Early one morning….

Despite a long, 2-day, 2,200km drive….we’re back at our home in beautiful Andalucia. Our mountain is still here, waiting for us. It feels oh so very good.

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Temperatures right now are at about 40 degrees, we’re all taking it slowly to acclimatise. If things go to plan, we’ll be here about 4 weeks. Sigh….

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Waving Goodbye for a While…

Tomorrow Big Man and I move home in Bexhill on Sea. We go from a little Edwardian flat to a little (but bigger) Victorian house. It’s not quite such a disaster zone as the projects we usually take on so we’ll be able to live in it and do it up and restore it slowly.

Because we seem to thrive on doing more than one thing at once, we’re heading back to Spain 5 days later by car for a short visit to the family and then heading back to England to finish off a current project before taking a breather, helping my parents move into their new home in Bexhill and then starting work on ours. And hopefully another longer trip back to Spain to enjoy some time Up the Mountain.

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Just to complicate matters further we found out today that we’re going to be without an internet connection for a few weeks so I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I will have to have a little break from the world of blogging for a short while. Don’t go away though…I’ll be back!

So…please excuse me if I can’t pop by and say hello very often this month. I’ll miss you all…

Home Again – There’s No Place Like It!

When I say home, I mean our Down by the Sea home. This year has not been a great for us when it comes to holidays. We had to cancel all our plans in the summer because of ill-health and death in the family. It’s the way life goes sometimes. We understand that. But thought we’d try just one more time with a few days away for our anniversary and headed to the beautiful island of Jersey.

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Well, I think The Devil (pictured below, he turned up unexpectedly) had a hand in the proceedings.

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We did enjoy some amazing meals and our hotel was lovely…but oh the weather! Rain, wind, cold, more rain, more cold and really strong winds. It’s a teeny tiny island and mostly should be enjoyed outdoors. Luckily the sun broke through every so often for a few minutes and we leapt out of out little hire car to snap a view.

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We ate and drank amazingly well, and I’ll share some of our meals with you later. But for the moment, we’re staying put. If I mention going away on holiday for a while, please slap me round the face with a wet fish and remind me that There’s No Place Like Home.

We’re back Up Our Mountain!

Yes, we’re back! Not quite from outer space, but it’s been a long time. It was a long and horrible journey and we arrived late last night. I just wanted to say a quick “hello” to you all, show you one little snap of the kitchen (not quite finished, but nearly there) taken the night before we left.

Forgot to take the protective film off the chimney hood, so it's ot such a funky colour really..oh yes, and we haven't painted the picture rail yet either...
Forgot to take the protective film off the chimney hood, so it’s not such a funky colour really…and the over the counter lights need to be connected…oh yes, and we haven’t painted the picture rail yet either…

We managed to have a little housewarming party for Big Man’s Birthday and to say a proper hello and thank you to all our lovely new Bexhill friends and neighbours.

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I’m very, very behind on posting, reading and commenting but we now have months and months of catching up, relaxing, cooking, sewing, eating and vegetable growing to look forward to, so once I’ve caught my breath….I’ll be back properly!  Thanks for all your kind words of support over the last few months and for sticking with me.  What good pals you all are, I need to organise another little party….

Can You See What I See?

Yes, it´s my mountain!

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We drove from England to Spain and arrived home late last night after a fairly slow journey through a cold, sleety and snowy France. Brrrr!

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We´re a bit “Up in the Air” (and it´s not just because we´re back Up Our Mountain). We don´t know where we´re going to be for Christmas.

Maybe Spain, or maybe back to the UK to finish off House Number 2 and possibly take on some more work or help my parents out with various jobs.

No matter. We´re here right now. The sun is shining, the garden and the veggie plot have been tidied and prepared for winter.

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The dogs are happy.

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The day started with good coffee, a walk around the garden snapping these quick shots and we´re off out for lunch! We are a happy Chica and Big Man. Well, we´re pretty much happy most of the time, but today we´re extra happy.

