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Showing posts with label vegetation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label vegetation. Show all posts

Sunday, March 9, 2014

El Tiempo de Alcachofas

Estamos en Semana Santa y ya sabes que es tiempo de Alcachofas, habas y guisantes.

"We are in Holy Week and you know that this is the time of artichokes, beans, and peas."

Well, no, I have never thought of artichokes as especially a dish for the most important holiday in Spain, the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, though of course I realize that eating artichokes would be appropriate for the meatless meals of Lent, or Cuaresma, as the period is called here in Spain. But yesterday morning, the first Saturday in Lent, we drove south through the countryside just to be out to enjoy the sun and crisp spring weather. We saw field upon field of large green bushy plants that certainly looked ripe for harvesting, and I suspected they may be alcachofas, or artichokes. We stopped the car for a closer inspection, and sure enough, now I am certain what an artichoke plant looks like. The leaves are quite raggedy and have prickles, sort of a combination of giant dandelions  and thistles, with, of course, a large round layered bulb, or head, growing out at angles, which is actually the flower of the plant.

Artichokes ready for harvesting. © 2014 Johannes Bjorner

Given the plenitude of artichokes, I thought I should look for some artichoke recipes to try, and given that we have just entered Lent, I figured I have five weeks in which to investigate this dish if I intend to follow local custom and serve alcachofas during Semana Santa. Truth be told, I have never found an artichoke that I really enjoyed eating. I remember the first one very well. It was in Argentina, and my mother-in-law served artichokes as a special first course. I did not even know how to eat the plant that was placed before me, but fortunately this was a very long time ago, I was young, and I was a foreigner who had not grown up on a farm, so no reason I should have known how to eat an artichoke. It didn't have to be fancy, I was relieved to see. Patiently I watched as others tore the green leaves from the bulb and dipped them in melted butter, then sucked the inside of the leaves into their mouths. Eventually I tried it myself, and they didn't taste bad as long as I soaked up enough butter. But I would just as soon have dipped anything else into the butter and then into my mouth.

Years later another neighbor made a nice bubbling hot artichoke dip, also as an appetizer, and served it informally as a spread on crackers. These artichokes were mashed, as far as I could tell, for they bore no resemblance to a solid vegetable at all. That dish was OK, too. It was pleasantly warm and had added cheese. Edible, but I didn't ask for the recipe, even though she told me that it was perfect for spontaneous get-togethers, as I was likely to have all the ingredients on hand, once I bought the canned artichoke hearts.

If I have eaten other artichokes through the years, they have been disguised and/or innocuous.

Foods from Spain tells us that Spain produces 300,000 tons of artichokes annually, making it the second largest producer in the world (I believe it follows Italy) and the largest exporter.  Moreover, our drive from San Miguel de Salinas south to Murcia province took us smack dab through the largest artichoke growing area in Spain. The Foods from Spain website also gave me some ideas about contemporary uses for artichokes, but I needed to begin on a more elementary level. I found "Twelve Recipes with Artichokes" and then "Rapid and Very Simple Recipes for Artichokes" with a Google search on alcachofa recetas. I also found directions for peeling artichokes, and this, I realize, may be one of the biggest hurdles in preparing them. Nevertheless, I will be investigating and evaluating these recipes in the coming weeks. I'll let you know if I come across something that I like. And if I don't write about alcachofas again, you'll know that I didn't find anything that seemed worth the effort. Or, perhaps that I became sated with "Ode to the Artichoke," by Nobel literature prize winner Pablo Neruda. Really.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Back to the Land

We took a drive in the country last Friday morning, just because the sun was shining, and even though the wind was blowing strongly, but we had nothing urgent planned, and it had been a long time since we moseyed around in this part of this country. So into our German Ford Fusion we piled and tootled off through the countryside, headed away from the city and the sea, just to see what we could see.

Field in cultivation, La Finca Golf Resort. ©Johannes Bjorner 2014
It was green. As we made our way along roads we knew, we noticed a huge increase in the number of cultivated fields. Not once, not twice, but several times we came across great stretches of land that had formerly been scrappy looking, going to seed, or used as junk lots. Now there were row upon row of tiny new olive trees standing a foot above the brown earth, or furrowed rows of cultivated land just waiting for seeds or plants or irrigation hoses, or in one case, a line-up of medium-sized earth-moving equipment, just getting ready for leveling and plowing the land.

