Autumn


Work continues at a healthy pace inside the house.  On the top floor the construction of the divisions has been completed in all five bedrooms and bathrooms, so now you can see the size of each making visualizing the ultimately finished rooms that much easier.  Thus it was yesterday we spent a couple hours with the architects discussing at length the ‘design’ of each bedroom on this floor.  Given that the floors will be toba (terracotta tiles) and the ceilings bigas de roura (oak beam) with teules (terracotta tiles) we do not want to ‘over do’ the rustic feel of the place.   Therefore, contrary to the vision and preference of the architects we are plumming for white walls in all of rooms, with no exposed stone, thereby making the rooms appear as large and spacious as possible.  Door finishes will be white, wardrobes included – and the carcases thereof.  Lighting will be subtle, using mostly wall mounted up/down lights.  Any sense of modernity will be maximized in the bathrooms with stylish, clean uncomplicated finishes.  It is our intention to try and provide the customer with as much comfort as we possibly can; to pamper and ensure that you leave the world of work or whatever somewhere else.  Although the general finishes between one room and another will be of a similar standard, we will designate two as ‘premium’ rooms which will provide that little bit extra for the guest.

The metal curtains which mark the windows have been fitted in all of the top floor rooms.  But the major development of the week was the widening of the doorway from the hall to the dining room.  Now just shy of four meters wide, this entrance shows off three of the five arched windows in the dining room and the views of the valley beyond.  A folding door will separate the hall from dining room giving greater flexibility as to how the two rooms can be used.

And….completing that somewhat spurious link between dining room and food, last week a spot of kitchen experimentation led us to trying a recipe for ‘Stuffed Pigs Trotter’s’.  Before all you squeamish anglo-saxon readers dash for cover, the finished product was something not far short of fantastic.  The recipe needs a bit of tweaking – i. changing the wayin which the trotters are initially cooked; ii. preparing a more elaborate stuffing.  But all in all they were unctuous and simply cried out to be tried again.  So get those bibs out and pour a large glass of Priorat!

Last week we awoke to a beautifully sunny Sunday October morning.  The sun kissed the fields and woods surrounding Cardedeu as I enjoyed a wee run around the town.  Goretti’s Mum joined us for a cup of coffee followed shortly after by Mar, Scottish John and wee Martin and then it was on the road to La Rectoria for the annual Aplec de Sant Miquel,  held adjacent to our house. 

The outlook did look a little ominous as we drove to Vic and beyond.  But, as we left the last of the 12 or so tunnels that connect the conmarca (county) of Osona to La Garrotxa the clouds parted and the sunlight streamed on to the Vall d’en Bas.

On our arrival we parked some 400 meters from the house and numerous cars were already parked along the roadside and people were striding up the carri bici towards the church and house.   La Missa (Mass) had just finished  and many of the throng  had taken up their seats beneath the sky blue awning chatting in the warm autumnal air and waiting expectantly for the feast to follow.

Preparations for lunch were almost complete.  The finishing touches were being put to the Mar i Montanya arros – mussels, chicken and pork paella  – and a three substantial metal griddles each containing about 80 large sausages were being  grilled on the embers of what had been the wood fire on which the rice had been cooked.

We introduced ourselves to the Priest and briefly discussed a wedding that was to take place there the following weekend before taking our seats at the end of one of eight long trestle tables beside our neighbour Pere and the Alcalde (Mayor) of Sant Feliu.  No sooner was lunch announced than a queue appeared three wide and twenty plus deep, amiable and expectant.   The steam from the paella mixed with the smoke from the cooking sausages and blew clouds of hunger inducing smells over the assembly; the queue dispersed quickly with plates heaped with rice. 

Thereafter followed a  further not insubstantial, ‘hale and hearty’ course of mandonguilles (meatballs) and sausages which ´flirted´ with the occasional pea and mushroom; a robust wine accompanying both plates.  The waistline was then given a reprieve as sharp and juicy green mandarins were handed around along with pots of flam (Crème Caramel) supplied from the dairy of La Fageda, near Olot.  Coffee was served with small sweet pastries, vi ranci poured from four litre containers and whisky or ratafia were offered round.   Time to loosen the belt and lottery tickets were purchased for the prizes……a live rabbit, a live duck and assorted small food hampers.

