Thursday, January 27, 2011

Spring cleaning

I said a couple of weeks ago that spring has sprung. Well I guess I was a bit premature as we have just had a week of grey skies, intermittent rain, and it is very cold! That said, there have been short flashes of blue sky and it is forecast clear for Saturday, and I can still see the almond blossom from my craft-room window, so all is not bad.

All this inspired me to do some early spring cleaning, to the extent that I now have a sparklingly clean and well organised fridge freezer, and today I tackled the larder. Over Christmas it had got incredibly muddled, with lots of extra bits and pieces put in the wrong places, and this week I knocked the lid off my box of oats as I got it out to make my morning porridge, and although I didn't think many had spilled out, I heard a few trickle down behind the shelves and I knew I needed to clear it all up, as all the cereals, pulses etc are ideal places for unwanted beasties to lay their eggs!

So, starting at the top, I cleared each shelf at a time and sorted everything out. With very little cupboard space in the actual kitchen, I rely on the larder to store my larger pyrex items, baking equipment and pans, as well as food and drink, so every shelf is filled to capacity and when I do buy extra items such as Christmas goodies, there is no obvious place to store them, and they tend to get shoved in anywhere so that everything gets a bit precarious. Today I got rid of a lot of packages by topping up my containers, and I found a few new ones, now filled and labelled too. I have moved a few of the largest pans, (which I haven't used since I got here but I just might need them one day!) into the garage store cupboard, and surprisingly I found a home for everything else. I even pulled out all the baking pans from under the lowest shelves and had a good clean out, and I found oats everywhere!! Apart from two opened packets of cereal which will be used up next week, there is now nothing that isn't safely stored in its own little box. Doesn't it look nice? I wish it would stay that way, but with the best will in the world, I just know I will need to do it all again in a few months time.

This second picture is the end wall, not visible from the kitchen. There is an amazing stock of bottled beer, left from our last lot of visitors back in the autumn! Chris rarely drinks much at home, and when he does, it is usually red wine, and although I often drink clara (shandy) when we go out, it doesn't occur to me to make it at home. I'd rather have a nice English cuppa any day. Unfortunately, a rather large area is taken up with my fruit bowl, which always used to live on the kitchen table. But now I have a fruit eating cat! I have never known a cat to really like fruit before, but Baggins, my grey persian, was raiding the fruit bowl every time my back was turned. He ate his way through a bunch of grapes, several plums, a few bananas, and left teeth marks in just about everything else. It didn't seem to do him any harm though I'm not sure he should be eating it, but more to the point, I bought it for us to eat! So now it has to live in the larder where the cats can't get at it.

I'm busy tomorrow, but maybe on Saturday I will tackle the little upright freezer. I'd quite like to be able to open the door without a cascade of frozen meat parcels landing on me!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Forty pounds of bottled sunshine!

Bottled sunshine? Well marmalade really, but just to look at it and smell it, makes you think of sunny orange groves.

I told you last week that I made some grapefruit marmalade and I was waiting for my friendly market-stall holder to find me some bitter oranges. Well I didn't have to wait that long. On Wednesday, Pam (the lady who is teaching me to make lace), arrived at our craft group with bags of seville oranges. She has a spanish friend who regularly picks whatever is on his tree for her, because she has a permanent table at her local bar to sell jams and other craft items to raise money for Asprodalba, which is a day centre, and a small residential unit, for handicapped youngsters. He asked her if she wanted them again this year and said he thought he had about 40kg of fruit on his tree. She went shopping, and when she got back the oranges had arrived outside her flat, but she said it was nearer to 250 kilos, and she didn't know what to do with them all!

