Chickens and Funky Eggs

Normal Egg, Pointy Eggs, Tiny Egg

When I was a child I used to go with my beloved Grandmother Olive to visit my Great Grandmother Minnie. Minnie lived with one of her daughters who ran a children´s home and had her own little cottage in the grounds. There was space for them to grow vegetables and keep chickens and as a child born and brought up in London, I was fascinated by this little piece of country living.

I was allowed to go to the chicken shed and collect eggs and I remember always taking great pride and pleasure in this.  The smell, the warm eggs under a broody hen, the clucking – it fascinated me and I always dreamed of owning a few chickens.

When Big Man and I moved to our home, we also ended up with a small olive grove with about 30 trees.  We talked about one day getting a few hens so that we could enjoy free range eggs.  And then one day, my dream came true.  Big Man came home with a hen and five tiny chicks.  The chicken empire has grown and grown since then. The chickens have moved from a small lean-to shack at the end of our vegetable patch to what we now call “Chickenopolis” in our olive grove. 

Chickenopolis is a complex structure, made entirely of recycled bits and bobs we have either found or been given.  It has a rather grand chicken house, given to us by some friends, along with six of their hens when they moved and couldn´t take them with them.  Attached to this is a sheltered run for when it´s raining and they don´t want to go outside.  Having said that, although I´m very fond of all my chickens, they´re not the brightest creatures in the world and will happily stand out in the pouring rain all day as long as there is something on the ground to peck at.  Adjoining this, rather like a terraced house in a Victorian street of London, is where the Fat Boys live. 

The Fat Boys, turn away now if you´re squeamish, are all cockerels and a different breed which grow quickly and are bred for eating.  Rather than buy 6 week old chickens which have been pumped up with chemicals and hormones, we buy the chicks and give them a happy (and chemical free) life for about 4 months.  They grow fat naturally, and then when their time comes, they are dispatched quickly and as pain free as it´s possible to do and enjoyed in delicious meals.  Once the freezer is full, the next batch of Fat Boys starts off again.

Our chicken population varies, but we have space for about 20 fat boys at a time as they have to be kept separately from the others.  We currently have 10 hens and 2 (very happy) cockerels.  We are just about to put a broody hen to sit on some eggs, so hopefully once she settles we´ll have a new clutch of chicks 3 weeks later.

Last Spring´s Chicks

Our hens can roam free around the olives and take themselves off to bed when the sun goes down.  They´re quite bright in that respect!  The olive grove is dog and fox proof, but every now and then you´ll lose one – it´s sad, but a fact of life.  One of our neighbours traded us three of his hens a few months ago.  We thought they were mature, but realised this week that they were probably younger than we thought as it looks like they have just started to lay eggs.  We know they must be those responsible for the Funky Eggs, as all our hens are over a year old and have been laying for some time now.

When a hen first starts to lay, it sometimes lays a really tiny egg.  Our new hens have clearly not read the manual about what shape they should be either, as we are getting the funkiest conical eggs at the moment too.

Never mind, we love our chickies, they make us laugh, and in return for what they give us, we hope they enjoy their lives in our little olive grove.

Orange, Mint and Broad Bean Salad

Mouthwateringly Minty!

The end of the orange season and the start of a spring glut of broad beans and mint means that it´s time here for a refreshing, light and easy salad. 

Most people here have at least a few citrus trees in the gardens, some have tens or hundreds of them.  After three years our lemon tree is now producing more than we can cope with, but we only planted our orange last autumn, so still rely on the good will of friends and neighbours for our supply.  Fortunately, we have very obliging friends and neighbours who keep us in oranges.

When I still went out to buy them, in the early years, I was surprised to be asked in the little local shop “if I wanted oranges for eating?”.  Well, of course I did, what the heck did they think I was going to do with them?  Of course, now that I am a wise old country biddy, I know that oranges are sold for eating (slightly more bitter) and for drinking (i.e. for juicing).  The later are softer, juicier (naturally) and incredibly sweet.  The difference is noticeable and as we eat a lot of salads made with oranges here, it´s worth looking out for the right ones.

