It´s Getting Chilli in the Garden

Well, they say there´s no rest for the wicked, and no sooner was I back home than I was out digging up chilli plants and other sad looking vegetables.  It´s been a fantastic year for the chillies, I have grown five varieties, although I don´t know really what they´re called.  Long chillies, medium chillies in red and yellow, round chillies and tiny ones which are probably cayenne. Anyway, it´s a lot of chillies.

This is about two thirds of the crop, the rest have already been pickled, frozen, dried or made into sweet chilli dipping sauce.  Check out this amazing recipe from Natalie at Cook Eat Live Vegetarian.  I´m also going to try Fati´s recipe here later this week.

I spent a happy couple of hours putting my sewing skills to use in rather a different way.  Using strong cotton thread and my own special patented (!) stitch, I strung a couple of hundred chillies up to dry in the sun.  If the weather turns bad, I´ll hang them up in the shed where it´s nice and dry.

When we moved to the house three and a half years ago we planted our lemon three which this year finally took off and started producing lemons.  It´s gone a little mad now but we´ve been advised not to prune it until May.

Fortunately we now have lemons which have very kindly decided to turn yellow.

And new flowers every new moon.

Then, just to take us by surprise, although I think it knew its days were numbered, our Bougainvillea finally decided to stop looking like a dead twig and make our garden look Mediterranean.

So the roses decided to join in.

The garden seems to think it´s spring, so “shhhh” don´t say a word and for goodness sake don´t tell it it´s really autumn.

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Travelling Hopefully

I believe there is a saying which goes something like “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive” – well I have to say that I can´t quite agree with Robert Louis Stevenson. But I expect he wasn´t heading to London for eight days to visit my family and friends, so I´ll just have to excuse him.

I arrived home late last night to be met by my wonderful Big Man bearing flowers.  Lilies…my favourite. It´s been a while since he bought me flowers, (impossible to get where we live) so the surprise romantic gesture was very much appreciated.

Being a canny packer of cases, I always go right to the limit on my baggage allowances.  20kg in the suitcase, 10kg in the hand luggage and the biggest hand bag possible.  No, I most definitely don´t travel light!  I went out loaded with Christmas presents (can´t tell you much about them though, as I don´t want to give any surprises away).  The case was also packed with packs of chorizo and morcilla to make Fabada Asturiana, plastic lid things to “flip” your tortilla, chillies from my garden, wine glass/tumblers, gifts from my recent holiday, chocolates for my niece and nephew, books to entertain young children on a long flight to the States to see their grandmother, Spanish fans for a friend´s mum, olives, biscuits….well, I think you get the picture.

The advantage of this is that once you´ve unpacked and “shared the love”, you have an almost empty suitcase waiting to be filled with gorgeous things to take back home with you.  Of course, I wasn´t about to go home empty handed.

I carefully packed some lovely pictures done by the wonderful children I got to spend time with.  A very flattering portrait of me done by my 10 year old niece, Lara.  Look at that fabulous waist and bust…if only! A lovely thank you card from 4 year old William and his 2 year old brother Matthew.

Chocolate.  And then some more chocolate.  If you haven´t tried Quality Street, track it down!  Lots of lovely chocolate toffee and caramel sweets in a tin.  They just take me back to childhood Christmases when these were a very special treat.  And then you get to use the tin to put your cakes in!

I had a bit of a mad fabric buying spree.  I´m laying some of the blame for this on my new blogging pal Evie, over at Pendle Stitches.  I was the very lucky winner of this beautiful shawl that she had made, and it was waiting for me at my parents´ house.  Very handy actually, as it was a little nippy last week in London.  Anwyay, Evie suggested some wonderful fabric shops for me to look at in London.  The fabrics were amazing.

"Weigh" too much fabric!

Eventually I bought a huge variety of fabrics in Tooting Broadway, my old neighbourhood in South London, plus an amazing discovery of some vintage fabrics, still neatly folded and never taken out of storage since about 1950.  They almost tipped me over the baggage allowance, but as there were only 31 people on the flight home (I felt like I was on my own private jet), the check in girl turned a very kind blind eye to my extra kilo…20 metres of cotton, linen, silk, jersey, viyella, crepe and who knows what else do weigh rather a lot.  I also bought a new magazine to inspire me.

I´ll make that one day.....

And finally, to food.  My mother stocked me up with all sorts of odd and bizarre things I find hard or expensive to buy out here.

All spice berries, Golden Syrup, Maldon Salt.

Sugar and spice and all things nice

Loaf tin liners and vanilla for my baking.

My mum made me a wonderful beef curry with lots of vegetable curries to accompany it.

Best friend Ria made a fantastic chicken and cannellini bean casserole (recipe another day) even though she was feeling poorly last week.

