Leaving the fast lane for a slow life in Spain

From IT to olive farmers. We make Lujos skincare products from our own Yunquera Gold olive oil.


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Up and about…somewhat!

Keen readers of my blog will know that my husband Kenton has been ‘out of commission’ for some weeks now, post tendon transfer surgery on his ankle. We had planned for this, and tried to pick the most amenable time of year work-wise, but no matter when it was done, we knew it was going to be difficult for both of us.

After 6 long weeks of inactivity, he finally has the go-ahead to start putting a little weight on the leg, as long as he wears his protective (very heavy) ‘boot’ and uses his crutches.

It’s not much, but it’s something, a little progress at long last! He has been able to help me with some of the cooking and prep chores, which makes us both feel better. Poco a poco, as the locals would say!

We normally have brunch on the weekends, and a more leisurely schedule. Over a cup of tea, the proverbial lightbulb appeared over his head when we were discussing what to have for our brunch sandwich.

I have an idea for a new sandwich, says he.

Go forth and cook, say I.

And so he did! It wasn’t easy for him, but he did it, and oh man, was that sandwich good! He even said I could share the recipe with you.

Note: if you don’t have your own fresh asparagus, don’t bother! Make sure you use all fresh and high quality ingredients – the taste depends on it!

Asparagus fresh from the garden

Asparagus fresh from the garden

Springtime sandwich, Casa Tyr style

Fresh, good quality sandwich rolls (we used local molletes)
10 or so fresh-cut asparagus spears, lightly cooked
300 g good quality smoked bacon, fried
2 poached free-range eggs per person (or maybe only 1 per person, it depends on size of the sandwich rolls)

Topping: 1 small tub of greek yogurt mixed with 2 cloves chopped garlic.

Lightly toast the rolls; lay on the strips of bacon, the asparagus spears, and poached egg on the bottom half. Spread the topping on the top half of the roll, then pepper to taste. If you like, sprinkle a bit of ground cumin in 2 or 3 places on the roll, just to give a bit of a taste surprise as  you eat!


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Spring weather means asparagus!

We often think of spring as a sunny and warm time, perhaps with a light breeze to stir the air. But in my (all to lengthy) experience, spring is often much harsher than that.

I grew up in South Dakota. March was almost always blustery and cold, and even April had uncertain weather. I heard from an old friend today that they are expecting yet another storm today, hopefully the last one of ‘winter/spring’.

I lived most of my working life in England. There, the seasons were always confused, to my mind. It was difficult to tell if it was spring, summer, winter or autumn much of the time – it could be grey/green/sunny/rainy/misty/cloudy/cold any old time of the year.

Here on our mountain, we have definite seasons, which I very much like. It is supposed to be lovely and warm over the weekend, but for today, it’s chilly and showery – everything you’d expect of an “April showers” type of day. Despite my love of warm, sunny days, I can’t be too sorry to see the rain, as it’s been a super dry winter. And in Andalucia, if you don’t get rain over the winter, that’s it – it never, but never rains in the summer. So our gardens, olive trees and herbs are crying out for the moisture.

On a slightly warmer spring day, I’d be out cutting the first of the asparagus from our asparagus bed, ready to make our first springtime omelets of the year. The first cuttings are more like ‘sprue’ (very thin spears which are usually sold cheap, from local road side vendors), rather than the thick spears of 1-2 weeks’ time.

Fresh asparagus

Fresh asparagus at Casa Tyr (photo by Kenton@imagenary.co.uk)

Springtime asparagus omelet

4 eggs, beaten well
1 onion, chopped finely
6-10 freshly cut asparagus spears, chopped into inch pieces
Yunquera Gold olive oil

The goal is to end up with a very thin omelette, so use a fairly large frying pan for this.

Fry the onion in olive oil until soft; turn a few times with the asparagus until the asparagus pieces are bright green. Fold the onion/asparagus mix into the beaten eggs, then return to the pan. Cook until the bottom is brown, then flip and lightly cook on the other side until the eggs are cooked.

Turn onto a plate; serve warm or cold, both ways are great!


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On mothers…

It’s Mother’s Day in Europe, or as the English often call it, “Mothering Sunday”. That always makes me laugh – are other days not for mothering, just the one? As if.

Today, I’ve read all sorts of tributes to mothers, articles about mothers, poems to mothers, seen pictures of mothers. I may be cynical, but it has always amused me to have one day to ‘be nice to your mother’ and give her cards, flowers, take her to lunch or whatever.

