Saturday, July 25, 2009

• The dog whispering that turned into a yell!


My friend and neighbour Jeanne saves me all her vegetable peelings and scraps for my chickens and usually hangs them on her front gate for me to collect as I pass by. However, with the weather soaring in the 40’s we agreed on a signal being left on the gate telling me to collect the scraps from the coolness of her yard.


That being said, I entered the yard 3 weeks ago and was met by a rather anxious dog, barking and growling at me. I learned that Jeanne and her husband Rob had adopted a new dog, ominously called Tyson, and it was still settling in. Being an experienced dog owner I knew exactly what to do.


I brought my dog whispering techniques into play. I sat down at the dog’s level, averted my gaze, held out my hand, fingers tucked in for him to sniff but not easy to bite and talked to him gently. We were getting on famously. He settled down and came to smell my hand and arm and seemed much more relaxed. I continued to talk to him in a soothing voice, telling him I would visit him again and we would become firm friends. My friend’s daughter Cissy, standing on the doorstep, was very impressed. I thought I had the situation under control until I went to leave and the dog took a leap and bit the back of my leg.

“Ow”! I yelled, “He bit me”.

“Yes”, said Cissy, “He does that when you turn your back”.

A little late to tell me that now I thought !

A few days later - Whats that smell?

At first I thought that one of my kittens had left me a smelly present in a corner, so I cleaned the house from top to bottom but still the smell persisted. I cleaned out the fridge but the smell followed me wherever I went. Sitting on the sofa that evening, I put my feet up across my husband lap. He gently informed me that the bad smell was actually coming from me, well the wound on my leg.


I couldn’t understand this as I’d done all the right things after the bite. I cleaned the wound with surgical alcohol, put on antiseptic cream and covered it with a sterile dressing. I went to see the practice nurse at the doctor’s surgery who looked at my leg and told me it looked fine and it should heal well. As I had had my last tetanus booster ten years ago when we visited India, I asked the nurse to give me another one as you can’t be too careful especially as I work on the land and so closely with animals.


It was only a little bite but the wound went deep and the smell drove me to revisit the surgery. I saw a different nurse who took one look and ran to get the doctor and both declared their horror.

“Esta muy feo” (it is very ugly/nasty), exclaimed the nurse.

“Si, fatal” (yes, critical), the doctor replied.

They told me gangrene had set in and surgery could not be ruled out. The wound was cleaned and dressed; I was given a course of strong penicillin to kill off the infection and told to return the next day.


The following day the nurse cut away the dead, black and smelly skin with a scalpel leaving a hole the size of a golf ball (she didn’t even give me a bullet to bite or a brave girl plaster). I did get my husband to hold my hand while she did this but I found him gripping my hand much harder than I was gripping his.


The strong antibiotics made me feel groggy for a week or so and all I wanted to do was sleep. Once they were finished I was prescribed another but different kind, intended to help the wound to heal. I still have to go to the clinic to have my leg cleaned and dressed daily and will probably be left with a nasty scar but at least, owing to the skill and care of the practice nurse, I still have my whole leg intact as surgery was avoided.


Next time I think I’ll leave the dog whispering to the experts.


• Moist Lemon Drizzle Cake


This is another of my cakes that keep being asked for at the Bhua Luang Restaurant that I supply with English puddings.

It is also the favourite of my husband Rob and grandson Joe.


The cake makes 8-10 servings. Best eaten fresh but 30 second in the microwave can work wonders. Keeps for up to a week in the fridge in an airtight container. Freezes for up to 3 months.


Ingredients

2 large free-range organic eggs

175 grams (6 oz) white sugar

150 grams (5 oz) soft butter

Finely grated zest of one lemon

175 grams (6 oz) sifted self-raising flour

125 ml (4 oz) milk

A pinch of sea salt


For the syrup

150 grams (5 oz) white sugar

The juice of 2 lemons

The finely grated rind of 1 lemon


Method

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4

Line the bottom of a well-oiled, loose bottom, circular 21cm (8.5”) baking tin or if you prefer 23x13x7.5cm (9x5x3”) loaf tin with greaseproof paper or baking parchment.

