Kitchen and Garden Magic – Still in part-quarantine

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(and not another word of the ‘virus’ in this blog)

There are quite a few very lovely, strong leeks in the garden that started their lives last September. Now they have reached full height and are going to start to push up flower stems inside. We obviously can’t eat them all at once, so they need to be preserved. I am freezing these four leeks.

Step 1: stick knife into the ground to loosen the leek from its roots by cutting around it. I keep the roots in the ground as organic matter which is very needed here as the soil is very loamy and sticky, and gets hard like concrete when dry.

Step 2: shake the leek vigorously upside down to dislodge any snails!

Step 3: discard any old, dried and discoloured outer leaves and cut the upper green leaves off from the lighter coloured stalk. I use the entire leek, why waste it?

Step 4: wash the dark leaves; it’s easier when cutting off the part that was attached to the main trunk. Wash also the trunk or stalk part.

Step 5: Cut all in equal big chunks, but keep dark and white parts separate.

Step 6: Blanch cut bits for 2-3 minutes (depending on the size) in boiling water; drain, splash with cold water to cool down and bag up. I blanched the outer green leaves, which tend to be tougher separately and then bag them up together with the white parts.

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stuffed baked courgette

The other vegetable that starts producing now at an alarming rate is the courgette or zucchini. Last year I just could not get them going, but this year I successfully raised four plants from seed. They are lovely just sautéed with butter (or oil) and garlic, and I add them to almost everything, from soups to Bolognese sauce, curries and chutneys. And the stuffed courgettes were not bad either.

This year I have started to pickle them sweet-sour together with some pumpkin and onions and they turned out very yummy. The next batch will go into chutney.

 

Let me explain why I enthuse so much about my garden and its successes and failures. I was born and reared in Berlin, when it was still divided by a wall and fenced all around. I grew up in a street with tall old buildings and big old trees, in a district considered fairly good, where we were not allowed to speak slang. My mother is from a town 70 kms to the north-east, my father was from Berlin, but his parents hailed from Vienna.

My mother instilled a love for the outdoors and nature in me. She would take me to the parks, the lakes, the forests and the amazing sandy beach, all in West-Berlin. We took the pleasure steam boats across the chain of lakes, visit the island of peacocks with the mock castle, went swimming in summer and sleighing and ice-skating in the snow in winter. She was once very sporty and loved being active, she never drove a car and so all shopping was done by foot, which kept her active until only two years ago, at the age of ninety-four she finally had to admit to needing help, as she lives alone, still at ninety-six.

I have always dreamt of green fields behind the grey walls of the houses. I always cried when returning from a holiday away from the city. I was always stressed by the people, the traffic and not being able to see the horizon. So it was only a question of time when I would leave the big city behind and venture forth, to lonely places, blue horizons and endless sky.

My first escape out of the city, other than a holiday, was a six month stint on an organic farm in north Germany near Flensburg. I then studied agriculture and that brought me to Ireland, another six months to learn the ways of farming and proper English. Ireland has long been the escapism dream of Germans. Many have bought a small holding there and settled away from the maddening crowd.

There I met my husband to be, eventually got married, lived and worked on his dairy farm, had two children, worked as an agricultural consultant, divorced and finally continued my life with Nigel in Spain. I would not like to live again in a city or even a town. So here I am, trying my hand at gardening in the hot climate. Now you know why I am so filled with wonder, excitement and awe when a little seed grows into a big plant to give us food and pleasure as flower or herb.

More Gluten-free Cake

This time I tried ‘Karina’s Jewish Apple Cake Recipe with Sour Cream’ I found here: https://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com/2007/03/flourless-apple-cake.html

It came out juicy, lovely, more-ish. As usual I adapted the recipe to what I have available. I believe recipes are not to be taken too serious; they serve me more as an inspiration to try out something new. Here is the recipe:

Ingredients:

5 medium apples, room temperature, peeled, cored (I used a mix of both and pears)

A little lemon juice for spritzing the apples

Wet ingredients:

3 large organic free-range eggs

1 cup packed organic light brown sugar & 1/2 cup organic cane sugar (this sounded way too sweet, considering that my strawberry yoghurt already had sugar in it, so I only used a ¾ cup of sugar, which was just right)

2 teaspoons bourbon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons extra light olive oil

1/4 cup sour cream (I used strawberry yoghurt)

Dry ingredients:

2 cups almond flour aka almond meal

1/4 cup rice (this confused me, does it mean cooked rice or rice flour or actual uncooked rice? I went with the latter and it gives the cake a surprising crunch as the rice did not fully cook. It’s not bad but maybe milled coarse rice would achieve a nicer result)

1/2 cup potato starch or tapioca starch (I used Maizena, maize starch)

1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon McCormick Apple Pie Spice ( I used ground cloves)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350ºF/180 C. Line a 10-inch springform pan with greased parchment paper. Springform pans are deeper than average cake pans. (Mine is a silicone form).

