Saturday, 31 March 2007

A lazy, rainy day

It's raining, still. It's not really stopped since Monday. This is why I'm still sat in my pyjamas and dressing gown at half three in the afternoon - I really don't want to venture outside. There was a moment when the sun briefly showed itself this morning, and I excitedly, but foolishly put the washing on. The cats all have cabin fever. They punctuate their long snoozes with mad bouts of chasing each other around the house and attacking whatever or whoever is looking vulnerable.

We knew when we came here that it rained, a lot. And I'd had practice at enduring the rain: I grew up in the NW of England, near Manchester and then spent ten years studying in Cardiff (I once read somewhere, and it came as no surprise, that these are the two wettest cities in the UK) so I should be used to putting up with downpours and dealing with dripping umbrellas and soggy jeans.

The good news is that it looks like we'll be getting some sun next week. In the meantime I'm staying dry inside while I can. I'm not a huge hot drinks fan, I usually prefer something refreshing (my current favourite is grape and pineapple juice mixed with sparkling water), however I do like these two rooibos herbal teas. The raspberry one smells and tastes scrumptious and the ginger, cinnamon and cardamom one is perfect for a cold wet day (although the brand name is somewhat unfortunate).

Sunday, 25 March 2007


On the menu today was herb planting. We use handfuls of parsley in our cooking at a time and another huge favourite is coriander - Matt makes a tasty salsa with finely chopped tomatoes, red onion,green chilli and coriander with lime juice - so it's much cheaper to grow our own.

I've read in several places that coriander is a pain to grow. I myself have no inkling where that idea came from - it's the easiest one I know of - just pop them in an earth filled pot, cover lightly with soil and wait. Even if it's too cold for the seeds to germinate, they won't be killed off by the cold but will patiently wait and pop their heads up come warmer weather. And it's ever so easy to collect the seed off them for further planting.

Parsley, on the other hand, is a bit trickier, but worth the effort as its so versatile and also the plants grow for two years, unlike other herbs that need sowing annually. When I first attempted it I failed miserably, but now I think I've got the knack of it. I soak the seeds for twenty-four hours before sowing into small pots. They need keeping indoors until they germinate and have at least two full leaves. I've been planting out our parsley today, into larger pots on the terrace. And I mean the flat-leafed variety, which is much, much tastier than it's curly counterpart. Fresh herbs in general make such a difference when you cook and I find the price of them in the supermarkets ridiculous when its so easy to grow your own.

On a different note, I'm very grateful to my mum who just called and casually mentionned the clocks going forward last night. Had she not done this I would've been very unpopular at work tomorrow when I arrivied an hour late.

Wood collecting, or the adventures of Beeps the cat

Despite last Sunday's adverse conditions we managed a sizeable wood collection. However, given this last week's weather - a mixture of rain, sleet, hail, snow and more rain - we now have snow on the mountains again - most of it had been used by the time the sun appeared today for the first time in a week. So more was needed. It's set to rain for the next week: being lazy today was not an option.

We get our firewood from a large field behind the house which is half wooded, and we're often accompanied on these collection trips by Beeps. She's a lovely, but quite strange, cat. Black cats are seen in Asturias, especially in rural areas, as undesirable creatures and a female one is even worse. They are often not treated particularly well. We're not sure what had happened to her before she appeared in our village at about four months old but she's always been very nervous, although much, much happier than she used to be.

If she can overcome her fears, she adores attention. Her favourite activity is to lie with all four paws in the air while you rub her belly - this is very strange for such an nervous feline as letting you near their tum is the ultimate sign of trust in a cat. Another funny habit is to follow me around - everywhere: she's currently curled into a ball on the window ledge watching me type and I'm never lonely while I'm gardening; I can always catch a black silhouette out of the corner of my eye if she's not romping directly in front of me. When we go up to the land above the house for a walk we have to sneak out without her seeing, otherwise she'll follow us all the way up there, mewing as we go as if to let us know she's still there and we're not to leave her. If we do make her go back - which is not always possible as she's normally desperate not to be left behind -
she'll sit and quite literally yowl for ages. She followed us today on our wood hunt, despite the neighbour's dogs being out and about and having to sneak past them to get to us in the field. We heard her from a distance, mewing to let us know she was on her way, trotting with her tail up to keep us company. It was very cute watching her small black form growing larger as she made her way across the field, calling to us. On every trip she'll sit and watch as we get the wood together (sometimes she explores and hides in old tree trunks) and then follow us back and forth across the field as we drag it housewards, complaining if she gets deserted and stopping to let us catch up if she runs ahead. If I'm very lucky she'll want to be picked up and will then wrap herself around my neck and purr loudly into my ear. There's something very soothing about a cat's purr, so when she does that I'm quite as content as she is.

