The mother of invention

This recipe was born of necessity. As necessity is the mother of invention… it did, of course, turn out rather wonderful. Picture it, a cold winter weekend, we should have gone out to the supermarket but instead we hunkered down in front of the fire. But then we got hungry, very hungry, and so this dish was cobbled together from a vague memory of watching a television chef. cider - bottle 12-1-14We assembled it as follows:-
From the store cupboard: an old [very old, out of date] bottle of Asturian cider [above], and a small carton of longlife nata para cocinar [cream for cooking].
From the freezer: salmon fillets.
From the pantry: Pablo’s potatoes, which we are never without.
From the fridge: a jar of mustard. mustard - jar 12-1-14cider - glass 12-1-14First, we pan-fried the fish in a little oil in a frying pan. Once the fish was part-cooked, we set it aside. The fish will continue to cook off the heat, so it is important to remove it from the pan early.

To the same pan used for the fish, add a couple of teaspoons of whatever mustard you have [ours was grain] and a good swig of cider. I should add here that this is a ‘glug and a dash’ sort of recipe, no measurements, just add and stir until it tastes right. add cider & mustard to fish pan 12-1-14Add the cream, stir to combine. add cream to cider sauce 12-1-14Put salmon back into the pan and re-heat gently. frying potatoes 12-1-14If, like us, you want to eat this with fried potatoes, you need to start cooking the potatoes first. Peel and cut into cubes, then par-boil them until softening. Drain water from the pan, put on the lid and shake them so the edges are softened. In a large frying pan, heat olive oil and add the potatoes. Fry gently, turning, until golden brown. If your timing is a little misplaced, fried potatoes are forgiving: they keep warm very well in a dish in the oven. We always think we have peeled too many potatoes, and we always eat the lot! plateful 12-1-145 to remember
la necesidad – the necessity
vago/a – vague
la memoria – the memory
el jefe de cocina – chef
la mostaza – the mustard

Damp almond and lemon cake

I know the name of this cake is a bit odd – its Nigella Lawson’s cake not mine – but please try it. I am an almond fan, just as well with all the almond trees we have here, we’ve never been short of an almond or two. baking tin - cake removed 20-5-14cake - cut into 21-5-14The combination of creamy almond and sharp lemon works well. The word ‘damp’ in the title comes from the fact that there is hardly any flour in the cake, so it is moist. In fact when I went to the cupboard there was so little flour in the flour box that I thought I would have to postpone my plans, but 50g really is just a couple of spoonfuls. plateful 21-5-14225g soft unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
4 large eggs
50g plain flour
225g ground almonds
½ tsp almond essence [which I didn’t have, so I substituted vanilla essence]
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons lemon - juiced 20-5-14lemon - zest grated 20-5-14Grease a 21-23cm Springform cake tin [I used an old butter paper] and line the bottom. baking tin - grease with butter paper 20-5-14parchment paper - red ring 20-5-14Roll out your baking parchment, take the loose bottom of the tin and place it on the paper. Draw a ring around the tin, and cut out.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4.

Cream together the butter and sugar until almost white [below]. add the sugar to the butter 20-5-14cream the butter & sugar 20-5-14Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a quarter of the flour after each addition [below]. egg shells 20-5-14add the eggs and flour 20-5-14When all the eggs and flour are thoroughly combined, gently stir in the ground almonds followed by the essence, zest and juice [below]. add the zest, juice & essence 20-5-14This makes a pretty sloppy mixture [below], so don’t worry! sloppy mixture 20-5-14Pour the mixture into the cake tin [below], give it a tap to eliminate bubbles, and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Nigella says this timing is approximate though and warns that she has made the cakes in different ovens when it is ready anything from 50 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes. She advises covering the cake with foil, after 30 minutes in the oven, so the top doesn’t burn. tin - ready to go into oven 20-5-14The cake is ready when the top is firm and a skewer, inserted, comes out cleanish. You want a little dampness, but not goo.

Take the cake out of the oven and let it stand in the tin for five minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack and leave until cool. tin - just out of oven 20-5-14cake cooling on rack 20-5-14Nigella says it is best stored by wrapping in foil, and leaving for a couple of days [if you can!]. Serve sprinkled with a dusting of icing sugar and some fresh berries, raspberries, strawberries or other fresh fruit.

5 to remember
una hincha de [algo] – a fan of [something]
húmedo/a – damp/moist
una frambuesa – raspberry
una fresa – a strawberry
guardar – to store something

How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson 17-4-14


‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’ by Nigella Lawson

A celebration of onions

Our small veggie patch produces enough onions to last us through the winter. Our first attempts at storing them were disastrous, we mistakenly assumed that they should be kept in the dark and they spoiled, sprouting beyond practical use. No… oddly they store better in the light though they will still sprout a small amount. But there is one rule you must follow… they must be dry, the skins papery, with all earth knocked off. This is about judging the right time to lift them from the ground: on a dry day, we lay them out on a table on the terrace and leave them in the autumn sunshine.

Now we store them in a basket in the pantry. Pablo stores his in an enormous heap in his root cellar beneath his house, next to the even larger heap of potatoes.

