Happy new year people
Thursday, January 05, 2012
Tuesday, December 06, 2011
Westons organic - now rebadged as Wyld Wood (6.5%), and the Henney's (6%) are a drinkable alternative when there is no Old Rosie. As is Thatcher's Katy (also strong at 7.4%). Katy is another one described as medium dry, but if I can drink it, that means it is dry enough. Another nice appley flavour. The good thing about all of them is that, apart from the obligatory sulphites that you can't get away from these days, they only seem to contain apples. Unlike the bog standard and somewhat cheaper ciders.
What a clever name for the cider, I thought to my little self. Except it is nothing to do with the book apparently, but named after a 1921 steam engine that the firm bought - and there is a picture on the bottle too.
But, if the cider was introduced in 1988 .... maybe it was named after the book ??
Monday, November 07, 2011
You know the sort, where there is a tall, dark, not quite handsome, but definitely rugged hero. He invariably has piercing blue or green eyes. When he is not shooting the shit out of the baddies, he is totally irresistible to any woman within at least a 20 mile radius. He has a dry, slightly sarcastic sense of humour. He is of course mentally intelligent and physically superfit. He is moral (ish) but not to the extent that it stops him killing the baddies.
He also performs the impossible, managing to get out of the most unbelievable predicaments.
But while this sort of tale may not be my book of choice for a Sunday's (or any other day's) read, I don't turn my nose up at free books.
Our neighbour is in some informal book exchange circuit and readily passes them onto us. Saves leaving them on a bench outside, especially when it might rain.
So it was from him that we finally encountered Clive Cussler and the redoubtable Dirk Pitt (six foot something, opaline green eyes, etc etc etc).
The plots follow the same formula, ie there is always lost treasure to start off the novel and in the opening chapter(s), we hear about how it gets lost. Then, we come right back to the present day and our American clean cut super-hero appears, to sort out the baddies, romance (aka shag) at least one woman, and natch, find the treasure from hundreds or thousands of years ago.
At 600 pages or so per novel, they at least entertain me for a couple of days, or more when I have distractions from reading.
Treasure was the first one we read, and it was a good yarn. Sahara was another good one.
Next we got a copy of Chris Ryan's The Increment.
Like Cussler, Ryan is ex-services. However Cussler is ex American Air Force, and Ryan is ex SAS. And there is a world of difference in their novels.
Like a lot of British authors, Ryan seems to imbue a sense of bleakness and harsh realism into his tales. However fantastic (or not, I have no idea) his stories may be, there is no happily ever after. Yes, the hero comes through in the end, but there is always a price to be paid by someone, and not just the baddies. And any humour in his novels is invariably black.
The Increment is a good action-packed tale. Ex-SAS man has his arm twisted to do one last undercover mission etc etc. It was good enough for me to raid the library for more novels but sadly they don't seem to have as many Ryans as they do Cusslers. I did get my hands on The Watchman which is a tale of MI5 plans to infiltrate the IRA. Excellent read.
Co-incidentally I noticed a book crossing stall in The Piazza on Saturday, and there are now four local places to leave and collect books. The only one I can remember on the list however, is Sacarello's in Irish Town. So if you don't exchange books informally with friends and work colleagues, there are now places to book cross here in Gib.
Of course you could always join the library, based in John Mack Hall in Main Street.
Tuesday, November 01, 2011
That sounds slightly pretentious but I really can't think of a better way to describe it.
So for most of November, I will be looking back over the last ten years, and musing on life, both on here and on Clouds. I may even write some more 'trip' posts on the Landy blog.
For those of you who are newer readers, I wrote somewhere back that the idea of this blog - and the title - was to write about the somewhat momentous things that seem to happen when you reach forty.
Or maybe because I got appallingly drunk on the delicious Agua de Valencia, that getting to forty took on a disproportionate effect on my life.
Either way you look at it though, forty is pretty much a half way mark, more or less, depending on what fate has in store for you.