And talking of food, guess what?  I got to meet one of my new blogging pals face to face.  It was Mad Dog, who was not in the least bit mad and not remotely dog like!  We spent a happy and all too short hour in Bar Italia, in the heart of London´s Soho, drinking coffee and chatting about food, Spain, food, photography, food, ourselves.  What a great guy he is, and he gave me a fantastic gift of the film Tampopo, a comedy featuring…yes you´ve guessed…food!

So, now I´m home again and looking forward to getting back into my kitchen. Big Man has already started stocking up on autumn fruits and vegetables.

A neighbour gave us a crate of Membrillo, or quince, so we´ll be making quince jelly this weekend.

Another neighbour gave us some enormous pomegranates (or Granadas) from his tree.  I may just have to eat them as is, as I adore them served simply.

I also have a couple of kilos of broad beans, but I think you already know many of my recipes for this gorgeous little vegetable.

So, time to unpack, wash, cook and sew.  Sounds odd, but I can´t wait!

PS. Am looking forward to a few days of blog catching up – really looking forward to seeing what you have all been up to.

Green Summer Vegetable and Chicken Casserole

Now that we are starting to have a little drop in temperatures during the day, and a nip in the air first thing in the morning and last thing at night, we know that autumn is just around the corner.  While this means saying a gradual farewell to summer, it also means an autumnal welcome to the next season and the food and change in cooking it brings.

Off out for a busy morning and knowing I was not going to be in the house while it was still relatively warm, prompted me to cook the first casserole for a long time.  We came home to delicious chicken, vegetable and brothy smells and apart from opening the wine and grabbing the loaf of bread left for us earlier that morning on the gate by Bread Man, there was nothing more for us to do other than set the table and enjoy lunch.

The dish was a celebration of almost the last of many of our summer vegetables.  The bobby (french) beans finally started producing yellow as well as green beans, with kilos of them stored in the freezer for the months ahead.  The green peppers are still doing well, we´ll see how much longer they last.  Our onions have dried out nicely and are sweet and delicious and I had been hoarding the last handful of potatoes we had left from our first ever potato crop.

Into a big pot went two large legs (drumstick and thigh) of our free range chicken, some chopped peeled potatoes, large chunks of courgette given to us by a neighbour along with some whole unpeeled garlic cloves.  A few chopped green peppers, a roughly chopped onion, a few handfuls of green beans and some seasoning finished off the ingredients.  I covered everything with water and bought it to the boil then put a lid on the pot which then went into a very low oven for about 5 hours. You could, of course, cook it much more quickly on the stove top with equally good results if you´re not off out shopping for the morning!

And that was it…memories of summer and anticipation of autumn all in one delicious bowlful.

Am off to London to visit my family tomorrow for a week.  Will try to keep up with all your lovely blogs and posts, but apologies if I can´t always comment.  Looking forward to a proper catch up when I return!

DVD Night Empanada

Back from our surprise mini break, the fridge was pretty bare and we needed a quiet night in to recover from living life in the fast lane with the oldies! It was a tough job to keep up with them…we needed a night on the sofa to recharge the batteries.

If you´ve ever spent time in Spain, you´ll probably realise that tv here is generally not all that much to be reckoned with. There is one programme called Cuéntame Cómo Pasó which I love.  It´s a well observed period drama which has won loads of awards and has been going on for years.  It documents the social changes in Spain particularly during the Franco regime and the collapse of it.

There are also some good UK and US series which are shown, although often quite badly dubbed.  They tend to use females with silly voices to play the parts of children, which is most bizarre.  And of course we have plenty of football, tennis and sports coverage as well as pretty good news coverage.

That said, summer tv scheduling is, as in most countries, pretty dire.  Well, who wants to be stuck inside watching tv when they could be out dancing at a fiesta?  Sometimes though you just want to slump in from of the “tele” and disengage the brain for a couple of hours.  Time for a DVD.

Inspired by some of the delicious Empanadas we ate on our recent trip, I decided I´d make a large one to see us through the DVD.  Kitchen skills for this dish were fairly minimal relying on two sheets of defrosted puff pastry and a quarter of a kilo of minced pork. A traditional Empanada from Galicia is more typically made though with a light bread dough, so apologies for the shortcut.

I sautéed the pork with a chopped onion and two cloves of crushed garlic. Then I added half a cup of tomato sauce and one chopped grilled red pepper, some sliced mushrooms and a few chopped capers (which I´m having a bit of a love affair with at the moment).  You can use whatever you have to hand and you fancy. Don´t let it dry out, you want it a little “saucy”.

