Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Strimming and trimming.

Last week we took advantage of the lovely  sunshine to get out with the strimmer,  rake,  shears - you name it,  we took it - over onto our top terraces to get them cleared ready for this years digging and planting.  Despite 10 years of adding compost,  planting broad beans just for the goodness they give the soil,  not to eat but to be dug straight back in, and digging and rotovating year after year,   there are still  areas that are stony and hard.  You know you've got bad soil when hardly any weeds grow there,  not even after a year of lying fallow!

John started at the top,  followed at a safe distance by me and my rake.  No matter how careful he is,  there are always small stones and things that fly up from the ground,  hence the distance.  I raked bundles of dead grasses and weeds,  some for the composts,  some packed around the base of olive trees especially those far away from the composts.  Raking bundles of cut grass up hill?  No.  Not me.  We have 3 compost heaps and they are all in the furthermost top corner of our land  and we worked from there downwards.

We trimmed the whippetty  (is that a word or did I make it up?)  new growth out from the base of the olive trees as we went,  bundled them up and took them back to the garden for cutting into stick lengths for drying for the wood burners.  Surprising how much there was. 

There are flowers on some of the strawberry plants but whether we'll get fruit is doubtful,  although the inca berries - otherwise known as cape gooseberries - are still ripening in their little paper lanterns.  The first planting of peas from the end of October got off to a really quick start,  up within a matter of days and they are now flowering and podding.  The second lot,  end of November are still tiny plants,  maybe 6 inches/15cms high.  The broad beans are flowering too,  but no pods there yet. 

Top of the top terrace,  yes that is a bath in the distance,  water storage for the far end of this terrace's strawberries and apple trees.

Next level down,  we've left the cayenne chilli plants in place (just visible on the left) as this was their first year,  and what a lot we got!

The first pea bed


Looking down to our bottom terraces,  guess where our land stops and next doors' starts. On the right is 1 of our  big strawberry beds.  How big?  about 3x3m,    that's a lot of strawberry plants.  Also why we had a glut last summer.

And then there are the celeriac plants.  It's the first year we've managed to get any to grow at all,  they need shade and damp soil so under an olive tree in a piece of land that is as soft as we could make it for them to swell......and this is the best they could do after a season of growing. 

                             (They are on a dinner plate for some idea of size)

We left them and left them,  but finally today I dug them out.   All is not lost though, as they have made a lot of lovely side shoots which over the summer and autumn I cut off,  we dried the leaves then ground to a powder for adding to soups and stews.  John reckons we've had more leaves than veg.  Now to peel them and see if they are edible,  as they didn't swell much - or at all really - they may be very woody. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

Fiesta of San Sebastian

We went down to join in the fiesta celebrations yesterday -  the procession starts from the church and goes up to the Ermita de San Sebastian,  solemn music going up,  followed by fireworks,  happy music coming back down.

Then it's time for food,  this year they cooked a pork casserole with patatas al pobre (poor mans potatoes)  potatoes, onions, garlic and peppers cooked slowly in olive oil,  there were also 2 stalls selling a variety of cakes and sweets.  In the salon were the usual array of soft drinks,  jugs of beer and wine - just help yourself.

As we arrived so did a car and horsebox with 2 horses,  shortly afterwards about 20 or so more horses and riders came - from Ugijar we think - about a 10 minute drive away.  They put a string across the street,  hung curled ribbons from it then the riders had to try and hook the ribbons using a tiny stick as they rode up.

It's all here,  thanks to John lots of video and photo editing this morning :)


Saturday, 25 January 2014

Our little brown 'robin'.

We've had a night time visitor recently,  a nice  little bird that arrives at sunset and stays till the morning.  When we first noticed it,  it was sitting on the edge of one of the lampshades on the terrace,  it would fly to the next light,  out onto the grape vines then back again.   Quite a small bird,  and very round.  Tennis ball shaped.  With a long pointy beak.  Brown all over its back with a paler front and with a slightly darker tail.   It hops and bobs along the shelf,   and seems quite happy to be near us.   We took a couple of photos but without using the flash it was  too dark,  and  using the flash makes it fly away briefly.

