Wednesday, June 08, 2016

tasty and natural


I was surprised to see elder growing here, I had imagined that the climate would have been too hot and dry, but I was wrong.  They were flowering as I arrived at the convent and my hosts  had already made elderflower syrup this year.  We chatted about other uses and ended up gathering bafulls of flowers that we set to dry as an ingredient for herbal tea, either on its own or to blend with other herbs.  

The plants cling to the wettest places and are found alongside streams and in damp valleys where they can thrive.  We drove out into the countryside and spent an enjoyable couple of hours harvesting and chatting in the warm spring sunshine.  Whilst chatting, it transpired that they had packets of seeds to sprout, that they had never dared to try, so were excited to hear that it was something that I regularly did.  That evening we set to soak three different sprouts, mung beans which give chinese bean sprouts, sunflower seeds and cress.  A week later they were nicely sprouted and we enjoyed them in salads accompanied by fresh leaves and shoots from the garden.
seeds put to soak for sprouting

elderflowers ready to dry

combing elderflowers of their stalks

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

time at the convent


The convent that I stayed in next was on the edge of a large village up in the hills behind Tarragona, about 20 minutes from the sea.  It was the first time I had visited the area and I was pleasantly surprised by the natural landscape.  There were high hills/mountains inland, lush hillsides and vineyards, I use lush loosely and to compare it with other areas of Spain, it was still fairly arid and dry compared to the UK or my little patch of France, but pleasing none the less.  

Disappointing though, plenty of industrial areas with huge huge warehouses, factories and commercial buildings.  They tend now to be gathered into specific areas which is good news but due to the giant oil refinery on the coast there is bound to be a large amount of associated manufacturing in the area.  I didn’t let all of that put me off as the landscape undulated and there are still many beautiful areas with unspoiled views, interesting villages and properties to be found.

My hosts are in the process of partially restoring the convent which had been abandoned for many decades.  The plan is to renovate the two side aisles of the building, shaped like a church, leaving the central nave roofless as a courtyard within.  There had been some work unsympathetic done, before the building was protected as a historic monument, by a recent previous owner, that has to stay.  But the rest will continue in a more harmonious style, mainly to consolidate and secure what remains of the building.

The land around the building had long been a dumping ground for the neighbourhood, fly tipping and an accumulation of years of junk has already been cleared and the transformation back into a garden has begun.  I was tasked with weeding, strimming the waist high vegetation and to help guide my hosts into planning a suitable garden for the convent.  

I toiled each morning, took a short break then trawled estate agent web sites and their offices during the afternoons.  Timings in Spain are different again to france, with the majority of shops and offices closing at around 13.00 and reopening anywhere between 16.00 and 17.30 through till 20.00 or 21.00.  I began to take full advantage of a mini siesta, even though the weather was not that warm, to ward off the tiredness of constant late nights, easy to adapt too and very useful.

Discovering houses all over the region gave me an excellent opportunity to find out where felt good and what I was really looking for.  I soon became aware of the eye sores and the unattractiveness of the local industry as well as the quiet hidden villages nestling in the countryside.  Unfortunately the houses that I was drawn to on paper were not in appropriate places for what I have planned for the future.  Access along miles of dirt track or through industrial zones won’t be conducive to people visiting for holidays or to attend gardening courses, not the appealing to me either with my quest for easy access and involvement with local community.  I saw some lovely and very reasonable properties but my quest continues.
pretty, but rather weedy

what is supposed to be there

amazing courtyard


Thursday, May 26, 2016

spring in sitges


I’m having a bit of time away after the winter, partly holiday and also a bit more of a nose into the possibilities in Spain.  I have mentioned my ideas in previous posts from last autumn.

For this trip I have decided to HelpX again, It’s been a while since I gave a hand to folk and decided that it would also be a better way of getting to know the area in a bit more detail.  Thankfully I had made arrangements in advance, as Percy was still in the garage, waiting for a new wheel bearing to be fixed, when I was due to leave.  

I am away in my new, old Golf, a great vehicle and a joy to drive.  Nippy, easy to park, more economical and much less stressful than the van for the journey I am making this time.

My first stop was in Sitges, with a german family who relocated to Spain many years ago.  It was good to hear the stories of settling in and integration into a new way of life and to marvel at the flexibility of languages, with the family speaking german or spanish together, the two boys tended to use catalan between themselves and everyone spoke amazingly good english whenever I was to included in the conversation.

I painted for them, firstly the front facade of the house, which wasn’t at all difficult, just the distance from the ground in some instances, the house is built into a steep hillside so it feels high up even before climbing a ladder.  It was great to make such a fast transformation to a property and the results were immediately appreciated.  Then, after, refreshed one of the guest bedrooms in the house.  I discovered quite how poor low cost paint can be, it was taking five or six coats to give decent coverage so it was soon replaced with a higher quality product and progress was much faster.  I easily got everything done within the week that I was staying.