Although my lovely daughter religiously sends me a card (and now, so does the darling M), it’s never been a big day for me. For awhile, I thought it was because American mother’s day is in May, so the ‘other one’ in March was not that big a deal.

I’ve decided, however, that is not the case. I never really thought that being A Mother was a big deal, or even my only role in life. It’s a big responsibility, sure, and is not easy, but as pregnancy comes naturally and easily (and unexpectedly, sometimes) to most women, how feted should it really be as an achievement? Am I the only one who thinks since reproduction is an animal imperative, it’s not the be all and end all?

I don’t know about mothers and sons, as I don’t have a son, but mothers and daughters often have quite a fraught relationship. I’m not sure why this is, exactly. I thought that perhaps as I knew the pitfalls and problems of being female, I should try hard to make sure my own daughter could manoeuvre her way through to womanhood with fewer problems than I did. I think my mother tried to do the same, with about as much success as I did! Children very seldom learn from their parents’ experiences, and certainly daughters don’t want to, and usually refuse to, listen to their mothers. It’s normal and natural, and I didn’t hold it against her.

However, while raising my daughter, it consoled me to know that one day she would realise I was smarter than she thought. I think it was when I was about 22 for me – I realised all of a sudden how smart my mother had become. However did that happen? :-)

So on this day, as on every other day, I think of my mother and wish she was here for me to hug. I think of my daughter, who now has a daughter of her own, and wish her good luck on the rocky path of motherhood!

Four generations of Larson women

My mom holding my daughter Peggy

My mom holding my daughter Peggy

Me holding granddaughter Matilda for the first time

Me holding granddaughter Matilda


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We’re still here!

When having a beer at our favourite local restaurant (Miguelin y Miguel) yesterday, we realised we hadn’t been out for awhile when our Spanish friends asked “where have you been, haven’t seen you for ages, have you been in England?”

Not only haven’t we been out and about in the village, we haven’t been out and about…well, anywhere! Back and forth to the vet with Milo’s infected eye is pretty much it. And then, of course, back and forth to the hospital after Kenton’s ankle/foot surgery.

Gasp

foot

Kenton’s been given The Boot

Yes, you heard it. A tendon transfer operation; go ahead and Google it, because it’s far too complicated for me to discuss here.

We knew this was in the plan for this year, it was just a matter of deciding on the best (aka least worst!) time of year for the op and recovery to occur.

So March was It, we decided. Surgery followed by 6 weeks minimum of putting absolutely no weight on that foot. Sitting on the couch as much as possible, with the foot elevated.

As you might imagine, this is proving to be exquisite torture for an active guy like Kenton. It’s also proving to be incredibly exhausting for me, as I not only have my own work to do, I have all of Kenton’s too. You don’t truly realise how much losing one half of the equation will affect the workload until it happens!

So to all you carers out there, who face far more than 6 weeks of caring for your loved one, my hat is off to you. How you do it a) without losing your mind and your temper and b) keeping your own body and spirits functioning properly, I will never know.


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One more for the road

It’s customary in many countries to have a nicer-than-usual meal on Sunday, and quite often we follow suit here at Casa Tyr. My family used to have a nice meal after church on Sunday – a roast chicken perhaps, or what we always called a “chuck roast” (whatever is that cut of meat called elsewhere??)

We don’t go to church here, but still mark the day with a nice meal. We have more time, it’s not usually a work day, and it’s a nice way to start the week.

This Sunday, we are treating ourselves to  steak – a cut called “novillo”. Again, I don’t know if novillo refers to the age of the animal or the cut of meat, so perhaps one of my meat aficionado friends can tell me! Beef isn’t very common in our part of Spain, so when we eat it, it’s a rare treat, and we try to buy the best cut we can afford.

Tonight, we’ll be serving the steak with home-grown butternut squash, cut into pieces and fried with sage and garlic. We have a new favourite potato recipe that I’ll make, too – classic hash browns. I love hash browns, but thought they were too much trouble until I found this recipe, courtesy of the All Recipes website. It only takes about 20 minutes start to finish, less time than mashing potatoes! Enjoy.

Classic Hash Browns

2 large potatoes, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon flaked, dried chillies
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 pinch paprika, or to taste

  1. Grate potatoes into a large bowl filled with cold water. Stir until water is cloudy, drain, and cover potatoes again with fresh cold water. Stir again to dissolve excess starch. Drain potatoes well, pat dry with paper towels, and squeeze out any excess moisture.

