Friday, January 31, 2014

Rushing chairs, a craft of restoration

The craft of chair rushing has always fascinated me. Some years ago, I could not let the opportunity pass to learn this craft. It all came about after visiting a Saturday craft fair held in Holmfirth when we lived in South Yorkshire.

I eventually got to know Heather Pearce, a stall holder who sold already restored chairs and who demonstrated chair caning and rushing. Heather kindly agreed to teach me how to re-cane and rush a chair. Over the Spring and Summer months, I joined her at her market stall and she kindly taught me these beautiful crafts.

I wanted to learn these crafts as it was something I could do when we eventually bought a home here in Asturias. One of the initial challenges was how to promote myself and to this effect I started writing a blog in Spanish: I also started demonstrations during crafts fairs locally.

I soon started getting some work after handing out business cards during demonstrations and through the blog and local furniture and antique restorers.

Another of the challenges I found was to obtain the rush. In the UK, it was available through various outlets, imported from Holland but in Spain it took some effort to find who would sell it in the small quantities I usually require. It is getting harder to get good quality rush in Spain as those who used to harvest it no longer feel it is financially worth their while and the authorities are reluctant to grant the required permits. I recently found out about a company that may be willing to post to Spain so we will see what the quality is like.

Rushing a chair is a craft that takes its toll on your hands but I always celebrate the beauty of a newly rushed chair and being able to give a second lease of life to the beautiful chairs, stools and benches I have had the opportunity to re-rush over the years.

Good quality antique chairs are fairly uncommon in Spain for a variety of reasons and most of them show sings of neglect, woodworm infestation and very often, structural damage with bad repairs. Having said that, it is still worth restoring them and after the new rush seat is woven they look fantastic with their shabby chic appeal as is the case of these two chairs I recently was asked to re-rush.

When I got the chairs, first of all, I had to treat for woodworm even when there was no signs of it being active - just in case. I also had to dust them and even clean some bird droppings before I considered re-glueing some of the joints.

The decoration was very damaged in parts but its style and structure reminded me of a chair I re-rushed some years ago and that was decorated by one of the Uria Aza brothers, artists from Ribadesella who in the 1950's finished painting the beautiful frescoes in Ribadesella's St Mary Magdalene's church that were started in the 1920's.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Easy apple and walnut sponge cake

We still have mountains of apples in cool storage and although they are beginning to look a little wrinkled, they taste sweet and tangy. Rather than letting them deteriorate we will use them in cakes, peeled for eating and for dehydrating as snack to use for when we are out walking.

This recipe for an apple and walnut sponge cake is one of the easiest cake recipes I have ever come across and never fails. The basic recipe can be adapted to use fruit, nuts, flavoured yogurt and chocolate.

Easy apple and walnut sponge cake

This recipe is used widely across Spain and in known as bizcocho de yogur.

4 medium eggs
250 g plain flour
180g sugar (we reduce this to 130g when using sweet fruit)
1 natural yogurt (or flavoured for a twist)
1 yogurt container of vegetable oil
15g baking powder

Walnut pieces and sliced apple

Beat all the liquids together, add flour, sugar and baking powder, mix well. Add walnut pieces.
Spoon half into greased or lined baking tin, add sliced apple, spoon over remainder of mixture, top with sliced apple. Bake at 160 Celsius for 45 mins. Cool on rack.

We are still using last year's walnuts but not for much longer as it was a depressingly poor season for walnuts due to Spring storms damaging young shoots and buds.

Meanwhile back in the kitchen, whilst the oven is on we made a batch of rye and mixed seed bread. Once baked, this will be frozen and used over the coming couple of weeks.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Chair caning and Bergère course in May

No comments:
Have you ever wanted to learn how to re-cane a Bergère armchair or cane-seated bedroom or dining chair? Well here is your chance. There are limited places available on a three-day course here in Asturias just outside of Ribadesella on the northern coast of Spain. Luis will once again be teaching a small group to weave a chair seat using rattan cane.

The course will equip participants with a basic knowledge of weaving rattan cane and provide them with all materials to complete and take home with them a sample frame. The course will run from:

Friday 9th May - Sunday 11th May 2014

Cost (inclusive of materials and lunch): €200

Maximum number of participants 5. Book early to avoid disappointment.

A vegetarian lunch will be included in the cost of the course and information about local hotels will be provided if required.

With over 500 chairs, sofas and stools under his belt in both rattan cane and rush, Luis has the experience and attention to detail required to assist you on a one-to-one basis as you develop your skills in this ancient craft.

Why not book a long weekend break in Asturias or make the course a part of your holiday? For further information email Luis on: artesanialapasera @ or telephone: 0034 646436562

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Oatcakes and ginger biscuits

With the rain teaming down outside, Luis in the studio working on his new mosaic Prometheus and the cats tucked up in their bed, I decided it would be a good day to make biscuits.

