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When life gives you lemons…

17 Jan

Well…you just have to go ahead and pick them. Then you share the lemon love with friends and neighbours and make delicious dishes like Lemon Rice, Chicken with Za’atar and Lemon or even Lemon and Chili Mussels.

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We planted our little tree just over 7 years ago, not long after moving into our Cortijo, or home in the country.  Initially we despaired of ever getting a single lemon from it as, despite the fairly temperate climate all year round, we often get strong winds. Our tiny tree grew but the winds stripped the flowers (which were to be our lemons) and even the leaves from it. Getting 2 puppies a year later who loved to dig also added to the stress for our little tree.

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But, all good things come to those who wait. Just look at it now! We’ve been away for 2 months, and at the end of October it was bare of lemons as we’d given some away and picked the rest to take back to England. It seems our “Limonero Lunero” (a lemon tree which flowers every new moon so that you have lemons all year round) thrives on neglect. It’s been a very dry year, we haven’t been around much, and now it’s groaning with lemons.

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There are still plenty to be picked, but I made a start. Maybe we’ll have Lemon Ravioli this week…

Extra Virgin

12 Jan

Any time from November to early March in Andalucia means it’s time to pick and crush olives. The date for this depends on several factors. The weather for a start, and how it has allowed the olives to grow and mature.

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Some people like to pick their olives very early, when they are still smaller and green. This will give a lower yield of olive oil but of a very high quality. Think of those amazing tasting and expensive olive oils you can find in specialist shops. It’s wonderful for eating “raw” – which means in salads or as a dip – but not suitable really for cooking with. It can be hard to find a mill open to deal with the olives so early on on the season, at least it is where we live.

 

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There’s also usually a minimum quantity that you can mill (about 250kg) so it’s not really an option to mill some early and then more later on in the season. At the other end of the calendar you have the folk who pick late when the olives are fat and dark. You’ll get a much higher yield of oil but it will have a much less distinctive taste. A good all rounder but with no particularly distinctive flavour. Fine for eating raw, great for cooking. Much of the oil we all buy in supermarkets will be this type. Round here the olives are sold to the co-operatives and everyone benefits from the profit of the sale of the olives and/or oil.

In the middle are people like us. Many who have enough trees to provide them and their families with oil for the year. The olives are picked when they are green/black. You get a good yield of oil with a wonderful flavour which will become more gentle as the year goes on and whatever is left from the year before becomes your oil for cooking.

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Now, I won’t lie to you and say that Big Man and I participate in the picking. Although Big Man has done in the past. Like many others we come to an arrangement with neighbours who don’t have trees or land of their own. We provide the trees and look after them during the year. They pick the olives. We all take them to be milled and then divide the spoils. Perfect!

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This year from our 30 trees (although sometimes when we count we get to 29 or 31, we can’t seem to agree) a fantastic 1732 kg of olives were collected. Last year was not a good year, and next year will probably not be as good as this one. That’s the way it goes with olives, up and down. That means about 60kg of olives from each tree and am almost 19% yield for any of you who love numbers like me! And no sprays or pesticides. Rain water and chicken poo are all our olives get to see them through the year.

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In the past we’ve headed down to the coast to an old mill which cold stone presses the olives. The old boy who runs it is now winding things down, so unless you’re super organised and have made an appointment weeks in advance, it’s not practical now to use his mill. A shame.

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But, nil desperandum. A neighbour’s son and his wife decided 2 years ago to set up a little mill just a few km from us next to our local village. It’s up a very inconvenient wiggly track but the views are amazing! They mostly bought second hand machinery, which I like the thought of, and the very effective little mill serves the locals like us for a few months a year when we want to mill our own olives and enjoy our own oil.

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Yesterday was the big day, and the whole process took about 5 hours (one of which was spent fixing a little breakdown). Ever prepared for such an emergency, we had bought beers, soft drinks and tapas so no one minded waiting. We ended up with an amazing 320 litres of fantastic oil to be split 2 ways. Mostly it gets put into 25 litre containers but you can also buy smaller 5 litre ones. We made sure we filled some smaller ones to load into the car for when we head back to England in a couple of weeks.

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I wish I could share the flavour and the incredible smell with you, but alas the technology doesn’t exist…yet!

What’s my favourite way to use our oil – very simple, the best breakfast in the world (well, apart from a Full English)!

Pan Con Tomate y Aceite

Pan Con Tomate y Aceite

If you’d like to see how we crushed the oil the “old” way, take a look at this post from a few years back.

