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Rain, Rain, Go Away…

At last April is here. Spring! Except here, spring is rather slow to get going, thanks to all the rain and wind and snow. Even this past weekend, Easter (I hope you all had an enjoyable one), parts of the UK experienced a white Easter, though not for the first time. Here where I am I the West Country, we didn’t have snow but it rained like it was never going to stop. Which means… (click here to read on)

 

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Where Have All the Sparrows Gone?

100_6578So, where have all the sparrows gone? There’s plenty in my garden, a flock of at least thirty. There always have been lots here, mainly because I feed them all year round and they know I chase the cats away. However, if you wonder where all there rest are, I think I’ve found them, some of them anyway.

Rui Monica NerjaThey’re all over in Spain, at least the ones with any sense are, well, in Nerja anyway. I recently holidayed there, in a lovely hotel, the Rui Monica, on the beachfront. The hotel is Y shaped and within its form is an enclosed patio, only accessed from the basement, 3 floors down from ground level. The patio is surrounded by high walls. Growing within are several tall trees including palms, there is a constant supply of water from the dripping air-conditioning units hanging on these walls and, because of its location, is impervious to the many cats, mostly feral, that roam the resort. Thus, a perfect, safe haven for these delightful birds.

It was at dusk, on our first evening at the hotel, we noticed from our balcony, four floors up from the basement and just above the treetops in this area, hundreds and hundreds of sparrows flying in to take roost for the night here. Once they were perched on the various trees, you could not see them, such was the dense leaf cover. For a good half-hour flocks and flocks of them flew in. Once they had all settled, silence ruled.

Until dawn. The cacophony of these little birds was tremendous as they came awake, chatted and chirped to each other before, in twos and threes, they took off to spend the day wherever they spent the day (many stayed around the hotel gardens and outdoor snack bar). We didn’t mind the noise; we enjoyed the spectacle and it ensured during our ten days there we were never late for breakfast or missed the coach on the few day trips out we took.

I had hoped to take a small movie of their dusk decent on my tablet, but after that first evening, we were never there at the right time to capture it. Always a good reason to go back there, of course, as Nerja is lovely.

To read more of my adventures in Nerja, click here

I Hate Winter!

Garden snow small

January 2013

It’s official. I hate winter. Always have. Always will. I hate always being cold – but I’m that during the summer too, even my husband will tell you I’m the only one he knows who can be  under a tropical sun on a beach in Barbados and still have goosebumps! I hate wearing layers and layers of clothes which, in turn, means there’s far more washing in the winter, and how the hell are you supposed to get it all dry? Thank goodness for the tumble drier. No, I much prefer to feel the sun on my skin, only happy when I can wander about all day in a floaty cotton kaftan, when I’m not hungry all the time, and when don’t have to rush to the loo every five minutes to spend a penny.

Winter Wonderland

Here’s one I did earlier

And pretty as it might look, I absolutely hate snow. We’ve had our fill here yet more is forecast this weekend. The only good thing about snow is that it makes for some nice landscapes to paint.

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By the gate 1 February 2013

So, thank goodness January is over, always the worst month of the year, and we are now into February. On the first of this month, the snow had melted, the sun was out and it was mild, so I took a walk around the country estate garden, to see what  was happening. And joy of joys, the snowdrops were out, as were some crocus. Last year, these were in flower on New Year’s Day, so they are only one month late.

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1 February 2013

The daffodils by the hedge stood a foot high and buds showing that first tinge of yellow. The hellebores were nodding their pretty mauve, red, white and two-tone heads and the primroses were out. The hyacinths were up, as were the first leaves of the bluebells.

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My favourite hellebore in flower 1Feb 2013

In few weeks the forsythia hedge will be blossoming, and I see as I look through the gap between the houses opposite to the wood, the trees are showing hints of green. Yes, spring is definitely edging in. Yippee. And in a few more weeks’ time, hopefully, I can enjoy breakfast and morning coffee in the garden again. Bring it on, I say!

Christmas, Coffee and Song

Christmas for many is a time of excitement, expectation and merriment, a gathering of families to share and enjoy good food and the exchanging of gifts along with the sanctity and ritual of traditions, be they religious or familial. It is also a time of reflection, remembering those who are no longer with us, and those that cannot be with us for whatever reason.

It is at this time of year when I always miss my father most. He loved everything about Christmas, the pains he took in making our toys when we were little – the wooden forts and dolls houses and prams; all the secrecy, the pleasure he obviously took in finding the right things for us all, and the fun I know he had in putting up all the decorations and dressing the tree on Christmas Eve after us four children had gone to bed. He also took charge of bringing home and cooking the turkey.

One pleasure he took was in taking us all to see the Christmas lights along the Great West Road at Brentford, where we lived. Near to the Gillette factory was Firestone Tyres factory, which had a long, lawned frontage that to us children seemed to go for miles. Every year the factory put up a fantastic display of lights: trees, sleighs and all sorts. It was a magical sight and I continued this evening excursion with my own daughter, much to her delight.

