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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Joining in

I’ve noticed something odd about the British – if you move to live in another country, you are referred to as an “expat”, which is short for “expatriate”, defined as

a person temporarily or permanently residing in another country and culture other than their own

However, if a non-British person immigrates to the UK, they are not expats, they are immigrants, which is Not A Good Thing To Be, in many cases – try to keep up.

I guess I’ve always been an expat, as I moved to England as a young woman, and have lived either there, or in Spain, for many years. Americans living abroad tend not to refer to themselves as such, however, or at least not in my experience.

British expats can be a very odd bunch. From what I’ve seen, they fall into two groups – those who “stick to their own”, and socialise (and often live) with other British, and those who join in. The latter group are often said to have “gone native” – for some reason, this also is Not A Good Thing.

Manuel and Kenton

“Joining in” at its best!

Now me, I could never figure out why you would want to move to a country, but not join in. How else can you learn the language, the customs and the culture? How else can you make new friends?

I’ve always considered myself an American, no matter where I live – but one lucky enough to intimately get to know cultures other than my own. I wish everyone could do this. It totally takes the fear out of life, when you see that others (whatever their politics, colour, religion and so on) are pretty much just like you. They want the same things from life – food, water, and freedom for their family, and if they are lucky enough, perhaps some control over their life, too. I find that it becomes much more difficult to be xenophobic or nationalistic – the lines blur when you experience the hospitality of other countries, and you stop seeing bad guys under the bed.

So if you can, travel. Meet people, talk to them. If more could do this, I’m sure the world would be a much safer place, and governments would have a harder time scaring us with the bogeyman.


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Puppies

Puppies are great, aren’t they? So cute and cuddly, so full of life.

Freddy loves his dad and big brother!

Freddy loves his dad and big brother!

We have a puppy, as you know – Freddy is now 6 months old, and oh my goodness, he is a lively soul!

I feel for him sometimes. He so adores his big brother Milo, and wants to play with him and be with him all the time. This can get a bit much for our 8-year-old senior citizen. Milo likes to start his day slowly, and work up to a play as the day goes on, but not Freddy – who is “on” as soon as he’s awake!

So Freddy gets told off a lot! He seems to take it in his stride, and Milo plays enough to wear Freddy out most days. He is really good at finding games of his own, too – and really good at cajoling either Milo or Kenton into playing some fun, new game!

So after several months, I can report that Freddy has been very good for us all. He has reduced the grief we felt post-Fitz, and certainly given Milo a new lease on life.

And Freddy has the best life of any puppy anywhere, I think – a family who loves him, a big brother to teach him the rules of life, and 22 acres of Casa Tyr as a playground!


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bella Italia mia!

As much as we love Spain, I think Italy is our spiritual home. When we were ‘in the life’, we’d holiday there all the time, in an apartment by an old water mill in the mountains about an hour from Pisa (mountains, rural, farming, sound familiar??). We would try to sneak away for a week a couple of times a year – we would seldom do much, as we are not committed sightseers, but we would sometimes take a trip into Florence for the day.

Ah, that week. So relaxing, so quiet. The nearest village was a couple of kilometres away, and had only a couple of restaurants and shops, perfect for us. Our favourite restaurant was run by a local family. We liked to go there for Sunday lunch, when it would be packed with noisy families enjoying the terrific, always-fresh food. There wasn’t a menu; the waitress would read from a list of items that were ‘on’ for the day, and you’d pick – the surprise was when you received each course, to see if you had actually ordered what you thought (we didn’t speak Italian)!

So what is it about Italy? The food comes to mind first. It’s hard to get a bad meal, unless you eat at one of the touristy squares in, say, Florence. We are passionate about our food, and so are the Italians! The food in Spain is also wonderful, but I really swoon over the pastas, polentas and sauces of Italy.

I like the irreverence, too – a trait shared by Spaniards, or at least in our own Andalucia. Rules are there, laws are there, and they are good and necessary – but it is, of course, necessary to bend them! Very little is sacred, from the paying of tax to the speed limit.

So in honour of our love for Italy, here is our own take on Italian food, perfect for a light summer dinner. Enjoy!

polenta

Polenta with eggs

Polenta with eggs

For the polenta: Use 1 cup polenta to 3 cups fresh chicken broth. Slowly add the polenta to the boiling broth, then add 2 T chopped fresh sage, and cook until thick. Pour into a greased loaf pan and cool.

Note: polenta meal is hard to find in our area, so I use regular cornmeal.

  1. Slice the polenta, and fry in olive oil until the outside is slightly crisp. Arrange overlapping slices on a plate.
  2. Fry a free range egg or two until desired ‘doneness’, arrange on the polenta slices.
  3. If desired, sprinkle with some fried, chopped bacon, but this is optional.
  4. Slice some fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes, and arrange on the plate; top with fresh basil and a bit of olive oil.
  5. Grate fresh Parmesan over the top and serve.

Bellissimo!


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Sumptuous eats from the garden

I know – we’re lucky. We have absolute control over what we eat, because we grow almost everything. We know what we do (and do not) put on our food. No sprays, no chemicals – all natural.

Sure, this means they don’t look perfect – but then, who cares? The taste of our vegetables is out of this world, and we gorge on them all summer long.

To celebrate summer, here is a light and delicious vegetarian casserole for you. Our version used all our own ingredients (except the cheese), including our own Yunquera Gold olive oil! You can make this ahead, and bake it later, or bake it early and eat it room temperature (which, given our high summer temperatures, is my preferred way of eating it).

