With the passing of the summer solstice, followed by Sant Joan (23rd June) celebrated here in Catalonia, the heat of a Catalan summer is with us.  And what better way to sate one’s thirst than by drinking a glass of homemade elderflower cordial.

From the front entrance of La Rectoria, along the via verde cycle path, down to the main road and almost wherever one cares to look, Elder trees can be found both in our Vall d’Hostoles and the neighbouring Vall d’En Bas.  Their floral umbrels announce themselves almost as the second symphony of colour of spring from early May until early June, following the earlier flowering pear and plum blossoms.

Elderflower umbrels, scented with Spring

 

Some three years ago we made our first batch of elderflower cordial and found it relatively easy to make and most refreshing to drink.  And as I spend the better part of the day in the kitchen before, during and after the summer, day in, day out, this cordial provides a fantastic pick me up.

How easy to make?  Well, we start by grabbing our re-useable shopping bag, the telescopic gardening shears and out the door we go.  You will see from the recipe that follows that 15 flowers are needed – which yields about 1 litre of cordial when made.   We have learnt with time how much we use over the course of the summer and therefore we generally make 3 times the recipe on each occasion.  So, over the following half hour stroll we gather 45+ umbrels prior to returning home.

Elderflower cordial in the making

Now to the recipe.  Mine is taken from ‘Sensational Preserves’ by Hilaire Walden, a fantastic reference on all fruit and vegetable related preserves that now serves me well along with Mother’s recipe for Orange Marmalade and that now family heirloom, the old jam pan.  The book itself has its own heritage as I bought it at ‘The Cooks Bookshop’, 118 West Bow, Grassmarket, Edinburgh, owned and run by the late Clarissa Dickson Wright, https://www.theguardian.com/…/clarissa-dickson-wright-tv-chef-dies-two-fat-ladies  who found fame in the highly proclaimed TV cookery show ‘Two Fat Ladies’.   So thank you Clarissa for bringing this book to my attention and to Hilaire for the bounties its pages contain.

So here goes…

Elderflower Cordial

(makes about 1.1 litres, 2 pints)

15 large elderflower umbrels

900g sugar

1 lemon, sliced

40 citric acid (ask at your chemist)

500ml boiling water

Put the elderflowers, sugar, lemons and citric acid in a large heatproof bowl.  Stir in the boiling water to dissolve the sugar.  Cover (I do with cling film) and leave in a cool place for 4 days.  Lift the cover every day and stir.

On the fourth day, stain the liquid through muslin, (I use a jelly bag www.lakeland.co.uk) and carefully pour into bottles.  Store in a cool, dry place.

To dilute, the ratio is close to 1:20 cordial to water as it is very concentrated.  Dilute with chilled water for maximum benefit.

Chilled cordial. Stirred, never shaken

I use the concentrated cordial as a syrup to garnish dessert plates and also to make Elderflower Sorbet….more of that another day.

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Like a good spring clean.  The need to go through that ‘sock drawer’.  The annual tidy up of the garage.  Or that thing that you have been meaning to ‘gettin’aroundt’doin’.  So it is that we have at last just launched our new, more user friendly website.

www.larectoriadesantmiquel.com

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So, DROP EVERYTHING….GO THERE NOW!  Look around, and we hope, liking what you see, that you might book. Not now, at this moment.  But that you will make a mental ‘post it note’.  File it away for that long weekend break.  That exhilarating cycle ride.  Those days spent walking up mountain and down ‘vall’.  Just sitting by the pool or reading on the terrace by the church; contemplating nothing…

LOOK AROUND AND BOOK! #bookdirectly

If not now…soon.

‘Isolation’ – the action of isolating; the fact or condition of being isolated; separation from other things or persons; solitariness….

Of the above definitions I guess the second and third could be attributed to our location and thus we must thank the Sunday Times newspaper for bestowing that title on us in its ‘Spain and Portugal Special’ last month

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But hey, like many things our isolation is kind of relative.  What about poor old Robinson Crusoe, Tom Hanks in Castaway or Jack Nicholson as the main protagonist in The Shining, heaven forbid.

For those of you who have yet to locate us  our GPS coordinates are: 42.101825 , 2.493628.  Only 1.5 hours from Barcelona and 40 minutes from Girona or a 4o walk from the village; just ask those that stroll up here on their daily constitutional.   And to really put our situation in context we can do a roll call of where some of our customers have come from……….The Shetland Isles, Perth (Australia), The Urals. Isolated!

So, if you want some peace and quiet, a stroll in the countryside or a day’s cycling along country roads we can give you that and a comfortable place to crash in the evening.

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And cabin fever is not a problem……………YET!