But I never did write that many posts about Momentous Issues. This blog quickly became a sort of reportage. Life in Spain - hopefully giving people an insight, and passing on tips. Such as do make sure you have surge protectors. Apart from triple, and quadruple checking everything before you buy a house, making sure you have surge protectors is the next best piece of advice I can offer. And then I added Gib onto the mix.
Itchy Feet became sort of a diary (although not a daily one). Pretty much what a blog was originally meant to be. The thoughtful (?) posts appeared on Clouds.
So now, 'normal' posts are continuing over at my new blog. Yes. Another blog. But not with a different theme, I'm just really really fed up with blogger. I made the mistake of hitting on the 'try the new template' thing, and when I went back to what should have been the old version, it didn't go back to what was. So I am sick of the tiny fonts, the skewed paragraphs, the unchangeable justification, and basically most of it making blogging more difficult than it should be.
I have tried wordpress before and quite frankly, thought it was terrible. Back when you could happily fiddle with blogger templates, and customise it happily, and it did what you wanted, wordpress was limited and offered little for me.
It is still limited in that you can't mess around with the templates - unless you want to pay!!!!! - but there are well over a hundred to choose from, so even Ms Picky managed to find something.
Pictures load individually, but quickly. If you like messing with HTML on the actual posts, it is pretty clear and simple (unlike blogger now for me). Anyway, it's always good to keep changing.
So dear readers, if you wish to keep up with my riveting life, critical book reviews, and vegetarian recipes, please bookmark roughseasinthemed.wordpress.com.
Sunday, October 09, 2011
This, in spite of the regular and free bus services that cover most of the Rock.
And while a lot of the newer buildings have car parking underneath, many of us live in older blocks and have to find a space where we can. It doesn't take a Nobel Prize winner to work out that when there are blocks of flats on each side of the street, and only parking on one side of the narrow streets, there aren't going to be enough spaces for all the flat dwellers to park their vehicle outside their home.
But there are free car parks within about ten minutes walk, and that's where most of us who live in town park. Spaces are usually available early morning and evenings - but during the day, it can involve driving around the car park endlessly or just sitting and waiting for someone to leave.
Earlier this year we noticed a flurry of activity going on at the old Public Works Department down Ragged Staff Road. It was being demolished big time.
The Gib rumour machine swung into action. Yet more expensive apartment buildings. A car park. We asked someone who works at one of the car parks but they didn't know anything about it.
But the car park rumour was right. It seems Gib is moving into pay and display car parks with maximum lengths of stay. So it's obviously aimed at tourists and cross-border workers.
It's not open yet, so I took some pix before it gets full of cars. The dark ones were taken on normal setting and reflect the actual lighting at the time, and lighter ones were on a night time setting and compensate for the dark by lightening up the pix.
I think the Gib goverment makes some pretty crap decisions regarding development in a lot of cases, and I find a lot of the new build ugly beyond belief and totally out of proportion for such a tiny place. But I think they have made a tidy job of this car park and I love the restoration work on the old tunnel. My first fears were that they would be knocking it down, but I see a new information sign has been placed at the top of the pedestrian stairs telling us all about Southport Ditch. Of which more later when I have chance to read it.
Saturday, October 08, 2011
I've always been a huge salad lover. When I was a kid I would love preparing salads for my parents, and we would sit down to a table spread with lots of different help-yourself salads.
There was a green salad, usually with lots of watercress. Some type of tomato salad. Beetroot salad, baby ones from a jar. A vegetable salad - say blanched cauliflower, or courgette, and grated carrot. If I did egg mayonnaise, which my father claimed not to like, more than half of it ended up on his plate. Just, whatever we had in and invariably served with some tiny new potatoes in their skins.
