than we  should need for the juice.  Then Tuesday we will be picking the rest of the really ripe white ones and crushing them.  Monday pressing and Tuesday picking the next batch seems to work well,  I didn't think we had a routine to our lives but I suppose when you look at your life,  there is always some sort of routine.  Be it up at sunrise and eat at sunset,  or picking and pressing grapes,  there's some sort of order.  

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Autumn almonds.

A few hours now since I came in to start  writing today..... about 5.30 I had a half hour break in my schedule,  in between almonds and dinner preparation,  but as I opened the door,  the phones did that funny switching off noise that they do when the power trips,  then on again,  then off,  we checked the main circuit breakers and there was no power outside either.  So I waited a bit,  sat in the sun,  read for a bit,  the electric came on and went off,  and again,  maybe, we said,  the feria in Ugijar have plugged in  and blown the fuses in the Alpujarras!   Not unknown,  huge power surges when it's a fiesta,  we've been staying with friends in Yator over fiesta when you can't get the kettle to boil because of the lights and music.

Anyway it all came back on, no music as yet drifting across from Ugijar but it will come soon,  we've seen the posters for the Saturday night bull fight and their  fiesta is around this weekend.  It's also Día Hispanidad on Saturday so everything will stop this weekend for fiesta.

So back to the almonds.  It's that time,  luckily for us we only have about 8 trees within easy picking reach, I say lucky as it's quite a dusty harvest.  Just like the olives, whack the tree with the pole but as the almonds and leaves are drying out it's a dusty job.  A friend of ours,  a Fernando not a Paco,  always has eye problems this time of year,  dust and grit probably.  But we can reach ours to pick by hand,  then get off the husks,  then shell,  then blanch, then leave to dry out before storing in jars for eating.  Some we use for tapas,  heavy based pan,  small amount of olive oil,  cook carefully till golden brown and sprinkle with either salt or ground cumin or dried garlic powder.  Delicious.  Some we grind for sauces, cakes or puddings.  Some chopped for adding to puddings or cakes.  But for sliced almonds,  well we leave that to the professionals and buy them.  How do you slice an almond??  Halves yes, but slices, no.

But not much wastage.  The husks we leave to dry out,  also the shells,  and during the year we wash out and flat pack the 1 litre milk and juice cartons.  Then this time of the year we stuff them full with the dried almond husks and shells,  and use them as fire starters/bricks in the wood burner.  The foil liner from the carton gets removed when the ash tray is emptied.  So far although we've spent a couple of hours every afternoon doing some part of the almond process,  we have only 3 large jars of ready to use almonds,  3 large tubs ready to shell but we have 19 cartons packed with burnable waste!

And finally a photo,  I'm still using a small ish camera of Johns,  but you know what it's like, when you've had a camera that you are happy with,  that you know how to use comfortably - well this one isn't ideal for me, but here is a picture of our pear tree in all it's Autumn glory.  For such a small tree it gave us a lot of pears this year.