Thursday, July 15, 2010

Shopping in Asturias


One of the biggest challenges since relocation has been to alter our mindset from one of "I want something - I'll go to the shop and get it now" to, "I need something - I'll put that on the list for future reference". The shopping experience is a completely different concept to what Luis and I are both used to. Partly this is due to the cultural differences i.e the economy (consumerism happened much later here), opening times (most shops close at 1pm until 5pm and do not open after lunch on Saturday for the rest of the weekend), perception of food (fast food and food on the hoof is just taking off), and partly due to our location, living an hour away from a largish city means that larger or unusual purchases have to planned for. I use the word challenge as it has meant learning a whole new way of thinking and behaving.

Ideally it would be great if we no longer had to use shops and were totally self-sufficient but that is unlikely to happen although increasingly we rarely have to buy fresh vegetables and provide for most of our needs though growing our own or receiving food as gifts from villagers and family (there is an informal network of excess food exchange). This can include: eggs, fresh rabbit, fruit, cider, vegetables, meat, and preserved food such as Pisto and chorizo.

Markets are plentiful in and around Asturias and although interesting to wander through and browse they tend to be expensive for fresh foods such as cheese and fruit so we source cheese from a local factory outlet where it is about half the price. Flour, we buy in bulk - organic, in sacks, 25Kg a time sourced from a local organic farmer who buys in bulk. A number of specialist markets visit throughout the year including artesan/craft, clothing and jewellery. Vans offering various goods still visit the villages either daily or weekly - the bakers, frozen goods, fruit and vegetables and ice cream van (9pm on a Thursday evening!)to name a few. Scrap collection vans tour the villages weekly calling out for metal and machines and every couple of months the whistle of the peddling knife and scissor sharpener can be heard advertising his services around the lanes.

Local supermarkets are small and have limited stock but useful for a small weekly shop. The larger supermarkets and superstores (DIY, Electrical and Clothing) tend to be in the larger cities such as Oviedo or Gijon. We tend to plan our trips to these shops and purchase bulk and/or items that are difficult to source locally.

One of the joys of shopping here is the plethora of small independent shops like I remember from my childhood in the UK, the hardware shops (Ferrateria) where you can buy just 6 screws if you wanted all neatly wrapped up in paper or the numerous bakeries, each known for their own speciality cakes or bread. There are local butchers selling fresh, good quality locally produced meat and products, haberdasheries, dressmakers who will shorten trousers or repair clothing, old fashioned shoe shops where you have a choice of 10 styles, barbers where the menfolk gather to gossip, the agricultural cooperative where you can buy seeds/seedlings, plants and fruit trees, plus a range of local craftsmen producing anything you like in wood, metal, glass...Each shop with it's own quirky character (note the sign for the Ferreteria held together with masking tape!) and ambience, some helpful, some not so helpful, most well stocked however dated it may be, all in all much preferred to the faceless chains and large corporations. Fish can be bought fresh from the docks if you are discreet (fishmongers and restaurants take priority).

What this means to us is that we need to plan much more than we used to, we need to shop around for best prices and higher quality, and we are much more aware of the mindless shopping and consumerism we were seduced by back in the UK. Breaking away from the large supermarket culture has its downside but supporting smaller local businesses and enterprise certainly makes life more interesting.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The vegetable garden so far


In the vegetable garden things look very good and as the years pass by we gain a greater knowledge of how to grow vegetables within this specific climate and the soil conditions that we have at La Pasera. As you may see from the picture, we grow a mixture of vegetables, flowers and herbs. The lavender hedge is starting to bloom and is much appreciated by a range of beneficial insects that come to gather its nectar. I personally like its visual impact and to walk passed it in the midday sun when its scent perfumes the whole area.

This year we constructed two rustic arches out of green bamboo canes for the sweet peas to climb over, they have been in full bloom for few weeks and provide us with such profusion of colour and perfume to be enjoyed not only when we are in the garden but also inside the house as we use them as cut flowers.
French beans are growing well over the sturdy bean pole system that we designed to withstand the occasional day of strong winds that we tend to get later on in the season.

The potatoes are ready to be dug up any time now and it will not be much longer before the main crop of onions is ready to be harvested.

We continue to enjoy salad leaves, French beans, courgettes and spring onions as well as early cooking onions. The varieties of beetroot (detroit 2 and Globe 2) that we grow this are particularly tasty and sweet - the best we have had so far and will certainly aoim to grow them next year.

The grass islands, that have been spectacular over spring and early summer, have now been cut, left to dry and drop seed, then the dry grasses and flowers collected and the islands left to grow and bloom again in late summer. The dried vegetation does not go to waste and is used as valuable 'brown' matter to add to the compost heaps. This helps with the overall mix and humidity of the heap and provides us with a great source of nutritious compost that is added to the vegetable plots in winter and spring.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Summer Fruits

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Raspberries, Gooseberries and Strawberries, freshly picked and ready for eating and for relish. The raspberries produced about this much every two days and will continue to do so for a few weeks yet. We eat them fresh or freeze them for use later in the year. The strawberries are new this year and as we only have the four plants, this amount is produced about twice a week, but of course the season is much shorter than for raspberries. We will aim to plant more next year.

The gooseberries have been collected from two of our four bushes, all of which are new additions in the past two years. Although they'd be great with a block of vanilla ice cream, this year I am using them to make a favourite relish - Spicy Mustard Seed and Gooseberry Relish.

Gawber and Wentworth are doing well and Gawber seems to have fully recovered from his paw injury thank goodness. With the warmer, humid weather they do little during the day except laze around on the shed roof until it gets warmer and the dew has dried, then they either head for the beans or woodstore where it is cooler and shaded.