Friday, 30 October 2015

That Autumn feeling

The nights and mornings are starting to get chilly. Although it is far from cold, the summer duvets have been put away to be replaced by the winter ones. Today I got my winter clothes out and put away most of the summer ones. I was quite disheartened to see how much useless 'stuff' there was in the boxes: clothes that are no longer needed in our new lives. But I was also delighted to rediscover some old favourites and to find that some of my clothes that have always been a bit tight now fit perfectly, including a pair of vintage Levis I bought off Ebay several years ago. I will hang on to the clothes that are now too baggy, just in case we fill out again once we settle more into the good life!

Although we are well into Autumn now, I love NOT waking up in a double glazed and centrally heated house.

What are we getting from the land at present? Quite a bit considering we've only just started! Pomegranate juice, tomatoes, green peppers, an aubergine is making a late appearance, oranges are almost there (still a little sour), French beans, lettuce, rocket, one or two last figs, apples, miniature lemons, fresh herbs, almonds and olive oil (of course), and a kind neighbour has given us some walnuts, avocados, persimmons and late grapes. There are also lots of young veg plants in the pipeline.  Some of our olives are beginning to fall and I have been picking these up as they will all add to the weight of the harvest we take to the mill in a month or two.

Last week we made some dulce de membrillo (quince paste) which is best served and eaten in Spain with Manchego cheese. We don't have a quince tree (yet) but there is one we pass on a local walk and many fruits had been lying on the ground unwanted for some time.

Dulce de membrillo - quince paste

We have had a little landscaping project on the go, to try and stabilise a bank that is being eroded. We have used the wood from old beams to try and stake and retain the soil and finished off by planting 2 new young olives at the edge of the terrace. If we manage to retain the soil long enough for the olive roots to get a hold this should help to bind the soil and stabilise the bank. 

This project has given Mark the perfect opportunity to christen the chainsaw and don his new PPE which was given to him as a leaving present from his last job.

We have had a fair amount of rainfall recently which has meant that we haven't needed to spend as much time watering. In the week, whilst we were at the garden centre, we saw a beautiful rainbow arcing across the valley. 

I have successfully rendered and repaired a crack in the wall on the balcony above our living room which had been causing water to drip in during heavy rain. I am going to finish the job by adding some decorative Andalucian tiles for extra waterproofing and they will also be very pleasing to look at.  I saw exactly the effect I want to achieve whilst out and about recently and took a photo so I had an idea of what materials to order. Now I realise I am setting up a bit of pressure for myself by blogging about doing something I haven't even done yet, but life is treating me so kindly at the moment that a little bit of positive stress should keep me nicely grounded! We brought out to Spain with us a super duper tile cutter so here goes!!! 

This is the effect I am after - hahahaha

Our poor cat Pepper has had a bit of a set-to recently. We returned from Granada one evening a couple of weeks ago and it was clear she had been in a fight (a very persistent semi-domesticated cat keeps hanging around). She was limping and appeared swollen and we were keeping an eye on things as we thought she just had a sprained shoulder. Unfortunately, she had developed an abscess which duly burst. The lovely vet has put her on antibiotics for 20 days and anti-inflammatory medication. We have to pack and bathe the wound daily with an iodine solution and apply a herbal cream. To top it all, she has to wear an Elizabethan collar, a.k.a. the cone of shame.

Poor Pepper

 She has been very good, considering she is quite a grumpy cat, and it is clear she is starting to feel better as we now have to chase her to put the cone back on after she has eaten!

Last weekend I returned to the UK for a family wedding. This meant that Mark took on the role of supervet single handedly. The wedding was a lovely occasion and it was good to see so many of my family. I realised from being away that I am well and truly beginning to consider our place in Spain as 'home'. So that I did not arrive at the wedding looking like a wild witch, I went to have my hair cut - my first appointment at a hairdresser's in Spain. I had to swat up a bit on vocabulary to use first and read that you specify the amount you want off in fingers. I asked him to cut off two fingers - well they must have been the fingers of a seasoned flamenco guitarist or an old workman because a lot came off. The friend who recommend the hairdresser said he has two rates, €20 for tourists and € 10 for locals, so my conversation with him whilst he was cutting was all about how we LIVE HERE and what we are up to now that we LIVE HERE. When he had finished I was reassured to see that he had not cut off two of my fingers. And then he asked me for €10. Great success! And what a bargain price for a wash cut and blowdry!

Last week we went to a garden open day at a cortijo at the bottom of our track. The couple whom it belongs to have renovated and transformed a ruin and 3 acres of land into a little paradise - and they even serve tea and cake in the garden! It was a lovely afternoon off for us and we got a bit of inspiration here and there for things we might like to do in the future. We were particularly impressed with the chicken house they had built and I am twitching and itching to make something of a similar design .But lets see how the tiling project goes first before I run away with myself!