Now a word on lettuce. I really loathe iceberg lettuce. It is totally bland and tasteless and invariably seems to be packaged in clingfilm and lies on shelves for ages. Oddly enough, it is the lettuce of choice where I live in Andalucia. So when my neighbour prepares a salad for me, that's what she uses. I've wondered if it is because it is water retentive, or that Andalucians have strange tastebuds, maybe because lots of them used to/still do smoke. Romaine lettuce isn't much better. When I was a kid it was called cos. I don't know why it was renamed but in the identity change I think it lost some of its taste.
Back in the UK, I used to grow lettuce, mizuna and rocket. In Spain, I can grow rocket, and whatever other lettuce condescends to germinate. Not much at the moment sadly although the rocket is going/growing strong. My neighbours think I am slightly odd for growing rocket as it grows wild around where we live and they clearly think it is too bitter.
The lettuce, when it grows in Spain is, four seasons, escarole, and something to do with May. I also grow baby spinach/spinach beet. So with a few leaves of all that lot, I usually have enough to put in a salad.
But when fresh greens aren't around, the basis for the salad is one of those plastic bags of greens from the supermarket. It means you can get variety, and to be honest, I think the choice of green mixtures is pretty good.
Other standbys for salad tend to be tinned sweetcorn (make - Bonduelle, maiz dulce, no sugar added), capers, olives, and occasionally, some bought cooked beetroot. I love raw grated beetroot but it takes ages to use up a whole bunch. One of the home-made salad ingredients I tend to keep in all the time is pickled onion. Not the nice tiny round ones pickled in malt vinegar that take ages before they are ready to eat, but finely sliced onion kept in wine vinegar for a few hours, preferably overnight. If you are a pickle addict, it's worth adding cucumber too.
For most salads, I try and add a 'main' feature to ring the changes. If you were a meat eater, I guess you would add chicken, or cold meats, or fish, or seafood or whatever. In our case, I use:
- fresh asparagus, preferably from as local a source as possible, I stick to Spanish asparagus
- fresh artichoke hearts (I've tried the tinned ones and I'm not too keen on those)
- fresh broad beans
- beans or chick peas, ie legumes
- and occasionally mozzarella, if it is suitable for vegetarians, in Spain, Galbani from Supersol claims to tick the box
Everything is usually cloaked in the mustard dressing that I've posted for the artichoke salad earlier.
So the photos show two different salads.
The chickpea one also has artichokes!! Must have gone over the top there. Fresh peppers, beetroot, a bag of salad and grated carrot. Grated carrot is a good one I think, one small carrot will serve for two people but adds so much extra taste. The pickled onion rings I mentioned above and some baby spinach on the top came out of the garden.
Chick peas, haricot beans, butter beans are all great in salads. Cook extra in the pressure cooker when you want to do a casserole, store the rest in the fridge and you have a main salad dish to hand. Easy.
The mozzarella salad was a classic mozzarella, tomato, capers, olive oil and salt serving. The rest of the salad was what I had in the fridge/store cupboard, because the pesky supermarket didn't have a bag of salad and I only had a tiny amount of leaves in the garden. To which I added sweetcorn, onion, beetroot and carrot. I guess it lacked basil, but it was good enough.
Overall cost of meals? Pretty cheap. The Galbani mozzarella is around €2 a bag, and I don't use it all for one meal. The sweetcorn is €2 for three small tins (sometimes it is on offer) and I use less than a tin for one meal. Cooked beetroot is around 80 cents I think and again, not all used at once. A bag of salad is roughly a euro, and I will use it for two separate meals. Carrot, tomato, capers, chick peas, olives, onion - negligible.
The same salad out? Min €5, more like €7.50. One reason why we don't eat out.
Chick pea and artichoke salad - and - a glass of water??
Tuesday, October 04, 2011
So I looked up endless recipes on the internet and they all seemed to be basically the same.
Chop onions, mushrooms and garlic, and saute gently in olive oil and/or butter.
Which I did. Add salt, pepper and herb(s) of choice. I had fresh thyme which I thought would be good. One recipe suggested tarragon which I think would also be nice.
Add white wine or dry sherry or any other alcohol of choice, and reduce.
