Saturday, 4 August 2018

Hot in the Kitchen

According to the BBC we are experiencing a heatwave here in Spain with temperatures up to 47C in the shade. Yes, it's hot, our own north facing in the shade thermometer has registered 41.8C as it's hottest temperature this year.. it's still early August so we could easily go up from that yet.

The truth. It's like this every year here. This is fairly normal August temperatures for our region as the hot African winds blow up through Portugal and the Peninsula depositing a fine orange coloured coating of sand on the car and making the sky look like it might rain. The rain rarely comes.

The BBC reported deaths from heat stroke in southern Spain. Again, this happens every year. The increase in temperature puts a strain on the elderly in the same way that winter does in the UK.  I don't mean to belittle the danger. It is very hot and we all have to take extra care because the sun can kill you! But so far this isn't much different from most other years since we have been here.

For a good part of August I become a recluse. I stay indoors doing inside jobs along with some binge reading, knitting and TV watching. We often save indoor projects specifically for the summer time. One job that must be done but really isn't conducive to the high temperatures is the preserving of the vegetable harvest.

I do try to turn excess courgettes, marrow or cucumber into pickles. Tomatoes can be turned into a jam (paired with chillies they make a super condiment to be served with cold meat or cheese). I also dry tomatoes in the sun - but since I like them still a bit squishy I will semi-dry and then freeze.

Here I put some 'not quite dried enough' tomatoes into oil and they started to ferment. This isn't too much of an issue, fermentation adds a bit of a tang to the tomatoes and actually increases the beneficial enzymes and vitamins. But having discovered the pot making vigorous bubbles and leaking oil over the shelf, I decided to whizz them up in the food processor to a paste  and freeze in small amounts for later use. The addition of chillies and garlic gives a good approximation of Harrissa paste, but my chillies came to nothing this year so I left it at a simple sun dried tomato paste.

A gifted marrow becomes chunks for winter stews and is included in a ploughman's pickle.  The hardest job is standing to chop the vegetables into small dice, as the kitchen gets ever warmer from the pans bubbling on the stove top. 

Quite often when we make preserves we like them so much we eat them pretty much straight away.  Since jamming and pickling is a way to preserve fruit and vegetables this year we agreed that when we are sick of eating the fresh vegetables then we will preserve them and KEEP the preserve for winter. A little bit of summer in a jar. The cupboard is filling up with our produce and the freezer is starting to groan a bit.  And the figs are now ripening - to bottle or not to bottle? Poached figs in spiced syrup is a family favourite but there is only the two of us and you can certainly get too much of a good thing as far as figs are concerned.

Discovering some neglected mushrooms in the bottom of the fridge I quickly put them into a basket to dry on the veranda. They aren't in full sun but the heat is immense and I might be able to whizz them to powder tomorrow. I love my mushroom powder, the smell is intense and the flavour devine. I'm the only person I know who can make a mushroom sauce without fresh mushrooms (and you'd never know!)

After hours of chopping, boiling, bottling and the endless dishes that seem to accompany any mammoth task in the kitchen it's so nice to have a man about the place who can cook the dinner! (Chicken satay made with home made peanut butter 😁)

Yum! Some people are just hot in the kitchen.

Friday, 3 August 2018


My electric combi oven broke. It has been such a great oven and so useful over the past few years that I feel bereft without it.

We have this thing.

But it too is broken. Not entirely but so difficult to manage that it's hardly worth using. In the UK we expect a certain standard from a cooker. I've discovered that our standard is very high by comparison to what is considered an acceptable norm here in Spain. It is worth noting for anyone contemplating a move over here.. Spanish cookers are basic and when they look fancy they are just basic with knobs on! Literally.

So until I can safely light the pizza oven again (temperatures are over 40C at the moment) we will not be having, cake, fresh bread or roast dinners. This is a double blow since I have just started off a new sour dough 'mother' and yesterday's oven catastrophe occurred while waiting to bake the first sour dough rolls.

I did manage to make them edible in the gas oven but it was not a good test of what was a new recipe. So for now I shall continue to feed the sour dough starter but will only be able to use it for flatbreads cooked on a griddle or pancakes.. apparently you can make a 'beer-like' non alcoholic beverage from it too.. this has piqued my interest somewhat.. watch this space. There's a recipe here if you fancy trying it.

