Sunday, 30 June 2013

End of the month roundup..

The garlic that we dug up a week or so ago,  maybe longer than that,  time flies when you're busy,  we left it to dry for a few days then took another look and thought about storing it.  Trouble was,  quite a lot of it had gone to seed and I don't think it stores well then.  Bit like onions, if they've got a thick stalk they need using quicker.

So I sat outside one afternoon and peeled all the garlic cloves,  some bulbs had only made 2 cloves,  very big ones though,  and some had made 8 or 9 but tiny sliver-like things.  Very fiddly to peel and smelly too.  Then into the food processor until it was finely chopped,  packed into old icecube trays with a drizzle of olive oil,  and into the freezer.  Next day when I remembered about them,  I popped the cubes out and into freezer bags for instant use.

When we are cooking in the autumn and winter months we try to remember to cut off the base of the onions before cutting in half and then the bases get planted.  Free onions they are - mentioned before on here -  you're supposed to separate the new onions once they start to grow and replant as there are normally 3 or 4 from each base.  The only time I tried that they all died on me so now I just leave them to get as big as they can before the tops die off and they are ready for lifting.  Normally about pickled onion size,  so that's what we do with them.  Yesterday I peeled the onions,  last night they soaked in brine,  this morning I rinsed them then pickled them in white wine vinegar with a bit of sugar to counteract that mouth shrivelling vinegary tartness.

10 days ago  John's mother sent us an unusual assortment of seeds to try out,  June is lovely and warm so ideal for germinating but we didn't want to plant too many of the seeds out and then find the summer too hot for them.  So John started off a few of each to try out and then next spring we can do some more, but earlier in the year.

I'm ok planting seeds,  but when they are so small and come with instructions that say  'sow thinly and only keep the largest'  or words to that effect,  it seems a shame and a  waste of seed.  So he said he'd have a go this time - miniature gardening is what he's doing.  Compost sieved and sieved again,  yoghurt pots standing on gravel bases,  liquid plant food in a bottle,  a water spray bottle and a magnifying lens.  Tools?  The largest is a teaspoon,  the smallest a toothpick.

So last Thursday afternoon  (the 20th)   he put 14 sweetcorn seeds in between 2 sheets of wet kitchen paper,  by last Sunday  (23rd)  they'd germinated and were planted into loo roll middles with the sieved soil,  packed onto gravel in a box and later on today - about 6" high now - they are going out into their veg bed.  Also put for germinating the same way were electric daisieswintergreen,  asparagus peas and  inca berries.

The 50-ish electric daisies are now on their 2nd pair of leaves,  the 6 asparagus peas have all germinated and are potted,  1 is up and opening it's leaves with 2 more not far behind,  but the inca berries and wintergreen are much slower.  I know 50-ish electric daisies is a lot but you never what's going to survive..... and that's only a fraction of what was in the packet.

Lots of links for you to browse,  when we get to pick and eat we'll do a taste report as some of these plants sound curious to say the least!

Just received these from J -

 Electric daisy, just germinated,  1mm seed plus root.  Yes,  1mm.

Sweetcorn,  day 4.

Sweetcorn,   on day 7.

And finally..

Apparently April and May were not the coolest but almost,  for 10 years,  and we've just had the coolest June for 10 years,   which explains why our 'normal' seeds got off to such a slow start.   Still it's warming up nicely now and to be honest 27° or 28° has been very nice.  Up to 30° is ok and so long as you don't want to do much during the day,  then the usual long hot summer heat of July and August is - well, holiday weather.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Leafless celeriac :(

Caterpillars in the veg growing outside I can sort of accept and have got used to - but I don't make life easy for them as if at all possible I cover everything with peanet.  This year a cabbage has appeared from nowhere,  probably a self seeded one from at least 2 years ago as we didn't grow them last year due to the caterpillars - have they touched this one though?  No.  They've been too busy elsewhere, that's why.

Six of the celeriac plants were too small to go out and are still in 'potting' waiting to grow up,  along with half a dozen or so basil plants.  The day before yesterday some of the basils  looked a little raggedy so I covered them with a mesh top as I thought a bird had been in and pecked the nice green shoots.   Yesterday morning though when I opened up,  all the celeriacs were totally bald - just bare stalks!  Took the plants outside into the sunshine for a better look,  put my glasses on,  John came to see as well.....

You know don't you,  what I'm going to write next,  yup those dreaded  caterpillars  had had a good munch overnight and left us with just stalks.   A bit late now, but I've made the celeriac plants some hats from netting and I'm hoping they'll regrow before it's too hot to plant them out.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Seeds, seeds and more seeds.

