Monday, 4 February 2019

It Doesn't Have to be Meat

Around about us some people are still harvesting olives, I wonder why we rushed so, but it's how we always do it - like we have a deadline. So much pressure  And we still don't know if we can afford the cooker we want. Patience.

We had a couple of Dutch volunteers for ten days and they helped Steve make a serious dent in the pruning of some of the olives. They were nice people too so it was very pleasant hosting them. Having two extra very hungry mouths to feed gave me an excuse to play with the bread oven again. This winter I've used it fairly regularly and I'm starting to feel like I know what I'm doing .

In our 'turn a knob' or 'flick a switch' society we have mostly forgotten about how to cook with fire. In fact someone mentioned to me about cooking with fire being dirty and I wasn't really quick enough to refute them but in my limited experience I've found it quite the opposite . Look at how clean the oven looks, you wouldn't think there was a wood fire burning in there just a few minutes before.

I've been cooking a lot of roast dinners, chicken mostly. Strictly speaking I'm still baking the chicken since I've used the ceramic chicken brick or covered it with foil. But the end result is far superior to the same recipe done in the electric or gas oven. I don't understand why it tastes better. I've also got better at judging the temperature and I've successfully made chocolate brownies in it - with not a clue what the actual temperature of the oven was.

The bread crust looks a bit overdone but inside the bread is light and fluffy.  And that's Chelsea Buns too!  I'm also getting quite adept at using the residual heat after the bread comes out, making soup or stew for the next day, or for the freezer. But it doesn't have to be meat, today we had Moroccan bread,

... a walnut and lentil loaf served with a tomato sauce and cream of potato soup. All cooked in the bread oven and there being enough leftover to freeze for another meal, this is really turning out to be an economic way to cook.

Of course there are limitations. Today it was very chilly outside and the oven started to cool down very quickly and so the bread went in before it was really ready, making for a denser texture than I would have liked.

The remedy isn't as simple as adding more wood/fire to the oven - fresh wood turns the oven dome black again, and you can't cook until all the soot has burned away. It also didn't help that I had removed some of the coals to the adjacent BBQ so that I could do some further cooking.

Here I am frying the onion garlic and Thyme for the lentil and walnut loaf. The lentils were cooked the night before in the pressure cooker, taking 15 minutes. If you are looking to save energy and time spent on cooking then a pressure cooker is the way to go!

After that I used the residual heat to boil the kettle for our 11's. It took 20 minutes to bring the water to the boil, that's because our kettle has a very thick bottom to it. But I planned it well and we didn't have to wait much beyond 11 o clock for our mid morning break.

Finally when all of the heat from the oven is just about spent I load it up with the wood for the next firing. The wood literally kiln dries and makes for a nice clean fire when I'm using the oven next.

And the oven itself. We'll, its basically a pizza oven, but of course you can cook anything in it. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys the BBQ experience and wants to take their culinary expertise up a notch.

Having said that I recently have been reading the diaries of Samuel Pepys (written in 1660's) and felt a great kinship with his wife when he wrote about his lunch not being ready - a roast fowl - due no doubt to the vagaries of the wood fire .

Friday, 11 January 2019

Olive Harvest The Final Tally

We always feel a little under pressure during the harvest. There is often an underlying worry that the Cooperative will stop taking in olives and we won't be finished. In reality they continue until the last man has brought in the last olive. But we don't want to be the last man.

This year most of our neighbours were using mechanical shakers and petrol driven leaf blowers to gather up the harvest. In previous years the countryside resounded with the sounds of wood on wood as sticks hit branches laden with olives. Sometimes we could even hear the satisfying thuds as the olives hit the ground. And there were always voices calling, shouting, greeting.. and laughter. That was all missing this year. At times we felt we were the only ones using sticks.

Except for one neighbour whose mechanical shaker broke and so he turned up the next day with some friends armed with sticks. We were able to call out greetings across the fence and shout encouragement. They finished well before us and tooted their car horns as they left. That made our day more pleasant. I wish all their machines would break.