So, why don't I just go and buy a new cooker I hear you ask? We had plans to spend the next season's olive harvest money on sourcing a very good quality cooker from the UK and having it sent over but not wanting to count our chickens (who knows how good the harvest will be?) we haven't been shouting much about it. Meanwhile life has organised for me to improve my efficiency with the bread oven for which I am going to be grateful. Once I have finished mourning my combi oven. 😥

Thursday, 19 July 2018

How We Are

It's been a little while since I wrote a post. It's not that nothing has happened it's more that nothing startling has happened. And life is mostly like this isn't it? It's probably what we aim for, after all there could be nothing worse than living in a constant state of excitement, anxiety or intrigue like a soap opera.

Summer has been cooler this year, super intense heat one day followed by a cool day the next. We are not complaining. Whatever weather we get here we are grateful. It's a lovely place to live and we try to enjoy every aspect of it. You know the adage about life giving you lemons and making lemonade, well we add lemon marmalade, lemon pancakes and lemon curd on top of that because we really want to make the most of every single day.

My creative pursuits wax and wane with the moon - literally! I have been noticing an increase in fibre art as the moon approaches fullness then a few days of not even picking up a needle and thread before beginning again, but slowly.. just before the full moon it can get pretty frenzied. Proof that the moon is still influencing my life even though I no longer feel the need to mark it's course on the calendar. Every time of life has it's curiosities.

I phoned my shepherd to get more wool from him only to be told that he had sold all his sheep! So a few frantic phone calls later and I have sourced another supplier in the village. Which is a relief because I am very much wanting to keep things as local as possible.

At the moment I am practicing felting and embroidery on felt to make bags. It's all still a work in progress but these practice pieces will end up in the Etsy shop on sale eventually. I have had two launch dates for the Etsy shop already and not managed to get it live yet but with the arrival of my final piece of kit (a picker) this weekend I should truly be up and running. And then lots of lovely fibre goodies will be available to the world.

The update on this is that the shop is now live. But seriously Etsy is pants and I still can't get it to do what I want. But if you fancy a gander take a look here.. ExtreMerino is up and running!

Of course I am not sure that the world is waiting for this but we shall see. The other option, one that I shall follow up at some stage, is the crafty/tourist centres of Caceres or/and Trujillo. They both take in work from local artisans and offer it up for sale. How many sales are made is anyone's guess - I've been here five years and not noticed many changes in the stock. But I am going to start producing stuff specifically for the Extremadura tourist market. Watch this space.

The figs are growing. At about this time each year I get the urge to write a cookery book of all fig recipes. Most years the feeling passes quite quickly. This year I've requested that Steve take some quality photos of the trees and fruit growing. Arty shots of fresh fig food will follow as soon as they are ripe. Dried figs and the actual recipes can be worked on anytime.  Who knows.. maybe i'll do it this time.

I sent away for a new cookery book. As if don't have enough already. This is about fermented foods. It's a topic I have delved into before. I am already sold on the health benefits of fermentation but my issue is that I have a sweet tooth and I don't entirely enjoy the sour tang that fermentation produces. After reading this book so very carefully I am wondering if it's supposed to taste like mine does or if I have made them incorrectly. She makes everything sound so delicious. The only way to know would be to go to Texas and knock on her door and ask to taste hers!  (I would do it you know!) But in a nutshell this is a lovely book full of sensible advice.

In the meantime I am trying to train my taste buds. Cutting way back on the sweet stuff. We cut out alot of the sugar a long while ago but simply replaced it with honey and like addicts our consumption has slowly increased as our tolerance grows. We now consume a litre of honey a week!!!! It's a work in progress and I suspect that it will forever need vigilance to keep the sweet stuff to a reasonable level. Why? Well I have a feeling it's bad for you but when I think on it my father was a really heavy sugar consumer and lived until just before his 94th birthday. He was never concerned by the amount of white stuff that passed his lips but it upset the rest of the family hugely.  As my great aunt used to say "you can't go wrong with all things in moderation". I guess it's down to your genes really but if I need a mantra to go by then that is as good as any.