Sardanas ensued, that seemingly simple, rhythmic catalan folk dance performed in circles of three to thirty people, interlocking arms at shoulder level, counting and concentrating on their delicate steps, occasionally moving slowly to the left or right.  The accompanying music played on wind instruments – clarinet, oboe and the catalan gralla producing a somewhat discordant sound.

John and Mar thoroughly enjoyed seeing the house, local village and surrounding area for the first time.  The day was capped by our winning a basket of assorted sheep’s cheeses and yoghurts from  Mas Claperol, a local farm we have to get to know better, where you can ‘sponsor’ a cow in exchange for various dairy products.  Something else to be explored in future.

With what has been a glorious week of weather, the roof has been made water tight, if not yet finished.  On Thursday the final insulation and water proof layer were put in place and on Friday the final compression layer was applied.  Therefore, rain or shine the roof has been sealed and all that remains to be done there (for now) is the fitting of the tiles.  Other finishes will be put in place in due course.

It can also be said that the place has had a good tidy up and made ready for the aplec (gathering) tomorrow.  What to do with and where to put the minor mountain of excavated soil and rubble that has sat adjacent to the house for the past six months or so was finally resolved this week and in a somewhat deft and professional manner.  Pere called in a digger and the majority of the material has been taken to the small field on the south side of the house where it has been leveled to provide the basis for what will be public parking and access to the church.  All this might sound somewhat bland and matter fact except that on seeing the end result you realize you could just about play a game of snooker on the finished surface, such is the degree of care taken.

All of this has occurred in a sun soaked start to the autumn.  Warm enough for a most pleasant trip to the beach late this afternoon.  Our one kilometer stretch of beach at Premià is normally pretty chocka ( full) when summer is in full swing.  Today 2nd October, the sum total was half a dozen fisherman pitching their rods, half a dozen swimmers, us three included and a bunch of kids mucking around and the chiringuito (temporary summer beach bar) was gone.  The Catalans have turned their backs on the beach until next summer.

As I tap this out, Goretti is slaving over a bubbling pot of what will be quince cheese (jelly), that slightly tart and tasty counterpoint to manchego or other cheeses, as is your wish. 

Quince Cheese

Thoroughly wash the quince, then chop them into chunks and place in a pan…..skin, stalks and pips and all.

Bring to the boil and cook until they are soft.  Then pass the cooked fruit through a non metallic sieve (better still, use a plastic mouli if you have one).

This leaves you with a flesh coloured pulp.  Weigh the pulp and return this to the cleaned pan with an equal quantity of sugar.  (We have the somewhat excessive quantity of 4kgs of pulp, so 4kg of sugar are required on this occasion.  A quarter of this amount would satisfy a normal, sane family.)  For every of 2kg of fruit and sugar add the juice of one lemon.

Cook the pulp, sugar, lemon juice mix stirring regularly to avoid it sticking to the bottom of the pan.   Cookery books say that the jelly is ready when taking a wooden spoon through the pan a clear line is left in the pan.  Such is the amount Goretti is cooking our guide is when the spoon stands up of its own accord and it has a deep amber colour, the jelly will be ready.

Carefully pour the molten mass into plastic containers to a depth of about 3cm and leave to cool and set.  Leave for a few weeks before eating.  Store in a cool dark place and it will keep for up to one year.

It’s a cool Sunday morning, slightly overcast and damp.  We had a great british start to the day, light rain and drizzle but it was perfect for the run we’ve just completed.  The 26th Marxa de Blanc i Blava, organized by the Cardedeu penya (supporters club) of Espanyol, or Paraquitos as they are affectionately called.  Thus, I’m feeling a little sore and tired.

It was billed as a run, you had the choice of doing 8 or 16kms.  We opted for the former.  I had imagined a pleasant jaunt along country lanes and around Cardedeu.  The reality was more akin to one of those army cross country affairs you’ve probably seen on TV….along muddy woodland pathes and very nobbly  farm tracks, the main hazards being the occasional steep track or doddering participants completing the course on foot.  I guess in hind sight it was more akin to a ‘Dads Army’ training course.  About 1km from the end two chalked signals on the road indicated ‘llarg’ or ‘curt’, by that point the choice was obvious –short- and I was at the finish a few minutes later.  The tangible rewards were a very fine botifarra (sausage) baguette, water, soft drink or wine and Espanyol hand towel and assorted other goodies.  Very civilized. 

Yesterday included yet another audience at a bathroom showroom.  Having pretty well tied down which loo seats we would like, our attention turned to bathroom sinks.  A relatively simple task one would think, after all what is the function of a sink –  to wash face and hands, clean teeth, shave.  A sink might have other uses when on holiday – to cool beers etc, wash smalls and other items of clothing.  Any other suggestions are most welcome.  Given we have seven guest bedrooms and public loo, plus the facilities in our quarters, that kind of ups the anti a little.  Only two of the bathrooms have exactly the same dimensions.  Some accompany rooms that we wish to make that little bit more special and a couple have the added complication that their shape makes the choice of finishes somewhat complicated.  Again we were pouring over catalogues, me following Catalan by gist etc.  Italian, Spanish, German and whatever makes they were.  Round, rectangular, deep, shallow, coloured or white.  Things that looked like they had come from the set of ‘Star Trek’ and other downright  way out architectural styles and creations.  After some angst we have come up with a short list of contenders, generally two choices for each room based on style and price to chew over and then that leaves the taps to select.  Showers, their doors and shower heads and the general finishes are the next wee hurdle but those are for another week.  One step at a time.

An hour or so later, arriving at La Rectoria we were met by a welcoming party of sorts, our neighbour, Jordi , Pere, Carme, Lluisa and her dog from down the road.  They constitute what I guess I can call the committee of the Aplec de Sant Miquel which is scheduled to take place next Sunday 3rd of October.  Two hundred neighbours and people from Sant Feliu de Pallerols will converge on La Rectoria for this annual gathering, blessing,  arros and dance to mark El Dia de Sant Miquel.  The committee’s concern was that wet weather would put paid to the outdoor celebrations.   Anyhow, I left them to gather the final picking of this year’s bramble harvest.  They fell off on touching and some were the size of grapes.

Inside the house continued good progress is being made with the roof.  The race is on to finish this part as soon as possible, making the house water tight prior to any substantial autumn rains.  Fifty per cent of the rajolas (internal tiles) have been fixed in place on the final section of the roof to be restored and I guess this will completed in the next week.   Meanwhile three of the iron frames that are to be fitted in each and every window have arrived.  Dark grey and imposing looking, oozing strength and rigidity these will give a bold finish to the windows of the house.  The one sitting proudly in the dining room looked more like some kind of sculpture.

Our visit finished with a hasty gathering of what has been a bountiful harvest of Quince from our two trees.  I would  guess about 10kg.  Too much solely for the obvious transformation to Quince Cheese (Codonyat), so other recipes will be uncovered in due course.

As I write this, yesterday’s haul of brambles has been turned into four jars of sticky sweet bramble jam.

700g brambles

700g warmed sugar

Juice of one lemon

Two tablespoons of water

Place the brambles, lemon juice and water in a pan and warm gently for about 10 minutes, shaking occasionally until the berries are soft.  Meanwhile, warm the sugar in the oven then add to the softened berries.  Continue to cook slowly until the sugar is dissolved, then turn up the heat and boil rapidly for about 8 minutes or until the temperature reaches 104°c .   Remove the pan from the heat and test for the ‘setting point’.  Place a spoonful of the jam on a chilled saucer and leave for a minute.  Then run a flattened finger through the jam; if the jam crinkles  and wrinkles and remains parted the setting point has been achieved.  If not put back on the heat for a further five minutes and then repeat the test again.  When ready pour carefully into warm sterilized jars, cover with waxed paper and seal the lids tightly.  Enjoy!