The courtship of birds

We’re into spring now and are surrounded here by birds, getting it on, getting together, sizing each other up. How they do this depends on the bird.

[photo: Raymond Belhumeur]

[photo: Raymond Belhumeur]

Sparrows [above] chatter, fight, joust, with males dancing around the females, wings outspread, chirping loudly to demand attention. The male will follow a likely female, hopping, his wings quivering, occasionally leaping on top of her or pecking her, waiting for her acceptance. Meanwhile nest preparation is underway. The Sparrows which nest in the solar panels on the kitchen roof have already discarded old material from the nest, and are gathering new. The inside is coarse material such as leaves, twigs and straw, while the inside is lined with grass and feathers. Watch the courtship dance of the House Sparrow here.

[photo: Wikipedia]

[photo: Wikipedia]

Swallows [above] are monogamous and stay nearby throughout the year. They are already nest-making, returning to their old site, located in overhead locations somewhere sheltered from weather and predators. A new mud nest [below] starts with a splatter of mud on the wall, followed by the addition of straw, sometimes twigs or grass. swallow nest1Yesterday we were treated to a pair of eagles – it’s most likely they were Short-Toed Eagles, though I’m not 100% sure as they were over the neighbouring valley – hunting together, circling in wide loops away from each other then swooping very close as if sizing each other up, calling kee kee.

[photo: Wikipedia]

[photo: Wikipedia]

Watch the courtship of Short-Toed Eagles [above] in flight here.

5 to remember
el cortejo  – the courtship
monógamo – monogamous
un bucle de ancho – a wide loop
dando vueltas – circling
abalanzando/a – swooping

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
The courtship of #birds in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley

An apple and cinnamon cake

Wanting cake one day and not much caring what type, I made this with what we had. This was principally a large bag of eating apples which needed eating up. It’s a Mary Berry recipe, and so I knew it would work. It tasted good too. This is my gluten-free version with a few substitutions for Spanish availabilities. The dark brown colour of the finished cake is due to the dark brown sugar I used which added a deep caramel sweetness. apple-peel1piece-of-cake225g soft margarine
225g light muscovado sugar [in Spain I used dark brown sugar which gave the cake a rich brown colour]
3 extra large eggs [I used 4 large eggs from Pablo which always vary in size]
100g walnut pieces, chopped
100g sultanas
225g gluten-free flour [I use the Beiker brand bought at Mercadona]
4 tsp gluten-free baking powder [if you are using conventional flour, use 2 tsp ordinary baking powder]
400g apples, peeled, cored and grated
1 tsp ground cinnamon
For the topping:-
Sugar for sprinkling [the same sort you put into the cake mixture]
Extra chopped walnuts
Icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Lightly grease and base line a 9in [23cm] deep round cake tin, with greased greaseproof paper. cake-tin-linedapple-peel2Prepare the grated apple and cinnamon mixture.

Measure the margarine, sugar, eggs, chopped walnuts, sultanas, flour and baking powder into a large bowl and beat well for about two minutes until mixed.

Spoon half the mixture into the prepared tin, then spread the apple mixture across the top. Mary says to do this in an even layer which I found difficult, better to add small teaspoons evenly across the top. Then spread the remaining cake mixture on top, level the surface. I bang the cake tin on the table to eliminate bubbles. cake-tin-top-layerSprinkle the top generously with your choice of sugar and walnuts. ready-to-go-into-the-ovenBake in the oven for about 1¼ – 1½ hours or until the cake is well risen and golden brown. Mine cooked quicker, it was done after an hour, and I put a piece of foil over the top after 30 minutes to protect from burning.