Chop the apples/pears and toss them into a bowl; spritz with a little fresh lemon juice. Toss to coat.

In a separate bowl beat the eggs with the sugar until smooth. Add the vanilla, oil and sour cream/yoghurt; beat to combine.

Stir together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Slowly add them into the wet mixture and combine well. Drain the apples, if necessary (you don’t need any extra lemon juice). Toss them in a light sprinkle of cane sugar.

Pour half of the cake batter into the prepared pan. Add the drained sugared apples into the batter. Shake the pan a bit. Add half of the nuts.

Pour the remaining batter on top of the apples; shake the pan again to distribute the batter around the apple pieces. Add the rest of the nuts to the top and lightly press in.

Bake in the center of a preheated oven for ~ 1 hour. The cake should be done in about 60 to 70 minutes. Test for doneness with a wooden skewer. If the cake begins to over-brown before it is done, cover the edges loosely with pieces of foil.

Cool on a rack for ten to fifteen minutes. Loosen the cake gently from the sides of the pan with a thin spatula. Release the clasp and remove the pan ring. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack. Serve warm or room temperature. Obviously best eaten with whipped cream or custard …………….

Karina's Jewish Apple Cake Recipe with Sour Cream’

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

 

One of Nigel’s experiments: frying egg on top of the jeep hood, and yes, the egg got solidified.

Not all things work out, which is totally to be expected. This is a different climate to Ireland; it has different rules and behaviours, concerning humans, plants or animals.

My garden turned out so-so, some is good, some middling, and some bad. The tiny baby-carrots have died, probably from overwatering. I made damn sure they weren’t going to die of lack of water…  But sitting in a plastic container with no drainage, the water accumulated and they do not like wet feet. I bought a Busy Lizzie, Impatiens and a lovely fuchsia, both of which died for some reason. So did three of our orange trees that we planted back in May. Busy Lizzie is supposed to be easy-care and I used to have mine for a long time until the aphids usually got the upper hand. But now I think it just got too much sun out on the terrace as did the fuchsia. Lesson learned: I cannot expect plants that love moderate heat to cope with 30+ degrees.

Top: dead carrots, courgette plants with pollination problems                                      Bottom: woody courgettes, middle: overripe aubergine on right, left: dead busy lizzie

The three courgette plants I grew from seed were doing well and I had some nice fruits until I came across two as hard as stone. A big knife wouldn’t cut them and they were not oversized. I assume it was irregular watering or again too much sun, as even my tomatoes got sunburn.

The hibiscus however and my jasmine are happy out on the upper terrace, with a daily morning watering routine.

The beauty – Hibiscus

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Success: peppers

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The Bad

Unfortunately three out of four orange trees also died eventually. Even though a guest from Portugal told us they need absolutely no care, as he planted his 12 years ago and they didn’t receive any attention and are doing just fine. Ours were well cared for, got water and rain in the early days, manure and even were sprayed for bugs, a thing I abhor but there were tiny critters on it that made the leaves roll up and die. This happened twice and then the trees gave up their fight.

The Ugly:   Gunk in the Pool

Recently we have floating green gunk coming up to the surface of the pool when the water warms up, about midday. At night and in the morning nothing comes to the surface. Of course leaves, insects and sand fly into the pool and now there are particles collected on the bottom. Unfortunately our pump that came with the pool is too weak to suck up anything lurking there or to connect a hoover [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwNFriu26SA best youTube video explaining to why, the how and the way to get rid of algae]. So I will shock the system and see what happens. It’s not too bad; you can clearly see the bottom.

Our olives are doing ok. We have sneaked over to the neighbouring groves and studied theirs. Some trees have bigger or more olives than ours and some have less or smaller ones than ours. So we are middle of the road, which is a great achievement considering we knew nada-nothing-zilch about olives a year ago. And the trees look much better, cared for and shapely and not overgrown and neglected.

Left: Nigel ‘cleaning’ side-shoots with an axe, middle: one lone Gordal olive, right: olives doing well.