And that's it. When it's cool blend it. Some recipes suggested serving it warm which I thought was not a good idea. If I want warm mushrooms, they need to be sliced with onions, white wine and parsley.
So chill the pate for a short while before you dish it up, serve it.
Now, I did read about other stuff you can add - cream cheese, cream, yoghurt etc. I didn't really fancy any of those, but I can imagine cream cheese might make an interesting addition, especially for texture/consistency.
I used half a pound of mushrooms and there was loads, and I mean, loads, of pate. Plus, half a large onion/one small one, and one or more cloves of garlic. Two greedy people managed a huge supper and a huge brunch out of it.
Using half the amount of mushrooms would still provide an ample helping. I'm also thinking of adding some black olives to the next version. Didn't see any recipes including those, but I think it would be a good addition for both taste and texture.
Incidentally, serve with lots of fresh lemon, it really needs the lemon to provide that sharp contrast.
Saturday, October 01, 2011
And following on from National Day, a few Gibfacts, for those of you who wonder where on earth it is and what life is like here.
First up - where it is. It's on the tip of the Iberian Peninsula and juts out dramatically into the Mediterranean. It is NOT an island, although is often mistakenly referred to as one. It's an easy mistake to make, I know, I've done it even while living here, as - with the exception of the frontier with Spain - it is surrounded by water.
View of Gibraltar (and in the distance, Africa) from El Higueron in Spain
The very southernmost tip of Gibraltar, Europa Point, looks across the Strait of Gibraltar 20 miles away to Africa, and on clear days the Spanish enclave of Ceuta can be clearly seen, and behind, the high Rif mountains in Morocco.
Lighthouse at Europa Point
Gib is small, nearly three miles long, less than a mile wide, total area being around two and a quarter square miles. Most of the 30,000 population live in the lower part of Gibraltar on the western side. As such, that makes us one of the most densely populated territories in the world - and that's why nearly all of us live in small flats.
Taken from Insight magazine - reclamation on the western side to provide more housing
What is it? It is currently a British Overseas Territory and part of the Commonwealth, previously a Crown Colony and part of the British Empire. We have a Governor who is the Queen's representative.
Gib has its own government which is responsible for everything except defence and foreign policy - they fall to the British. Our government is elected every four years (or less) and the current party in power is the Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD). Despite the name it is the right of centre option and is led by Chief Minister Peter Caruana.
A little bit of potted history next. Hundreds of thousands of years ago it actually was an island, and at another point it was also connected to Africa.
Modern day Gibraltar really started when the Moors took Gibraltar in 711AD under the leadership of Berber chief, Tarik-ibn-Ziyad. The Rock became known as Jebel Tarik (Mountain of Tarik) which led to the present name of Gibraltar.
Today's obvious remains of the Moorish past are the castle on the hill - the Moorish Castle or Tower of Homage, and the beautiful baths under the present museum.
Four hundred years later the Spaniards and Muslims were fighting it out in Spain, and Gibraltar passed backwards and forwards between the two. But by 1462 Gib was retaken by Spain and became part of the estates of the Duke of Medina Sidonia. The Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, completed the reconquest of Spain when they retook Granada in 1492, and in December 1501, Gibraltar became Spanish crown property.
Some 200 years later - 1704 - Gibraltar was taken from the Spanish by an Anglo-Dutch force fighting in the War of Spanish Succession, and, has been British ever since. Not that British sovereignty has stopped Spain claiming Gib.
In 1713, Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in perpetuity, yet in 1727 the Spaniards besieged the Rock, but this was a relatively short siege, ending the same year.
In 1779, the Spaniards and the French joined forces and started the Great Siege which lasted for nearly four years and led to the huge development of the tunnel network within the Rock. Finally, in 1784 the war with Spain ended and the Treaty of Versailles was signed.