The coriander which has been wonderful this year is setting seed now and over the last week or so we've been collecting the seeds as they ripen and go brown.  But now we need that space for other plants so yesterday I cut off all the heads into a large bucket,  took out the plants and dug it all over.  During the day John started de-seeding the heads and putting the completely dry ones to one side for storing in the seed store,  and putting the not so ripe ones separately.  It's a  dusty boring job and so he did a bit,  did something else,  but kept going back to the bucket and separating more.  At some point - really bored by now - he wondered what the green seeds would taste like as you can only buy dried for planting or cooking with. 

Wonderful!   The texture of a green peppercorn but with a delicious fresh coriander flavour,  not too strong,  a lovely burst of  coriander juiciness.   So off I went to the other coriander bed which was planted later and is only just finishing flowering and I cut all the green seeds off.   A quick google for fresh green seeds and their uses comes up with  'freezes well,  or put in brine for a couple weeks when they will taste even better'  and use whenever you need that extra flavour that fresh coriander gives food.

We haven't yet managed to grow it all year round,  it tends to bolt in the summer,  and although we have dried leaf,  that doesn't have anywhere near the flavour of fresh.  So this is maybe the answer.

The really green seeds I put in the freezer on a baking sheet till hard then into a bag,  the almost green but definitely not dry ones (middle box)  have filled 2 small jars and are brined,  the rest are dry and for planting. 

Talking of dried herbs,  this week we've been drying both mint and sage in the drier,  the mint takes about half a day, the sage a full day.  But both these herbs are much stronger flavoured when dry which is why we find dried coriander so strange as it seems not to have much at all.  And it's not just shop bought leaf that is like that as we dry our excess too with the same result.  Odd.

Maybe someone out there knows why??   If so, do tell us.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Mid summers eve

Plus a full moon,  apparently bigger than normal but not noticeably so to anyone who hadn't read about it.

The traditional mid summers eve party in Spain is in celebration of San Juan Bautista whose day is actually the 24th so the celebrations are some time around that date,  normally over a weekend.  Bonfires are traditional,  parties on the beach if you happen to be near one,  or both even,  plus of course fireworks.  No fiesta takes place in Spain without fireworks!

Some other traditions in different parts of the country involving food and drink can be found here...

A slightly sad day though for our neighbours and to a lesser extent ourselves,  as it was 8 years ago that Manolo died,  we only knew him for 18 months but he and his wife Carmen taught us our basic Spanish and he told us all he knew about the land and how to grow and prune and when to water and well, lots really. 

And speaking of neighbours,   another clue to summer is when they all arrive for the weekends,   clean, paint and fill their deposito/splash pool,   their children bring friends and they all make lots of noise!   They more than double the population of Montenegro but it is nice to see them and have a good chat. 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The best place for a jabalí

There are good and bad places for things to be,  and the best place that we can think of for a jabalí (wild boar) to be,  is roasted on a dinner plate.

I went out to the veg patch this afternoon to dig up the garlic,  water the peppers and celeriac and  to pick strawberries.   Bear with me on this.....

First things done ok,  small garlic again this year but better than none I suppose,  did the watering and started picking a nice big bowl of fruit and working my way round the strawberry field - as my friend calls it - when I realised that there were plants out of the ground,  the soil was dug over,  and some of the fruit very squashed.  Then I straightened up and looked further past the strawberries to the next as yet unused bed,  where the acequia runs to our last olive tree.

What a mess.   Dug up,  although churned up might be a better word for it,  hoof prints or more like hoof holes everywhere.  Only one animal does anything like this round here and it's the dreaded jabalí which is why we prefer it roasted on a dinner plate.

This is how our acequias normally look,  wide and clean and able to cope  with running water.

And this is what the jabalí left behind......I hope it doesn't come back anytime soon.  There's some digging and tidying to do here before this can be used for vegetables!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

A minor blip?

I certainly hope so....

Woke yesterday to see clouds way down at the coast in the direction of Almeria,  as the day went on the clouds got closer,  the early morning breeze became a gusty wind,  it felt cooler although it was still 28° but there must have been a 'wind chill factor'  as for the first time for days we ate indoors last night.

Checked the forecast and oh dear!   The  north of Spain has weather warnings of heavy rain and 'tormentas'  and that doesn't need translating,  high winds and heavy rain.  The north east has all that plus 'deshielos'  which is thawing,  melting snow probably,  from the Pyrenees - and then the coastal areas of Murcia,  Almeria and Granada have high winds and high seas!

In the middle here,  still gusty,  much cooler last night down from 24 overnight to 16,  easier to sleep but not good for seedlings which have really struggled this year as the temperature keeps yo-yo-ing.

