Cooling a country house in summer

We are fortunate that our house has thick walls, and is built onto rock with its back nestled into the hillside. This makes it naturally cool in summer and means we rarely use the air-conditioning units fitted throughout the house. But in the +40° C heat we are currently experiencing, we have a ‘summer heat’ routine which we follow religiously. It took us one summer to hit on the routine, in that first summer we were over-heated and we learned the hard way. So, we became more Spanish and less northern European. Yes, we sunbathe, but we like to keep the house cool and we sit outside in the shade. pool house curtain 7-8-13This is our ‘summer heat’ routine:

Know when and where the sun rises and sets. This sounds obvious but you need to close the shutters and the windows BEFORE the sun hits the glass;

After the sun has set, open all windows wide and, if you can, leave them open all night so cool air flows throughout the house;

Hot air is just as much an enemy as direct sunshine;

During the heat of the day, keep all doors shut. The inside of the house will be dark, but it will be COOL;

Tiled floors are cooling, rugs are not;

Set aside seating on a shady terrace, under a pergola or a convenient tree; view from the terrace sofa 25-8-13Drink water, lots of it. Alcohol and caffeine dehydrate, fizzy drinks do not count. Water, fruit juice and tea do count. As cooling as beer seems, it is not the best choice;

Eat salads: fruit and vegetables are full of fruit and help to keep you hydrated;

If you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Keep a large glass of water on the go all day, and keep drinking;

Wear a sunhat, and loose cotton clothing; sunhats 25-8-13Swim, this is a double win-win. Exercise + cool water;

Use your aircon unit sparingly, beware they gobble electricity!

Eat gazpacho, like the Spanish do. There is always a huge vat of the stuff in Pablo’s kitchen in the summer, it is very cooling.

5 to remember
las paredes – the walls [of a house/building]
afortunado/a – fortunate
la rutina – the routine
tengo sed – I am thirsty
el mosquitero – the fly screen [at a window]

Book review: A Death in Valencia

a death in valencia by jason webster 16-7-14This is a book about more than a singular death, it is an exploration of the nature of death and what constitutes murder. Max Cámara, the Valencia detective introduced in Or the Bull Kills You, cannot sleep: his street is being dug up as the new Metro line is being built, the summer heat pulsates, and Valencia is crazy as it prepares for the arrival of the Pope.

The city buzzes with pro- and anti-Catholic emotions, with pro-life and pro-choice campaigners lining up their arguments for the Pope. Meanwhile the police force prepares security for the visit, as a developer is ripping up the old fisherman’s quarter El Cabanyal [below] to build new apartment blocks. On the first page, a dead body is washed up on the shore. A well-known paella chef.



Max has eaten the chef’s paella but is taken off the case to help hunt for a kidnapped woman, a gynaecologist who performs abortions. The eve of the Pope’s visit is the worst possible time for this to happen. As always seems to happen in crime novels, two seemingly separate incidents are linked. The link, in this case, is carefully plotted so I didn’t spot it until the end. For me, this is a deeper more intelligent novel than the first in the Max Cámara series [there are now four], perhaps because the author is settling into the genre and the character.

I must add that Valencia simply rocks in this book, it comes alive off the page, the heat, the tension, the grief. I can smell the summer dust.

To read my review of Jason Webster’s first book about Max Cámara, click here.



To watch a video where Jason Webster [above] explains how he wrote A Death in Valencia and how real life influenced the plot, click here.
To watch a film about El Cabanyal, and the threat it still faces from developers, click here. The film is directed by Tristan Martin and narrated by Nigel Planer.
Click here for Jason Webster’s website for more about Max Cámara, Webster’s travel writing about Spain and a new history book, The Spy with 29 Names.

