Saturday, 31 August 2013

Figs galore!

We've been making the odd batch of fig wine recently but only a few kilos at a time.  Last Saturday I made a batch of white fig - 6 kilos - and a batch of black - 3.6 kilos.  No added water or sugar,  just mashed up figs and a yeast starter from the previous wine that was still fermenting.  When I squeezed them yesterday we got 4 litres of white juice and 2 of black.  But they had both used all their own sugar up so then I added some sugar,  a mix of 1 kilo to 1/2 litre of water,  boiled and cooled.  Within a few hours there was a good fizzy head on both brews.

Out yesterday morning with the dogs and a bucket,  we only went as far as the big fig tree which is on the way up to the fuente and while I picked 9.5 kilos of black figs they pottered around under the tree eating windfalls for their breakfast. 

This morning I thought I'd aim big,  get out the grape crusher and  pick as many figs as I could find and do a big big batch.  I got John's big rucksack and put a bin liner inside,  took a hooky stick to pull down branches,  and set off to the bottom land.   It's about a 10 minute walk down to the last fig tree and I picked on the way back up.  As it happened,  I only picked from 3 trees before the rucksack was getting quite heavy so bought it back and weighed the bin liner.  11 kilos.  Back out,  5 trees this time,  14 kilos.  Back out to the final 3 trees which were a bit disappointing - only 8 kilos.  But 33 kilos of figs should be about 25 litres of white wine.

We did the crushing outside in the sunshine then hose piped the terrace clean before the wasps came.   Soaped and rinsed the crusher (it looks like a wheelbarrow on legs,  has rubber paddles inside and as you turn the handle,  the figs - or grapes -  get crushed by the paddles and go down into a bucket underneath)  We call it the mangle. 

After the weather of the past week I was surprised to see so many figs still on the trees.  We had that torrential thunder storm of last Monday,  then on Thursday afternoon another one but worse because not only did we have torrential rain but also an enormous hailstorm which covered the garden in white.  Lots of our plants look like they have bullet holes in the leaves,  some had their leaves  shredded by the hail.  The area all around the pool flooded,  the pool overflowed onto the flooded ground and the muddy water drained back into the pool.  It doesn't look anywhere near the normal blue and sparkly cleanliness of a few days back but it is starting to settle.  I can see down to the 3rd step today!  A few more days and we'll be able to clean the floor and hoover out the dirt.  The front garden flooded too as the drain blocked again but that is easy to empty. 

A few good things though after the rain,  no need to water anything for a while and the cars are clean again!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Thunder and mung beans.

The haze of Friday morning went,   but on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons there were huge gleaming white thunder clouds looming up behind us,  quite beautiful against the deep blue sky but threatening looking.  Today's forecast was for the odd cloud but with a high chance of thunder later on.  As it turned out it's been totally cloudy all day,  very humid,  no point in doing any washing and I didn't even think about slicing any more strawberries for the drier.

After we'd had lunch and cleared up I sat outside for a bit reading,  thunder rumbling in the distance.  Then it got closer and a breeze picked up,  time to go in.  Away with the sun umbrella and towels and seat cushions,  time to check email instead.   And write this.  Got one email done when the heavens opened and the thunder cracked right overhead and the power went.

Half an hour later it's all over and done with,  I've paddled to the drain in the corner of the front garden to clear it and let the water out,  John has propped up rain sodden plants and  we've swept the shed roof clear as that was another blocked drain.  It only takes a few leaves or olives.  The temperature has dropped about 5 degrees and there is nice cool air coming in through the lounge door -  I left it open during the rain and of course it splashed inside so now we've got old towels down to dry the floor.

But what I was going to write about were these beans.

At the end of June,  John put some mung beans to sprout for fresh beansprouts to have in a stir-fry a few days later.  But on the day he needed them they weren't sprouted enough so he opened a jar instead,  planning on using the fresh ones a couple of days later.  As it happened, we forgot about them for another few days and when we remembered it was almost a week from the initial soaking.  And they had leaves and roots!  Neither of us like to throw things out so we found some spaces in a raised sunny bed amongst the geraniums,  I gently teased the plants apart and we planted some.  Most of them were far too tangled together so for those I just made a largeish hole and dumped them in - either they grew or didn't but it gave them a chance.  And they did grow,  and are now flowering and have made bean pods! 

the mung bean in full flower.....

and pods developing.

The flowers are pale and yellowish in colour and the pod grows behind, each one seems to have about 10 beans developing.  A quick google around shows there are lots of recipes using dried mung beans,  used instead of chickpeas,  for hummus,  in soups and stews etc. 

