Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ready, Steady, Bake!

It is that time of year again, when cooler days make a few hours working in a warm kitchen seem like quite a good option. So this week I have been busy.
I started off by making some Piccalilli. This is not something I have bought very often, though Jonathan used to like the spreadable version in his lunch-box sandwiches, but when a friend posted a recipe on her blog, and said how good it was, I thought I'd give it a try. 
It took quite a long time to cut all the vegetables up, but I did want to make them smaller than usual, so the pickle could be used in sandwiches if we wanted it to. They looked very pretty all mixed together in the pan, and they kept their colours, even after they had been cooked in the sauce. 
I was rather taken back by the quantity of spices in it, but it smelled lovely when it was cooking, and the little taste I had was not too strong. It is supposed to be left unopened for a month for the flavours to mature, but at least it will be ready for the cold meats at Christmas. I am also hoping to sell some at the Gallarte sale in a week or two.
Here is what I made. Now I need to print some labels for it, and try to work out a list of ingredients in Spanish which is obligatory for food sold over here. I have to do it for all my jams too but that is relatively easy as they don't have much in them, - fruit, sugar and water is about it.
My next job was to bake a small Christmas cake, so I left the fruit steeping in brandy all night, and then let it cook slowly the next day. We don't eat a lot of it, but I like to have some in, to offer visitors etc.

Yesterday was the first day of my mince-pie marathon. I made three pack of pastry on Friday afternoon and left them resting in the fridge overnight. Yesterday something more important kept cropping up, but at around 11.00 I finally got started. 
The table was raised up on bricks again for a few weeks to save my back. It is too low to work at all day. By tea-time I had made twelve dozen. 

I have orders already, and that's without me actually telling anyone I am making them again this year, plus I have promised to make five dozen for our church carol service, so I need at least sixty dozen, and I know others will ask for them when they see me bring some in that friends have ordered. Last year I made eighty dozen but I would really rather stop at the sixty this year. That is five full days of baking which is really enough. I have been asked to take some to sell at my friends 'fat club' next Thursday. (That's an odd combination. They may be very yummy, but low in fat they are not!!). I also have the Gallarte (our local arts and crafts group) sale the week after, so it really depends on how many I sell at those two events, what the final score will be.  
Once again the garden is growing well, due mainly to all the rain and now some sunshine again. It looks as though there will be an excellent crop of oranges this year. This lovely bunch are hanging over the fence into our garden, from a tree next door. I am keeping an eye on them and I shall be picking them as soon as they are ripe enough. The house is empty most of the year, though they do come to pick some of the fruit early in the new year. I am sure they won't mind us having these few. Their trees are weighted down this season.
In the front garden we have beautiful roses out again. The autumn flowering always make me think of mum. When I inherited her desk to do my homework, inside the lid she had a pull-off from her calendar that said "God gave us our memories that we might have roses in December". It is not quite December yet but I don't think I will need my memory to remember these. They will still be blooming in a week or so, as we move into the new month.
And finally, here's a photo of a big black nasty that had the temerity to come into our bedroom during the night. Mum always used to say "If you want to live and thrive, let the spiders run alive", and I have worked hard at conquering my fear of them. 
My turning point was when I managed to hold a tarantula for the 'Animal man' who I invited to the annual Science day at my nursery. I just couldn't let my fear show in front of the children, though I did tell the man to keep his hands under mine in case I 'freaked' and dropped it! So these days I am quite good at catching them and putting them outside, but when they go above head level, they are making a big mistake, and they have to go.

My hero husband came to the rescue. He  climbed onto our bed and sprayed it until it fell to the floor where I was able to deal with it. I know it was only looking for a winter home, but I am not up for sharing mine with him!

And on that happy note I will leave you until next week's ramblings. Hasta luego.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Hi all. I think this will be a much shorter post than usual, (Hooray I hear you say!), as I have done little of any significance this week. It has continued to be grey and damp, though there have been a few occasions when the clouds have opened up to let a watery sun shine through.
I have still managed to be out and about nearly everyday, with an extra trip to Huercal-Overa on Wednesday to collect my new glasses, and to Albox on Thursday for my monthly parchment craft lesson. I can't show you what we made as it is a card I will be sending to someone very soon, and they might just spot it on here. My glasses are OK. I am not thrilled with them, but I guess I am still getting used to them. I shall persevere!

