Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A couple more new tastes to introduce you too.

Hi. I am turning into a real 'foodie' aren't I? I love trying out all the new and interesting foods that I come across out here. Some I love, and some I'll never bother with again, but I think they all deserve to be tried once. These fruits I had heard about when we were out here a few years back, but I had never tasted them before. They are known as Custard Apples because the flavour of their flesh is said to ressemble that of stewed apples and custard, but I prefer their real name which is Chirimoyas. They are grown just along the coast, south of here, at a place called Motril, which is known as the orchard of Spain as lots of fruit trees grow there. Chirimoyas are not eaten until they are almost over-ripe and going runny inside. I have to say I was a little disappointed with them. They are full of hard, black seeds, with just a little flesh clinging to each one, so if you dug the seeds out first there wouldn't be much left. I was eating mine at home so I sucked the pips and spat them out!! They did taste nice, and a bit 'appley' but I don't think they were really worth the cost or effort.
This one is a vegetable and it is called Callabaza which translates as pumpkin, but as you can see they don't bear much ressemblance to the pumpkins we saw at home. For one thing they are green, and I wouldn't fancy trying to cut a jack-o-lantern through that thick, knobbly skin. They are very big and everyone buys them by the slice. You show how much you wants and the market stall-holder cuts it off for you. I like it and keep some in the fridge while it is in season. It has a better flavour and texture than any pumpkin I have tried before, and is much easier to prepare and cook than swede. It can be boiled and mashed, steamed, microwaved, put in a casserole, and it roasts really fast like sweet potatoes do. Also it keeps it's bright orange colour when cooked, so it looks nice on the plate.
Well, we arrived in Spain a year ago on Friday, so I should have seen all the foods as they have had their season now, but I dare say a few more will come along. So anyone who comes to visit us, be prepared to try something new! And on the topic of visitors, we have Tom and Jessie coming out next week with Jean and Ron following them for our birthday week, so we have a lovely month to look forward to.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Any guesses?

Does anyone know what these are? I must admit I didn't when I first saw them. They are in fact quince. (I don't think that should be quinces. It doesn't sound right somehow.) I picked them off a tree in a friends garden last week. The only time I have come across quince is in the Edward Lear nonesense poem 'The Owl and the Pussy-cat' - "They dined on mince and slices of quince which they ate with a runcible spoon". I didn't know what a runcible spoon was either but having looked it up I now know that 'runcible' is a made-up word coined by Edward Lear, with no specific meaning. He just liked the sound of words. (You'd appreciate that Ben). Anyway, back to the quince. They are the hardest fruit I have ever encountered. My friend Jasmine, whose tree they came from, peels and grates them raw, and uses them to make a very stiff jam. That would be very hard work in my opinion, so I decided to make the more traditional Spanish conserve, membrillo, which is a stiff jellied puree which is served in wedges with slices of cheese. So I peeled the fruit with a potato peeler. As soon as you break the skin they go brown like an unripe apple would, but they cook to a deep apricot colour. I chopped them and stewed them for an hour and half, by which time they were tender but still in lumps. I then whizzed them with my high powered hand mixer to make a puree, added sugar and lemon juice and cooked it for another two hours! Then I spread it in a baking tray and put it in a very low oven for an hour to dry out a bit, and left it to cool. Result - a lovely pinky orange block of stiff jelly, which is definitely sliceable, and looks very like the membrillo I have bought in the supermarket (without knowing what it is exactly!). So, it was a bit longwinded, but a successful exercise all the same. I also kept one fruit out and just stewed it with a little sugar until it was soft. Apparently it is a good substitute for apple sauce with pork. Seeing as we don't generally get cooking apples here, and I pay a small fortune for a small pot of English apple sauce, I am quite happy to have a pot of stewed quince in the fridge instead. Marmalade originally meant quince jam and the name comes from the Potuguese name for quince -marmelo, hence the Spanish derivative membrillo. (As you can see, I have been doing my homework. You can learn some amazing things on the internet).
Well, last week's prediction was right and we now have a trench right outside our gate, with wooden planks across it for us to walk over. Both sides of the road are up now, and there is a lot of mud and rocks everywhere. We have to park the car at the bottom of the village, which is a tad congested right now. There is a big sign up that says something about the 'Remodello de Calle Mayor' and that it is the responsibility of 'Junta d'Andulucia'. It is costing one and a quarter million euros. It's a mess right now but it will be all done in another month, and I'm sure we will benefit from it all. We had a couple of noisy, dusty days, and Chris had a big digger right outside his office window. We peeped over the front rails and saw a huge ditch below us, but they were soon passed our gate and immediately put the boards across for us. The workmen are used to seeing us go in and out with the dogs several times a day, so they knew we needed to be able to get out. Unfortunately for them, we have had some very unsettled weather which has slowed them down and made their work harder. After last week's storm, it settled down and we had some brighter days. But last night the thunder started and it hasn't stopped all day today. Nor has the rain so their trenches were flowing like rivers and we were very glad of our 'bridge'. Because there are no gutters on the houses, when it does rain, the water pours off the roofs so we put our water butt under one of the places where it spouts at a corner, and in a few hours it was full to the brim. We have just realised that it will have to stay there now as there is no way we can move it full!
My friend has to give her two little dogs a sedative when it thunders because they are so frightened, but our dogs don't seem to mind it at all. There is no shelter in their night run yet, so we brought them round to the back porch last night. We brought them in for a while today, but they are not used to being indoors and they are restless and won't settle. So we put a couple of blankets on the porch and let them out again. They laid there for a while but they soon decided it was boring and they went out and ran around in the rain. So they are very damp doggies now. Of course, even though it is wet, it is still quite warm. It's in the mid twenties now. I am still in a sleeveless sundress, and Chris is in shorts, so everything will soon dry out when it finally decides to stop raining. We are happy to see it for now. Everyone knows how much it is needed. Several villages just inland from us, have been without water for weeks at a time because the reservoirs are so low. So no-ones complaining yet. They might if it goes on for too long though!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Do I look like I want to go for a walk???

