Author Archives: sandradan1

About sandradan1

Writer and journalist. I blog about our life in a secret Andalucían valley at http://www.notesonaspanishvalley.com/ and about writing, reading and everything to do with books at http://www.sandradanby.com/. Come and visit me!

An hour in the life of a baby snake

Most of the afternoon, we didn’t spot the guest lounging beside the swimming pool. A baby Montpellier snake – identified by his spotted skin, which will become fairly uniform as he matures – lying almost entirely hidden by the long thin shadow of the pool railing. Thin, thinner than the size of my little finger, he was about a foot long, curled up around himself in S’s. Then he awoke and stretched, his head nudging into the strong March afternoon sun. About 24°C.

And then he spotted us, or felt the vibration of our footsteps, and he made a break for it. Dropping into the water, at first he swam along the edge. But with each attempt to climb out, wriggling the front half of his body to dry land, he failed to get his tail out of the water. And so he swam out into the deep water. A quick and efficient swimmer, next he swam to the steps where he stuck his head about the surface and gulped air before heading off again. 

By now, we feared he was stuck. And so we intervened with the pool net. We left him to dry in the sun. When we returned thirty minutes later, he was gone.

[photo: Wikipedia]

We know there must be snakes around us in the countryside but rarely see them, except for dead snakeskins. The adult Montpellier snake [above] grows up to 2m long, is active during the day and eats lizards. It is not dangerous to humans.

‘Field Guide: Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain & Europe’ [Collins]

5 to remember
el invitado– the guest
una serpiente bebé– a baby snake
mi dedo meñique– my little finger
la mitad delantera– the front half
treinta minutos más tarde-thirty minutes later

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
An hour in the life of a baby snake #Nature in #Spain https://wp.me/p3dYp6-2jE via @Spanish_Valley 

Herby baked halloumi with tapenade

Halloumi, that oddly squeaky Greek cheese, works well when stuffed with intense flavours. So this recipe is a bit of a hit in our house. It takes a little preparation time, but makes a really tasty lunch. Excessive amounts of herbs, lemon and olives are used, but it’s worth it. Oh, and there’s a bit of parcelling up too. Serves 4
For the halloumi:-
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Handful of flat leaf parsley
2 sprigs fresh oregano
Grated rind and juice of a lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 x 250g block halloumi
Freshly ground black pepper
For the tapenade:-
200g pitted black olives [we used Kalamata]
1 clove of garlic [we used two]
2 salted anchovy fillets in oil [we used half a tin]
1 tbsp flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 fresh rosemary sprig, roughly chopped
50ml olive oil
For the tomato salad:-
3 vine-ripened tomatoes
2 tsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
A handful of fresh basil leaves

Mix the main halloumi ingredients together in a bowl until it forms a paste [I used a large lemon which made the mixture quite runny, but this didn’t make any difference to the baked cheese]. Smear the paste all over the halloumi and season with pepper [there is no need to add salt to this dish, as both the halloumi and anchovies are salty enough]. Cover the bowl with cling film and put into the fridge for a minimum of two hours, overnight is better.

Put all the tapenade ingredients together in a small food processor, and blend together to your preferred texture. There is no need to discard thin parsley leaves as they chop well and add a lot of flavour. Cover and set aside in the fridge.

Heat the oven to 200°C. On a metal baking sheet, lay two sheets of baking paper. Place the halloumi and its marinade in the centre of the paper, then fold up the paper so it closes around the top like an envelope. Secure with staples to create an airtight package, so the cheese will steam inside.

Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes. When it’s done, remove from the oven and set aside for a few moments to cool. Meanwhile make the salad: slice the tomatoes and lay them on a plate. Season as preferred, drizzle with oil and vinegar, decorate with a scattering of basil leaves.

Serve the three dishes on one plate with a lemon wedge. We ate this with crusty sourdough bread, if we were really hungry we would eat it with a dish of roasted sweet potatoes. 5 to remember
el halloumi – the halloumi
chirriador – squeaky
de masa fermentada – sourdough
crujiente – crusty
una cuña de limón – a lemon wedge

 

This recipe is from ‘Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite’ by Gizzi Erskine [UK: Mitchell Beazley]

If you feel hungry, try these recipes:-
Little squash cakes with a kick
Yogurt & roasted butternut salad
A gift of leeks

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Herby baked halloumi with tapenade #Spain #Recipe by @GizziErskine https://wp.me/p3dYp6-2om via @Spanish_Valley

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Picking wild fennel seeds

We use a lot of fennel seeds in our house, they add a subtle layer of fragrance without being a dominant flavour. So this summer I decided to become a forager and gather our own from the hillside. This turned out to be such a simple process, I’m kicking myself for not doing it earlier. In Spain, the seeds dry on the wild plant so it’s a matter of judging the right time to collect them before any rain. Or before the birds get them.