This is a positive sign. Not only does it mean that there is some substantial money from somewhere going into investment, but that the money is going into investment in agriculture rather than more housing development. The last thing that Spain needs is increased  investment in holiday homes; thousands--probably millions--of apartments, quad houses, and villas are standing empty and/or uncompleted, the ugly symptoms of over-hype, over-development, and an unending financial crisis.

New olive trees on the road to Algorfa. © Johannes Bjorner 2014
We live in, and were traveling through, a semi-rural area of Alicante province, with small villages that were agricultural and isolated long before European holiday-makers and pensioners started coming to the sun in the 1980s and changed their way of life dramatically. We speculated that some of the old village farmers, rich in land but poor in cash, who had been sitting on their land until the right offer from the housing developers came through at an opportune time, have finally gotten tired of waiting and have smartened up. After decades of development and eight years of crisis, they have gone back to the land and are using it for Spain's and their own development.

And it's green.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Three Weeks Later

What a difference three weeks makes! I came back to Spain this past Friday and suddenly it is summer. It is not overly hot yet, but when I left the first day of May, I was still alternating between summer and winter clothing, with the result that a box of winter clothes is still sitting in the room that I use for office, personal space, and walk-in closet. When I arrived Friday afternoon I was too warm in my long travel pants, and when I got up Saturday (not until 11:00 AM) I immediately donned the lightest pair of capri pants that I own and one of the lightest sleeveless blouses.  I have not been uncomfortable in comparable garb since, and this afternoon I moved the last of the winter nightclothes to that box, though the box still sits in the room, not yet on its way to the "attic."

This morning at the Sunday Zoco market I was glad for the sun visor I had bought at Meijer while home, and we sat in the sun and enjoyed the breeze and a café con leche, or white coffee, since it was at our favorite Zoco English café bar, where you can still get one for a euro. All the clothing stalls were selling new summer-weight styles, and the produce stalls were featuring cherries, various melons, and other summer fruit, strawberries being almost a thing of the past. The tomatoes are looking and tasting good again, and I found some potatoes that seem acceptable, although the vendor of my favorite French tiny potatoes says he can no longer get them. But I bought only the basic food items and hardly stopped to look at clothing, because what we really were there for today was to meet with the vendor of mosquito netting.

While I was gone, the "mozzie" experts had come out to measure our windows for the metallic frame easy-on, easy-off screens that we are finally going to get this year so that we can open the windows to get a cross-breeze without letting in oodles of flies and mosquitoes. It all seemed doable and not even terribly expensive, but I still wasn't sure how they were going to put a screen on the upstairs terrace door that I would be able to negotiate while carrying a load of laundry in or out. A nice woman demonstrated the divided curtain with weights and said she would be by again this week to make absolutely sure we were in agreement about which ones we wanted, before she cut and finished them.

Much of yesterday and today I spent in the office part of my room, but I sure didn't need the heat that I had turned on occasionally up until the last week before I left less than three weeks ago. It's too early to need the air conditioning system, but I was mighty glad for the overhead fan that, on the lowest setting, provided just enough air movement to feel fresh. And it didn't hurt that I got up periodically to tend the washing machine on the terrace outside my office. The geraniums that have flourished all winter on the terrace are now on their last legs, and the pansies are looking quite leggy, too, and soon we will have to take a trip to the vivero to find something colorful that tolerates Spanish summers. In the meantime we have hibiscus and oleanders, and the bougainvillea are going mad, as always. My herbs survived my absence, though there are blossoms on the chives and the parsley is going to seed. But the big surprise is that the horseradish that I buried in a pot, which had not even sprouted by the time I left, is now a handsome potted plant of six or more inches. Now I just need to figure out how one harvests horseradish, or, at least, maintains it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A One-Pound Lemon

What can you say about a one-pound lemon? This is the lemon I used to make citron fromage, a Danish dessert, for some invitados to a light luncheon this week. The lemon is shown resting on my kitchen scale--because, of course, as a cook in Spain, I have a scale that is at least as important as teaspoons and measuring cups to follow various recipes. If you have very sharp eyes, you might be able to see that the weight indicator on the bottom right says 458 grams, or more properly, .458 kg. Or maybe it says 453 grams, as I also had a picture of it when the digital scale flashed that number. Whatever, it is just about a pound, depending on how the lemon rolls.

