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Here we go again…

Here we go again…

I wanted to start the new year off with some enthusiasm but it hasn’t been a wonderful start, really. First up was Jussi’s operation. She was diagnosed with a tumour on her right side towards the end of last year. Any hopes that it may well not grow very large were quickly dispelled so we decided to have her operated on, although the vet warned us that, as an older dog (she’s 12 and a half), there are risks. It was a bit of a tearful farewell when we dropped her off but the good news is she has made a remarkable recovery and is still fairly keen for a shortish walk in the morning. So, despite the eye-watering vet’s fees, (more tears!) that is good news in the end.

The weather has been grim. Most of the new year has seen us waking up to beautiful frosts but although the temperatures haven’t fallen as low as previous years it’s been relentlessly cold day and night for much longer. Usually the winter sun has been warm enough for lunch outside but not this year. The plants have suffered, even those I put away under the table under a lean-to roof are looking awful. The geranium leaves completely froze and now hang limp. In the garden the prickly pears have collapsed. The chicken water was rock solid in the mornings. I saw three dead birds under trees one morning; the idea they froze in the night is very upsetting.

The garden birds are getting extra treats though and are consuming vast amounts of sunflower seeds. It’s nice to see them so close, the thrushes are back and we can often hear a green woodpecker.

Now the weather is turning, it’s blowing a hooley outside at the moment, and we have a week of rain and storms to look forward to, oh joy! We have moved Skittle and his harem to their original coop which means more grass for them so at least we won’t be walking in the mud to let them out. With luck it’s been made mongoose proof now.

Nothing deters Betty from her morning walks though and she’s fine; she’ll be ten this year. So again we should be positive about that.

On top of all this we are back in lockdown, with much stricter rules this time. Any opportunity to shop apart from essentials has been thwarted: supermarkets can only sell food and drink (alcohol not after 8pm), and there is more of a police presence on the road checking drivers are only out and about as allowed. This means of course more delays on our new house, the bets are on for whether it will be more than a year before the council approves the plans…

On the work front Facebook has decided our website is spam and is refusing to allow us to write posts that promote the latest podcast. Not only is this very frustrating there is absolutely no way of contacting them to complain, I just don’t think that should be possible.

Ah well, we are both safe and sound and for that we are exceedingly grateful. We have found time to do our favourite hobbies which means beer making for Richard and another knitting pattern designed by me.

January is marmalade making month so that’s the next project, and something I enjoy, but fingers crossed for a warmer and more positive February.

S is for…

S is for…

September, of course. And the month has produced its usual harvest of figs which has meant, yet again, being in the kitchen and wondering what on earth to do with those left over from jam making and bottling. Nigel Slater’s fig and mascarpone tart has been baked numerous times, fig clafoutis, fig tartlets with goats’ cheese, figs in salads… luckily the chickens like them too.

Summer. Ha, well the temperatures shot up earlier this month, the first 16 days saw highs of over 30C. So we were able to watch the delayed Tour de France with the heat we usually associate with the sport. On 12 September it reached 37.9C.

Spring. Well, sometimes it feels like that too. First of all we’ve had a bit of rain, actually it thundered down one night as a tropical storm went over the house almost blowing over some of our young trees we planted a few years ago (they are now propped up with breeze blocks), and this has meant everything is slowly going green with little shoots everywhere. There’s a new emergence of wild flowers particularly autumn crocuses Colchicum autumnale (see top pic) and autumn snowflakes Leucojum autumnale. We need to look out for the lovely ladies tresses Spiranthes spiralis which also appear this time of the year. It’s the tiniest of orchids and we had some in the garden last year.

The birds have also started singing once more and our dog walks have become a musical affair. The robins, in particular, are trilling everywhere, a real delight.

Stinger. We have some water outside the house for the birds, always so nice to look up and see the splashing of a bird bathing, but we noticed that it wasn’t just our feathered friends appreciating the water. Asian hornets were also arriving and having a sip or two. Hmmm. They seemed to be arriving and leaving in the same direction which we decided to follow. Just around the corner the sound of insistent buzzing could clearly be heard from the middle of our willow tree. Rather nervously we got as close as we dared and sure enough the tree was swarming with a whole variety of flying insects including wasps and hornets, Asian hornets. So we took some photos and have reported them on a site dedicated to dealing with them. Quercus, the environmentalist group, has admitted though it has “lost count of the number of Asian hornets’ nests found in Portugal, but the number is already in the many thousands.” Which explains why they haven’t got back to us… we tried to find the nest but no luck. The hornets are causing 5 million euros a year in losses to the honey industry.