Do you remember this photo I posted back in the early summer, of our lovely yellow and red hibiscus. It only lives in a pot but it seems quite happy there, and every year it carries these big blooms for months. It is quite an unusual colour and I love it.

Well this week, it has suddenly decided to bloom again. I think the rain has confused all the plants. It would not normally be in flower now. But I did laugh when it opened to show this big bright orange flower! It is as though the rain has washed the red from the centre up through all the yellow, turning it orange. It has half a dozen flowers out, and they are all the same. It is still very beautiful, but I hope it reverts to its true colours again next year.

As many of you know, for the past six months I have been involved with a project to knit little vests and hats for the 'Fish and Chip' babies of Africa. I started out just responding to a request on a blog I follow, but the project here has taken off big-time, and we now have a web site and groups of knitters all over S.Spain, and in UK. When the original project ended I needed to find a new outlet for all the garments that we were still knitting, and eventually a lady from my church in Oswestry, put me in touch with Brian Hatton of Greenfields Africa. They now ship our knitting to Africa and supervise its distribution. Fortunately we have  a man at out church here who is a courier, and he has offered to take our parcels to Brian in UK, free of charge, which is a huge help. The good news is that Greenfields work among the pregnant women has been so successful, that now many of the babies are born free of AIDS so they have a longer life expectancy. This also means that there is now less need for all the little vests we were knitting, and more need for larger clothes to fit up to four year olds. They have also particularly requested blankets, so I am busy working on two of those right now. (I showed you these in my previous post.) I have been in touch with Brian to request some photos of his work that I could show to my knitters, and yesterday he sent me some. I will just put two on here but if you would like to read more about what we are doing, and see the rest of the photos, you can go to our web site by clicking here. (My friend looks after the site and she promised to put the photos on this week)
In the mean time, here is Oscar. He has only ever had a Fish and Chip vest, that has grown with him. I am glad to be able to say that Greenfields have now provided him with some more clothes.
The other item that they have requested is little teddies. They provide a pattern for this, probably to save them being showered with lots of unsuitable stuffed toys, and also so that each child is given the same. The caption on this photo says, "We believe that EVERY child, everywhere in the world, should have a teddy of their own".

I must just share this photo with you. Aren't they cute! Don't panic; they're not mine! While Chris and I were out walking the dogs yesterday, we spotted these in a typical Spanish back yard. They looked so sweet all cuddled up together, and all staring at us with wide, innocent eyes. Chris took a photo with his phone but they were too far away for a really good shot, so this morning I took my camera with me, and sure enough, there they were again, so I took this photo of them. They probably live out in the yard, but the house owner had put a dish of food for them, there is no shortage of water around, and they can cuddle up to keep each other warm. There was also an outhouse where they could shelter, but they seem to prefer the garden. Perhaps they all want to be as close as possible to the food bowl. It must be a bit of a 'free for all' at feeding time.

Well my local forecast actually says it will be sunny tomorrow so I am off to sort out the washing so I can put the machine on overnight, and get it hung out first thing in the morning, just in case it doesn't last. Even the Spanish folk are beginning to grumble about the rain. My friend Cati put on her facebook post, something about more rain today,  and then she said "Ahora entiendo los ingleses". (Now I understand the English!)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A wet week in 'not so sunny Spain'!

Yes we have had a whole week of grey and often wet days, which is unusual for us, even in November. It has been so wet that I even bought myself a light-weight raincoat, and folks who know me well, will know that I don't do coats!
It has been the kind of week when you don't go out unless you need to, but fortunately we have had sufficient necessary journeys to stop us turning into couch potatoes.
I spent most evenings in the sitting room, with either Paco or Luna, or both, keeping my knees warm, so I decided to find something new to make, to stop me nodding off. (There is very little on the television that is guaranteed to keep me awake!) The man who delivers our "Fish and Chip" baby knits to Africa, wrote to tell us that he now has sufficient of these in his store, and he asked us to turn our hands to making blankets and more standard small children's garments instead, so I sorted out my wool and have embarked on making blankets. I have two on the go as I get bored with a big project, and instead of knitting I am doing different styles of crochet.
The first is Tunisian crochet which I did many years ago when mum bought a Tunisian hook from somewhere. As a child it appealed to me because it was relatively easy and it grew very quickly! I am now using a much smaller gauge hook, and a slightly different stitch called Tunisian afghan stitch. It makes up to an even, firm fabric that will make a good blanket. I am making strips rather than squares as it cuts out much of the sewing up at the end.
The second one is Bavarian crochet which I have not done before. I saw something made in it on the internet and I liked the look of it, so I bought, and downloaded the instructions, and this is how it makes up. Pretty isn't it?