Test with a skewer to see if the cake is cooked, when the skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out. Leave to cool completely on a cake rack. just-out-of-the-ovenDust with icing sugar and eat. cake-sprinkled-with-icing-sugarapple-half5 to remember
una bolsa grande de – a large bag of
algunas sustituciones – a few substitutions
Mary dice – Mary says
un pincho – a skewer
para proteger de – to protect from

Fancy another cake? Try making these:-
Chocolate and pear cake
Fruit bowl cake
An Italian cake of Spanish apples

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


This recipe is from ‘Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book’ by Mary Berry [UK: BBC Books]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Apple & cinnamon #cake #recipe via @Spanish_Valley

Our olive grove in February

In terms of the lifespan of an olive tree, ours are not even toddlers. Some olive trees live to be 1500 years old, the average lifespan is 500 years [or less depending on the Spanish Government’s periodic grants to farmers for planting new varieties, which sees the old trees ripped up]. Humans have been eating olives since the Bronze Age. Many olive trees around the Mediterranean have been dated to 2000 years of age, an olive tree in Croatia is still fruiting at the age of 1600 years. Our olive grove was a field when we bought the property, it had been used as paddocks for livestock rearing. Previously wheat was grown there hence the ancient ‘threshing patch’. We removed the fencing and planted olive trees which have taken five years to grow to the size you see below. The threshing patch remains untouched.

Read these two Olive Oil Times articles: the first explains the life cycle of the olive tree, the second about a Spaniard rescuing millenary olive trees.

Here are two previous articles published on ‘Notes on a Spanish Valley’ about our threshing patch: the first explains its origins, the second is a photographic tour throughout the year.

5 to remember
la vida útil – the lifespan
un niño – a toddler
periódico – periodic
una beca – a grant
rasgar – to rip up

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Our olive grove in February: #farming in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley

A fresh salad for winter

Eaten too much of something too heavy, creamy or cheesy? Then try this winter salad which uses Brussels sprouts, one of my favourites. If you haven’t eaten sprouts raw, you are in for a discovery. They are crunchy, full of flavour and the dressing sits in all the crinkles. A million miles away from boiled sprouts, honest.

It is a Brussels sprout take on the classic Waldorf salad: mayonnaise, lemon juice, apples, celery, walnuts, lettuce. This winter version is lighter and, I think, more interesting. This is the first recipe I’ve tried by food writer Gizzi Erskine. Watch out for more of her salad options. bowlful

Serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 for lunch
300g shredded Brussels sprouts
100g halved, seedless green grapes
1 sliced apple
60g walnut halves
A handful of freshly chopped tarragon
For the dressing:-
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tbsp natural yogurt
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

First, mix all the dressing ingredients together in a large bowl. brussels-sprouts-shreddedShred your sprouts through the shredder/slicer attachment of your food processor, or slice them thinly by hand using a knife. If you are brave and don’t mind slicing your fingers too, you could try a mandolin. I used a knife.

Add the sprouts to the dressing, stir and leave to macerate for 15 minutes. add-apple-tarragon-walnuts-grapes-to-saladThen add the grapes, walnuts, apple and tarragon. Stir, and serve.

Now fancy cake? Try this:-
Canela apple cake
A cake to make on a cool afternoon
A sweet and sour cranberry cake

5 to remember
las coles de Bruselas – the Brussels sprouts
las arrugas – the crinkles
un descubrimiento – a discovery
a mano – by hand
el estragón – the tarragon

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A fresh salad for winter in #Spain: a Brussels sprout #recipe by @GizziErskine via @Spanish_Valley

Drastic action

There is no room for emotions on a farm. At this time of year, once the olive harvest is in and the farmers settle down to wait for their local cooperativa’s pronouncement about this year’s price [based on the yield of oil from the olives, not on the weight of olives harvested] there is a small pause before the spring cut. In the typical pragmatic way of the Spanish language, the phrase used for pruning the olive trees is ‘to cut’. And boy, do they cut. Lopping off branches, spindly new growth, sometimes most of the tree. It looks brutal. But olive trees live and yield olives for hundreds of years.