There weren't very many takers so I came home with two bags full and it turned out to be about twelve pounds of fruit. (I make marmalade in my pressure cooker, and being a rather ancient model, all its recipes are still in pounds and ounces, so that's how I weighed them!). That meant I could make four batches of my recipe. I decided it would save time if I made two double batches so I prepared the six pounds of fruit, but when I added all the sugar it came right up to the rim of my preserving pan. Not only was this very difficult to stir, it could have been rather disasterous when it came to the boil. So I stirred it very gently until all the sugar had dissolved and then used a big jug to decant about a third of it back into the pressure cooker. It's the only other large pan I have now. The two lots then boiled away quite happily, and when they both reached setting point, I put them all back into the preserving pan for a quick stir to make sure the peel was evenly distributed. This made just over twenty pounds of marmalade. So then I did one more batch as I like it, with lots of peel but finely sliced. Then with the last lot of oranges I cut it into thicker chunks, and replaced a third of the sugar with dark brown. One of my potential customers at church has aasked me about making a darker, thick cut version, so I looked on the internet for some suggestions. Now, hopefully, I will be able to sell it.

Of course I don't need anywhere near forty pounds of it for our use, but I will take it to church through the year for our fund-raising table, and may also be able to sell some in the local bar for our own village charity, Asadis, which helps disadvantaged children within the village.

Knowing my luck, my good friend Josefina will have bags of bitter oranges at the market for me this week, which I will have to accept, and as I hate waste, I shall also have to make marmalade with them. It's a good thing I made all those mince pies. At least I have a ready supply of mincemeat jars to hand, though it is somewhat depleted now.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New season fruit and vegetables

Sometimes when I go to the local markets I feel that everything looks a bit 'tired', under-ripe or scarred, but at the minute, everything is so fresh and beautiful. The red peppers are shiny with thick, juicy flesh, there are the new season's fresh peas, beans, and lovely cauliflowers and carrots.Last week I saw the first of the cherries and I even bought us a few strawberries for a treat on Sunday. They were big and fully ripe and tasted delicious. I probably paid too much for them, and I won't be buying any more just yet. In another couple of months they will be nearly giving them away. But they made a nice treat for us this week. I had to just take a photo of these cabbages in Turre market. They are huge. I doubt whether I would even manage to carry one along with the rest of my shopping. Chris and I have cabbage quite regularly but it would take us a month of Sundays to get through one of these!

This weekend we had our car serviced by a young man who has a house (with a big garage) just out on the campo outside the village. He showed Chris round the garden and seeing a grapefruit tree, Chris told him about the lovely ones we had from a friend's tree when we were on holiday in Arizona. You don't see them very often out here. I think the Spanish like their fruit to be sweeter. All the market holders give you their oranges to taste to see how sweet they are, as though that was the main criteria for buying them. The next day, when Chris collected the car, Andy had a big bag of grapefruit waiting for him. What they hadn't realised was that, now I take simvastatin to control my cholesterol levels, I am not supposed to eat grapefruit. Chris will only eat them if they are really sweet, so rather than waste them I decided to make grapefruit marmalade. It was easy to do and set beautifully. For someone who thinks the only decent marmalade is made from seville oranges, I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it is. I have done some research into the grapefruit/statin problem, and it seems as though it can be really dangerous if you drink the juice at the same time as you take your tablet for example, but you don't have to avoid them altogether, and the main article I read did mention marmalade and just said to be careful how much you eat. Apparently the fruit prevents the medication from breaking down so you get a build-up of the drug in your system which can cause liver and kidney damage, but seeing as I take my tablet at bedtime, hopefully it has mostly been absorbed by the morning and marmalade for breakfast sometimes won't be too dangerous. Anyway, it also said that the only other citrus fruit that has the same effect is seville oranges, and I have been eating that marmalade for a lot longer than I have been taking statins. So, I now have a good supply of grapefruit marmalade to see me through until I make my next batch of orange. I have spoken to the Spanish lady in our market who finally got me some bitter oranges last year. She couldn't understand why I wanted them, but she loved the marmalade I gave her, and she has promised to try and get me some again this year. I made thirteen pounds of marmalade, much more than I will use, so today I made some nice labels to go on the jars and took half of them to the AGM at my church. We have an ongoing supply of jams and pickles that various members make, so I am sure it will all find a home eventually.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Spring has sprung!

