Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sunrise on a windy day

La Pasera is a great place for observing sunsets and sunrises. The openness of the area gives way to huge expanses of sky that is punctuated by a mountain up high and trees down below. 

The sunrise this morning was spectacular. We awoke around 7.30am disturbed by the gathering winds which had begun to rattle the roof tiles and thrash the few remaining eucalyptus trees on the rocky outcrops opposite La Pasera.

As the sun rose, it lit the fast moving clouds and dispersed higher thinning cloud as it gathered strength and began to shine. The winds came and went, as usual, lasting for several frantic minutes of moving vulnerable plant pots and gathering swinging lanterns to prevent them from being broken.

In the calm of the morning, the clouds slowed, the grey turned blue and the birds began to sing again. If you are impressed with sunsets then you must make a point in the very near future to take some time to witness its stunning counterpart, the sunrise.

Click on the pictures to get a larger view.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

In the footsteps of ancients

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Christmas time in Asturias is very low key compared with the extravaganza that is Christmas in the UK. This provides the perfect opportunity to get out and about on some brilliant walks. The weather has been really good for the past week and with day-time temperatures of up to 22 degrees C, it has been wonderful to walk off some of those heavier meals.

One walk we took this week was a very scenic coastal walk from La Isla to La Griega. The majority of the walk is a well trodden coastal path that skims the cliffs, meanders through meadows and guides you through steep woodland paths eventually bringing you out on the beach at La Griega.

La Griega boasts a splendid set of dinosaur footprints best viewed from the viewing platform. There are a couple of different types clearly identified but it still takes a lot of imagination to visualise the landscape as it once was, being occupied and terrorised by such large exotic creatures. In nearby Colunga, there is a whole museum dedicated to the populations of dinosaurs that once roamed here.

The beach at La Griega is golden yellow with many small shells decorating the shore. A perfect place for lunch, watching the waves breaking in the distance and wading surfers waiting for the right wave to come along. If you want to extend the walk you can continue by road to explore the cliff-side town of Lastres a couple of kilometres further on.

There are many highlights on a walk such as this but watching the cattle egrets feed in and around the cattle, the misty morning views across the bay and walking in the footsteps of ancients and dinosaurs take some beating.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Oviedo on market day

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We rarely need to travel far to shop as we generally buy in bulk or locally. Every so often we will travel to Oviedo to one of the large out-of-town shopping centres and take a couple of hours to walk around the beautiful city of Oviedo. Punctuated by magnificent Art Deco and Art Nouveaux buildings, it's wide streets and central park are a pleasure to stroll.

In the old quarter, stands Oviedo cathedral. Each year at this time there is a display called the El Belen: an exhibition of nativity sets and the landscapes and buildings of Bethlehem. Most of them are really well done and are extremely detailed. The most impressive this year had a flowing mountain stream with living miniature ferns, grasses and moss planted in crevices and rocks.

In an area near to the Cathedral, the indoor and outdoor markets hustle and bustle as the day unfolds. It is always interesting to see the farmers and their wives selling small amounts of home grown and locally produced goods from a collection of crates, sacks and bowls. We believe that from time to time they probably replenish their stock from other not-so-home grown sources but they certainly give the market character and life.

The flower market is small and its stock is limited but there is always a seasonal heady scent and swathes of vibrant plants and flowers which cheer up passers bye, tourists and shoppers alike.

The large indoor market is typical of any Spanish town with sections for meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, coffee bars, health food and specialist teas and coffees. We spent a good half an hour opening the tea samples attached to the tins by magnets. We eventually choose one after sniffing almost every sample in the shop. The staff were very helpful and chatty. We also purchased a traditional Japanese tea pot for infusions which Luis is going to make a mosaic stand to compliment the design.

Elsewhere in Oviedo there was a large temporary exhibition and sale of crafts. The Artisan market is sited in the park and there are over 40 stalls. I am always slightly disappointed with it as each year the variety of goods is reduced and the main focus this year was jewellery  imported wooden fancy goods, imported knitwear and ethnic clothing, leather and a little pottery.

It is good to visit the towns and cities from time to time and live life for a few hours at a quicker pace but we always welcome the tranquillity of home and the gentle sounds of nature.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Membrillo - Quince cheese

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You may remember Luis brought back a small sack of quince from his sister's plot. Quince are very hard fruits that need careful processing to get the best flavour and texture when making membrillo. We have featured the method before and the link can be found at the end of this post.

No doubt some of this will be given away over the coming months but it is not something we would eat every week so we have more than enough for the year. We finished processing the quince this week and took it to a local shop to be vacuum packed. This will help keep the quince in perfect condition and it will last for well over a year or two.

Quince membrillo is the perfect accompaniment to cheese, some meats or simply by itself.

