Thursday, 30 May 2013

Smoothberry jam

Four pots of smooth strawberry jam equals one happy husband!    After finding 1100mls of strawberry puree in the freezer,   I added an equal amount of sugar plus   4 tablespoons of lemon juice and  some 15 minutes or so later had the test batch on a saucer to see if it was done.  'The wrinkle test'  my book calls it,  but  when the jam didn't move even with the saucer tipped sideways,  I knew it was ready for bottling.

Made a loaf of wholemeal bread as well,  so that is breakfast sorted for tomorrow - and a few more days as well I hope.

The next challenge......what to do with today's  kilo of strawberries that I picked this afternoon.   Maybe  another boozy offering,  a friend suggested strawberry gin instead of using sloe berries,  but  I'm a vodka girl and found lots of sites for how to make strawberry vodka.   That does sound right up my street!   Seems you just need a bottle of vodka and about a pound or so of strawberries,  cut them into quarters and put into the vodka for anything between 3 to 7 days.    By then all the colour and flavour has gone into the vodka,  you strain it through a muslin or coffee filter,  chill and drink. It works best if you use a  glass jar with a lid,  then put it back into the bottle for chilling and serving.

So my next step is to check the vodka supply! 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Strawberry Margaritas.

Following on from lumpy strawberry jam and - depending on your point of view - possibly having too many of them as well,  there have been some suggestions for drinks using the surplus.   A friend has posted a link in the comments on the 'lumpy'  post  but even before we saw that  John made  these this evening....

Strawberry Margaritas....  

This is not something we drink very often,  maybe on a special sort of a day and only then if we have tequila,  and lime juice,  and  cointreau - or a taste-a-like own brand -  but today we've been out  doing a big stocking up shop and just thought we'd chill in the evening sunshine  with a slightly different drink. 

Very nice,  very different to my usual glass of wine,  and no lumps  :)

Tomorrow I'm going to make non - lumpy jam for him using the puree from the freezer.   No reason why it shouldn't work  and no reason why it should taste any different to normal jam, so I'll let you know!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Lumpy strawberry jam.

It's definitely strawberry season here,  Saturday I picked 700 grams and this afternoon another 800.   Now, I love strawberries.  Probably my number 1 favourite fruit after fresh pineapple,  or a crunchy granny smith,  but those we have to buy so I guess it's the most cost effective favourite fruit.   And all these are still coming from plants of plants of plants from the original 3 we bought about 7 years ago.  A good investment.

Back to strawberries and what to do them all?   I could eat them any time of day,  lovely straight from the plant all warm and sunny,  with yoghurt for breakfast,  in a fruit salad,  just a handful to nibble whenever.  John likes them sliced and sugared and left to marinate for a while and in a fruit salad,  but when Saturdays 700 grams appeared on the table there was a   "any chance of strawberry jam?"  request.   So that's what I made on Sunday,  when it was cool enough I dolloped some on a slice of buttery bread said  'try this.' 

Now I know everyone is different - the world would be very boring if not - but he does like his jam to be  - quote - not lumpy.   So raspberry seedless,  or bramble jelly,  I make peach jam and that's not a jelly and he enjoys that,  but when I asked how was the jam he said 'didn't manage to get rid of the lumps then!' 

I hoped he was joking but ....... 'You can't have strawberry jam without strawberries'   I said,  'otherwise you'd have to just use the juice  (how, I don't know)   and then it would be strawberry jelly.  The clue is in the name of it.'

In the freezer are a couple of pots of strawberry puree from last year that I was keeping for maybe using in a trifle or some other pudding out of season.  Next time I'm shopping I'm going to buy John a bag of sugar,  defrost the puree,  and leave him to experiment with a smooth strawberry jam.  I'm sure it'll work and taste exactly the same,  but to me strawberry jam has strawberries in it.    Lumps in other words.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Cute kid :)

Remember the grazing goats from the end of April?   They were out as usual last night but just half an hour or so ago when we went past there was an extra one,  quite a recent addition I think as it was quite wobbly still on it's legs.    Looking at mama I wonder if there is another to come yet?

Friday, 24 May 2013

Winning the battles.

I think we're winning the battle this week - or battles perhaps that should be.    2 weeks ago John was away for a couple of days and 4 days after he got home he got the dreaded lurgy that seems to occur after airline travel.  The sore throat,  stinking cold,  chesty cough,  aches and pains,  sound familiar?    Not content to keep it to himself,  last Sunday  I woke with the start of a sore throat and now 6 days later am still coughing,  chesty,  blocked nose and trying so hard not to wince and pull my back muscles again.   That was a problem for a couple of weeks,  but helped enormously by doing 20 minutes of exercises twice a day - luckily I'd kept the book that we got about 18 or so years ago when I had bad problems.