Put the eggs and sugar in a food processor and beat for 2 minutes, scraping the sides down once with a rubber spatula.

Drop in spoonsful of softened butter and the zest of one lemon on top of the mixture then pulse until it is dispersed. The mixture should now look like mayonnaise.

Add the flour, milk and salt, cover and pulse just until the mixture is smooth and even in colour. Do not over beat, as the cake will be tough.

Spoon the mixture into the baking tin and bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown and firm to the touch.


To make the syrup

Gently heat the sugar, lemon juice and zest of one lemon in a pan, stirring until the syrup is formed and clear, about 3 minutes. Do not boil.


Prick the warm cooked cake all over with a fork or skewer and gently pour the syrup all over it until it is completely absorbed. The zest will remain on the surface.

Leave to cool and carefully remove from the tin. It can be eaten as it is or served with cream, crème fraiche or ice cream.


Enjoy!

Monday, July 20, 2009

• MY Bakewell Tart


This is my recipe for Bakewell Tart.

I make it regularly for Bhua Luang, the Thai restaurant in the nearby coastal town of Torre del Mar. The owners, Chris and Noi, find their customers like English puddings and this one goes down exceeding well.

Ingredients


Pastry

175grams softened butter

50grams white sugar

325grams plain white flour

2 medium free range, organic eggs


Filling

225grams softened butter

225grams white sugar

225grams ground almonds

3 free range organic eggs

The zest of one lemon, finely grated

50grams plain white flour

3 tablesp. good quality raspberry jam

A handful flaked almonds


Method for the pastry


•Put all ingredients in a food processor and mix to a dough.

•Roll out between 2 sheets of cling film carefully remove the top layer of cling film and leaving the pastry on the bottom layer lift it and line a 23cm loose bottom tart tin with the cling film on the top. If the pastry breaks mould it back into position pressing lightly with your fingers and chill in the fridge for half an hour.

•Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6

•Remove the cling film, cover the pastry case with greaseproof paper or aluminium foil, fill with baking beans and bake blind for 15-20 minutes.

•Remove beans and greaseproof and brush the pastry case with beaten egg and return to the oven until golden brown.

•Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to180C/350F/Gas4


Method for the filling


•Beat sugar and butter in the food processor until pale and fluffy.

•Mix in the ground almonds and the lemon zest then crack in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Then add the flour.

•Spread the jam across the pastry base leaving a 2 cm gap around the edge and carefully top with the almond mixture.

•Sprinkle with the flaked almonds and place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until set and golden brown but still moist (if it browns too quickly before it is set cover with foil or greaseproof paper)

•Allow to cool in the tin before serving in slices with cream, icecream or custard.


Enjoy!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

• Brown Lentil Terrine with Spicy Tomato Sauce


I invented this dish when Sarah, the vegetarian daughter of a friend mine came for dinner. She not only doesn’t eat meat but she also has adverse reactions to nuts, wheat and dairy so this is what my thinking cap came up with in order to get some flavour and balanced nutrition into our meal. I hope you like it.

Ingredients

5 tblsp olive oil

100 grams dry weight of brown lentils, cooked

150 grams chestnut mushrooms, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

3-4 large cloves garlic, chopped

1 whole red chilli, chopped (if you want it milder remove the seeds)

2 tsp coriander seeds, ground

2 tsp cumin seeds, ground

1 tblsp Worcestershire sause

2 tblsp dark soy sause

1 tsp Marmite

2 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped

5 sprigs leaf coriander, chopped

2 lge eggs, beaten

(75grams of chopped nut may be added if you desire, walnut would work well)

Method

Saute onions, garlic and mushroom in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil until soft, add ground corriander & cumin seeds and chopped chilli and cook gently to release the flavours of the spices making sure you do not burn them. Place all these ingredients and the rest of the olive oil in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Place the paste in a bowl and add the cooked lentils, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Marmite and chopped thyme and coriander (and nuts if using) and season to taste, mix all together with the beaten eggs.

Place in a terrine or 2lb loaf tin lined with greaseproof paper and cook in a medium oven until firm to the touch. If the top starts to brown before the mixture is set cover it with a piece of greaseproof paper or tin foil.

