Sunshine, Flowers and Beans

The English summer is unpredictable. Some beautiful days with perfect heat and a gentle seaside breeze. Then days of rain, wind and the thought that maybe, just maybe, we need to turn the central heating on.

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Then we hear from family in Spain that it’s in the forties and it’s too hot to even think, so we feel blessed and happy to be Down by the Sea with our English weather.

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Our runner beans are loving days of sun followed by heavy rain. Another positive for us and we’re enjoying the fruits (and flowers) of our little garden. I do miss our vegetable garden though…oh those tomatoes!

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Dinner the other night was a simple salmon en croute.  Roasted vegetables were cooled then placed on top of a tail fillet, wrapped in puff pastry, brushed with beaten egg and roasted for about 25 minutes.  Perfect with those beautiful beans.

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Happy summer to my northern hemisphere friends and happy winter to those in the south!

Were we in Italy or Spain?

It’s hard to pick up blogging after a period of silence.  Is anyone still out there listening and reading?! Life once more wriggled and wiggled and got in the way but between driving to Spain, doing Spanish family stuff, driving back to England and doing Anglo/Italian family stuff we managed to keep smiling and getting on with things.

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Shortly after arriving in Spain Big Man celebrated a birthday and we are both most firmly of the opinion that all birthdays are worthy of recognition.  We had long wanted to visit an archaeological site near Seville called Itálica.  It’s an amazingly well preserved Roman City (although nowhere near as extensively excavated as Pompeii)  and birthplace of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian.  Bizarrely, few people seem to have heard of it. Even our Spanish family didn’t seem to know where we were heading off to.

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The amphitheatre is stunning and very atmospheric. Apparently the third largest in the Roman Empire at the time.

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Entry is free, which is wonderful,  and when we visited we felt as if we were almost on a private visit.

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And as for mosaics…heaven!

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Enjoy the photos,  it’s an amazing place. But don’t tell too many people or it will be crowded next time  we go!

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If you enjoyed this, take a look at a previous visit to a Moorish City we visited near Cordoba…

Ciao ciao

I’ve not written for a while, it’s been hard to find the words, so I’ll keep it simple and short. My very beloved dad, Papà to me, died on 24th February while on holiday with my mum in Spain. Born in Italy,  lived in England,  and died in Spain. A true European if ever there was one.

He was a wonderful man, a loving husband to my mum for over 53 years, a fantastic dad and a great son-in-law to my grandparents who shared a home with my parents for most of my parents’ married life. We had a service and a celebration of his life in Bexhill and shared laughter and memories with so many friends and family whose lives he had touched.  A wonderful tribute to him.

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FRANCO RUSSO

1935 –  2017

Now it’s time to think about the future, not with regret or fear but with some sadness, of course, a smile and many thanks for the person he was and the person he helped me to become.

I’ll be back soon…

 

 

 

 

 

Where did January go?!

Normally a quiet month, a little flat after the excesses of Christmas. Not so here, it seems to have been busy and bright….and I’m not complaining.

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We have been pretty good about eating lighter, and eating less meat, but I have turned to an old standby favourite this month. Tray baked chicken  (although I used an oven dish!).

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It’s a quick dish to throw together using whatever is nestled in the fridge and although I mostly use skinned, bone-in chicken joints, it’s great with fish fillets or just veggies.

Peel and chop potatoes into large pieces, add vegetables like peppers, courgettes, tomatoes, carrots and a full head of garlic. I haven’t given quantities as this dish is great for one, two or a dozen people. Just judge how much your crowd will eat, add a little extra as they will always want to go back for more, and find an oven dish or tray to fit the quantity.  Put all the ingredients into the dish, preheat the oven to about 180 degrees.  Pour over some olive oil, season with coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper then customise any other seasoning to whatever takes your fancy. This time I used some dried oregano from our garden in Spain, a little smoked pimentón and half a finely chopped lemon.

