Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ready, Steady, Cook!

Last night we had some very heavy rain, and it was still dull and grey this morning, which was just as well in a way as I had planned to spend the day in the kitchen.

I started off by making some of my 'special' pastry that needs to rest in the fridge for an hour or two before you can handle it properly. For once I had remembered to take the butter and lard out of the fridge last night so they weren't too hard to use! Next I prepared a box of strawberries to make some jam. Back in Oswestry we had a little green-grocers where I could buy really tiny, though very tasty, strawberries, very cheaply, and they were ideal for jam-making. But that's not the case out here. All season the strawberries are huge and delicious. These look almost too good to cut up for jam don't they, but I had bought an extra half kilo for us to eat as well! I like to get everything together before I begin, so here it all is ready for the off. The full jars at the back of the table are a batch I made last week, which unfortunately, despite the bottles of Certo that Ben brought out for me, didn't set. It tasted lovely but seemed to have a need to escape, so eating toast and jam was a messy affair. I decided I needed to turn it back into the pan and boil it for a bit longer which I did and now it is much better. I made sure today's batch was cooked for long enough so now I have about twenty pounds of jam, which, if not stiff, at least stays on the bread which is all I wanted of it! It's in a rather motley collection of jars, but I have exhausted my own supply and am grateful for any that other people can give me. A sudden shaft of sunlight caught the top row of jars in this picture making them look a quite different colour from the others, but really they are all the same.

While the jam was bubbling away in my preserving pan, I got out my rested pastry and made a pie with the cooking apples I bought at Iceland last week, and had the presence of mind to prepare and cook last night. That will be a rare treat for us tomorrow. My pastry recipe is quite a big mix so I then made a plate pie with mincemeat, a dozen tarts (with the very runny jam) and a dozen sponge filled tarts which we like. They are nearly Bakewells - without the almond flavouring because Chris doesn't like it, and without the glace cherries because neither of us are very keen on them either. So all in all it was a busy but productive day.

All the time I was busy I had an audience of one, plus Chris who popped his head round the door every half hour to see how I was getting on. He was really looking for signs of dinner which he eventually got some time after two o'clock. But Baggins discovered a cardboard beer tray that I had used to store the jars of jam in, and he made himself comfortable in it and just watched me moving around all morning. It's nice to have company.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


As I am actually up to date with my crafting right now, I thought I would share with you something I have been 'playing' with for a few days. Up until now I have made birthday cards as and when I need one, which most of the time is just fine. But occasionally someone will ask me if I have a spare card they can buy, or I learn that a friend's birthday is the next day and I have nothing ready. So I decided to build up a small stock of quick and easy cards for when I get caught unprepared. There is also a gap in the local market for something a little more than just old cards recycled, but not as expensive as a special hand-crafted one. Also I have some beautiful flower photos on my computer that I would like to use for something. I am continuing to work my way through my photo-editing manual, one chapter at a time, to try to make better use of the program, and this week I had a look at how to make a frame for a photo. I chose five of my better flower photos and made frames for them, so now all I have to do is print them out and mount them in an interesting way, and I will have a set of cards and/or notelets. Here is what I have done so far, all using the photos I took very recently, except the grass one which is from last year. I welcome your comments, good or bad.

First we have a pink Crown of thorns with a ve
ry pink frame!

This is a bourganvillea that we bought last year for a couple of euros because it was little more than a dead stick, but I have been talking to it, (and giving it the odd drop of water), and it is coming along nicely. I just love the colour.

These daisies love bright sunshine. They are a very vivid orange/yellow that compliments the mexican style frame.

I used this photo of grasses because I wanted something with a light enough surround to show the dark swirl frame.

And finally we have the oleander from out at the back of us. It is almost like a little rose isn't it?

(Click on the images for a larger view).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bye bye Ben

We had a lovely few days with Ben and Dave this week. They arrived on Tuesday and stayed until Sunday morning, and it was so good to see them again. I was a bit worried about the weather. This was their first visit to Los Gallardos and I wanted them to see it at its best, but the forecast was for clouds and rain all week. However, although we did get our fair share of both, we also had some lovely sunshine and they both went home with a bit of a tan. I managed to get Ben in the pool a couple of times. The first time I had to take the plunge myself first to convince him that it wasn't too cold, but he didn't need persuading after that. He had to prove that he can still do handstands, hence this picture, but our pool isn't deep enough for him to handstand into the water. Dave sat outside a lot, reading, but he had to cover his legs with a towel to stop his knees from burning. They both liked our swing seat for siesta time, but I can only sit on it. If I lay down I feel sick!

