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.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ribadesella - Location, location, location.

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I thought it was time to help promote our region as a holiday destination. I was tempted to keep this jewel to ourselves but I think a few more tourists will not detract from the fact that it is a superb place to spend some quality time.

Ribadesella is situated on the mouth of the river Sella about 5km from La Pasera. It is our nearest town and we often either walk or drive down to meet friends, drink coffee or shop. During the main season, July-September, it is lively with many small bars with outside terraces, restaurants serving traditional food until the early hours and long promenades around the bay. Out of season Ribadesella is so, so quiet but it has terrific charm either way.

I discovered this new short film by the tourist board and thought I would share it with you. It shows our part of the coast in its full glory and features many of the beaches, cliff and woodland walks we explore on a regular basis. The music lets the video down a bit but have a look if you have a few minutes to spare, it really is special.

As I write this post I am reminded that today is a national strike here in Spain as it is in many parts of Europe. We need tourists here in Asturias and if you have never been, have a serious think about it as a destination. The film omits the grey, rainy days we have here but that's what makes our landscape so lush and green.

Asturias is an all year round destination in my opinion with so much to see and do. Using Ribadesella as a base, you are with easy reach of cities of Oviedo, Gijon, and Aviles. There is great walking either on the coast, the Camino de Santiago, woodlands or the magnificent Picos de Europa mountains. If you love the outdoors, value peace and quiet, swoon at majestic landscapes or just want time to slow down a touch, come to Asturias, it really is worth the effort.

If you think you know Spain, think again...Asturias, think Ribadesella.

If you do decide to come to holiday in Asturias there is a new website that has some excellent information and short films in English. Check it out here:  www.whereisasturias.com

Monday, November 12, 2012

A walk along the shoreline

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The tourists have returned home and Asturias is once again tranquil. The roads are quiet, the towns and villages are subdued and the snow has returned to the Picos de Europa mountains. After all our work in the garden and vegetable beds, a walk along a deserted beach beckoned.

One of our local beaches is Vega. About 15 minutes away by car, along the coast heading west out of Ribadesella lies the small village of Vega.

The road down to the village passes through a stunning gorge that has a meandering river bed and towering limestone rock formations. The sharp, jagged rocks play host a many plants, animals and birds. The trees are small, miniaturised by restricted root growth, they punctuate rocky peaks and enhance the sense of height.

As you pass through this unassuming collection of village houses and newer built holiday homes, it is soon clear that as the road finishes it meets the extensive sand dunes and wooden walkways that mark the beginning of Vega beach.

When the tide is out the beach stretches about 1.5 km, a vast sandy bay backed by crumbling meadows, ancient rocks and layers of fossilised sea creatures. The area is renowned for its fluorite mines and just occasionally you can stumble upon these jewel-like stones as they glisten in the sunshine as the tide washes them to, fro and over them.

There is no-one on the beach today, just a solitary set of bare footsteps from an early morning walker, large flocks of gulls resting on the shoreline and evidence or razor fish surfacing and crabs scurrying from rock pool to rock pool. The spray of the ocean casts rainbows against the blue sky and the passing clouds play shadow puppets on the golden sand.

On the high tide mark there is too much plastic, too many discarded fishing lines and the inevitable lone flip flop. Magnificent pieces of driftwood shout out to us "Take me home" and Luis resists the never ending lure of pebbles.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Preparing the flower beds for winter

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We have several beds that are given over to annuals, biennials, perennials, shrubs and trees. Many of the plants were brought from the UK and held in a nursery bed until the garden began to take shape. We are constantly surprised by how many of the plants have different habits in Spain to when they were grown in the UK. We know it is due to the warmer, damper weather but it obviously suits many of the specimens we brought to Spain.

As autumn passes, the trees are changing their colour to shades of orange, gold and red, and many are losing their leaves which are collected and added to the leave mould bins. As the autumn crocus bloom and fade, we decide to dedicate some time to thinning out the flower beds, weeding and generally tidying up.

It is a bit brutal but sometimes you have to severely cut back a shrub such as the rosemary, if you don't keep things in check then they can become invasive and impenetrable. Once the ground has been cleared a little it is always a good opportunity to stand back and take note of any plants or shrubs that might need re-positioning or splitting. Remembering to do so is another matter...

The ground is often covered in a green carpet of seedlings and small plants such as love in a mist, foxgloves or verbena bonariensis. This year we have a lot of self-seeded teasel which could become a problem so we have been quite brutal and removed most of them. The teasel is a great plant to attract the birds but as it grows so freely on the edges of the meadows locally, we don't really need many in the garden.

The large amount of green and dried waste is a welcomed addition to the compost heap. The few days work entailed is worth it as year on year the flower borders improve and provide colour, shape and movement to the garden throughout the seasons. As winter approaches, new growth nestles tightly in and around the base of plants, awaiting the signal of the sun and warmer weather. Beetles make their way to winter homes beneath woodpiles, in crevices and underground.

The robins have returned and welcome the newly dug earth to rummage for grubs. Each year they seem to become braver and venture nearer and nearer.

We are lucky here on the coast as we rarely get anything more than a very light ground frost. This results in very early growth and a shorter dormant season. Generally speaking we can have very mild winters and warm, during the day, autumns. Each season brings about beautiful displays that returns without fail, year on year.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Preparing the vegetable beds for winter

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There is a break in the weather and although still cool out of the sun and in the evening, the rain has stopped and the wind is helping dry out the soil and garden. It is an ideal time to clear the vegetable beds as they come to the end of their producing cycle.

After a very productive year in the vegetable garden, it is time to give the empty beds a little tender loving care. The bed we concentrated on today had grown: beans; courgettes; marrows; radish; parsnips; carrot; beetroot; herbs; squash...It had produced well and now needed attention.

The old plants were removed and composted. We have two main general compost bins which in turn will be allowed to break down and then dug back into the beds. The fuller bin will be ready for using in a few weeks time before we plant potatoes and onions. We never have enough compost so we compost everything we possibly can.

Luis added more sandy top soil to the bed and dug it over lightly. The addition of the new soil has really helped break-down the heavy clay and it is much more manageable. Oats were then scattered and then raked in. The oats will grow over the next three months then they will be dug back into the soil as a green manure. The cats also love to eat the fresh green shoots of oats so they will be pleased.

If we manage to source any manure, that will also be added to the bed.

Elsewhere in the garden we are continuing to clear the leaves, tidy up for winter and we have begun to survey and prioritise the building work we are yet to do but hope to start soon. We have had a leak in the newly built garden tap so that has had to be partially demolished, repaired and is awaiting re-build.
Wentworth and Gawber are out more during the day, hunting land voles in nearby meadows and generally enjoying the warming rays of the sun.