Friday, October 28, 2011

One hour later

One hour on from my previous post and it is now almost dark. The sky now looks like this. It is so beautiful. The thunder is still rumbling around, and it is geting closer to us, but so far there is no rain. Any minute now the dogs will be howling at the door to be let in. They hate the thunder so we always have them in until it has passed. It looks like it might be a cosy evening knitting, and listening to music then. My light is flickering. I just hope it isn't knitting by candle-light!

A Baking Day

No. I don't mean it is baking hot today, though it's not cold either; I mean I have spent the day, well the afternoon anyway, in the kitchen doing a bit of baking. What with my diabetes, and both of us watching our weight a bit, I don't do a lot of baking these days, and I sort of miss it. So it nice to have an excuse to get the recipe book out again. This coming Sunday it is my turn to do church coffee/tea duty and it has become a habit for me to take in some home-baked cake. There are only around 30-40 in the congregation so it is not a great chore, and it gives me a reason to make a batch or two, and then I can keep back just a few for us and take the rest in on Sunday. If I make a whole batch for us I nearly always end up throwing the last ones away. It was different when we had a hoard of boys in the house with hollow legs!

Anyway I was fortunate enough to be in our Iceland store when they had a few cooking apples on the shelf. They come in early on a Tuesday morning and have usually sold out by mid-morning, so I get them when I can. So my first job was to make a mix of my special pastry and put it to rest in the fridge while I prepared the apples. We both really like apple pie and that will be a treat for us for a few days to come. Then I used the family tried and tested recipe for 'Maids of Honour'. Mum always said these were cakes for the men, but I know a good few ladies who enjoy them as well. I also made a dozen mincepies. I am already getting orders for them at Christmas so this was a practice run. Last year I made about fifty dozen, which were mostly sold for the church funds and our local village charity, but I was a bit taken back when I packed the last few up to deliver and found they had gone soft underneath. Fortunately I had spares to replace them with for my orders, and we heated up the 'soggy' ones and ate them with custard on! This has never happened before, and in England I have kept them right up until Easter without even refrigerating them. I think it is down to one of two things. a). I can't buy hard block margarine here, and the soft variety is not good for pastry, or b). to cut costs they have reduced the fruit in the mincemeat and added more liquid, so the tablespoon of brandy I add to each jar to 'give it a lift' is a drop too far! So today I have made a few changes and I will store some of the pies away for a few weeks to test my theory. And finally I made a Paradise cake which is a recipe from a very old Jimmy Young cookbook. It is basically a swiss roll tray lined with pastry, spread with jam and filled with a cake mix that is mostly dried fruit, plus ground almonds, rice flour, and a little butter and sugar. So my one mix of pastry did me quite well, and the kitchen smells yummy!

It was a good day to be indoors as, although it started off quite sunny, the clouds have been gathering all day, and this afternoon there was lightening all around and deep rumbles of thunder. It hasn't rained here yet but I am sure it is pouring down on the mountains by Mojacar. The dark sky makes a good back drop to the orange trees doesn't it. Even as I write this the sun has broken through again. This is the sky from my craft-room window now, but it is still pretty black to the right of here. It probably means we won't get any TV reception tonight. The signal doesn't travel through rain very well! At least we won't need to get the hose pipe out. Because all our plants are pots and tubs they need watering for most of the year unless we have rain.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Seasons they go round and round...

One of my favourite songs, by Buffy-Sainte-Marie, starts with those words. - 'The seasons they go round and round and the painted ponies go up an down. We're captive on the carusel of time; We can't return, we can only look behind from where we came and go round and round and round in the circle game'.

Certainly the passage of time is inevitable and we are now seeing the changing of the seasons and our Autumn is slowly sliding into the start of Winter. I rather like this time of year when the sun is often still shining with real warmth in it's rays, but it is not too hot, so we can sit outside and enjoy it. These days I often spend the afternoon sitting out with the dogs, who love to have our company, and the light is just perfect for my lace-making or cross stitch. Of course, the days are getting shorter, and as soon as the sun starts to sink behind the hill at the back the village, the temperature drops. Chris has started to wear a jumper indoors, where it is always colder than outside at this time of year, but I haven't succumbed to that yet. We did go up to the market early this morning to buy our new slippers for this year. Stone floors do tend to lead to cold feet!