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Jabalies and little cakes from nuns

Last week, Mark and I had some extra leisure time as some friends from the UK came to stay with us. It was so nice to relax with good friends and 'touch base' with people we know well and enjoy being with. We had a couple of lovely walks together in the mountains, went to see a flamenco show in Granada and generally had some nice chilling time. 

On the Saturday morning, there was audible commotion on our neighbours' adjoining land. It started with their dogs barking, the neighbours' raised voices and two sounds of gunshots. We went out soon after this as we intended to spend the afternoon sightseeing in Granada before seeing a flamenco show, so we didn't get time to ask the neighbours what was happening. 

Whilst spending the afternoon in Granada, we walked up from the Plaza Nueva to the Albaicin, where the flamenco was to take place later. On the way, we entered the grounds of a monastery that was open. In one corner was a door, Hobbit-sized, with a notice that read 'hay dulces artesanias' (hand-made goodies). Now it just happened that I had seen this on 'Jamie (Oliver) does Andalucia' when he called at a convent in Ronda. In order to get the goodies off the nuns, you had to ring the bell at the side of the door, which we did. A voice then spoke out of the wall (???) asking us to pull the little door open, which we also did. We were then confronted by a wooden alcove with empty shelves. A little voice from the other side of the alcove asked 'Si?', to which we enquired whether they had any 'dulces artesanias'. The wooden shelves then spun around and a selection of different cakes appeared. We made our choice, asked for 'embutidos de chocolate' (chocolate pastries) and the shelves promptly spun back again to the empty ones. We paid the money by placing it on the empty shelves and the shelves then revolved for a final time with our selection packaged up for us in a plastic bag!!! Of course all this time I had a firm stereotype in my head of an old nun dressed in a black and white habit, spending her days sitting the other side of the door! I was amused by the final bit of the conversation with her because by discussing amongst ourselves what pastries we should buy it was clear that we were English. The little voice asked us for the money in Spanish and then very clearly said 'Four - fifty!'. I'm not sure if the pastries were hand-made by the nuns or not; I am trying hard to do away with my vision of an army of nuns wearing cooking aprons and making cakes in a rustic kitchen! However, the chocolate pastries were gorgeous! Thank you, Jamie Oliver, for telling me about this custom!

The mystery of what had happened at our neighbours' was not clear until the next morning when we went out walking and asked him what had happened. He told us that four jabalies (wild boars) had been on his land and he had cornered and shot one. Although this may seem brutal, these animals are, to quote the author Chris Stewart, on the increase and do phenomenal damage to crops, trees and land. Another neighbour has taken the boar and it is no doubt being very well appreciated at the dinner table as I write!

Mark has a tomato glut going on. I say it is Mark's glut, as raw tomatoes are one of the few foods I cannot eat!

Yesterday, when Mark was in town, I got up to mischief and harvested a load of pomegranates with the intention of making juice. When they are very ripe the fruits split open to reveal the ruby red interior. I left the split fruits on the tree for the birds and insects to enjoy. 

Pomegranate prepared for juicing. The pith and membrane are very bitter, so the more you remove the less of a bitter aftertaste! 

Pomegranate juice. It took me 4 hours to produce 4 litres. 

Beautifully sweet pomegranate juice. As it was so labour-intensive to produce, we won't be necking it back from a tumbler. Wine glass amounts only! (The strawberry on the table was divided very carefully between us).

Chestnuts we collected on our mountain walk with friends. I may try to make chestnut soup.

Not ours! We do have an avocado but it hasn't fruited this year. These avocados were given to us by our kind neighbour. Bring on the guacamole!

Also a gift from our neighbour, a bowl of persimmons (kaki fruits). We have been eating them on our muesli for breakfast. They taste lovely.

Doin' the Sphinx.

After our lovely rest, we are now well back into the swing of ticking off a list of jobs, some one-off tasks to get our home straighter, and some seasonal things that we'll be repeating at some time in the future. 

The fruits and vegetables, including me and Mark, are continuing to do well under the beautiful Spanish sun. Here is a little resume of their progress....

The oranges are starting to turn orange!

The majestic purple aubergines, who had broken off the summer romance, have returned to flower and fruit. You teasers, you!

The stealthy green pointed peppers keep on giving.

Mark's tomato thicket.

The thirsty French beans. Banana leaf photo-bombing top left.

The secretive potatoes.

The eager broad-beans

.......and we brassicas deserve a mention!

The smouldering chillies: strong, silent types.

Also, not yet in the line-up and still awaiting their Equity cards are:  leeks, beetroot, lettuce, radish, spinach, carrots, peas, mangetout, strawberries and, last but not least, the shy onions! I do hope there is enough water to support all these: we are starting to recycle domestic water just in case!