Oatcakes are one of my favourite biscuits for savoury snacks. We had made some two days before for as an appetiser when friends came to dinner, served with black olive tapenade and guacamole but they had disappeared long ago so I decided to make another batch.

Really simple to make they are just like the Scottish oat cakes I remember from the UK.


225g Oats lightly milled
60g Rye flour
60g butter or margarine
half a teaspoon each of bicarbonate of soda, dark brown sugar and salt
80 mls of hot water

Combine dry ingredients, rub in fat, add hot water and bring together. Roll out on floured surface to desired thickness (3-5mm), put on greased trays and bake in hot oven for 15 or so minutes until light brown, cool on rack. 170 Celsius.

Whilst making the oatcakes we received a call from friends who were planning to pop in later in the day so whilst I was in biscuit mode I decided to make a batch of ginger biscuits to have with an afternoon infusion.

Ginger biscuits:

170gm Self-raising flour
115gm soft brown sugar
30gm margarine
25gm cream cheese
1 dessert spoon of golden syrup
1 egg
2 teaspoons ground ginger (according to taste)
half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

Mix all dry ingredients, rub in fat, add syrup and egg, bring together into stiff paste. Form into small balls and place on greased trays leaving room to spread. Bake at 175 Celsius until golden brown (15 mins) cool on trays until fully set, transfer to cooing tray.

Meanwhile, here's another track by me to accompany your tea and biscuits: Ride the greenway

Monday, January 13, 2014

Re-visiting the Cares Gorge - The Divine Gorge

One of the defining walks of Asturias is the Cares Gorge. Known as the Divine Gorge, the 22km path winds its way through the heart of the Picos de Europa mountains. The path carved into rock and passes through tunnels cut through ancient limestone as it winds its way around the gorge and the river Cares way below.

The route is linear from Poncebes to Cain to Posada de Valdeón in Leon. We have walked this path several times and it always leaves a lasting impression. You cannot fail to be impressed with the magnificence and grandeur of the ancient limestone gorge. 

As you walk the path, which is no more than two meters wide for most of the gorge, in the depths you can occasionally spot the crystal clear blue waters of the Rio Cares whilst above you are the rocky peaks, scree beds and fissures of the Picos de Europa mountains.

It is a while since we walked the path but we will aim to do it again this Spring. In the height of summer it is extremely hot and arduous as the sun beats down relentlessly. The route is not for the feint hearted as you will see from this wonderful film shot by Tomas Millar (view it in full screen HD format). Thanks Tomas and Anna, you reminded us of this wondrous place and we will visit soon.

A section of the path collapsed about a year ago and you will see Tomas controlling his quad-copter on the newly constructed bridge that has been installed.

One of the few times we have heard wolves in the Picos mountains is when we walked the Cares gorge, we arrived in Cain mid-afternoon and a lone howl echoed around the valley triggering the local dogs to respond with their somewhat tamer version ...spine-tingling.


Thursday, January 09, 2014

Earth, wind and fire

Update 10.1.14 20 fires in one day - seven of them in Ribadesella

This past week has seen extensive damage around Asturias from violent gusts of winds. Many of the old cider apple orchards have suffered with trees uprooted or with trunks and branches snapped with the force of 90 kph gusts. Living so near the coast we often get weather fronts that come in from the Atlantic Ocean and travel across the Bay of Biscay that batter the coast of northern Spain as they eventually calm and fade. This time the winds came from the south bringing with them balmy temperatures, often as high as 20c in the early evening and throughout the night.

Thankfully we had little damage apart from a few plant pots tossed around, one or two broken branches on trees and shrubs and garden furniture strewn across the plot. We have learnt from past experience to batten down the hatches and move anything vulnerable when we can feel the winds gathering pace.

Our last blog entry featured Luis' new mosaic and a new composition by me both titled Prometheus. For those of you who are familiar with his story you will know he was the Titan that stole the fire from the gods and brought it to earth. In retrospect it seems somewhat pertinent to mention Prometheus as this week we have seen a proliferation of deliberate fires across Asturias.

We understand that the fires are started by farmers to clear gorse and shrub in an effort to regenerate grazing for stock. As far as we know these uncontrolled fires are illegal. Licenses are issued here in Asturias for controlled fires and we have a license to burn here at La Pasera. If our garden fires spread and resulted in emergency services to be called, without it, we would be responsible for costs which can escalate into many thousands of euros.