The weather is also a bit more unpredictable now, with clouds and showers in the morning, and bright sunshine for the afternoon. Then the other day we sat outside to eat our lunch and it was beautiful, but by tea-time there were grey clouds, it was blowing a gale and it felt really cold. So we make the most of it when we can, and hope the sun keeps coming back for a long time yet.

Today we went out in the morning and on the way home we stopped for a menu del dia. (A real treat, as we did this last week too and we don't actually make a habit of it). A restaurant had been recommended to us and we decided to try it out. And we did have a lovely meal there. We opted to sit out on the patio where we were sheltered from the breeze. We looked out through a row of arches onto the distant hills standing against a blue sky and it was lovely.

We noticed that there are not many soft fruits left in the market now but the new season's oranges are beginning to appear. They are still rather sharp so we don't buy many of them, but in a few weeks we will. The fruit on the trees next door to us is getting quite a lot of colour to it. I think this is the tree that was ready quite early last year. The oranges on our own tree are still a pale lime green, but it had ripe fruit on it when we bought it in April last year, so it is a later variety. We are quite excited to have some of our own and keep watching them in case the rain or wind takes them before they are ready.

We have a regular Tuesday outing at the minute. I am sure some of you will be surprised to hear that both Chris and I have joined a choir! It is run by Julie (the retired professional singer from my church, whom I have mentioned on here before), and is a mix of folk from our church and English neighbours from her village of Zurgena, near Albox. We are practising a range of Christmas songs and carols and we have three concerts booked so far, in bars and restaurants around the area. But the most exciting part of the project is the links Julie is building with the choir of her own village. This is a catholic choir of Spanish ladies and a few men, and she has become a member and now sings with them. She has arranged for us to sing with them in a concert, which will probably take place in the big church in her village arond the time of Epiphany. This is quite a big step for us, and for them, and it is something none of them, nor us, have done before. We went up to meet them on Monday and we practised a few carols that we are going to sing with them - in Spanish of course. Then they will sing some of their own; their style is very different from ours, and they sing with great gusto!; and we will also sing some on our own in English, in a slightly more gentle style. I sing with the altos and it is quite a challenge to follow the music, read and pronounce the Spanish words, and make them fit together, which they don't always do very willingly. But it is great fun, and I am so pleased to do one more thing in my quest to follow my word for 2011 which you may remember is 'Integration'. Julie has persuaded Chris to come along as well, and although he is completely unused to singing in any form, so it is quite difficult for him, I think he is enjoying it to, and it nice for us to be involved with something together. We have got a lot of work to do if we are going to sound good at the concerts but there are still a few weeks to practise in yet.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How lucky am I?

Back in early September, the TV craft show Create and Craft featured a set of CDs for designing complete scrap-book pages on the computer, including editing and adding your own photos, choosing backing papers, writing the journalling etc. I am very interested in trying this although I would always want to add some of my own extra embellishments for the personal touch, but I do hope to make a journal of our time in Thailand in this way. Anyway, Chris bought the CDs for me in anticipation of my birthday this weekend. Despite that, as my printer failed completely just as I was leaving for UK a few weeks ago, he also agreed to buy me the new printer that I wanted, although it was a lot more expensive than the normal ones that are readily available everywhere now. What is special about this one is that is a wide format printer so it will print large sheets such as my 12"x12" scrapbook papers. It is also a copier, scanner and fax machine, though I will not have the fax part connected as I have no call to use one. The scanner is very important for me as many of the photos I use in scrapbooks are quite old, so I start by scanning them in and tidying them up on the computer. This, of course, means it is a fairly large machine, a big black beast actually, but I am very pleased with it. I rearranged my room so that I could have it up on my desktop, where it is easily accessible. It took a matter of minutes for the cats to think it was simpy a new place for them to lie down, so when not in use I am hiding it under a bright coloured cloth. Then, even if they do sit on it, it won't get clogged with hair. I have managed to find a pack of A3 paper out here, but that is still about 1cm too narrow for what I want, so I am currently searching for the next size up. I have found some in UK but it will be heavy to post, so now I know what it is I want, I shall go back to the local stationers and see whether they can get any for me.