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

First snow

Last week we set off to sell our surplus almonds in Torvizcon. The town is on the other side of the valley, across the river. It had rained during the previous night and the first snow could be seen on the Sierra Nevada mountains up above. We had 70 Kgs of surplus almonds for which we received about 90 Euros in total. It's not a way to getting rich! I had heard rumours last year that some of Spain's almond harvest was being shipped to California, where the harvests have suffered due to the collapse of honeybee colonies. The bag that the nut weigher put the almonds in had 'California nut company' written on the side. I asked him if any of the nuts were bound for the United States but he said 'No'. We bought a special nut harvesting pole whilst at the nut-dealers. We wanted to buy a 3 metre carbon fibre one but it wouldn't fit in the car so we had to settle for one a bit shorter!
It is starting to get chillier in the evenings, as was evident from the first snow, so we have moved over to using propane gas at our house, which has a lower boiling point than butane, and therefore makes a better winter heating fuel, for our hot water and cooking.
We have been absorbed this last week with getting mosquitero up in one of the rooms of the house, but not before rubbing down and painting the windows. Now it looks right smart. I have made a bed head in one of the rooms using a wooden curtain rail and draping traditional Alpujarran curtain fabric over it. We also have curtains from similar traditional fabric in our living room. The curtains cover a doorway rather than a window. The windows have wooden shutters that open inwards, so it is not usual to hand curtains inside.
I find the traditional Alpujarran designs very pleasing indeed. I have had a request for a poncho made from the fabric. Who knows? Maybe I'll get my finger out and make one some time!
Our living room curtains made from very pleasing tradtional Alpujarran fabric.
We have also spent some time this last week rubbing down and repainting the beams in our kitchen to restore them to form.
The highlight of the weekend, which actually begun on Thursday - 4 days in total, was the Fiesta de Orgiva. We spent all day in town on Saturday. My favourite part was watching the 'carrera de cintas a caballo'. This was a contest where horsemen and one horsewoman, rode under a wire, whilst trying to 'hook' and unravel one of many ribbons on reels threaded through the wire using a stick held in their hand. If they were successful, the ribbon, which was about 2 metres long, unwound as they rode past.
True to form, the contest started about 45 minutes late, but that really didn't matter because there was a great atmosphere. One of the horseman was a young teenager and was smaller than the others, as was his horse. He could hardly reach the ribbons, but the crowd loved him and he had a friendly smiling face which charmed the spectators further. When only 4 or 5 ribbons remained, the horsemen were allowed to remove them manually, which didn't appear to be much easier than using a stick. At the end, the competitors received 10 Euros for each of the ribbons they had unwound and there were trophies for first second and third.
I have seen a similar contest to this at a Fiesta in Tenerife almost 40 years ago but the competitors were on bicycles, not horses.  

A bit of a meeting to go over the rules. Why not?

Here is the wire with the ribbons on reels threaded onto it

Some of the crew are ready to begin but one of them is phoning his mates who are also competing to see where they have got to.
The contest is underway. One by one they ride in turn, until all the ribbons have been 'speared' and unravelled
He's got one!
And so has he!
Trophies for first, second and third, and lots of banter.

After the contest, we wandered into town to take in the atmosphere, whilst a number of the horseman  proudly cantered in. Many of them wore traditional Andaluz trousers and hats.
On the way into town we saw a tree which we had not noticed before. It was in full bloom: a Ceiba, I have been informed. It has a prickly bark and beautiful flowers.

In town traditional fried eggs were being handed out. This was to be the first of may snacks which we grazed on throughout the day.

I'm glad to see that the dodgems stage has been securely supported.
Later that afternoon, we went to another horsie event, the Espectaculo a Caballo, held in the (temporary) bullring at the outskirts of town. The horses and their riders performed to music. By the time we walked back up to town it was getting dark. We visited a few of the bars and filled up on tapas with our beers.


The vegetables in the garden are doing well.  A few of the oranges are just starting to turn from green to pale yellow. They are probably still more than two months off being ripe. I have staked the French beans, which was a bit of crisis management as I expected them to be standard plants, not climbers. And I didn't expect them to grow taller than me so the canes I have used are too short. They are in flower and there are some very small beans, approx. 2cms long, starting to form. It seems very strange growing plants when the days are getting shorter and cooler, that I would have grown in England when the days were getting longer and warmer. Today I sowed lettuce, beetroot, spinach, radish, peas, mangetout peas and fennel. I have also re-sown the failed carrots with a vow to water them at least twice daily. I collected some manzanilla table olives from one of the trees on the land a few days ago. There are not many olives on the tree this year but they were ready to be picked. They are now soaking as part of the preparation process prior to bottling. We have made some pomegranate juice. It was a labour-intensive process. The amount of work that goes into growing and preparing food for consumption makes me appreciate all the more what goes onto my plate!
It is a busy time of year for sure, but we can relax a bit more now that the almonds are safely dried and in storage, waiting to be turned into something delicious and nutritious.
The magnificent nut-cracker