Now that’s what I call green

I am no expert on grasshoppers, we hear them singing here on summer nights, and when we mostly see them they jump out of the way pretty quickly. And they are usually brown. bug1 24-7-14This one was different… bright green. bug2 24-7-14bug3 24-7-14After perusal of our Insects book, I decided he was a Leptophyes Punctatissima from the Katydids family of bush crickets and long-horned grasshoppers. Except his horns were short, as if he’d had an accident. He was the only bright green grasshopper in our book and, apart from the shorter antennae, he was identical to the photograph. Below is what Leptophyes Punctatissima looks like, according to Orthoptera,com.

[photo: orthoptera.org.uk]

[photo: orthoptera.org.uk]

I didn’t realize it is the males that sing to attract mates, they use a file-and-scraper system at the base of their forewings. Their song sounds rather like their name Katydids – ‘Kate-she-did’. bug4 24-7-14bug5 24-7-14Click here to read more about Leptophyes Punctatissima  at Orthoptera,com.

5 to remember
un/una expert/a – an expert
el saltamonte – the grasshopper
normalmente - usually
el examen – the perusal
como - as if

Pasta with gorgonzola & pecans

This is a wonderful mixture of creaminess, spiciness, and the crunch of nuts. And it’s easy to modify depending on what’s in the store cupboard: the basics are one blue cheese, one creamy cheese, one type of nuts. pecan - close-up 6-3-14plateful 6-3-14Serves 4
25g unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
175g gorgonzola, crumbled
175g mascarpone [below] mascarpone 6-3-14A pinch of ground mace, or a little freshly-grated nutmeg [below] nutmeg - grated 6-3-14Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
100g pecan nuts
2 tbsp chives, snipped with scissors [below] chives - chopped 6-3-14Dry-toast the pecans in a frying pan on a low heat, until gently browned. Do not leave the pan, or they will burn. Chop roughly and set aside. pecans - chopped 6-3-14Meanwhile, prepare your preferred pasta. butter - knife in block 6-3-14butter - knob in pan 6-3-14Melt the butter in a saucepan and gently fry the garlic over a low heat for 2-3 minutes, until soft but not browned.

Stir in the gorgonzola, mascarpone, nutmeg and a little seasoning. We didn’t add salt, as the cheese was salty enough for me, but we did add pepper. add gorgonzola & mascarpone to pan 6-3-14Cook gently until the sauce is heated through but the cheese still has some texture.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the nuts and chives. Season to taste. add nuts & chives to pan 6-3-14Mix in the freshly-cooked pasta, and serve hot. sauce is ready 6-3-145 to remember
la macis – mace
la nuez moscada - nutmeg
la nuez pacana – pecan
los cebollinos – chives
las tijeras – scissors

book cover The Easy Kitchen Pasta sauces - photo rylandpeters.com 6-3-14

‘The Easy Kitchen Pasta Sauces’ [pub. Ryland Peters & Small]

Book review: Midnight in Europe

midnight in europe by alan furst 24-8-141938. Spain at war, Europe on the brink of war. This is the first World War Two novel I have read about the overlap of the two wars, the impact of one on the other, and the approaching shadow of fascism. Nothing happens in isolation. The Spanish Civil War is notoriously difficult to understand: so many factions, changing names etc. Sensibly, Alan Furst concentrates on one aspect: the supply of weapons to the Republicans fighting the fascist army of Franco.

A secret Spanish agency in Paris sources arms and ammunition for the Republicans. Cristián Ferrar, a Spanish lawyer living in Paris and working for a French law firm, is asked to help. Unsure what he is getting into, but resigned to help his mother country, he is soon looking over his shoulder to see if he is being followed – he doesn’t know who by, it could be the Spanish fascists, the Gestapo, the Russians. Inter-cut with Ferrar’s story are excerpts from the front line in Spain where preparations are being made to fight the Battle of the Ebro. The need for the weapons is desperate, as bullets are counted out for each soldier.

Working with an odd mixture of diplomats, gangsters and generally shady characters, Ferrar first travels to Berlin where there is a glimpse of the pre-war country which with hindsight gives us a chill. The Gestapo follows them at every step. Then there is a nail-biting train journey to Gdansk, as an arms shipment goes missing. The climax is a thrilling boat journey from Odessa to Valencia. Ferrar, is a lawyer not a spy, he is simply an ordinary man doing what he can to help. An ordinary man who is, meanwhile, having a sprinkling of love affairs which may or may not be authentic.