Moving swiftly forward to the 1960s and Franco. The subject of Gibraltar's decolonisation was put before a United Nations committee, which favoured the Spanish point of view. Spain started imposing restrictions at the frontier and it was fully closed in 1969. Franco cut off access by land and sea, and the only external communications were by air with London or by sea to Morocco. Telephone communications were also cut by Spain.
Although Franco died in 1975, the border remained closed until December 1982, when it was finally reopened for pedestrians. It was another two years however, before open access across the frontier was fully restored.
So - present day Gib. Who lives in it? Well, Gibraltarians obviously, but also lots of other nationalities. The Gibraltarian heritage is a mix of Genovese, Maltese, Portuguese, British, Spanish, and Jewish. Walking down the street however, or going to work, you will meet Indians, Moroccans, Eastern Europeans, even the odd few South Africans and Australians. Culturally and demographically Gib is an eclectic mixture.
Reflecting the diversity of people living here, there is the same broad range of religions represented in Gib. The predominant one is Roman Catholic, and other Christian denominations are present. Other religions include Judaism, Islam and Hinduism.
The official language here is English, but on the streets you will most likely hear Gibraltarians speaking Llanito which is the local language. Llanito is largely Andalucian Spanish, but includes English words, and words from other languages reflecting Gibraltar's multi-racial heritage. People will happily switch between Llanito, English and Spanish within the same conversation - and even the same sentence.
Oddly enough, although Gibraltarians are fluent Spanish speakers, this doesn't extend to reading and writing. Some do read Spanish, but most of our Gibraltarian friends don't, and they certainly don't write in Spanish.
On the topic of speaking Spanish - you don't need it to live here, but it helps if you do. Apart from the fact that you can understand if someone is being rude about you, there are a lot of cross-border workers who come across from Spain every day, a lot of whom speak little, or no English. British cross-border workers who live in Spain come to work in Gib too.
Our currency is Gibraltar pounds. English currency is acceptable here and the rate of exchange is one Gib pound to one English pound. Shops and bars will accept euros - but note that it is a vastly inflated exchange rate.
Wages in Gibraltar are higher than they are in Spain (not that they are high here compared with the UK), and the current economic situation in Spain has left a lot of people unemployed. There are still jobs in Gibraltar, not that I can find one, well, not one that suits.
Tourism plays a large part in the Gibraltar economy, with cruise liners regularly stopping here - sometimes three in one day. When this happens you need to hide inside because you can't move down Main Street for tourists looking for duty free bargains - especially spirits, tobacco, and perfume.
Most of the shops in Gib are down Main Street, the side streets that run off it, or the ones that run parallel to it - to the west, Irish Town, and to the east, Engineers Lane/Governors Street.
We have some supermarkets, the Spanish franchise Coviran has branches here (Devils Tower, Waterport and Jumpers), and our biggest supermarket is Morrisons. Morrisons is something of a Mecca for ex-pats living in Andalucia and there are regular bus trips down the coast for people to shop in a Real! British! Supermarket! They invariably arrive on a Thursday which is probably the best day of the week to visit for a good choice of products. By the weekend the shelves are looking rather sad and empty, and on Monday and Tuesday, we are all waiting for the trucks to unload their goodies and for the shelves to be stocked back up again.
Unless I am buying organic veg, I tend to use my local Coviran, Moroccan or Jewish shops for fresh vegetables. For a change there is the market which is open from Monday to Saturday in the mornings.
Opening hours for shops and offices in Gib are something else again. For another post.
The Upper Rock - and the monkeys
Now when our tourists have finished buying their perfume, fags and booze, they then go up to the top of the Rock to see the monkeys. Either in the cable car or by taxi although a few intrepid souls do walk it.
The upper rock is a nature reserve, and is home to some unique flora and fauna in Europe. Barbary Macaques - the famous monkeys, Barbary partridge, Gibraltar candytuft, campion, and chickweed, are only found in Europe on the Rock. There are other attractions too, St Michael's Cave, the World War II Tunnels, geocaches, lots of different walks and wonderful views. Unmissable.