Many pastures on lowlands have been set on light and up to a point, we can see the sense in this however, many mountains have also been set alight. This is often done when strong winds are expected as it helps the fire spread. Last night around 7.30pm I could smell smoke and knew that locally, fires were happening. Sure enough, half an hour later the glow of flames lit the sky as the winds gathered pace. The mountain, Sierra de Cueva Negra, that overlooks our coastal plain was well and truly on fire, on both aspects, it burned fierce. Luis called the emergency services who were already aware of it and were monitoring its spread. It burned throughout the night.

This morning it is a sorry sight with the Bomberos (firefighters) dousing the fire and their helicopters flying over our house to the sea to fill their water carriers. Such a terrific and unnecessary cost in such times.

It seems senseless to us that these fires are started and that no-one is prosecuted for them. The emergency services do not come cheap, it is dangerous and the very act of fire on gorse seed actually promotes more vigorous growth.

 No doubt the earth will re-generate, grasses will grow and new gorse will flourish. The beautiful oaks and wooded slopes however will take much longer to grow again. As one local newspaper described these actions this week, it is truly lamentable.

Update: 12.1.14 - You can see the extent of the fire, 2 km of mountain burnt.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Plans for 2014

Where does the time go? It seems like only yesterday we were packing away the Christmas decorations this time last year. We are looking forward to the coming year and hope to make new ideas and plans come to fruition both personally and here at La Pasera. We tend not to make new year resolutions because we believe that if you really want to do something you will eventually find a way and create the right environment in which to do it.

2014 will bring a push to finish the hard landscaping in the garden. We are nearly there but still a bit more to do on the large terrace and the driveway but we will get there once the weather improves a little.

We will also install a raised bed around the raspberry and blueberry bushes. It will mean lifting the bushes and refining the soil structure but it really does need doing as the bushes are not doing too well at all. The garden will of course need regular input and growing our own fruit and vegetables will be a regular but welcome activity.

Luis will continue with his mosaics and has a couple of commissions in the pipeline. He is currently busy with a Byzantine-style mosaic called Prometheus. Here is a sneak's looking great and will be a fairly large mosaic once finished. This is the reverse.

I will continue writing and aim to add more short stories to the Smaller tales and tittle tattle blog. This year I have also resurrected my interest in making music. Having been in bands 30 years ago, the urge to make some kind of music has never left me. At the moment I am experimenting and learning the new software that drives my Axion keyboard. The link to my sound cloud stream can be found below, only three tracks so far but more on the way including vocals but not necessarily mine.. I'm enjoying learning the new techniques (for me) as the last time I composed anything I was using a Teac 4 Track cassette recorder...crikey. As with most things it's the process that is just as important as the end product if not more important.

I have a couple of things in the pipeline; web-based projects I want to develop so it will be a busy year in the making. Photography will remain a staple hobby for both of us as we use images such a lot in our respective blogs. A photograph can be so powerful in many ways.

Luis will offer another chair caning course in the early Spring. Several people have already made enquiries which is always a good sign. We've met some lovely people on the course, many keep in touch and it is always good to see how their skills are developing.

We will look forward to spending time with family and friends, walking the beautiful Asturian countryside, foraging and beach-combing, growing good food and hopefully enjoy good health. Wentworth and Gawber have grown and become established in their own routines and behaviours, a real joy to be part of... In the mean time we will enjoy the mixed weather, keep warm and make the most of our time.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Making a bottle garden.

Many years ago I had a wonderful bottle garden that had been thriving for nearly a decade until it was watered almost daily by a house sitter who knew no better. Bottle gardens, of course, rarely need watering if ever and if the balance is right they sustain their own micro climate.

Recently I acquired a medium size bottle and decided to have a go at another bottle garden. It is about half the size of the Carboy I used to have but never-the-less it is big enough to work if I get the balance right. The beauty of this one is that it has a wide neck and therefore plants and soil are easy to place inside.

You need a good layer of drainage, here I am using old marble and granite chippings leftover from Luis' mosaic work. Charcoal is also required to keep the contents fresh. A good layer of bought potting compost is placed on top of the drainage and charcoal then the plants are added. Usually we would not buy potting compost but home-made is likely to be less sterile therefore causing an increased risk of bacteria or mould.

We chose two Pileas and a low growing evergreen we are not sure of (possibly a type of fern). Three plants is more than enough for this bottle garden. We have also incorporated a lovely piece of rock crystal we found locally. Watered sparingly and the lid secured, it shouldn't need watering again and if it steams up with condensation, the lid can be removed until clear then re-applied. Once it fills out a little it should look the part.

The bottle garden will sit on the bedroom balcony along with our small collection of orchids so that we can enjoy it as we sit and read in the morning sun. The next house plant project is to create another Bromeliad tree, similar to the one in the photo below. These were with me for many years until the excess watering incident and several house moves.