We were having a drink with a neighbour on Sunday evening - the Paco that has the goats and rabbits,  also a dog and a cat and now 3 kittens -  did we want one, they will make good ratters....anyway apart from wondering why his mostly absent neighbour can grow cherries and apricots when he can't,  despite working every day on his land,  he said that this year has been so up and down that the plants don't know what to do and the weather will do what it wants and that every year is different.  

'But this is definitely not normal'.    If we had a euro for every time we've been told that over the last 10 years,  we'd be very rich by now!

The only good thing about clouds is the amazing colour of the sunset.  Got this last night just before the sun disappeared.

Friday, 14 June 2013

You know it's summer when..

The first cicadas start screeching

The first hot weather warnings are issued by AEMET

Your neighbours come up at 6.30 in the morning to water before it gets too hot

The dogs need walking before they get too hot - it's up and out by 7 am

You can't keep up with the amount of ice needed to go with the cold drinks  to keep us refreshed

Shutters have to be closed the minute the sun hits the house to keep it comparatively cool inside

Winter bedding washed and stored away

The pool is sparklingly clean and the lilos are ready for use

As I write this,  sitting in the shade on the terrace at 5.40,  chilled white wine in front of me,  the thermometer still says 30.   It said 21 when we got up at 7am,  yet only last Friday the high was a not very June-like 18.

Happy days,  give it another month or so and people will be saying either .......this isn't normal for June/July ........or...........oh I can't  wait for autumn/the rain/winter.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

So far, so good.

No aches, no pains,  able to do all my back exercises again and now that we really do have summer......30 this afternoon on the also swimming easily.  Last week it hurt to swim and I blew up a rubber ring to hold and just kicked my legs.

So a new project - one that wasn't planned but like a lot of things has just evolved.   The awning over the seating area by the pool gives just the right amount of shade but billows in the breeze and  gets damaged if there is a strong wind.   So we thought about planting something green to eventually cover the framework - ivy or grape vines - wasps would be a problem with grapes but I'm sure we can find a way round that - cut off the grapes early.    Last Friday  saw the start of low walls to create some beds and Monday we emptied the first of 3 compost heaps,  cut out enough rooted ivy to start it all off and today I've added geraniums that were struggling in pots,  gazania seedlings,  and next in - to a shadier bed - will be herbs such as parsley and basil.

Recently planted out and also doing well are courgettes, 3 different types of squash,  peppers, cucumbers  and  celeriac.  The lettuces are still hanging on, some beginning to bolt though,  dwarf beans in  but not up,  the coriander is setting seeds, the garlics are  swelling,  parsley and purple basil in pots all around the place and we found some forgotten-about sprouting potatoes which we've planted and are keeping our fingers crossed.  I think potatoes can go in at just about any time....  if we get a few meals of little baby spuds as an extra that'll be good enough.

And strawberries!  Wimbledon soon - we'll have to sit out here and eat strawberries and cream but probably not watch unless there's an exciting final.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Strawberry vodka part 2.

When we thought about making the strawberry vodka,  or rather I thought about it as I'm a strawberry fan and a vodka girl,  one of the first things I did was to look online for other people's blogs,  at forums which have 'how to do' ideas,  and recipes.   That's if  making a fruit based drink counts as a recipe? 

Most of these suggested a minimum of 3 days soaking the fruit in alcohol and up to about 10 days,  with some then suggesting leaving the strained brew to mature for anything up to 6 months.  After 3 days we had a gorgeous ruby-red vodka with pale strawberries,  day 4 we had a little taster and it was wonderful.   Day 8 - yesterday -  I decided to strain and bottle the juice and chill it for drinking whenever needed.

I can't quite express my disappointment because the ruby-red colour had completely vanished.  Not to the point of clear juice,  but more a sepia toned vodka.  Taste = 10/10.  Colour about 2/10.  So did all those sites I looked at first have photo-shopped pictures?

I don't know,  so last night I looked at more online info and found more food and drink blogs and forums with photos of strawberry vodka that actually look like ours.  Some suggest adding sugar to the soaking mix but then you end up with a liqueur like drink and I'm not sure that keeps the colour.  But nowhere can I find anyone who says " where did the colour go?"  and without signing up and posing the question on lots of different places, I'm not sure I'll find out. 

Will we try it again?  Not sure.  Today's strawberries have made 8 lollies - natural whizzed down strawberries and then poured into lolly moulds,  no added anythings,  plus a plateful for lunch to have with pineapple, apple, pear and melon,  and some not quite ripe enough but they will keep  till the next picking.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

An all you can eat buffet.