To assemble the dish lay one sheet of puff pastry on a baking tray and turn the edges up slightly all the way round to form a lip.  Fill with the cooked meat mixture and spread it around evenly.  Put the other sheet of pastry on top and pinch the edges together.  Prick it all over with a fork and brush with beaten egg.  Bake in a medium oven for about 25 minutes until the pastry is golden.

We ate it with a tomato, onion and basil salad and long cold glasses of tinto de verano.  That´s red wine mixed with casera which is a sort of not very sweet lemonade.  I know, it sounds odd but believe me when it´s a warm evening and you need to drink lots it´s a great refresher with not too much alcohol and lots of ice cubes.

And what did we watch? Well, a very foody film which I thought was going to be in Spanish but we only realised about 20 minutes into the film that we were actually watching (and both fully understanding!) in Italian.  It´s one of my favourites, Big Night, with Stanley Tucci.  Watch this short clip if you have time.  I bet we´ll all be making Timpano soon – I know I´ve already spoken to my mum to find out our family recipe.  We call it Timballo though, but it´s the same thing.

For a fantastic version of this amazing dish, hop over to Ambrosiana´s recipe here.

Another Holiday?!

Sunset over Marbella

Some of you may have noticed how quiet I´ve been for the last week.  Very unusual for me, and I can be quite loud and noisy “in the flesh” too!  We´ve been on another little break, all very last minute and enormous fun.

The village often organises trips through the Government of Andalucia for the older folk, or some of the Associations (or clubs) and one had been offered to our fellow villagers to stay in a holiday complex near Marbella on the Costa del Sol (also known as the Costa Del Golf or the Costa Del Crime because of some of the dodgy characters who make their life there in luxury penthouse pads!).

Marbella Old Town

There were extra spaces, so Big Man and I were invited to join in, and we´re so glad we did. We were probably amongst the youngest in the group, but my goodness – have these Spanish retired folk got energy!  Dancing, walking, sports, swimming, golf, marathon card sessions and going to the beach were all part of a “relaxing” day for this group.

We had a ball, and got back today happy, relaxed, and having swum daily in the Mediterranean.  There was, unfortunately, no internet, so “normal blogging service” will be resumed soon, with possibly another break as I head off to London next Wednesday to see my family for 8 days.

Ok, am off to catch my breath, unpack and get ready to repack.  In the meantime, enjoy the view from our terrace every evening and a few of the places we went to visit while I catch up with all your lovely posts.

Sewing Saturday – Green Circle Skirt

Did you see how I cleverly put the word “Sewing” into the title so that anyone expecting a recipe would be warned and steer clear if they were not interested?!

If you´re still with me though, thank you!

I recently found a beautiful skirt in the charity shop for a couple of euros.  It had a tiny waist (which would probably have fitted over one of my thighs) but was quite long.  I loved the fabric and bought it thinking I could make a bag out of it.  Once I had washed it and taken it apart, I saw that in just one half of the skirt there was enough fabric to make a half circle skirt for me.

Fabulous Fabric

I cut it from the top to the length I wanted then made a simple black cotton waistband which I fitted a piece of elastic into after I had re sewn the side together.

Stretchy waistband to allow for large lunches

And that was it – a quick re fashion into a beautiful skirt which I think Alfi has a longing to wear!

Dog Friendly Fashion

For more fantastic “Refashions”, do take a look at my blogging pal Jillian´s fantastic site here.

Amazing Asturias – Part One

Looking back over our photos of our recent holiday in Galicia and Asturias, I found it hard to pick just a few photos to share with you.  So….even though I left most of them back on my PC, I still have plenty of beautiful sights to tell you about.

We drove the 400km or so from our hotel in Galicias to our base in Asturias over the course of a day.  First we stopped in the beautiful seaside village of Cudillero for lunch where we ate our amazing Fabes con Almejas.  The village houses appear to be built on top of each other, clinging onto the cliffs, and painted in beautiful colours.

Our hotel ended up being a one bedroom apartment, which was great as we were there for 4 nights, right in the centre of a seaside town called Ribadesella (which translates as the bank of the River Sella).

We had a fantastic view of an old Hermitage from our bedroom window.

And to the right of it there was an amazing house, with the sea right behind it.

The next day we put on our walking boots and packed a picnic to head up into the mountains.  The weather didn´t bode well, but we pressed on to Covadonga to see the Basilica.

The clouds started to get lower, all very beautiful and atmospheric, but not really what we had hoped for.

We started the long, slow, drive up the twisting road to the lakes, and the fog came down.

Gorgeous View!

When we reached the lakes this is what we could see!

Time to get back in the car...

Walks were forbidden, there was no visibility so we made our way back down the mountain and through a village called Cangas de Onis where there is a Roman bridge.  Because of the weather, it seemed everyone else had had the same idea and we couldn´t park, so we took a quick photo from the car window instead.