So another bean that we find easy to grow,  to add to the broad bean and  borlotto stocks.  We'll have to start eating more beans as they are so easy and less potatoes which we have to buy.  But beans can never replace a big buttery pile of mash,  or crunchy chips, or a jacket with blue cheese....still, food for thought.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Sunrise and strawberries

We woke yesterday morning to a slight haze down south,  damp chair cushions, wet grass at the side of the road,  wet legs when I walked with the dogs on our normal round trip to the fuente and back across the overgrown fields of a neighbour.

Looking down at Yátor, hazy hills in the distance.
 As the sun rose so the haze lifted and  everything dried up.

This weeks excess strawberries have been sliced and put in the drier,  there are 4 open trays lined with mesh to stop the fruit falling through the wire base - the slices get very small as they dry out.

About 500 grams went in,  they reduce down to the contents of a small jam jar,  about a mint jelly sized jar.   We still had too many though to fit in the drier so had a glass of strawberry milk shake after lunch today.  Sort of a liquid pudding,  really thick and tasty but without any icecream which I had read that is usually in a milk shake.  I don't think it would have been suckable up the straw with icecream as well.

This mornings early visitor to the pool was this praying mantis. 

Lucky I saw it  when I did as it wasn't swimming too well.  I lifted it out onto the side to dry,  then before the dogs came out  I put it up onto the table for safety.   It sat there for a while, watching me watching it,  and after it had had it's photo opportunity, it went.  I didn't see it go,  just wasn't there.


Monday, 19 August 2013

Flaming chicken.

As nice as it is to have a roast dinner on a Sunday night,   the temperatures being what they are the last thing you want to do is put the oven on and make the kitchen even hotter.  And we do have a few barbeques,  one bought,  one given and a larger one bought for when there is more than just us two.

A favourite and different way of roasting chicken is this,  but as we were planning on a late - after the sun had gone down - barbeque last night and  I had salad ideas in mind,  plus we'd eaten a wonderful spicy meal the night before,   I decided to make a garlic and parsley butter to push under the skin and around the legs of the chicken.  Then I planned on cutting the chicken up the middle , sort of a butterfly effect so it'd cook better.  Then I thought that the garlic herb butter would not be sealed in, as normally I'd split the chicken down it's breast bone.  Big rethink, then John said why not cut the chicken down the middle of it's underneath, that way the breast skin is intact and the butter is less likely to run out.

Garlic parsley butter made,   pushed under the skin,  chicken split underneath and then I pushed it flat and butterflied it.  Into the fridge for the day to soak?  marinade?  anyway for the flavours to mingle and then about 8pm we lit the bbq.  And poured the first of few glasses of wine while it cooked.

(Then our neighbours decided to do a little chainsawing,  yes I know,  why start at 8pm on a nice quiet Sunday evening but we do have a secret weapon - music.   The louder the chainsaw,  the more we turn it up,  doesn't drown out the noise but it certainly helps.)

Anyway,  we fanned the flames of the bbq,  the chicken started to sizzle,  we turned it around and around and finally added the prunings from the sage bushes that I'd cut earlier in the day.

I know these flames look big,  but that was just the oil and butter spitting.  It was juicy and tender and very flavourful.  Leftovers tonight.  Without the noise of the chainsaw. 

Friday, 16 August 2013

Fiesta Asunción Maria.

Another fiesta over and done with,  this one was Asunción Maria otherwise known as the water fiesta.  Or bubble fiesta. 

Wednesday evening there was music and dancing outside the salon - I woke up at 5.15am on Thursday morning and could still hear the music drifting up from Yátor,  friends who live there said they didn't get very much sleep and some just gave up and went outside to join in.  Plus of course there were fireworks at seemingly random intervals.

Thursday lunchtime was food and drink.  Normally there is a huge paella made outside,  you pay for your plate of food which gives you access to the cold food and drinks in the salon.  Not being a huge fan of the arroz that they produce,  we opted to stay here for lunch and go down later,  got there about 2.30,  and went to the bar for a beer and to meet up with friends.   Of course this year there was no paella only the cold food and drinks. 

Also usually the foam machine sets up in the square outside the bar where the water fountain or fuente is,   so those who want to have a water fight which seems to be most of the village be they young or old,   can do so.  If you want to go to the bar you have to be quick and keep an eye out as someone will get you with a bucket of water.  Take it all in good spirits,  the water is cool and refreshing and the weather is hot. 

This year however the foam machine,  a paddling pool for little ones and an overhead water spray were all set up to the side of the salon.  A hose pipe ran from the water tap to a barrel and a pump was sending water from the barrel to the foam machine which was running - or trying to - but not very well.  Occasionally a big plume of foam shot out but then it stopped.  Ten minutes later another big plume but not enough to get anyone excited enough to go over.  Usually the foam and water throwing all happen in the same place - everyone gets wet and bubbly and has a great time.  Pics here from 2011.....