TripAdvisor – an American travel website providing reviews of travel-related content………………TripAdvisor was an early adopter of user-adopted content. (Wikipedia).

So, you might well ask what’s with the definition.  Well, firstly with regards to TripAdvisor like many things in life there is often cynicism and ‘snobbery’ for want of a word attached to the validity of this site and others like it, mainly obviously from ‘customers’. And  by those I mean the people who go to hotels, restaurants, attractions etc. and not those listed on the site itself.  Well, a simple repost to those critics might be; where do you go for your information on finding a hotel, B&B, or restaurant…. a newspaper review, travel guide (many of which have paid for content) or the word of a friend?  And how do you judge which is the best and most reliable source?  We’re all victims of our own or someone else’s subjectivity.  However, whatever you might think about the content of TripAdvisor, the reviews are the thoughts of people who have paid for and used the service in question.

I can hear the howls of derision already…..Oh, your friends or family wrote the reviews.   Well in our case I only wish that we had so many contacts in so many far flung places!  I try to put myself in the position of the customer.  For what we are asking them to pay, what would you expect to receive in return? In terms of household purchases the annual holiday is one of the largest single purchases a family might make in the year, and having worked 48 or so weeks in the year for their 3 or 4 weeks holiday I think as host I have a duty to give them something in return…..comfortable accommodation, a good meal and a dram maybe.  But what about those intangibles…..a warm welcome, a smile, some help and advice,,,,,,some service.  So if in return for this symbiotic relationship we as hosts receive a few complementary comments and reviews from happy customers,  thank you for as well as our customers helping our business to be a viable concern, those reviews help ease the pain on tired legs and heavy eyes on those long summer working days.

In addition and in our defence and that of what must be a multitude of small family businesses like ours ‘tools’ such as TripAdvisor help give us global reach and we count it as invaluable marketing tool.  For from the somewhat isolated mountainous valley in which we live and work, it is a modern miracle of the interconnected world which we occupy that we can both project our ‘offer’ to prospective customers and receive what have been such positive and appreciative reviews from those who have stayed with us.

So, on behalf of Goretti and myself we would like to thank all of you who voted us 25th Best B&B in Spain in the TripAdvisor Traveller’s Choice Awards 2015.

So, hey, another year another haggis and contented guests and friends.  Some new and some from previous years. Our ever present piper, Francesc playing pipes (at times accompanied by Enric), occasionally the mouth organ and at times accompanied in song by Bizmarck our baying giant schnauzer.

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The haggis was good, but that in itself is another story and the drams flowed in glasses raised to our bard, Robert Burns.  On each occasion we managed some Scottish country dancing and on one a good sing-song thanks to Bernat and Andrea.

 

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They came from afar as Perpignan and Barcelona and Jaume provided a fantastic group from Girona and around dressed in more or less some form of tartan attire.

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Thank you one and all and here is to next year!

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Whilst looking for a piece to recite next week for our Burns Supper, celebrating the immortal memory of the Scottish Bard, I came across these lines that may go some way to summing up what Charlie Hebdo stands for and what its cartoonists and journalists paid for with their lives.  A note introducing the poem states…Burns published this song in the Edinburgh Gazeteer in 1792, updating its political flavour to the period of the French Revolutionary Wars.  The personalities mentioned in the poem were outspoken radicals who, like Burns, sympathized with the Revolution –  at least in its early stages.

 

Here’s to health to them that’s awa,

Here’s a health to them that’s awa.

Here’s a health to Tammie, the Norlan’ laddie,

That lives in the lug o the Law!

Here’s freedom to them that wad read,

Here’s freedom to them that would write!

There’s nane ever fear’d that the truth should be heard,

But they whom the truth would indite!

(3rd verse of Here’s a health to them that’s awa – Robert Burns)

 

‘Beneath the rule of men entirely great

The pen is mighter than the sword’

A bright and cold start to 2015.  Just what winter should be like.  With our party of Hogmanay guests sated, cheery and on their way having spent two evenings of great merriment with us we locked up and made the five minute drive to the village, Sant Feliu de Pallerols.  Tired after two late nights (and early mornings) we wanted to clear our heads and do something to mark the 1st of January 2015….a wee climb up to the Santuario de Nostra Senyora de la Font de la Salut perched on the escarpment of Collsacabra at 1,030 (about 600m above Sant Feliu.

A huff and a puff up past some donkeys, a friendly robin and with short breaks to take in the view down over the Val de l’Hostales with the brightly snow capped Pyrenees beyond, it was beautifully clear.

We marked our arrival at the Santuario with the accompanying family snap.

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So here is to a happy and prosperous 2015 to you all and here’s to more writing!