 

Summer Runner Beans With Tomatoes

14 Aug

I’m a person who thinks that most vegetables, especially those which have just been picked from the garden, don’t need too much messing around with. There are few vegetables that don’t respond well to blanching or steaming, a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemons. But let’s be honest, sometimes we fancy a change.

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Any of you who grow your own vegetables will be faced at some point with a glut. While we are in England we are only managing to grow a few things. The tomatoes are STILL green and with only 3 runner bean plants, we’re not exactly dealing with kilos of them.

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However, lovely fresh and sweet tomatoes from the next door county of Kent are being devoured daily and I decided to make a quick and fresh summer vegetable dish. Delicious as a side dish, or serve it at room temperature with some cheese and salamis, plenty of crusty bread and (of course) a chilled glass of wine.

Ingredients

  • About 200g runner beans, shredded or cut into chunks and blanched in salted, boiling water for about 3 minutes
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped or crushed
  • A few generous glugs of olive oil
  • About 4 ripe tomatoes (peeled or not, you decide), finely chopped, puréed or grated
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Half a teaspoon of smoked pimentón
  • A sprig of fresh rosemary (optional)

Slowly warm your olive oil in a small deep pan (if you have an earthenware cazuela, even better) into which you have put the chopped garlic. Once the garlic has softened, but not browned, and your kitchen is filled with wonderful warm garlicky smells, add the tomato, a little seasoning, the rosemary and the pimentón.

Continue to cook gently for two or three minutes until it all starts to come together, then add the blanched beans. Cook for a further couple of minutes to allow the beans to soften a little more, but not lose their colour.

Leave to cool down slightly, best served at room temperature.

And now a cloud shot from the other day – I just thought it was so weird and beautiful. I’m sure there is a special name for this kind of cloud formation, please do enlighten me if you know!

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If you enjoy runner beans, why not try runner beans with garlic and bacon or perhaps with prawns and potatoes?

Summer Breeze

21 Jul

This summer finds us at our home in Bexhill on Sea. Which according to our family in Spain, is a good thing. They are all decidedly fed up of the 40 degree plus temperatures that are the norm there right now, rather than the exception. We are getting used to four seasons in one day. Loving the sunshine when we have it and racing outside to enjoy it. Joining in the with locals when it rains saying “oh well, it’s good for the garden”!

I haven’t managed to grow basil outdoors in England yet, so am sticking with my pot on the kitchen window sill.

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Outside in our little garden though, we’re making the most of every tiny bit of space and growing a few vegetables for the pleasure of seeing them grow. Green beans are happy climbing up against the wall and the first teeny tiny beans are starting to appear. Big Man is very entertained by the fact that the flowers in England are red. In Spain they’re white and he never believed me until this year that they are different. Oh he of little faith.

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We planted tomatoes which are starting to produce strange shaped fruit – we can’t remember what we planted – so we’re just waiting to see if they’ll turn red or we’ll be eating a lot of tomato chutney or fried green tomatoes this year.

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Various chilli plants also went in, but the little sticks telling us which were which were “reorganised” by the dogs at the time of planting so we have no idea what we’re going to end up with. We do have a very beautiful black chilli which is ready to be picked, so fingers crossed it’s a hot one!

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The parsley and rosemary are doing well, and the chives are happy doing their own thing.

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We also bought some mint roots from Spain (it seems to have a more delicate leaf than the plant we bought in England and is lovely in salads and infusions). The plants (grown in a recycled strawberry planter) are just starting to really get going.

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Of course, there’s room for flowers too, most of which were already here, I love the strong colours we’ve got. The white geraniums were grown from cuttings from a plant we had in a small pot.

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The pears continue to grow, hopefully we’ll get a lovely crop in the early autumn.

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And the dogs, naturally, are always on hand to offer advice, help with the digging and showing us the sunniest spots when we need to take a little breather.

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Sorry about the picture overload but the light was so lovely today…it made me happy to think how much you can do with just a little outdoor space.

 

Lunch, Lemons and a Patio – Un Almuerzo, Unos Limones y Un Patio

6 Jun

Our time in Spain is drawing to a close and it’s time to head back to our other life and home in England. It’s been an eventful few weeks running around, sorting out paperwork, bills and bank accounts, we’ve had 2 funerals, 1 first communion, family lunches and dinners, get togethers with friends, gardening, house painting, rubbish clearing and pool cleaning. Although we haven’t had a dip yet…far too cold for us “out of towners”! I’m also going to try and write a little in Spanish as our family and friends here complain that they can’t enjoy my posts properly. It will be appalling, but I’ll give it a go.

