Oranges are not the only fruit!

Another fruit that is abundant at this time of year in Portugal is the lemon. We don’t have any trees producing fruit yet but our neighbour, Augusto, has 2 huge trees and he stops by once a week with a bag of lemons for us. Last week the bag weighed at least 5 kilos, and we still had loads left from the previous week.
So today I zested and juiced half of them. The zest is in the freezer, to be used in cakes and desserts when needed. The juice has been made into a simple lemon sorbet, really easy to make, 1.5 cups of water, 2 cups of sugar, 2 tablespoon of zest, 2 cups of lemon juice. Boil the sugar, water and zest until the sugar has dissolved (takes a couple of minutes). Wait for that to cool and pour in the lemon juice.

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If you have an ice-cream maker, pour the mixture into that and follow the makers instructions, if not, put it into a large plastic or metal container that has a lid and put it in the freezer. Stir the mixture every 30 minutes till it’s completely frozen, or if you’re away from the house, Wait for it to freeze and then whizz it up in the food processor for a couple of minutes and put it back in the freezer until you want to eat it, simple!

I also sliced a few lemons to freeze for popping into drinks, just freeze on an open tray and store in a ziplock bag

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Tomorrow, lemon curd!

The Renovations Begin!

So, after waiting months for 3 different builders to quote for our renovations, and none of them understanding what we wanted, and quoting a small fortune – we happened across a house in the village being renovated by a local builder (in fact the husband of the local shopkeeper) that looked fantastic, and we could see that he was using natural materials and doing a really thorough job. We asked him to quote for our work, which he did within a week, at a very reasonable price, and today, just 2 weeks later, the work began.

The original roof is off, and the rotten central beams replaced by reclaimed chestnut beams from a local demolition. The window openings have been knocked out, no small feat as the walls are 2 foot thick granite stone, and the lintels are going in.

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The lintels have been made from the large granite pillars that used to hold up the donkey- driven water wheels on our wells. Tom dug them out of the ground himself, with a little help from Duke

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Ella, being the lady that she is, preferred to watch from the comfort of the car

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The Eco-friendly timber preservative that we ordered from the uk arrived today in the nick of time, so Tom will be applying that to the cross beams and wooden sheathing when it gets a bit cooler today, ready for those to be installed next week after the walls have been rebuilt.

So excited to finally be making progress!

 

More on Oranges

I’m glad to say that the oranges are still going strong. The tangerines were the first to ripen back in December, and the navel oranges in the part of the garden that gets sun all day long, even in winter, were also ready to eat in December. We have a particularly bountiful tree that smells like chocolate when the leaves are brushed against, it’s wonderful.

We have orange trees growing in small clusters around each of our 4 wells, our farm was once 5 individual pieces of land, and each owner had obviously planted enough for their own family’s use. One piece of the land is shaded from the winter sun for most of the day by the tall rocks in the middle of our farm, and the oranges have only just started to ripen. They are lovely and juicy whereas the ones on all the other trees, whilst still edible, are dry in comparison ( similar to the ones you buy in the shops in the uk.  🙂 )

So I shall be picking and eating fresh oranges for 6 months of the year – yum!

 

Blackberry and Hibiscus Jam

This has to be one of the nicest jams I’ve ever made, and so simple. It is tangy and fruity and not too sweet, I don’t like sweet jams, which is why I don’t buy commercially prepared ones!

1 500ml jug full of blackberries
1 500ml jug of strong hibiscus infusion
1/2 a 500ml jug of sugar ( preferably raw organic)
Couple of teaspoons of lemon juice.

Throw it all in the pan on a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, and then turn up the heat to a rolling boil until it starts to thicken, about 30 minutes.

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The hibiscus infusion gives it a lovely deep red colour.

I also added in a handful of black currants that I’d had left over from breakfast, so the final colour came out quite dark, but lovely.

Blackberry jam can quickly go beyond setting point, and becomes as hard as rock. You think it hasn’t reached setting point, and the minute you’re convinced it has, it’s too late. I know this from bitter experience. I once made about a dozen jars of the stuff and it was inedible. Great flavour, just couldn’t get it out of the jars!

The trick is, when it’s reduced to the point that it’s spitting out of the pan, do the frozen plate test. Leave the jam to cool on the frozen plate for about a minute and then run your finger through the splodge, if the two halves don’t join back together it’s done. If it has already formed a crinkly skin when you try to push your finger through, it may be too late 😦

The above recipe made 2 x 250ml jars, with a little bit left over for eating immediately with some warm crusty bread, nom nom!

