You are what you eat!

Our almonds and a glass of my home-made almond milk

Our almonds and a glass of my home-made almond milk

In answer to my question “do these pills make you put on weight?” a nurse once very sternly replied while pointing into my mouth ‘it’s what goes in there!’  Well that told me!

You are what you eat is my lasting impression from one of our most recent guests who came to stay for a week of relaxation, reading and of course Argentine tango lessons. He was a scientist and a qualified nutritionist.  I was pleased to feed this couple with all the home-grown fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts and local fish supplies but they always emphasised ‘no dairy’.  Their entire persona and energy for the entire week they stayed with us was inspiring.  Now, I have noted that some 65% of our customers this year were in 55-65 age bracket and I would say all well-educated with scientific, teaching, IT and engineering careers and almost all had a ‘no dairy’ diet and vegetarians but with fish. One of our dearest friends has managed to prove against  difficult odds that a healthy vegan diet does work.

Living here in the mountains of Andalucia with our abundance of almond trees gives me the luxury of  a constant supply of almonds with which I make almond milk for most of my requirements but I just could not resist a cup of Yorkshire tea with a tiny amount of fresh milk especially first thing in the morning.  I am also very fond of cheese so still had local goats cheese as an occasional treat.

I have been almost diary free for a couple for years now but Ken was still a milk drinker.  So, much to my surprise after our last guests left Ken announced he was going almost dairy free.  I say ‘almost’ as we have our own hens and so we will not rule out home-grown fresh eggs.  Despite his initial doubts, Ken is now a convert to natural oat milk in cereal and coffee and has replaced his beloved Yorkshire tea and milk with just hot water, rooibos or green tea.

It has been three weeks now and we don’t miss it at all.  If anything I feel better, what’s more we drink tea with less or no caffeine.  All my allergies to pollen and house dust have virtually disappeared which was a surprising benefit.

Do we miss milk?  Answer no.  Though of course fresh milk will still be available for guests who like it!

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A Hard Days Graft!

grafting 2013 008We have so many almond trees here, I reckon over two hundred that it is impossible to knock and collect all the almonds when they are ready.  The eighty Kg. of almonds we knock, de-husk and shell are enough to supply us with our almond milk and nuts for the year.  We also have some yellow and red plum trees and two apricot trees  but we would like more.

grafting 2013 013In February Ken started up the chainsaw and completely trimmed back three of the nearest almond trees. When he had finished cutting and trimming all that remained of the trees was the trunk and a few new large branches. It was not a very pretty sight when he had finished as you can see from the picture.

grafting 2013 017After the cutting it’s a waiting game for the new almond shoots to grow again. This takes about four to six weeks but sometimes no new branches grow back and the almond tree eventually dies which I think has happened to one of the three. When the new almond shoots were about half a metre in length with lots of fresh green leaves, Ken cut a healthy shoot from the red plum tree grafting 2013 005and one from the apricot tree and started to graft the red plum onto one almond tree and the apricot onto the other. To do this you need to tear off all the leaves from each of the almond shoots and trim back the bark skin of the tip of the almond shoot about 10cm. Then he tore away the leaves from the red plum shoot and cut off a tube of approximately 10cm of the bark/skin that grafting 2013 010has a new bud on it. A bit like when you trim off a piece of the sheathing on an electrical wire.  He then slid this tube of red plum bark down over the tip of the almond shoot to a tight fit. He did this on about ten almond tree shoots and completely removed any remaining almond shoots. He did the same process with the apricot grafting.  In theory the apricot or plum bonds to the almond tree and when the bud grows into a new branch it will bear the fruit of the apricot or almond.  Now we are waiting to see if the grafting will succeed and move on to more fruit grafting on our almond trees. Then maybe a fruit stall in the local market!

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Head above the clouds

Glacier Hat 005 Hat 013 It really is a great feeling to wake up at sunrise and walk out onto the terrace and see this view as the sun rises. Living in the mountains of Axarquia at the height of around 700 metres lends itself to day-time and night-time panoramic views but every so often there is a ‘wow moment’ which makes  us run for the camera.

On this particular morning the cloud stretched out across the valley below like a giant glacier, it looked incredible.

I now know what Lucy and Jorge Orta’s “Cloud: Meteros” in St. Pancras Station, London, meant with their aim to “unite people inside the station with the world outside”.  I was certainly united with the world this morning.