Nuestro tiempo en España ya está acabando. Ha llegado la hora de prepararnos para volver a nuestra otra vida, nuestro otro hogar en Inglaterra. Han sido unas semanas llenas – arreglando papeles, pagando facturas y hablando con el banco. Hemos tenido dos entierros y una primera comunión. Comidas con familia y amigos, jardinería, pintando la casa, tirando basura y limpiando la piscina.¡ Aunque estos “forasteros” todavía no se han bañados!

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We picked the lemons off our tree, despite them being still green. They are keeping cool in the garage, but we were also gifted some gorgeous lemons from a friend. If you want some amazing ideas of what to do with a lemon glut, Margot over at Gather and Graze will inspire you. I’ll hopefully be posting some recipes in the weeks to come.

Hemos cogidos los limones de nuestro limonero, aunque están todavía verdes. Están en la cochera, a la sombra. Menos mal que un buen amigo nos ha regalado una bolsa de limones para comer ahora. Si quieres ser inspirada con unas recetas increíbles, vete a ver el blog de Margot aquí. Espero que dentro de unas semanas yo también voy a poner unas recetas usando nuestros limones.

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A recent family get together was held in the garden of one of Big Man’s cousins. It’s an old and beautiful town house in a Pueblo Blanco, behind a huge front door is a stunning house with beams, stone floors, thick walls and an enchanting walled patio garden which is like a little piece of paradise tucked away from the hustle and bustle.

Una reunión reciente con familia tuvo lugar en la casa de un primo de mi “Gran Hombre” y su pareja. La casa está situada en un Pueblo Blanco, y es increíblemente bonito e histórico. Por detrás de la casa hay un patio, casi escondido, como un pequeño y secreto trocito del paraíso.

Chivo

Chivo

Of course, there was good food and wine too – well….what else did you expect?!

Por supuesto, había también comida y vino bueno….¡pues, como siempre!

 

 

 

Morrete de Setas – Mushrooms with Potatoes

24 Jan

If like me, you are the sort of person who is not put off by strange translations into your native tongue of a dish you encounter on your travels, this one is for you. Coming across this dish in a small local restaurant near our mountains in Southern Spain, you’d probably read something like “Mushrooms to the wild, cooking with soft potatoes of the saffron dressing up in vinegar”. Or some such bizarre description.

It doesn’t even look that pretty, as the end dish is indeed “with soft potatoes” and has rather a look of mush about it. What you would be served with, however, is a dish with simple ingredients combined in a way you’ve probably never tasted before, and a flavour that makes you say “ooh, that’s so good…I really didn’t expect that”!

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Around our neck of the woods (or Up Our Mountain), the most commonly eaten mushrooms are Oyster mushrooms. We have grown them ourselves in the past and Big Man would often come home with a crate of them for me to turn into dishes like Mixed Mushrooms with Cinnamon and Lemon or Braised Mushrooms. This dish is made across Andalucía but is probably known by other names outside of the radius of our local villages. Here’s our local version, the simplicity of the ingredients hides a wonderful combination of flavours. It is vegetarian/vegan and can be served alone as a tapa or starter, or alongside other dishes as part of a meal. A poached or fried egg is a wonderful accompaniment.

Ingredients (to serve 6-8 as a tapa, 4 as a starter or 2 as a hearty main course)

  • 1 kg peeled and cubed potatoes (cut into small cubes)
  • About 600g of thickly sliced mushrooms (I used a mix of Shitake, Chestnut and Forestiere Mushrooms)
  • Olive oil for frying
  • 1 level teaspoon of sweet pimentón
  • ½ level teaspoon of hot pimentón
  • A pinch of saffron or turmeric (in Spain though you find they usually use food colouring)
  • About 60g of stale bread
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • About 240ml water
  • About 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper

You will need 2 frying pans (or you will need to cook the potatoes and mushrooms separately. In one pan with about ½ cm of oil to cover the bottom, slowly cook the potatoes until they are soft and just starting to brown at the edges. Mix occasionally as they cook. You don’t want them to be crispy like chips.

In another pan, add a little oil, the mushrooms and some salt and cover with a lid. Slowly braise the mushrooms until soft and releasing their juices. The potatoes and mushrooms both take about 20 minutes to cook.

Meanwhile, put the bread, water, garlic, spices and 1 tablespoon of vinegar into a blender jug and blend (I use a hand blender) until you get a mix which resembles slightly runny porridge.