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More news as soon as we know ourselves what is happening, and time this week to catch up with some blogging, recipes and nesting back into our Mountain Home. Have a great Sunday everyone.

Runner Bean Salad and Back Home Up the Mountain

Another hectic few days in the UK, but more of that in a moment. It was a good trip, and I even got to meet my blogging buddy Claire from Promenade Plantings. We had a wonderful little break sitting on the sea front, drinking rosé wine and getting to know each other better.  And then she gave me a bag of her super delicious peppery radishes. How lucky am I?!

As ever, I came back with some goodies to enjoy here Up the Mountain. A fabulous Ottolenghi cookbook, which is already inspiring me with some amazing recipes. Can´t wait to try them out.

I also bought myself some cooling racks for my baking which I had wanted for ages. Well, I had been balancing an oven rack on top of tin cans which wasn´t ideal. And in the shop, next to the baking racks I spotted some adorable mini loaf tins which just pleaded with me to leap into my suitcase. Of course, I obliged them!  I expect you have also spotted my guilty (not so) secret of Cheese & Onion crisps.

Big Man had kept busy in the veggie garden in my absence and picked tomatoes, courgettes and almost three kilos of runner beans…and I had only been away for four days.

Some of the beans went into a delicious salad at lunchtime today. Thinly sliced raw runner beans, tomatoes, sweet onions and green peppers with chopped basil and a lemon and garlic vinaigrette.  All from our garden, it did make me feel a very happy Chica.

Then, just when I thought my first day home couldn´t get any better, my lovely neighbour came round with a fantastic present for me. Look at this beautiful mixer. She said she had it stored away in her garage and hoped I would make good use of it. You bet I will!

And now for some exciting news. Regular readers may have noticed that I have been making more trips than usual back to the UK in the last few months. Well, they weren´t all back to London to visit my family, but to sort out a project that Big Man and I will soon start working on. We will be heading over to a little seaside town on the south coast of England, called Bexhill on Sea. In just under 3 weeks in fact, so not long to go now. We will pack up the car with tools, supplies, two dogs and almost definitely some Spanish cheese and jamon. We will drive across Spain and France and when we get to the UK we will be setting up base in a little Victorian house which is in need of some love and attention.

Scary carpet…this house needs some love!

Hopefully over the course of about a month we will be able to restore it to a liveable condition (while we live in it ourselves). We will be polishing floorboards, putting in a kitchen and bathroom, unearthing the little garden and breathing life back into it.

I think there´s a pretty little garden hidden in there….

It´s going to be hard work, it´s going to be stressful but it´s going to be fun and a wonderful experience.  While we do this we´ll have to cook and eat and we´ll be sharing our little adventure with you before we head back to Spain once it´s all done. I do hope you join us for the ride, and please be prepared for dust, rain and laughter along the way.

Best Friends and Favourite Foods

I am truly blessed when it comes to friends. I have some extra special best girlfriends who have been there for me through the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the youth and the wrinkles. Ria and I met at school, a wonderful convent in South London, and have been best friends ever since.

We laughed through our school days, she sent me stamps to write to her when I went to University as I was poor and she was earning. She also gave me a sewing box as a going away gift and still, to this day, gets me to adjust her clothes and sew on buttons. We even worked at the same company for a few years and mopped up the tears through tough endings to relationships in later years.

She invited me to a weekend with friends in Scotland without telling me we would be walking part of the West Highland Way. She knew I would have refused, but we had fun and I forgave her, eventually.  Then I told her she was doing a run to raise money for Charity and she didn´t complain once.

Hot, sweaty but very happy with what we achieved!

We know and love each other´s families like our own, and also know our way around each other´s kitchens. Very important indeed.

When we both hit 40 within a month of each other (not soooo long ago), we threw a massive party then went off on a Round the World Trip.  I have a lovely photo of us on our last day before we headed back to London. It was taken in Hong Kong on the Kowloon ferry. We don´t look glamorous, or made up. In fact we look exhausted, a little chilly, but happy. We had spent about 3 months in each other´s company 24/7 and not a cross word or row, just fun, laughter and quite a few adventures.