But this year a bit of a damp squib.  Plus, the worst thing for a water fight,  the fuente ran out of water because they were trying to pump so much to the not working foam machine.  Lots of unhappy youngsters looking around for a source to fill their buckets.  Some neighbours had hosepipes out,  someone else opened up the acequia gate and they were taking water out from there.

Probably the most excitement came from the horses.  2 local ones and 2 came by trailer.  We were told that they were going to set up a rope with - I think - ribbons on,  then they would run /gallop  down the road and hook or lasso the ribbons off.  Cars were moved and we waited.  But one of the horses was very unhappy,  first it started to kick out at the horse next to it where they were tied in the shade of a tree, so it was moved and tied onto the trailer.  It then continued to kick out,  paw at the ground and pull and push against the trailer.  Some guy, not it's owner,  decided to calm it down by throwing buckets of water over it which did no good at all,  possibly made it worse.  It's an odd looking horse anyway I think,  has white eyes which make it look mad but a friend said those are it's normal eyes.  Paco it's owner eventually took it away off down the road to it's stable. 

John and I were to the side of the bar talking with friends,  at the foot of a narrow road leading up to the placeta behind the bar,  I'm not sure what caught our attention but probably the noise of a horse clip-clopping down behind us,  it was the  'wild one' all alone with it's rope trailing behind,  and heading back down to the square.  Paco was nowhere to be seen,  we all moved pretty quickly and went the other side of Joaquim's large van for safety.  The horse headed straight for the nice brown one which was still tied in the shade of the tree and started -  well,  I don't know horse phrases,  but it was noisy and kicking and the brown horse has a couple of cuts on 2 legs.  Someone - the bucket of water man - managed to get it's rope and separate them,  then Paco arrived and  took it off to a field on it's own.

That seemed to stop any of the horse riding and  lassoing,  but it had been exciting in a way.  A bit dangerous,  lots of children around and maybe the horse should have been removed earlier on but no one was hurt,  just lots of gasps and sharp intakes of breath!

More music and dancing last night......

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Busy busy.

I have been meaning to write for a few days now but the day just seems to go so quickly.....

Every morning  something needs doing with the wine,  testing the sugar or stirring the latest brew or making another batch or straining the last one....then the strawberry plants need picking and watering in the morning so any fruit that gets wet has all day to dry off in the sun and heat,  I have found some that have rotted on the wet ground if I water them at night.  Evening watering is everything else - sweetcorn, peppers and chillis,  cucumbers, celeriac and squash - all 2 of them at the moment :(    And no courgettes at all yet.  Very odd.

Of course there's always some housework,  minimal if possible,  a quick sweep and mop,  shake the bed sheets and maybe a quick dust and polish.  And before the sun gets in because then the shutters need closing and it's too gloomy to see,  of course that also means you can't see the dust so why bother cleaning at all?  Habit, I guess.

John meanwhile is checking the plants in the side garden and all the pots.  Because things got off to a slow start, they aren't coping well with the summer sun and heat,  the plants in the raised bed wilt by midday,  so he has made a cane framework then the shade-fabric that we have gets moved from the side to the top,  then later on over to the other side and eventually comes off for the late evening sun  to shine on them.  And the next day it all happens again.  Lots of man hours,  but without that I think they'd all die.  The other half of that vegetable garden is even more exposed and even the cucumbers are struggling in there,  so now we have put our plants into large pots which we can move from direct sun to shade as necessary.

Luckily we have lots of large pots,  about 5 years or so ago we were taking the rubbish to the recycling bins and behind them someone had dumped piles of black pots,  quite large, they hold about 20 litres of compost,  so we  took about 30 or so.  Also there were starter trays stacked together - the sort that baby plug plants come in from a garden centre or nursery - plastic not polystyrene,  and we took about the same number of those.  I think each one holds 48 plants.  Of course all these seed starters need space so the potting shed has had to be reorganised and tidied up as the plants need the brighter sunnier end.

Tuesday however we managed to organise ourselves for a day out to get some shopping.  It means doing more the night before and making sure all the plants are shaded  and watered for the time we aren't around  to check on them. 

When we built the water deposit/pool,  the pump we bought to use for cleaning it wasn't specifically a pool pump,  it does the job but only has a small filter so after the dreaded big winds which blow leaves and grit onto the floor,  I spend more time cleaning out the filter that I do actually sweeping the floor.  It can take anything up to 3 hours and is something I put off doing.   So of course the pool floor gets dirtier and then takes even longer....Also after 7 years of use the pump doesn't seem to pump as much water as it did.

