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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Unexpectedly grateful

As we have been doing all summer, this morning we got up early to go down the garden. I hasten to point out that this is not the norm for me, to do anything bc (before coffee).

watermelonThis routine has been a necessary part of our summer. All through July, we had such an incredible heat wave, that we couldn’t contemplate doing the work in the early evening, as is our norm. It didn’t cool off until around 10pm, and somehow gardening just as you’re ready to sit down and relax really did not compute.

So down the garden we would go, first thing – getting back to the house around 10am for breakfast. The dogs also like this routine, as it is still cool enough for them to run around and have fun. And steal tomatoes.

So, why am I unexpectedly grateful, you ask? It’s the garden itself. Full of healthy, deep green plants, producing an abundance of tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, 2 kinds of peppers, hot peppers, 2 kinds of melon, and 3 types of squash. The bounty will keep us going all winter long.tomatoes 2015

In fact, we think this is one of our best gardens in years. I consider our garden a minor miracle this year – it was planted when I was in the middle of chemo, dizzy and stumbling around with numb feet. But plant we did, and I’m so grateful that it has worked out so well – by dint of our hard work and a little luck!


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The land of giant vegetables

We are in the middle of our summer garden season! I love it, as all our hard work is finally being rewarded. It is truly a lot of work – once a week treating with neem (a natural oil to keep the dreaded ‘hongo’ and pests at bay), feeding, weeding and watering. Then another day watering. All told, this must take us 8 hours of work per week, if we’re lucky!

This summer has been so hot that we get up early and go down to garden before breakfast. (yes, you heard it here first, I voluntarily garden before coffee!!!) We used to do this in the evening, but with this heat, we found we couldn’t work until about 9 at night, and who wants to do that!? Also, going down early (before 8am) means that the garden is cool enough for us to work comfortably, and for the dogs to have a nice run around.

Anyway, back to the vegetables and fruit! We are eating loads of cucumbers, peppers and aubergines (aka eggplant) every day. Our tomato glut is nearly here, too, so it will be tomatoes morning, noon and night! We had our first watermelon yesterday, and it was truly delicious!

2015 watermelon at Casa Tyr

2015 watermelon at Casa Tyr

In Yunquera, the larger the vegetable, the more prestige it has. I’m not sure why this is, but it means that if you are ever given vegetables, they are huge! Our friends in the village don’t have a garden, so they are inundated with giant aubergines and humungous courgettes. All well and good, but in my opinion, these giant vegetables often have a lot less flavour. My friend always loves to be given vegetables, of course, but with only the 2 of them, it takes days to eat just one giant courgette – so how can she cope with a bag full of the beasts?

We buck the trend here at Casa Tyr. We pick our cucumbers and aubergines when they are small and sweet. They are small enough for the two of us to eat in a reasonable amount of time, too! We also pick and eat our small, new potatoes – true heresy here, where the small potatoes are only judged suitable for mule food!


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Weeds – survival of the fittest

Weeds are the bane of our lives, all year, but especially during our summer gardening time.

We have a routine. Every week, we go down to the garden to weed, feed, neem, water, and harvest. (Neem is a natural product that we use for pest control – it works miracles!) This process takes the two of us about 2 hours, but if you don’t stay on top of it, it only gets worse!

Lujos flower / borage plant

Borage – it’s gorgeous, but if it’s in the veg garden, it’s still a weed! (photo by Kenton @ imagenary.co.uk)

So in the middle of weeding, I always wonder

Why do weeds grow so much better than plants you actually want?

But they do, don’t they?? You don’t need to feed them, or water them, but there they are, crowding your lovely tomatoes, winding around the little pepper plants, choking out the onions. It is a daunting task to get out of the Defender and see the rows upon rows of weeds that you just know will give you a backache to pull!

It reminds me of when I was a child, and my mother sent me out to weed the back garden. Me, being the clever little sod that I was, thought it would be faster just to cut them off – who would ever know?

Well, somehow, just somehow, my mother figured out what I had done (even though I was oh-so-clever), and sent me out to pull them out properly! Do you know how hard it is to pull out weeds that have been cut off? I certainly did learn my lesson, which was

If you are going to do a task, do it right the first time, and you won’t have to do it again.

Except when it comes to weeds, of course, which is never-ending task!


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Summer garden time!