  2. Heat oil and butter in a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Sprinkle shredded potatoes into the hot butter and season with salt, black pepper, dried peppers, and paprika.

  3. Cook potatoes until a brown crust forms on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook and stir until potatoes are browned all over, about 5 more minutes.

These taste like the ‘real thing’, proper crispy on the outside, soft and potato-y on the inside. Yum.


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Let’s warm up!

For some reason, Kenton and I have been eating loads of comfort food this winter. Is it because it’s been colder than usual? Well, no, it’s actually been pretty mild!

For whatever reason, we’ve enjoyed many warming meals of soups, stews, casseroles and so on. When you have a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, a bit of meat and your own vegetables, it’s super easy to put together something nourishing and sustaining in no time.

This week it was Antonio Carluccio’s version of cabbage soup. Quite amazingly, it only has 4 main ingredients – cabbage, broth, bread and cheese! When we first fixed it years ago, I was prepared to find it bland and uninteresting, but it’s not. You simply must try it. You won’t believe just how yummy this soup is, I absolutely guarantee it! It’s also extremely quick to prepare, so no need for a convenience food tonight, people!

Carluccio's cabbage soup (well, ours actually!)

Carluccio’s cabbage soup (well, ours actually!)

Carluccio’s cabbage soup (Casa Tyr style)

700g Savoy cabbage
200g good quality Gruyere cheese
1000g chicken stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 slices of good quality day old bread (e.g. ciabatta), cut into cubes (Note: we toast the bread, then cut into cubes)
50g butter, melted

Roughly chop the cabbage and lightly cook in salted water until just done; drain.

In a large saucepan, start with a layer of cabbage, then a layer of bread cubes, then a layer of cheese. Repeat until all the cabbage, cheese and bread is used up.

Lightly press everything down in the pan, then carefully pour over the stock. Heat gently until it’s all heated through.

Ladle into bowls, then drizzle the melted butter over the top, and season with salt and pepper.


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A Highland road trip

One of our favourite types of holiday is the famous road trip – not the Route 66 variety, but one where you travel the less-traveled roads, and stay at out of the way places. Really get to know the place, in short.

Our most recent road trip was to somewhere we may never have gone without a good reason – the Scottish Highlands. The reason? A good one! A family member was getting married, so naturally we wanted to help celebrate. But Scotland? In February? Were they mad?

Well, as it turns out, not so mad. In fact, it was perfect for us, as this was obviously a huge tourist area – but not in February! The roads and hotels were empty of tourists, the lochs were stunningly beautiful in their solitude. If they had been crowded with fellow tourists, would we have been so blown away by the scenery? It seems unlikely, as we aren’t too great in crowds these days? Does living on your own on top of a mountain make you this way, or are you born to it? :-)

So drive we did, all around the Highlands. Edinburgh-Fort William-Inverness-Kyle of Lochalsh-Edinburgh. A day here, a couple of days there. We saw Neptune’s Staircase (amazing), Loch Ness (no monster) and so on. We walked, and walked and walked.

The scenery is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. No one can explain the wildness of Glencoe, the severity of the lochs with their snow-capped sentinels, the sheer…majestic nature of it. Honestly, words just can’t describe it.

Glencoe

The wild beauty of Glencoe (photo by Kenton@imagenary.co.uk)

Unlike so many other parts of the world, you also don’t see summer cabins littered around each loch, either. Now this may be because most of the land is owned by big landowners who forbid the building, I really don’t know – but from a tourist point of view, the emptiness is very overpowering.

The really funny part of the visit was that I very often struggled to understand what people were saying! I have no trouble understanding rural Andalucian/Spanish, but give me a soft Scottish accent, and I’m lost! :-)

So add this as another place in the world I’d like to live. Yes, that is despite the often god-awful weather – the trees in the forests have loads of moss on them, so you can imagine how much rain that area must get!

And the wedding? Well, despite the fact I don’t usually enjoy weddings, it was really lovely and personal. It was held in the gorgeous Eilean Donan castle (castles are littered all over Scotland, remnants of the clan era). Between them, the couple have quite a few marriages, relationships and children in their pasts, so this is a true triumph of optimism and love over experience; but with such a great beginning, I tend to think they’ve got it right this time.

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