5 to remember
una granja – a farm
en esta época del año – at this time of year
el pronunciamiento – the pronouncement
una pequeña pausa – a small pause
pragmatico/a – pragmatic

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Drastic action: the spring cut. Olive #trees in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley

Mushrooms + wine + butternut

Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries III is an instant classic in our house. We saw this recipe first on Slater’s hypnotic television programme and decided to try it. We are limited here by the type of fresh mushrooms available, but with a little adaptation and the help of a handful of dried porcini, it turned out marvellous. Just what is needed on a chilly winter day. the mashermushroom, whiteporcini, close-upServes 4
For the marinade:-
750g assorted fresh mushrooms [Nigel used brown chestnut, king oyster and button. We used 500g button & a handful of dried porcini, soaked in a splash of boiling water]
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
250ml red wine [we of course used Spanish]
For the sauce:-
4 large onions [we can’t get shallots, but if you can use 2 onions & 8 small shallots]
3 garlic cloves
2 small carrots
2 tsp tomato paste
2 tbsp plain flour
250ml vegetable stock
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
For the mash:-
2 butternut squash
50g butter

Slice the largest mushrooms into pieces the thickness of a pound coin, and put them in a large mixing bowl. Quarter the chestnut mushrooms and halve the button mushrooms [if they are small, leave whole], add to the bowl. If using dried porcini, add now with the soaking water.

Crack the coriander seeds and peppercorns using a pestle and mortar, or grind coarsely in a spice/coffee grinder. Tuck the bay leaves, thyme and rosemary among the mushrooms, add the coriander/pepper mixture. Pour the red wine over the mushrooms and cover. Leave to marinate for an hour. wine corkPeel the onions and cut in half, then slice each half into six segments. Put a couple of tbsp of olive oil into a deep, heavy-based casserole, add the onions, and cook over a moderate heat. Stir occasionally. In 15-20 minutes they will be soft and golden.

Peel and thinly slice the garlic, add to the onions. Scrub the carrots, cut into small dice, add to the onions. If using shallots, peel, leave them whole and add to the onions. Add the tomato paste and leave to cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Drain the mushrooms [reserving the wine] and add to the onions, leave to cook. When done, the mixture will be gold and brown. Scatter the flour over the mushroom mixture, stir in, and allow to cook for a couple of minutes before adding the red wine and stock. Mix gently, avoid breaking up the mushrooms, then bring to the boil. bubbling in the panSeason with salt and pepper and leave to simmer gently for 20 minutes till it is dark, rich and woodsy. Check the seasoning, if needed add a tsp of balsamic vinegar. butternut, peeledTo make the mash, peel and roughly chop the butternut squash and steam over boiling water for 20 minutes until tender. Add the butter and crush using a potato masher.

Serve the mushrooms with the mash. We ate it with fresh asparagus, a gift from a neighbour who have their own field. This asparagus was picked that morning by their children.platefulA note: when we saw this made on television, Nigel recommended steaming the butternut rather than boiling it in a pan. We did the latter, and our mash was rather wet. Next time, we will steam it.

Fancy pudding? Try this:-
Peachy granola crumble
Chocolate and pear cake
Easy-peasy cheesecake

5 to remember
instante – instant
un clásico – a classic
el adobo – the marinade
surtido – assorted
recomendó – recommended

a year of good eating by nigel slater


Recipe adapted from A Year of Good Eating by Nigel Slater [UK: Fourth Estate]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Mushroom & butternut stew: a #recipe for winter by @NigelSlater via @Spanish_Valley

Sunset stripes

Sunrise and sunset: can you tell the difference? I’m not sure I can. I used to think the colours of sunset more brilliant than those early in the morning, until I realized my perception was based on the simple fact that I see more sunsets than sunrises. However I suspect that if I took a sleeping pill and awoke not knowing what day or time it was, I would not be able to correctly identify sunrise or sunset. So, do we know which is which based on our perception of the hours before? Below are three sunset photos taken within two minutes of each other.

5 to remember
la diferencia – the difference
mi percepcion – my perception
el simple hecho de que – the simple fact that
sospecho que – I suspect that
una píldora para dormer – a sleeping pill

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Stripes in the sky: winter sunset in #Spain via @Spanish_Valley