I moved to Spain permanently six years ago, and we had to find a new way to make things work across the miles.  E-mails, phone calls and of course, visits.

So, when your best buddy comes to visit you don´t want to spend too much time in the kitchen as there is talking, laughing, dog walking and wine drinking to be done.

We barbecued squid which we enjoyed in the sunshine.

We ate what we jokingly called a “deconstructed chicken salad sharing platter for friends” – cold cooked chicken, spiced cauliflower, a platter full of delicious vegetables and topped with blanched then grilled asparagus with a lemon dressing and mayonnaise. Perfect for sharing.

And of course, my best friend knows how much I adore curry, so several happy hours were spent in the kitchen cooking up a storm, or the “Cortijo Curry” as we called it. Goat curry, tarka dhal, spinach and tomato curry, poppadums and roti.

I´ll share the recipes with you soon, but now I´m tired, happy and sad, and rather full up, so I´ll leave you with a photo of the perfect dessert for friends who don´t have time to make dessert.

Bali and Beautiful Batik

Like a dream come true

One of the little extras you get from having visitors is that they often come bearing gifts.  Sometimes it´s stuff that you´ve asked for like Wasabi Paste or spices you can´t find in Andalucía and sometimes it´s little surprises.

This summer I have been very lucky to receive two batches of fabric for my dressmaking.  One batch came from Singapore and the other from Bali…via the UK and my friends.

These fabrics are very beautiful and unusual but do tend to come in quite strange lengths.  Not the usual dressmaking widths.  I expect that are probably just the right measurement to make some wonderful typical Balinese or Singaporean outfits, but because I am rather more robustly built  than the ladies from these beautiful places, I had to give a little thought as to how I would make the most of the fabrics.

Fabulous Fabrics

I decided to go “off pattern” and just sort of drape them around my dressform, Marilyn the Mannequin.  Who incidentally, after forking out a great deal of cash and waiting ages for her to arrive from the UK, is not really all that useful.  I was so focused on buying an adjustable dress form that I could “expand” to my curvy chest measurements that I didn´t look at how big her bottom was.  Poor old Marilyn has got a much bigger bottom and hips than me, even when she is at her smallest setting.  Normally looking at another woman´s bottom and deciding that it was larger than mine would give me some small sense of satisfaction (I know, I´m horrible…but you´ve got to boost your self esteem when you can).  In this case, she´s useless for making fitted skirts, dresses or trousers, as they won´t go round her and I have to just pin them to the front!

Anyway, after much pinning, trying on, adjusting, re tacking and finally sewing I made a pencil skirt with a zip and waistband.  I use the word pencil loosely as I am probably closer to the shape of a magic marker. 

Pencil-ish Skirt

Flushed with the success of this effort I went on to make a simple v-neck top with the rest of the scraps from the same length of material.  Please note that I will not be wearing the skirt and top together or I may be mistaken for an escaped Batik Wall Hanging from a museum of ethnic art.

Voluptuous Top Half Needed To Fill This Top

Finally, I made a sort of A-Line skirt with a drawstring waist.  Very forgiving on days when I feel like my bottom matches Marilyn´s.

Hurrah for drawstring waists!

And as a little thank you for getting this far into my post if you were expecting a tasty recipe (sorry, not today), and for thinking that the black spots on Marilyn were dirt on the camera lens and not a horrible plague of flies that decided to join me while I was taking photos…..here are a few snaps from when I visited Bali as part of my Round the World Trip in 2005.  Far too long ago…

Begin the Begin

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, I guess it all started when my little dog, Maisie, died. She was thirteen years old and I loved her to bits. She was what made me get out of bed in the dark, horrible days when he who shall be known as The Big Shit, walked out the door one day and disappeared into the ether. Husbands are not supposed to do that are they?  I had to get out of bed to walk her otherwise she would have driven me completely over the edge with her snuffling and barking – so I had no other option really. Of course, she wasn’t the only one who got me through those testing times, but looking back (which I try not to do too often) it’s what I remember most.

So, there she was, a little old lady on her last paws and I knew what was coming. And there I was, working like crazy, but loving almost every minute of the rush, confusion and general mayhem that comes with being an Interim in the world of Management Consulting. A divorced, half Italian, English woman.  Still just about the right side of forty.  Unfortunately on the wrong side of slim.  Optimistic, realistic and easily bored.  Changing clients every couple of months. Meeting new people.  Some great, some hideous beyond belief – but that’s a whole other set of stories. Meeting new men, but never The One.  It was time to take my foot off the gas for a month or two and go away for a while.   Time to just sit back and smell the roses.  No need to worry about who would dog-sit as she would be, I was convinced, somewhere in dog heaven sleeping, farting and eating to her heart’s content.

Everyone has something special about them. Some people are brilliant scientists or mathematicians. Others excel at sports or can wiggle their ears. Some are outstandingly beautiful and earn their living from their looks. Others are incredibly clever at doing things for charity. I, unfortunately, am none of the above. However, some small talent for Latin languages and a passion for food (rather too passionate actually as my ever expanding waistline is testament to), led me to choose to escape to rural Southern Spain. I would learn a new language, I decided.  I would sample the local delicacies and lap up some sunshine. It would be the perfect antidote to a stressful job, a lack of holidays and for filling a small dog sized crack in my slightly battered but still hopeful heart.

I approached the task with my usual dedication and complete faith in the internet. I trawled through site after site until I found what I believed would be the perfect house for my two month break. It was on the edge of a medium sized village in the province of Granada in Andalucía, Southern Spain. Called Montefrio, which translates as Cold Mountain, this should have fired a warning shot across my slightly smug bows. The village had, so I read, various bars and restaurants, an historic centre and a temperate climate. The house had two bedrooms – perfect for all those pals who planned to come and visit – a delightful, secluded, private patio and access for all villagers to the sunny, outdoor village pool.

After spending many hours tapping figures into my trusty calculator, and taking into account the money I would not be earning while I was away, I figured out that I could afford two months off. What luxury.  Never before had I taken a break like this. And then I started to factor things like cheap wine and food into the calculations. Blimey, I would almost be saving money by living in Spain for two months. Well, apart from paying my mortgage in London while I was away and the price of what seemed to me to be quite a high rental for the property in Spain.

My temporary landlady was to be a Mrs B from Rotherham who shall otherwise remain anonymous. Only because I am a lady (well, mostly) and aware of causing offence to others. She, on the other hand, proved herself to be no such thing. I don’t think this had anything to do with her coming from Rotherham though, so no offence meant to anyone from that vicinity.

I arrived to unexpectedly grey skies and a chill in the air one early May morning in 2004. I then stood in a very long and slow moving queue to pick up my hire car – Book Ahead, Beat the Queues! Yeah, right.  I eventually set off alone driving on the “wrong” side of the road clutching a page of printed directions. No GPS in those days, just good old pen and ink. Considering it was the first time I had driven alone abroad (I had always had a co pilot to scream “move over, you’re about to hit the safety rails” at me in the past) and that I faced a couple of hours’ drive to an unknown location using nothing but my own ability to steer and read and the same time, I don’t think I did too badly.

I was slightly worried about the last few lines of the directions I had been sent which went something along the lines of:

“Once in the village take the third turning on the right off the main square. Follow this road for 100 metres when it will narrow quite dramatically. Even though it looks as though you can’t get a car through, don’t worry – we’ve driven our caravan through here with no trouble at all. Once through the gap (another 100m or so) park the car as the walk up to the house (another 100m) is very steep and there is no turning space for the car. Our local agent, Derek, will meet you at the house with the key and take the remainder of the rental money. Please ensure you pay him in cash.”

