A highland fling

our wee adventure on the Black Isle

As the world turns…

I just noticed my last post was February, naughty me!

To be honest, I just haven’t had the heart for it. It seems to have been another one of those difficult times at Casa Tyr — is it just a getting older thing, and we can expect shitty circumstances from here on in? Or is it just another one of those things, a run of bad luck? My optimistic head says it’s the latter.

imageWe’ve had a bit of a bad run lately, for sure. Cancer still seems to be everywhere. A good friend has had his cancer return, and that felt like a punch to the gut. I feel strongly that we need to be there to help them through he difficult treatment times ahead, but here we are in Spain. A friend’s 39 year old wife recently died, leaving a husband and small daughter behind.

Our oldest dog, Milo, had a brain tumour which took him very quickly, after a couple weeks of mysterious symptoms. Our dogs are so much a part of the family that this is always hard, but Milo was something else. Smart as a whip, he joined us the year my mother and Kenton’s dad died — it truly felt like the only bright spot in a very black year. So he was special.

And yet. We have beautiful granddaughters to cherish and love. A friend’s son has a new baby. We have a new puppy for Freddie to play with. Our beloved nephew is coming to visit. Our summer garden is looking very well (gardening always makes me feel better). So bright spots that show, as Manuel always says, that everything, good and bad, is part of life.

The title of this blog? A reminder of my childhood days, when my mother would listen to her “soapies” as she cleaned. I particularly remember “As the world turns”, for its constant round of horrible events in its characters’ lives. I found it funny then, less funny when it happens to me and mine!




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.


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.


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.



Let the bounty begin!

I love this time of year! The weather has warmed up, we are busy as anything, and the seeds and plants that we planted months ago are finally starting to produce their fruit.

First in line were the lettuces. Rather than planting them down in our ‘forest garden’, we planted them near the house. I don’t know why it has taken us so long to plant them up here – it makes so much sense! Rather than going down to water one day and finding out they have all bolted, we can watch them day by day, and pick them when they are succulent and young.

Next up, cherries! Every day for the past 2 weeks, we have been picking bowlsfull of cherries for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Can you imagine a better dessert than freshly picked, sweet, ripe cherries?

This week, husband Kenton gave me a bright orange gift – our first two carrots from the garden! We served them fresh for dinner, along with new potatoes fresh-dug from the garden, served at room temperature with a dressing of olive oil (Yunquera Gold, of course) and vinegar. Potato salad Casa Tyr style!

I’m now very much looking forward to our first blueberries! We planted them last year in a half barrel (courtesy of our friend Manuel) and this year it looks like we will have a lovely little crop of blueberries.

Blueberries at Casa Tyr

Blueberries at Casa Tyr

Buy organic? No, we don’t have to, we grow them ourselves. No pesticides or herbicides – it’s just the way we do things at Casa Tyr!

New potato salad

1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 pound new potatoes, washed but not peeled
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tin really good quality tuna, drained (optional)
Yunquera Gold olive oil
white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
fresh chives, chopped (optional)

Cook the potatoes until tender. Mix with onion and garlic, and tuna, then dress with olive oil and vinegar to taste.

Serve at room temperature, season to taste. If desired, garnish with fresh chopped chives.

Bad weather musings

It’s been a pig of a day, it truly has. I know we need the water, and I am fine with that, but this is now getting pretty ridiculous! Today it has chucked it down all day, and we’ve also had mist, hail, sleet and wind. And there is no end in sight.

This morning we decided to get out of the house, so off to the village we went. We needed bread, assorted groceries, and to stop at our friend Manuel’s house, to pick up a couple of parcels. (We live in the campo with no postal address, so Manuel’s lovely family takes in our parcels for us) While we were there, we stopped in to see Manuel’s brother-in-law, who is recovering from a double hernia operation – no easy feat in this weather, in an unheated house!

Manuel was not a well man – he could hardly talk, and he had “that look” in his eyes of fever and illness. He said he has had cold after cold this winter (the damp in the houses is incredible). His chest sounded awful. We all so need spring to dry everything out!

After a few minutes small talk, he cheered up a bit. He showed us his “bad weather” work – braiding esparto grass into long plaits, ready for covering his wine carafes, making mule harnesses, and so on.

Pleita, artesanía del esparto.