This salad can be varied depending on the time of year.  In the autumn, with the next crop of oranges, I substitute the broad beans for pomegranate pips.  Either way, the colours and combinations of tastes are stunning.  This salad goes particularly well with oily fish like sardines or mackerel or with fatty meat like lamb or goat.  As a starter it´s delicious with a plate of salty jamon and another of a salty cured sheep´s or goat´s cheese.  A cold glass of iced dry sherry finishes things off perfectly.

For two people you need:

  • Two or three bitter oranges, skin and pith removed and cut into small chunks
  • About half a cup of fresh broad beans (raw)
  • About 10 mint leaves shredded
  • Olive oil
  • Salt (flakes or coarse sea salt) and freshly ground pepper

Place the oranges on a plate, pouring over any juice that you have collected when peeling them.  Sprinkle over the beans and mint, season and drizzle over the olive oil.  Make the salad about half an hour before eating and keep chilled before serving. 

It´s an unusual mixture of tastes, but it works for me.  Do hope you enjoy it!

Big Man´s Birthday

 
Birthday Roses from our garden

Now, I am very much of the opinion that birthdays are to be celebrated.  Whether you´re 4, 24, or 94….life is a wonderful celebration and what better than to mark the start of a new year in your life than with a little something special.

Big Man came from a very large family, and once he and his siblings had gone beyond the age of celebrating with a small cake and a cup of hot chocolate all round, birthday celebrations became a thing of the past. Then he met a crazy English/Italian woman who wanted to live in Spain with him, and who loved to mark an occasion with a bottle of something and a cake.  The poor dogs were “christened” so many times that they began to get over excited every time we opened a bottle of Cava.

Yesterday we took a day out for ourselves and went to visit a town I had not previously been to.  About 100km away from us (albeit by some very twisty mountain roads) lies the beautiful Baroque town of Priego De Cordoba.

The day was hot and humid.  This was unexpected as we had dressed for cooler weather.  First we had a wander through the little alleys of the old town.  For me, geraniums are the typical flowers of the Mediterranean and the people of the Province of Cordoba are rightly very proud of their patios and displays of flowers.

Geranium Heaven
Peaceful Patio

 

When the heat became too much we retired to the courtyard of a restaurant in the shadow of the old castle. While we tried to make our minds up over what to eat we dithered over ordering a cold beer or a glass of Gazpacho to quench our thirst.  Oh well, “just order both” we thought, and what a great idea that was.

Decisions, Decisions...

Cold glasses of wine followed with an amazing starter which was called “Sephardic Salad” on the menu.  It consisted of a selection of vegetables slowly braised in olive oil and garlic and served cold with lots of bread and small local twisted breadsticks to dip and dunk.

"Sephardic" Salad

Main course was Rabo de Toro, or oxtail cooked slowly with pink peppercorns and served with sauté potatoes.  Delicious. When I can figure out how to do it I´ll add a link to my recipe for this.  Sorry, I´ve tried but can´t seem to work it out!

Rabo De Toro with Pink Peppercorns

We were too full for pudding but ordered strong coffees with a separate glass of ice.  You add sugar to your hot coffee if you take it, then pour the coffee over the ice and wait a moment for it to chill your coffee.  Perfect.

Spanish Iced Coffee

Suitably refreshed we headed into the castle and I overcame my fear of heights to climb to the top of the tower for some beautiful views of the city.

Feeling wobbly...but it was worth it for the viewA quiet spot outside the Castle walls

 

Then we headed back through the old streets to what used to be the “Royal Butchers and Slaughterhouse”.  Sounds grisly, but it was a beautiful, shady patio with a fountain bubbling away in the centre of a columned courtyard. 

Just a perfect day...

