Sunday, 21 September 2014

Hwyl fawr, Mam fach

My mother, Eunice Jones, died early today in the UZ Hospital in Ghent, Belgium. She was 94 years of age.

Eunice was born in Treherbert, one of the mining villages of the Rhondda Valley in south Wales, in August 1920.

She left Wales in 1958 to live in England, where she stayed until 1982. She then moved to Belgium, living first in Horebeke, later in Laarne, and finally in Heusden-Destelbergen.

Her husband, George Neale died in 1989.

Eunice is succeded by myself and my brother, Brian.

Friday, 19 September 2014

GoodlitBox Málaga

As mentioned in the previous entry, shortly after returning from our extended visit to Belgium, two GoodlitBox hampers were delivered. In that entry, I also described the contents of the Asturias hamper, so here I shall tell you about the products in the hamper dedicated to Málaga.

Wine-making has been practised in the Málaga region since about 600 BC. The Descalzos Viejos winery has not been around quite that long, but was founded in the sixteenth century and has a fine reputation. A bottle of a recent DV wine (2012) is included.

Spain and olives go together and the inland area of Málaga, with brief periods of colder weather, offers ideal conditions for growing these fruits that so many people enjoy (not me!). Aceituna y Encurditos Bravo (Bravo Olives and Pickles) bottle a particular olive under the name Aceitunas Brabur; this olive is the first olive in Spain to have been awarded a Protected Designation of Origin. The hamper contains a large jar of these special olives.

Chestnuts. We used to call them Spanish chestnuts when we went picking them in Greenwich Park (I lived in south-east London for a number of years as a child). The story was that the trees had been brought from Spain. No idea if that's true, but chestnuts are represented in the hamper, in the form of a cream of chestnuts and brandy. The cream is an artisanal product, made by la Molienda Verde and contains no chemical additives, such as preservatives, artificial colouring, etc. Apparently, the cream can be eaten as a spread on bread or toast, as an ingredient for pastries, or as an accompniment for meat dishes, being especially suited to game.

I love goat meat. I'm not too keen on salchichón. The latter is usually made with pork, so I was surprised to see a good looking salchichón made with goat meat (from the Malaga goat breed) in the hamper. Should be interesting.

I also love mango, so the jar of mango jam, made by the cleverly named mmm (Mermelada Mango Málaga), should prove very satisfying.

As its name suggests, Pasa de La Axarquia is a company that is largely dedicated to raisins. Fortunately, the product representing this company in the hamper is not raisins, but figs. Delicias de Higos (fig delights) are small balls of fig coated in sesame seeds. Can't wait!

The cheese that is included in the Málaga hamper should be delicious. The name is El Pinsapo and it is made with pure goat milk (again, from the Malaga goat breed); it is then left to mature for three months, during which time it is rubbed with local olive oil and then wrapped in a bath of olive oil. The cheese won gold at the 2013 World Cheese Awards, in Birmingham (UK) and has taken numerous other prizes as well. Yummy. (Sadly the manufacturer's website seems to be no longer available.)

So, another great hamper. Elise and I are so pleased with the products and the service, that we have decided to order the next three hampers.

If the idea of trying new tastes from different parts of Spain appeals to you, why not visit the GoodlitBox website, either in Spanish or in English.

¡Que aproveche!

Thursday, 18 September 2014

GoodlitBox Asturias

 About the middle of July, I wrote about the GoodlitBox hampers that offer a chance to taste the flavours and specialities of different parts of Spain.

We were extremely pleased with the first hamper that we received, offering some typical products from our own province, Alicante. Unfortunately, however, shortly after having received the hamper, we had to rush off to Belgium, where Elise's mother was very ill. Realising that we might not be back in time to be able to receive the next hamper, I got in touch with the GoodlitBox people and Juan Manuel agreed to hold the next box, and, should it be necessary, the following one, too, until our return to Spain.

As things turned out, we had to stay in Belgium five weeks, but when we were on our way back to Spain, I emailed Juan Manuel to let him know that he could send the two hampers that by that time were pending. They arrived today.

The July hamper (Alicante was actually the May hamper) contains products from Asturias, and a great selection it is, too. Have you ever seen someone pouring cider in the north of Spain? The bottle is held at full stretch, high in the air, while the glass is held as low as possible, in an almost balletic stance; the cider is then poured slowly, so that there is a great splashing and gathering of air in the base of the glass; only a relatively small amount of cider is poured. You can see the technique here. The hamper contains a bottle of traditional Asturian cider, made by Trabanco.