If you have been put off before at reading novels about the Spanish Civil War because the politics is confusing, you will enjoy this novel. The shadow of war in Europe is cast over every page, the sense of approaching doom however does not seem to affect the nightclubs of Paris, or the shops of New York where the cheerful atmosphere seems unreal. Ferrar faces moving his family from Louveciennes on the outskirts of Paris, the picturesque country west of the capital which was painted by the Impressionists, to the safety of New York.

This is the first novel by Alan Furst I have read, picked up at random in an airport bookshop. I will read many more.

Click here for Alan Furst’s website.
To read an extract from the book, click here.
Watch this You Tube interview with Alan Furst, speaking about Midnight in Europe.

‘Midnight in Europe’ by Alan Furst [Weidenfeld & Nicolson]

Irrigating the land

In the middle of winter, when the earth is sodden and claggy, it is difficult to imagine the heat of summer and the irrigation that same earth requires. We have learned to work with the land, and use the natural springs which occur in sometimes convenient, sometimes inconvenient places. elfa - pink close-up 27-8-13 (2)Once we started our planting scheme on the hillside at the front of the house, we installed a small depositó [water storage tank] below the big fig tree [below].

the little deposito 28-5-10This collected water from a small spring and fed it via a system of black hosepipes [all agricultural hosepipes are black in Spain, they come in a bewildering array of dimensions] to the areas to be regularly irrigated. network of black hoses 5-8-13We planted a few climbers around it, and a couple of years later it was covered nicely. It does the job effectively and uses our natural spring water, which is free and gravity-fed from the spring. the little deposito 5-8-13In 2013, we extended an irrigation channel down the hillside so it would water a line of elfas [oleanders] planted beside the steps. Fed by a black hosepipe from the small depositó, a stream of water would trickle down the hillside from plant to plant. That was the idea, and that is the irrigation system used by all the local farmers. So, first the channel was dug… digging the channel 5-8-13digging the channel2 5-8-13… the tap on the hosepipe was turned on and the water started to trickle…trickling 5-8-13… it reached the elfaswater reaches the elfas 5-8-13water reaches the elfas2 5-8-13… until finally, the water ran through it from top to bottom. water runs through it 5-8-135 to remember
pegajoso/a – claggy/sticky
inconveniente – inconvenient
una manguera – a hosepipe [although locally here it is referred to as una goma]
desconcertante – bewildering
una selección – an array

Fish stew to eat with a spoon

There are fish stews, and there are FISH STEWS. This, is one of the latter. Do not muck around. Eat with crusty bread to dip in, and a spoon to get all the sauce. plateful 27-4-14Serves 4
4 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, sliced garlic clove - close-up 27-4-142 tsp fennel seeds, roughly ground
1 red chilli, remove the stalk, halved and de-seeded red chilli - close-up 27-4-14a2 pinches of saffron
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 x 400g times of plum tomatoes
500ml water or fish stock
600g new potatoes, cut into 2-3 cm chunks peeler - close-up 27-4-14900g fish [we used a combination of monkfish and prawns]
Optional topping [which we didn’t use]:-
100g blanched almonds
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 tsp sea salt casserole lid 27-4-14Heat a large casserole dish over a high heat, when hot add the olive oil. Turn the heat down to medium before adding the onions, fennel, sliced and chopped garlic, fennel seeds, chilli and saffron. Season with salt and black pepper. vegetables - sweating 27-4-14Sweat the vegetables slowly in the olive oil for 15 minutes. vegetables - tomatoes added 27-4-14Add the tomatoes, breaking them down with a wooden spoon, then pour in the water/stock and the potatoes. Check seasoning. potatoes - chopped 27-4-14Simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. We cooked the stew to this stage in the morning, then set it aside. We removed the two chilli halves at this stage so the stew had a gentle background chilli heat rather than being tongue-burning hot.

For the optional almond topping:-
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Put the almonds on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 5-10 minutes until they are pale golden. Roughly chop with a large chopping knife to make fairly large crumbs. Combine with the paprika and salt, and set aside.

When you are ready to eat, re-heat the casserole gently over a medium heat before adding the fish.

vegetables - monkfish added 27-4-14We cooked the monkfish in the sauce for 10 minutes before adding the cooked prawns which simply needed heating through. You will need to cook your fish according to type. prawn - close-up 27-4-14vegetables - cooked 27-4-14Spoon into hot bowls and sprinkle with the almond topping. We simply ate it with crusty bread and a spoon. bread - loaf 27-4-14

5 to remember
una cazuela – a casserole dish
el tallo – the stalk
crujiente – crusty
el fondo – the background
una cuchara – a spoon