Wild fennel is the same plant as the domesticated variety, except it doesn’t set a bulb, can grow very tall, has smaller seeds, and in places grows like a weed. The beautiful yellow globes are a familiar sight around here. How to forage:-
When your chosen day arrives, go for a walk with a pair of scissors and a paper bag. Find your plant and check each seed head – some will have already been eaten by birds, some just don’t set seed. Look for the seed heads with the largest seeds, cut them off and put them in your bag. If I don’t have time to deal with them straight away, I will lay them out in the sun to dry. Alternatively, I tie the bag with string and hang it in the pantry. The seed should separate itself from the seed head within a couple of weeks.

Shake the contents of the bag onto some clean paper. Take one seed head at a time and remove the seeds with your thumb and forefinger, dropping them into a dish. Pick through the seeds and remove any twigs, dust and debris. Put your seeds into a jar, seal it and freeze for a week. After that, it’s ready to use. 

How to dry inside:-
Strip the seeds from the stalks and scatter on a baking tray.
Place in the oven at a low temperature for 30 mins or until they feel dry.
Now they can be stored whole in a sealed jar, or ground to powder in a coffee grinder [I recommend keeping a grinder specifically for spices].

5 to remember
un proceso simple – a simple process
inmediatamente – straight away
un globo – a globe
un molinillo de café – a coffee grinder
yo recomiendo – I recommend

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Picking wild fennel seeds #foraging #Spain https://wp.me/p3dYp6-2p3 via @Spanish_Valley

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Banana & berry ice-cream

This is the smoothest, creamiest ice-cream I have tasted and it doesn’t have a drop of cream in it. Bananas and berries. It really is that simple. The possible variations are endless. Ella Mills, whose recipe it is, suggest three versions: this one, plain banana, and caramel featuring banana and dates. Don’t just save it for a hot Spanish summer day. It’s a great way of using up over-ripe bananas and the ice-cream keeps well in the freezer if you can’t eat it all at once.

Serves 4
8 very ripe, large bananas [1.3kg]
100g frozen blueberries or mixed berries

Peel the bananas, chop into thin slices. Place the slices into a bowl and freeze for at least six hours. When you are ready to make your ice-cream, remove the banana slices from the freezer and allow them to warm-up for about five minutes. Then put them into a food processor and blend for a minute or two until the mixture is smooth. Add the berries and blend again.

That’s it. For the caramel version, make the ice-cream in exactly the same way but instead of berries, substitute 12 pitted and chopped Medjool dates and 5 tbsp almond butter then blend.

If you like this, try:-
Chocolate Flapjack
Peanut Butter Biscuits
Baked Rice Pudding

5 to remember
más suave – smoothest
cremoso – creamiest
las posibles variaciones – the possible variations
interminable – endless
por un minuto o dos – for a minute or two

 

This recipe is Ella Mills, find more of her recipes here.
‘Deliciously Ella’ by Ella Mills [UK: Yellow Kite]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Banana ice-cream, with berries #Recipe by @DeliciouslyElla via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-2at

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A sliver of silver

Until I lived here I don’t think I appreciated the beauty of monochrome colours. Previously I had applied the term ‘monochrome’ to the white/black/grey palette but in fact it refers to all tints, tones and shades of a single colour. Darken it by adding black, grey or a darker colour; lighten by adding white. So isn’t nature clever, producing this silver/white/grey display at dusk?

As the clouds moved and the sun set, the display was ever-changing. At times, the glint of silver was almost like liquid mercury, reminding me of a sculpture at the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona: ‘Fuente de Mercurio’ by Alexander Calder [below]. The drip of liquid mercury seemed to defy reality: liquid? metal? The colour was so pure. 5 to remember
los colores monocromos – the monochrome colours
siempre cambiante – ever-changing
casi como – almost like
una escultura – a sculpture
el mercurio – the mercury/quicksilver

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A sliver of silver: like liquid metal? The sky at dusk in #Spain http://wp.me/p3dYp6-2dA via @Spanish_Valley

Bird song: Woodpigeon

Is this the most familiar of all bird song? The dreamy coo-ing of the Woodpigeon is familiar here as they fly in flocks across the valley, out over the village and into the hills. Sometimes, the Woodpigeon’s coo-ing sounds muffled, as it it is hiding its head in its feathers. A pretty sound and, actually, a pretty bird, although like most common things we forget to notice it. The pink-breasted Woodpigeons mingle here with the also common Stock Doves which have a noticeable green glossy patch on the neck.

Listen to the Woodpigeon sing here at the RSPB website.

5 to remember
una paloma – a woodpigeon
soñador – dreamy
una bandada de pájaros – a flock of birds
perceptible – noticeable
un parche – a patch

Listen to the song of these other birds we see in our Spanish valley:-
Swallow
Short-Toed Eagle
Willow Warbler

 

Our most used bird book?
Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe [UK: Collins]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
How does the Woodpigeon sing? #Birds in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-2a9

Fifty Shades of Green #21

A misty start to the morning. August 26, 2013

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A misty start to the morning #August in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-2by