Thursday, January 31, 2013

Winter flowers

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Living so close to the Asturian coast with an Atlantic climate characterized by mild temperatures and copious rain fall, Winter at La Pasera is a season that still brings us very pleasant and sunny days in-spite of the very rare occasions when the thermometer dips close to freezing temperatures.

This mild weather translates into a profusion of blooms both in our own garden and in the surrounding countryside. Providing a rich source of nectar for insects such as bumble bees, the array of wild and cultivated flowers never ceases to please the eye.

The bright colours of the gold finches are a joy to behold at this time of the year whenever they flock into the garden and work their way across the garden eating daisy flower heads.

As the daffodils and snowdrops start coming into bloom, they add to the carpet of colour provided by the violas, primulas, marigolds, dianthus and the brightly coloured dandelions. At this time of the year, I look forward to being out in vegetable garden enjoying the scent of the violas nearby.

Walking along the country lanes, the mild weather brings many wild flowers in to bloom and I always look forward to the pulmonarias and hepaticas while enjoying the heady honey scented mimosa trees as they explode into bloom.

The large white Arum lilies unfurl slightly more each day and the mosses, lichens and ferns thrive in the morning sun. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Preparing home-made baked beans

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Despite living in a so-called global market, there are quite a few food-stuffs that we liked from the UK that are difficult to find or very expensive compared to the prices we were used to. In general you learn to live without certain items as there are so many other foods and dishes that compensate or similar ingredients that you can use in an adapted recipe.

Home-made stock 'cubes' ready for freezing

Convenience food is useful to us as it allows more time to get on with the many activities and jobs we have to do on a day-to-day basis. One convenient and healthy food we now eat regularly is home made baked beans. Funnily enough we rarely ate baked beans in the UK but we are enjoying their revival here in our diet.

After bring back a few tins of a well-known brand of beans, I decided to experiment and so if I could come up with something close but better, less sweet and slightly spicier and, I did.

 We used dried beans that were left over from our green bean harvest that when left to mature produce very similar beans to haricot beans. We dried over 6 kg in total. We soaked and boiled 500g of beans in water with an added home-made stock cube.

The sauce was made from home-made tomato pisto (concentrated tomato pulp), mace, white pepper, salt, Tabasco and a touch of balsamic vinegar - quantities adjusted to suit personal taste.

Concentrated tomato sauce being prepared earlier in the year.

The beans were added and simmered for a further 20 minutes. Left overnight in the pan for the flavour to develop, reheated and served with fresh home-made bread toasted they are the best baked beans we have ever eaten. I made enough for two meals and they kept well in the fridge for several days.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Making (and eating) Orange Jam...

At this time of year oranges are at their best. Luis has just returned from the second matanza and as always he returned with a car full of goodies including a sack of oranges and a sack of mandarins. They are sourced from Extremadura and shipped to Palencia. The beauty of these oranges is that they are exceptionally sweet, un-waxed and uncoloured unlike most oranges you will find in shops and supermarkets.

Luis is a big jam fan and usually takes the opportunity to make a large batch of orange jam. The recipe and method was given to us from a neighbour in the village who has always made orange jam this way i.e. using the whole fruit, pith included.

The whole fruit is washed and then grated in a food processor. The grated oranges are mixed with half their weight in sugar. Bring the mixture to the boil and simmer for about 40 minutes until reduced and thickened. It is left to cool and then put into sterilised jars. We seal the jars with pure paraffin wax. For the wax to work effectively we fill the jar to the very top and then top up with the melted wax which sets quickly. This excludes all the air and the wax plug is easy to remove. The jam will keep for over one year.

It really is a delicious jam although not gelatinous like other jams. In addition to being spread on toast, we use this jam with plain yoghurt, as an ingredient in cakes and with chocolate desserts. This batch consisted of 4kg of fruit to 2kg of sugar and made 14 jars. It is a sweet jam as opposed to a bitter marmalade type preserve, deliciosa as they say here in Spain.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The rain in Asturias

When friends and family visit Asturias they are always impressed with the lush green landscapes. The bedrock is clothed in swathes of woodlands, pasture land, coastal plains and scrub-land which provides an ever changing tapestry of greens, golds, reds and yellows. In sharp contrast are the silver-grey limestone rocky outcrops, golden beaches and dramatic skies.

We often hear people describe Asturias as looking like Switzerland, Austria or Scotland, and it does to a point, all of them.

Of course our landscapes are partly dependant on the weather. Asturias is so beautiful and green because of the rain and temperatures. We usually have rain most of the year but not for prolonged periods, the rain in Asturias comes hard and fast, and no more so than in winter. In winter the rain can visit with a vengeance especially when accompanied with storm winds.

Being sited on the coast of the Bay of Biscay we are periodically subjected to storms coming across the Atlantic. Today, such a storm is visiting us and really making its presence known. The cats are snuggled up together in the warmth of the house, the plant-pots and other garden items moved and secured and, the log fire is lit.

Last night, we spotted this little fella on the terrace. Obviously to a toad, rain is just the best of weather.

It has rained hard for a few days now. The fields are flooding, drainage compromised and pools of water are collecting on roads. There are high tides as well at the moment so there is always the danger of flooding along the banks of the Rio Sella or Rio Guadamia. Rainfall is measured in litres per square meter here so to give you an indication, since 8 am this morning we have had 30 ltrs of rain up to 6pm.