Exact amounts are not given, as the amount depends on the size casserole you are making! I used 3 large-ish potatoes, about a dozen tomatoes and 3 onions, but my home-grown veggies are variable in size, so use your own judgement! I also use more cheese than some might, because we love it!

Potato, basil and tomato bake

Potato, basil and tomato bake

Potato, basil and tomato bake

potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
large tomatoes, sliced
onions, sliced thinly
olive oil
salt, pepper
fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
good grating cheese mix, such as cheddar + parmesan + gruyere

Grease a casserole dish – I use a round casserole, but any type is fine, as long as it is deep enough for several layers

First, put a layer of onion on the bottom. Next, add a layer of overlapped slices of tomato and potato. Pour a light drizzle of olive oil over the layer. Salt and pepper, add some of the torn basil leaves, then add some of the grated cheese.

Continue layering as above (I had 3 layers), ending with the grated cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees (gas mark 4) for 1 hour, or until the potatoes are cooked. If the dish seems dry part way through, add a few teaspoons of water.


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Want great skin? Use soap!

Today I bring to you shocking news – soap is great for your skin, including the tender skin on your face!

Ladies, I know that many of you tell me you never let soap touch your skin, as it makes it feel tight and dry. Yes, that’s right, I’d reply – most commercial soap will do that.

Glycerin has always been a natural by-product of the soap-making process. In the late 19th century, it became commercially viable to draw the glycerin from the soap, using a somewhat complicated procedure usually involving salt. Most commercial manufacturers since then have taken the glycerin out of their soap, and used it in their other, more profitable products, such as lotions and creams. Why? Well, because then they don’t have to buy in the glycerin!

Small manufacturers of hand-crafted soap don’t do this. We leave the glycerin in each and every bar of our soap. Check out the information on the Lujos website for more information on the goodness of our soap ingredients.

Lujos soap curing  - Lavender & Bits (photo by Kenton Smith)

Lujos soap curing – lavender & Bits (photo by Kenton Smith)

Why should you care? Well, glycerin is a humectant, meaning that it draws moisture to your skin. If you use a hand-crafted bar on soap, your skin won’t feel tight and dry after washing – it will feel cleansed and soft.

So don’t be afraid to use soap, even on your face. Do make sure you use a high-quality, hand-crafted bar of soap, however – and as always, check out the ingredients for yourself!


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Living in a wealthy village

We live in one of the wealthiest villages I’ve ever seen. Not in monetary terms, but in so many other ways.

We were visiting a friend in the village this morning. We’ve known him for 11 years now, and he has helped us to learn so many things about living in the campo. He knows our land very well – what we can and cannot grow!

As we were leaving, he gave us a bag of avocados, pears and peaches, and tried to give us tomatoes and peppers as well. In return, we offered him a bag of apples. We also supply him with Bing cherries and walnuts, neither of which he grows.

Winter veg garden

Vegetables at Casa Tyr

This is the norm in Yunquera. In this way, everyone gets what they need.

Our English friends in the village, who don’t own land, are given everything by her neighbour – vegetables, fruit, eggs, you name it. Most people in the village own land, or their family does – so I think that those who don’t have land are regarded with pity, as they can’t grow a thing! We also supply these friends with new potatoes, squash, and other goodies. I also gave her a cherry tomato plant, so she can now grow her own in a small way!

This sharing and trading goes on between neighbours all the time. Whether you like them or not is irrelevant – in an isolated village like this, which suffered greatly in years past under Franco, you relied on family and neighbours, and they relied on you. It couldn’t work any other way.

So you can keep your Mercedes and latest gadgets, folks – I’m happy living here in one of the richest villages I’ve known.

 


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Siblings – what are yours like?

I’m thinking a lot about my brothers and sisters today, as everyone but me is meeting in Michigan for a wedding. We are all determined to get together as we can – it was important to our mother, and since she died, we have continued the custom.

It’s not always easy – the five of us are scattered all over the US, with me even further away in Europe, so it’s always a matter of long drives or flying. It’s time-consuming and expensive, but we still do try our best!

So. The wedding. It will be a lovely affair, I’m sure, and I am so sorry to miss it! The timing isn’t great for me – expensive summer flights, and getting there would be a nightmare of 24 or more hours of travel. Add to that Kenton’s lower limb surgery a few months ago, and it just wasn’t possible this time. That doesn’t mean I’m happy to miss it!

Nancy and Peggy

My little sister and my daughter, enjoying a chat many years ago!

We Larsons especially love to meet at breakfast time for informal chats. Everyone is up at different times, so it’s a nice way to have a chat in ones and twos. (I’m always jet-lagged, so I am the first up, usually about 6am!!)

This is a pretty cool thing, in my book, especially as I never felt we were particularly close growing up. Finding commonality as adults doesn’t always happen in a family!

Also, many families never grow beyond those sibling rivalries and irritations. It is soooo easy to think back about all the times you imagine being wronged!

She said something nasty, and I’ve never forgotten!

He used to  be mean to me!

He never talked to me!

She slapped me once, and mom did nothing!

These are the little, meaningless, childish grudges that we hope to grow beyond, but sometimes don’t! As adults, we have often disagreed on religion, politics, and most everything in between, but we seldom get bent out of shape about it.

I’ve also enjoyed getting to know the nieces/nephews and respective wives/husbands over the years. I am always amazed and pleased that the  younger generation also considers it important to get to know us oldies!

So, my brothers and sisters, I hope you have a lovely time, and perhaps you will miss me as much as I will be missing you. In my opinion, for a family of cool-as-ice Scandinavians, we do pretty well at the love stuff.

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