This week we had to go to the hospital at Huercal-Overa for Chris to have a special blood test that apparently couldn't be done at our local clinic. It is to do with an ongoing problem with arthritis in his knees and wrists. Our doctor had told us to just turn up and no appointment was necessary, but although we got there just as they opened up, we were number 56 on the list! Fortunately I had taken my crochet with me, so I got quite a length of it done. When he had finally had his turn, we went to our optician which is just down the road from the hospital, and I had my eyes tested, as it is now six weeks since my cataract operation. So I am now looking forward to having new glasses in a week or so.

Despite the poor weather there is still plenty to see in the garden and along the road side. Here are a few photos I have taken in between the showers.
It is amazing how everything has grown since the storm last month. The ground is covered in tiny plants pushing up through what was barren land. Many are even in flower as though they think it is Spring. Certainly our 'green zone' at the back of our house is truly very green right now.

Yesterday I spotted this spider suspended between two branches of the bougainvillea. he looks too fat and heavy for his fine web to hold him. He was busy wrapping up a wasp to go in his store cupboard. We occasionally get some nasty big black spiders, and lots of tiny grey ones which jump, and can give a very unpleasant bite that itches worse than any mosquito bite, but ones like this, that I used to think of as common garden spiders in England, are not seen very often. He was quite a handsome fellow, but I wouldn't care to walk into his web on a dark night!

Another thing I have noticed  this week is huge collections of birds. I stopped to watch these ones on my way home from Turre on Wednesday. They were in the tops of all the trees and packed tightly along all the overhead cables. They are definitely members of the starling family, and are very like the starlings in UK. The noise they were making was amazing. You can quite see why the collective name for them is a "murmuration of starlings". 
When something startled them they all took off and the sky was black with them, but I was disappointed to find that they didn't make any of the wonderful formations of flight that I used to watch when they all came to Oswestry.

The exceptional amount of rain we have had, including some very heavy showers, and some that have lasted all night, has hampered the workmen's efforts to clear and repair roads damaged in the flooding. 
I stopped by the rambla in Turre which is usually a dry river bed, and this week it is still a fast flowing river. I did find a tiny trickle of water down there one spring when I walked along it, but it was hidden by bushes and trees that were taller than me. All that has washed away now, and there is just water , a lot of debris, and a few struggling plants. No doubt it will all recover in its own time. Nature is quite remarkable in its ability to heal, but it won't start to happen until it is dry enough for the water to subside.

There is one good thing about this weather. We rarely see a really good sunset because most days the sky is clear when the sun goes down, but this week there has been a lot of clouds which reflect the last rays of the sun, and set the sky on fire. One day last week, the sun had managed to come out for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and I was just in time to catch this beautiful sight. Ten minutes later and it was all gone, so I am glad I looked up when I did.

And finally, this is for family members who I know don't usually visit my other blog, so apologies to those who do, because this paragraph is a direct copy from my post on there last Wednesday.

"And finally I must share something very special for me. As you are aware, our five sons came out together to help us celebrate both our birthdays a couple of weeks ago. Our youngest son, Ben, is very musical, writing songs, singing and playing the piano, saxophone and guitar. He only does it for pleasure but he often puts a video on you-tube, so I can see what he is doing. I was expecting to him to come over that week, so I had borrowed a piano so he could entertain us all at our party. But he then surprised us by singing a little song he had written especially for us. Many of our party guests  were, like us, older ex-pats, and we all miss our families back home, and our friends were very taken with the way we have stuck together as a family, and when Ben sang, "there wasn't a dry eye in the house". This week Ben has sent me what he called a "rough, live recording" of our song, so I am sharing it with you here. After all, it is not every week that you get a song written especially for you is it? Click on this link to hear it."