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.


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.


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!


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.


What does it mean to be ‘raised Christian’ ??

I admit, my mind works in mysterious ways! I have no idea why I am thinking of such a controversial subject today – just am! I guess after reading about the varied fights between Christians/Muslims/Jews in various combinations, in various parts of the world, it made me think about the big R – Religion.

Shortly after I’d been to my mother’s funeral, I was sitting having a meal with an extended member of the family. We were chatting away, when all of a sudden s/he said

I just don’t know how someone can live with themselves if they don’t raise their child in a Christian household

Well, gee – as I was the only one there, who was s/he referring to with that comment? I was gob-smacked. Not only did his/her timing suck (Right after my mother died? Really?), what right does anyone have to say that to me?

You’d be proud of me. I didn’t explode. I didn’t rant and rage. I was cool and calm.

Well, I said, I agree. But what does ‘Christian’ mean? Can it not mean raising a child with proper values and love, setting a good example, trying to do the right thing?

As for the other part, the God part, no, I didn’t do that. Personally, I think serious decisions like that should be made by adults, when you can decide for  yourself. If it’s a true story, then you shouldn’t have to promise to indoctrinate your children. But that’s just me. No hate mail, please.

Religion is something (I believe) that we have to decide for ourselves. If someone does not believe, who are we to criticise? Doesn’t it say something in the Bible about not casting the first stone?

Intolerance, and the ‘one true story’ idea fits with the modern trend of ‘if you’re not like me, you’re wrong’.

If there is a God, I don’t think he’d like that very much.


Busy bees

Summer in Spain is supposed to consist of peaceful days lounging around the pool, drinking the proverbial Gin & Tonic, right? That is certainly the idyllic summertime if you are an English expat, anyway!

Well, I don’t like G&T’s, and it’s our busy time of year, so you won’t find this lady lounging around the pool!

What are we up to? Gardening, for one thing. Our big ‘below’ summer veggie garden has to be weeded, neemed and fed once a week, to keep the plants healthy and disease/pest free. We don’t use pesticides on our lovely plants, oh no – we use neem oil, which works wonders and doesn’t spoil the plants with hideous chemicals. The vegetables also need watering twice a week, to keep them optimally refreshed.


Fresh-picked plums

Then there is the ‘above’ garden, which has our squash, herbs, and a few delicate veggies, such as lettuce. They don’t need the neem, but they do need watering and feeding. So do the flowers, or everything will die in our hot, dry summer temperatures!

Growing vegetables (and fruit) means that summer also brings preserving. This week, it was the plum harvest, so I made several jars of Chinese plum sauce. Next up are the pears, then the apples – cider, anyone? The ironic thing is that you have to keep the burners going constantly to preserve the produce – not a welcome thing when temperatures are getting up to 90+ every day!

Summer is also a busy time for Lujos. This week, I was making orders for our Australian agent, and next week, for private customers. Add to that my product research and development, and it keeps me pretty busy.

You can never stop to catch a breath!


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Cooking boredom

Here at Casa Tyr, we love to cook.

We don’t eat out very often, we never eat at fast food places, and we never buy convenience food. It’s not just being virtuous, we feel it takes no more time to whip up something delicious than it does to microwave a couple of packaged meals. And homemade certainly tastes better!

We also grow most of our own produce, so things naturally taste better, especially when cooked in our very own, delicious Yunquera Gold olive oil!

This time of year, however, we are struggling a bit. We really don’t like to buy vegetables, so the period between the end of our own asparagus, cauli and broccoli, and the beginning of the summer veg is a bit of a dry spell.

Cheat's sun-dried tomatoes

Last years sun-dried tomatoes (photo by Kenton@imagenary.co.uk)

Right now, for example, we have our own wonderful potatoes, garlic and onions, just picked and waiting for us. So there are loads of things to do with those!  But other vegetables? No, not ready yet.

Salads made without your own lettuce, peppers and tomatoes have no flavour. Vegetables bought from the supermarket are limp and flavourless, or at least we think so!

So right now, we’re bored. Come on, tomatoes, do your lovely stuff and ripen….soon!


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