Thursday, July 26, 2012

How to make gooseberry and mustard seed pickle

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We have several gooseberry bushes here at La Pasera. They are still young and only one produces fruit in sufficient quantity to be useful but with time we hope to increase the harvest dramatically. The bushes were planted for one reason and one reason only... Gooseberry and Mustard seed pickle (well and the odd crumble if we ever get enough). If you have not tried it, you must, it is to die for.

We cannot take credit for the original recipe (we think it was a Jocasta Innes recipe) and needless to say we have adapted it to suit our taste. So here goes:

225g of rinsed and bruised black and brown mustard seed.
12-15g of cayenne peppers (blitzed with seeds)
1.5 litres of malt vinegar
1.5kg red or green gooseberries
750g of dark brown sugar
100g salt
675g seedless raisins (chopped in a blender)
225g currents (chopped in a blender)
10 cloves of garlic (peeled and crushed)

Add all ingredients to a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer and stir regularly to avoid burning. 40 minutes may be enough but sometimes the gooseberries release more juice which needs to be reduced. The pickle is ready when it is rich and thickened (it thickens more on cooling). Leave overnight covered with cloth until cool and moisture released. Bottle in sterilised jars, seal and label.

This recipe makes about 8 jars of pickle.

It is ready to eat almost straight away but as with all pickles, it matures well and is better kept for a couple of months for the flavours to develop. It has some heat and despite the high salt levels, it does not taste too salty. It keeps for up to a year if you're lucky and don't eat it all before then. We love it with burgers, cheese, pasties or quiche but it also goes well with meats.

Monday, July 23, 2012

New Mosaic - The gardener's friend


New mosaic by Luis, completed and handed over to the clients at the weekend - needless to say they loved it and are thinking about another commission. The name for Robin in Spanish is Petirrojo.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Honey Bees: a sting in the tale

We love bees, in fact we positively encourage them by leaving wild areas in the garden and by planting a good mix of flowering plants, bushes and trees. Our local honey bees thrive on the rich carpets of meadow flowers that are in continuous blossom from early spring through to late autumn.

With the decline of bee populations through pesticides, parasites and habitat destruction, it is encouraging to see the efforts people are making in bringing the issues into the public arena. Events here with a swarm of bees earlier in the week have left us feeling saddened and surprised. Let me explain...

Mid-afternoon whilst pottering in the garden we heard our friend Luis the farmer call out for us to come and look at a swarm of honey bees that had settled on a neighbours wall. Camera in hand we wandered up to find a rather large swarm gathered together on an old stone wall of a neighbours house. After taking a few pictures we posted a question on a forum to which we belong, asking if the bees would relocate by themselves as they were perilously close to where people walk and could be dangerous if antagonised. The consensus was that they would move on fairly quickly and should be left alone.

About an hour later we were in the kitchen when he heard a loud hum coming from the extractor fan above our oven hob. We went outside and it was obvious that the bees seemed to be making a new home in the chimney above the fan. We quickly took a large saucepan, switched on the extractor and lit newspaper and damp grass to make as much smoke as possible in an effort to deter their nest building.

After another 30 mins or so the bees seemed to have gone but to be safe we brought to the boil a small pan of vinegar in the hope that the acrid fumes would further dampen their efforts. It worked.

We love bees but didn't want them in the cooker hood or house.

About another 30 minutes later we heard a commotion just up the road and investigated. It was the fire service (Bomberos) scaling ladders onto the roof of a close-by neighbour. Apparently the bees had been going into their chimney since lunchtime and despite efforts to deter them by releasing smoke through their extractor fan, the bees had settled and were busy building comb.

The firemen were sealing the chimney ready to release poisonous gas to kill the bees. There was nothing we could do - that is the way they deal with such swarms. Very sad.

On a lighter note, on spotting me looking at our chimney through binoculars, another neighbour asked me if everything was OK. She was somewhat bemused when I told her we had sheep coming into our chimney - the words for sheep and bees are very similar and I got mixed up!!!

neighbours extractor fan light

We would love to keep bees in the future but it is tightly controlled here in Spain and anyone wanting bee hives has to attend a course, be certified and licensed, and their hives registered and numbered. Maybe one day, and if such a thing happened again we could take the swarm and give them protection in exchange for honey.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

La Pasera - The Soap Opera - The first batch

The stage is set. The props in place, costumes on, camera ready, lighting OK despite being a dull day...Action.

Scene 1

Enter Luis stage left wearing black rubber gloves, a black apron and protective glasses (plus his normal clothes - phew!) Ian decides to stay close by, watching from a distance, camera in hand and making mental notes. Was this a recipe for disaster or was Luis heading for the shower...?