Family members know that my birthday is actually on Monday and today is Chris's turn to celebrate. He hits a very significant age today so now we are both pensioners! I brought him serveral shirts, a jumper and new music while I was in England, all of which he is very pleased with, and he is now happily playing with his new toy - a very up-to-date high-spec. PC, to replace his overworked and ailing one. Here I would like add a very big 'Thank You' to all family and friends who have sent us cards and/or posted greetings on facebook and twitter. It is nice to know we are not forgotten now we are so far away.

Here is a picture I took while I was waiting for my turn to use the bank machine yesterday.
There are lots of trees in the village and in the autumn the tree surgeons come around and trim them all up. Everything here grows abundantly, but I am always surprised at how much a tree can grow in one year. They are trimmed into a flat, round table so they continue to give maximum shade while looking nice and tidy. The men are so good at it; I could watch them working for hours. This row will all look like the one at the end in a few hours, and all the trimmings will be in the big yellow container just peeping at the corner of my photo. I really admire their skill, and the way they tidy up after themselves. I wish they'd come and tackle our bouganvillia. It is rapidly taking over the back garden so we are going to have to deal with it ourselves in the next few weeks. It's a big job and the space we have to work in is limited, but the worst part is trying to get rid of all the rubbish. There will be masses of it and it has wicked thorns on it, not to mention all the bugs that live in it. Oh joy!!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

It's Open!!

Yes, our cactus didn't keep us waiting so long this year, and already many of the buds are open. They remind me of a TV programme trailer that is on every night, showing a group of little star fish all scampering over one another to find some space. There are six open today. One had the good sense to shoot off to the side but one is rather squashed on the bottom layer, and there is a seventh one that actually started to open first but it had no space so it has remained screwed up and is now dying. But there are lots more buds to come. They get the full force of the morning sun for a couple of hours, so that may well shorten their life. As I remember it, the one flower we had last year opened to grey cloudy days and lasted for ages.

Although th
ey don't smell offensive at all, something about them seems to attract flies. There were loads buzzing around them today and they were shiny green-bluebottles, not the usual little house flies that are such a pesky nuisance here. But at least it is keeping them away from me so I'm not complaining. As I have said before, it is not the most beautiful flower in the garden, but it is really striking and interesting, and quite different from anything we had in the garden back in England.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Lovely Life

People often ask me why we chose this area of Spain to live in, and I usually say it's because we love being sandwiched between the mountains and the sea. Here is what I mean. Yesterday, Chris and I decided to drive down to Mojacar beach, just ten minutes by car from our village, for a stroll along the water's edge and a cup of coffee (or tea in my case) at our favourite cafe where they give free sugared dough balls and savoury pastries with every drink. We had our drinks and then decided it was so pleasant there that we might as well stay for our lunch as well. This was mine; several slices of pork lomo with fresh lettuce and tomato, all in a gorgeously soft yet crispy baguette, with a few chips on the side, and that set me back all of €3 with another one and a half for a pot of English style tea. Chris had an omlette plus slices of ham and cheese in his baguette but that is one step too far for me!

Having eaten all that we decided we had better walk it off so we set off along the beach. I was standing near the main roundabout and on one side of me this was the view; a blue, blue sky over the blue, blue sea. When I turned around and looked the other way my view was of tall palm trees silhouetted against the Cabrera mountains. Isn't it beautiful?

I should know by now that trying to get a photograph of a wave just as it breaks over rocks is nigh on imposssible, but I still tried and this is the best of a bad lot. But it was lovely watching it while I tried.