While we were out we went to Bricomart - a large diy store down near Roquetas and bought a new pump.  A swimming pool pump with a huge filter and much more power and suckability.   Normally we clean it early in the morning but this was a new toy and I couldn't wait till the next day - we were home by 3pm anyway,  and while I put away the shopping John unpacked the pump and tubes and plugged it in.  Amazing what the right piece of equipment does!  Just over an hour to do the whole pool - and that was including stopping to go and get Marie Carmen and Miguel from next door to show them  (they have problems getting their pool clean - someone's given them an old pump/filtration system which doesn't seem to be working,  Miguel spends more time fiddling with it than it does working)   Anyway we thought they'd like to see it,  he had a sweep and was as impressed as us.  I'm not sure they'll be buying one though,  he is another casualty of el crisis and aged 51 is now out of work. 

So the pool is now gleamingly clean,  I'm sure having white painted walls and floor make it look more sparkly than the neighbour's blue pool.  Not quite sure why that should be,  our water looks blue after all - something to do with water absorbing red light I'm told - and the deeper the water the darker the colour.  But clean it is and so that's where I'm off to now for my afternoon swim.

Hasta luego.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

An early morning wind.

I might have mentioned just once or twice over the years about the big winds that blow up from nowhere......sometimes they blow down from the  north,  other times  up from the southwest.   But we do get a warning as it sounds like a dull roaring sound and we just look and say "there's a train coming!"

But very early yesterday morning,  at 5am to be precise,  it started.   Doors banging,  shutters banging,  I can't describe the noise outside but it frightened Pip and she jumped on our bed for safety,    
we closed the doors and windows which made the house feel hot and stuffy but at least it was quieter.

By 7.30 it had just about stopped so I got up to take the dogs out for a walk,  but first had a quick look around.   The front garden chairs were still upright with their cushions on them, but the gladioli were all snapped.  The roses still have their flowers too.   Out to the pool area,  3 chair cushions, 2 sunbed  cushions and  4 towels all rolled up in the far corner covered in dirt and grit and leaves.  The pool surface was just as bad but there wasn't any sign of our bright pink lilo.  The sun umbrella had managed to shut itself,  the fabric had come off the spokes and was nowhere to be seen.

Hard to miss a pink lilo,  and we did look for it on our walk.  I found the umbrella fabric about 50metres up the road,  bundled up and filthy dirty where the wind had dropped it.   And later on that morning John found the lilo down a terrace - and not burst either!  None of the veg on the top terraces were affected,  not even the sweet corn,  and we only lost one small plant in the side veg garden which had snapped off,  the rest were a bit sideways but we mounded soil up to give them extra support and they're ok.

So a big clean up yesterday morning,  today back to normal picking strawberries yet again,  and making the 3rd batch of wine with them.   Still over half a kilo in the fridge,  plus some sliced for us for tonight and some for next door when they come tomorrow.   I just hope this wine is nice when it's finished,   tasted  the first lot today when I tested it for sugar levels and it's lovely.  Alcoholic and strawberry-ey and and deep pink.  Possibly will be nice in a tall glass, lots of ice and gaseosa....

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Jam surprise.

Early every morning this week I've defrosted a freezer or ice box and done a stock check.  And it's surprising what we found!  Soups,  sauces left over to add to meals or to be soup starters,  more vegetables than I remember putting in there,  and in the fruit drawer amongst other things that we knew about, were a box of peaches and another of apricots.  Both extremely iced-up and although labelled and dated June 17th and August 21st,  it didn't say which year.  Not last year that's for sure as we didn't have any on the trees then so at least 2 years old and possibly even more.

Not being one to throw stuff out if there's hope for it,  I chipped off the ice, defrosted the fruit, consulted my recipes and produced 2 unexpected pots of jam.  One book said equal parts sugar to fruit,  so 600g of fruit to the same of sugar, the other said 400g sugar to 600g of fruit.  I compromised and added 500g plus about 1/2 pint of water.   And it set very easily,  once I'd chilled a saucer in the freezer to test it on.  2 saucers actually but one slipped out and smashed on the floor.

Also more cucumbers this morning, picked and salted, rinsed and then I pickled the largest 3 this afternoon.  And we counted 21 today of varying sizes.

At one point this morning John came down from the veg garden to get a cold drink and see how I was doing,  and everything seemed to be ready at the same time.  The bread maker was about to beep at the end of the dough mixing programme,  the jam was setting and ready to put in jars,  the freezer was back down to cold and the fruits and vegs could go back in,  but it was jam first, bread rolls second,  reload the freezer and then clear up.

Nice relaxing afternoon by the pool as far away as I could get from the three 11 year old girls squealing and splashing next door.  Now watering time followed by a long cool drink.