Fantasy gigging

Matt and I were talking after a few beers on Friday night (just a few this time, mind you). We had Bob Marley on the stereo and the conversation got around to 'If you could travel back in time and see any singer/band playing live that it is no longer possible to see (for whatever reason), and still keep a sense of historical perspective, who would you go and see?'

Current contenders are Bob Marley and the Wailers (Matt - no surprises there) and The Doors, early Beatles, or Jeff Buckley (me).

Any other suggestions?

Sunday, 18 March 2007


Early yesterday evening we went halfway down the hill to an espicha in the village of Lantero. Espichas are mini-fiestas to celebrate the opening of a new barrel of cider. They take place in Asturias from mid-March to the end of April. Cider is a big deal here, it's the drink of choice for most Asturians. Many people make their own and apple orchards are a common sight. Cider pouring is an art. Because the cider is flat you're supposed to hold the glass in one hand down by your knees and then pour in an inch or so of cider from above head height to give it a bit of fizz. They even have organised competitions to see who can do it best and they're taken very seriously: winning one can add immensely to your social stature. There's a drinking etiquette which states that you're to knock back the cider in one go (so as not to let it get flat again) and all Asturians follow this to the letter. And, you share a glass and pass it round making it very easy to get through a bottle in this way. It's also used a lot in cooking here. We make a rather tasty butter bean and vegetable stew (with chorizo for non-veggies) It's cooked gently for about an hour in the cider, either in the oven or on the hob, and then we add lots of fresh parsley before serving. It's very good with mash or on it's own.

So, along we went yesterday with the idea of having a bottle or two, the odd tapa and then making our way back up the hill for a relaxing evening at home. All was going to plan, we'd quaffed one bottle and were well on our way to finishing the second. Tapas had been consumed, we were feeling rather mellow and were comtemplating ambling back home. Then, Matt received a text from some friends, Duncan and Susana, down in the town 'we're off for a drink if you want to join us'. "Why not?" said Matt "we hardly ever go out" and, having finished the last of the cider, we walked the rest of the way down the hill.

Now, I know from experiences as a teenager (yes, in plural - it took me a while to learn) that mixing beer and cider is not very clever, especially with just a pincho de tortilla - a small bread roll filled with a slice of Spanish omelette - in my belly to soak it all up. However, with a bottle of cider buzzing around inside me it didn't seem so important when we got to the bar. Besides, as it wasn't a sidreria - a bar specialising in cider, so more of the same was not an option, beer it was. And very happily I drunk it too. Also, I must point out here that Duncan (as you can probably tell from the name) is a Scot who, conforming to national stereotypes, does like his drink and sets a fast pace too. You can usually tell how much he's been drinking by how quickly he's talking - the more beer imbued, the faster the speech, and with a strong Glaswegian accent it's taken us some practice to understand what's he's saying once he's had a few. We eagerly, and noisily I imagine, talked the night away, in the process moving from the bar to Duncan And Susana's flat where they kindly made us pizza and salad. This was when Duncan had the idea to open a bottle of red wine. Details were hazy by this point so I'm not quite sure how much went down my throat - not as much as down Matt's it looks like (he's still suffering in bed at 3.15 pm) - and when I looked at my watch, well stone me, it'd suddenly reached 2 am.

Fortunately I wasn't so drunk that I forgot to sensibly put a glass of water by my bed once we'd taken a taxi home. I think it's more the mixture rather than quantities, and lack of food (very rare for me) that have caused this particular hangover. What's making it worse it that we have to go and find some firewood before the day is out. According to the weather forecast it's going to snow tomorrow, and Tuesday, and Wednesday. Yes. Snow. It's rather hard to believe at the moment, it's a gorgeous spring day with an incredibly
blue sky and not a cloud in sight. There's blossom on the trees and our jasmine is flowering. However, we have been caught out before - most notably in January 2005 when we were due to go and apply for our Spanish residency papers and it snowed heavily the night before. Matt, not wanting to miss the appointment that we'd waited two months for, and seeing the main road was clear, tried to drive us down the hill. Instead we ended up in the ditch having made it no further than the second corner, and had to wait a week for the snow to melt so the tow truck could come and lift the car out - so we've learnt not to be complacent.