Turn out onto a plate and serve with a spicy tomato sauce (see below) and seasonal organic vegetables and boiled rice.

Spicy Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

2 tblsp olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2-3 gloves garlic, chopped

1 jar passata

1 tsp dried tarragon

1 tsp dried parsley

A handful of fresh Basil chopped

Tabasco and salt and pepper to taste

Method

Saute onions and garlic in the olive oil, add passata and herbs bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes add Tabasco and S&P to taste and serve with the above. (This sauce is also ideal with pasta)

• The Hideaway Hen


I have about 40 hens and I hadn’t realised that one of them was missing until one morning last week. I went to the hen enclosure to open the pop holes to let the hens out of the secure henhouse for the day and to give them their daily greens, when out of the corner of my eye I saw balls of yellow movement. Sure enough, there were 6 baby chicks being led by a protective hen with tail high and wings outstretched coming from under the hen house looking for some food.

Normally, when I want to breed more chicks, I wait for a hen to go broody put her into a special part of the hen house where she can feel secure and won’t be disturbed and give her the eggs I have chosen for her to incubate.

I do this all by the book. A complicated process of choosing the eggs, turning them daily until the brooder is ready. After 6 days I candle them, which means putting them over a light box to see inside to make sure they are viable and developing well. I candle them again after 14 days to make sure they are continuing to develop, all the while discarding eggs that don’t seem right. I fuss over the hen to make sure she has everything she needs, plenty of food and water and a place to take a dust bath and that she is as happy and contented as possible and still sitting on her clutch of eggs and then wait for the happy arrivals

But here we are with 6 healthy chicks. The hen did it all by herself without any intervention from us, or our instruction book.

I have now moved the hen and her chicks into the special pen where she can raise her brood without having to worry about the other hens in the flock. To make sure they get a balance diet I feed the babies chopped egg and chick food along with chopped lettuce, crushed boiled eggshell, ground nuts and seeds, oats and cooked rice and I always have a bowl of fine grit available to aid their digestion, It is also very important to make sure that all hens have access to fresh clean water.

In a weeks time they will need crushed garlic and grated carrot to avoid intestinal parasites and by keeping the hen house clean I can ensure that all my hens don’t get fleas or mites

It is such fun watching the mother hen teach her chicks what eat and how to do it. She shows them by picking up bits of food and putting it down again in front of them all the while clucking in a supportive way. She also scratches at the ground with her feet moving the straw to show where she has put the food. This teaches them how to grub for insects in the future and the little ones soon learn to follow her example.

Isn’t nature wonderful?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

• Ant Attack


Now I could cope when they were only in my little garden at the side of the caravan. I even put up with the fact that when watering the roses they invaded my Crocs and bit my feet, injecting their stinging formalin, because I was told they eat the aphids. However, I knew that as we lived in a caravan with many small holes underneath to admit the services, it was only a matter of time before the army of ants found their way inside.

The attack started as a small sortie into the kitchen on Saturday night but as my husband had just brought in some freshly dug potatoes from our vegetable plot, I thought maybe they had come in on the bottom of the bucket; besides we were going out to see our favourite local band, Giri and I didn’t have time to investigate thoroughly.

Imagine my shock and horror on our return well after midnight to find the kitchen had been thoroughly invaded by the creatures. The scouting party had gone back to base and told all their comrades in arms that there were rich pickings to be had and led millions of them back to our kitchen. They were processing along the worktops, marching over the cooker and the sink and climbing the walls. I tell you they were not the only ones climbing the walls, as metaphorically so was I. It was late at night, I was tired from boogying and wanted my bed. The last thing I needed was to make a counter attack on a load of ants.

I moved everything edible, sprayed all the surfaces, washed away the corpses and went to bed with a sigh of relief but that was not he end of it. Oh no!

I awoke the next morning and on taking out the packet oats to make our usual healthy breakfast of porridge, I found the next wave had invaded the food store; they were all over the honey, in the ketchup and covering ever other jar and packet in a black frenetic wave. I had to remove everything, get out the fly spray again, and after a successful hiss of nasty spray, clear away yet more corpses, clean all the foodstuff containers and return them to the cupboard. All this before starting my usual morning routine as outlined in my previous blog, ‘And don’t forget the apple for the pig……….’