 

Learning Curve NO. 80

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(I am not telling you about all our learning moments, as it would make us seem so stupid)

  1. Chickens can die of heat. At least that is what we suspect, because Grisella was only a young hen, but sadly passed away.   The others enjoy the shade of the house in the front with Sofie, our dog.

2. Tomatoes can get sunburn! Yes, in other countries you try to get as much sun on your tomatoes as possible to make them sweet and juicy, but here they need a bit of shade (just like the chicken). The yellow colour does not show unripeness, that should be green, but too much sun. Thanks to one of our more knowledgably guests we now know to cut that bit off and not wait forever for it to turn red.

 

3. There are male and female olive trees. And for every eight female trees you need one male tree for the pollination to take place. The male trees have slightly bigger but less fruit than the female trees.

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What we haven’t figured out yet, is how the health system works. But our friendly Gestor Angel, our agent that registers our car, will make inquiries if we are eligible for the free health care, that everybody receives when they are resident here and pay taxes.

We are now very relieved to finally be again happily legally on the road with our temporary green registration plates. These show that our car is insured and on the way to be properly registered and taxed here in Spain.  Yes, our car is constantly dusty from the dust road that goes from Almonte to our finca. As soon as we wash it its dusted over again. We gave up and safe the water.

We have also opened our third bedroom, as we had to turn people away that wanted to stay here with us. It is not yet publicised, as we first want to see if the sofa cama, the sofa bed, is comfortable enough to charge good money. We acquired it right here in Almonte for a knock-down price of €525. Its original price was €720, but it had sat awhile in the shop. It is now occupied by our lodger Fernando, who is with the National Police and resides with us for five days per week. I am not allowed to show photos of him, as it could be dangerous for him due to the ongoing struggle with the Basque separatists.

The Spanish police system is interesting and you will feel really safe, as you see them everywhere. You could be forgiven to think you are in a police state, a relic from Franco times. But I rather feel protected, particular after the experience with our raided house here (that was before we bought it). There are three divisions: the National Police, the Local Police and the Guardia Civil. And ALL of them carry guns! But as far as our experiences go, most of them are courteous, professional and polite but take their job serious [ see http://www.spainmadesimple.com/moving-to-spain/police-spain/ ].

So far we have one parking offense (which we ignored) and one speeding offense which was dealt with by three officers on-the-spot and cost us €50. We were stopped twice for breathalysing and every time they get a bit confused about our steering wheel being on the wrong (right) side. Mostly they waved us through not bothering to check our Irish insurance and tax documents. But I guess this will change now as we are definitely under Spanish law now. We have been reprimanded once for parking on the side of a (deserted, long straight stretch) of a road because I wanted to pick cornflowers.

Fernando, our friendly police-lodger, often brings a colleague for his lunch break, so that we have two police officers sitting at our table and a police car parked outside. So we are under police protection! If that doesn’t scare off any unwanted guests and burglars I don’t know what would. One evening we had Shabi, a German (long-haired and Afghan-looking) Police Detective and Fernando sitting at our table playing cards with us. Yes, it can be very interesting and exciting having guests you have never met before in your house.

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We also had guests that are vegetarian and vegan, so I have now decided that that is the way I want to go. I offer a cooked meal for €10 including a starter, a main dish and a glass of wine or beer. The Spanish eat an enormous amount of meat and pork and I don’t want to go down that road. I often cook without meat and so I will make that my speciality. I tried out my home-made pesto dish with wholemeal spaghetti on our German Vegan-guests and got thumbs up. This pesto has now already undergone varies changes and it depends on what is available out in the garden and the kind of guests I have.

The base is Olive oil and Garlic, of course. Then I add lots of freshly chopped parsley, some basil if available, a pinch of oregano and marjoram from the garden together with grated parmesan and black pepper. The interesting twist is the tin of Mejillones, mussels, in a spicy sauce that are added just before serving. For the vegan alternative I left out the parmesan and mussels and added grated courgettes and carrots, cooked them a bit in the garlic-olive oil mix and added roasted mixed seeds.

I have also dug out my vegetarian cook books, The Vegetarian Student Cook Book (Octopusbooks) a friend gave me, Linda McCartney-on-tour (written by Paul McCartney’s former wife) and The Happy Pear by Dublin twin brothers David and Stephen Flynn (Penguin books). These give me enough inspiration to device my own dishes.

Free-range Eggs in Mayonnaise Curry dressing:

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