Honestly, these animals of ours live the life of Riley. I went out with their leads to take them for their mid-afternoon walk, and found Miki stretched out full length on the swing-seat. She has taken a shine to it, but usually only jumps on when one of us is sitting there as well. Jonathan sat there with them and they got used to its movement. More often they just lay under it as it is always a welcome shady spot. Miki wasn't interested in her walk but I took her anyway. Chico choses to curl up on the cane seats on the porch, but only when we are not there. He knows he isn't supposed to be on them, and quickly slips off if we go out there. I've taken to putting the cushions from it indoors now, so they stay clean enough for us to sit on!
Last night we had the thunderstorm to end all thunderstorms with enough rain to last all year!. That's what it seemed like anyway. There was continuous thunder and lightening for a couple of hours and our power went on and off several times, so we had no TV and we had to switch off and unplug the computers. It is the first time for ages that we have brought the dogs inside. In fairness to them they didn't seem particul;arly fazed by the thunder considering they have never experienced anything like it before, but the wind was blowing the rain into the porch so they had no-where left to lay that was dry. There is still a big trench all down the road but last night it wasn't just full of water, it had disappeared and there was a river flowing the whole width of the street. The piles of earth they had left all along the trench (what they had dug out of it) all washed away down the road and just left the larger rocks.
With all the rain we had to find a new route to walk the dogs this morning as our usual one was a quagmire. So I didn't get to check on my 'fairy flower'. That's what I call it because I have a set of fairy stamps for my craft that has a plant just like it. I have been keeping an eye on it as we pass it each day. hoping that no-one had trodden on it, and no bug has eaten it. I want to see what it opens into. It started off as just a tiny cone peeping out of the mud but it now has quite a long, bare stem. The day I photographed it there was a red bug resting on it. Today, on our alternative route, I saw these lovely grasses. Don't they look beautiful against the blue of an early morning sky?
I have finally found a home for the lovely green lantern that I bought last year in Hoy Ann, Vietnam. Chris managed to cobble together a holder for it when I got a bit too enthousiastic with the mop handle and broke the glass one that was there before. We bought the lantern to go in our bedroom, but the light in there is attached to the ceiling fan so it wasn't suitable. I'm glad it's got a home now. It is too beautiful to just lay around as it has been for the passed six months.
Although the rain is very welcome and everyone was pleased to see it, for once our garden didn't need watering. On Saturday, the folk next door turned on their asecia water, which comes direct from reservoirs in the mountains, and is used to flood their orange grove. This is the fourth time they have done it this year. It is turned on using a valve under a manhole cover in our front yard, and they just come in and do it. Then they turn the valve and divert the water to the orange grove across the road. Well, we are guessing that the roadworks had in some way blocked their duct, so the water backed up and flooded our garden instead. It filled the recessed part where out little tangerine tree is, and then flowed under the gate and on to the pool surround. Chris said that at least it gave our drains a good wash out!! The men came in and cleared it, but it did it again, so our plants are actually very well watered for now.
'If it moves, eat it' seems to be the motto for the mutts, and they are experts at grabbing a cicada mid-flight, licking up the ants, and nosing out the juiciest snails. Well this week Miki grabbed at something off the wall and thinking it was another snail, (which don't really agree with them!) I forced her to open her mouth so I could retrieve it. Instead I found myself holding the cutest baby ghecko. He had lost his tail but he can survive without it and will eventually grow a new one, but other than that he seemed to be alright. So I carefully carried him into the front garden, which the dogs can't get into, and released him on the wall, with a warning to keep a safe distance from now on. I hope he was listening!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A leap of faith!