Feeling more confident that this was an end to the ant invasion and having fed and watered the livestock, I took our Bernese Mountain Dog, Berto to have his summertime sheering at the dog parlour. It’s too hot here to leave his coat in it’s usual lush state over summer so although he looks a bit odd he is more comfortable once it has been shaved off.

Little did I realise that ants don’t give up that easily and even after the annihilation of thousands of their buddies they still came back for more. This time they were in the dry store cupboard, marching all over the flour and invading the open bag of sugar, which I had to throw out. This was getting past a joke so after looking in the English to Spanish dictionary to find out how to say ant powder, which I learned is polvo mortar hormigas (powder to kill ants) I hot foot it to the Fereteria (iron mongers). I had only got as far as saying ‘polvo’ when the man behind the counter finished my sentence by saying ‘para hormigas’ (for ants) at which point I realised I was not alone and that there must be a local epidemic.

Armed with the bag of killer powder I planned my attack. The instructions on the packet said, ‘don’t use in the presence of domestic animals’ so I bided my time until after dark when the dogs and cats were indoors and settled for the night.

After making a shaker out of a jam jar with holes in the lid I snuck out under cover of darkness and covered the ground all around and under the caravan with the deadly poison paying particular attention to all the places through which they could climb inside. I went to bed with dreams of final success.

Joy of joys by next morning there was not an ant to be seen in the caravan or its immediate environs.

Now I’m not unreasonable and I’m happy to share our 20,000 square metres of land with many creatures wild and domesticated but everyone including ants must learn the boundaries and STAY OUT OF MY KITCHEN.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

• The Caravan That Thought Like a Lemming!


Little did I know when I sat at Gatwick airport on that Sunday evening waiting for my flight which was delayed for 5 hours, then 6 hours and now 7 hours just what was in store for me when I arrived at my destination in Southern Spain.

I’d never driven on my own on the wrong side of the road before and I was quite nervous even though I’d ordered an automatic so I wouldn’t have to change gear with my other hand and therefore avoid trying to use the door handle as a gear stick.

I knew the roads well; my husband and I had been taking this route regularly since buying our little piece of Spanish hillside five years before, but arriving at Malaga airport at 4a.m. having been awake for 24 hours was no fun. By the time I’d picked up the hire car and left the Autovia Mediteraneo (coastal motorway) to head for the small market town of Competa and my hotel, I could hardly keep my eyes open.

I nearly came a cropper in Algarrobo, when not used to the waffley steering mechanism of the Citroen I misjudged a corner and hit the barrier. Thank goodness it was there as I was fine but the car, which only had six miles on the clock when I picked it up, now had a rather textured finish.

It was around 6.30 on Monday morning when I checked into my room at The Hotel Balcon de Competa where I had stayed many times and knew all the staff and management very well. My room was, as most rooms at the Balcon are, above the terrace with views of the pool and the sea beyond. Unfortunately for me the terrace is also where most guests take their breakfast so as I was trying to get a couple of hours sleep I was kept awake by the setting of tables, the scraping of chairs on the terracotta tiles and the rattle of crockery; and let me tell you even a member of the W.I. can’t rattle a cup a loud as a Spanish waiter. By the time the first holidaymakers sat down with boisterous tales of their last nights exploits I decided to give up on sleep and go and get something to eat myself. I had a meeting arranged with the builder mid morning to arrange for electricity and water to be connected on our land, to serve the caravan when it arrived, hopefully the next day and if I couldn’t be rested I could at least be fed.

Now let me step back a bit and tell you why I am in Spain taking delivery of a large static caravan in the first place.

My husband and I have very little in the way of a pension for the future so decided that the only way we could have a happy retirement was to change our lifestyle completely so we sold our large house and bought a piece of land in Andalucía with an old ruined farmhouse. The rest of the funds we invested in a savings account and planned to rebuild the ruin and set up a business offering potting and walking holidays in this wonderful part of the world. Now after a hectic career in marketing I had recently trained as a potter and as my husband is a keen walker we hoped to be earn a retirement income by doing things we enjoyed that to us didn’t seem like work.