We stopped a while and just soaked up the atmosphere.  Big Man agreed that birthdays are most definitely for celebrating, it was a very special day.

Chicken, Egg and Bacon Salad

Shame there were no leftovers...

I´m not sure that this one can exactly count as a recipe, as it´s more a “chuck it together and enjoy” kind of dish.   Here in Spain the main meal of the day tends to be at lunch time.  Even in cities where people work in shops and offices, there is still a tradition to shut at 2pm and then re open at 5pm.  Lunch is taken very seriously!  The evening meal is rarely eaten before 10pm, which was a bit of a struggle for me at first, even though I usually ate at about 8pm in the UK.  Over time I´ve got used to it, especially now that I´ve realised that the evening meal is generally something very light.  A soup, or salad perhaps.

Of course, there are times when the evening meal is something more elaborate, but that tends to be related to an event, in which case you wouldn´t go to bed early (that´s around midnight here!) but more like somewhere between 3am and 7am…crazy hours.  Of course, that gives you time to digest dinner, dance it off, and perhaps even indulge in a breakfast of hot chocolate and churros before going to bed to sleep off the festivities.

Last night was just a regular night.  We fancied something light but filling, so I made one of our favourites –  Chicken, Egg and Bacon Salad.

Ingredients are rather approximate – use what you have to hand.  We used:

  • One lettuce heart roughly chopped
  • Two small-ish potatoes (boiled in their skins then peeled and roughly chopped)
  • Two hard boiled eggs, quartered
  • One large chicken breast, griddled
  • 4 rashers of streaky bacon (griddled)
  • 1 small packet of anchovies in olive oil
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Seasoning

I also made an extra dressing, which make enough for another salad

  • Half a small tub of natural yogurt (half a 125 tub)
  • The same quantity of mayonnaise
  • The juice of half a lemon
  • A tablespoon of milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

There´s no method to this, just combine the salad ingredients, season and dress very lightly with olive oil and lemon juice.  You can leave this out if you like lashings of the yogurt and mayonnaise dressing.  It´s entirely up to you.  For the dressing, just put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix until you´ve got a smooth, fairly runny sauce and drizzle over the salad.

Other ingredients which are good in this salad, which I guess has a touch of the “Chicken Caesar” about it, are avocado, croutons, grated hard cheese….go on, give it a go!

From Strappy Long Dress to Mid Sleeved Cocktail Dress

           

Long and Strappy
 

 

When I was a grown up, living in London with a “proper” job, I often used to get invited to functions which required me to dress formally.  And great fun it was too.  Nowadays, I hardly get to change out of my flip flops, unless it´s into my wellington boots.  I have a large suitcase full of some lovely evening wear which will most probably never see the light of day again.  At least, not wrapped around my body, it won´t.

Short and Sleevey

 

We do get invited to lots of weddings though, and formal attire here bears no resemblance to what I would have worn in London.  Forget all thoughts of the Royal Wedding and think Gala Dinner and Dance or Cocktail Party.  Long gowns, sparkly frocks, big hair. And when you stop to consider that most weddings here take place in the hot summer months, it can be hot work looking gorgeous.

I generally, well never to be honest, wear a full length frock.  I go for cocktail length (i.e. on the knee for me) and it seems to work.  Not too hot, but glamorous enough.  I have also accepted that as the years pass, it´s best to try and cover up my “bingo wings” – those lovely flabby bits at the top of the arms that many of us girls become prone to.  Ain´t getting old fun?!

Anyway, in a bit of a dressmaking mood, I remembered a lovely red strappy dress that I had tucked away and decided that it needed a makeover.

It was floor length, with spaghetti straps so I cut it to knee length and adjusted the new hem.

With the scraps of material that came off from cutting it down I cut out new sleeves.  I made a muslin template with a sleeve pattern I had from making a dress a while back.  Luckily I did the muslin version first as I had to make it slightly larger to accommodate the different sleeve shape.