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Psoriasis and the Paleo Auto-immune diet

Last year I posted about diet and psoriasis and the benefits of black seed oil. For a while it helped reduce the plaques, but quite frankly, the stuff is revolting, so for me unsustainable as a treatment.

I’d been following a mostly Paleo diet for a couple of months, and had seen a marked improvement, but not enough-  then in June decided to go all hog and try the paleo auto-immune diet, which basically involved cutting out all grains and seeds (so no nuts, which was difficult for me), no diary, sugar, alcohol, nightshades or eggs and very limited amounts of fruit 20gms of fructose max per day.

The diet was surprisingly easy to follow, meat and veg mainly, which was a bit weird for breakfast, but I got into the habit of making a bit extra for dinner and having the leftovers for breakfast, quick and easy! The thing I missed most was a cup of Marks and Sparks extra strong tea in the morning, but tea and coffee also not allowed. I played with green tea (boring) and fruit teas (generally insipid) and then discovered hibiscus tea. Actually it’s not sold as a tea, but rather sold as loose hibiscus calyces ( the bit that’s left on the stalk after the flower has wilted and fallen off) in all the supermarkets here, and it’s delicious. Strong and tart, and bright crimson, not only does it taste great it has medicinal qualities. It’s used to reduce high blood pressure and also ward off winter colds and flu…..anyway, I digress!

At around this time I also started taking a probiotic supplement, as I’d read a article about all auto-immune diseases being a result of leaky gut, which I thought was a bit far fetched, but thought I’d give it a try.

I did this diet for about 6 weeks and followed it strictly, overall in 3 months I lost about 5 kilos in weight and my psoriasis was all but gone. Then we went to Portugal to buy our quinta, and the diet was out of the window within days – I just can’t resist the wonderful portuguese food, the wonderful bread, potatoes with everything, fantastic wine and so what do you think happened to my psoriasis?

Nothing!

No plaques popping up, no patches of dry skin, nothing. We came back from Portugal after 2 weeks, the proud and happy owners of Quinta da Bem Paz and I didn’t return to the diet, and still no psoriasis. I have kept up with the probiotics and I still take the fish oil supplements.

In December last year I did get one small plaque on my left leg, probably due to the stress of moving our stuff , Tom and the dogs to Portugal and me to a small flat here in Abu Dhabi, but it didn’t spread and cleared up quickly, it’s now at the ‘faint graze’ stage after less than 3 months – my plaques generally take 6 months minimum to get to this level of healing.

So why is my psoriasis getting better? I don’t know. It may be because I’m taking probiotics, it may be that my body needed to detox completely to reverse whatever triggered my psoriasis 3 years ago. I suspect it is a combination of those 2 things, together with the immense relief of finding our dream home and knowing that I’m only going to be here for a short while longer 🙂 🙂 🙂 , just as I suspect it was a combination of adverse things that triggered the onset in the first place. In any event, I’m happy that I no longer feel that psoriasis is a big part of my life, it’s just a tiny spot on my leg, nothing more……

UPDATE 3rd July 2015

4 months later, still have the faint graze-like plaque on my leg, but no new plaques at all. My nails are getting better by the day, they are strong again, rather than crumbly, although don’t look good still so I wear nail varnish everyday ( bit of a pain). I’m still taking probiotic supplements daily, but not restricting my diet. I’m aware that most psoriasis sufferers can have periods of remission, and this may be just that, but I have to give some credit to the theory that psoriasis ( and other autoimmune diseases) are linked to gut problems
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tangerine Marmalade

32 orange/tangerine trees is a lot of citrus – there are hundreds of fruits on each tree! Oranges  keep fairly well in the fridge, possibly up to a month, tangerines not so well. I will need to come up with lots of ingenious ways to preserve all this fruit but my first thought was to make some marmalade. The tangerines were the first to ripen in early December so time to experiment with tangerine marmalade.

I’m a lazy marmalade maker, just slicing the whole fruit thinly and throwing them in a pan, but even that takes a lot of time! I used about 5 kilos of tangerines.

image I simmered the fruit in a little water for about an hour to soften the peels, you can just go away and leave it to do it’s thing, just checking on it every so often to make sure the water hasn’t boiled away. Some people soak their peels overnight in water to help the softening process, but that would require being organised, so I don’t do that…

When the peels were softer (not mushy, al dente – I want to taste those rinds in my marmalade) I added in 2kgs of raw sugar –  because that’s all I had (refer to note above about not being organised!) and the juice of half a lemon, and once the sugar had dissolved, turned it up to a rapid boil. On reflection, I should have made a smaller batch because it took blooming ages to reduce and set- about 90 minutes. I poured into sterilised jars and left it overnight to cool.