Remember the photos of the baby grapes I took on May 8th?   Here they are just 1 month later and starting  to  take shape now.

We can't remember when we last had so many bunches  but we think it was way back in the summer of 2005 -  we had to cut off a complete branch as it was so heavy and the grapes weighed in at 23 pounds.  Lots of grape jelly made and lots eaten too as that was in the days before we started wine making.

So looking good for this years harvest,  assuming all the other vines are as laden.

The mulberry tree is laden too,  and it is an "all you can eat buffet"  for the birds.  Sparrows,  chaffinches,  golden orioles,  blackbirds,  coal tits and starlings all visiting all day.  The starlings come in a great flock every morning and every evening and as they land on the branches,  so  big fat ripe mulberries drop onto the ground.  Not somewhere you want to walk at the moment,  certainly not if you are thinking of going indoors as the fruit is all sticky and gets stuck to your shoes.

Just over a year now since the mulberry tree was pruned and it is now wider than it is high but only just....  I paced out it's width and I reckon it spreads over 8 metres so must be about 6 high.  And the more it's pruned the denser it gets but without pruning we lose so much morning sun in the garden.  Yes I know we have lots of land and other places to sit if we want sun,  but the plants need sunshine too as lots of the front garden flowers are of the 'full sun' type and don't bloom properly without it.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Can flies read???

We were both  out working this morning in different parts of the garden,  I was dismantling pea frames - and finding dried peas that we'd missed so they've gone into next year's box for planting- and John was digging out weeds and tidying around the pool.  When we met up at lunch time I asked him how his fly morning had been but like me he'd only seen one - and that hadn't bitten.  Did they know they'd been mentioned here?

It has been hotter today - 27 at lunch time  :)    maybe their time is over until next year,   certainly hope so!

I thought taking the pea frames apart would be an easy thing,  but when I started everything got tangled.  The peas were tangled round the string,  the string was knotted round the canes, and it all got in a big jumble.

Now I know to start at the last place,  the last knot of string,  undo that and work my way backwards and downwards.  Finally take out the peas,  leaving the roots in the ground for goodness.   Not sure what should go in next - there is some order as to what plants benefit from others,  plant rotation I believe,  but it's more a case of what space is available when the next seeds or seedlings are ready to go out.

Dwarf Borlotto beans today,  so much easier than trying to find enough tall canes for climbing beans and just as tasty.   26 holes,  3 beans to a hole, in nice warm soil so fingers crossed!  And more to be planted as space becomes available.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Horseflies and muscles.

We don't normally see many of these near the house - only when we are out and about in the undergrowth and so we try to avoid doing any work in places like that from about May or so.  But this week the nasty little - or quite big actually - flies have been out in full force.  And in the garden-never seen them there.

We've both been bitten and although I don't itch much,  they do leave behind an enormous large red lump.

And just to make the week complete,  I had a really bad coughing fit on Friday - chesty still from the cold of 2 weeks ago - and as I coughed and coughed there was a dreadful pain in my upper rib cage and we think I've pulled an intercostal muscle.  These are the muscles that run between the ribs and when you pull one - boy does it hurt!   Coughing,  laughing,  sneezing,  turning over in the night,  even swimming hurts!   A Grade 1 mild strain - healing about 2 - 3 weeks,  anything worse is obviously going to be longer,  so I'm taking life very slowly and gently at the moment and getting John to help do things I take for granted.   Couldn't even shake the sheet this morning when making the bed or fold them when they came off the washing line - and as for stretching up to peg them out!  Well,  that was difficult.

Hopefully when this has healed nothing else will go wrong.  At least it's hot and sunny and I can relax  in a warm place which must do the muscle some good.  The only good thing is that my back is fine - still doing exercises every day but can't quite manage all of them due to this new strain!

Life can only get better - fingers crossed.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Strawberry vodka.

A bottle of vodka  -  don't think this is  too extravagant please,  a bottle of own brand supermarket vodka here is around 4 euros,   which is just under £3.50 at today's rates,   and the strawberries are free. 

So to 1 bottle of vodka I added 700 grams of chopped strawberries and left them in a cool dark place,  shook the jar every morning and evening,  and today,  only 2 days or so later, the strawberries are virtually white,  the vodka is pink and it smells wonderful.    And yes,  we have had a little taste today,  just a small one,  and  it tastes just like strawberries but with a bit of a kick.

I think the longer it is left to soak the better,  although the strawberries look almost 'empty'  there is probably still flavour in them  and a few more days won't hurt.  Then we can strain the mix,  bottle it,  chill it,  and drink it.