So onto google to look for  'a small brown robin shaped bird'  because that is exactly what it looks like.  We call it our brown robin  even though we know it can't be a robin - we have a robin in the garden as well and they are very territorial.  First we looked in our bird book then  around various online bird-watching websites,  some with photos,  some with video and bird song too,  and after more pictures taken by John with a bigger and better camera than mine,  we think it is a dunnock.  Never heard of it before,  and to be honest to begin with we weren't totally certain.  Every picture or drawing shows a bird with fairly speckled/mottled colour wings and it was difficult to see our birds' wings because at night it sits all fluffed up.

The first picture is mine and then John  managed to catch it flying out of the light and has made a montage of his pictures.....

This morning it stayed around longer,  normally we don't notice it during the day,  but it's been hopping around the flower beds this morning and under the table out in the garden.  It looks as if it's pecking at the fallen olives. 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Comforting drinks.

So,  after comfort food,  how about comfort puddings?   Again we have lots of favourites such as rice pudding done really slowly in the other much smaller slow cooker,   fruit crumbles  are another favourite and - I think - so much easier and less fiddly than making a pie.  The strawberry crumble that we made in the summer is gorgeous and gooey  but we also use membrilla (quince) with dried figs which all ends up gorgeous and gooey too.

But we don't often have room for a pudding unfortunately - nor does my waistline!   Luckily early in December John found this page of winter warming drink offerings  which includes what I can only describe as " puddings in a glass"

The one we've made a couple of times now is 'apple crumble cocktail'  and it tastes just as it sounds.

 Half a glass of apple juice heated,  add a large glug of vodka,  gently pour in some Advocaat,  then carefully spoon over a crushed digestive biscuit.  

I suppose if you were feeling really naughty you could add cream too.... but we haven't yet.

Back to the recipe page,  hot buttered rum sounds really nice,  maybe if the weather gets colder that will be the next to be tried....unless it's colder where you are?  

And if anyone thinks this is extravagant,  we don't do this very often plus rum is available for 6 euros a litre,  vodka for 4 euros a bottle and the advocaat was a present. 

Monday, 20 January 2014

Comfort food.

This is the sort of weather when we really need good warming meals,  traditional food such as shepherds pie,  steak and kidney,  dumplings,  roasts,  mashed potatoes,  I could go on and on there are so many favourites! 

But they are not lunchtime meals,  but evening food,  so at lunchtime we really look forward to a good hearty bowl of soup with a slice or two of toast or maybe a roll.  John made the last batch of soup - we had  the end of a white cabbage,  the cauliflower was looking sad,  just a few carrots left too -  so that was the basis of the soup plus sauteed onions and garlic.   But also in the freezer were pots of spicy lentils,  almost a mulligatawny,  plus some spicy chickpeas.  He'd made a big batch of both of them as they are a good starter for an Indian meal,  or a basis for a curry,  in this case he added a pot of each to his vegetable soup mix.

We have a large 6 litre slow cooker and by the time he finished adding everything it was nearly full.  And after a few hours of very slow simmering it tasted wonderful.  But very thick.  Now I like my winter soups to be thick and filling,  he prefers them thinner but that's easy to do when reheating them.  But is it a soup or is it a stew when it's like that?

We have comprised and call it a stewp - it could also be a stoup I suppose - but stewp it is.   The Spanish call these meals in a bowl  comida de cuchara  in other words a meal eaten with a spoon.  The dictionary term for a soup of vegetables with pulses is potaje - I suppose the English version of that is pottage,  which my online dictionary describes as "from the French potage"  to mean "that which is put in a pot" 

There are a number of blogs that I  read written by people based around this area of Spain,  one is by an American born journalist and food writer called Janet Mendel.  She has written numerous books about food  and regularly posts recipes on her blog.  This week she too has been writing about spoon food....find more about her here. 