Hat 008

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Chocolateless in Colmenar!

Semana Santa 2013 Colmenar 048Easter is not Easter without my favourites ‘Charbonnel et Walker Champagne Truffles’ or ‘Thorntons Continentals’. So without my favourite chocolates it felt just like any other weekend.  That is, until we decided to take our Australian guest with us into Colmenar on Friday evening to join in the Semana Santa celebrations.

Semana Santa 2013 Colmenar 033Easter or Holy Week (Semana Santa) in Andalucía is a very special and unique event. All the streets in all the cities and villages of Andalucia are packed with thousands of people watching all the parades. The life-like wooden or plaster sculptures called ‘tronos’ are carried through the streets by penitents dressed in long colorful robes.

Semana Santa 2013 Colmenar 037Colmenar is no exception and the whole village turned out to take part or watch.  Leading the procession was a band with very loud drums followed by a group of young women carrying a ‘trono’ of Jesus.  Behind them were the Alcalde (Mayor) and Juzgado de Paz (Magistrate), a group of children in purple robes and women dressed in black with lace veils and very high stiletto Semana Santa 2013 Colmenar 053heels.  Next followed another band followed by a second larger ‘trono’ of the Virgin surrounded by candles which are lit as darkness falls and carried by a group of young men.  Following at the end a large group of villagers trailed the procession.


Semana Santa 2013 Colmenar 064The procession slowly winds its way up and down the steep narrow streets and all the locals stand in their doorways and balconies to watch.  I noticed that the more ‘sturdy’ people were positioned at the back of the ‘tronos’ to help take the weight as they carry the ‘trono’ up the very steep 2:1 hills!


Semana Santa 2013 Colmenar 040The procession stops every few metres to give the ‘trono’ bearers a rest. How the women in black lace veils and 4″ high heels manage to walk up and down the steep hills for so many hours is beyond me.  I had to swap all my heels for flat boots when I moved here.


Semana Santa 2013 Colmenar 066At the front of each ‘trono’ is a bell and a man leads the ‘trono’ walking backwards and shouting instructions to the ‘trono’ bearers to steady the speed and direction and to stop it getting too much of a sway.  One ring means slow down and two rings mean stop.

Semana Santa 2013 Colmenar 047At one point the large ‘trono’ was building up too much momentum on the steep downhill and the man at the front was shouting  at the boys and rang the bell but they couldn’t slow down or stop and it smashed into his face.  He completed the procession with a bloody face and probably had a black eye the next day.


Semana Santa 2013 Colmenar 017Two more men carry long hooks on poles in front of each ‘trono’ to hold up the electrical cables that drape precariously low across the street to stop the ‘trono’ getting ‘electrified!’  The procession ended in the centre of Colmenar where everyone went in the bars for a well-earned drink.

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Don’t Cry Wolf!

When our friend Ann was here in February we went to visit the Lobo Park (wolf park) in Antequera.  Having been once in the summer I had always wanted to return in the winter when the wolves all have their magnificent thick winter coats.  It was really interesting to see the different breeds of wolf and learn about them and how they care for them. The tour was very interesting as the park are trying to preserve some breeds from extinction.  They even had a Siberian white wolf which is an endangered species.  I also leaned that it’s an urban myth that wolves have blue eyes, they don’t, only husky dogs have blue eyes.  It is also not true that they only howl when there is a full moon.  They put on an eerie display of howling in the afternoon for us which was great to hear so maybe we have all been watching too many Jack Nicholson movies!


It reminded me of an occasion last August when with another friend, Sara.  We were returning from a day out shopping in Malaga and as we drove around the outskirts of our village we saw what looked like a pair of Iberian wolves standing over a water culvert at the edge of the road.  They certainly didn’t look like foxes, Huskies or German Shepherds. I slowed the car down to look and they didn’t move. They just stood staring at us.  Now I could be forgiven for having hallucinations or my imagination running away with me but Sara thought the same.  What was strange to me was that they were an identical pair.  If they were stray dogs it would be unusual to see two exactly the same.  So they had to be wild animals.  The wolf park guide was skeptical but there is currently a programme to release Iberian wolves back into the wild in Spain and there is a known population near Cordoba (not that far from here).   Or maybe someone is breeding them for his ‘Pecho Lobo!’