It is a while since I posted a new blog isn't it? This is really just an indication that, now the visitors have gone for this year, life has settled down to a fairly regular routine, so there is less to write about. But I am sure I shall continue to find a selection of trivia to entertain you with from time to time.
Anyway, today I will start with some more snaps of our furry friends. We have a very set routine with them which means that when they wake us around 7 o'clock, we take them for a quick 'comfort break' across the road and then bring them back for their breakfast. At the same time I feed the cats and make our cup of tea, and then we all sit out at the back of the house while we drink the tea, before taking the dogs off in the car for their proper walk. Each morning Paco comes out with us but Chico and Foxy won't leave him alone. They don't hurt him but they pester him, and seem to feel they need to protect him all the time. So usually he jumps over the wall into the orange grove next door, and then down into the green zone at the back of us for a quick run around. When he has had enough, he climbs up the fence and balances on top of it. For a campo-cat he is not very agile and he wobbles around trying to stay put with one wary eye on Chico's nose, until he has his balance just right to take a leap of faith, and sail over the waiting dogs to land in my or Chris' lap. When we walk the dogs I carry a bag with a few treats in it, and when they come back to us on command, sit to have their leads back on, or jump into the car boot with out assistance, they get one. Then, when we get home they have a big drink and come to me to have their leads and harnesses taken off. I make them wait until everyone is sorted, and if they sit still and wait properly they get one last treat. Talk about cupboard love. Look at the eager anticipation on their faces for what is usually just another little piece of the food they had for breakfast! But at least they are learning a measure of patience and obedience. And finally here is one more picture of Paco that I took this morning. It had rained in the night and the bourganvillia was wet. I felt it drip on my arm and turned to see little Paco peeping out from among the purple flowers. He looked so sweet I just had to take his picture.
We woke up this Monday, not to the sound of dogs barking, but instead we could hear heavy machinery outside. It turned out to be a digger and lorry and they were systematically digging up the path across the road from us, and tipping the rubble into a lorry. They worked all morning and soon had a long trench dug. Then we had an almighty thunderstorm and the trench was filled with water! We have had to park our car down the road a bit because our stretch is cordonned off at each end. The trench now reaches up into the village with little help for the poor folks who live alongside it, though I did see a few planks across it this evening. As far as we can make out, they are laying new pipes to carry electricity cables (currently overhead), and installing new street lighting, as part of a big road improvement scheme for the village. We suspect we may wake up one morning to find our side of the road dug up as well. That will be fun, making three hounds walk the plank several times a day!!
Our local bar, 50 metres down the road from us, has had a live music session with a barbeque each Sunday through the summer. We have been to a couple of them and they are great fun. Now the schools are back, they need to quieten down earlier so they are going back to a lunch time carvery on Sundays, but they are continuing with live music events on Friday nights instead. We went along to the last Sunday one last weekend and the entertainment was by a couple who call themselves The Blues Brothers. They sang a good mixture of blues, soul and rock numbers, and the smaller guy was really good at playing a harmonica which I love. They really looked the part too. When we got there they were in their jeans and tee-shirts, busily testing out the sound system. Then they went back to their van and emerged in black suits and trilby hats. They were very entertaining. and we had a really good evening. In the second photo, a local man called Antonio, who I think is in his seventies, got up to dance with them. He is a real character and everyone loves to see him enjoying himself. He certainly likes the music. He is often in the bar and occasionally I get to sit and have a conversation with him in Spanish. He only knows a few words of English, but we muddle along together quite well.
In my last post I included a photo of a butterfly that I caught on the campo. Well the next day I caught another one. Then, this evening I heard the dogs suddenly getting noisy and went out to find them fighting over this huge moth. Handsome fellow, isn't he? I did as I said I would, and made the first photo into a rubber stamp. Then I used this stamp to build up a 'Nature' collage and made a big stamp of that. Here is a card I made with the collage stamp. It's not bad but it needs a bit of refining. I am working on it again now, and hopefully I will be able to make a much smaller one the same, to use on my ATCs when I have improved it a bit.
I see I have rambled on a bit now and by the time I have added the photos, this will be a long post. I'll try not to leave it so long next time. Hasta luego !

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Savage or Terrific? Take your pick!