Lights at Firestones. Copyright Clive Warneford

Lights at Firestones. Copyright Clive Warneford

Christmas is for children, the magic for me seeing the pleasure in their smiling faces as they see displays, the decorated tree, and that wonderful moment of pure joy when they rip open their presents.

Each year in late November, Oma, my German grandmother, would send over a parcel of Christmas goodies. These always included Advent calendars, our presents, and lots of foodstuffs that were not available at that time (back in 1950s and 60s) in England: things such as Stollen, Lebkuchen and Lebkuchenherzen (iced gingerbread hearts). She always sent candy canes – something normally associated with the USA. The origin of striped candy canes comes from Germany when these treats made to represent a shepherd’s crook were given out to children when leaving church at Christmas time.

There is one special tradition I now continue although at the time we came across this, it had nothing to do with Christmas but is now the time of year I preserve the memory of my father. One year, my husband treated my parents, my daughter and me to a holiday cruise down the Rhine in Germany. It was Easter time, and an incredibly hot one at that. One of the towns along the river we visited was Rudesheim, where they make Asbach Uralt– a type of brandy, and one of my favourite tipples (when I can get hold of it!). It was here we were introduced to Rudesheimer coffee – a type of “Irish” coffee, with a difference. Dad couldn’t get enough of it, insisting on this whenever we had coffee during that trip. Years later, when he and my mother spent many Christmases with us, I would make Dad his Rudesheimer coffee in memory of that lovely trip together. And each year at Christmas I still make myself one. Okay, maybe two or three over the festive break. I have included the recipe here. Unlike the spirited after-meal coffees we are used to in the UK, this one is served in a large mug, or, as I have, a special cup and saucer bought in Germany for the purpose of. I hope you give it a try.

Meanwhile in a time of reflection and sadness following several sad happenings recently, here is my tribute to the dreadful shootings in America last week:

Wishing everyone an enjoyable, peaceful and safe Christmas.

Afternoon Delight

Or Has the Sangria Queen Meet Her Match?

It’s only 3 weeks to go before I leave England’s rain sodden shores for sunnier climes for my annual pilgrimage to the sun with my mother and two sisters, plus this year, my sister’s niece is also joining us – one happy band of girls hitting the beaches of Corfu. For our holidays we always rent a villa for a fortnight, our own pool is a must, and we never bother hiring a car. Buses and taxis are much more fun.

Must Have Our 5-A-Day

The first thing we do when we arrive at our destination is to find the local supermarket and stock up with essential supplies. The holiday company always leaves a welcome pack – tea, coffee, bread, bottle of wine, marmalade, butter, cheese, milk  – but our needs expand to more necessities as we are great believers in having our five a day on holiday as the picture right testifies.

Part of our holiday ritual involves an afternoon “sundowner” made by me. I’m the Sangria Queen, an expert, but I need to make a few jugfuls before we go away and perfect my recipe. After 20 years of making this afternoon delight, you’d think I wouldn’t need any practice but the year before last whilst back in Minorca, I met my match on the sangria front. Admittedly, it was in the guise of a local bar owner who added his own lilt on the recipe; but for his one addition, his made it in exactly the same way as taught to me many moons ago by a gorgeous, sweet Spanish bar owner on Majorca.

The secret is to not use cheap plonk or cheap “local” alternatives to the liqueurs. A good drink, like a good meal, deserves the best you can afford. We’ve tried it “on the cheap” and it just doesn’t cut it, certainly not for our discerning and deserving tastebuds. Always use a wine you enjoy drinking. Lousy wine makes lousy sangria. And please… never use the ready-made stuff sold in bottles. Yuck! It will put you off sangria for life.

The biggest problem we always find on holiday is most villas do not have a decent serving jug, let alone a big one. We always end up buying one, normally pottery – you know, the touristy type of thing, flowers, bright colours – that comes home with us. I think this year it is my mother’s turn to have the jug but knowing her, she’ll  decide to leave it at the villa for someone else to enjoy.

So, here goes. Here’s the Recipe:

Cheers: Another Good Day in Paradise

The morning or day/evening before you plan to serve, prepare all your fruit. Proportions and ratios don’t count here – whatever you have to hand in the fruit bowl (we always keep fruit in the fridge on holiday). The only fruits to avoid are bananas and kiwi. So, into the serving jug goes sliced apple, orange, lemon, lime, diced melon, cherries if you can find them, strawberries even. Working to one bottle of wine, on top of the fruit pour over half a wine glass of brandy (good stuff please) and half a glass of Cointreau or Grand Marnier and allow to steep in the fridge until required. When ready to serve, pour in a bottle of red wine, top up with ice cubes and then add lemonade. Taste (cook’s perk) to check there’s enough brandy and Cointreau in it. You probably won’t get much lemonade into the jug so serve extra lemonade to taste separately. Serve with a spoon to eat the luscious fruit at the end.

This can also be made with white wine and/or champagne but we have found we much prefer it the traditional way.

Now for that extra something the bartender in Minorca added: to the fruit he also added a measure of banana liqueur. It made such a difference, so if you’ve got some to hand, do try.

Enjoy, down to the last drop!

More Please

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