You can help the Lobo Park by adopting  a wolf or go on a full moon night tour in summer to hear the wolves howling.  Here is a link to their website: Lobo Park Antequera.


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Semana Blanca

Today is a public holiday in Andalucía (Andalusia Day) and is celebrated February 28 every year.  For most people, especially expatriates it is just another normal day but annoyingly the shops are all shut!

Día de Andalucía commemorates the February 28, 1980 referendum on the Statute of Autonomy of Andalucia which made Andalucia an autonomous community of Spain.  In the villages and cities of Andalucia people decorate their balconies with the flag of Andalucia and there is lots of green and white striped bunting put up everywhere.  Many schools and public buildings are closed for Semana Cultural which is also known as Semana Blanca (white week). There are many cultural celebrations and events and the Friday before is a day of celebration in schools with a traditional Desayuno Andaluz (Andalucian breakfast) consisting of a slice of toast with a thin layer of olive oil and orange juice.

In my village the activities centre around children with children’s activities including dancing,singing, games and dressing up.

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Chuffed with my Chapattis!

Erika and Sharon's mumLast August I went to my friend Sharon’s house for a chapatti master class with her mum who was born in India.  I consider myself quite good at making curry and naan bread but I had not mastered chapattis.  Despite diligently following the recipe I had only succeeded in making hard frisbees fit for my dogs to fetch and filling the kitchen with smoke!

So when Sharon’s mum offered to give me a master class, I jumped at the chance.  On a very hot day in August, we set about making the elusive breads.  We had a great afternoon and after lots of tips on how to get the dough just right, the special rolling technique so they come out circular and and how to cook them without a visit from the fire brigade, we made about ten chapattis which we all ate in a meal together later that Erika and Sharon's mum2evening.

Yesterday, I decided to make a chicken bhuna with some left over roast chicken and so with plenty of time to cook rice in the event of disaster, I had a go at making chapattis in my own kitchen.  They turned out really well.  I don’t have a gas hob to flame the chapattis at the end of cooking which is essential to make them puff up, so I improvised with a kitchen blow torch normally reserved for Creme Catalana.  It worked a treat and I have to say I was really chuffed with my chapattis!

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Procesión Virgen de la Candelaria y San Blas – Colmenar 2013

On Sunday 3 February our local village, Colmenar, celebrated it’s patron saint with a nine hour procession from one church along the narrow streets of the village up to the Ermita at the top of the village.  An event for the whole family, the procession is led by the Mayor and there is Verdiales music and dancing (a kind of folk dance), the local marching band followed by all the villagers and ending with a firework display at the Ermita.

The procession makes very slow progress as it winds up and down the narrow streets.  The Virgen and patron saint are very heavy and they have to make lots of pit stops for food and drinks every few metres.  They park the Virgen up outside bars and people’s houses who open their doors to feed those doing the carrying.  The procession starts at 12:00 and ends around 21:00 so it is no mean feat as you can tell from the faces of the men doing the carrying!

See it for yourself in this you-tube clip.  The best part is at the end when they reach the Ermita in the dark and have the firework display.  Click here

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Erika in Domainland……A Real Classic!

This is the story of a Yorkshire lass named Erika falling down a black hole into a soulless invisible internet company that hides within a spider’s web of deceit which is labelled ‘mad terms and conditions tea party’. The phrase ‘A man’s home is his castle’ springs to mind but in this story ‘A woman’s domain is her castle’.

The story begins in the land of Andalusia where Erika gets confused with the internet page cannot be displayed message and asks her host 123Dodos to help. Erika eventually receives a 123TweedledeeTicket which recounts the tale of “Acknowledged and Can’t be Bothered”.  Erika speaks to a friendly IntelligenceFeline who advises her to visit the RegistrarMouse who is hosting a new owner of the Domain Land because 123Dodos desired reward and removed Erika from the party.  Erika is fed up with all this 123Domainlandians rudeness and incompetence, so the IntelligenceFeline leads her to the QueenOfDomainLand who invites Erika to pay a fee for the safe return of her Domain Land.  Erika really wants to insult the QueenOfDomainLand but is forced to pay the fee in order to save the Domain Land.  Erika is pursued by all 123Tweedledees and 123Tweedledumbs attempting to close the tale but Erika realises that she is not having a dream.  The story ends with Erika realising that perhaps she would rather live in a nonsensical dreamland called Wonderland.

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