We often wonder if using machines would help us in any way or at least speed up the process. We are skeptical. Most of our neighbours have very little or no grass at all under their olives. We try to keep ours short but we usually end up with grass too long to make a leaf blower a viable proposition. The branch shaker could work for us but they are very expensive, very noisy and we're not convinced of their effectiveness - there is always a few stubborn olives that refuse to budge.

Every year we focus on purchasing a large or expensive item with our olive money. This year we want a new cooker but since we don't know what price we are getting we just tried to focus on beating last year's total. At least that way we are less likely to be disappointed if the price turns out to be very low.

It's nice to think that we are doing something right when the trees keep producing more and more fruit each year, but I suspect that it's more to do with Mother Nature than just our efforts.

And finally the last full trailer load goes to the Cooperative.

Ta Daaaah!

Last years total beaten by a whopping 290 kgs. Whoop whoop!

The Joy of Olives!

Our olive harvest started late this year. Not our fault at all. The Cooperative has not been able to find a single buyer for the entire harvest (at a price they were happy with) so they delayed hugely. The whole thing usually gets underway around the 9th December. This year we began on 24th December. Thankfully we had not secured any volunteers this year or they would have been twiddling their thumbs.

Anyway. Christmas eve came and we were off! I made a series of short (the longest is about 5 mins) films that show the whole process from start to finish . Bear in mind that I don't have any editing equipment, am filming with my phone and don't work to a script. It's one shot, for better or worse ☺️

Part 1.

As you can see the weather was kind. Thank goodness  its a hard enough job when it's nice never mind having to cope with rain or fog.

Part 2.

The whole harvest took us three weeks, although we only worked 13 full days, the rest was taking time off for R & R, or for other chores such as shopping, house cleaning and sadly a funeral.

Part 3.

I have tried to cover all the various questions that we get asked about the harvest but inevitably I will have missed some. This is our 5th harvest and its all become a little commonplace for us. Not so much that we don't take time to notice the little things.

We finished the harvest yesterday, collapsed on the sofa with a glass of wine and contemplated what comes next. Usually a good spring clean - no one feels much like housework when you're this tired but a grubby house is guaranteed to make you feel less relaxed so after a days rest it will probably be full on housecleaning.

Next time I'll show you the final drop off of Olives and share the grand total.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Hail The Light

I know some of you will have wondered where I was with such a long absence of posts. I am still here, I am still suffering a bit since the fog and grey skies have persisted, but in general all is well. This has been a very different winter so far from our previous four here in Spain.  Our Yule celebrations in the past have been outside on the veranda in the sunshine, this year we held the feast indoors but to complicate things and to give myself a challenge I decided to cook it all in the wood burning oven and BBQ.

It’s been a long term goal of mine to perfect the art of cooking with fire. I am always in awe of the skills mastered by our forebears and always a bit contemptuous of people saying things like ‘you couldn’t do that nowadays’.  So a feast was planned, executed and completed more or less successfully.

I have always been  aware of the truth in Mrs Beaton’s statement about the similarity between a General preparing for battle and a woman planning a special dinner.  But this time it was a really striking similarity. And what I lacked was foot soldiers.. tending the fire and preparing food and setting the table was impossible to do alone so Steve was ordered about like never before - do this, do that, fetch this or that and a few ‘no! Not like that!!’ All of which he took without a blink of the eye - you can always spot an ex-military man!

The Yule Celebrations usually come bang in the middle of the olive harvest and is a very welcome day off. This year, we have not yet begun. The Cooperative who buy our olives are not ready to receive them (the explanation being that they have not found a buyer who will pay a good price) and until they are everyone is poised to begin, like sprinters at the starting line. It’s a little worrying as we have plans for the olive money and if rumors are to be believed the price may not be very good. So we wait and watch as the olives get riper and riper and then they fall to the ground.

For us, this kind of thing can be frustrating and annoying but for many people here, who depend upon a good olive price as their main income for the year, the anxiety as we wait must be immense.  Hopefully it will all soon be resolved, and happily so.