The oils, almond, coconut and olive decide to take a warm bain marie whilst lye (a rather caustic character) and distilled water are carefully measured.

Things begin to warm up and it's all action from now on.

Scene 2

The action moved outside as things started to get tricky and dangerous. It started to drizzle but that didn't put anyone off. All the ingredients were gathered and Luis got tooled up with a rather snazzy spatula and a stainless steel blender. Lemon Grass oil makes an appearance and waited patiently on the side until it was her turn to join in. Lye decided to take a drink to get things warmed up.

Things are stirring, lye and water are introduced to coconut, olive and almond. Vitamin E turned up but waited patiently to be introduced. The soap plot begins to thicken as the blender gets to work - there is no escape now.

Luis manoeuvres his spatula into position and with blenders help, a distinct visible trace is left for all to see. As a last ditched effort to get noticed, Lemon Grass and Vit E enters the mix. One final stir and it's nearly over. Luis decides it's time to turf the mix out into a pre-prepared mould. They should be fine in there as it's fully lined and grease proof.

Scene 3

It's been a quiet night, the mix was kept safe in a cupboard away from The Terror Twins, Wentworth and Gawber. They are renowned for inquisitive ways and there was always a possibility they would sniff it out and get their paws burnt. Gawber kept a close eye on things...

The next day

Lunch was a short affair as Luis was eager to sort out the mix once and for all. He grabbed a sharp knife from the kitchen drawer and took the mould from the cupboard. The mix decided to come out without much of a fight to our delight, but it wasn't over. The deed had to be done. Luis plunged his knife into the bar and cut it into six pieces, it was over. Well almost...

There is always a possibility that such a volatile mix might turn out too soft or crumble but there is a cure. 4-6 weeks in a cool dry secure unit. That'll sort them once and for all, toughen and harden them up. Luis sighed with relief, it had been easier than he thought. Meanwhile, on a shelf not too far away bergamot can be spotted hiding in the shadows...

Will Luis' bubble burst, will he ditch the dirt, why is bergamot hovering in the wings? Let's hope Luis doesn't get into a lather and that he feels cleansed by the experience - only time will tell.

Bookmark now for Episode 2 Coming soon.

La Pasera - Suds Law

With special thanks to Coco at My Galician Garden for her inspirational soap making and gifts of soap.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Making the most of courgette, marrow, zucchini and cocozelle

At this time of year one vegetable we look forward to is the courgette or marrow. I must admit that until we started growing our own, It had never occurred to me that they are one and the same plant. I know there are special cultivars which suit either end of the growth scale but in essence a courgette is a baby marrow.

We normally grow two marrow plants as they produce well in our warm and damp climate. We have more than enough courgettes for salads and stir fries and sufficient marrows for soups, stuffing and sauté. This year Luis mistakenly planted 4 thinking that two were squash. We decided to keep the four plants so we are poised for the onslaught.

With the dehydrator, freezer and juicer we should soon, cook, consume or store most of what grows, the rest we will distribute to neighbours and friends.

Cream of Marrow Soup

One of my favourite recipes with marrow is soup. A cream of marrow soup that is so easy to prepare, freezes well and tastes delicious. It can be served hot or cold and tastes very different each way.

1 medium to large marrow (best before pips form and harden)
1 large onion
2 cheese triangles (this gives it the creaminess but can be omitted for lower fat)
Splash of oil
vegetable stock cube quenelles (Home made - link here)
200-250 ml of water
salt and pepper to taste.

Coarsely chop all ingredients, bring to boil, simmer for 20 mins until the marrow skins are soft, take of heat and leave to cool for 20 mins. Blitz with blender. This recipe serves from 4-6 people.

Marrow fritter

Another delicious way of using a young marrow is to slice it thinly about half a centimetre, dust in flour (plain, gram or corn) seasoned with a little salt and pepper, dip into beaten egg and lightly fry in olive oil. Turning when browned. As they are cooked, place on a plate and separate layers with kitchen towel until ready to serve. Spices can be added to the flour but be careful not to overpower the delicate sweet taste of the marrow.

This next basket of freshly picked goodies: lettuce, small marrow, basil, beetroot and fennel are to juice for a delicious sweet glass of pure heaven. It always surprises me how you can still taste the individual ingredients at different depths as your taste buds go into over-drive. No more sugar laden commercial juices from now on.

Ready for cleaning before juicing

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Thinking of relocating abroad? You can learn to live without baked beans.

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Going back and forth to the UK on the ferry is often a good chance to catch up with other English people who spend time or live permanently in Spain. As there are few English people here in Asturias it is interesting to hear others' experiences. The past few times I have seen a large increase in the number of removal vans returning to the UK and heard many stories of how the dream has been shattered or at least tainted for some.