So the other battles are - or were - the sweet peas which are well on their way to a better life reseeding and rotting on the lower land,   a broad bean patch which collapsed in the winds of last week and the beans are not going to get any bigger with broken stems,  John cut them all down this morning and I de-beaned and podded -  3 lots in the freezer and the rest for the weekend,  and the rocket.  Well,  that was just a few plants that seeded themselves in the wrong place and that I moved into our raised bed.  They then grew and grew and grew and produced so many flowers and now so many seed pods,  that if they are allowed to seed themselves where they are,  they'll totally take over that vegetable plot.  I cut off all the flower / seedpod stalks this morning and put them in a bucket.  It's a large bucket,  one of those black rubbery ones that we all have loads of over here,  cheap and long lasting.

Tomorrow I need to de-seed the rocket so the big pods can dry out for next year,  and get planted where we want,  the rest will go to rot with the sweet peas probably.  Then the vegetable patch can be dug over and composted for our summer veg - the lettuces are still fine in there so we're going to add peppers, cucumbers, chillis, courgettes  and what ever else there is room for.  We try to keep that area as a kitchen garden as it's the closest to the house for when you just want something quickly,  rather than the rest of the veg patches which are for more long term stuff such as strawberries, squash, beans and peas.

Beautiful day yesterday and today, until about 4pm when a big cloud came over,  dropped loads of rain and disappeared.  Sunshine above us,  sunshine down the valley,  and the cloud just went once it had dropped it's rain.  Stopped me digging though!

More tomorrow - weather permitting.  It says a chance of rain,  ie 2mm - sometimes that just means heavy cloud which is good digging weather.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Sweetpeas running wild.

Doesn't time fly!   4 days since I looked at this and thought about what we've been doing - and most of those days were blustery.   Saturday I went into Cádiar to get vegetables from the market and had a coffee with friends who are over for a holiday,  Sunday was our acequia watering day,  which although the water channels are all in place and kept clean,  and some fruit and vegetable beds have irrigation pipes in,  still the flow needs checking so we don't overflow and flood places,  and we have to make sure the pipes have not blocked with leaves or grit  and that the - strawberries mainly - are getting well watered.

No danger of anything drying out today as last night it drizzled just after we went for our last walk,  and this morning we woke to cloud and more drizzle.  Before the clouds came down over Mecina,  I could swear there was snow way up high above the town in the tree line.  White in the firebreaks,  not dark earthy looking.

Yesterday we started trying to reclaim some of the overgrown paths and flower beds from the wild sweetpeas.  They are beautiful,  dark pink,  but grow at an enormous rate.   If they have something to climb up they get as tall as me,  if not they just ramble every where and it has become quite difficult to get to the shed,  the side vegetable garden, the back gate etc...

The other long  term problem is all the seeds that they produce.  If we don't get the plants out now before the pods dry and fling seeds everywhere, then next year will be even worse.  We leave some plants alone and keep a close eye on the pods to collect the seeds and put them where we want - not where they want to go.   We have 3 big piles of  pulled out plants waiting for dumping but not today in the drizzle!   We take the old unwanted plants down to our lower terraces and let them die off on the bankings so that the seeds can grow there - the more vegetation and roots on a bank the better especially if we get  very wet winters.  It all helps prevent land slips.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Peg pinging weather!

Lovely start to the day yesterday so into the washing machine went the sheets and pillowcases,  few bits of clothing and out onto the line by 11ish.   No sooner were things pegged than a breeze started but that rapidly turned into strong blustery winds that twisted the sheets round and round the line,  pegs started pinging off,  pillow cases hanging on by - well, I was going to say a thread,  but a peg really.   So with great difficulty I unravelled everything and with help from John,  we folded the sheets up  and pegged them onto the airers which are in a more sheltered-ish place.  

And then the same again today,  albeit without the washing problem.   The forecast has a risk of strong gusts here and high winds and high waves along the coast.

Despite that I've been out picking fruit and veg,  just peas this time,  another half bucket full which when podded gave us almost 750 grams so plenty to eat and to freeze.  And also 400 grams of strawberries - the first decent picking of the year.

The box of peas that we bought this time say 'ready to pick in 117 days'  - the first planting  went in at the very end of November and sure enough we were picking by the middle-ish of March,  pretty much as predicted.   Now the first planting are finished and yesterdays pickings all came from the ones planted on January 1st - about 130 days - clever isn't it?

Someone asked me  'do you always weigh what you pick'  and yes,  mostly I do as it's nice to know what we're getting for the work that we put in,  and to know what's gone in the freezer because come the depths of winter we won't have a clue unless it's been weighed and written down somewhere!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Nuestra Señora de Fátima

Yesterday was our fiesta here in  Montenegro celebrating Nuestra Señora de Fátima.  The skies weren't as blue as last year,  but the sun did shine for us.  Every year  the fiesta   follows the same pattern, but is still a bit different - it all depends on the day of the week that the 13th falls on.  Last year was a Sunday so lots more people around and about a 100 or so came,  yesterday was quieter and we noticed people leaving to go back to work after the service.  Usually the pews stay outside the chapel and are used by the picnicers but this year they were put away and it seemed that there wouldn't be much of a gathering afterwards.

We shared food and drink with friends as usual,   later on after we'd gone home we heard the sound of guitars and singing drifting down through the olive terraces.

Just this last few days the flowers of the variegated agaves have started to bloom,   this one caught the sun this morning......