They came to
relax after a week of partying in Benedorm, so we didn't go out a lot, but we did venture into Turre for the Good Friday procession. This was a rather low key affair with nothing like the crowds on the street that there was the first year we went. It was actually a hot morning and we had to move into the shade to stand and watch, but bad weather all over Spain caused many processions to be cancelled. We saw a video of the Maundy Thursday night procession of penitents in Malaga. They were all dressed up ready to go, but it was raining hard and it made the pavements just too dangerous for carrying the heavy 'thrones'. All the young men, probably for some of them it was their first big parade, were crying, as were some of the spectators. It is a very important event for them, and apparently it is the first time since 1847 that it has had to be cancelled.

We took Ben and Dave up to Albox for an excellent menu del dia on one day, and we also had a good evening at El Naranjo when a DJ was playing music from the 60's, 70's and 80's. There was a good crowd there so the atmosphere was lively, and we knew most of the songs, even Ben although it is not his era! They have a new chef there who has a reputation for making the best fish and chips, and they were going down a storm with the punters.

We took the boys back to the station early on Sunday morning. Ben hates flying and as a railway worker, he gets free train tickets for himself and very reduced ones for Dave, so they decided to travel all the way by train. They caught the Eurostar from London to Paris, had a night sleeper to a little place called Cebere on the French/Spanish border, and then took a slow train along the coast to Cartagena where we met them. Going home they got on at Lorca which is very close to us, but unfortunately there was only one train a day so they couldn't arrive there, but Cartagena isn't that far either. Personally I would find that a bit too long on a train, but they seemed to quite enjoy it. Unfortunately they had a problem on the way home when their train got to Calais and they were sent back to Lille to wait for another one, with a delay of several hours, but they made it home yesterday afternoon, so all was well.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Summer in April

This week it has really felt as though summer has arrived, with bright sunshine and some really hot afternoons. Today we had our first dip in the pool. Our water thermometer sits on the bottom because the dogs chew the floats I put on it, so we fished it out and it showed 22º, so it was probably nearer 24º on the surface. You had to just 'go for it' to get in, but once under the water it was fine. Then we had a quick half hour to dry off in the sun before I moved into the shade to do some of my rather neglected lace making. When he is outside, Chico usually sits near Chris. I called to him (Chico that is!) to 'sit' while I took the photo, so Miki and Foxy obediently came to sit at my feet, because that command often means they are going to get food! They were out of luck today. There was just an hour to go before they got their tea.

Out in the front of the house, the garden continues to bloom. Aren't these roses beautiful? They are another sign of summer as I still associate roses with the month of June, but of course, they have a much longer flowering season here. The other flower is known locally as 'Claw' which is very apt as it has fat, fleshy fingers that claw their way over walls and patios, and left to their own devices, they can spread to cover whole gardens. During April and May they are covered in bright pink daisy type flowers, and you see them from a long way off. Our first flower opened today, and this year there are loads of buds. Mine was a small cutting that I took from the scrubland at the top of our beach in El Calón. It is only in a tub, and it has taken a couple of years to get established, but I see it is now starting to 'claw' its way out of the pot, so I will have to keep it in check.

A third sign of summer is the beautiful strawber
ries I am buying in the market each week. I bought a 2kg box for €5 while Jean was here, and hopefully they will be down to €4 by next week. Ben and Dave are arriving on Tuesday for a few days, and I have asked Ben to bring me out some bottles of Certo so I can make jam that is properly set. My sales of marmalade are going well so I thought I'd try putting some jam out as well. This week I was given another big bag of Seville oranges so I expect I'll be doing another batch or two of marmalade, as I have nearly run out, and folk are asking for it. But the fruit is very ripe by now so I'm not sure they will be quite so good. Still I'll have a go. I have to keep sending out messages for people to bring me some jars. I hope I have enough in store to do both jam and marmalade.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Time spent with friends...