Getting those sleeves right

I cut out the final version of the sleeves in velvet.  The length of the sleeve was determined by the material I was working with, but I craftily used the hem of the dress to work as the hem of my new sleeves, saving me a little job.

I pinned the new sleeves round the straps.

Pinned...

 

...tacked...

Then I tacked (basted) them into place and removed the pins.

...and sewn!

I sewed the sleeves in by hand, which also served to overcast the edges and then machine sewed the inside hems of the sleeves together.

That was it.  The dress needs a good iron, but I´m sure it will now get to enjoy a happy second life at a party some time soon.

Pea, Spring Onion and Mint Soup

 
I´ll have a Pea please…

I think I´m still about bit confused as to whether it´s Winter, Spring or Summer here in Andalucía.  The calendar says May, so I´m thinking Spring.  Last week we had torrential rain and had to light the fire again in the evening.  Yesterday I was sunbathing and gardening and the temperatures reached the high 20´s.  No wonder I´m feeling a little confused.

Soup always fits the bill, especially for a light supper.  Warming when you want it to be, chilled when you need cooling down and always very comforting.

Saved...from the compost heap!

We still have the last of our Spring Onions in the garden which have grown to enormous proportions. Big Man is going to pull them up as the last few are pretty tough, but the centres are still incredibly tender, so I thought I´d save a few before they ended up on the compost heap and turn them into a soup.  A quick nip outside the back door led me to my beautiful mint which has really taken off again after its winter rest and a trip to the freezer for some frozen peas and I was almost set.

Now, Big Man claims not to like peas, so when I first made this soup for him I told a porky and said that it was made with a mixture of broad beans and peas.   Once he had declared it “delicious, you must make this again” I confessed and it´s become a bit of a favourite.  Our broad beans are now ready to eat, so perhaps next time I´ll make the “true” version and see which one we prefer.

The serving I made fed two accompanied with plenty of crusty bread and is equally good served piping hot or icy cold.

I have a saucepan which I know makes a perfect serving for two, so measurements are a bit vague for this one I´m afraid.   Will try to explain!  Ingredients used were:

  • Just under half the pan full of frozen peas (a cup and a half approx)
  • A potato the size of my clenched fists (I don´t have big hands – if only the rest of me was in proportion!)
  • 2 very large spring onions, including the green stems cleaned and chopped
  • About 10 large mint leaves
  • Water
  • Seasoning

This is quick and also very low fat (well, no fat actually), so also good if you´re watching the waistline.  Which I really should be doing, but hey, back to the cooking.

I had a ready cooked potato left over from some potato salad – I cook them in their skins and then peel them and tend to keep these in the fridge as a staple.  If you don´t have a ready cooked one, peel, cube, boil until tender and then drain.

Put all your ingredients into a saucepan, season and cover with twice the volume of water (or vegetable stock) and bring to the boil.  Cook for a few minutes until the peas are done and then leave for another few minutes to cool down slightly. Check and adjust your seasoning.

Then all you need to do is to blitz it with a hand blender and it´s ready to serve.  Quick, delicious and easy!

Nearly ready

I´ve also served this with cubed jamon (or you could use lightly fried lardons or diced bacon). If you wanted a creamy version you could swirl in some cream or yogurt just before serving.  A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil over the top just seems to finish it off perfectly.  No photo of the finished dish I´m afraid as we were clearly too hungry and forgot to take one!  Enjoy…

Mussel Soup – A hearty bowl of mussels cooked with garlic and tomatoes

A Rare Sunny April Day in the Garden

Well, it´s been a while since I posted anything at all, let alone a recipe.  It´s been a hectic 5 or 6 weeks with 3 lots of visitors, which was wonderful.  Also, a fall down the patio steps (am still feeling rather delicate in the nether regions) and a broken camera which meant that I couldn´t take any pictures.  All very frustrating but the derrière is now on the mend and we´ve bought a new camera.  Hurrah!