When I checked the next morning, it hadn’t actually set, it must have been wishful thinking on my part the previous night as I was thoroughly bored with the process by them time I’d jarred up.

That evening after work, it all went back in the pan for another 30 minutes, all the jars had to be washed and sterilised again, thereby doubling up the workload (and washing up!)

However, the end result was worth it, a tangy thick marmalade and the rinds have just enough bite to them, a great result. For my next batch I’ll add cardamon pods to the tangerines, taking them out before I add the sugar.

 

 

 

 

 

Quinta update 2

Having been at the quinta now for a few months it transpires that we have many more trees than we first thought.

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Antonio, our vendor, told us that we have 260 olive trees. That’s a lot of trees, but unfortunately we didn’t get any oil this year. The olive harvest was bad all over our region, and our local press didn’t even bother to open. By the time we arrived on 28th November, all the trees were bare, and the olives on the ground. Hey ho – I’m sure next year we’ll have a bumper crop.

We have 4 mulberry trees, double what we originally thought, which is very good news, mulberries are nutritious and delicious, and chickens, ducks and pigs love them. I’ll make mulberry jam and the animals can eat the rest.

We have 15 fig trees, both white and purple varieties, 20 orange trees, mostly navel type, and they have no pips, which is great, and a few bright yellow ones ( no, they’re not lemons!). Additionally we have 12 tangerine type trees, mandarins, clementines, tangerines etc, not sure how to tell the difference. Some are really sweet and some are horrendously sour. 32 orange trees is probably double what we need as they are all heavily cropping, as you can see in the photo, so the plan is to chop down any that don’t taste good or keep well, and replant with other fruit.

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We also have one peach tree and one apple tree that fruited last year, and 3 fairly immature trees that appear to be cherry, and probably have grown from seeds dropped by birds, as they are in improbable harvesting positions. We’ll move those to the orchard when we know whether they are worth keeping.

Additionally, we’ve also planted some trees in December – 2 lemons, a lime, another peach, an apricot, 2 nectarines, 2 red plums and 2 dark/damson type plums. We intend to plant cherry, persimmon, pear, apple, avocado, elder, hazel, sweet chestnut, almond, kiwi and soft fruit bushes next autumn.

We have about 50 grape vines, and this years prunings have been stuck in the ground to create about 100 new plants. They will take about 3 years to started producing in useful quantities.

My wonderful nephew, Chris, bought me moringa seeds and ash seeds for Xmas, and I’ve sown some in cloches. The moringa for food and medicine, the ash to be coppiced for firewood.

I’ve counted around 5 hawthorn trees in the hedgerow, so will take cuttings of those. Hawthorn is good for hedging and the prunings make excellent firewood. The Haws are a great source of food for wild birds over winter, and apparently makes good jam. I hope it doesn’t taste like the Chinese haw sweets my girls loved when they were younger, they taste like putty

We have at least 30 oak trees at different ages and sizes, and a small coppice of mimosa, which I expected to be a problem, it’s incredibly invasive, but actually is great for firewood, one large mimosa log will burn all night, so they can stay and we’ll harvest the larger trunks for firewood and the smaller saplings for pea and bean supports.

Quinta update

I can’t believe it’s been almost 5 months since I posted on the blog! A lot has happened since then. Tom and the dogs moved to Portugal at the end of November, I was there for almost half of December, and now going there every three weeks.

The people who sold us the house took nothing with them, so we had about 70 years worth of junk to remove, and it’s taken almost 3 months to fully clear out the place and clean up the land, which was strewn with broken glass, rusty metal and half-burnt wellies (you’d think that after the first 10 pairs didn’t burn, they’d have given up, but no! I cleared 2 wheel barrows full of charred wellies and the remains of other shoes).

On the plus side, they also left all the wine making equipment, including some fabulous antique wine jars still in their original carrying baskets, loads of barrels, olive nets etc.

Tom has spent his first couple of months making the house liveable, or at least one room, fencing where the perimeter wall is in a bad state, covering over the wells ( even though both dogs fell in a well on their first day – both whilst being supervised by me 😦 fortunately the wells were full to the top so they climbed out easily), moving massive granite stones away from the house, and preparing the land for planting, pruning the grape vines and olive trees and generally clearing up the place.

We had 3 builders survey to quote for the renovations, so hope to get started on those this spring. Tom will do a lot of the work, but some of the structural work needs to be done by a professional.

I’ll post some before and after photos when it’s done.

No Knead Bread

imageimageToday I baked the easiest ever bread. I’d read about no-knead bread making and thought it sounded too good to be true – and it is!