I have mentioned before that living abroad, away from immediate family, makes you appreciate more, having a circle of good friends. This is the third of my set of 'catch-up' blogs, and it is mainly about a trip I went on to Murcia city, last Wednesday. This was the bi-annual outing for our Wednesday morning sewing and craft group. We do one around Christmas time, and one when the weather is warming up, but before it gets too hot. This was a perfect day. I only wore a mid-season dress, and although I had a cardigan rolled up in my bag, I didn't need to use it. There were about twenty five of us, and half of us were picked up from the edge of our village around 9.00. We had a quick coffee stop on the way (a bit of a disappointment as there was a power cut and the poor cafe owners were desperately trying to boil pans of water on a gas ring to make hot drinks for us!). On arrival we split into our usual groups of friends and we headed off to look for the cathedral. We did a detour when we spotted a lovely fabric shop, as many of our group are keen patch-workers. Then we had to find another shop that sold threads. (You might expect a material shop to sell reels of cotton, but this one didn't!). I bought a lovely spool of red and gold twisted thread for Christmas decorations. We walked through a maze of narrow streets. I couldn't resist taking a picture of a tiny square with this lovely tree in it, offering a shadey spot to rest your feet. But we continued until finally we spotted the bell tower of the cathedral at the end of the street. When we reached the end it opened on to a huge square, with the vastly impressive cathedral taking up one side of it. It was an interesting plaza, because to the left there was a block of apartments, which at least on the outside, were quite modern in design, and opposite them, along the right side, was a building that looked even older than the cathedral.
The architecture of the cathedral itself was very interesting, being a mixture of Gothic and Baroque styles. There was some beautiful stonework. I liked the statues above the door that were silhouetted against a blue sky. On the left, as we faced it was the famous bell tower. It is on five levels, each level having apertures instead of windows. It is the tallest building in the city, and is home to twenty-five bells.

Inside there were many small chapels off the main aisle, with lovely wrought iron gates, ornate carvings and paintings, and beautiful stained glass windows. We had to creep around as there was a mass taking place in the main church. I just loved this high, high dome in one section, with windows letting in the sunlight all around it. We then walked all round the outside because we wanted to see the 'chained tower' that is in this picture. I have been unable to find out much about it, but a Spanish friend told us that it was built by a nobleman who was then told that he had built it too big so it couldn't be a part of the cathedral. He was not happy about this so he commissioned the making of a stone chain which is 'locked' to the towers on either side of it, hence keeping it well and truly attached. By now we were all desperate for a drink we so we were glad to flop down at a cafe on the plazza and rest our feet for a while. It was then time to retrace our steps to where we had left the coach, at the entrance to Corte Ingles, a major chain of departmental stores in Spanish cities. On the way we passed this man walking his two dogs. They did look funny. He had the tiniest yorkie I have ever seen, and everyone stopped to talk to it. So I went and fussed the boxer. He looked a bit sad and left out, and he was everso friendly. He just wanted a bit of the fuss as well! We met up with the others in the restaurant and had a jolly meal together, and then we had a couple of hours to wander through the store - quite a novelty as we do not usually get to such places. The coach picked us up again at 6.30 and we were home by 8.00. I was well and truly worn out, and fell asleep in my chair almost at once, so for a change, I had a really early night.

Today I had another very pleasant time with a different group of friends, and this time I was able to take Chris along as well. For a while now I have been attending a little group in the village who do painting. It is mostly Spanish ladies who go, so I am gradually getting to talk with some of them. We are a bumbling set of amateurs, and there is no 'teaching' involved. We all just muddle along as best we can. But there is another group called Gallarte (pronounced a bit like guy-art-ay) which stands for Los Gallardos Artists. They meet for a business meeting every few months, and also have social events. Two or three times a year they have an 'Expo' somewhere nearby when members can exhibit their work and try to sell some. They are a mixed group of Spanish and English people, and my friend Eileen, who comes painting with me on Mondays, suggested that I might like to join. Today they had a meeting which I missed because I was at church, but I left as soon as the service finished so that I could join them at a barbeque, up near the sports stadium at the back of the village. I had food ready to pile into the cool bag to take, but I need not have bothered with that as it was all provided. A Spanish family were in charge of food and to start with they toasted long pieces of bread on the fire and topped them with a fresh tomato salsa and thin slices of serano ham. Then they hand mixed meat (pork and chicken I think!) onions and herbs and formed huge burgers, which the husband Paco cooked while his wife sliced up loads of tomatoes and lettuce. Then we were each given an enormous bun with a burger, fried onions, salad and strips of pancetta in it - quite a challenge to get your mouth around it. It was really delicious. There was a huge urn by the table, full of sangria and we could go and ladle it into our cups as we wanted to. We sat around in the shade of the mimosa trees, (we were constantly fishing little yellow bits out of our drinks!), and although it was very hot, there was just enough gentle breeze to keep us comfortable. These ladies are two of the spanish friends I have made. The one at the front, in the shirt and shorts, is Leonita. She thinks I'm funny, and she has made it her job to help me improve my spanish speaking. She told me to sit on the front porch all summer and talk to everyone who goes by!! The lady at the back is Cati (the spanish version of Kate), with her daughter and friend. She runs the spanish side of our local charity for disadvantaged children in the village. Her own daughter has Downes syndrome. They are a lovely family and very friendly with everyone. It was a really pleasant afternoon, and I feel I am making good progress in my New Year aim to 'Integrate'.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lace day at Cartagena