And as the mid winter festivities approach we are strangely at a loose end and indulging in Saturday afternoon films and cosy snuggles with blankets and favourite books in front of the fire. To all those kind enough to read about our sometimes mundane lives here in south west Spain I wish you everything you would want for the perfect festive season, and here’s to a good new year filled with hope.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Tis the Season

The weather took a downward turn a few weeks ago and apart from 4 or 5 days of sunshine we've had grey skies and rain for what seems like a very long time.

This is bad news for me since I suffer with SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder and more than a couple of days of grey skies can send me into a downward spiral that's difficult to climb out of.  I'm used to it and I have more patience than I used to and it's usually just a case of waiting for the weather to improve and my mood to lift. It will - it always does.

While waiting I try to work up some enthusiasm for craft work or cooking. This can be hard because when you feel down nothing seems very interesting but I have a strategy that sometimes works. The usual SAD affliction goes like this. I look at some sewing I have planned. The pattern is there, the fabric is there.. almost everything I need is there but the one thing I don't have.. the zip or buttons perhaps will be the excuse to not even begin the project. Even though the missing article is not needed until the project nears completion, the fact that it's lacking will stymie the entire process and I won't even begin.

Because I have not been able to make a start on my project I will feel bad/disappointed and a bit of a failure which fuels the glum mood and so the downward spiral continues.

To try and climb out of this is very hard. Sunshine and blue sky helps but if that is lacking then I usually begin a search for something novel or new to spark my interest. I have to be quick though because if I am not then once again I will find a reason not to begin. It's almost like trying to outwit myself.

The kind of things that I like are of course the crafty things like knitting or sewing and practical things like cooking. But your simple run of the mill just won't do it. It has to be a challenge, something new, something to be learned. This comes with it's own dangers because if I try something new and fail then the disappointment can be very debilitating. So I usually choose carefully, something that I should manage without too much risk of failure.

So this week - having put up with the gloomy weather to the point of 'absolutely got to do something' I picked a challenging new knitting stitch to learn followed by firing up the bread oven and making up my own bread recipe.

The knit stitch is Brioche - which sounds like bread for the oven but no, not this time. With brioche knitting the pattern is reversible. It's knit with two colours and gives a really interesting texture and reversed pattern depending upon which side of the fabric you look at.  I decided to make a cowl. The pattern called for 272 stitches cast on and since you are unable to tell if it's working out until you've knit a good inch or two.. there was a lot of knitting and then alot of unpicking and throwing away of tangled yarn.  I can't give up. If I give up then the disappointment will be immense.

Eventually, after three new starts I have something that looks similar to the actual pattern. I say similar because I made so many mistakes it isn't actually the correct pattern but it looks ok. My problem is lack of concentration.. my mind wanders off on a tangent and before I know it, I've gone wrong again. But I like what I've knit so far.. it looks a bit like worm casts.. hopefully when worn around the neck the reverse side will give it added interest.

Yesterday I thought to myself  'its been ages since I lit the bread oven' so before I had time to find an excuse not to, I raided the cupboard and mixing lots of different left over flours and adding seeds and a few sultanas I made a bread dough. While it was rising I set the fire in the oven. At first I thought it would take so long to get up to temperature that the bread would be over proved but in the end I put the bread in a bit too soon and the oven was far too hot.

They came out like two cannonballs. Not quite black but sounding pretty solid. It's a wholewheat loaf so it's meant to be heavy.. I wrapped them in tea towels while still warm in the hope that the crusts would soften.   Having resigned myself to a failure and chiding myself for not practicing enough with the oven you can imagine my delight when we sawed open a loaf to find it perfectly cooked inside and most of the crust crunchy but still edible. And delicious.

