Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Making pear chutney - we love a pickle

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We love pickles, chutneys and spicy salsas, and most years we will make several types depending on what fruit we have available. This year we had a very poor gooseberry harvest so one of our favourite pickles was out of the question however, we did have a healthy pear harvest.

As with most recipes we adapt them to suit our own tastes and usually reduce sugar and maybe add some extra spices or heat. This particular recipe comes from a set of cards issued by a vinegar company many years ago: Sarson's. We have used this recipe before and found that the vinegar content is way too much, especially given the juices given up by ripe tomatoes and pears so we reduced it and it worked. We used our own onions, pears, garlic and tomatoes for this recipe.

Pear Chutney

3 kg pears, peeled and chopped
1.5 kg onions finely chopped
900 g or ripe tomatoes skinned and chopped
4 red peppers finely diced
900 g of dark cane sugar
2 tablespoons salt
8 cloves of garlic, crushed
1.1 Litres of malted vinegar (or similar)

Put all the ingredients into a large pan, mix well, bring to the boil and then simmer for about 1 hour until the fruit breaks down and the chutney thickens. Put into sterilised jars and seal.

This particular chutney isn't too acidic as the sweetness of the pears helps to neutralise it. We normally store chutneys and pickles for at least three months before consuming but I'm not sure we'll be able to wait that long as supplies are running low.

Too late... Char-grilled aubergine, sweet potato and onion layered with goats cheese and herbs. Served with salad and fresh walnut bread and, a large spoon of pear chutney - delicious.

This was a new goats cheese we bought at a local fair and we have to say it is one of the best cheeses ever. Here is the Queso de Cabra - Hircus link, we now need to find a local supplier.

What is your favourite pickle, provide us with a link if you can. We're always up for trying something new. Thanks.

Friday, August 22, 2014

It's time to harvest the pears

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It's time to harvest the pears, well at least one of our two pear trees. The tree is laden with fruit, the first time it has fruited in the 5 years we have had it. There aren't masses but we are pleased with what we have considering we don't spray with chemicals. The type is Manteca Hardy. Our other tree is a conference pear which did well last year but it doesn't have much fruit at all this year.

The birds had started to attack and eat the pears which is always a good sign that they are ready for harvesting. Gawber, never one to miss an opportunity to climb, joined in the pear harvest and made sure no birds pinched our crop.

We will eat the larger pears and plan to make a pear and tomato chutney with the smaller or damaged ones. Our gooseberry bush failed to fruit this year so we are pleased we have an alternative for chutney making.

Mantecosa Hardy: It also comes from France, and it is sometimes called Hardy or Gellerts Butterbine. This fruit is short and asymmetric, of average size. The skin is of greenish yellow colour, with rough brown spots. The pulp has fine grains, it is tender, juicy, sweet and aromatic. It is consumed as dessert fruit from August until the beginning of October or even later. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Demonstrating at a street market - Rastrillo

This past weekend we have been at a street market in a nearby village. It takes place every year and although small, it attracts a good number of people at this busy holiday time in Asturias. The proceeds from the pitch fees (6€ per meter) is donated to charity.

We use this particular market to publicise Luis' chair restoration skills. It is also an opportunity to sell some restored chairs and stools in cane and rush, the proceeds of which go to fund Luis' mosaic studies. We take a piece along to demonstrate how it is done, this time it was a seat from a barbers' chair. More often than not, a live demonstration always prompts people to stop or at least cast a glance in our stalls direction. We also took some pottery and bric-a-brac to reduce the amount of stock we have from when we used to sell at antique fairs in the UK. Any sales would be a bonus.

The stall-holders started to set up at 8am and the market was to run all day until 8pm, a long day giving us opportunity to watch the world go by in all it's different shapes, sizes, dress sense, style and pace. Following a slight dispute with our immediate neighbour who had invaded at least half a meter of our 4 meter pitch, we set up the stall and were open for action.

The Spanish, especially on holiday, rarely venture outdoors before 11am. The morning started slow with only a few passing pilgrims, locals shopping for fresh bread to have for breakfast, a few joggers, cyclists and walkers.

Before the street filled with eager browsers we took the opportunity to have a look around and see what was for sale. The majority of stalls are non-commercial, just ordinary people selling their excess. Some of the stalls are commercial such as artisans, antique dealers and jewelry makers whilst others are children selling toys and such they no longer cherish. Some children have stalls selling biscuits, cakes and tortilla that Mum or Granny has made. They have great fun throughout the day.

One special stall is run by two young girls who have a tank and display boxes with frogs, salamanders, slow worms, beetles, toads and other insects. They have a donation box and use the money to build habitats in their garden. Their brother used to run the stall but it seems other diversions have now distracted him. We usually donate to this as they are obviously very passionate and knowledgeable about wildlife which is impressive at such a young age.

One aspect of a Spanish street market like this (Rastrillo) that we cannot work out is why everything is so expensive, especially the commercial traders. Some of the tat on display was grimey and to be honest we would have been ashamed to display in such a dirty and unkempt state. Other pieces were outrageously expensive such as a couple of old and very large, glazed cooking pots. We enquired about one as they would have made brilliant free-standing ponds for the terrace... 150€ each!

We have a great day all in all and sold all of the chairs, and quite a bit of old pottery and glass. Many passersby took business cards and enquired about chairs to be restored so hopefully that will translate into future work. Surprisingly we didn't buy anything which is a good thing in a way as we are conscious that we have too much clutter and need to downsize further rather than accumulate things. The glazed cooking pots were still there at the end of the day as was most of his stock, I wonder why?