Well, amongst my special talents I forgot to list a quite advanced ability to scrape cars or to reverse them into bollards. And all without training.  Amazing.  I haven’t actually  had any head on collisions in my many years of driving, but I do seem to have a bit of a spatial awareness problem which means that driving through narrow gaps leaves me practically hyperventilating with fear. The sweating palms don’t do much to help with controlling the steering wheel, so I was naturally quite anxious about the last few minutes of my journey. I also gave myself a moment to wonder about the kind of people I was renting from.  Caravans, indeed. And in a picturesque Andalucían village – why on earth?

I managed the squeeze through the gap with only minimal damage to one of my wing mirrors. I thanked God for fully comprehensive car rental insurance and parked up outside what seemed to be a view over a rubbish tip to one side and a slum dwelling on the other side. Beginning my weary trudge up the last 100m of the journey (and mentally banishing my high, strappy sandals to a long holiday in the suitcase) I breathed in and took a look around at what would be my new neighbourhood. What it screamed at me was not charming, whitewashed, geranium clad paradise but riot hit, falling down, smelly ghetto.

The Alhambra, not downtown Montefrio!

The Beautiful Alhambra and not downtown Montefrio!

Derek was waiting for me smiling nervously. I suppose he was smiling because he knew he was about to be handed a big wodge of crisp Euros. I think the nerves were because he feared for his life in down town, gangsta-ville Montefrio.

“So, what made you decide to stay in the gypsy quarter then? And when’s your husband arriving to join you then – you’ll feel so much happier with someone to keep you company”. Hmph.

If you’d asked me even a day before what the words “gypsy quarter” brought to mind I’d have said violins, smoky barbecues and hot sultry summer night parties with lot of clapping, gold hooped earrings and wild flamenco dancing. Clearly this was a whole different gypsy quarter to the romantic novel image I had in my mind. Derek was in good need of a slap. Not to mention the plans I had for Mrs B.

After handing over the keys and grabbing the cash (counting it too if I remember correctly) Derek was soon scuttling back down the slope to the safety of his town centre, security gated house. What can I say about my new home? The patio, also sloping, was surrounded by railings which seemed to have been put there, more to keep intruders out than for growing scented jasmine up. The front door opened directly into the kitchen. I use the word kitchen loosely as it was more like a corridor with a sink, a two ring hob and, most bizarrely, a George Foreman Lean Mean Grillin’ Machine. A left turn led into the dining room which was actually a large area under the stairs and then up a very steep staircase to the sitting room. Yes, the house too was built on the slope.

Compact is a word I would also use and all the windows were made of those plastic frosted panels which generally appear on cheapo shower doors, so the room was bathed in a permanent murky twilight glow. Off to one side of the sitting room was an avocado bathroom suite, with no shower or windows.  To the left was a bedroom which was, again, another space under the next set of steep stairs which led up to the final bedroom. There were no doors separating the bedrooms. There was no heating. There was no air con. There was, however, plenty of damp. It was all very dark and cold.

Had I not looked at photos on the website? Of course I had.   All I can say is that Mrs B of Rotherham clearly had a good friend who was a skilled photographer and she was the queen of bullshit.

Ok, so I was upset. But not so upset that I couldn’t click back into sensible grown up woman mode. I phoned Derek, I phoned Mrs B. Remarkably I managed to speak to both of them but no amount of pleading (of both the hysterical and the calm kind) was going to get me my money back.

So, there it was. It was my choice. Stay and make the best of it or run back home crying. Of course, I do have some modicum of pride so I trekked back to the car and dragged my suitcases back up the slope, up the two flights of steep stairs and unpacked into the damp wardrobes. I went back to the car when the shops finally opened again at 6pm.  I can remember how I felt at this point about Spanish working hours. I then drove through a thunderstorm to buy some basics (wine, food, wine, water, wine) and unloaded my many shopping bags back up the slope and into the “kitchen”.

As I ripped open the second carton of cheapo wine – times were desperate – I toasted my independence, my new adventure, my marvellous self and then allowed myself the indulgence of a good sob which was drowned out by the sound of rain on the plastic windows.