By the way,  no more snow nor wind but only 2.8 degrees this morning,  frozen puddles, frost.....but at least the sky is blue and the sun is back out.  And in the sun today it's quite pleasant if you're busy but not sitting doing nothing weather - yet. 

Roll on summer!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

We've got snow!

Woke this morning to a total white-out,   clouds down low but it was all white as far as the eye could see.  That actually wasn't very far then,   the Contraviesa,  Sierra Gádor,  Mecina Bombarón,  El Golco,  all totally hidden,  but  after we'd managed to get out the gate through the snow laden palm branches and walked up the road a bit,  looking back down I could see Yátor clearly and all white as well. 

The clouds lifted an hour or so ago,  the sun came out and it's already melting but having checked the forecast there is more to come.  From midday to midnight we have weather warnings of snow here,  and high winds down at the coast....

and this is what it looked like at 9 this morning....

 It was still snowing when we went out,  when I got back John was downstairs making coffee so I took the dogs straight down to him plus 2 old towels to dry the dogs  with.  He'd put the fire on and laid their blanket in front of it for them,  I hung my coat up over the upstairs wood burner to drip dry as the log was still simmering from last night.

The fires are on,  big logs in them which should last all day,  Monty and Pip are doing what they do best,  curled up together in front of the fire on the carpet,   sleeping.

Friday, 17 January 2014

The first orange juice.

And the answer was,  no it didn't rain, not that day anyway.  The following day was glorious with blue skies,  and we spent most of the day outside pruning,  trimming,  logging,  stacking wood for next winter's fires - and it was so nice that we were working in summer t-shirts.

A complete change yesterday both in the weather and clothing,  grey skies, low cloud,  and winter woollies.   It managed a bit of drizzle late afternoon, just enough to dampen the ground but not enough to make puddles anywhere.

Today,  a mix.  I've got the washing out - put it in really early because the sky was blue but by the time it was out on the line the clouds had gathered, hopefully it'll dry ok though.

I picked the first bag of oranges this morning,  26 of the biggest I could reach,  but they were so cold!   It was only 4° overnight and there was frost on the ground up the road,  by the time I'd filled the bag I couldn't feel my fingers.   I've just finished sorting them out - first  I grated the zest from them,  then squeezed almost 3 litres of juice,  plus there were a dozen or so mandarinas left that we'd not got around to eating so I cut them in half and squeezed them too.


                                                              and after.

Thank  heavens for  the juicing attachment on the food processor,   it makes it such an easy job,  we also have a hand juicer but it doesn't get the oranges so.......clean?  de-juiced?  empty?   squeezed?   What's the right word for it?

Monday, 13 January 2014

Will it rain or not?

The forecast for today said showers so we thought there wasn't much point in starting olive pruning,  by the time we've dog walked,  had coffee,  done the basic house stuff like bed making and washing up,  we're not usually outside till about 10am and the showers were due at 11.  I thought I'd tidy up my inbox,  read the online version of whichever papers are still free,  and write something on here.

Now it's gone midday and the rain hasn't come - yet.  Yes it's grey and cloudy,  although the sun is finding a small gap every now and then,  so we could have done something outside this morning.  But the forecast now has the rain from midday to 4pm,  so will it or won't it!  There is always mañana....  If it doesn't rain soon we will have to water our pea beds as the first peas are in flower with pods coming and they need water.

And still lots more rose bushes and geraniums to finish cutting back as well.  There is a bed of them outside the garden,  against the wall by where we park the cars,  also there is ivy and periwinkle growing from the garden trailing down the walls.  Except that they are getting too long and have a tendency to root into the ground by the roses so need tidying up.  There are also lots of sweet violets - I think - tiny purple/blue-ish flowers,  they put out runners and root really easily but also spread too far if not kept in check. 

