Tag Archives: living abroad

Oleanders, joyous and life-affirming

Vincent van Gogh famously painted sunflowers during his time at Arles in France. But he also painted oleanders. He reportedly found them ‘joyous’ and ‘life-affirming’ because of their inexhaustible blooms and vigour. I know what he means

Oleanders by Vincent Van Gogh [photo: Wikipedia]

Our oleanders continue to flower from spring through autumn, in a mixture of red, pink and white. Now taller than me, oleanders can grow up to 6m tall. On our terraces, they mix with climbing roses, ivy and tall grasses. No sooner have the petals started to shrivel on one plant, than buds form on another. Even the dead flower bracts have appeal.

Oleander is a famously toxic garden plant, though huge quantities have to be consumed. Birds are thought to be immune; a fact that our sparrows and blackbirds can confirm as they regularly seek the shade of the oleanders on summer days.

5 to remember
jubiloso – joyous
marchitarse – to shrivel
una bráctea de flores– a flower bract
tóxico – toxic
un hecho que– a fact that

 

If you’d like to read more about Vincent van Gogh in Arles, the sunflowers and the oleanders, read ‘The Yellow House’ by Martin Gayford [UK: Penguin]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Oleanders, always flowering, always a new season in #Spain #gardening https://wp.me/p3dYp6-2pu via @Spanish_Valley 

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Petals on the steps

Our house stands on a hillside. Beneath us is a terrace of three levels, filled with multi-coloured oleanders, roses, ivy, honeysuckle, tall grasses, iris, pyracantha, rosemary and lavender. Mid-way down the hill, a path of stepping stones leads along a ridge to the top of a flight of steps. These rustic steps lead down to the river, with wild hillside on the left and the fruit orchard on the right. Shade is provided by tall oleander bushes and wild pomegranate trees. At the bottom is a picnic bench where we sit to chill out with an early morning mug of tea or an evening glass of wine, listen to the waterfall, admire the valley, and check on the progress of the wild figs. Are they ready to pick? Will we eat them fresh with some soft local goats cheese, or poached in syrup with a vanilla pod?

5 to remember
una ladera– a hillside
de tres niveles– of three levels
multicolor – multi-coloured
los escalones– the stepping stones
salvaje – wild

 

I use ‘Mediterranean Garden Plants’ by Lorraine Cavanagh [UK: Santana]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Petals on the steps #Spain #gardening https://wp.me/p3dYp6-2pK via @Spanish_Valley 

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A courgette and halloumi feast

This is a vegetarian meal worthy of guests, a feast, a celebration. It explodes with flavours and textures. Nothing is shy. Mint. Garlic. Basil. Beetroot. Lemon. If I was served this in a vegetarian restaurant, I would be delighted. There are four separate elements to the meal, which alone means it is probably best served as a celebration dinner rather than a mid-week meal. My favourite element? I’m hard-pressed to choose between the courgette and halloumi mixture, and the hazelnut pesto. Sadly I can’t tell you the cook responsible for the recipe, other than that it was featured in The Times Magazine. I plucked it from a pile of torn-out recipes because I fancied making something with halloumi.

Serves 8
For the courgettes and halloumi:-
5 tbsp olive oil
juice and zest of 4 lemons
3 garlic cloves, peeled
8 courgettes, cut into 5mm slices
1.2kg halloumi, cut into 5mm slices
a bunch of mint, leaves roughly chopped at the last minute
freshly ground black pepper
For the beetroot:-
16 small raw beetroots, unpeeled, washed and leaves trimmed to 3cm [1.6kg total weight]
olive oil, for brushing
freshly ground black pepper
Leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme
For the hazelnut pesto:-
200 whole hazelnuts
100g basil leaves
100g parmesan, roughly grated
zest and juice of 2 lemons
400ml extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
For the chickpeas:-
4 x 400g tins chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tbsp olive oil, for roasting
4 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tsp garlic powder [optional, I did not use]
2 tbsp soft brown sugar [optional, I did not use]

Preheat the oven to 200°C / Gas 6. First, put the whole beetroots into a large roasting tin. Brush or roll them in olive oil so they are well covered. Sprinkle with the thyme leaves. Bake in the oven for 1 hour or until they are soft and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Once they are cooled, remove the skins using a sharp knife and fork. It is better not to touch them as beetroot juice can stain anything it touches. Cut away the root and stalks, then chop the beets into 5cm chunks. Set aside until ready to serve. This can be prepared the day before.

Reduce the oven temperature to 190°C / gas 5.

