A highland fling

our wee adventure on the Black Isle


Another year, another Christmas

Isn’t it scary how fast time passes? I remember my mother saying

the older you get, the faster time goes

which, of course, I thought was absolutely mad!

It turns out (unsurprisingly) that she was right. Don’t you remember those childhood days, laying on the floor and staring up at your family Christmas tree, just aching to have those days until the Big Day pass more quickly? How slowly the days of school went, yet how quickly the summer holidays passed?

And now, time seems to go so quickly. The days, weeks and months whiz by. All of a sudden, I’m a year older, and it’s almost the end of 2015. Last year this time, I was pretty miserable, as I had 2 chemo sessions during the holidays – and wasn’t sure what state I’d be in come the next Christmas.

xmas 2015

Way-hey, it’s Christmas!

But here I am, ticking along, doing well. We have our friends’ goodie bags all ready to delivery this evening, and all the gifts are under the tree.

I feel so thankful to be here, to be healthy, and to have my darling husband and funny boxer dogs here to hug and cuddle me. I have a great daughter, a fantastic son-in-law and 2 perfect granddaughters to give me purpose. Hopefully in the future we’ll be spending every Christmas together, which is about as good as it gets.

Merry Christmas!

Changing times

It’s harvest time in Yunquera! The sound of tree shakers reverberates throughout the campo, and you see men setting the nets, or preparing a campo lunch, everywhere. As you drive by the cooperative, you see canastas full of olives, ready to be pressed. It’s a comforting sight – money in the pocket in time for Christmas (if you sell your olives), and your family’s olive oil barrel full of delicious golden oil for the coming year.

When we first moved here in 2003, the mills wouldn’t even be open yet. Why? Well, it was customary here to pick olives when they were all black, which sometimes would be as late as February. This made for olive oil that was golden yellow, and very smooth and soft tasting – the taste that was preferred in Yunquera.


Harvest 2015

We were thought odd, as we would pick the first half of our crop in mid-December, then the second half after the New Year. We preferred an oil that was fresher and slightly greener in taste, so picked when our olives were half green/half black.

This year we have noticed a huge change. Our olives are picked and pressed already – the entire crop picked in November, the earliest ever! I’ve seen loads of farmers doing the same, and the canastas at the mill are full of (mostly green) olives.

Why the change, we wonder? Is the price for olives better this year, so farmers are picking early to get the best price? Is it that farmers here have finally recognised that those buying their oil now prefer a ‘grassier’, greener oil? Is it that local tastes have changed in line with this global preference?

I don’t know, but to me, it shows that even in a remote village like Yunquera tastes and customs regularly change !


Ah…Italy…food of the gods!

We love the food in Spain. Not only are Spaniards passionate about their ingredients, they aren’t afraid to eat, and they eat well, even the women. (It really bothers me that many women these days seem to exist on a lettuce leaf a day!!)

But Italy…oh Italy, I do love your food. The pasta, the bread, the antipasti. I’d happily weigh a ton if I lived within your stellar borders!

We used to travel to Italy quite frequently, when we were ‘in the life’, to re-charge our batteries and generally relax and unwind. Now we’re not ‘in the life’, we actually live, so the re-charging, relaxing and unwinding isn’t so necessary anymore.

After a year of cancer treatment, and very little to celebrate, we decided to take this opportunity to go for a long, ‘foodie’ -weekend. Not to Tuscany, our usual hangout. Not to Rome, which we had visited before. But to Emilia-Romagna, specifically, a town outside Bologna, called San Giovanni in Persiceto.

We chose this area for two reasons. The first, and most important, we could fly there directly from Malaga airport. OK, it was via Ryanair, but hey, a cheap flight is a cheap flight, right?! The second reason? Ah, it was the food. In a country where food is so important, where we have never had a bad meal, ever, Emilia-Romagna is known even by Italians as having the best food. tortellini

So off we toddled, for a long weekend. We walked. We people-watched. Kenton bought me an outfit to show off my much-lighter figure. We wandered Bologna and did a bit of light sight-seeing.

But most of all, we ate. We had the most divine salumi, the best prosciutto, fabulous cheese, fantastic local specialities. We bought food to bring home. We bought biscuits to give to friends. We had accidentally picked a town that is well known for its food, with over 60 restaurants that were always packed – and without a single foreigner in any of them other than us!

Folks, this was true heaven. We are already planning our trip back!

steak with rucola cotoletta

Autumn’s upon us

It always shocks me how quickly a year can pass. When I was a child, time seemed to drag – it took so long for it to get to my birthday, Christmas morning, the end of school…whatever! But now? Blink and it’s the end of September, another year three-quarters of the year through. My mother used to say

the older you get, the faster time passes

…and at the time, I thought she was crazy, but now I know she was absolutely right! (how often that seems to happen!)

Of course, much of this year has been taken up by cancer treatment, and that time seemed to pass in a haze.

With autumn comes our autumnal chores. We pick the last of our summer veg, and are already nostalgic at the upcoming loss of that fresh tomato on our morning toast. We start winterising the house, making sure the summer furniture is put away, the water proofing is done, potential leaky points scrutinised. We start thinking about cutting firewood, even!

Loading the truck

We’ll be collecting firewood soon!

We will soon be ‘cleaning the feet’ of the olive trees, in preparation for the olive harvest. This is a two-day job for us, cutting away the suckers at the base of the tree so that the nets can be laid. (My wrists and hands have been ravaged by the effects of letrozole (aka Femara), but I’m hoping I’m up to wielding a hatchet)

Then comes the olive harvest! We have been inspecting trees this week, to see what the harvest will be like, given a bit of luck and no wind storms!

Ah, autumn, such a bittersweet time…


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!


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!

1 Comment

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!