Despite the snow causing us more work, effort and problems. It's always astoundingly beautiful here when it falls. The second appointment we made for the residency card application also fell on a day when it snowed - just typical. Not wishing to miss it for a second time, we got up early, put on our boots and gloves and battled through the snow down the hill to the train station. Nobody else was about at that hour and everything was covered with a pristine white blanket that glistened in the sun. It was like being a some kind of magical fairyland, our own personal Narnia, and I cursed myself for not having thought to take my camera out with me. The last time is snowed here was in early February. It made my simple trips to work and back much more difficult than usual. Although walking halfway up the hill from my abandoned car each day for a week made me much fitter, and I always arrived home very ready for my dinner. It was also lovely to see the lights of El Entrego beneath me, glinting in the snow as I walked. Even so, despite all this loveliness I find I'm wishing that they've got it all wrong and tomorrow will be just another spring day, although glancing out of the window I see the clouds arriving, here we go again.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

The local wildlife

The sun appeared this weekend and, after several false starts In February, it looks like spring is now here. I spent most of the weekend working in the garden. However, whilst on the computer Beeps, huntress extraordinaire that she is, brought this field mouse in to show me. He was a devil to catch - it took a cunning plan and most of the day to get him trapped before I went and hid him in the long grass outside so sneaky cats couldn't find him again.

Also making an appearance this weekend was this little fellow. Salamanders are fairly common in Asturias, although they hide in dank, dark places so you don't see them that often. I've found them before, on our drive, coming back from work at night, but this is the first time I'd caught one in daylight when I lifted the bucket he was hiding behind.

And while digging the potato patch - it's almost there - I was kept company by the lambs frolicking in the field next door and then head-butting their mum when they fancied a drink. There are lambs everywhere you look at the moment; I have trouble concentrating on the road when I drive down to work as every other field is full of them and they're so cute to watch.

Despite the potato patch still not being finished - we have until 19th March to get the potatoes in, the traditional day for planting here (it's also St. Josephs day/Father's day - you can tell we're in a Catholic country) - we're not doing too badly in general. The peas and garlics are going great guns, the onions have started to appear and we've got the parsnips and broads in too.
As I child used to loathe broad beans - the big, grey sort that my dad used to eat with a horrible tough shell that always stuck to the roof of your mouth. Now, having experienced them young, tender and freshly picked - as they should be (sorry dad!) they're one of my favourites. Hopefully the parsnips will do better this year than last. They seemed to be doing fine, but when we came to dig them up most of the lower part of the root had been munched by some unknown beast. This was particularly disappointing as parsnips are not usually sold in Spain - the locals have no idea what they are. We have our fingers crossed.

Two very silly, but snug, cats

They used to fight for the rocking chair - it's next to the chimney so is normally one of the warmest places in the house - now they just climb on and get into whatever position is possible.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Gazpacho in March

Yesterday I had a wisdom tooth removed. I'd been very blase about the whole affair. Last year I had the first one done and spent a month worrying about it beforehand - mostly due to Matt's ghastly tales of what happened when he had all four done at once under general anaesthetic and then spent two weeks in agony unable to eat properly, losing a stone in weight as a result, and some of the feeling in his lower lip, permanently. However, although they took about half an hour to get it out, in about six different pieces, the most pain I felt was a severe jaw ache at having to keep my mouth open so wide for that long.

This time, the worries didn't start until we were in the taxi on the way to the hospital (I was briefly cheered at one point when we passed a dental surgery called 'Poo' - I think it must have been named after the Asturian coastal town of Poo which is a pretty little place despite the moniker. Since I've been here I've also found a Boo, a Lada and a Nora).

So, I started fretting in the taxi, and then during the hour-long wait at the hospital. (Why do they do that? You're given an appointment for 10am, you arrive on time, or even ten minutes early, and then they make you wait for an hour to see someone.) When I was eventually called in, I shuffled nervously to the chair and was, to my relief, given a huge quantity of local anaesthetic. Then my nerves fluttered again when I saw the trainee nurse - she looked like a slightly older version of one of my eleven-year old students. Oh dear.

After the dentist had unsuccessfully tried to lever the damn thing out I started to fret even more, especially when she grabbed my jaw at the front and warned that she'd be using 'a bit of force'. Then, even worse, came the drill - here we go for another half an hour at least, I thought and steeled myself for more trauma and jaw ache. I was so busy trying to make myself relax that I thought I'd heard incorrectly when the dentist said, with some satisfaction, 'there we go, all finished.' But no, the rogue tooth had indeed been removed, and in one piece at that. I positively floated from the chair and bounced out of the room to a very surprised Matt who had been preparing himself for another long wait on the very uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room. And that was that.

The worst part about having this tooth taken out is eating, or slurping as I should say (closely followed by the vile salt-water rinses I have to perform after every 'meal'). I have been prohibited from chewing for a few days, and everything I imbue has to be cold. No hot, or even warm foodstuffs at all, ugh. It's only been twenty-four hours and I'm daydreaming about crusty baguettes and warming soups already. It wasn't so bad last time, as it was a hot and sunny May. Gazpacho in the middle of March when it's cold and rainy just makes me miserable. I've also been surviving on yoghurts, stewed apple, hummus and fruit smoothies. If anyone has any ideas on some tasty, filling, savoury and veggie mush I can eat I'd be very grateful!