We have another circus parked on the flat piece of land at the rear of our house. This one is French and it put on a show last night, with further ones tonight and tomorrow. It reminds me of the sort of circus we were occasionally taken to as children, before they became the huge spectacles that sometimes tour Britain today. There is a very small 'Big Top', and a few caravans. But the one thing that makes this stand out is that it has animals as well. And they are not just performing horses or parrots; these are camels, donkeys and lions and tigers! According to the hoardings around the village you can see 'Titania and her amazing Aftican lions' and 'Tigers from Bengal and Siberia'. There is one large container-trailer in their caravan marked 'Fauna Salvaje', so I looked up 'salvaje' in my dictionary and it gave a choice of four translations, 'Wild, Unauthorised, Savage or Terrific'! Judging by the noises that issue from them in the evening, I'd say 'Savage' wasn't too far off the mark. During the afternoons, flaps are opened along the sides of the container to allow air to pass through it, and we can see the cages inside. There is little fencing around this and last night we saw youngsters from the village talking to the animals through the bars. They were roaring and banging the sides of their cages. And not an animal activist in sight! It is little things like this that make us realise just how different this country is in its attitudes, from the UK. I think we have gone much too far at home with safety issues and polital correctness, but possible not quite far enough here. As we have had a bit of a heat-wave here again this week, with temperatures in the upper thirties, my sympathy lies with the poor animals who have to live in a container all day.
On a fruitier note, back in May I think it was, I posted a photo of some bright orange flowers that I thought were on a pomegranate tree. Well this morning we walked the dogs around the village because of the weekend hunters over on the campo, and we passed the same tree again. And today it was dripping with big, fat pomegranate fruit. I think they probably want a another couple of weeks to ripen, but I guess they'll be turning up in the market quite soon. I wonder if they will taste any different 'straight from the tree'. In the market this week I bought one more water melon. It is the end of their season now and I love them. This was huge. It weighed over six kilos. When I got it home I realised that I would have to cut half of it up so I could get the other half onto a shelf in the fridge. I wasn't sure quite how to tackle it, but fortunately the big chef's knife that I brought back from the cookery school in Thailand, went through it OK. I managed to hack about half into chunks which I packed into a plastic box. Now every time I go to the fridge I eat a few peices. It's better than a cold drink any day, in my book.
And finally I thought I'd show you this lovely butterfly that sadly is no more. We haven't seen many butterflies out here. Maybe it is just too hot for them. But when I walked the dogs last night, they were getting excited and routing around so I looked to see what they were after and I found this butterfly on the ground. It was flapping its wings in a half-hearted way, and I think it had enjoyed its moment of glory and was dying. So I carried it home and put it on the side to show Chris when he came home, but by then it was completely still. I am going to try to make a rubber stamp from this photo, so it's beauty can live on in my cards and ATCs.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

String 'em up!

I never know what I am going to find at the village market on a Tuesday morning, and this week all the stalls were selling red hot chillis. So I bought a bag of lovely firm, bright red ones. It is a case of grab a bag and stick a handful in, but they look at us very oddly if we only buy a couple. The Spanish villagers buy whole carriers of tomatoes, sweet peppers etc, not to mention huge quantities of garlic bulbs and yes - chillis. So I got home and looked at my smallish bag of chillis and thought, 'It will take me a month of Sundays to use all of those', so I decided to dry most of them as they don't keep for more than a couple of weeks fresh. Last time I dried some I layed them out on a big plate and kept moving it around from window -sill to table and back again, trying to catch the sun on them. It was a nuisance and they were always getting knocked over, and it would be even harder now with the animals after them all the time. So I decided to do what the locals do; string them together and hang them out in the sun. I thought if I just tied them, they might shrink as they dried, and all fall out, so I threaded a fairly hefty needle with strong thread and 'sewed' it through the top of each chilli. Now they are hanging out on the porch and I think they look rather fine. The last lot I dried (Last October) I used up when I made 'Hot chilli and ginger jam', which is very yummy and gives a whole new complexion to a cheese butty, so it is good to have some more to replace them. I might buy just a few more next week and make a second string, so they will last me right round until this season next year.
When I was driving to Turre the other day, I saw some men constructing a frame at the side of the road, and when I passed it again today, these two big signs had gone up. As far as I can tell they are talking about the work for the new high-speed train that they are introducing between Almeria and Murcia, to link us with Madrid, Barcelona and other major cities. The section of track from Los Gallardos to Vera is the bit we will see, and they have put in a line of yellow markers just beyond these signs that we presume is its location. It is far enough away from our village to not be a problem noise-wise etc, though there will be considerable disruption to the roads for a while, until it is completed. We all tend to resist anything that may disturb our tranquil way of life, but public transport around here is, at best, very poor, and in the main, non-existant, so this train could make a huge difference for anyone wanting to travel around Spain. We are just hoping that the train itself will not be too expensive so no-one can afford to use it. We are watching with interest. It is a twelve year plan in total, but our bit should be done within about four years.
Incidently, I was amazed when walking the dogs yesterday, to find that all that pretty white blossom I mentioned in Monday's blog, has gone! It only lasted for a few days. In it's place are hundreds of tiny green berries. I did wonder if this is a blackthorn with emergent sloes. From what I have read on the net, this would flower at home during much colder weather and the blossom is very 'resilient', so I am not sure, but in appearance it matches the pictures I have seen exactly. I shall watch the progress of the berries with interest.