We also planned to farm the olives and almonds already on the land, grow our own organic fruit and vegetables, keep a few hens’ for eggs, a goat for milk and cheese. We were heading for ‘The Good Life’ but first we needed somewhere to live while the house was being built; thus the caravan.

Right then back to where we were. The meeting with the builder completed successfully; he had agreed to commission and install the services to the caravan once it had arrived, I now sat down to await the phone call from the delivery firm which would be bringing the caravan on a low loader truck down from France. I waited for the rest of Monday sitting on the terrace at the hotel but no call came that day so after dinner in the hotel restaurant I had an early night to try and catch up on my missed sleep from the night before. Unfortunately this was not to be as a party in the pool terrace bar below my room was in full swing until the early hours of the morning.

We all know the Spanish have a knack for partying and how they love to make lots of noise and this group did all it could to uphold that tradition. I managed to fall asleep at around 5.30a.m. only to be awoken an hour later by the, now familiar, rattling of crockery and scraping of plastic chairs on terracotta tiles as the waiters set the tables on the terrace for breakfast.

Our farm is about 40 minutes drive from Competa, 5 kilometres from the small rural village of Sedella, so after breakfast I decided to head for a bar near there to await the hoped for call, so that when it came I would be better placed to respond quickly. Off I went with reading book and phone to sit on the shaded terrace of the Casa Pinta, a hostel with bar and pool on the outskirts of Sedella. I had finished my book and had had a tapas lunch and still no call came. I was now getting worried as my return flight to the UK was booked for Wednesday afternoon but just as I was beginning to think my whole trip had been in vain the phone rang.

It was the man from the shipping company ringing from Holland but my jubilation was short lived as he informed me that their driver was just leaving Granada, two hours away and that having JUST looked at the map he decided that it was not possible for the lorry to navigate the twisting mountain roads. As you can imagine after such a long wait and 48 hours without sleep, I saw red.

I told him not to be so ridiculous, that I’d seen large loads using these roads all the time and besides, why was he only just looking at the map now, shouldn’t he have done that before agreeing to take the job and my money? That the road from Granada to Velez Malaga is a motorway and the road from there to Canillas d Acietuno is a mixture of dual carriageway and wide roads and Sedella is only a lick and a spit from there. I told him to ring me again when his driver reached Canillas de Acietuno and I would meet him there to guide him the rest of the way and I wouldn’t take no for an answer. Boy was I scary. I almost frightened myself but it worked and two hours later I received a call telling me to meet the driver at the appointed place.

I’m not saying it was an easy drive, mainly because the driver had dropped off another caravan in Granada so instead of having a truck of 28 feet long it was doubled by the presence of an articulated trailer of the same length attached to the back. This made some of the hairpin bends and narrow bridges a bit tricky but between me stopping all other traffic and the truck drivers skill we managed to get it as far as the end of the unmade track which starts two and a half kilometres from our farm.

And that it where it stopped!

The German driver spoke no English or Spanish but we were able to communicate by using my very few words of German and a lot of arm waving and acting out. It became very clear that the truck would not be able to turn and come back if he progressed any further, it was not possible to remove the now empty trailer as that provided the ramp for getting our caravan unloaded and so we had reached an impasse.

Time for plan B!

The only person I new locally was Harald, a Norwegian I’d met once when we bought the land as he used to work for the Estate Agent. So followed by the truck driver I called at Harald’s house and found Mercedes, his Spanish wife doing a bit of topless sunbathing. I’d not, at that point met Mercedes, but by proceeding the trucker down the path I was able to announce our presence with enough time for her to grab a wrap before she came face to face while half naked with a strange man. After I had described my plight and asked if Harald could help she rang him and asked him to come home (bless him he was having a quiet drink in the local bar before dinner) to see what could be done.

Harald kindly agreed to tow the caravan along the track using his large 4X4 so back we went to where we had left the truck to get the caravan off loaded, its tyres pumped and the whole thing hooked up to the tow bar of Harald’s vehicle. At this point the German driver gave me a delivery note to sign and was off like a bat out of hell leaving a dust trail in his wake.