Drain the potatoes from the oil and add to the mushrooms and pour in the bread/water mix. Cook gently for about 10 minutes until it all thickens up (you may need to add a splash more water). Just before serving, taste and season and add a further tablespoon of white wine vinegar. Think of the resulting taste in the same way that you would use lemon juice to “lift” a dish.

Serve with plenty of crusty bread and if you’re feeling a bit cheffy, some chopped parsley on top makes it look pretty. But don’t tell the local village ladies I said that as they’d be horrified at any such nonsense.

A Juicy Pear

6 Oct

After the doom and gloom of our dismal cooking arrangements, I wanted to reassure you that all is not quite so bad Chez Chica and Big Man.

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We have inherited a beautiful pear tree in our new home. Well, it’s in the garden of course, not growing in the middle of the sitting room. Which would make day to day life a little awkward.

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It’s a tiny Victorian back garden but we still have the original wall and it’s south west facing, so it’s warm and sunny.

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Obviously, being without an oven, pies and crumbles have been out of the question but we’ve enjoyed sharing them, eating them with cheese, cooked and served with thick cream and some have been cooked and frozen for a rainy day. It’s raining today, I think we might be eating pears…

(For those of you with proper kitchens, pop over to Roger’s blog and be inspired by this beautiful recipe.)

Aubergine and Vegetable Sauce – for people who don’t like aubergine

29 Sep

We’re on a countdown to our next mammoth England trip. If all goes well this week, we’ll leave on Friday in the early hours and get there on Saturday night. This time we won’t pretend to ourselves that we’re going to be there for three weeks and end up staying for nearly ten months! Oh no…this time we are going to do even more of the renovation work ourselves and will take it slowly. We’re planning on three or four months, so we’ll be enjoying the Rye Bay Scallop Season, Bonfires and Fireworks and Christmas too…along with plenty of hard work.

Preparation for the trip, apart from sorting out our house and garden here for the winter, means buying plenty of Spanish goodies to enjoy and share, booking the vet to sort out the paperwork for the pups and digging out our winter and work clothes. Last year we left with mixed emotions, this year it has not been a great summer for us in Spain due to family illness and loss…it’s going to be good for us to have a change of scene and the distraction of hard work.

Aubergine Sauce (4)

One of the things we’re also doing is eating as much of our lovely garden produce as possible and eating what we have put buy in the fridge and freezer without buying too much food before we go. Big Man planted aubergines for me, an act of true love which ranks almost as highly as his first ever gift to me of a cauliflower. The man knows how to “woo” me. He’s not crazy about aubergines but will eat them as he knows I adore them. I finally figured out that the skin and the texture of aubergines are what put some people off. Personally, for an aubergine lover, I feel it’s probably a great part of the attraction. Time to figure out how to get round that issue so everyone is happy. Bring on the aubergine and vegetable sauce…

Aubergine Sauce (3)

For a portion to serve four people

  • 4 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 1 large aubergine
  • 1 large green or red pepper (sliced)
  • 2-3 cups of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée (concentrate)
  • 1 small glass of red wine
  • A level teaspoon of sweet or smoked pimentón (paprika)
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pinch of sugar (optional)
  • Olive oil for frying

This is pretty much a traditional tomato sauce, apart from the way you deal with the aubergine. Start by cutting the top off the aubergine and slice it lengthways into quarters. Placing the white flesh against a grater, keep grating until you get to the skin and then stop. Repeat with the remaining quarters. You could also do this in a food processor, but you’d need to peel the aubergine first, and it’ so quick to do it’s hardly worth bothering. Discard the purple skin or feed it to some friendly local chickens.

Slowly braise the garlic in a little oil until soft, then add the aubergine and peppers and cook slowly (covered) until the vegetables are softened (about 10 minutes). Now add the tomato, the concentrate, the wine and the pimentón and season lightly. Bring to a bubble and then reduce the heat and cook very slowly (covered) for about an hour. Stir every so often and you may need to add a splash of water if it’s getting too thick. The aubergine melts into the sauce and gives it a slightly meaty texture.

I think you'll find I look great from any angle...

I think you’ll find I look great from any angle…

Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary (I didn’t need to add sugar as I used mature tomatoes from the veggie garden, but sometimes you need just a little pinch). Cook for a few minutes uncovered and enjoy with pasta, pizza, over meat or fish or as a bruschetta topping. If you don’t tell an aubergine hater what’s in there, they probably wouldn’t even know as the seeds look like tomato seeds when cooked and the taste is a wonderful mixture of slow cooked vegetables.

Luna starts her acclimatisation training for the colder English weather...