The hearty vegetable soup I slow cooked in the oven after the bread came out is todays lunch. Each little success builds on the last and slowly a ladder is made that will lead out of the doldrums. But the sun will have to come out again if I'm to stay up there.  You can see why I came to live in Spain.. rainy days are few.. but this is the season for them. Oh you thought I was talking about the seasonal C word? No, not until December. Next post perhaps.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Repairing Damage Done

A friend and neighbour asked me to repair a crochet blanket made by her mother. Her mother died a couple of years ago so this is a much loved and very precious item.

Sadly I didn't think to photograph the damage before beginning my repairs but in summary the blanket contained two different types of yarn: one synthetic (the red colour) and the rest pure wool. It had been washed in a machine - I assume on a wool setting. The result was shrinking and slight felting of the natural wool, with no significant damage to the synthetic yarn apart from pulling out of shape by the shrinking wool. There was also a fist fized hole and a couple of smaller holes along with some unravelling of woven in ends and thinning of the natural wool in certain areas.

Alot of people think that because your washing machine has a wool setting you can happily put your woollen garments into it. Nope! You can't. The misunderstanding came about because for a very long time now knitters referred to their yarn as 'wool' no matter what its content or where it came from. Wool comes from sheep and sheep alone. Other animals (eg Alpaca, cashmere goats, angora bunnies) produce fibre that is correctly fur or hair and not wool. This type of fibre is yarn. But I digress. In a nutshell - most natural fibres are best washed by hand and only the synthetic blends or superwash wool (wool that has been specially treated prior to purchase) can be washed on a wool setting in your machine. There are exceptions with some breeds of sheep producing hardy fibres that cope better in a machine but this is a more specialist knowledge that usually isn't provided either on the ball of wool or the label of a finished product.

Initially I had thought I could patch the holes in a similar way to darning on a knit fabric but with crochet stitches. I explained to the owner that the wool used would not match in colour deliberately as part of my commitment to the 'visible mending' movement that is a desire to highlight the value of an object by showing you cared enough about it to mend it. And by association you have not thrown it away and purchased new (thereby contributing to the wasteful modern fashion/textile industry practices). It's a kind of gentle protest. It is also contributing to the history of the object and the owner was very much on board with this.

I wasn't happy with the patch. It was bulky and not very attractive and with further washing it would not be very secure. The only other option was to take out two of the striped sections entirely and then rejoin the two pieces. This would mean taking out not only the damaged section but also a portion of good intact stitches as well. Being very aware of how precious every single stitch was I hesitated. But only for a moment.  I calculated that the finished blanket would be perhaps an inch shorter than the original but that I wouldn't need to patch any other parts of it and it would be virtually an invisible mend. I decided to go for it.

It's a very nerve wracking thing to take scissors to someone else's treasured textile. But as I worked I thought about my friend's mother and the time I met her before she was sick. She didn't speak much English but she appeared to follow the conversation well enough and it was a very pleasant afternoon. I began to feel like she would have approved of the repairs.

It was a bright but chilly day and the blanket kept my legs snug and warm as I worked. When I finished crocheting a new insert I sewed the pieces back together and then put an extra crochet edging on the sides to tidy things up.

One last close inspection revealed a knot in the wool that was starting to loosen. It wouldn't take much wear and tear to pull it apart and then there would be another hole or worse.. a great unravelling.

 I secured it with a couple of stitches and then covered the spot with a small crochet flower. So I ended up with a very visible mend after all.

Monday, 29 October 2018


She was a very Good Cat.

We wish her an eternity filled with defrosting chicken in flimsy plastic and lots of slow moving mice.

In the end I used the basket - it reminded me of Inca funerary containers with mummified remains inside.

Her grave marker is also plastic - the wind makes the paw move. When the weather takes its toll and it starts to fall to bits we will recycle it and replace it with a glass or china statue. It’s just that the little happy cat is very much how we felt about her.

The rest of the animals were very aware of the situation and at the end they avoided her, all apart from one. Not her litter mate but a cat we acquired at the same time as her. We allowed him to sniff the body so he knows what happened to her. The only one to come to the internment was Clyde. He followed us up the hill crying. It was fitting.

It will take us a while to get back to normal.