Fields flooding next to La Pasera

One quirky thing I really like here in Asturias is the umbrella covering machines you find in many shops and bars. You just slot your umbrella into a sleeve and it keeps it from dripping all over the place and making the floor slippery. Most smaller shops and coffee bars have an umbrella stand which at this time of year are always full. The trick is to make sure yours is difficult to get at as they have been known to go walk-abouts...


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Towers

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As any artist knows, having a comfortable and appropriate place to work is so important. When we moved to La Pasera one of our priorities was to build a separate space we could use for a workshop/studio, storage area and general utility area. We planned and built a 75 sqm building to accommodate our needs.

Complete with a mezzanine storage floor, wood-burning stove, music, internet connection and resident cats it has become an important part of our lifestyle. We probably spend more time in there than in the house.

The Towers, as it is lovingly know was so called because of the height of the building at the rear. It was built on a fairly steep slope which give it great height at the rear. The internal height is such that we can accommodate the mezzanine floor at one end.

It is open plan in design which works well for us and incorporates the provisions store, woodworking area, plenty of storage, the mosaic studio and three cat comfort zones (beds for winter, summer and for when the mood takes).

Luis has a great space for his mosaic studio with plenty of room to store marble and limestone. As most artists know, having enough space to store completed works is a bonus and essential, with mosaics, this means room to store where they will not be damaged. Luis is building up quite a stock of completed mosaics and steadily preparing for a large exhibition we are planning for a couple of years time.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Persimmons the divine fruit

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Before coming to Spain persimmons were new to me. Luis has eaten them before and has often picked one to eat when out walking. I never fancied eating them as I had heard they had to be nearly rotting (bletted) before they were edible. I have since learnt there is a world of difference between bletted and rotting.

The tree fruits well here and if eaten at the right time truly deserve their reputation of being divine. A ripe hachiya persimmon fruit is sweet and tropical to the taste whereas an under-ripe one is astringent and foul.

The key is to eat them when they feel extremely soft i.e. bletted. The thin orange skin will toughen slightly and indent when touched - that is the time to cut them in two and scoop out the soft, sweet flesh.

Our friend Nigel brought us a box of them round the other evening from the orchard at his organic farm and hotel Posada del Valle. They are ripe and ready to eat, delicious.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Nesting boxes for the garden

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In an earlier post we wrote about the great tits that had nested and raised chicks in a nest box on the old cherry tree at the bottom of the garden. It was a real treat to watch their frantic to-ing and fro-ing, collecting grubs and feeding hungry chicks. Two year running they have nested. This year we have decided to install another couple of nest boxes to encourage more birds to take up residence.

The range of birds we see around here is incredible with different visitors during the changing seasons and some that are constant. The robins are here at the moment in increasing numbers. It is as this time of year they stop off on their migratory journey north but one or two stay throughout the year and keep us company as we dig and work the garden.

We hope to also install a perching pole at some stage for the large number of raptors that soar and glide through the open skies around La Pasera. They often come to rest in the older trees but are soon spooked if they see you. They like a vantage point from which to scan their prey, preen their feathers and take warmth from the early morning sun.

We will also build a feeding table for the garden birds in the coming weeks although previous attempts to get the birds feeding from fat balls failed. Now the garden is slightly more established and there are more bushes in which to take shelter we might have more success. The bird baths certainly attract a wide range of visitors.

The nesting boxes are constructed to recognised specifications and have an entrance hole of 2.7 cm, big enough for small birds such as blue tits or great tits. There are drainage holes in the bottom and a removable lid for cleaning. They have been treated with a none toxic protector and the hole left bare as the birds will undoubtedly peck away to customise their entrance. The boxes will be installed this week as the birds will shortly be on the look out for suitable residences. They will be sited on the north eastern side of two more mature cherry trees on the boundary of La Pasera, well away from curious cats.

I must say the nest boxes were much easier to build with the help of our new super-dooper chop saw. Now let me think....bat boxes, bee hotels, hedgehog homes, planters, cold frames, chicken coop, green house, extension, ark... Watch this space.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

New mosaic terrace at La Pasera

We are fortunate to have a garden that benefits from the journey of the daily sun. This results in us having many different spots in the garden where we can either avoid or capture the warming rays, throughout the seasons.

One spot in the garden which we felt would benefit from a sun drenched terrace was immediately at the back of the house. We already have a partially covered terrace which is great for sun or shade and superb for having meals outside. The new terrace will be a place where you can chill out, throw a few cushions down, lie on the floor and soak up the warmth or sit quietly and read in the shade of a garden parasol. Pebbles are a great surface to walk or lie on and act like an acupuncture massage - the cats love to stretch out on the warmed mosaic surfaces whenever they have an opportunity.

Luis set about designing and making a set of mosaic slabs, 16 in total, that compliment those already in situ. The terrace will provide a panoramic view across the garden and will, on a sunny day, get an average of 6-8 hours full sun a day.


 We now have to extend the rockery we built a few years ago in front of the new terrace. This was always in the grand plan and we have some excellent pieces of limestone waiting to be moved into place. We have lots of cuttings and small plants ready to colonise the crevices and small gaps.

The terrace has now been laid and looks wonderful. The next job is to complete the mosaic paths for the herb garden and to finish off laying three mosaic slabs designed for the entrance to the garden shed.
We have just completed the main structure of the second garden tap which also has it's own resident mouse if you look carefully.

The mosaic below is a recent commission from a couple in Madrid. The brief was movement. It is to be sited in the corner of a city garden and will form a focal point near a seating area.