Yesterday we had a glorious sunny day, until teatime. I was just preparing the dogs' tea when I heard what I thought was the outside tap dripping. It turned out to be huge, penny size, raindrops, that left individual splashes on the paving stones. Five minutes later it was coming down in stair-rods and we were flooded on the patio. Then a few minutes later it was gone. A proper April January.

Today has again been a day of bright sunshine. We sat outside to eat our lunch and it was really quite hot. This evening I noticed that the almond blossom has opened during the day, down in the green zone at the back of us. At least I am assuming it is almond. I think that is the first one to come. Even so, I don't think we usually get it as early as January. All this lovely sunshine must be making it think that Spring has arrived. I suspect we still have a couple of months of cold and rain to come. Most people think February is the worst month out here, so we'll have to wait and see. But either way it's lovely to see the blossom out!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Red sky at night - shepherds' delight ..

... or in this case, three kings delight. Around teatime on Wednesday I noticed that my room was taking on a rosy hue and looking out the window I saw a beautiful sunset. By the time I had found my camera and got outside, the sky had changed from a lovely golden peachy colour to fiery reds and oranges, and a few minutes later, it was all gone. It's ages since we had a sky like that. It was the night of the arrival of the Three Kings, so I hoped the lovely sunset was heralding good weather for the next day, when our village has a little fiesta.

On Wednesday night we walked up to the village square to watch the kings arrive at the plazza, and to see the children being given their gifts. It's not so different from our children visiting Father Christmas except there is no entrance fee, and the gifts have been provided in advance by the parents. Many of the children will have had a stocking from Santa with small gifts in it, on Christmas night, but this would be their main present from the kings. Some Spanish families are adopting our ways now. When we walked up the road on Christmas morning we saw a little Spanish toddler riding on a new battery-driven tractor, but many stick to their old traditions, which, to me, make a lot more sense anyway. (They came bearing gifts etc!). The giving of the presents takes place in a big marquee erected for the fiesta, and then there is music and dancing throughout the night. Out on the street there was a medieval market and lots of food stalls. The word fiesta is synonimous with food and music out here, and they do it very well. Just look at this circular barbeque. I took this picture just before we went home to bed, but the man assured us it would all be eaten that night! And see the pile of bread he has prepared to go with it. You got one of those huge, doorstep slices with four fat sausages on it, or half a rack of ribs. It looked lovely but we weren't tempted to try at that time of night.

The next day we headed into the village again for the fiesta. I won't go into too much detail here as the emphasis is on Tradition so each fiesta is very similar to the one last year. But there were a few changes. Apparently in order to save money, the kings arrived on horses instead of the usual camels, which wasn't quite so dramatic, but they looked very fine all the same. The market had more stalls than usual, and someone said they thought Turre had joined with us instead of having one of their own. There were several craftsmen working. I was particularly taken with this man who was using old spoons to make bracelets. We also had a mini zoo with a tent full of reptiles etc. We didn't pay the euro to go in, but I did spend time talking to the lovely falcon perched at the entrance. There were also small pens of chickens, ducks, geese and guinea fowl, and a huge turkey who obviously escaped the fate of becoming someone's Christmas dinner! But my favourite animal was a very young donkey, seen here with his mother. He was so soft to touch. Wouldn't mum have just loved him? After the usual play about Herod's meeting with the Kings at his palace, there was a children's theatre session run by one man. He was fantastic with the children coersing them into taking part in his play, whipping costumes on and off them, and all the time keeping up a running commentary in Spanish and broken English, and, yes, that really is a live rat sitting on his head throughout the whole thing. He had us all in stitches - not just the children.

At around 2.00 there is always free food for everyone and this year, instead of paella or migas, it was a huge tortilla. They had to break a fair few eggs to make that didn't they? I was impressed at the way they managed to get it cooked through just right, without any of it getting burned, and that's over a wood fire, not a hob with heat control knobs! When it was ready they cut it into thick slices and put it in a big, fresh bread roll. I couldn't manage to eat all of mine, and I hadn't been sampling all the other foods on sale throughout the morning. Most of the stalls had been very busy but everyone still tucked into their tortilla with relish. Even little children were given the same huge portions. Things slowed down after that but it still kept going until mid evening. Then the market packed up and by next day everything was gone, so we are back to normal now until the next fiesta which is the Andalucia day carnival mid-February! I'll put the rest of my pictures in a folder on my gallery, so feel free to have a browse on

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year

Yes, here we are in 2011, and how many of you, like me, are only just getting used to writing 2010? There is certainly truth in the saying that the older you get the faster the time goes. There was general agreement with this in church this morning, and most of us are well into the 'older' group!