If you prefer to eat your nuts with skins, omit this next stage. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking tray and cook in the oven for 7-10 minutes until the skins have darkened and the nuts are golden underneath. Rub the nuts between clean tea towels to loosen the skins.

To assemble the pesto, put the nuts and other pesto ingredients into a food processor. Blitz to your preferred texture, I like some crunchiness. Put into a storage box and set aside until serving. This can be prepared the day before.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas, then dry between two layers of kitchen towel. Put them into a bowl and toss with olive oil. Add the remaining ingredients and stir so everything is coated. Tip the chickpeas onto a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes or until just starting to turn golden and crispy. Sprinkle with extra chopped rosemary, and set aside. This can be prepared the day before.

Prepare the flavoured oil for griddling the courgettes and halloumi. Heat the olive oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat, add the lemon zest and garlic. Bring to a simmer then remove from the heat and set aside so the flavours infuse into the oil.

When you are ready to griddle, remove the garlic and zest from the oil, add the lemon juice.

Preheat a griddle pan until really hot. Now griddle the slices of courgette and halloumi, brushing each first with the lemony oil. Do not put the oil into the griddle pan. Resist the temptation to move things around in the pan, otherwise the pieces will not gain the distinctive brown stripes. Each piece will need cooking for only about 2-3 minutes, until charred and tender. Sprinkle with fresh mint.

Serve the courgette and halloumi salad with the chickpeas, roasted beetroot and hazelnut pesto. What would I do differently next time:-
Griddle the courgettes and halloumi using plain olive oil, to save time
Add a squeeze of lemon juice to the griddled courgettes
Serve with a large amount of fresh mint leaves
Don’t worry about the size of the beetroots you use, large ones work just as well

Note: I have omitted sea salt from the ingredient lists as I find halloumi contributes enough salt to the overall combination of flavours.

5 to remember
una celebración– a celebration
explota – it explodes
carbonizado y tierno – charred and tender
para ganar tiempo – to save time
la combinación general de sabores – the overall combination of flavours

If you feel hungry, try these recipes:-
A fresh cherry cake
Harissa salmon salad
Sweet potatoes + coconut + ginger

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A courgette & halloumi feast #Spain #recipe https://wp.me/p3dYp6-2lw via @Spanish_Valley

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Easy gluten-free bread

This is my favourite gluten-free bread, much nicer than any shop-bought bread and with endless variations. I change the combination of seeds used, but always add pumpkin seeds as I enjoy the crunch. You can also add flavour by adding chopped fresh rosemary, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, or Marmite. I can’t speak for the success of the latter as I detest the stuff. The flour used is gram or chickpea, harina de garbanzo, which the Spanish use for deep frying and is easily available.

A word on organisation. The bread freezes well. As I am the only person in our household eating it, I cut it into slices before freezing so it is easy to take out one slice and pop it in the toaster. It needs toasting longer than conventional bread in order to go brown. If you add flavourings, be sure to label your freezer bag: orange marmalade on rosemary bread might be a bit of a shock.

For a different, more intense flavour, make the mix the night before, cover and place in the fridge then bake the next day. This is exceptionally easy to make, no kneading, and takes strong flavours well.

Makes 1 loaf
1 x 7g sachet of dried yeast
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
250g gram flour
100g ground almonds
50g linseeds, or milled linseeds
100g mixed seeds eg. Chia, poppy, sunflower, pumpkin, sesame
4 large eggs
Optional:-
3 tsp Marmite
4-5 sun-dried tomatoes
spring of fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to 190degC/375degF/Gas 5. Line a 2lb loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

Fill a jug with 375ml lukewarm water, add the dried yeast and oil. Mix with a fork until combined and leave aside for five minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, almonds, all the seeds and a pinch of sea salt, and make a well in the middle. If adding additional flavours, chop your rosemary or sun-dried tomatoes now. Add to the flour mixture.

Crack the eggs in a small bowl and whisk. If you are using your own eggs, it’s best to break them separately into a bowl one at a time to check for freshness. If using Marmite, add it to the eggs and mix. Now pour the eggs into the yeast mixture and whisk.

Stir the liquid into the flour, gradually stirring in the flour from the outside of the bowl until it is all combined. You will have a batter-like mixture, not a dough. If you want to bake the bread later, set it aside now. Otherwise, pour into the prepared tin, give the tin a sharp tap on the worktop to eliminate bubbles. Place in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes or until risen, golden and cooked through.  Test with a skewer which should come out clean.

Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

If you like this, try:-
Sweet and sticky tomato and onion bake
Blue cheese coleslaw
Portobello Mushrooms with double cheese topping 

5 to remember
la levadura– the yeast
la harina de garbanzo– the gram/chickpea flour
mucho mejor que – much nicer than
para eliminar – to eliminate
la masa– the dough

 

This recipe is from ‘Everyday Superfood’ by Jamie Oliver [Michael Joseph]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Easy gluten-free bread #Spain #Recipe by @JamieOliver https://wp.me/p3dYp6-2lT via @Spanish_Valley

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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

Broccoli and avocado salad

Yes, this is a healthy salad, but it also tastes great. If you have never eaten broccoli in a salad before, I urge you to try it. It is excellent, but only if you pre-cook your broccoli so it is slightly crunchy – over-cooked limp broccoli does not work in a salad! I added toasted walnuts for protein, you can simply omit these or substitute with your favourite nuts.

Serves 4
For the salad:-
1 ½ heads of broccoli
3 ripe avocadoes
a handful of fresh coriander [I used parsley]
a handful of walnuts
For the dressing:-
Juice of 3 limes [about 30ml of juice]
2 tbsp tahini
2 tsp tamari or soy sauce
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp honey or maple syrup [I used maple syrup]
a sprinkling of salt

First prepare the veggies. Cut the broccoli into small florets, bite-sized pieces. Steam them in a steamer for about 7 minutes until cooked but a little crunchy. Alternatively you can boil them, but watch over them so they do not over-cook. Drain, cool in cold water, drain again and set aside.

Slice the avocados in half, remove the stone and peel. Cut the flesh into small cubes

Chop the coriander into tiny pieces.

Mix all three ingredients together in a large salad bowl.

If using nuts, heat a small frying pan over a high heat then add your nuts and dry-toast them [doing this without oil helps to release the nuts’ natural oils and enhances the flavour]. Add the nuts to the salad bowl.

To prepare the dressing:-
Squeeze the limes into a bowl, then add the other dressing ingredients. Stir well, then drizzle over the salad.

If you are hungry, serve with a side dish of roasted sweet potatoes. Simple peel and cut the sweet potatoes into wedges, put onto a baking tray, season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, toss the veggies to mix, then roast in a hot oven [about 180°C] for around half an hour until the sweet potatoes are going brown around the edges. I check them halfway through and stir. Be sure to scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the baking tray.

If you like this, try:-
A Mustardy Leeks Vinaigrette
A Sweet Creamy Frittata
Asparagus and Lemon Risotto

5 to remember
saludable – healthy
sobrecocido/a – over-cooked
si tienes hambre – if you are hungry
las patatas dulces – the sweet potatoes
a medio camino – halfway through

 

This recipe is from 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:
A healthy broccoli & avocado salad #Spain #Recipe by @DeliciouslyElla via @Spanish_Valley http://wp.me/p3dYp6-25x

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Lentil and thyme casserole

We’ve become fans of these big pot stews, casseroles, call them what you will. They are hearty, tasty, filling, and they last more than one meal so are great when you have a busy day later in the week. Just store in the fridge in a bowl with a lid, and either reheat gently in a saucepan or gently in the microwave with the lid loosely on top. When reheating it may help to add a splash of water, to loosen up the sauce.

This casserole features fresh thyme, which we always have loads of, and my favourite earthy lentils. Eat with a spoon.

Serves 4
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tsp smoked pimenton
½ tsp cumin
1 tbsp dried thyme
3 medium carrots, sliced [about 200g]
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 yellow pepper, deseeded and chopped
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
250ml vegetable stock
2 courgettes, thickly sliced [about 300g]
2 sprigs fresh thyme
250g cooked lentils, green or brown, not split [if you are using dried and are cooking your own, we work on the basis that dried lentils are approximately half the weight of cooked]

First cook your lentils, if you are cooking your own rather than using a tin.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Add the onions and cook gently for 5-10 minutes until softened.

Add the garlic, spices, dried thyme, carrots, peppers and cook for 5 minutes.

Add the tinned tomatoes, stock, courgettes and fresh thyme and cook for 20-25 minutes. Take out the thyme sprigs, stir in the cooked lentils. Bring back to a simmer for a few minutes so the lentils are heated through. Serve in a bowl.

If you like this, try these:-
Asparagus and horseradish pasta 
Very cheesy pie
Golden drops of salt cod

5 to remember
la mitad del peso de – half the weight of
sin semillas – deseeded
hasta que se suavice – until softened
el tomillo seco – the dried thyme
calentado a través – heated through

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Eat this with a spoon: lentil & thyme casserole #food #Spain https://wp.me/p3dYp6-2iE via @Spanish_Valley

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