We had a quick trip out again on Friday to return the cot and car seat that we borrowed over Christmas,   popped into the butchers,  then to the veg shop and bought some fruit,  a few litres of red wine from the bodega  (yes we have lots of wine but not red)   - how come we always end up with more shopping that we expected to get? 

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

First and last

The first thing I want to say is that the Fiesta in Yátor is the last weekend in January,   the weekend of the 25th and 26th which is after the day itself.

I only know this because I went shopping today,  the first time this year,  and bumped into one of the many Lola's of Yátor who after asking about Christmas,  family,  Montenegro,  etc said 'will you be down for fiesta'   Well, yes,  but which weekend is it? 

We needed shopping because, unusually for us,  we were out of a lot of things.  We've always kept a well stocked kitchen - living 2 kms up a track from a village that only has daily bread and fish deliveries,  plus a weekly fruit and veg lorry,  plus a bar,  makes you keep a good supply of food in,  but there comes a time when it all seems to run out.  So we were down to the last milk, orange juice, and 1 egg;  a few potatoes,  no onions,  no mushrooms....
time for a restock.  I left it till today as Monday was a holiday and I hoped the shops would be refilled by today, plus the weekly fruit and veg lorry comes on a Wednesday to Yátor so if I time it right,  I can get the shopping in Ugijar and be back for 11 to 11.30 ish and catch him.  He arrives with a blast of his air horn at about 11am on Calle Triana,  then moves on to the plaza by the church - another blast of the airhorn -   then on to the plaza in front of the bar.  If we're at home we hear the horn - yes, even from up here,  and have time to go down if there's anything we need.  It's a very well stocked lorry,  and he does a good job of selling stuff.  Last time I was there,  the wife of the olive mill Eduardo came out with a bag and told him what she wanted.  Once that was done,  he said need any more?  what about puerros (leeks),  lechuga (lettuce),  boniatos (sweet potatoes)  bananas or plátanos and so he reels off whatever she hasn't bought.   Surprisingly she needed most of these things!  And today  I put some boniatos to one side while waiting for one of the women to pay and then she saw what I'd got and said ' oh, I need some of them too'.    Me, I go with a list and just buy what we need. Some times he sells me more than I intended to buy,  it's the  1 kilo for 1 euro but if you buy 3 kilos then it's only 2 euros,  type of sale,    and over Christmas when we bought  mandarinas that was worth while. 

Another first,   the first narcissi are in bloom today.  And the oranges look very orange for the time of year,  I wouldn't normally start to pick till maybe late January or even early February but I'm going to try a few this week.  Yes, I know I bought some cartons of OJ today but they'll keep if the fresh oranges are sweet enough for juicing ,  if they aren't  it will be marmalade time.  Didn't make any last year,  but the year before we did orange marmalade,  orange and lemon,  and also orange, lemon and chilli.  And that was well worth making again.  Not too spicy but with an underlying warmth. 

Talking of warmth,  clear blue skies,  sunny t-shirt weather during the day and clear but chilly overnight -and that's the weather here for those of you who will be over soon for their January break!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Pruning, pruning and more pruning.

We started pruning one of the olive trees near the house around Christmas time but then didn't get it finished, not much left to cut off, but the biggest problem if that's the right word for it, is all the greenery that is left.  We obviously keep the wood for the fires,  even the smallest of sticks get cut up and used as starter wood, but olives are leafy and although we have a shredder,  the leaves seem to pass through intact and take ages - if not years - to compost down.  The best thing, and a good heat generator,  is to burn them,  but we don't have a bonfire permit even if such a thing is around this year.  But we do have two wood burners in the house, one upstairs in the lounge and the other downstairs in the dining room and when filled with the green trimmings they burn really well.  OK, so it burns fast,  but it's hot,  and as soon as it's down to embers we reload and away it goes again.   Currently stacked on our terrace are every bucket and crate that we have full of the trimmings and ready to burn.  We haven't used any real firewood for  about 5 or 6 days now. 