High speed photography

Finally we turned off the main road to find a perfect picnic spot from where we chomped away on our Empanadas and Bollos Preñaos, looked at the cows and watched the kayakers.

Back at our hotel, we were determined to take at least a little walk as we were still all dressed up in our proper boots, so we took a stroll on our little beach, battling with the wind as we went on our way.

Finally, a hot shower and a walk into the centre of Ribadesella.

Followed by a well deserved drink and dinner at Casa Juanito in the main square.

We spent a wonderful day with some of Big Man´s huge family, stopping first to pick up his aunt and uncle in a town called Salinas.  It  has an amazing sea front walk with an outdoor museum of anchors from all over the world.  The walk ends with a spectacular view out to sea.

One of the family has an Hórreo in their garden – these are ancient storage areas (now preserved and highly valued) made of stone or wood and on raised legs.  Couldn´t resist taking some snaps, even though the lady of the house was embarrassed about her washing hanging up to dry underneath!

So….still more to come from our last day in Asturias and our stop in Salamanca on the way home.  Enough for today though, we´ve covered quite a few miles together already.

Caponata – Calabrese Style

When I was young we used to spend summers in Calabria, Southern Italy, where my father is from.  He was the youngest of 9 children, 6 of whom were girls.  His older sisters all used to fight over who we would stay with during our holiday, as most of them had had a hand in bringing him up and treated him almost as a son.  We used to try and divide our time up with the various families, but my happiest memories were of staying with my Zia Santa.

Grazie Zia - ti voglio bene

When I mentioned this once to someone in the UK they asked me if it was strange having an aunt named after Santa Claus.  How bizarre, I thought, it had never once crossed my mind that her name might sound unusual to anyone else.  In Italian Santa is a female saint, or a “blessed one”.  My Zia Santa was indeed a saint, she had a hard life and lived in very basic simplicity for the whole of her married and then widowed life.  But we loved being with her.  She had one bedroom where my parents slept in her huge dark wood framed bed with my younger brother on a fold out bed.  Her bathroom only had a toilet and a sink where she also washed all her clothes.  The only other room was a large living, dining, kitchen area which looked onto the main street of the little village, called Longobardi.  I slept here with my aunt, her on a bed and me on a mattress – and every night we would giggle together like two little schoolgirls rather than an aunt and niece who were separated in age by over 40 years.

There was a small balcony which served as the telephone. If people wanted to give you a message they stood in the street and whoever was nearest the window stood there and took the message.  Likewise, if you wanted to let a neighbour know some news, all you had to do was stand on the balcony and tell a passer-by.  You were in no doubt that the message would reach its recipient almost as instantly as an e-mail or text nowadays.

Zia Santa was an incredible cook.  August was always taken up with drying tomatoes on her flat roof, or bottling tomatoes to go into the huge storage area on the ground floor.  It never struck me as odd that there was this enormous space downstairs that could have been converted into a bathroom, bedroom, laundry room…whatever.  It was more important back then to have a good space to store the cheese, salami, prosciutto, olive oil and tomatoes for winter.

I´m trying to write down all the recipes that Zia Santa taught me, my mother and, some years, my English grandmother to cook.  Today it´s Caponata.  I had to call my mum to ask her what the special ingredient was.  Our family caponata was never the same as any other I´ve tasted.  I´m sure there are thousands of family recipes, each one different from the other.  This is ours.

  • About 1kg of aubergines (eggplant, melanzane) finely chopped and salted, then left to drain for about 30 minutes then rinsed and patted dry
  • Olive oil – plenty for frying
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 3 sticks of celery finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar (although I used white as that´s what we have here and it was delicious)
  • About 500g of ripe tomatoes peeled and finely chopped
  • Up to 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • About a quarter of a cup each of chopped capers and chopped stoned olives (black or green)
  • Seasoning
  • The grated zest of half an orange – the secret ingredient!

Fry the aubergine chunks (which in all other recipes I´ve seen is left much chunkier).  Zia Santa used to deep fry, I shallow fry.  The choice is yours.  Set them aside when they are browned and soft.

Now add the onion and celery to the pan with more oil if necessary and fry with the lid on until soft and translucent.  Turn up the heat and add the vinegar and allow it to reduce almost completely. Turn the heat back down and add the tomatoes, seasoning and about half the sugar and simmer for about 15 minutes or so or until the celery is tender but still retains a little crunch.  Stir in the aubergines, olives, capers and orange zest and taste.  It should be “agrodolce” sweet and sour – add the rest of the sugar if necessary and allow it to dissolve.

This dish is best served the next day and will sit quite happily in your fridge for several days.  We used to eat it at room temperature as part of the antipasto but it´s also good as a side dish.

And don´t forget, do shout out of the window to let me know if you enjoyed it!