Yes, it's me again. I had two more days to tell you about, but I thought yesterday's blog was long enough so I saved the rest. Here is part two, and I will do one more, probabaly over the wekend, and then I should be up to date again.

On Sunday 26th March, Pam and I went to a Lace Open Day, organised by the group in Cartagena. This was about an hour's drive on the coach going northwards along the coast, so not a great distance from us, but there was a marked difference in the way the day was run compared with the ones we have been to locally, and quite a difference in the styles of lace, both on show, and work-in-progress. The Spanish ladies around here tend to do quite heavy lace with failry coarse threads. There we saw much finer lace ,which personally I prefer, and which Pam and I do as it is also more the English style of work. But as well as traditional bobbin lace we saw a variety of other related crafts. I saw one group doing something similar to macramé with three-ply weight wool, to make a wide edge on towels. Others were doing drawn thread work but with coarse linen cloth and fine wool on a strange frame. One lady was embroidering flowers with wide silk ribbon, and a whole group were doing free-hand embroidery on heavy wool fabric in white wool, and I now know that this is part of the traditional fiesta costume in the Valencia region.

When we arrived we queued at a caravan in the hall grounds for our breakfast which turned out to be long strips of fresh cooked churros (sort of doughnut batter) with a thick, rich drinking chocolate to dunk them in. (After that we knew it was going to be a good day!) Then we did some of our lace, walked around to see what everyone else was making, and visited the various trade stalls. I picked up a few patterns that I wanted, and a reel of pretty thread. Then we were taken in small groups to some mini-buses that ferried us to a display of lace work at the town hall. This had been in place all week, and it was much more impressive than the usual table at the side of the hall displaying work by the host group. There were some exquisite pieces in the display, ranging from towel edgings to full sets of table-ware, petticoats with lace bodices, tee-shirts with appliqued lace motifs and baby clothes, plus doileys, flowers, and jewellry. Each minibus load was accompanied by a member of the Cartagena group, and they all wore hand made blouses in fine white material, with tiny pintucks all the down the front, and inlaid with bands of fine hand-made lace. We were very impressed!

Back at the hall we were asked to clear the tables so they could bring in our lunch. It was around three o'clock by then, a long time since the churros and chocolate, so we were ready for a meal. First they gave us all cuttlery, cups and serviettes. We could have
a can of soft drink, beer or water. We sat at tables of around a dozen people and on each table they put dishes of home-pickled olives and potato crisps. Then we were each given a huge slice of empañada (tuna pie), followed by big platters of entramesas, (a selection of sliced meat and cheese), with fresh bread rolls. Next came individually packed foil dishes with a quarter roast chicken and jacket potato in them.(The local chicken man had a good day. There were about five hundred of us to feed!). We thought that must be it, but then we were given a cup of sweet moscatel wine followed by strong black coffee and hard aniseed cakes. And finally they came round with an ice cream cornetto each. We were stuffed!! And the whole day had only cost us €6 each.

There is always some form of entertainment during the day, and so far this has been provided by the local dancing school doing traditional flemenco dancing. But again Cartagena did it differently. As we sat down for our lunch, a group of five young men arrived wearing black 'tights' and a sort of blouson tunic in black velvet with blue slashes in the sleeves and blue sashes, and they carried musical instruments. During lunch they went to each table and sang a couple of songs before moving on to the next one. Sometimes they got quite animated leaping about and tapping tambourines on their heels. They had super voices and were such fun. Everyone enjoyed them, and they looked as though they enjoyed doing it too.