Recipe for membrillo

Friday, December 14, 2012

A restored antique rush bench

Luis has just restored a beautiful antique rush-seated bench, a three seater, for a gentleman in a nearby village. The piece is normally housed in an Asturian palace which is absolutely wonderful, full of stone floors, elaborate stonework and an impressive internal courtyard. Now restored, the bench will sit well  in a gallery or landing.

The seat had completely gone and new rush was required. We source our rush from Spain after stockists in the UK no longer have it. We have a few problems with quality control and have to carefully examine a delivery of new stock. Sometimes the rush is of very poor quality and impossible to use for a high standard finish.

The rush is probably harvested in Spain or maybe Holland and imported. There are tight controls on commercial gathering of rush and suppliers not that easy to identify. There are two main types of rush: fresh water and salt water. This rush was probably salt water but flat reeded instead of round. It is not the easiest of rush to use but Luis has done a great job with this piece.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Winter beckons at La Pasera

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Winter is fast approaching and the beautiful autumnal colour is falling from the trees. The slightest of breezes stir the drying leaves and sees them drift slowly to the ground below. The mornings are cold with a slight ground frost in exposed areas but luckily we rarely reach below freezing so most of our plants survive without protection.

Even at this time of year there are jobs to be done around the garden and the bright sunny days make it such a pleasure to get wrapped up and take a leisurely stroll around assessing what needs to be done and how urgent it is.

One job that is always very rewarding is collecting the masses of leaves that fall. We store these in two large bins and let them rot down naturally into glorious leaf mold for use next year. Fortunately for us, we had too many this year for the bins and had to resort to my Mother's tried and tested method of putting them in a black bin liner punctured with holes. This works well and is a great way of getting a bit of extra rich compost if you only have a few leaves to collect. Once ours are rotted down a little we will add the bin bags contents to the bins.

The pond, minus fish, needs clearing of leaves most days otherwise it causes excess debris and encourages algae next year. The Gunnera plant is one of the few plants we protect during winter as we are worried that its fleshy crown will rot if frost does set in for any length of time. We normally cover the crown and new growth with old dried Gunnera leaves, this works well. We have also reduced the crown this year as it was getting far too big for the pond area.

Elsewhere in the garden, the carrots, leeks, celeriac, swede, beetroot, lettuce, second crop fennel and brocolli are producing well and it is always a pleasure to wander round with a sharp knife and basket harvesting fresh vegetables and herbs for the day's meals.

The birds are very active in the garden stripping the bushes, grasses and trees of berries, insects and seeds. The highlights this week have been Firecrests, Green Woodpeckers, Heron (arghhh!!!) and the very tame and friendly Robins.

Further afield, these bright cold days are perfect walking weather and it is really invigorating to meander around the country lanes and cliff paths then settle down in front of a lovely log fire.

Friday, December 07, 2012


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Over the past week the rain has been fairly constant and the cooler weather persists. Not being able to get out for longer walks, this weather pattern allows us to get on with a few jobs and tasks that you just don't want to do when the sun shines. I have been sorting out the stores whilst Luis has been away at the first Matanza of the season in his family home in Palencia.

Knowing only too well that he will come back with an estate car full of goods from his Sister Rita, it was important to take stock of what needed using up and also to create space for the additional produce. Sorting through our stores it once again came to mind how generous people i.e. family, friends and neighbours are.

Over the past few weeks we have been gifted:

A Christmas cake
A crate of home-produced cider
A couple of kilos of locally grown Avocados
Approx 20 Kilos of apples
A jar of rich brown sugar from France
several jars of jams and pickles
Sweet Chestnut Paste and eggs
A brand new leather jacket

In addition, Luis returned from Rita's with:

30 jars of Pasata concentrated tomato sauce)
15 jars of Pisto (concentrated tomato sauce with pumpkin, pepper, onion marrow and paprika)
5 dozen eggs
8 jars of preserved green beans
4 packs of Chorizo
8 kg of sweet oranges
4kg Quince
8kg of frozen raspberries
an assortment of vegetables....

We could have also had as much pork, ham, salami, chorizo or pork products as we had wanted but Luis has stopped eating meat for the time being so there seemed no point in stocking up on food that we would not use. The four packs of chorizo he brought home are for friends and visitors. He decided not to participate in the actual slaughter of the two pigs this time as it is never pleasant and not eating meat he did no longer feel obliged to participate. There is always enough work to do following the deed so he was inevitably kept very busy with the processing of the animals.

Together with our own harvests of fruits, vegetables and nuts, our bulk buy products and the produce we process into jams and pickles, we have a well stocked larder and really do not need to do much shopping for the foreseeable future.