The economy in Spain is suffering and people are losing jobs or taking cuts in income. The Euro exchange rate for the British pound and the value of savings and pensions has suffered for a couple of years and will probably remain unpredictable for sometime to come. It is really disappointing for many but not the sole reason some are eager to return and regret relocating. I am sure that one reason for many is that they fail to readjust to life in a foreign country and never truly come to terms with a life lived differently.

Luis and I were talking about our past 6 years here and how well we had adjusted to life in a different country and we both agreed a short blog post outlining our experiences might help inform others who dream of relocating to different climes.

If you were to ask us if we made the right decision, the answer would be without doubt, yes. Of course there are continuing reservations about what the future might bring but as we are now, we feel fortunate. The grass however, isn't always greener on the other side. Things do go wrong. Understanding how things work in your new society, getting to grips with social nuances and of course the ability to communicate effectively in a foreign language is a big learning curve with many challenges and hurdles.

To succeed you have to accept that living away from everything that is familiar, can be hard. If you don't, your life in a foreign land will be difficult and will potentially erode your dreams, disintegrate your plans and possibly damage your relationships with those you love.

We can only describe our experience buying a house in a rural community, an hour from any cities but close to several small towns where the Spanish come on their summer holidays. There are few foreigners living here compared with the south of Spain and most people do not speak any English.

Here are some of the key issues that we think people should consider before relocating:

Location: What is the climate like? This sounds an obvious one but you'd be surprised at the number of people we come across who have only ever visited in summer before buying and forget that places can be cold, very cold and wet.

Dream homes in the middle of nowhere or on the side of a mountain are great when young but have you tried cutting a lawn on a 45 degree slope or travelling long and difficult journeys to shops and business. Telephone and internet connection may not be possible despite what estate agents tell you. Remote areas can be lonely places. If you are renovating a mountain house you need to consider that costs will be higher as access for deliveries of goods will be potentially problematic and expensive.

Language: Conversational Spanish is difficult at the best of times but talking about business or negotiating a mobile phone contract or ordering goods can be complex without specialist language skills. Face to face conversations are so much easier than the telephone or written word. Understanding legal documents and processes is a challenge. Expressing feelings in a foreign language is limited for many. Your social and cultural reference points are different which in it's self can hinder communication.

Medical: Unless you are retired and registered as resident then medical cover can be complicated. You can seek out treatment using your European health card but if you require longer term treatment or investigations it could prove problematic. Also, if communication is difficult, this can add to the stress and influence the treatment you may or may not receive. Even if your medical or nursing staff speak English it is likely to be as poor as your Spanish.

Social: I mentioned earlier that social and cultural references may differ. Here in Asturias people are very friendly but don't neighbour other than chatting in and around the village. It would be rare to be invited for something to eat or drink but that should not be taken as not being accepted, it is just how it is. The nuances of social etiquette are interesting to learn when living in a different culture. There are lots of groups, social gatherings for fiestas and a few cultural events throughout the year but your social life will be very different to what it was in the UK.

Family and friends back home: You miss them, of course you do. You might get more family and friends visiting but it puts your relationship on a different footing to what it was. It was unlikely that in the UK they would stay with you and certainly not for 1 or maybe 2 weeks. It is also crucial to remember it is their holiday as well as a visit to see you.

Occupation: There is one thing that is key to settling in another country and that is keeping occupied - having a sense of purpose. If you need to work then that can be difficult given the ongoing economic problems and high unemployment rate. Over 50% of under 26 year old and 22% of the general working population are unemployed here in Spain. Language, once again is an issue for many as learning specialist vocabulary related to a profession or occupation is not covered in standard Spanish courses.

If you do not need to work then it pays to remember that you cannot holiday 12 months of the year.
Keeping your mind occupied with meaningful and worthwhile activities is vital. Hobbies and interests will need to be developed and maybe solitary pursuits especially if you struggle with the language.

Legal: How things work such as insurance, buying and registering a car, paying local taxes, registering and opening a business, contracting workmen, buying a house, renting a house, making wills and a hundred and one other things... are different and need to be fully understood before entering agreements, signing contracts or employing services. The law is different. Many find this aspect too complicated and choose to ignore it or cut corners which in the long run, leads to problems.

Along the way Luis and I have made mistakes, taken chances, become stressed out of our heads, laughed at some of the things we have experienced, been saddened by seeing relationships fail, felt heartened by the generosity of strangers and learned a lot about ourselves and others along the way. One piece of advice we would like to pass on is spend time in the area you eventually want to live in. Go on holiday at different times of year, live like a local, learn the language and be prepared a live a different life. If you are prepared for uncertainty, readily accept change, have the ability to problem solve, can remain positive and keep a sense of humour, then do it. It has been six challenging but very happy years for us.