I made full use of my free time, heading to the beach most days to soak up a bit of sun and for a glorious swim in the sea, I spent much time touring estate agents, checking property websites and heading out to visit potential properties.  It’s interesting to see how different planning laws have affected housing here and how the enthusiasm (greed) of the last property boom has changed the landscape, particularly as it was stopped in full flow when the most recent financial crash hit the shores.  There are unfinished estates of houses all over the place, strange zones of cramped housing where the city folk once had allotments and a tiny shed that have since been developed, often without permission, over the decades, leading to fairly smart, pricy properties squashed together with completely inadequate vehicle access and an almost shanty feel.  Not cheap either, until you discover that there is little other alternative in many places without being completely out in the sticks.  I found nothing that fitted my criterion during the week that I was there, so headed off, as planned to my next host an hour or so further south.
woody, my golf on holiday in the sun
the sun setting over the catalan hills

freshly painted facade 

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

a little landscaping project


Just been over to my good friend Vanessa’s for a few days whilst my van’s been in to get a wheel bearing changed.  The bearing still isn’t done, but that’s another story.  We’d skid a few times during the winter and thought it would be fun to spend a bit of time comparing notes and planing the future a bit considering that we are both single (now) and living in rural france.  Most of the time it’s great, though the long dark winter nights can be rather lonely and it takes huge effort to remain upbeat and sociable throughout the winter months.  We had a great time, the weather was fairly warm and sunny, there was a gardening project that had been discussed in the autumn to be completed.  the emphasis is still on internal renovations of the house, though they are coming to an end, vaguely, after four or so years.  (no thanks)  So i got on and tidied up a bit outside, around what used to be a cow shed and store room and is just outside the kitchen door.  Sorry, no other photos, still getting used to using my phone to take pictures and don’t always think!!  Anyway we had a great time and hopefully advanced our thinking on rural living for singles........




Wednesday, April 13, 2016

back home in the sunshine

Hurray, after a long and interesting winter I have finished in the mountains and am back on my land in Vieuzos.

It's been a mild winter with plenty of rain, warm temperatures and sunshine, so everything has been growing like the clappers.
winter mustard as a 'green' mulch being cut back and returned to the soil
brassicas, fruit bushes and some impressive onions after a bit of weeding

russian kale still going strong

list of seeds sown, crate four

another beautiful sunset

Check out what I've been uncovering in the veggie plot.  Immediately after weeding, am getting seeds planted directly in the raised beds and also sowing cells and my usual transplantable toilet roll tubes for beans, peas and squash plants.  they should be ready for planting out in a good couple of weeks if the weather continues to be as warm as it has been for the last few days.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

let them eat cake


and tarts and all manner of other delicious desserts that we provide here at the refuge.

It’s often the evening shift that prepares the desserts, the pastry bases having been cooked off in the hot oven after lunchtime service.  It’s often a quieter and calmer time of day to be doing such baking and usefully fills the time whilst evening guests are dining.

Dinner is served at seven thirty, soup usually, served in large tureens placed directly on the table for guests to help them selves, followed by a main meal, again served in its entirety on a large serving platter and left for guests to help themselves.  It is a mountain refuge (of sorts) rather than a hotel, so participation is the name of the game.  Desserts are often individual, sometimes specifically produced for the evening clientelle, though often the same as we prepare for lunchtime.

Chocolate tartlets are filled with home made chocolate filling, as are the lemon ones.  Blueberry pies are lined with confectioners custard and topped with tinned blueberries.  Apple tarts are baked on site as are most of the other creations, though the pastry and pastry cases arrive frozen and many of the other ingredients ready prepared. Fruit salad arrives fresh in large tubs ready to be improved with other fruits and a good slosh of rum, before being portioned out.  Rice pudding is made in bulk and stored in vacuum bags in the cold room until needed.  Other desserts, the more fragile ones tend to be made on the day.

During dinner, we set to and get as much preparation for the following day out of the way, so that the following morning can be slightly more leisurely.  That said, after a lunchtime service of two hundred or so, leisurely isn’t often an appropriate word to use.  It’s full on right the way through.  Individual plates of local cheeses, local ham and charcuterie are set out and cling filmed to help keep them fresh, stored in refrigerators before going on sale the following day.  Unused items are ‘refreshed’ as necessary and presented for the allowed number of days before (rarely, if we get it right) being discarded - to the local fox.





Friday, March 04, 2016

going to work

The weather is frequently interesting on the way to work, at least it wasn't too windy today.....