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Mix together well, hands work best for this to ensure everything is well coated, and add a good slug of white wine,  stock or water.  Cover tightly with foil bake for about an hour then remove the foil and bake for about 20 minutes more until everything is starting to brown nicely. If you want to add some tender vegetables (I used some chopped kale) stir into the dish about 10 minutes before you’re finished. Then it’s  straight to the table, perfect one pot cooking!

We’ve been enjoying the winter sunshine and taking walks along Bexhill beach.  Then a quick trip across the channel to stock up on wine (stocks were dangerously low) and a lovely night in Le Touqet were enjoyed last weekend.

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And little Alfi,  one of our pups, has started on a course of hydrotherapy to build up his leg muscles after an operation on his hind leg in November to repair a damaged cruciate ligament.

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He’s not a water loving dog so is highly unimpressed with being put into a warm pool then shampooed and blow dried afterwards. I’d be delighted at the opportunity of such pampering but there’s just no pleasing some pups….!

I’ve been cooking and have some recipes to share with you soon, but in the meantime, enjoy the last few days of the month.

Feeling Fishy…

Regardless of where we are, Up the Mountain or Down by the Sea, we have access to fantastic seafood. Like many other folk we want to take a few weeks of eating menus that are a little lighter, and going down the fish and vegetable route works for us. We already enjoy pulses, so many meals are meat free, like our much loved lentils (minus the chorizo, or maybe just a little as we’re not being super strict, just making an effort!).

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New Year’s Eve was a very luxurious lobster and prawn platter with bubbles. Grapes and cava, Spanish style at 11pm to ring in the Spanish midnight and champagne and fireworks from London’s South Bank at midnight.

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Skate with prawns, capers and lemons featured another night (we just combined two favourite ways of cooking it…skate with capers and skate with prawns). Absolutely delicious and so quick and easy.

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Tonight was a version of a Spanish dish of prawns with mushrooms with plenty of garlic. Gambas y setas con ajos (setas are oyster mushrooms, but I used chestnut mushrooms this time). Chop your favourite mushrooms into bite sized pieces and stir fry quickly in some olive oil (I cooked in my wok) when they are just turning brown add some peeled, sliced garlic and a little chopped fresh parsley.  When the garlic starts to take on some colour, add some raw, peeled prawns. As soon as they have turned pink, season with coarse sea salt and a little pimentón and add a splash of white wine. Another 30 seconds in the hot pan and you are ready to dish up. Sprinkle with more parsley and serve with some lovely crusty bread to mop up the delicious juices.

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Whatever your plans for this month are, be happy! Don’t be hard on yourself if you break those resolutions made in a moment of madness, better still…throw them out the window and celebrate the fact that we’ve made it into another year…and let’s see what it brings. Happy New Year to you all.

When life gives you pomegranates…

Big Man was born in the beautiful province of Granada. In Spanish, the word Granada means “pomegranate”. The capital city is decorated with many pomegranate symbols from stone bollards to metal work and even man hole covers. Just over the border where our little home is, in the province of Málaga we get to enjoy the real thing in the shape of fruit. The pomegranate plant (which grows into a sizeable tree) produces stunning red flowers, similar to a hibiscus, which then become the beautiful and delicious fruit.

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We’re pretty spoiled as when it’s pomegranate season many neighbours gift them to us. Huge,  beautiful, deep red on the outside, sweet, juicy and ruby coloured jewels on the inside. In England we have to buy them. Sometimes we get lucky and one or two of the little fruits will be sweet, but they’re never quite the same…or as big! You never know what a pomegranate is going to taste like until you get to taste it. And as for peeling a pomegranate…I’ve tried every new way.

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To make the most of a less than sweet fruit, I came across a wonderfully simple recipe using chicken and ras-el-hanout. The slightly acid taste works well with the warm, rose-scented spice. And I’m sharing with you another way to peel a pomegranate. Cutting it in half and bashing it has never worked for me. Usually I end up with a worktop covered in juice and the little pips of fruit stubbornly refusing to drop out. This method still involves a little work separating the pips but it does seem to make the whole job a little easier and much less messy.