The bread needs to prove for up to 24 hours ( which had been slightly off-putting as I’m the ‘instant gratification’ type) so you need to start a day before you intend to bake. I started these loaves yesterday morning.

I followed the ‘traditional’ no-knead recipe first. It requires the bread to be baked in a very hot oven inside a heavy pan, to trap steam. The recipe I used was from steamykitchen.com, the author demonstrates the ease of this method by showing photos of her 4 year old son making the bread, it really is that easy, and her photos show each stage of the process, so worth reading, especially as I didn’t take any photos :(. The recipe used was 3 cups of flour, 1/4 tsp instant yeast, 1 tsp salt and 1.5 cups of warm water (body temperature). Put all of the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and add the water. Stir all together with a wooden spoon, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for 12 to 18 hours.

The dough was quite dry, so I had to add approximately another half cup of water to get all the flour incorporated, but the whole process took less than 5 minutes.

This morning the dough had doubled in size and was quite moist, as it should be. I tipped it out onto a floured work surface and with wet hands, flattened it out and then folded the corners into the middle (not sure why this step is needed) made it into a round ball and then put it back in the bowl to prove again. The recipe said to put the dough onto a floured tea towel or baking paper first, to make it easier to take out of the bowl once proved, but I didn’t do that, and not sure it made any difference. The dough needs to prove again for about 2 hours.

30 minutes before the bread finishes proving, put the heavy pan with lid in the oven on 450F/230C, make sure the pan doesn’t have plastic handles or lid, as they will melt. When the dough has rested for 2 hours, tip it into the hot pan and bake for 30 minutes with the lid on, and another 15-20 minutes with the lid off. When the bread is fully cooked it should sound hollow when tapped. Turn onto a rack and allow to cool before eating (the hardest part because it smells so good)!

Verdict: the bread (on the left in the photos) was quite heavy and dense, very rustic ( and I’ll tell you why a bit later). I actually didn’t wait for it to cool right down before eating and it was still a bit ‘doughy’, however I had another slice later and it was fine, but still heavy. The crust was crunchy and lovely.

For my 2nd loaf, also started yesterday, I followed a recipe on Jezebel.com. I like this site, the author is a girl who likes to simplify the simplistic even further! She’s made easy bread making even easier. This recipe calls for refrigeration of the dough, the rationale being that the slower fermentation of the yeast adds to the flavour. The dough can be left in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, so you can make up a big batch in a plastic container and take some as you need it, and you re-use the container again and again without washing it – the left over dough acting as a starter/improver for the next batch. Sounds like a winner to me!

The ingredients were 6 cups of flour, 3 cups or warm water, 1.5 tablespoons of instant yeast and 1.5 tablespoons of salt (seemed like a lot of salt so I only used 1 tbsp)

Put the water, salt and yeast into a plastic container, stir and wait a few minutes for the yeast to dissolve and start bubbling. Pour in the flour and mix with a spoon. This bit was quite strenuous due to the quantity of ingredients. The mixture was quite stiff again so I needed to add an additional 1/2 cup of water to incorporate all the flour. Loosely put the lid on and put in a warm place to prove. After 1-2 hours the mixture should have doubled in size ( mine hadn’t) put the lid on and put in the fridge for at least 12 hours, and up to 2 weeks.

This morning (18 hours later)I look the half of the mixture and put it in a lightly greased Pyrex dish (no lid, pre-heating or proving required) and popped it into the oven that had been pre-heated to 230C. Baked for 50 minutes ( same time as loaf 1), turned onto a cooling rack – and actually left it to cool, learning lesson from loaf 1 🙂

Verdict: I was worried about this loaf, it felt heavier and was smaller than loaf 1 and it didn’t sound hollow, but the bottom was beginning to get a little too dark so I needed to take it out of the oven. I expected it to taste denser and heavier, and if I’m totally honest, I thought I’d be feeding it to the chickens this afternoon. So was pleasantly surprised that it is both lighter in texture and tastier than loaf 1! It’s delicious.

NB after researching why loaf 1 was too dense, I discovered that the recipes I’d been using called for all purpose (white) flour and I’d used 100% wholemeal flour which not only produces a denser loaf but also requires more water! However, I think the refrigeration method overcomes the density issue and I can’t wait to see if this improves further after a few more days in the fridge.

Summer Fruits

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Pomelo, mangoes, star fruit and guavas – all picked this morning, unfortunately not from our garden but a gift from a neighbour.

I’m amazed at the types of fruit and veg that grow in this extreme summer heat, it’s still in the 40’s during the day. Our papayas and sweet limes are still going strong, as are the sweet potatoes.