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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Winterising a favourite recipe

We have loads of recipes that we love, some from cookbooks and some made up from our own little heads. Some are only good when made in the summer, from our own summer garden. Some are best in the winter, likewise from our garden, but this time from the root vegetables of the winter garden.

A favourite in the summer is a tomato and onion bake. It is super simple, but delicious, and relies on the ‘wonderfulness’ of the ingredients that go into it. It only contains tomatoes, potatoes, onion, basil and cheese – see what I mean by simple?

Last night, we were craving this dish, as it was such a cold and windy night. We wanted something flavourful and warming. But as this recipe relies so much on the great tomatoes you can only eat in the summer, was it even possible to enjoy it in the winter?

What to do? Kenton had the solution! Instead of using store-bought tomatoes, why not use our own tomatoes, preserved in the summer? And instead of fresh basil, why not use our own oregano, dried in the autumn?

So I did – and the result was a warming, comforting meal full of flavour and richness. It was every bit as good as our summer version, if not even better!

Why not give it a try?

Summer version of our casserole. We ate the winter one before I could take a photo!

Summer version of our casserole. We ate the winter one before I could take a photo!

Winter warmer tomato and potato casserole

potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
1 large jar of home-preserved tomatoes
4 oz tomato puree, home-preserved
onions, sliced thinly
6 oz cottage cheese
salt, pepper
4 T dried oregano, home dried
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.

Lightly cook the tomatoes and puree together until slightly thickened, but make sure to leave some juice so the casserole isn’t dry.

First, put a layer of onion on the bottom. Next, add some spoonfuls of the tomato mix to cover, then the slices of potato. Salt and pepper, add some of the oregano, then a few spoonfuls of the cottage cheese, and lastly 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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Lying – is it a natural human thing to do?

I’ve been reliably informed that we all lie. We who believe ourselves to be ‘good people’ may try not to, but there it is, that little white (or black) lie, creeping into our thoughts and conversations. download liar

We might just lie to ourselves, i.e have a pretty good opinion of ourselves for no apparent reason. Think about it – are you really that terrific person, or is it just that you see yourself bathed in the rosy glow of honesty, kindness and good deeds? If any of us really thought about it, I suspect none of us is as good (or as bad) as we think – we are human, after all, which as they say, is a rich mix of pretty much everything, good and bad.

This topic came to mind because I’ve been thinking so much of my granddaughter Matilda over the holidays. This cancer thing means no trips to the UK to see her, no trips for her to come see me. And it hurts. She is growing up so fast, and “grandma no hair”, as she now calls me, is missing a lot.

She’s talking great guns now, too. As part of that, soon her mum (aka my daughter) will be having The Talk with her. Soon, Matilda will here something like

I always want you to tell me the truth. If you tell me the truth, you won’t get in trouble.

I said the same to my daughter, my mother said the same to me. Ad infinitum.

And yet. I still lied to my mother as a child (not very well, though, as she always knew when I was lying). My daughter lied to me, rather more convincingly than I did as a child. And certainly, my darling Matilda will lie to her mother. Sorry, Peg, but it’s true, and your heart will be hurt by it.

Why? Why do they do it? There are zillions of articles that tell you why, and how to ‘fix’ it. But I found, that even if you follow all the usual good parenting advice, the little blighters will still do it! They will put that cute little look on their face, look you straight in the eye…and lie. As a parent, you feel so betrayed – even after all your Good Talks, it happens.

I don’t really understand it either, so I can’t offer any solutions. I guess my own theory is, that as children grow up, there are a whole host of reasons for lying. It may be to get away with something (like when I blamed the spilled orange juice on my sister), or it may increasingly just be a power thing. Do you remember the first time you made that big adult believe something you told them, and then getting away with it – what a power rush! Kind of like – HAH! I just knew mom wasn’t smarter than me!

In my case, I usually ended up telling the truth, and I still do. I’d like to say it was/is because I take the moral high ground, but unfortunately it’s more a case of being such a dreadful liar. Something happens in my face when I lie, such that even strangers know when I’m not telling the truth! Even as an adult, my face betrays me every time. Bummer.


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Two little girls at Christmas

I always get all sentimental at Christmas time. OK, maybe it’s not just Christmas time, but it certainly worse this time of year! Even watching old Christmas movies can bring a tear to my eye these days.