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Ingredients (to serve 4 as a main course)

  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs,  diced into bite sized pieces
  • 1 onion (red, if you have it) peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic peeled and sliced
  • 2 rounded tablespoons of ras-el-hanout
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 350g bulghar wheat
  • The fruit of a small pomegranate
  • About 2 tablespoons of finely chopped mint, to serve
  • Olive oil for frying

Toss the chicken in half the spice mix and fry in a little olive oil until beginning to brown. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and continue to fry gently until the onion becomes transparent. Add the remaining spice mix and season lightly. Fry for a minute then pour in the stock.

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Bring to a simmer and cook for about 25 minutes. Add the bulghar, stir, turn the heat off and cover the pan. Leave to stand for about 15 minutes when the stock will have been absorbed. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Stir through the pomegranate and garnish with the fresh mint.

An easy dish with just a few ingredients. Unless you’re still doing battle with your pomegranate…

If you enjoy the challenge  of pomegranate peeling, take a look at this lovely recipe using lamb and quince. Note the difference in colour of the fruit in this recipe which was made with a pomegranate bought back from Spain compared to the one in the photos above!

Three months…

That’s an awfully long time to have been quiet on the blog.  Far too long! Excuses? Oh I have plenty of those! Six weeks in Spain with no Internet access (thank you Iberbanda for a spectacular cock up), then we got back to England and started ripping our own house apart…finally.

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There was very little of great excitement going on in  the kitchen, partly because we don’t really have a kitchen right now and partly because I was on the “dull and boring food” diet prior to having my gall bladder removed on Monday.

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So now I am reclining, not in splendour as our house looks just about as bad as it will ever get, but comfortably.  I am remembering a few days of escape to beautiful Asturias (and you can read more about a previous trip here), and dreaming of the delights I can cook and enjoy once the kitchen  is in and I’m back racing around again in my usual rude health.

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I can’t promise to be back all that soon, but please do wait for me, I  miss your company!

La Mancha and Windmills

Our drive from the south coast of England to almost the south coast of Spain involves a journey of 2200km. A long way. We’ve made the trip many times now and are familiar with the route, the best places to stop for a coffee, or to sit and eat some of our mammoth picnic. We know where we can stop to stretch our legs and let the pups have a little run around, and we know which hotels are dog friendly. What we’re still learning about are some of the beautiful places we used to drive past at speed, cities, towns and villages which previously were just names on the map.

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Instead of driving the route in 2 long, hard days, we now take 3 or 4 days and pick new places to stop and enjoy. We’ve loved Bordeaux, Biarritz and Burgos. This time we pulled off the motorway south of Madrid, pretty much slap bang in the middle of Spain to explore a little of La Mancha.

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It’s a province which is famed for its cheese,  Manchego, which takes its name from the province in which it is made.

It’s also famous for its Windmills, which became well known through the work of 17th Century Spanish writer, Miguel de Cervantes and his book Don Quixote. Not too long after meeting Big Man I celebrated a birthday in Spain and one of his sisters presented me with this great tome  (great in all senses of the word, it’s a thick old book!) in Spanish. I confess I still have to read it,but am reassured by many Spaniards that they have only read parts of it as part of the school curriculum.

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The tale is of a Spanish nobleman and his adventures with his trusty sidekick (a simple farmer) who sets out to restore the art of chivalry with many mishaps along the way.  One of his adventures involves Don Quixote battling the Windmills,  believing them to be ferocious giants. The province has invested money in restoring many of the old windmills,  which were used to produce flour, and they are a popular tourist attraction, visible from a great distance.

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The town of Consuegra has a marvellous collection of restored mills which are situated on top a hill and give amazing views of the 12th century castle and the town below.

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Despite the heat being in the high 30s, and not being able to go into the palace, as dogs were not allowed to enter, we enjoyed the dramatic views and the beauty of the mills and the vast plains below.

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Temperatures here in Andalucía are high, and just now, sitting in the heat without the slightest hint of a breeze, I find myself smiling at the memory of the gusts of cool air back on that hilltop in La Mancha.