Usually we are given a little 'goodie' bag when we arrive at a lace day, with a free pattern, and a roll and drink for breakfast in it, but we weren't on that day, though we felt we had been more than compensated by the churros etc. But when they had cleared the tables they came round and gave each of us a bag containing a really nice cream linen apron trimmed in blue gingham with their group name on the pocket. So all in all it was a really good day.

I took some photos of the lace display, but rather than choose a couple to put on here, I will make a mini album of them on my gallery that is only visible using this link. So do click here and see what had been made. I haven't made it completely public as none of it is my work, so I didn't like to.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I'm back!

Hi all. Sorry to those who thought I had gone AWOL. It has been a busy time, and somehow I didn't find a moment to write a blog. It was lovely having Jean out here for the week. It would be wrong to say we were busy really but we were occupied! The weather was beautiful so we got out and about a bit, even if it was only to the market etc. The strawberries are in season now and I bought a whole box (2kg) for just €5. That's a lot of strawberries, so we had plenty of treats with them. We also bought a kilo of melons for one euro. They were only small and looked more like grapefruit but they tasted lovely. One day we had them for breakfast, and I cut them in half and filled their centres with my own preserved ginger. Very nice!

My leg that had the torn hamstring is taking a long time to get back to full strength and my doctor told me to walk more. So we walked along the beach and paddled in the sea and it wasn't a bit cold. Then we found a bar with a big, soft settee on the sand in front of it, and we relaxed with a drink there before walking back. One day we walked around the campo to see the wild flowers, but it turned out to be a bit further than we had intended, and we were worn out by the time we got back.

On Thursday we went to the opening of a new supermarket in Vera. It is an Iceland, which over here trades as part of Supermarkets Overseas. They already have a couple of stores but the nearest was at Murcia, and this is supposed to be their largest store in Spain. Some people are really excited about it, and I must admit I was curious to see what they had to offer. We arrived when it had been open for a couple of hours, and it was quite busy, though nothing like the manic crush you might see in UK. The car park was full but I managed to squeeze into a road-side gap at the back of the store, and we did a quick look round to see what sort of stock they were carrying, and to buy a few things I haven't seen for a while. When the owner of the local shop I go to asked me what I thought of it (he had been to suss out the competition!) I said it was too English! I must admit it will be really nice to get a few things that just aren't available here, such as English sausages and individual packets of crisps, and a few of the familiar frozen foods, but whenever possible I buy fresh meat and vegetables, and the Spanish alternatives for other things, and I don't want to go back to buying prepared meals, and lots of packets and tins. Nor do I want to pay for air miles for anything that is produced locally. Many items had their English price stamped on them and they seemed to be priced for us at €1.40 for every pound, which isn't too bad considering the transportation costs, and it makes them cheaper than other 'English' stores around here. They did have fresh milk considerably cheaper than I can buy elsewhere so I shall go there for that as I don't think I will ever get used to using the boxes of UHT milk that is the norm here, but once the novelty wears off, I don't think I will use it too often.

Most afternoons Jean and I sat in the garden and read, did puzzles or a bit of sewing etc. Jean and Chris both got a bit sun-kissed one day (I stay in the shade!) so the next day we stayed indoors and did some crafting.

Jean flew in and out of Alicante this time instead of Murcia, as we wanted to try it to compare travelling times. It took around two and a quarter hours each way, so it was a bit more driving for Chris, but with no tolls to pay, it cost a bit less, and it was a very straightforward journey.

We have more visitors in a couple of weeks when Ben and Dave come out for a few days on 16th of this month. I'm looking forward to that. It is over a year since I saw them. They are coming all the way by train as Ben hates flying, and he gets excellent concessions on fares through his work for the railway. They are going to Benidorm first, and then coming on here.

One day last week I received a letter from a crafting friend in Australia. She does exquisite embroidery and she sent me an ATC with a branch of what I thought was mimosa, embroidered on it in tiny yellow french knots. She titled it 'Aussie wattle', so I looked it up on the int
ernet, and sure enough, Australian wattle is the same plant as some of the Spanish mimosa, and they are all in the Acacia family. They are in full bloom everywhere now, and you see huge masses of them together, probably because they self-seed very easily and are fast growing. This group was beside the main road that runs along the beach at Mojacar.