Today, the last ‘normal’ day before Christmas, took me back to my childhood. I remember so clearly laying on the floor in our living room with my older sister Susan. We would lay there and just look at the Christmas tree, lights sparkling off the tinsel (always loads of tinsel, of course!). The excitement was almost unbearable.

The Larson girls

The Larson girls

I found a picture of my sister and me in our Christmas pinafores (they were almost too small for us by the time the photo was taken, but wow, did we love those pinafores!). My mother made them for us out of red felt, and hand sewed decorations onto them. In fact, she made a lot of our clothes. She also made loads of Christmas cookies – she even made the ever-so-time-consuming rollout sugar cookies, that we children frosted and decorated. How did she find time to do that, with a house, husband and 5 children to take care of?

She was incredible, and I still look up to her so much. This photo is for you, Mom.


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Getting ready for Christmas

We have made a list and checked it twice! The tree is up, the Lujos gifties are made for friends, the presents are mostly wrapped and under the tree.

We have plans to go to Malaga Christmas Eve for a bit of light retail therapy, then some food shopping and lunch, then see the lights. Malaga’s lights are absolutely fabulous – I’ll try to remember to take photos!

Anyway, my friends, one of the jobs today was to do my usual Christmas newsletter, but somehow a video just seemed more appropriate.


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Olive harvest 2014

It’s looking like a terrific harvest this year, even though we had our trees trimmed earlier this year. The olives are big and healthy, despite the lack of rain. This seems to differ from most of the rest of Europe, where olives are scarce, and they are already warning of an olive oil shortage next year.

Ann even manages a smile on day 5 of olive picking!

Not picking olives this year, Annie – roll on 2015

It makes me laugh. You would expect that, with a worldwide shortage of olives, the price of olives would rise. We went to our local mill, to see if that was the case, but nooooooo. They will give only 40 cents/kilo, even less than last year!

With my breast cancer treatment taking so much time, we are unable to get out and pick ourselves. (Although I did briefly consider doing it during my ‘good week’ last week! Kenton says it shows how utterly mad I am!)

So what is happening to our crop this year? Given away, my friends. This hurts a lot, but I console myself with the fact that it means some friends who have no work can sell the olives for whatever they can get. This is important in an isolated mountain community – sticking together in time of need, and helping friends and neighbours. As our friend Manuel says, after all, you never know when you might need help yourself.


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Baby, it’s cold outside!

One thing that comes as a surprise to most people is that it’s not always warm in southern Spain. Or, at least in our little corner of it, it’s not always warm! Or sunny. Or dry.

On the coast, I’m sure it’s  a different story, but here on our mountain, winter is most decidedly here. Last week we had Ark-style rain. This week, it’s dry, but the usual winter story of very windy and cold.

Loading the truck

Bringing olive wood up to the house

The end of this week, it will be colder yet. Highs of 9-11° C, lows of 1-3°. Add to that the wind chill factor, and it is extremely cold!

Now I know that my midwestern family and friends will scoff at these temperatures!

Call that cold?

they’ll say.

To a certain extent, they are right. But the midwest is geared up for cold, and southern Spain isn’t. The houses are meant to keep heat out, not cold, so insulation is not common. We are lucky in that we have central heating and double-glazed windows and doors, but those also are rare!

So we’ll be turning the heating up, lighting the fire early, and bundling up!


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The olive harvest cometh

Oh. My. God. Just when we thought we would have a poor harvest, due to the heavy pruning we did early in the year, we found out today we were totally wrong!

Casa Tyr olives

Casa Tyr olives (photo by Kenton@imagenary.co.uk)

Thinking about it, it makes sense. With olives, you have ‘off’ and ‘on’ years. Last year was our ‘off’ year, and, indeed, we only picked for 2 days. Even though we pruned, this is our ‘on’ year, and those trees are happy, happy, happy about being pruned.

The men of the house scouted the territory yesterday – Kenton, Milo and Freddy. They walked the length and breadth of the land to see what the crop was like. The verdict? Estupendo!

We are short a man this year, or woman, really – Kenton and I usually do the harvest on our own, but with my recent diagnosis of breast cancer, we decided I should sit it out.

So this year, a different solution is needed, so watch this space.

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