I decided to
start my new year by making a second blog. This is primarily for my crafting friends, as a place to display some of my 'makes', and share the materials and techniques I used. I have called it "Manualidades por mi" which is simply spanish for "My handicrafts", and you can find it at . (Just click on the link to see it). The Banner across the top took a while to make. It is a selection of craft materials and equipment, photographed and then cropped and resized to fit across the page. There are only three posts at the minute which are mostly repeats of previous posts in here or on Facebook, but in future I will only post them in the new blog and put a link on here. So if you are interested in crafts, do have a peek, and I'd love to have you as a follower.

I wonder whether you did anything interesting on New Year's Eve. I was quite surprised to learn that most of our boys spent it at home, but it sounds as though that was the case for a lot of folk in UK, except perhaps in the major cities. I guess no-one has the money left after Christmas to celebrate again, or they were saving what they do have for the sales. We did go out, to our little local bar just down the road. It is so close to home that getting back at the end of the evening is no problem, and after a very quiet Christmas, it was nice to go out and meet with friends. Here is Ali, the owner of the bar, preparing my jug of sangria which kept me going for the night! We had a couple running a karaoke and/or just playing background music, and they are used to our crowd so they bring out all the old songs. I have sat through some pretty aweful karaokes on holiday sometimes, but we have actually got several men and a couple of women who are regulars at the bar, who can sing really well, and they were very entertaining. These two sing the Banana boat song, every time, and it has become quite a joke, but everyone joins in and enjoys it. At midnight, 11.00 your time, we greeted the new year spanish style, with cava and grapes. You are supposed to eat one grape for each toll of the bell, but the ones they provided us with were huge, and it's a wonder we didn't all choke. We had the spanish TV on for it, showing a clock that I expect was in Madrid, but instead of counting down from ten to one like we do, they counted up from one to twelve, so that confused us all! Then at 1.00, midnight in UK, we did it all again with party poppers and Auld lang syne. We watched the fireworks in London on the TV. They were pretty fantastic weren't they, but you couldn't help but wonder how many thousands of pounds were going up in smoke in these difficult times! About ten minutes later, a big crowd of spanish people came in. They all celebrate in big family gatherings at home, and then they come out. Some of the spanish bars would have opened at around 12.30! This group were mostly neighbours of Mick and Ali and some of them come to the regular Friday evening karaoke sessions. (We don't normally go to these, but in the summer we can hear them from our garden). They got up in groups of half a dozen or so and belted out the favourite spanish songs. Then we did the ones that are a mixture of spanish and english words like 'Viva EspaƱa', and 'Amigos para siempre', and everyone joined in and then we were all up dancing in the tiny bit of space between the tables. It was a really enjoyable night.

And now a little bit aimed mainly at the family. On 28th December, Jim and Jo invited all our boys and their families to their house for a 'gathering of the clan', and Tom took some photos for me. As it is so long since any of you have seen them, I asked Tom if I could paste a couple of them here. So here are our lads, from the right, Ben, Tom, Jonathan, Mike and Jim, and here are their respective partners, again from the right, Ben's partner Dave, Pippa, Jon's girlfriend Ella, Jessie and Jo. And finally here is the whole group showing our grandchildren Finlay, Amias and Hannah, Marcus at the back with the mop of curls like his dad, and Oliver, who is being held by Mike, and who unfortunately chose that moment to duck down behind Ella! It's a shame that Emma and Michael aren't in it too. I would have loved to have been there with them, but it is nice to know that they are keeping in touch with one another, and at least I get to speak with them regularly, and now I have an up-to-date photo as well.