Simmering in the background through spring and into summer has been my mother in law's house move. Steve has been project managing this since his mother has short term memory loss which makes organising even simple things impossible.  A long distance project without power of attorney has proved stressful at times so we feel the need for a holiday. Hopefully, as all his hard work is about to come to fruition we can get away for a week by the sea in September. We are just waiting on word from some Finca sitters who we hope will see living in our house and looking after our cats, hens and plants as a break from the stresses of their everyday lives.  And so, we are fine and all is well and shall be well.

This is how we are.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Finding My Thing

I have been drawn to textiles and creative crafting since I was a child. I made my first dress at age 12 with no help and no supervision. I wore it to a party, no one yelled OMG you made your dress yourself!! So I guess it passed muster. Sadly there was no obvious career opportunities for a girl who liked to play with fabrics and threads. Over the years I have dabbled with other crafts, bobbin lace making, tatting, crochet, knitting, quilting, cross stitch, embroidery and now spinning... and lastly felting.

Raw wool before carding

I like playing with wool. In fact the more I play with it the better I get to like it. Does that make sense? I should explain. I have a small stash of fibre from other areas and some from other animals. Since I am fairly new to spinning I thought it important to be able to compare the local wool with what is already out there.The more I play with fancy fibres the more I understand what an exceptional product the local merino wool is.

Wet felted flowers

It doesn't win for being the softest, its not alpaca, but it's really nice honest good hard wearing wool. It's also not too tough or scratchy but I understand that many people prefer not to wear pure wool against bare skin.  That's ok. It's wool - intended for jackets, cardigans, jumpers etc.

Detail of child's poncho

When you have alot of hobbies it can be difficult to get really good at just one. Sometimes you have to keep it simple. Pull back a bit and concentrate on perfecting something fairly basic - the impact is often greater with less. So. I guess wool is definitely my thing, and I thought knitting would be the best use of it but having sustained an rsi injury from repeated knitting now I'm not so sure.  But that's ok too, wool can be used for so much!

Hoodie for baby with wool covered buttons

I recently sent some wool to an online friend for her to spin it and let me know what she thought. At first she waxed lyrical about how lovely it was then she mixed it with a commercially prepared merino and some sparkly fibre and then she spun it.  It was ok. Yeah you can tell I was disappointed. You see I felt that the wool was beautiful in it's own right and didn't need any bells and whistles and certainly not sparkles! OK perhaps I should have sent her more than I did but I feel sure she still would have thrown sparkles at it.

Experimental mock fairisle

I have only recently begun experimenting with colours and I like it more and more.  This I think is definately IT.  Wool! Yes wonderfully woolly wool. It can be spun and then knit or crochet or woven on various different types of loom, it can be wet felted, it can be needle felted into sculptures or shapes. The possibilities for playing with colours are literally endless and as a medium for creative expression it has been sadly relegated to the mundane, the lowly utalitarian - a position it does not deserve. Here are some of the qualities inherent in natural wool. 

1. 100% natural.
2.  Renewable sustainable product (sheep's fleece regrows every year right?)
3. Biodegradable - at the end of it's natural life it can be composted or dug into the garden.
4.  Environmentally friendly product using less energy to produce than synthetic yarns and being natural it does not contain any petrochemicals.
5.  Wool is fire resistant and meets fire prevention regulations without the need for chemical treatment.
6.  Wool fabrics trap air between their fibres making them super warm in cold weather and conversely in summer they help the body stay cool.
7.  Wool repels water sufficiently to be called shower proof - naturally.
8. Woollen fabrics do not crease or wrinkle easily. The fibres have crimp or memory that enables them to bounce back to their original shape.
9.  Wool is durable and hard wearing - different breeds of sheep give different types of wool with varying softness Vs durability. There's a wool suitable for every project!
10. Wool comes in lots of natural colours but also takes dye really well - fortunately there are literally hundreds of colours to choose from.
11. What you can do with wool is only limited by your imagination.

 So... let's hear it for wool! Hip hip....

Wet felted book cover

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Mowing Time

It's time to mow the lawn. Actually it's well past time but if you tackle it too soon then it grows again very quickly and you have all that work to do again.

The trick is to cut it just as the intense summer heat begins and then you can ignore it until after the autumn rains, last year the fall rain didn't come and we didn't have very much grass at all.

