A highland fling

our wee adventure on the Black Isle


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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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Sometimes things just…WORK!

After a very frustrating week, we finally organised an appointment for me at a clinic on the coast. This involved getting the recommendation from our doctor, getting authorisation from our insurance company, and finally, getting an appointment at the clinic!

What could be easier, right? Well, it seemed not. The authorisation was slow in coming. My appointment could not be arranged because the phone system was down in the radiology department (say what???). By the end of Wednesday, we thought that the week was a washout.

Matilda

Our darling Matilda (photo by kent@imagenary.co.uk)

Much to my surprise, the clinic actually did call me back to arrange an appointment! How seldom that happens these days, that people call you back when they say they will – why is that?

So yesterday, we toddled off to the clinic (an hour and a half toddle!). Again, to my surprise, when we arrived, my authorisation had come through, and had been forwarded to the clinic for me, thanks to Victoria from Sanitas health insurance company. The appointments for all my tests were one after the other, so by lunchtime, we were done and dusted!

Sometimes things really do work out! To celebrate, I thought I’d post a photo of our darling little granddaughter.


Waiting

One of the things that used to drive me nuts as a child was the continual waiting. You wait for everything, it seems. And the worst part? You have to to hurry, but when you are waiting in line, does the person on the other end hurry to serve you? Do they ‘eck!!

And that is only the time you waste waiting in line! Don’t even talk to me about the waiting you do on the end of the phone. Outsourcing has at least tripled the time you spend waiting for someone to pick up the bloody phone!

If  you are calling about a credit card going missing, press 1. If you are calling about thousands of wrong charges on your account, press 2. If you are sick of reading about waiting, press hash to go to the end of this article

What else do you wait for? Consider going out to dinner. You wait to get shown to your table.  You wait for menus. You wait for your food to arrive at a restaurant. You wait (ages) to get your water re-filled. (You don’t have to wait for your bill)

Consider going to the supermarket. You take a number for your deli order, you wait to get your cheese, you wait in line to pay. At Christmas, you even wait for a parking space!!

And don’t even mention software. You wait for phones/iPads/computers to start up. You wait for applications to start up, run, and save. You wait for printing jobs…sometimes forever! waiting

When I was a child, I used to wonder why adults didn’t run around screaming and pulling out their hair at the amount of waiting they do every single day. According to some, over the course of your life you spend 3 years just … waiting. 3 years!

Why, I wondered, didn’t someone do anything about it? When I grew up, I vowed, I’d never waste my time standing in a line…waiting.

But now I do. I guess it’s the sheer amount of practice you get over the years that does it – maybe like hitting yourself over the head with a hammer, eventually it doesn’t hurt? Who knows.

 


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No lions and tigers and bears, but weeds…oh my!

The coming of spring, as much as we welcome it, is a total nightmare in the gardener’s world. That is in the usual year, but this is anything but usual for us!

First, there is the planting. Is it time to put the courgettes out? Is it still too cold? Based on that decision, you start to prepare the garden. You strim. You rotovate. You make the furrows, then plant the baby plants. We have 4 large gardens, so multiply every task by 4.

Then imagine doing all that, but all by yourself. Add to that the making of Lujos, doing the laundry, the housework, the cooking, the driving, the shopping, the care of the dog, the going to the vet, the dealing with workmen. Add to that caring for a frustrated husband who would like to help, but has to recuperate ‘poco a poco’, mostly by sitting on the couch with his leg elevated.

It hasn’t been easy, and I’m hoping the worst is over.

iceberg lettuce

Home grown iceberg lettuce, full of flavour!

I can’t keep up with it all, not even close! I try to weed once a week, but with last weekend’s rain, and now some nice sun, the weeds have taken over. They are everywhere! Our large potato patch is…ok…it will last until I can get down to weed. The winter garden is, quite frankly, overrun with weeds. It embarrasses me, because it looks bad and is bad for the veggies. It frustrates me because I know I can’t get down there to weed for a few days.

The weeds in our soon-to-be summer garden, which needs to be prepared, are currently a metre high. I can’t really handle the big strimmer on my own, so we have asked a Spanish friend to help. The look on his face when he saw my weeds made me feel bad, but when there is only one of  you, what can you do?

Kenton said at the very beginning of this venture that I’d just have to let a few things go. I’m pretty energetic, but he is right, I can’t even pretend to myself that I can do the work of two! As it is, my poor arthritic knees and hands are suffering, so doing even more is out of the question.

Anyway, enough of my venting to my hopefully-understanding readers! I’m happy to report that our Spanish helper complemented me on the health of our potato plants, which really made my day!


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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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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Still crazy

Thank goodness, still crazy after all these years!

The years pass, we all get older. But to me, if you can retain the passion for life that you had as a youngster, you will never truly get old. You can’t help the ageing of your body, but you can sure prevent the ageing of your spirit and mind!

I still love dancing around the kitchen as I cook, although my husband points out that my dancing style leaves something to be desired.

The dancing bug hit early in life

The dancing bug hit early in life. I’m the one on the right!

I love crunching through autumn leaves, and sitting with the sun on my back on a winter’s day. I love the smell of spring rain, and the sadness and beauty of autumn leaves. I especially love trudging through fresh snow with the boxer dogs!

Some passions have morphed over the years, to include the joy of raising our own food. There is nothing like picking the fruit of your hard labour, or biting into a fresh-picked cherry tomato, knowing you can eat it without washing, without consuming pesticides and herbicides.

I still love to cook and bake, although the passion has moved to making breads of all kinds. I love to have bread baking in the oven when my husband is on his way home from errands – nothing says “home” like fresh-baked bread!

We all know people who are old before their times. Not for them is looking silly or stupid – oh no, life is far too serious for that! But to me, we are here for a very short time, really – and when it’s gone, it’s gone, no second chances. So I decided early on that I didn’t want to get to my last days, only to regret what should have been.

No “if only…” for me! I’ll be the one laughing at one last joke, and planning on who to haunt when I’m gone.