I love this time of year when the sun still feels quite warm on my body without it scorching my skin. This morning the market stalls had their new stock of furry slippers, but I hope we have a few more weeks of this lovely sunshine before we start needing any of those!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Anticipation and the new beastie in my kitchen

First of all the beastie in the kitchen - Chris and I are both on a mission to eat healthily and lose weight, and at our age, we are aware of the danger of rising cholesterol levels. Our diet is already better than it was in England as we eat very little processed food, and there is a wonderful range of fresh meat, fruit and vegetables available locally. But we do like chips, and other fried foods, so when I saw my son's gadget for frying without, or with a minimal amount of, oil, I was very interested. Back in Spain, we visited our village 'electodomesticos' and the man knew instantly what we wanted and soon had one in the shop for us. He said he had one in his home and it was very good! So here it is. It seems to me bigger than the one my son had, but there was no choice of size when we bought it, so maybe it is just that my little kitchen would fit into one corner of his huge one, so the appliances seem larger by comparison. Anyway, yesterday I made lovely chips from fresh, raw potatoes and half a tablespoon of oil. Not bad at all. I hope it cooks other things just as well so that it justifies the space it is taking up.

And now to the anticipation - around November of last year I showed you a cactus in my garden with a single flower bud on it. I had to wait for a couple of weeks as it slowly swelled up and eventually 'popped' and an amazing flower appeared. You can see the flower on my blog if you click here. Thanks to my friend Jane's blog, I now know that it is called 'Stapelia gigantia', a very fitting name as compared with most flowers in my garden, it was fairly gigantic! Jane's was in flower a few weeks back, but mine didn't open until mid-November last year. (She lives higher up the mountains than me so maybe that has something to do with it). Anyway it looks as though mine will be out a couple of weeks earlier this year, and here is what I am anticipating - a truly amazing display of flowers! The plant has spread out onto the path, and has several buds at each end of it, but very few in the centre. I can't wait to see it when some of those buds have opened. Watch this space...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Jam, jam, glorious jam!

I mentioned in my previous post that I had bought plums in the market to make jam, and got rather more than I had intended, so Thursday morning I decided I had better do something with them. The yellow plums were a bit bland but I think it sharpens them up a bit and brings out their flavour if you cook them, so I made us a pie with those, and then I set about jam-making with the red ones.

I make plum jam the old fashioned way, peeling, stoning and chopping the fruit by hand. I much prefer little juicy bits of fruit in my jam to the purréed version or to large lumps of fruit that make it hard to spread. It took a long time, around three hours I think, but I feel it is worth the effort. Then I added the sugar and soon it was boiling away. It set well and I filled sixteen jars. They were cooled and labelled in time for my charity evening on Friday, where it all sold, along with some of my 'Hot chilli and ginger jam', which proved to be very popular. I knew there would be quite a few Spanish families there, so I made a mixture of English and Spanish labels. We raised around 800 euros altogether which was a good effort. We are aiming to provide some speech therapy for several disabled children in the village as they have very little government funding this year.

I will have been back home for a week by tomorrow, and the time has just flown by. So I thought it was high time I had all my photos sorted. Last night I weeded out the worst ones, and sorted all the rest and they are now uploaded in a folder on my gallery. I tried to make folders within the folder but couldn't do it so they are all together and they follow on more or less chronilogically. First there are a few from the family gathering at my sister's house following Elmer's funeral. It was not the right occasion to keep flashing a camera around, but I won't be seeing them all again for another year or so, so I did collect a few informal groups and couples. Then it moves on to the walk Jean and I had on the common opposite her house, followed by our walk through the woods down to the chines, and along the coast to Bournemouth. I am still facinated by natural things so such walks for me are a delightful source of 'finds' such as patches of moss, fungi, light shining through trees etc. At Bournemouth you will have to forgive the rainbow of beach huts. They are made from recycled materials and painted in all shades. They were so pretty I just had to take pictures of them all. My next stop was the get-together in Wolverhampton with all my sons, their wives and some of the grandchildren. The next occasion was the trip to Oswestry to meet my new great-grandson, and then on to Mike's house for tea with his two younger boys. Finally I spent time in Birmingham with Ben and we had a lovely walk around Sutton Park which we drove to in his brand new mini (Boys and their toys etc...)

This folder is now on my gallery and is titled 'UK holiday 2011'. As it contains photos of the children and other folk, I have made it a semi-locked folder which can only be seen by readers of this blog using this link. So please click HERE to see the photos, and pass on the link to my blog to any family members who don't usually read it but who may like to see the pictures.