Friday, 19 October 2018

A Morbid Post

A lot of people I know, some family, some friends, have been sick with life changing/threatening illnesses this year. It has prompted thoughts about the meaning of life, why are we here? Has my stay on planet earth been meaningful enough... should I have to leave suddenly?  Stuff like that. A bit morbid maybe .... (you were warned in the title) okay.. heads up .. THIS IS A MORBID POST!

As I watch people I care about cope with terrible health situations and face the prospect of a shortened lifespan and daily pain and discomfort I wonder if I would be so brave or so cheerful. We never know until we are tested I guess. I hope not to be tested in such a fashion.

In the abstract, death can be turned into something meaningful, poetic even. But in reality it is very hard to maintain any surety about what comes next. All we can know is that it is a natural part of life and so perhaps we have nothing to fear at all. But understanding that as an intellectual concept is quite different from actually believing it and then facing it without fear. What we tend to do is pretend that death doesn’t exist and we live our lives as though there is no tomorrow. This is evident in our crappy stewardship of planet earth.

You know when Elon Musk sent his car up into space and I saw on tv all these really excited youngsters smiling and laughing and getting enthusiastic about science - that’s all well and good (and I know there was a valid scientific reason for the whole exercise) BUT my overriding thought was that humans are just going to trash space (fill it with junk that future generations will have to deal with) just like we have trashed the earth. If he had then sent up a recovery vehicle (the AA 🤣😂) to retrieve it then I might have applauded with the rest. If we ever do get to Mars we will no doubt start straight away to spoil it. It seems to be what we do. We have no self control and no discipline at all!

So in spite of what I thought were significant changes to our lifestyle it seems that it wasn’t enough to turn the tide of global warming. We set off to the supermarket in a bit of a mood determined to do better at eliminating plastic from our trolley only to be defeated yet again. There may be options for buying packaging free in the uk but in this part of Spain... nope... we shall starve.

And so I come to my last bit of news and the real reason for the air of despondency surrounding this post. Our 16 year old cat and valued family member Molly has stomach cancer. There is no treatment recommended given her age and the advanced stage of the disease. We have brought her home to pamper her, make her comfortable and pray that nature will whisk her away in her sleep and relieve us of the responsibility of choosing the right moment. It’s unlikely we shall get away so lightly.

 So what do I do?  My craft work, wool, yarn and fabric have always been my solace.  While working on a project my mind wanders and my imagination soars. So I turn to my crochet hook and some recycled fabric (sadly synthetic) and I made a funerary basket for when the time comes.

No.. I’m still feeling miserable, because its synthetic it isn’t going to biodegrade for centuries..

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Off to Work

We are retired, so there is never any intention of doing too much work. Of course sometimes we work very hard, during olive harvest of course, and sometimes when we are anxious to get something finished. Did I say finished? Nothing is ever really finished, it's all a work in progress. We hope there are still jobs to be done when we finally push off ... you know, the FINAL push off.

I received a small(ish) semi automatic washing machine for my birthday. Strange gift you might think but it's what I wanted. It's to be used for washing fleece. We set it up down at the Casita, and while we are not entertaining guests, it's the perfect place to turn into a fleece workshop.

Every morning after breakfast I set off to 'work'. The first wash is a simple soak in super hot water, no detergent. It's beyond dirty..

While it's having a nice long soak I get on with a bit of knitting. Someone else likes my knitting too.

It takes sometimes 3 or 4 soaks in hot water and detergent followed by 4 or 5 rinses. Without the machine it's really hard work. I never actually run the wash sequence, the fleece only soaks (danger of felting if too much agitation is involved). But it drains away the lanolin rich, dirty water out on to the finca so no danger of clogging pipes with congealing lanolin.

The whole Casita, and the pump for the water (which comes from our own well) is run on solar power.  That includes the heating of the water so the whole process is as eco friendly as I can make it.

There is all the necessary things needed including the wherewithal to make tea. So tea break is spent just admiring the view.

And by lunch time I usually call it a day and go home. What can I say, it's a part time job!