Perhaps the most important thing about this lemon is that it came from the lemon tree in our front yard. Not the one we bought shortly after we moved in, the third we have cultivated, without much success, since we lived in Spain. It came from the tree we discovered the second summer we were here, after clearing out a lot of brush that perhaps had covered up the tree for a year--though I don't think there were any lemons on it to cover up. My personal theory is that it wasn't until we brought in the new lemon tree we had purchased that this lemon tree got pollinated and started to produce lemons. Or maybe it felt threatened, or motivated? Not much to feel threatened about, as the lemon tree that we bought is now smaller than when we bought it, with fewer branches and, so far, no new lemons. Maybe the pollen only blows in one direction.

My best recipe for citron fromage is from Danish Cooking, by Nika Standen Hazelton, published by Penguin Books in England in 1967. When I got it, from a dear friend as a wedding gift, I was just beginning to understand about the great divide in publishing English-language books, i.e., that there are books published in the United States, and there are books published in the UK, and the rights for one geographic area do not extend to the other. The publishing history of my "Penguin Handbook" shows that it was "first published in the U.S.A. by Doubleday in 1964" and that it was "Published, with revisions, in Penguin Books, in 1967." Those revisions, I now know without a doubt, had to do with conversion of the measurement of ingredients to the metric system, as well as revising spelling from American to British, and otherwise adapting from American to UK ingredient names and kitchen practice.

So I have always "translated" when using this cookbook. My recipe contains a penciled note, "1/2 cup," next to the listing for "4 oz. sugar" and a red ink "1 envelope" next to "2 dessertspoons unflavoured gelatin."  I must have always had measuring cups showing ounces, because there is no notation next to "2 fl. oz. cold water"; and "5 eggs, separated" seem to be separated the same on both sides of the Atlantic, though I'll wager that the size of eggs has grown in the past 45 years. The other ingredient that normally would not need any special notation is "juice and grated rind of 2 lemons."

Somehow I didn't think that two jumbo lemons of a pound each were necessary or even advisable. Fortunately I have The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, of about the same vintage as Danish Cooking, but from the U.S. side of the Atlantic. I found a whole section "About Lemons" in its chapter on fruits and fruit desserts. It said that "The juice of 1 lemon makes about 1/4 cup, but yield varies considerably." OK, so I was looking for a half cup of lemon juice, and I didn't really have to be exact.

When I cut my lemon open it looked more like a grapefruit than a lemon. Whether it was authentically a thick-skinned variety of lemon or just overgrown, I don't know. One does not normally give lemons a taste test as you would an orange or mandarin or even a grapefruit. It did have a thick skin and it was large enough that I needed to juice it using the attachment for oranges rather than just the normal lemon juicer. I got 3/4 cup of lemon juice from my one-pound lemon, but that included a couple tablespoonfuls of lemon pulp, so I took out the pulp. Grating the rind of the giant lemon was a bit easier than grating the rind of two normal lemons, but I must say that lemon zesting is not my favorite activity no matter how large the lemon. 

Our guests loved the citron fromage, or Lemon Delight, as it is translated in the Danish Cooking book.  I was pleased with the result myself, especially since the lemon-gelatin mixture did not separate from the whipped egg whites and settle itself in the bottom of the glass bowl, as it can easily do. We still have a few more giant lemons, though our guests took one home for themselves. It filled up about half the space that the bottle of wine they brought us had occupied.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Requiem for a Palm

We lost a palm tree this week. It's the one in the center of this picture, just outside the sunroom where we eat lunch each day. It looks like what may be called a pineapple palm in the U.S, due to its rough, triangular-shaped pieces of bark and trunk that look like a pineapple. Like thousands of other palms of its type here in Spain, this has been attacked by a red beetle, or weevil. It had been on the danger list for over a year, with regular observation by a palm specialist from Elche, the nearby city of palms. This Tuesday when he came at noontime, he told us he would be back after siesta to take it out.