Despite looming dark clouds coming and going, the weather held and the wind stayed calm. We ate well, met loads of friends and neighbours, absorbed the atmosphere and watched in wonder as the world passed by...Until next year. Hasta luego.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The watering hole - attracting birds into the garden.

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La Pasera is situated on the edge of a rural village surrounded by fields and meadows. There is little reason for birds to flock to our garden for food as the entire countryside is like an over-stocked larder.
There are plenty of untended fields, hedges, woodlands and meadows from which they can feed.

Water is a different issue. The area is punctuated with limestone outcrops, caves and caverns which results in very little water collecting above ground. In addition, as there are no fresh water supplies in the immediate vicinity (the nearest being Rio Guadamia), in dry periods, water is in short supply for birds.

We have several birdbaths and receptacles dotted around the garden for the birds to use including, 5 free-standing bowls, a garden pond, a half barrel pond and what we call a watering hole i.e. a small shallow lined pond sited in the quietest part of the garden.

The bird baths attract a wide variety of small birds who jostle and fight for position and dominance, usually the blackbirds are the more aggressive visitors, chasing away smaller birds as they approach.

The larger garden birds such as Jays, Green and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers and Wood Pigeons rarely venture to the bird baths but they do visit the watering hole regularly. Although still nervous and wary, they make the most of the peaceful setting, away from prying eyes and open enough to spot any predators (Wentworth and Gawber).

Here is a short film (4 minutes) we took with the Bushnell camera of our most frequent visitors to the watering hole... See how many you can name, the first two birds are Jays (just to get you started. (The music is by Ian)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Weekend Photo Blog

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We take many more photographs than we use for the various blogs and sites we maintain so every now and then it is good to go through and pick out some photographs just for the sheer pleasure of it. Not that they are particularly technically good photographs but because they invoke a feeling and trigger many memories when we look back at them.

I have been thinking about the old black and white and, early colour photographs from years gone by. Each one tells a story of past times, triggering memories you haven't thought about for a long while and, connects you and defines your place in the world. It is important we keep those reference points and tell those stories to the up and coming generations, something I think is particularly important in this digital, but increasingly disconnected age.

Photographs have the ability to trigger other senses, stimulate creativity and affect our feelings. These are some of our favourites from the past week:

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Aliens in the skies...

There is nothing more perfect than sat on the terrace on an evening and watching the clouds, setting sun, the darkening sky and eventually the moon and stars appearing.

Living in a rural location, away from major towns and cities means that light pollution in minimal and we often have clear skies that shows off in their full glory, constellations, distant galaxies and planets within our own solar system. On rare occasions we will see what we think is the ISS (International Space Station) or a satellite traversing the sky and if we are very lucky, shooting stars. Sometimes, we might even have spotted UFOs....

Daytime also brings with it some wonderful sights. Just yesterday we managed to watch a lone Egyptian vulture soar on the thermals and glide freely over the distant hills and mountains. It is unusual to see them this close to the coast but never-the-less a welcome sight.

The large expanse of sky is perfect for spotting birds of prey and we frequently see raptors, flocks of gulls, a murder or two of crows and many solitary bird on the wing.

Light aircraft, helicopters and gyrocopters which use the coastal route for sightseeing or travel between cities on the northern coast. The police helicopters and Fire Service helicopters are also frequent fliers overhead. Commercial passenger jets fly high above on their way to holiday destination, sometimes the only evidence is vapour trails dissipating at 30,000 feet.

The other evening we heard a terrific roar, I couldn't identify what it was but Luis immediately suggested it was a hot air balloon. Grabbing the camera, I hurried outside and sure enough, a large balloon was low in the sky just behind the studio. It became clear that it was descending and and using blasts from the gas tank to nudge the balloon in the direction of a nearby field. With great precision and skill the balloon, it's basket and occupants landed without problems in a neighbouring field.  A wonderful sight to behold but I'm still not sure I would like to go up in one... What about you?

The next time you get a chance to sit for a while and look upwards, you might be surprised at what you see....

Monday, August 04, 2014

August at La Pasera

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Summer is well and truly here. Along with the hotter weather, influx of tourists, much needed rain and more events than you can shake a stick at, it's all happening in and around La Pasera.

We have had an exceptionally dry May, June and July with little or no rain which is unusual for Asturias. The clay ground had started to crack and the normally green grass became scorched and brown. Thankfully the rain came a few days ago and after several heavy showers and a few half days of persistent drizzle, the land is looking greener and the crops are perking up.

We are currently harvesting lots of beans, chili peppers, tomatoes, beetroot, raspberries, marrows and cucumbers with many more crops to come over the next few weeks. One plant we haven't grown before is Lemongrass, we know when it will be ready to harvest but would welcome ideas on preparing it, and preserving it for cooking. Get in touch if you've grown it and can advise us.

We have had another load of wood delivered in preparation for winter. It is mainly Oak and needs to dry further but it was a good price and a decent amount.

We are staying away from town (Ribadesella) for the next few days as life is about to change as thousands of tourists arrive in preparation for the 78th International Descent of the River Sella. There will sound stages, closed roads, outside bars and toilets, lots of partying, camping in every available patch of grass....litter and of course the canoe descent with over 1000 competitors from all over the world. We might walk down to watch the race although once the winners have passed the finish line there is not that much to see but there is a great atmosphere in town for the rest of the day and weekend.

Once the visitors for the canoe descent have disappeared, although busier than the remainder of the year, August brings many fiestas, street markets and fairs. We are busy preparing for a street market where we will sell a few chairs and stools, give a live demonstration of bergere cane work and hopefully make a few useful contacts for future work.