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Whose egg is it?

Considering the lack of recent rain - or much rain at all this winter - everywhere is very green and lush still,  with lots of wild flowers in bloom.   But there are some places that never green-up,  never have many flowers and a couple of days ago I saw this on the dry open ground.  Actually the dogs saw it first,  started sniffing at it,  and because you never know what might be lying around I always take them away from strange stuff,  dogs and cats have been known to get ill from eating things on the ground.

But it wasn't bad food,  or poison,  but this egg.  Or the remains of an egg. 

The pencil next to it is 6 inches long - about 15cms? - so quite a decent size.  I've googled 'birds eggs beige spotty brown bits' etc and  have found quite a few but none that give a size.  I did wonder if it's an egg from a perdiz (partridge) as we start to see the babies following mum and dad at the end of May and during June.  So hatching now would be about the right timescale.

Any thoughts or if you know which bird,  do say so!    

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Olives and grapes.

Before we came here,  olives were just something that we bought in a tin,  ate occasionally and  put on pizzas.  I don't remember thinking much about them, but now we have our own trees which we  water every alternate Sunday (our day for the acequia water)   pick, brine and bottle  the black olives from November to January depending on the tree and variety and also prune for winter firewood,  now we are much more aware of them.

I don't think I ever realised that an olive tree had flowers.  That may seem a silly thing to say as how else do you get fruit?  And is an olive a fruit?  I suppose so but not edible till brined and then definitely not a sweet fruit. 

The trees now are getting ready to bloom,  lots of tiny tiny buds,  the flowers themselves are little white star shapes and will be out soon.

Also getting ready are the grapevines.  Lots of miniature bunches of grapes - hopefully they will do well enough for us to make some wine this October as last years crop dried up in the extremely hot heat of August - yes, hot even for Southern Spain - and the year before just didn't produce enough.  That year I think we made 40 litres which may sound a lot,  but when we first started to make wine a neighbour said we should aim for 500 litres!  What!  Was that a gasp from someone?  Think of it as a litre a day between 2 of us,  which isn't a lot,  plus visitors,  Christmas time,  fiestas - of which there are a lot - and it becomes clear that 500 is about right.

Fingers crossed that this years harvest will be exceptional to make up for the past few.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Lucky Lizard.

Meet Lucky Lizard who lives in the front garden in the base of the olive tree.    We don't see him every day but he quite often comes out and walks around,  sunbathes for a bit,  darts for safety if there is movement and somehow has managed to avoid getting caught by Pip.  When she sees him she rushes over but he's quick enough to get into a space too small for her - behind plant pots,  back into his tree hole,  up inside a drain pipe sometimes.  The cut branch that Lucky is sitting on is about 5 inches across,  so we reckon he must be about 6 inches and his tail even longer than that.

A few weeks ago Lucky Lizard was out for his afternoon stroll,  Monty was lying on the doorstep and watched him for ages before summoning up  the energy to chase him. 

It's strange though,  because neither of the dogs chase after the sparrows or chaffinches in the garden,  they even sit on the dog's water bowl drinking and peck at their dog biscuits and are ignored totally. 

Actually this is Lucky 2,  a couple of years ago we had Lucky 1 who was much bigger and used to live in a drain pipe and was usually  around the washing machine,  but we realised that we hadn't seen him for quite a while then Lucky 2 came along.  Maybe this is Son of Lucky - sounds like the title of a horror movie!

Friday, 3 May 2013

Waiting time.

This is a waiting time at the moment -

waiting for the seeds to get big enough to repot

waiting for the temperature to get warmer so the biggest plants can go out

waiting for my back to stop aching - if I walk for too long - and especially if it's been an uphill walk,  it hurts coming downhill.  I know it's been 2 weeks since I overdid it,  getting some extra vegetable beds ready and also cleaning out the pool,  but for that week's work - too much bending and stretching and digging - I've paid the price.  2 weeks now of gentle work,  walking only on the flat - and that's difficult round here but up to the fuente and back is ok,  not sitting for too long or I get stiff,  it's all happened before but not for a very long time.  Out has come the physio book for my back exercises  and an ibuprofen if really bad.

Still,  there are plenty of things to be doing around here,  cushions for the outside chairs need recovering,  peas and beans to be picked,  podded and either eaten or frozen,  reorganize the wardrobe for when summer comes again...

Today was market day in Cadiar,  one of the few times that we meet up with friends,  there are quite a few of us who don't go out or shopping very often so market day is more of a social gathering - time to stop and chat.  And share back pain chat,  a friend of ours has done the same as me,  the same sunny week as me,  so we had a moan together.

Also heard about the local tomato planting group - 3 guys from Yator who grow cherry tomatoes in bulk each year with a guaranteed sale to the wholesaler - they have planted 24,500 plants recently at a cost of 45 cents each - they should make about €30,000 from that  between them,  minus the €11,000 they paid for the plants.

So a big investment,  all in the ground - and then it snowed.   Time will tell what effect it's had on the plants,  hopefully none,  but it might have slowed down their growth.