We frequently gift produce ourselves and enjoy giving family, friends and neighbours samples of our soap, hand-creams, jams, pickles etc... Our thoughts on giving can be found here on one of our other blogs. A big thank you to all.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Here comes the snow - Skiing in Asturias

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The weather has is cold. There is snow on the peaks and Winter is setting in. We are quite protected here on the coast and enjoy a micro climate where the temperatures rarely drop below 1 or 2 degrees. We seldom get any snow (none in the six years we have been here) but do get a very light ground frost from time to time but nothing too severe.

It is a different story in the mountains and inland valleys. The Picos de Europa mountains look magnificent in the distance as the sun hits the peaks and casts shadows, and glistens on the exposed cold peaks.

It has always been our intention to visit the ski stations here in Asturias but we have not done so to date. One of my favourite sites Where is Asturias has now produced yet another great film about Asturias which features both of the ski stations we have in the region.

Seeing this film has made my mind up, a visit is on the cards. Having never been skiing or snowboarding, I doubt our visit will see us ending up on the slopes but never say never. Watch this space or the local accident and emergency department...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Making natural soaps and creams.

There are many weekly markets across Asturias throughout the year in the towns and cities. Some, at times, present us with surprises as was the case of a market we visited in the town of Llanes this summer.  On this particular occasion we came across a stall selling home made creams and soaps. Two ladies, Maria Antonia and her daughter, were not only selling their produce but also advertising a course they were organizing for later on the year. After chatting with them and discovering we shared an interest in the use of herbs, natural oils and essential oils as a base to make soap, shampoo, creams and body lotions I decided to put my name down for one of the courses taking place in the Autumn.

Home made soap and creams is a topic that fascinates me and those familiar with our blog may recall that we have been making hand cream for several years and recently we made our first batch of home made soap. There are several books and Internet based sites with lots of information on the subject but the opportunity to participate in a course was something I was looking forward to as I wanted to learn how to formulate facial and body creams as well as soaps and shampoos using natural oils, essential oils and some of the aromatic plants we already cultivate in our garden. Herbs such as lavender, rosemary, chamomile, thyme, lemon balm, lemon verbena, mint, oregano, salvia (sage) and calendula (marigold) as well as using our orange and jasmine blossom.

The course took place in the nearby town of Llanes in an early 20th century building that used to be the casino and that unfortunately needs some repairs. The course ran over a 6 days and was taught by a lady called Maria Antonia who used to work for the cosmetic industry and whose passion for the use of herbs and their essential oils to make naturals cosmetics and aromatherapy products are contagious.

The course content included a brief outline on growing and harvesting herbs, formulation of creams, soap making and the formulation of natural soaps, bath salts and creams for personal hygiene and aromatherapy.

One of the the main things I learnt from the course was how to formulate creams in a way that ensures the integrity of the formula regardless of the combination of oils used and how create additional creams to those we are already making. I cannot wait to start applying the knowledge I gained through the course and start experimenting with different scents and even colours. All of them natural of course and whenever possible using the herbs we grow organically at La Pasera.

The other participants came from a variety of backgrounds with a range of reasons why they wanted to submerge themselves in the world of natural products; some wanted to explore the possibility of starting a new life making natural cosmetics for a living, someone wanted to formulate her own creams to use in her practice as a masseur while a few just wanted to learn more and be able to make home-made natural products.

It was nice to meet such an interesting and varied group of people and after talking about Ian's famous Moroccan cuisine that is very fragrant and uses citrus and spices, they were very glad to accept an invitation for lunch at La Pasera, now to tell Ian he is cooking for 10......or maybe more Oops.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gone Fishing

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A couple of years ago when we constructed the pond we bought four fish to bring some life and colour to it. We were always aware that with many Herons in the area, our small pond was a potential target for a quick snack. Up to now, our fish had been successful and multiplied in number. So many fish that we gave several away to stock the pond at El Paraiso del Burro. 

Now we have none.

One day last week I went to feed the fish and only one surfaced. The pond appeared lifeless. The very next day I saw a large Heron standing at the side of the pond scouring the water for more food. It flew off but we knew it had likely taken all of the fish. Gawber appeared from underneath a large Gunnera leaf and looked longingly as this enormous bird took flight.

At this time of year we normally cover the pond with a net to prevent leaves and such from falling into it and causing unnecessary decaying debris but it proved too late for the fish.

I doubt we will get more fish and we live in hope that one or two young fry have survived in the depths of an upturned crate that lies in the pond to house the solar fountain and that hopefully serves its purpose: to prevent young fish from being devoured.

The pond does seem a little lifeless without the fish but the beautiful dragonflies and damselflies are still around to entertain us with their acrobatic skills. Also there are many toads, lizards and frogs, water skaters, water snails and small mammals still using the pond to drink, feed and breed so still lots to see if you look carefully.

The heron has returned several times since but Gawber has now plucked up the courage to pounce and chase it off. So far the heron has proved too wily and spots him in good time. The same with me and the camera, not brilliant shots but you get the idea, just look at the wingspan, a magnificent bird but one that we could have lived without.