The beetle eats the trunk from the inside, but it takes months before outward signs of the disease appear. Yesterday our palm specialist encircled the trunk in his arms and shook it--and was able to move the trunk from side to side as much as if it were shaking in an earthquake. It was obvious it had to go.

We went out to do some shopping in the afternoon, planning to be back by the 6:00 hour that he had promised to return. When we drove into the street at 5:30, however, a huge truck and crane were in front of the house, and they were just lifting the tree off its shaky mooring, over the balustrade, and loading it, roots and all, into the disposal truck. The truck had a logo on it: Esperanza (hope).

We have been doing a lot of pruning and thinning out of the vegetation around our house since we bought it. It had been landscaped from bare nothing by a wonderful English gardener when first built 13 years ago. But that's one piece that we didn't want to thin out. There is a hole there now, and though the space is not large and can be replaced with something else, it can't be replaced with that particular type of palm, and I will miss it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Almond Trees in Bloom

Photo by Johannes Bjorner 2009
In Spain the almond trees trees usually blossom in the month of February, and I couldn't let February go by without a photo of this beautiful sight. The picture to the left is from Almeria and is two years old, but earlier this month we took a day trip to the Jalon Valley and viewed beautiful fields of almonds there. Then last week we took the back road up to our village of Algorfa and discovered a whole field of blossoming almonds almost on our doorstep.

One of the prettiest pictures I have seen this year is this one that appeared in Spaniaposten, a free Norwegian newspaper that provides current news and geographic, historical, and cultural stories about life on the Costa Blanca. In addition to several other nice images available on page 22 in the PDF of the printed newspaper, Spaniaposten also had a nice informative story about almonds.

Nuts are called frutos secos in Spanish, dried fruits, and the almond is indeed dry, but botanically speaking, it is not a nut. It is the seed of the almond tree, which grows inside a hard and inedible shell. Spain exports lots of almonds but keeps enough in the country so that they are a frequent aperitif or snack in natural, toasted, salted, and/or fried forms. as well as being used in cooking. We buy toasted almonds almost every week at the Sunday market to add to my breakfast oatmeal--4 euros for a quarter kilo. Almonds are high in protein and fiber and are low in fat and carbohydrates. They also contain vitamin E, which supports the immune system, and magnesium, which is good for the heart and blood pressure. The almond tree came to Spain with the Moors from North Africa and is also native to Iran, northwest Saudi Arabia, and western Jordan, Lebanon, west Syria and southern Turkey. The Norwegian paper also pointed out that almonds are an essential ingredient in marzipan and kransekake, a festive confection throughout Scandinavia.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Rebate Surprise

Last Saturday afternoon we headed off toward a place called Rebate Restaurant. No, that doesn`t mean that you get your money back if you don't like your main course. Rebate, pronounced the Spanish way, is in three syllables, with the accent on the second, which has a short "a," by the way: re ba' tay.

There was to be an arts and crafts show, and since I had not been to anything billed as an arts and crafts show in Spain, though I have been to many in the USA, it seemed like an interesting way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the fall.

The road to Rebate was worth the half hour or so it took to get there. We drove first to a castle in San Miguel, where we had been to a pétanque tournament and also had lunch by a duck pond once. If we hadn't heard of the crafts show, we may have stopped there at the castle, as everyone, it seemed--at least two hundred cars--had stopped to see a flea market. We'll have to remember that for some other Saturday. We turned right, however, and followed the sign to Rebate, said to be 10.6 kilometers down the narrow road.

Narrow but well-maintained it was, thank goodness, because it twisted and turned and went up and down through the remote countryside for all 10-plus kilometers. And what beautiful countryside! We rode through lemon and orange groves, both old trees and younger, newly planted ones, rows and rows of them laid out in angles on varying axes, depending on the slant of the hillsides and the rays of the sun, I suppose. At this time of year it was all green, and in addition to the citrus trees there were palms here and there. Three times we came upon the outer stone gates of magnificent country estates, fincas, the likes of which I had never seen in Spain. Of course, I hardly saw them now, for the houses were well hidden down the hillside and behind the foliage from the already isolated road--what marvelous views they must have.