Fish Man came by this morning, and I decided to see what he had tucked in the back of his little van.  I´d been fancying a warming soup as we´ve had the worst (and wettest) Easter here in Andalucía for 80 years, and the rain and storms are set to last for a few days more.  Combine this with the most dreadful hay fever and I feel like I have a bad dose of flu with a serious hangover on top.  I don´t actually have a hangover, although it might have been fun putting in the work to achieve it, just the pain! Fortunately Fish Man had some beautiful mussels, not of the bicep kind you understand, so I bought a kilo.

I was torn between doing them in a creamy, oniony, white wine base or a garlicky, tomatoey one.  The tomato won – I felt that my nose needed a good assault of powerful smells! This is a very easy and quick to cook dish that looks as though you spent hours in the kitchen creating something “gourmet”.

The serving I made would feed two as a main course or four as a starter.

Ingredients used were:

    • A kilo of mussels
    • 3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
    • Half a medium onion finely chopped
    • About a cup or half a tin of chopped peeled tomatoes
    • Olive oil for frying
    • Small glass of white wine
    • About 2 tablespoons of finely chopped parsley
    • Salt and pepper
    • Water (optional)
Rinse the Mussels Several Times
    Start by cleaning the mussels.  Not as tricky as it may seem.  I usually rinse them three or four times in cold running water.  Throw away any that are cracked or open.  You then need to remove the “beard” which is the small strand of seaweed looking stuff which usually just pokes out of the straighter side of the mussel.  Hold the mussel in one hand with the point facing down and the curved part into the palm of your hand.  Grab the seaweedy strand with your thumb and forefinger of the other hand and pull it upwards – it will slide out and you´re done!
Cleaned and De-Barnacled!

If your mussels have any barnacles attached, you can pop these off with the blade of a flat (butter) knife.  Finally a quick scrub (I use a metallic pan scrubber for this) and a final rinse and they´re done.

Put the mussels to one side and start on the base.  In a deep saucepan which has a lid, heat some olive oil (enough to sweat the onion and garlic).  On a low heat, sweat them off for a few minutes until soft and transparent. I used a red onion today as it was what I had, but it´s just as good, if not better, with a stronger tasting white onion.

Gently sweat the onion and garlic

Now add your tomato (you can also add a teaspoon of tomato puree if your tomatoes are a bit pale or lacking in flavour).  Keep on a low heat and put the lid on and leave to simmer for about 5 minutes.  Remove the lid, add your wine and seasoning and bring to a bubble then reduce to a simmer and leave to cook gently for 5 minutes.

Make the tomato base for the soup

 

The base is now ready and you can stop here until you´re ready to eat – the final stages will only take you about another 5 minutes, so this is a good “prepare ahead when you´ve got guests” dish.

Finally...add the mussels and parsley

When you´re ready to eat, warm the tomato sauce, add the mussels and the chopped parsley and put the lid on.  I usually do this on a medium heat and after about 2 minutes check and see how the mussels are doing.  You may need to put the lid on and give the pan a shake to move the mussels around a little.

Once they´re all open they´re ready to eat.  The mussels will release their juices so see how much you have in the pot.  If you feel you´d like a little more liquid, add a glass of water (or fish stock or wine), if not, they´re fine as they are. I don´t usually add more liquid, these measurements give two large bowls of mussels and enough stock for two good bowls of soup.

Enjoy - but don´t forget the wine!

You can serve with a salad and plenty of crusty bread to mop up the juices.  I recommend serving with a spoon and fork.  The fork is for getting those mussels out of their shells for those guests who don´t want to use an empty shell to do this, and the spoon is for the soup part.  They´re also nice, particularly if you serve them with less liquid, with crispy chips and garlicky mayonnaise.  Don´t forget to put an empty bowl on the table to chuck the shells into and a bottle of chilled white, rosé or red wine.  Yes, I do mean chilled red, believe me, it works! It´s one of those dishes that works with any wine.  A bit like me really…