It was now up to us but by this time we had been joined by an old local chap called Salvador on his trusty moped. Salvador is Harald’s drinking partner and he introduced him as his ‘agricultural advisor’ so after some 'umming and aahing' we set off very slowly along the track as these static caravans are not made for towing, the wheels only being fitted for manoeuvring on site. All went well until we reached the first bend about 50 yards from the starting point.

I was driving in front as escort and had asked the driver of the approaching car to pull over until the caravan had passed thus giving Harald some space to swing out around the corner. Great, he stopped, but after I’d passed he continued on his way! Harald was therefore forced to take the corner a little tight and when I looked in my rear view mirror, shock horror, the caravan was listing to starboard at a 45 degree angle with one of its two wheels over the edge of the road with a shear 180 metre drop beneath.

Plan B hadn’t worked, what was plan C? Call for Pepe, that’s what it turned out to be.

Pepe, a man with a JCB was called out from the village to see what he could do and as he trundled along the track with his digger filled with his children and his dogs my hopes were revived. Pepe got out of his cab, looked the job over from every angle only to dampen my spirits when he explained that caravans are so flimsy that any attempt he made with his digger would cause more damage and we would be better sending for Antonio from Canillas de Acietuno who has a large truck with a crane lift, after which Pepe and his JCB trundled home. The phone call was made to Antonio.

In the meantime the night was drawing in and the track, which from our experience, before and since, is very quiet with hardly a vehicle to pass on the way, was heaving with people coming and going. Of course they all had to stop and rub their chins and suck in-breath through their teeth while telling us we had a problem and what we should or should not have done, offering their two penneth as to what we could or could not do and so it went on for the next few hours until it was quite dark. We had all missed dinner, I for one was dying of thirst and Antonio still hadn’t arrived. Salvador saved the day when he volunteered to get on his moped and go back to the village to get some drinks and by the time he had returned we had quite a crowd and as most of those present were Spanish we also had quite a party atmosphere.

By the time Antonio arrived it was near to midnight and the first question he asked to my dismay was, “is it insured” because of course the answer was no. While on the truck; yes it was, when it reached our land; yes it would be, but hanging half way off a mountain in the middle of the night; no, it most definitely was not.

Pepe returned on a moped to give Antonio a hand and together they managed to climb underneath the caravan and attach the wheel that was hanging over the edge onto the hook of the crane and the whole caravan was lifted by it’s chassis until it was supported by the crane. By this time the track was blocked completely and an even bigger crowd had congregated. So with one wheel on the track, one in mid air supported by the crane but still suspended over the edge and the caravan still attached to Harald’s tow bar all the able bodied men tried to move the caravan so that both wheels would be over the track at the same time and the crane could be released but unfortunately, the caravan was just too heavy and even the 20 or so men working together couldn’t budge it an inch.

Not to give in however, with the crane still in position, Harald moved his car slowly forward pulling the caravan away from the corner until both wheels were covering the track, the crane was released and all was saved to a great round of applause.

The caravan was then towed to a safe piece of ground to be left for the rest of the night, the spectators and helpers went on their way and I arranged to meet Harald and Salvador the next morning to show them the site we wished them to put the caravan and by the time I returned to my hotel it was 3 a.m. Thank goodness the hotel owner was still up and about. I told him my story he made me a sandwich and gave me a very welcome glass of wine but as I had to be back in Sedella early and had to pack and check out of the hotel there was little sleep for me again that night.

The next day found me back in Sedella, Harald had arranged for Pepe and his digger to support the caravan for the rest of it’s journey to avoid it tipping over on the rough track and he would arrive at four that afternoon to do the job. The site was identified, Pepe would be asked to clear it of dead, dried up weeds to reduce fire risk and after I had a quick tapas lunch I headed for Malaga and my flight leaving the boys to finish the job later. By the time I arrived home there was a message from Harald to say that the caravan had been sited successfully, he had erected the supporting legs and used a spirit level to make sure all was straight. What a great friend he proved to be.