Each kilometer was marked with a well-painted stone, but when we passed 10 we almost missed the discreet entrance to the Restaurante on our right as we rounded a corner. Making our way through the narrow driveway (we had to wait for a car to come out from the other direction) we parked and first came to a charming country chapel. The door was open and recorded music was playing--no service going on today, but there was a sign inviting interested parties to make their wedding plans here. Farther up the path we found a large building and a note saying that coffee and drinks were being served on the terrace. Around the back on an upper terrace we quickly placed an order and were served cafe con leche, and then we realized that people at other tables were enjoying cava and tapas.

The cava was inside, said our waiter, and indeed, that is where the crafts were laid out. How nice of the restaurant to offer a glass of bubbly as people browsed the stalls! The show was small by my standards--only a dozen or so tables were set out, but most every one held a different ware, and each area was staffed by the person who did the craft. Some lovely silk flower arrangements were selling like hotcakes. There were also drawings, watercolor paintings, some very interesting three-dimensional "framed" works displaying large flower shapes, candles, plush teddy-bears, even clothing. But I spent much of my time at the woodworking table, which had a lovely selection of ceiling lamp and fan pulls, pens, bowls, and other small objects in various woods, most of which the proprietor brought from England--all the artisans were English, I believe. I also spent time, and made purchases, at the handmade greeting card table--making your own greeting cards is a popular craft among the English, I have learned here in Spain, and I love the colorful, multi-layered, and one-of-a-kind cards that can be found.

My friend bought a pair of the three-dimensional framed flower works for her spare bedroom, and then we moved back out to the terrace, with a second glass of cava and some snacks provided by the restaurant. But as we moved around the side of the restaurant toward the parking lot, we were blocked by two flamenco dancers who were entertaining the diners seated on another large outside patio. We paused, of course, and enjoyed three or four songs, and the male dancer even got several of us bystanders to come out and clap to the distinctive music and heel-stomping.

We picked up a menu brochure when we were finally able to make our way beyond the music and dancing and waiters crossing the roadway with delicious-looking entrees. Rebate would be a lovely place to come back to for a leisurely and elegant dinner in any season, I suspect.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Harvesting the Oranges

When I looked outside on Friday morning, I realized that our orange harvest had begun. For the first time in months, I did not see any oranges on the trees in the grove I see from my bathroom window.

Mind you, I had been wondering whether those oranges would ever be harvested. They have been orange ever since December. Almost all the other groves in the area have been picked clean--those orange trees recently have shown just pretty green foliage. As we have walked by our orange grove for the past several weeks, we have seen bunches of bright orange on the trees, and we also have seen lots of oranges fallen to the ground, where they have remained for weeks on end. If the grove were not surrounded by a barbed wire fence and planted a good six feet lower than the road on which we walked, we would have scooted over to the trees ourselves and picked up the fallen fruit from between the rows of trees. We have been wondering whether these particular trees would ever be harvested, and if not, why not? Certainly there is enough cheap labor to accomplish the picking job. Perhaps the market price is so bad that it is not economically worthwhile to pick this crop?
Indeed, I had just about given up hope that we would ever see the harvesting of these oranges.

Well, I still haven't seen anyone or anything picking fruit. I couldn't go out on Friday morning to inspect, but Saturday morning I walked along the path that takes us by the long field. There was no activity in the area, but I noticed that the harvest wasn't finished yet. About three quarters of the rows that I walked past had been picked and no longer showed any orange spots against the green. But a few rows in the back, the farthest away from our neighborhood, still had fruit. I'm hoping that the harvest will resume tomorrow and that I can see it in action. Meanwhile, this morning when we walked over to our neighborhood recreation area, we noticed that most of the trees are filled with orange blossoms already! I had always thought that the time between orange blossoms and orange fruit was relatively short, but I also had thought that the blossoms came first, and the fruit came just a short time later. These blossoms seem to have sprung immediately from underneath the plucked fruit. Now I wonder how long we will have orange blossoms before they are replaced by green fruit.

