Author Archives: sandradan1

About sandradan1

Writer and journalist. I blog about our life in a secret Andalucían valley at and about writing, reading and everything to do with books at Come and visit me!

Whose nest is this?

Look what I found when I was deadheading the roses. A tiny nest, delicately balanced in the middle of a large rose bush. Beautifully woven. No owner in residence. No known eggs or chicks. Too small to belong to a blackbird, could it belong to one of the finch family?

5 to remember
mira lo que he encontrado – look what I found
muerto las rosas – deadheading the roses
delicadamente equilibrado – delicately balanced
bellamente tejido – beautifully woven
el propietario – the owner

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Who does this beautifully woven nest belong to? #secretvalley in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley

July in the peaceful valley

July is a month of fiestas in Spain. The best known is the bull running of San Fermin in Pamplona, to which many Spaniards travel from across the country. In the houses of the villagers, the televisions will be turned on to show the events. Here in the secret valley, recently designated a zone of special protection due to its outstanding beauty, we have no bulls and life continues peacefully. The most exciting thing to happen recently is the sale of a nearby olive grove, from one villager to another – actually from one cousin to another – and the subsequent digging of new drainage channels in preparation for winter.

5 to remember
las fiestas – the fiestas
los más conocidos – the best known
designada – designated
una zona de protección especial – a zone of special protection
excepcional – outstanding

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Always peaceful: this is what July looks like in the #secretvalley in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley

A salad, involving melons

This is one of those salads that sounds so simple that you wonder ‘what’s the point?’

The point is to use the very freshest ingredients, in season: melon, tomato, cucumber. The cucumber is important. If you can, use Spanish pepinos, the short fat warty-skinned variety which put English cucumbers into the shade. This is a Rick Stein recipe which he made in France. Spanish ingredients do the job just as well.
The only change I made was to add handfuls of fresh baby mint leaves, and use sherry vinegar for the dressing.

Serves lunch for 2 hungry people, with crusty bread and butter
½ ripe piel de sapo melon
pepino or ½ English cucumber
225g tomatoes, skinned
100g firm, crumbly goat’s cheese
Handful of fresh mint, rinsed
For the dressing:-
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp Jerez sherry vinegar
Pinch of caster sugar
Sea salt flakes, and coarsely ground black pepper

Make the dressing first by combining the ingredients with a whisk. Set aside.

Cut the melon into four wedges, scooped out the seeds with a spoon. Slice the flesh away from the skin and cut each wedge into long thin slices. pepino, slicedPeel the cucumber and slice on the diagonal into 3mm-thick slices. Slice the tomatoes. Arrange the melon on the base of a large serving plate, cover with the cucumber and tomato slices.

Crumble the cheese in small pieces on top, then scatter with the mint. Spoon over the dressing and serve straight away with bread and butter. crusty bread & butterFor more about Rick Stein, visit his website.

Three more salads to try:-
Hot hot chickpea salad
A gooey creamy salad
Spanish tuna and tomato salad

5 to remember
incluso – involving/including
la más frescos – the very freshest
en estación – in season
la diagonal – the diagonal
esparcir – to scatter

French Odyssey by Rick Stein


‘French Odyssey’ by Rick Stein [UK: BBC Books]


And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A French salad made with Spanish melons #recipe by @Rick_Stein via @Spanish_Valley

Asparagus field… gone to seed

Ever wondered what an asparagus field looks like when the crop is finished? This is it. Fronds of fern-like, feathery leaves, which look more at home in a florist’s vase than in a farmer’s field past its best.

Done right, a farmer should only have to plant an asparagus field once. Once planted, that is the only crop for that field. Which means yield is very important. At least one year must pass before the crop is harvested. The first thing you notice is the spears, poking out of the brown earth like green fingers. Once the crop is finished, the plants will continue growing, up to 3-4ft by summer.

5 to remember
la cosecha – the crop
las frondas – the fronds
plumoso/a – feathery
una floristería – a florist
un jarrón – a vase

Dazzling summer sun

When we first moved to Spain, my sensitive Northern eyes needed sunglasses during the hot summer months. Now, my eyes have adjusted and some days I forget to carry my sunglasses with me. Pablo, who has lived here for almost seventy years, has never worn sunglasses and seems bemused by mine. It is rare to see the villagers wearing sunglasses, perhaps it is the sign of a fashion-conscious incomer.

5 to remember
deslumbrante – dazzling
las gafas de sol – the sunglasses
casi setenta años – almost seventy years
un recién llegado – an incomer
consciente de la moda – fashion-conscious

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Dazzling summer sun in the #secretvalley #Spain via @Spanish_Valley

A simple, classic Madeira cake

Who knew a combination of butter, eggs and lemon could be divine. This is the type of plain cake I used to think boring when I was a child. Now, I know differently. Made with a lot of unsalted butter and a hint of lemon, it is a creamy, silky mouthful which I never tire of. It also makes a lovely pudding with sliced fresh fruit and a spoonful of Greek yogurt.

240g unsalted butter, softened
200g caster sugar
a little extra caster sugar for sprinkling [we used Demerara]
grated zest and rind of a lemon
3 large eggs
210g self-raising flour
90g plain flour

Butter and line a 23x13x17 loaf tin.

Preheat the oven to 170°C/Gas 3.

Cream the butter and sugar, and add the lemon zest. Add the eggs one at a time, with a tablespoon of the flour for each. Then gently fold in the rest of the flour. Finally, add the lemon juice.

Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin, and lightly sprinkle the top with sugar. About 2 tbsp should be enough.

Bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer comes out clean.Remove to a wire rack. Allow to cool in the tin before turning out.

Our cake is a gluten-free version of this recipe so instead of the self-raising flour and plain flour, we substituted 300g gluten-free plain flour and 1½ tsp of gluten-free baking powder.

If you like this, try:-
An apple and cinnamon cake
Cherry cake
An easy iced apricot and cherry cake

5 to remember
precalentar – to preheat
uno a la vez – one at a time
limpio – clean
debería ser suficiente – should be enough
sustituimos – we substituted

This recipe is from How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson [UK: Chatto & Windus]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Madeira cake: who can resist this most classic of cakes? #Spain #recipe via @Spanish_Valley

Bird song: Chaffinch

The male Chaffinch is a strong singer, especially when he is trying to attract a mate. Resident here, he is easily spotted with his blue/grey cap and dark rusty red breast. As is the way with nature the female is a duller brown, but both birds feature the same white wing patches. I am yet to spot a deep-cupped Chaffinch nest, which they build in the fork of a tree. More often we see them sitting in the acacia tree outside our kitchen window, and it is their song which draws us to look out.

[photo: John Haslam]

After the bird moults in autumn, the tips of the new feathers have a buff fringe which adds a brown tone to its plumage. Over the winter, the ends of the feathers wear away and by the spring breeding season the birds are looking their best again as the brighter colours beneath are now on display.

Listen to the Chaffinch’s song here at the RSPB website.

5 to remember
un amigo – a mate
gris – duller [colour]
la ala – the wing
más a menudo – more often
la ventana de la cocina – the kitchen window

Listen to the song of these other birds we see in our Spanish valley:-
Green Woodpecker

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Do you recognize the song of the Chaffinch? #Birds in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley