Sunday, October 09, 2011

Southport Ditch

For a place that is less than three square miles in total area, the amount of traffic in Gibraltar is, at times, unbelievable.
Being a city it suffers from the usual city syndrome with everyone rushing to work in their car, dropping off the kids on the school run by car (often a 4x4), and doing the supermarket run - by car of course. Not to mention all the people who come in from Spain in their car.

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

Some salad suggestions

In Spain, we always have a daily salad. It doesn't matter whether it is a light one in the evening, or a large one for our main meal at lunchtime.

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??

Yummy artichokes

Mozzarella salad with - wine vinegar and tabasco of course

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Mushroom pate

I bought a box of organic chestnut mushrooms and every time I looked at them they spoke to me saying 'mushroom pate'.

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

Gibraltar - a few facts

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.

Moorish Castle

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.

Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society

Gibraltar History and Politics

Government of Gibraltar Information Services - links for history, heritage, geography, flora and fauna amongst others