Friday, 30 November 2007

Academia bits 'n' bobs

In the pell mell existence I sometimes lead at work, rushing from one lesson to the office to the next, I'm sometimes surprised into stopping, looking and marvelling. This week it was a twelve-year-old student who amazed me. Whilst his erstwhile companions were noisily milling around the entrance area waiting for class to begin, he was perched by the window, quietly humming Beethoven's Ode to Joy to himself, oblivious of all around him.

The previous week I'd been suprised my a ten-year-old who, in English, had told me that the President of Great Britain was Gordon Brown. After teaching the phrase 'Prime Minister' he quickly informed me that the previous one had been a certain Tony Blair. I congratulated him on his knowledge and and exercised some willpower so as to refrain from giving my own opinion on the subject.

Sometimes students just make me grin. Another twelve-year-old announced to me this week that he'd dreamt the world was going to end. It was a horrible dream, he said, the human race was wiped out by a nuclear attack. And which evil megalomaniac had pressed the button that cause all this distruction? Why, Homer Simpson, of course.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Enjoying the learning curve, part two

I dreamt in Spanish the other night, for the first time since I've been here, which I was rather chuffed about as it means I'm getting to grips with the language again, even if it was one of those disturbing dreams where I'm on the stage with no idea whatsoever of my lines. This time my co-actor, a young girl for whom I was supposed to be playing the part of governess, had to whisper the lines into my ear - in Spanish - and I had to do a quick translation into English before pronouncing them to an unseen audience. It all proceeded well, and next time I'm having one of those 'oh shit, I'm on the stage and have know idea what I'm supposed to say' dreams, I may try and introduce my little Spanish helper into the equation again.

Anyway, despite my grasp of Spanish, there's one word, or rather sound, that I have incredible trouble with, which lets it be known to all that, despite my rather good accent, I am indeed a foreigner here. And that sound is 'eu', most particularly when I have to say euros, which, as you can imagine, happens rather often. Having asked my boss tens of times to say the word for me so I could practice, I finally wrote down an approximation of the pronunciation which I will now share with all of you so you can practise for you Spanish hols:

'a (pronounced as you'd say the letter in the alphabet) - you- rose', with the accent on the a.

So, altogether now....."a-you-rose". Now run it all together: "euros".

Hmm, it takes a bit of practice, I've not got it quite right yet myself and walk around the house or the academia mumbling it to myself. Still, better than my attempts with the double r, which must be rolled. This is almost impossible for me as I apparently have a lazy tongue, (although it sometimes happens when I'm not worrying about it and I surprise myself) which was diagnosed at an early age and for which I was sent to sometimes excruciatingly awkward - when I couldn't say a word properly - elecution lessons while still a nipper. Anyway, the upshot of this is that I say words like 'dog' - perro - as 'but' - pero. Fortunately, as regular readers will know, I am a cat lover so don't have to worry about telling people 'I have three buts'.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Winter Approaching

After a quick session in the garden yesterday between downpours, it struck me that after much hard work we do, finally, have what can be called with no stretching of the truth 'a garden' rather than a field that someone had stuck a few plants in. And despite the fast-approching winter it was still a fine place to be.

Kale & cat

Wild peach tree & horreo

More splashes of colour in neighbouring fields

All tiny fig and hardly any leaf - should've resticted those roots a bit more

Our bargain €8 Japanese Maple

The contoneaster which survived, despite cat damage earlier in the year

Sunrise earlier this week

Monday, 19 November 2007

Cooking Today

I've been meaning to write this for ages, inspired as I was by a post by Lorenzo in, oops, July - I have been lax in my blogging, most recently due to running around after electricians and builders. No matter, here it is at long last:

We bought our house here fully furnished. What we didn't expect to find amongst all the furnishings were all sorts of bits 'n' bobs left behind. A lot of it was rubbish that we spent ages sorting through before eventually throwing most of it out (we were lucky, we know an English woman who lives round the hillside from us who was left a full chamber pot as a welcome gift).

However, the odd little gem did appear. My favourite of which is an old cookery book - La Cocina de Hoy or 'Cooking Today'. It's a third edition, published in 1960, although the recipes and advice contained therein can't have changed much, if at all, from the first edition. It's full of traditional Spanish recipes and all sorts of alimentary information ranging from calorific values and consumption - a 17 year old boy should eat between 2800 to 4,000 calories a day, and a girl of the same age between 2,500-2,800 - to breast feeding: " According to Doctor Casares the mother should first offer her breast to the baby twelve hours after birth, and from then on at intervals of six hours on the first day..."  I can't imagine Delia waxing lyrical on this subject, although she'd probably still sell by the millions if she did.