It’s the time of year when our little minds turn into vegetables. No, that’s not right! Our minds don’t turn into vegetables, they turn to vegetables! Argh! What am I trying to say?

That’s right. What I actually mean is, it’s planting time! We planted our potatoes, onions, garlic and lettuce about a month ago. They are going great guns, as are the weeds that threaten to take over the world! A day of weeding is in our very near future, not my favourite thing!

vegetables

Looking forward to summer harvests!

Last week, we planted our squash (three varieties), tomatoes (four varieties), cucumbers, peppers (three varieties), aubergines and melons (two varieties). Soon to come is the planting of sweet corn and okra – should have been done already, but between trips to the hospital (chemo, other tests) and the dentist, I feel we are doing very well to get as much done as we have.

It’s very hard this year to motivate myself to do the work (Kenton feels the same, I’m sure), but it’s such a key part of our life here that I can’t imagine not having a big garden, no matter how exhausted I feel all the time! Come July, when we are picking our first tomatoes, I know it will have been worth the effort.

I think it’s going to be a hard growing year. We have had loads of misty evenings, which wreak havoc on the potatoes and tomatoes, as well as anything other vegetable or fruit that suffers from mildew or blight. It is sometimes hard to stick to our ‘no toxic sprays’ mantra, but at least that means we are always able to pick a tomato straight from the vine and eat it! Not all our neighbours can say that!


Fancy a bite to eat in Seville? Call Shawn!

I never, ever advertise in my blogs. Not for my own businesses (lujos.co.uk, yunqueragold.com) or others. Oops, now I’ve gone and dunnit (sic) – I’ve advertised!

Do you like food and wine? Do you live in Andalucia? Are you planning a trip to Andalucia? Well, if you fit into any of those categories, I just have to tell you about the business of a friend of mine, Shawn Hennessey.

She is known as the “Queen of tapas” for good reason. She has lived in Seviila for over 20 years, and knows everything about the great little foodie hot spots in the city. Sure, you can ‘go independent’ and meander down the alleyways of Sevilla, until you spot a likely-looking restaurant. In fact, you probably won’t go too far wrong doing this, as the food in Andalucia is mostly really good.

sherry-tapa-001

Thanks for the photo, Shawn!

But there are soooo many interesting barrios (neighbourhoods) in Sevilla, each with great places to eat! So it would be so much easier to take advice from an expert, and to try several places over the course of an evening (or afternoon).

She offers loads of choices, too. Care to try the latest food trends? Shawn can arrange it. Prefer traditional food? She can do that, too. She can also add in trips to the great food market in Sevilla, or include a stirring flamenco show. Her knowledge of the city, and her enthusiasm in sharing, is truly awesome.

So talk to her, and tell her what rocks your boat – she will give you an experience to remember! Check her reviews on TripAdvisor, too. 

(Note to readers: these comments were not solicited by Shawn. I just felt inspired to write about her today!)


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Cancer doesn’t define me

It occurred to me that perhaps I’ve been paying too much attention to my ‘cancer blog’, and not enough to our everyday life blog. It’s easy to do, as treatment seems to subsume our lives until there seems to be little left for REAL life!

Treatment, worrying about treatment, worrying about infections and other side effects, staying indoors and away from society – no wonder it feels like our world has compressed.

But cancer doesn’t define my life. I had decided on diagnosis that it wouldn’t, and I try to keep to that decision. True, I think about it too much, and I certainly worry about it too much. But now that I am halfway through chemo, I am trying to think beyond cancer to…well, life!

For example, I weeded the asparagus bed the other day. That is a really trivial task, but it’s the first time I felt able to use my right arm for something physical since I had surgery. I’m now looking ahead to planting seeds in the greenhouse, and getting our summer garden ready to go.

Matilda and Ella

Matilda and Ella

We have started to tidy around the outside of the house. Everything grows so fast here, that it feels like the weeds have taken over the Lujos and herb gardens! So getting that under control again will be great.

We are having friends to brunch tomorrow – the first time we’ve had company since last summer. It’s a normal thing to do, and I want….no, I need…to feel normal.

I’m thinking ahead already to visits from family this summer. We have a brand-new granddaughter that we haven’t met yet, and I’m definitely starting to get excited about seeing her. We haven’t seen our Matilda, either, or Peggy and Dan, since last June, and we are getting excited about that, too.

It’s nice to be thinking about something else for a change.


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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