Saturday, April 26, 2014

Making the most scrumptious Tiramisu

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It's fiesta time again in Spain. Luis' birth village is having one of it's annual gatherings to celebrate San Pedrin. There will be a large family gathering, a large domed wood oven will be lit in one of the outbuildings, lots of home reared meat will be roasted, and tables will be laid for a weekend of feasting.

No matter how much seafood and roast meats you eat, there is always room for a pudding. Luis decided to make Tiramisu for 16. He's taken it with him for the past few years and despite offering to make other puddings they always want Tiramisu...

The recipe we use is a classic Tiramisu recipe but with additional vanilla seeds mixed into the cream.
Here is the recipe we use but there are many more around with various combinations of liqueur, cream and coffee.


(Serves 4)

250g Mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoon of Liqueur (Tia Maria, Brandy, Marsala...or whatever you fancy)
1 teaspoon of vanilla/seeds or essence
150 ml of strong coffee or espresso
150 ml of single cream
4 tablespoons of icing sugar
16 sponge fingers
Chocolate/cocoa powder

Whisk the mascarpone, vanilla, liqueur,and 50 ml coffee mixing well. Whisk cream and icing sugar until smooth then fold into mascarpone mixture.

lightly dip the sponge fingers in the remaining coffee and line the bottom of a dish with half of them, spoon over half of the mixture, repeat and refrigerate. It will set in an hour or so. When ready for serving, lightly cover the top with cocoa powder or grated chocolate.

It really is calorie heavy but as a special treat once a year you might as well go the whole hog and use generous amounts of ingredients. Here you go, I'll let you have a taste of my sampler...for quality control purposes you understand.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Simple pleasures...

It was Luis' birthday this week and we celebrated in the way we have become accustomed: each choosing what you want to do for your own day. We stopped buying presents many years ago and believe that if we really want something and can afford it, we buy it at any time of the year, the same applies for Christmas. It fits in with our thinking that: life is short; we should all make the most of what we have; less is often more. Somehow, we seem to need less and value simpler pleasures.

The day started well with our friend Birgitta arriving with a glorious chocolate-covered birthday cake with candles. Later in the day we visited Birgitta and Manfred with the cake and took tea in their garden, chased chickens, fed geese and harvested salad leaves.

Luis chose to visit Santa Cristina de Lena, a pre-romanesque church south of Oviedo and to have a picnic lunch and short walk... A bit of background might help here if you do not know about pre-romanesque architecture (which I didn't until coming to Spain). Pre-romanesque architecture is found only in Asturias and is also known as the Asturian monarchy architecture.

We parked the car and walked the rough track that leads to the church which is sited on a hill jutting out from a larger hill/mountain. As we approached, tethered goats and their young kept the grassy entrance and hedges that led to the church, cut and managed. Two elderly ladies sat chatting and told us that this was their daily walk before lunch. A perfect spot for a catch up and intrigue...

The church was attended by a guide who helped point out the features we should look for, chiefly the stone carvings that adorned the pillars, medallions and walls.

Originally, the church would have be painted and highly decorated with brightly coloured murals, motifs and religious texts; reflecting the beliefs and loyalties of the times. This no longer exists and the church has had two known major renovations in the 1800's and, just after the civil war in Spain (1936) when it was badly damaged by artillery.

I am personally not into churches but you cannot but admire and appreciate the grace, simplicity and tranquillity of an 8th century sanctuary. It is not hard to imagine a distant time when the ecclesiastical elite and the noble families met for worship and intrigue amongst other things.

We called at the visitor centre which was housed in the old and rather dour looking railway station: La Cobertoria. This exhibition was particularly well executed with panels and photographs explaining the period in history and setting the context of the church within the other centres in Asturias and further afield in Europe. In addition, the panels had English translations which always helps.

We didn't know of any local picnic areas so we decided to head back to the coast and call at La Isla, always a favourite beach to wander. We ate a great lunch, watch the para gliders descend from the Sueve mountain range and with great precision land on the narrow strip of beach. We took a walk along the beach as far as we could (high tide) and looked at pebbles.

Simple pleasures...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Horse racing on the beach in Ribadesella


Horses have always been a part of the landscape in and around Ribadesella. As far back as pre-history, images of horses were drawn with primitive paints in the Tito Bustillo cave in town: one of which has been adopted as a logo for tourism.

Rodrigo De Balbin Behrmann / AFP/Getty Images

Horses have worked the land for centuries and have coped well with the heavy clay ground and rocky outcrops that feature widely in the landscape. There are still working horses around the village and many roam the fields and pastures throughout Asturias. Sadly a few of these are destined for the horse meat trade - appearing in a pie near you. In addition, there are still herds of semi-wild Asturcon horses roaming the local Sueve mountain range; a great sight should you be lucky enough to spot them.

Many local fiestas feature horses competing in cintas (riders charging with a small lance to hook loops and ribbons for prizes), dressage events, endurance and strength competitions and parades. The horse, in its many forms, is interwoven into traditions and local customs. A more recent tradition which is growing in popularity is the annual Carrera de Caballo on Santa Marina beach on Viernes Santo (Good Friday).