Pleita, artesanía del esparto. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s beautiful work – long strands of grass are left to dry first, then tightly braided in decorative patterns. We chatted about it for awhile – in the old days, esparto was used to make shoes, with cut-apart rubber from tires used as the soles. Kenton asked if they were hard wearing, to which Manuel replied in his usual way –


Depends on the weather, depends on how much you walk, depends on the state of your feet. Nowadays, it’s only the older men who know how to weave esparto – the young people no longer care about such old ways. (oddly, though, the traditional ways are promoted by Andalucian tourist agencies as a real tourist draw to the “white villages”)

He then told us about his father (who wore such shoes, of course). In the mid 1940’s, his father used to walk to Jerez from Yunquera, across the mountains (no roads in those days). It was over 100 kilometres, and took him 3 days. He went there to find work, as so often happens in this area – at that time, he worked in the wheat fields.

Twenty years later, it was Manuel who left the village to find work, for months at a time, this time in the factories, fruit groves and vegetable fields of France.

And today? It’s agricultural or construction work, but now in Switzerland or Germany. Men no longer walk there in their esparto shoes, but I suspect it’s just as hard as ever to leave home and family.


It is what it is

This is my favourite t-shirt slogan at the mo. It can apply to so many things, just one of them today’s blog! It’s a hideous day on the mountain – misty and raining. Hard rain, the kind where you get soaked just walking to the car. We have things to do today, sure, and we have to go outside to do them – but for now, we are huddled in front of the gas fire, Kenton indulging in some idle web browsing, and me blogging! It is what it is.

On the one nice day of the week, we had visitors at Casa Tyr. They had a nice wander around the land, we talked about renewable energy, food, olive oil and Lujos, and we even had an olive oil tasting session. We tasted 3 types – our “private reserve” olive oil from last year, our new oil, and one very expensive one from California. For dipping, my freshly-made focaccia. I was pleased to learn that our Yunquera Gold stacked up well against the expensive US oil, and (to me anyway) was even better, in fact! I felt it was something I knew already, but it was nice to have it confirmed.

We also took the visitors to see Miguel the Iberico pork producer (soooo knowledgeable and friendly) and to visit our great friend Manuel at his bodega. Manuel loves to show off  his bodega, and is quite famous for his knowledge of grapes and wine-making. Manuel has a couple of extremely old wine presses – even he doesn’t know how old they are, but they must be at least 100 years old. He stood to one side, watching Kenton explain the pressing technique.

Kenton can tell them all about it

Manuel and Kenton

Manuel and Kenton pressing grapes

said Manuel – we both agreed that Kenton talks more than the 2 of us put together! 🙂

Manuel and I had a good laugh once or twice. He loved to talk to our visitors, despite the language barrier. At one point, a visitor was speaking to Manuel in French while Manuel answered in Spanish. They seemed to understand each other somehow!

A glass of wine was poured. Says one visitor,

Ah, I smell honey, and maybe apples…

Manuel looked at me “there is no honey or apple in there, just wine”, says he. Then grins.

“And what do you eat with this wine”, asks another visitor. Manuel would usually just say “food”, but expands slightly to say soups, meat, fish, anything you like. He tries in vain to explain one of his favourite recipes, for “papas cateto” (rustic potatoes), which contains mostly spring onions and potatoes, sometimes also rabbit or eggs, depending on what you have to hand. Manuel grins again, saying

Anna knows all the recipes it goes with, just ask her!

..referring to the fact that I have written down all his campo recipes.

As we leave, I comment that one glass is good, two can be dangerous, but Manuel says 2 glasses will make you dance, so how bad can that be?

Cebolla con Papas Cateto y Huevos

Note: this dish is only served in the spring, when the first of the tender, mild spring onions are ready to harvest

2 pounds spring onions, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 pound potatoes, peeled and sliced into disks
1 head garlic, split into cloves but not peeled
olive oil
2 eggs

Pour enough olive oil into the bottom of a heavy frying pan to cover. Add sliced potatoes and garlic – cook until slightly soft. Add onions and cook until the potatoes are cooked.

Break eggs into a bowl and mix with a fork. Pour the eggs over the top of the onion mixture, and turn a couple of times until the eggs are cooked. Add salt to taste.

Serves 4 as a main dish