There's also a great section on the medicinal properties of food. Cauliflower is recommended to lower blood pressure and combat insomnia and asparagus to stimulate the nervous system. Young peas should be eaten by those suffering from tuberculosis, and young beans by those with diabetes and those who wish to "purify the intestines". Does anyone suffer from worms? Well, eat garlic, figs, spring onions and thyme on an empty stomach and you should soon feel better. The solution for gout is lots of fruit and anyone looking for a laxative should be eating prunes, grapes, cucumber, young beans and oats.

My favourite part of the book is entitled "Warnings to the housewife" and details all sorts of information on cleaning (another idea for Delia if she wished to branch out), use of the pressure cooker - "don't clean it with sand...use a pan scrubber"  - and electric whisk; losing weight - "in general, don't eat bread or salt with meals"; laying the table - "at lunchtime use tablecloths of a refined and discreet colour"; preparing menus - for a christening you should serve canapes, sandwiches and small cakes, cold meats, coffee or tea, cigars and brandy, champagne, sherry and Madeira wine; and service - "without the noise of plates or cutlery and with great skill. First, the lady with greatest social standing should be served, she will be sat to the right of the owner of the house, then serve the lady to the left of the owner and so on, finishing with the lady of the house, followed by any old people and young girls."

Got that everyone? Right let's carry on.

The best bit of the entire book is in a section entitled "Fellow Diners", the whole of which I would love to quote to you, but I shall try and restrict myself to the juiciest parts. " First, the oldest ladies should be sat at the table, then the young ladies and finally the gentlemen...The gentlemen will pull out the chair for the lady who is next to him to allow her to sit down and then put the chair back in position. At all times should one should be respectful of and gallant with the ladies....Although at times we would like a second helping we should never take it, nor fill our plate to overflowing. Neither should we eat our food quickly, or tip the plate to collect the last drop of food with a spoon....before and after drinking one should wipe ones lips with a serviette...Spinach or bones can be removed from the mouth with a fork, or with ones fingers, discreetly placing them on the edge of the plate. For fruit stones, discreetly raise a teaspoon to the mouth...At the table one should not make fussy movements such as touching one's hair, especially not with a comb, scratching oneself, fiddling with one's face, cleaning one's nails, etc...When one needs to blow one's nose at the table one will do it with the greatest dissimulation and never with strident and exaggerated noise which is bad manners in any place."

So there we have it. Would anyone like to come round for dinner (black tie optional)?

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Look at the size of my pumpkins!

Last Sunday I decided it was time to harvest our largest pumpkins. Matt had been letting them grow to see how big they could get - I think this is a rather macho thing to do, correct me if I'm wrong, although I did enjoy driving up the hill in the preceeding weeks and being able to spot three orange splodges from a fair distance away, and it must have got the neighbours talking (though that's easily done).

Slumbering giants

With careful manouevring - Matt rolling and me spotting - we managed to move all three across our finca and onto the terrace where Matt had earmarked sites for the largest two.

Pumpkin pixie

Sentinels. All pumpkins in place

I then got out my carving equipment and proceded to prepare the smallest, but still impressive one, for the academia. I'd never carved a pumpkin before - we did turnips one Halloween when I was in the girl guides, which I found quite pathetic, this was much more exciting.

Being sensible and marking where I wanted to cut the lid.


During the hollowing process - a spoon works best, as I discovered after almost slicing my finger off a couple of times.

The hollowed pumpkin - after much scraping and building up of arm muscles. All ready for the fun part:

Ta daa! The finshed item. Not bad for a first effort I thought.

Not only did I end up with a great, if I may say so, pumpkin lantern, but also with several kilos of flesh that I proceeded to turn into soup and curry, resulting in a very full freezer, and full tummies that evening.

Even after it'd been hollowed out it was still a hefty brute. After some difficulties, I managed to get it down to the academia on Monday morning where I set it up opposite the front door for all to see.

How to earn brownie points from the boss.
Pumpkins here are smaller and green/yellow in colour so my splendid example was remarked upon by all and sundry who passed through the door. In one fell swoop I gained publicity for the academia, was granted status of 'cool teacher' by my pupils, toned my arms and garnered enough food to keep us going for a week or so. Not bad for an afternoon's work.