‘A Death in Valencia’ by Jason Webster [Vintage]

Summer loaded potato skins

If you’re anything like us, you eat baked potatoes regularly throughout the year. So next time, put a few more potatoes in the oven and you can make this recipe! It’s great for a light summer lunch outside in the sun with a beer in hand, or just as good cosy inside on a winter night with a mug of tea. plateful 22-3-14The original recipe is torn from an old copy of Grazia magazine, but I have ‘made it our own’ as the original featured bacon. Feel free to adapt your toppings as creatively as you wish. I used smoked salmon and spring onions, but you could choose sun-dried tomatoes, tuna, pine nuts, a sprinkle of smoked paprika. potato - close-up of cooked half 22-3-14Serves 4
6 large potatoes
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil smoked salmon - close-up 22-3-144 large slices smoked salmon, sliced
4 spring onions, chopped
100g parmesan [or cheddar, manchego, whatever hard cheese you have] parmesan - grated 22-3-14150ml sour cream
1 small garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp fresh chives, snipped with scissors

Preheat the oven to Gas 7/220°C/180°C fan. potatoes - just gone into the oven 22-3-14Rub the potatoes all over with a little oil, place directly onto the oven shelf, and back for 1- 1¼ hours or until tender. Remove from the oven, set aside to cool. potato - just out of the oven 22-3-14Meanwhile prepare your toppings. potatoes - cooled & quartered 22-3-14Cut the cooled potatoes into quarters, and scoop out most of the flesh leaving a ½cm layer [reserve the flesh in a dish to use later for something else]. Place the quarters, cut side down, onto two baking trays. Brush with a little oil and bake for 8-10 minutes. potatoes - quarters on the baking tray 22-3-14Turn the skins over, and top half with the cheese, smoked salmon and salad onions. Return to the oven for another 8-10 minutes [keep an eye on them though, as mine only needed 5 minutes]. potato - quarters loaded going into oven 22-3-14Combine the sour cream, garlic and chives in a bowl. Arrange the potato skins on a plate and drizzle with the sour cream. sour cream, garlic & chives - on a teaspoon 22-3-145 to remember
regularmente – regularly
la próxima vez – the next time
el tocino – the bacon
tan bueno como – just as good
un cuarto – a quarter

Book review: The Ignorance of Blood

the ignorance of blood by robert wilson 7-7-14 (2)A car accident. Millions of euros. A Russian gangster drinking champagne in the middle of nowhere. The opening scene of this, the fourth in the quartet of books featuring Seville detective Javier Falcón, does not disappoint. Robert Wilson’s intricate plotting is spot-on. I read this book voraciously as Falcón struggles to get to the whole truth, admiring the way the author weaves together the story strands from the preceding three books so that at the end you understand though you did not guess.

I did not get the ending right, I expected something different. There are moments when you wonder if Javier can continue, will he step over to the dark side, will his emotional strength desert him? This is the most international of the four books, with Javier travelling to London and Morocco but Seville retains its hot sultry presence. I can smell the dusty heat of the evening where the detectives seem to exist on coffee and cruelty lays just out of sight.

I’m sorry this is a short review, I can’t write more without giving away the plot. There were moments when I wanted to shout ‘don’t do it’ and others when I thought with sad acceptance ‘yes, that’s the only thing you can do’. At the end, I wanted to start reading the series all over again. Well done Robert Wilson [below]. robert wilson - photo 7-7-14 (2)To read my reviews of the preceding three Javier Falcón books, click here.
The Blind Man of Seville
The Silent and the Damned
The Hidden Assassins
To hear Robert Wilson talk about The Ignorance of Blood, click here.

‘The Ignorance of Blood’ by Robert Wilson

The sun arrives

A July morning. 7am. sunrise in july1 9-7-14Our valley is still in the shade, but the sun is up and creeps around, highlighting hillsides and peaks like a spotlight. sunrise in july2 9-7-14And as soon as the sun’s direct light hits the ground, the summer heat arrives. sunrise in july3 9-7-14 5 to remember
todavía – still
se arrastra -it creeps
los toques de luz – highlights
la luz direccional – the spotlight
directo/a – direct

July in the valley

Predominantly gold, with touches of green. For the farmers, some crops are finished and others are still growing. No rain for more than a month, higher temperatures than normal for July but with the odd grey humid day. Here’s a snapshot of what we see around us. dried thistle - Canete la Real to Almargen 26-7-13 (2)green tomato in july 24-7-11 (2)lavender against olive grove 8-7-14plums in july 6-7-11 (2)pomegranate 24-7-11 (2)pomegranate in july - pink 24-7-11 (2)sage flower - close-up 8-7-14the big walnut tree 8-7-14plums in july2 6-7-11 (2)tomatoes in july 24-7-11 (2)pomegranate in july 24-7-11 (2)valley1 8-7-145 to remember
predominantemente – predominantly
toques de – touches of
terminado/a – finished
its very humid today – hay mucha humedad
la foto instantánea – snapshot