This year we started the Big Mow and then it rained. The machine doesn't work with wet grass so it's been very much a stop and start affair.

The rain is most welcome even if it's frustrating the Mower in the family.

Our flowers are nearly gone, swamped by the advancing grasses. Although the grass has a beauty of it's own it invokes a certain anxiety connected with forest fires.

The water meadow has sprouted a low growing convolvulus type flower which is really pretty.

Some of our neighbours who invariably run a harrow through their Finca twice a year have been taken over by a hardy little blue clover-like plant. From a distance it looks like a haze of blue beneath the olives, which are in bloom at the moment too.

Altogether it's a a very photogenic time of year. If you can cope with the pollen that is! Big sales in antihistamines at this time of year.

This may look extreme but needs must - I might add that I also take antihistamines. Who knew?? We don't have olives in the UK - such a surprise that the blossoms are so troublesome. At the moment they are prolific and fall like snow with the slightest of movements.

Even with a blocked nose and itchy eyes it s plain to see how beautiful this place is.

Friday, 18 May 2018

A Vicious Circle

Having established that I need money to launch my new project what happens? Tooth ache followed by a totally different tooth simply disintegrating leaving horrid jagged edges.

Now my Sanitas health cover will pay for checkups and a yearly clean but on investigation the treatment I need is cheaper than the insurance excess charge so it's more prudent to simply pay for it...

So initially a whopping 105 euros to rebuild the crumbled tooth - with the warning that it will be forever fragile and the only other option is to take it out. 😶 Antibiotics have sorted the toothache but root canal work is scheduled for June.. that's more money.

This is the way it is. We feel like we are rich because we live in such a beautiful place and we have a lifestyle we want, mostly doing just whatever we want, but the reality is that we are on a fixed budget and over the past year or so we have slowly taken our eyes off the ball.

So it's time to pull in the horns a bit. This shouldn't be too onerous. If we focus on the important stuff, after all, the best things in life are free right?

Saturday, 12 May 2018

An Official Venture

I have for some time been trying to get an Etsy shop off the ground. It has stalled several times because my product, the local wool, takes such a long time to prepare. For example, it's almost shearing time and I still have the bulk of last year's fleece to process.

I have been guilty of seeing the end result without taking into account the obstacles right under my nose and hence things just havent got very far at all.

Things moved on in one sense with the creation of a Facebook group called 'Hilanderos de España' - Spinners from Spain. So far, most of the members are Germans living in Spain, or Spanish breeders of rare sheep who are looking for a market for their wool. As far as I can see there is only one Spanish spinner. It's a start.

And the requests started very quickly on the group for clean Spanish wool ready to spin. Cleaning the wool is the most time consuming bit and I haven't managed to save for the equipment that would speed the process up. Then I had an idea. Why not ask for help?

The whole idea originated in wanting to pay the shepherd a fair price for his wool. If I can't get the wool to market I can't pay the shepherd. No one wants dirty wool and many countries have strict rules about foreign vegetable matter arriving in the post.  So before my project can even begin I need to purchase 3 pieces of kit.

A desktop spin dryer. I'm using a salad spinner at the moment, it's ridiculously slow and inefficient.

A picker - this is going to make the most difference of all, this amazing machine opens out the locks of wool allowing the seeds, grass and hay to fall out.

A drum carder - this will cut down the time carding the wool and save the wear and tear on my wrists (I'm already suffering from an RSI injury related to the fibre arts!)

The way things stand at the moment it would be impossible to get enough wool into the shop to be able to meet even a small demand as well as work on developing end products that will showcase the quality of the wool. I had such plans.. still have.. but alas they cannot come to pass until I get over this hurdle.

From the Facebook page it became apparent that there are quite a number of rare breeds (some on the endangered list) here in Spain that would benefit from  a marketplace for their wool. Long term it would be nice to be able to help.  But before I get ahead of myself once again...

If you didn't look, it's a link to my Crowdfunding campaign and for those feeling generous enough to donate there will be gifts of fleece prepared for spinning or felting. Woolly accessories or whimsical momentos winging their way to you in due course. And for the really generous a series of discounts when the shop is launched online.

Garden Goddess in cotton stuffed with wool.

Look Here