We had run into the farmer many months ago, when the oranges were still green, and asked him when the harvest would be done. He had told us "May," which seemed like a very long time from then. It has been a long time, but now, in mid-April, we realize that these oranges have a very long growing season after all.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Oranges Turning Orange

Back in August I noted that the oranges trees that border our Montebello neighborhood had produced oranges, but that the oranges were still green. They stayed green for a very long time. Some time in October--I think it was just after the gota fría--we happened to see the farmer doing some work in the grove early one morning and asked him when the oranges would be ripe for harvest. "Mayo" (May), he said. That seemed improbable to me. After all, the oranges were already really large. But they were also still emerald green.

Now the first Sunday in December, the oranges have turned orange. It's been happening over the past couple weeks, and that prompted me to wonder how, and why, oranges turn orange. Is it similar to the way the leaves on the trees of New Hampshire turn yellow and orange and red in the fall? Do oranges also need warm, sunny days, but cool nights, to turn orange?

I've spent the better part of the afternoon searching on the Internet for information about why and how oranges turn orange, and it hasn't been as easy as I thought. Searching both in English and Spanish, I didn't find much about why they turn from green to orange. I did find a lot about how they can be made orange from green in a post-harvest process called "de-greening," or el desverdizado, so as to make the mature fruit more appealing to the consumer. It seems to be generally accepted both in Spain and in the U.S. to "de-green" oranges after they leave the tree.

But what was even more startling to learn was that oranges, if left on the tree, may actually revert to green after they have become orange. That would happen when the weather turns too warm, because it is cool temperatures that kill the green chlorophyll pigments and allow the yellow carotenoids beneath to show through. It starts getting warmer in May in Spain, so I'm thinking that perhaps the orange grove owner meant that by May his harvest of oranges would be done, because otherwise they would start turning green again. And though green oranges are mature, they are not appetizing to many consumers.

Today I feel doubly lucky. First, I'm lucky to live by an orange grove, and second, to see fruit that is actually orange, still on the tree, and not yet harvested. Now I'm watching to see when these fruits are actually harvested, and whether any turn green again before next May.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Height of Autumn

Suddenly the third day after Thanksgiving, it has turned very cold (60 degrees F. outside) and we even got a little rain this Sunday in Spain, causing my laundry to remain in the washing machine overnight until the sun presumably shines again tomorrow. But this plant, whose name I do not know, outside our living room window, is in its second blooming period since we moved in last May. The bougainvillea also continue to flower--and drop their blossoms--profusely and are starting to climb up the metal arch  over the driveway gate. This past week we bought geraniums for the upstairs terrace window boxes, and the hibiscus I planted ten days ago at the front door has produced a single blossom once more since its disruption. With the fall's cooler temperatures it becomes possible to have some herbs again--we have lavender beside the front steps, and chives and thyme (tomillo, in honor of our street name ... Avenida del Tomillo) and a sprawling mint plant (hierbabuena) is still waiting to be repotted opposite this bell or trumpet plant. On the back stoop is my real find of the season, a celery plant, from which I harvested two stalks for the Thanksgiving wild rice stuffing.

We had a lovely Thanksgiving dinner, celebrating this year on Wednesday because our neighborhood association was holding its annual meeting on Thursday. It's hard to get a turkey before Christmas in this area, but I found a willing butcher at the Sunday market a few weeks ago. He delivered a much larger than necessary bird last week--7.5 kilos--but it was delicious on Thanksgiving, and the evening after, and for turkey soup for tonight's supper, and I'm sure the three meals I have in the freezer will be equally good. And someday soon I will clean up my oven from the basting broth that spilled onto its floor because the turkey really was too large for the roasting pan.