What we did notice though as we cut up the greenery into easy to manage bits,  we only found 6 olives.  Yes,  6.  Individual olives, not kilos or branch loads.  Just 6.  And we've had a lot of branches,  enough to heat the house for almost a week.  So not a good year for olive harvesting. 

The rest of this weeks pruning has been rose bushes, cutting back of overgrown flowers, geraniums,  sage,  and rosemary - sadly one bush has died but I put it with tonight's olive trimmings and it smelt wonderful as it burnt - then today was the real end of Christmas and I dismantled the tree and decorations.   It was 12th night last night,  Fiesta de los tres Reyes Mages,   Festival of the Three Kings,  fireworks and rockets from villages all around and again at lunchtime today.

We had another windy night on Saturday from lunchtime  till the early hours of Sunday morning but it came more from the south west so hit the back of our house and just swirled around.  The angel on the tree was safe this time,  the tree just shimmered - is that the right word? - shook gently maybe and nothing fell off.  But now everything is  back in its boxes and bags,  tucked away for another 50 or so weeks.

I do miss the lights in the garden,  they add an extra glow,  one year we left some outside  lights up  during the spring and summer,  they were a coloured rope light and were underneath the grape vine in a fairly shady area but by the end of the summer heat the outside had gone brown and sticky with very little light showing.  Not something we are going to do again.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Feliz Ano Nuevo

Feliz Año Nuevo - that's better,  we've got the wiggle (otherwise known as a tilde accent) over the 'n' now!  For some reason it doesn't work in the title box,  computer people who use a Mac might know why.....

So,  Happy New Year to all of you,  hope you had a good celebration.  We watched some of the fireworks from around the world on tv,  saw more pictures in the paper the next day,  not really the paper in a paper sense but the online version.   We stayed in and cooked,  we always cook I know,  but  we try to make it a special meal so we had bought a small cooked lobster which I left for John to prepare while I made the sauce for Lobster Thermidor as our starter,  then we did a duck breast, roasted and thinly sliced served with small crunchy  roast potatoes  and mushrooms cooked in moscatel.  And to finish,  turrón icecream and lemon sorbet,  coffee and liqueurs. 

Feet up,  glass of wine,  we sat and talked intending to go outside at midnight and see if the fireworks from Mecina Bombaron or Yegen were visible,  it has been quite cloudy some nights and cold too so we weren't expecting great things or to stay out long.  But - probably due to eating a bit much - we fell asleep!   I woke up and heard fireworks but didn't bother going outside. 

We had bought a mango to have with our sorbet but didn't need it,  so yesterday I made a jar of mango chutney as it was feeling quite soft,  but strangely it wasn't juicy like I expected.  In fact it was really difficult to get the flesh off the stone.  But I'm sure the chutney will taste just fine - it needs a couple of weeks to mature and we still have some from the last batch I made.

Today,  grey and cloudy.  Not the sort of weather to tempt us outside, so we've lit the woodburner and aren't doing very much.  Except I have caught up with the  huge ironing pile - huge for me -  those who know me will know that I iron as little as possible but there were a lot of pillow cases from the last fortnight,  plus t-shirts and shirts,  jeans and trousers,  we must have been dressed a little smarter over Christmas.

 Space ship type clouds hovered around yesterday morning....

The rising sun shining towards El Golco.

A busy fiesta month coming up - 12th night on Sunday,  Epifanía del Señor on Monday with everything shut,  Yátor celebrates San Sebastián Martir on the 20th so I would imagine fiesta weekend will be the 18th and 19th,  although they start on the Friday night so make that the 17th 18th and 19th.  Dates to be confirmed next time we're passing through the village, but it tends to be the 3rd weekend of the month.  Don't book flights based on my info!