Resturante Eutimio enjoys a strong reputation, preparing traditional dishes since 1964. Some of their culinary skills are packaged, too, and that's the case with the pot of pastel de centollo y merluza del cantábrico (Cantabrian spider crab and hake paste) that is included in the hamper. I imagine it will put the old Shippam's salmon spread to shame…

I'm a great cheese lover, so I'm very pleased with the soft Casín cheese, El Viejo Mundo, a cheese made of the milk of Asturian cows.

The scorpion fish, or cabracho, is a rock fish typical of the Cantabrian Sea (the southern part of the Bay of Biscay). Cabracho paté is a traditional element of Asturian cooking, which is also used in Cantabria and the Basque Country.

The mixture of cider and cheese produces a strange yet delicious result. That, at least, is what the booklet that accompanies the Asturias hamper promises of its pot of crema de cabrales a la sidra (cabrales cheese with cider). Cabrales is a fatty blue cheese from a very small area of eastern Asturias. It gets very good reviews, so the combination of a first-class Asturian cheese with Asturian cider indeed sounds promising.

I might like cheese, but I am not a great lover of fish. However, tuna, salmon, shark, and a few others pass muster. Included in this list of acceptable fish is, without a doubt, bonito, a sort of small tuna. Good, then, that bonito forms part of the next item in the hamper, namely cebollas rellenas de bonito del norte (onions stuffed with northern bonito).

The final item representing Asturias is of a sweeter nature than the rest, namely casadiellas. These are fried pastries, filled with aniseed liqueur-flavoured nuts. Should go down a treat!

The next hamper is dedicated to Malaga and I shall describe it very soon.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Unexpected visit

Field where ashes of Julia Neetens were scattered
So there we were, enjoying the warmth, the dryness, and the sunshine of Guardamar, when Elise's mother, back in Belgium, takes a turn for the worse and we have to make a hasty way north. We thought we'd take a few days to drive the somewhat more than 2000 Km that separates Guardamar from Heusden (Oost Vlaanderen), and our first night was spent in Jaca, in the north of Spain, just before the French border. The next morning, however, we received a message that Elise's mother had suddenly become a lot worse. By the evening we had arrived at about 500 Km from our destination, so we checked again, only to learn that she had died earlier that same day. She was 90 years old.

We arrived at our apartment in Belgium at close to midnight and the next morning started arrangements for the cremation, clearing out the room in the home in which she stayed, and initiating the necessary legal procedures. The cremation was held one week later at the Westlede Crematorium in Lochristi. The next day, my own mother, who had been showing signs of illness for several days, had to be taken into hospital. She remained there for two-and-a-half weeks. She came back a few days ago, but requires help, so we have arranged for assistance in the form of home-nursing and home-help (shopping, ironing, laundry…).

In the interim, we have had a large triangular window in the apartment replaced. Its double-glazing seal had perished and air was getting in between the individual panes of glass, causing condensation and discolouring.

The exercise was carried out by the company De Grom of Erembodegem and it was both spectacular and successful. The team of some eight men worked well together in horrible conditions (it was pouring), removing the old window and placing the new one with hardly any damage to the surrounding structure: only the tiniest piece of plaster was knocked out of the surrounding sloping ceiling and this I was easily able to fill and paint over.  De Grom's achievement is even greater when you realise that the apartment is on the second floor. Here's a series of photos, showing the removal of the old glass and the placing of the new. Look carefully, and in some of the photos you can see the rain (pijpenstelen is how we describe it in Dutch, "pipe stems").

Lorry, crane and suction caps

Old window pushed into apartment, ready for turning and removal. It was here that the small damage was caused by the corner above the chappie's hand to the right of the picture.

Old window-pane pushed right into the apartment and turned, ready for removal.

And down it goes…

New glass brought into apartment ready for turning and placing

Set in place. Well done!

We really would have liked to keep the window free of the two "decorative" wooden bars that can be seen in the photo of the old window, above (very first photo). Unfortunately, however, community regulations regarding the "aesthetics" of the buildings in the complex, insist that the bars be in place, so a few days after the event, when the glass had dried completely, the bars were replaced and a beautiful panoramic view was destroyed. Here's a photo of how it could have been:

Rain? We've been in Belgium for over four weeks now and have seen rain on just about every day. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration, as there must have been at least one day on which it remained dry all day long. But, really, dull, grey, cold, wet, that's just about all we've experienced. And when there is a bit of warmth, it immediately becomes humid and close (doef and horrible). No wonder people here say they don't like the heat! Let's hope we shall soon be back in Guardamar…