5 to remember
suficiente – enough
desastroso/a – disastrous
por error – mistakenly
como de papel – papery
satisfecho/a – satisfying

Poplars through the seasons

Through the year, I think my favourite tree of the valley is the poplar. It pays to be patient, as spring arrives and the bare branches of winter burst into life with the purest green of leaves, that type of green that says ‘new life’. 8 August bark - tennis court tree 27-8-13The bark is so wonderfully crusty it makes me want to touch it. And then, after a summer set to the soundtrack of wind swishing through the poplar leaves, comes Autumn Showtime.

Here is the photographic story of our poplar year.

March, in sun and cloud…

3 March poplars in valley bottom1 26-3-133 March poplars in valley bottom2 26-3-133 March poplars1 15-3-13April, and the fluffy seeds disperse… 4 April chopo seeds in april 28-4-114 April chopo seeds in april2 28-4-114 April poplars in the valley 28-4-11May, saplings are planted… 5 May poplars saplings planted on bottom terrace - 2nd spring 1-5-13July…7 poplars 8-7-14August… 8 poplars 24-8-14November… 11 Nov poplars in nov - photo David 15-11-095 to remember
el preferido/la preferida – the favourite
paciente - patient
lo más puro – purest
crujiente – crusty
la banda sonora – the soundtrack

Crunchy lemony cake

We have a bowlful of lemons at the moment so have been making lots of lemony things: lemon curd, using lemon juice in salad dressing in place of the vinegar etc. So here is a cake which is a combination of lemony sharpness and sugary sweetness. plateful 26-5-14lemon - close-up 26-5-14100g soft margarine
175g caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 extra large eggs
4 tablespoons milk
Finely grated rind of a lemon
For the crunchy topping:-
Juice of a lemon
100g caster of granulated sugar

Pre- heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Lightly grease and base line a 7in [18cm] deep round cake tin with greased greaseproof paper. tin - lining the tin scissors 26-5-14Measure all the ingredients for the cake into a large bowl and beat well for about two minutes until smooth and well blended. in the bowl - eggs, sugar, butter 26-5-14in the bowl - mixing the batter 26-5-14Turn the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level the surface. tin - ready to go into the oven 26-5-14Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake has shrunk slightly away from the sides of the tin, and springs back when lightly pressed with a finger.

While the cake is baking, prepare the topping. Measure the lemon juice and sugar into a bowl and stir until blended [below]. lemon syrup - mixing 26-5-14When the cake comes out of the oven, spread the lemon paste over the top while the cake is still hot. Leave in the tin until cold, then turn out and remove the paper. drizzling the syrup on the cake 26-5-14cake - leaving the syrup to set 26-5-14cake on cooling rack - close-up 26-5-145 to remember
en vez de – in place of/instead of
el vinagre – the vinegar
el aliño – the salad dressing
hondo/a – deep [dish]
supremo/a – ultimate

mary berry's ultimate cake book 20-1-14


‘Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book’ by Mary Berry

The drainage solution

June, 2006. Summer. And then a storm came, followed by a flood. We didn’t live here then, so we are thankful to our predecessors who had to deal with mud in the house and the pool. Their remedial actions meant we have never faced a flood like it, and their cautionary story taught us to never forgo drainage maintenance. Summer, and winter, storms in Spain can be fierce!

The morning after the rain, this was the scene. At the house, looking from our car park down towards the Almond Track [below].

[photo: Europa Alpacas]

[photo: Europa Alpacas]

Up the track, away from the house, the floodwater cut the earth away from underneath a concrete section of track [below].

[photo: Europa Alpacas]

[photo: Europa Alpacas]

The water ran from here, downhill, around another bend…

[photo: Europa Alpacas]

[photo: Europa Alpacas]

… and down our driveway, slashing its way through the downhill olives [below].

[photo: Europa Alpacas]

[photo: Europa Alpacas]

nigel's pic - vegetation washed away 16-6-06Water takes the shortest route, short cuts you don’t necessarily want it to take. Now, our deep drainage ditches are regularly tended, cleared of debris and re-cut. This is how the track looks now [below]. now1 10-10-14now2 10-10-145 to remember
agradecido/a – thankful
los predecesores – predecessors
los actos de saneamiento – remedial action
las advertencias – cautionary story
feroz – fierce

The biennial ‘spring’ clean

Every other year there is a wet muddy job to be done. Our water comes from our own spring, rather than the mains supply. Yes, it really does spring up out of the ground, or rather into a ‘sink’ at the back of house. From there it is piped into the storage tank. Every other year, we clean out the sink and cut back the vegetation.

This is before… roses and ivy 8-5-14And this is after… spring - after1 26-7-14And this is the job to get it from ‘that’ to ‘this. First, remove the pot plants and cut back the rose to reveal the sink… first, cutting back the rose 26-7-14… a look inside the sink, full and muddy… inside the spring2 – before draining 26-7-14… fix a tube to the outlet pipe to divert the running water coming from the spring… inside the spring1 - tube to drain the water 26-7-14… shift the water in the spring the old-fashioned way, with a jug, into trugs… trugs of muddy water and gravel 26-7-14… admire the clean, empty, spring… inside the spring3 – empty 26-7-14In the process, we cut back the red rose bush and discovered a wall we didn’t know was there. Not to mention the rose trunk, as big as a man’s forearm! the rose’s trunk 26-7-14wall we didn't know was there 26-7-14Click here to read more about our life, living without mains water.

5 to remember
casi todo/a – Every other year
un lavabo – a sink
la vegetación – the vegetation
un cubo de jardinería – a trug
old-anticuado/a – fashioned