Skittle. On a more positive note we have let Skittle out to join his lady friends. We are so pleased that all their feathers have grown back and they all look healthy. Skittle was certainly pleased to start frolicking once more.

One slight downside is that Lacey, rather annoyingly, has decided to become broody again, for a second time this year. Not only does it mean she hogs the nest box (although there are two she is in the favoured one) it also means that Skittle only has five hens instead of six, and she is the only one (being the biggest) not to have lost any feathers. She makes the most appalling noise when you pick her up and collect the eggs.

Something brewing in the barn. Richard has no fewer than three types of concoctions bubbling away. First, another batch of beer. Apparently it’s a Brown Porter (whatever that is). Secondly, he went off scrumping and came back with a whole load of apples from the nearby fields and is having another go at making cider. He knows a lot more about the fermentation process now so we’re hoping for an even better batch this year. And thirdly, he’s collected all our grapes and yes, stood on them, and is making Vinho Tinto de Casa Azul, probably not a vintage. With all these percolating away it means he’s always darting in and out of the barn taking readings, making notes, stirring and goodness knows what else.

Singsong. Not to be outdone by Richard on the crafty front this is the name of my latest knitting pattern I’ve designed (on the left). It’s being tested now but I’m also working on yet another one, I have done well over 20 now.

Stalling. Sadly we have heard nothing at all from the Ponte de Lima council about our application for the house plans. Nada. They keep telling our architect they’ll be in touch but what with Covid… etc etc. A bit frustrating but we recognise how lucky we are being here. We continue to live in a sort of bubble really but today we ventured into Coimbra for a little shopping and lunch. We were very surprised by what we saw: the streets and cafés and squares were bustling with people and there was a nice atmosphere. There was an obvious lack of coach tourists walking up the main drag but despite that shops seemed fairly full, we think there were quite a few Spanish tourists making their own way across the border and of course the Portuguese are holidaying at home too. Most people were wearing masks, definitely in the shops (which is the law) but also in the street. We had a nice meal sitting outside, all the tables were taken by the time we had finished our café pingados. In fact they didn’t charge us for the coffees, I think restaurants are just so pleased people are frequenting them.

Sunsets, which come earlier and earlier. I put the chooks away around 9.15 in the summer but now, at 7.30, it’s time to lock them away. We hope everyone else is well too.

Here comes the summer – at last!

Here comes the summer – at last!

So it’s the fourth week of August and finally the summer has come. What do we mean by summer, then? Well, it means not feeling chilly on the morning dog walk, it means not being able to have lunch outside because it’s too hot, it means Jussi panting inside all day, it means the drone of helicopters overhead collecting water, it means the roasties roasting and hiding under the large olive tree in their field, it means supper outside and being thankful when the sun dips behind the buckthorn and then not being chilly when it sets. It means the steering wheel of the car being too hot to touch, it means being able to do three wash loads in a day and it means not going anywhere near the veg patch as all the plants will look like they have died. It means the pond needs topping up yet again. It means an eerie silence in the afternoon: not a tweet, cluck, bark or tractor sound. We had a brief spell earlier in the year which got us braced for a long, hot summer and then nothing happened. In July the temperatures didn’t reach 30, let alone the scorching 40s we have become used to.

So we can now confidently respond, when asked what the weather in Portugal is like, that every season and every year is different. (One constant is that Betty, as every summer, delights in terrorising the neighbours’ visitors on their early evening stroll around the village).

Meanwhile the residents of Casa Azul have been going about their business. Richard mentioned in the last post about the plums. They have continued to produce an embarrassing amount and so the kitchen is back in factory mode with bottling, roasting, jam and leather making galore. Red plum leather is our favourite for long, autumn walks.

The freezer is also full of whole plums for winter crumbles, and bottles of cordial. The damsons in particular have been great, we’ve never had so many.

We always have a splendid show of blackthorn flowers in February. This year, I think for the first time, we have more sloes than we know what to do with, apart from the two bottles of gin in the pantry that is…

The raised beds have been a great success in terms of the toms, these too have been piling up in various bowls around the kitchen waiting their turn, the plum versions are roasted and moulied for delicious passata. At the end of the day the summer tasks are very similar every year.

Richard, meanwhile, has been doing some sort of alchemy in his quest for liquid gold.

Yep, one big change is that the barn and courtyard have been turned into a brewery. Cheers!

ETA: well, that was short lived. Three days later and the temperatures have dropped, not going above 30 for the next 10 days. Oh and it rained this morning…