Barbary Macaque takes a trip downtown.
More info about Gib on the sites below. I'll post other Gibfacts later.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Regular riveted readers may still be aware of the tortuous ongoing project of revamping the finca.
With the sitting room and dining room completed earlier - and that was probably the worst half of the house - I said the next room to do was the kitchen.
When I said 'do', I didn't actually mean finish it, and make it into a perfect kitchen. Oh no. What I meant was paint it so that it looked presentable, rather than looking dusty and dirty as it had suddenly become.
When we first bought the finca many years ago, the kitchen, was well, basic. There were cracked white tiles from floor to ceiling around the sink and cooker area and not much else. There still isn't much else, but at least we got rid of the cracked white tiles.
We also got rid of the nice white sink that was - natch - cracked, and full of ants. The cooker didn't last long either, one of the burners was dodgy so it went out. The cooker, not just the burner. We have bottled gas in our village, and the idea of a dodgy burner and a full bottle of butano is no fun at all.
Once the tiles were gone, the walls were re-rendered. I say this as though it took no time at all. It took months of course. What took even longer was choosing tiles. Tiles, it seemed, had become computer generated. Or at least the design had, and, there were irritating little pixels all over the place. Probably ok if you are not short-sighted, but I needed to find the least irritating design without pesky pixels.
Eventually I found some and they were duly applied. The golden rule in our village is tiles should be a metre high to prevent the damp sucking through the soft stone that our houses are built from. We stuck an extra layer of tile above the metre rule, plus the border tile on top of that.
Because tile adhesive is expensive, the way to tile in our village is to stick a blob of adhesive on each corner, and if they are feeling flush, possibly one in the middle. This is NOT a good idea. Do you know what can lurk in those nice gaps between the tiles and the wall? Yes. Dear little, and not so little, cockroaches. We knew an English couple who had a bar (don't they all?) and when they retiled the kitchen in the bar, the walls were full of cockroaches happily nesting behind the tiles in the lovely gaps. Just cover the tiles with adhesive, people. Unless you want a cockroach sanctuary of course.
Tiles are expensive. Paying someone to put them would be even worse, fortunately I didn't have to do that. But, I actually reckon they are a good investment. 1) blocks the damp problem 2) Incredibly easy to clean 3) They don't need replacing as often as the walls need painting.
Onto the work. The walls above the tiles had been filled when we were attacking the dining room, so that was part of the prep done. I washed the tops of the border tiles down to remove the dust so we could cover them with masking tape. Same with the light fittings.
Next, all the pans came down to be washed and stored in the dining room while the walls were painted. We sheeted up and brushed the dust off the walls.
Then, a coat of Benjamin Moore white paint. It covered so well, that apart from touching up a couple of pan marks, we decided one coat was enough - the other two rooms all needed two, plus stain stop. Our fastest job to date. Done in a day. Dust sheets removed and pans back on the wall.
It was a bit of a shock when all the other jobs have taken weeks. So - next - the bedroom. Another long job, and we will probably move into the back house to sleep so that we can work more easily.
Anyway, some comments about my minimalist kitchen.
First up, the fridge is Fagor, a Spanish company and is excellent. We bought it from the shop down the road that sells seconds. They don't deliver so we had to take it home and wait 48 hours for it to settle. It had a couple of dents in the side. So did our AEG in the UK for which we got £40 off when it was delivered less than perfectly.
I can live with cheap and less than perfect these days. We still get the two year guarantee. So why pay more??
Table with rather rusty legs and corner cabinet are both IKEA from many years ago. Legs on table may get sprayed. Corner thing was actually part of an office suite but it serves for a good spice shelf.
Plastic chairs came from my mum and dad's since the pine ones got moved to the dining room.
Oh, the sink. Yeah, we'll get one of those white ceramic things one day. But for now it's a red plastic bowl stuck on top of a Black and Decker workmate. It works well enough, so, no rush. We chuck the water out on the street. Hopefully missing our neighbours.