Luna starts her acclimatisation training for the colder English weather…

And because tomato sauce is not desperately exciting to look at, I’ve also given you a few gratuitous Alfi and Luna photos…

Chargrilled Aubergines in Tomato Sauce

11 Aug

Our little veggie garden is reduced this year, we planted only peppers, aubergines and tomatoes as we were too late back from England to plant much more and we will head off to the cooler shores of the English South Coast again before all the vegetables have been harvested.

Chargrilled Aubergines in Tomato (7)

Never mind, we are still trading with neighbours and this year we have an impressive crop of aubergines (eggplants). Interesting for me as a cook as Big Man has never been a huge fan, but he knows I love them. It makes me think about different ways of serving them to see if I can convert him. I don’t think he’ll be signing up for Aubergine Weekly yet (if such a magazine existed), but he’s eaten everything I’ve made so far without that look on his face. You know, the one children do when they are about to put a sprout/piece of liver/most hated food into their mouth!

Today’s dish was a quick one as it was so hot. We ate it with Socca, but more of that another day.

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a main dish)

  • One large aubergine thickly sliced and cooked on the griddle or barbecue on both sides until lightly charred (no need to salt and don’t brush with oil if doing on the bbq as you’ll only end up setting fire to them)
  • About two cups of tomato sauce (this was prepared in advance) Soften 3 crushed cloves of garlic in olive oil, then add 1 kilo of crushed peeled tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of tomato purée, half a teaspoon of salt, a few good grinds of black pepper, half a teaspoon of sugar (if required), a glass of red wine and a few stalks of basil leaves. Simmer for about an hour, remove the basil and it’s ready. This will give you about 6-8 cups of sauce

Chargrilled Aubergines in Tomato (4)

Cut the grilled aubergines into bite sized pieces and simmer in the sauce for about 10 minutes and you’re done! This is also wonderful cold and great over pasta.

Pasta with Cabbage, Sage and Breadcrumbs

16 Jul

Well, anchovy and garlic too, plus a little parmesan at the end but it’s not such a snappy title that way. Big Man came home from one of his little excursions with a beautiful cabbage. I think in England they are called Spring cabbages, the lighter green ones with very tight leaves.

Pasta With Cabbage & Breadcrumbs (1)

We enjoy it simply shredded and cooked for a few moments until wilted and then served cold with vinaigrette. But this was a whole lot of cabbage and I needed to find other ways to use it. I remembered a lovely Italian pasta dish made with Cavolo Nero (Tuscan Kale) and decided to make something similar.

If you prepare everything before you start cooking it’s quick to pull together, you just need to work methodically and in the time it takes for your pasta to cook (well, dried pasta at least) you’ll have a beautiful meal ready to take to the table.

Ingredients (per person, just multiply per number of diners but don’t worry about being too exact)

  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • About 100g finely shredded cabbage
  • About 50g fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2-4 tinned anchovies (omit for a vegetarian version)
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Your choice of pasta

Start by putting the water for the pasta on to boil and then blanching the shredded cabbage until it wilts. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and drain, add your pasta to the water and, as long as you have your other ingredients prepared, you can get on with pulling the rest of the dish together.

Heat two thirds of the oil and when it is very hot drop the sage leaves in and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Pasta With Cabbage & Breadcrumbs (4)

Now add your fresh breadcrumbs and with the oil still on high, move them around in the pan (it helps to use a deep frying pan or wok for this dish) until they start to turn golden. Remove from the pan and put them onto a flat dish to cool slightly and crisp up.

Add the remaining oil to the pan and turn the heat down slightly before adding the garlic and anchovies. When the anchovies have “melted” (this won’t take long at all, a minute or so) add the cabbage and turn the heat back up to high. Stir fry for a couple of minutes (you can allow the edges to brown a little if you like) then add most of the breadcrumbs, reserving some to sprinkle over the top of the dish.

Drain the pasta and mix it in with the cabbage. It helps to add a tablespoon or two of the cooking liquid, but don’t overdo it.

Sprinkle over the remaining breadcrumbs and crispy sage leaves and serve with plenty of parmesan. Buon appetito!

Big Man and I are heading west on Saturday with the pups for a week in Portugal, the Eastern Algarve to be precise. I’ll try to post once more before we head off but it’s turning into one of those weeks. I know we won’t have internet coverage where we’re staying, but fingers crossed that I’ll be able to get online at some point. So…if I go quiet for a while it’s because I’m eating seafood or bacalao and sipping Portuguese wines whilst watching the sea. I’m sure you’ll understand!

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