The crowds gather along the promenade and watch the spectacle of beautifully groomed horses, racing in a circuit along the beach. This year I had to stress my camera equipment was for press purposes to be allowed onto the beach...well the blog is a form of reportage isn't it?

There are only three races but the excitement and expectation from the crowds is electric. The event is growing each year with dressage taking place today (Saturday) and many associated celebrations around town including a spectacular computerised projection onto the facade of the town hall - sadly we missed this as it wasn't advertised but managed to catch up with it via social networks and Youtube.

Here is a short film I took a couple of years ago of the racing on the beach:


Monday, April 14, 2014

Update on vegetables and fruit

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Anyone who grows their own produce will know that there is always something to be done if you are going to crop anything decent during the year. From sowing seeds, to digging over the soil, pruning, pricking out seedlings, weeding and watching for infections or infestations, it takes the full 12 months of the year to keep the garden productive.

The pear trees are beginning to flower but the greengage is still struggling after all this time. The orange tree is beginning to get fruit of note and lots of it. The fruit bushes are doing reasonable well to say we re-planted the raspberries and blueberry bushes. Red and black currants are sprouting new leaves and the rhubarb continues to give us delicious ruby red stalks.

We planted 100 potatoes which are now growing their leaves and seem to be doing well. The early onions although battered with hail stones and now scarred, are swelling nicely and it won't be long before we are harvesting along with lettuce. The leeks, Swiss chard and mange tout are harvesting well and the pea crop has taken and will shortly need their perfect twiggy pea sticks once again.

There are trays of seedlings lining the steps including tomatoes, peppers and chili peppers, kohlrabi. fennel, cucumber, lettuce, pumpkin, marrow and beans.

Elsewhere in the garden new life is finding its place in the grand scheme of things....

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The terrace is finished...well almost.

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One of the first tasks we undertook in the garden way back in 2007 was to mark out the main access into the garden and a large terrace where we could sit, with space for friends and dining out. We have made it, after all this time it is nearing completion. All we need now is to plant Esquisetum in what was to be a fire pit, and construct a couple of benches from beams we have for seating.

The path leads from the top terrace through flower beds and rockery onto the large terrace. Punctuated with mosaic fish and water-lillies, that lead you to the small wildlife pond.

We are already enjoying the new space which acts as a central vantage point of the pond and distant fields to the north,  the orchard and vegetable garden to the west, the Cueva Negra mountain to the south and La Pasera to the east.

Now that the warmer days are here, I can see many a happy hour spent occupied or unoccupied on the terrace, accompanied or unaccompanied.

We found the perfect pebble for the birdbath....

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Mosaics in and around our garden.

Those of you who follow our blog will know by now that I am passionate about all things mosaic related. My mosaic journey really started when following a holiday in the Greek island of Rhodes where we visited numerous sites with beautiful mosaics Ian got me a book on pebble mosaics written by the British based artist Maggy Howarth.

During our time at La Pasera, I have had an opportunity to explore the technical and aesthetic aspects of mosaic art both relating to pebble and roman style mosaics. My abilities as a mosaicist continue to evolve with each individual piece I design and make.

In my journey into the mosaic world as a self taught mosaicist, I enjoy reading books and publications relating to mosaic art and greatly value the information and sharing of ideas with fellow mosaicists and artist via the Internet based mosaic groups I belong to.

Thanks to these groups, I found that there is a two yearly international mosaic exhibition in the Italian city of Ravenna which I visited last November. Taking part in Ravenna Mosaico 2013 as a visitor was an incredibly valuable experience during which I was able to admire contemporary mosaic art and some of the most beautiful Byzantine mosaics dotted across the city in several World Heritage Sites. This submersion in the mosaic world was very inspirational and on returning I started to create a Byzantine style mosaic representing Prometheus, the titan that Greek mythology tells us that as a protector and benefactor of humans presented us with the gift of fire, a myth that has always fascinated me.


The making of Prometheus gave me an opportunity to explore some technical and aesthetic aspects relating to this beautiful art and craft that help me to gain the expertise that enables me to create more complex mosaics not only to adorn our garden but also when I get a mosaic commission as is the case with the latest one I am working on at the moment. It is a mosaic intended as a 50th birthday present for some keen birdwatchers who have commissioned me to do a kingfisher for which I am using vitreous paste or smalti in order to achieve the bright colours of this beautiful bird.


My first mosaic

Recently, we have also completed the paving of the patio and the path leading down to it in which we have incorporated a series of 19 small mosaic fish and 4 lily pad mosaics directing your attention towards the pond area creating the illusion of a stream. We have also set within the patio two more mosaics depicting a bird in full flight and a lizard. The step from the patio down into the grass area is also paved with a simple but beautiful pebble mosaic; this is the very first mosaic I ever made and which originally adorned our garden when we lived in the UK. This is a very important mosaic for me and I value the opportunity to enjoy it here at La Pasera.