Since the season has just started to change, it doesn't seem time yet for Christmas, but we have already missed the big Christmas fair at the Norwegian church, and this week's crop of English newspapers brings word of Santa's arrival in the neighboring town of Benihofar on the 15th of December, and Christmas caroling in downtown Torrevieja on the 11th. But Christmas lasts long in Spain, not finishing until January 6, when the Three Kings bring gifts to the children. So I am going to postpone its arrival a few more days, until the December puente holiday of the Immaculate Conception, on December 8. I need a little more time to enjoy my fall plants and my Thanksgiving tablecloth before I put away brown and change to December colors, and go out to buy one of the gorgeous poinsettias I've seen in the garden shops.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Palms of Elche

In 2000, the city of Elche became a UNESCO World Heritage site for its palm groves. There are about 200,000 of them, according to our guide, and that is about equal to the human population, too. It's the largest palm plantation in Europe and one of the largest in the world. We had walked through some of the palm gardens before, but this time we went to the Huerto de Cura, the Priest's Garden.

It is a beautiful garden, indeed, and we saw lots of palm trees and other botanical marvels during our one-hour visit. One of the notable sites is the Imperial Palm,  which was named for the Empress Consort of the Austrian Emperor Franz Josef, who visited the palmera in 1894. It has multiple stems in the shape of candelabra, or perhaps a crown, and it's held upright by metal bands and wires.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Orange Grove

When we first moved into this house in Montebello, I wrote that I had a view of orange trees from my bathroom window, but there were no oranges on the trees. That was true in June.

Now in August, as you can see on the photograph to the right, there are some oranges on the trees. True, they are not yet orange. I have no idea when they will turn orange, but I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Sunny Day in Alicante

It's not Sunday, but after more than a week of living surrounded by boxes of possessions to unpack and boxes of furniture to assemble, we declared today, Tuesday, to be Sunday and set off by car and train to the "big city" of Alicante, capital of our new province of Alicante.

The closest train station is Catral, which turned out to be a ten-minute drive up the highway from our house. We bought round-trip tickets to Alicante for the really low price of 4€ and change and had a cup of café con leche while we waited for the hourly train in the picturesque rural station. The one-hour ride into the city made five stops along the way, a couple that we noted for future exploration. Besides orange groves and palm tree farms, it took us by the Holiday Inn Express near the Alicante airport, where I had spent my first night in Spain when we came to investigate seven years ago. We've stayed at that modern hotel once since then, as it is convenient to the airport and sits quaintly across from not only the train track and the major thoroughfare to drive into Alicante from the south, but also just beside the ledge upon which a large modern building that houses Spain's patent office sits. Oh yes, there's a nice view of the Mediterranean, too, if you're on the side that does not look at the patent office.

Although the day started out hazy, by the time we reached the city it was sunny with a light breeze, and we refreshed ourselves at an outdoor café with giant goblets of tinto de verano (a red wine spritzer that heralds the summer) and a tapa of tortilla. We walked down a couple main streets toward the waterfront, stopping for a longish browse through El Corte Inglés, perhaps the Nordstrom's of Spain, with branches in all the major cities, but only in the major it is always a treat on the rare occasions when we are in a location that has one. The travel department of El Corte Inglés was not able to get us a reservation at a good rate at the hotel we had picked out for a future trip to Madrid, but we ambled through the furniture and home electronics sections and discovered that service still exists. If we order a bed, mattress, TV, or other large item, it will be transported to our home at the floor price quoted, with no delivery charge. Even the sale items on oferta!

Mostly we just enjoyed the experience of being in a real city that is not just a tourist area. We continued walking and stopped again for sustenance, this time an all-day breakfast of café con leche, juice, and a tostada. Orange juice is almost always served in Spain with a packet of sugar on the side, though I think that is decidedly unnecessary. I eat my tostada (a toasted half baguette) simply, with a sprinkling of olive oil over the tomato jam.

We were just in time for the 3:10 train back to Catral, and we walked in our door at 4:15. And made the reservation for the Madrid hotel at a good price through the Internet.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spring Flowers

A few weeks ago I passed by an open garden gate and was surprised to see a courtyard full of blooming daffodils. Spring flowers that were traditional in my North American growing up years--primarily daffodils and tulips--are rare here, as the winters along the southern costas of Spain do not get cold enough to properly "set" the bulbs. As a matter of fact, I was surprised to see flower bulbs on sale at all the first year I was in Spain. So the sight of a mass of 50 or more daffodils that must have been carefully and individually planted was an unexpected early spring pleasure.

There are spring flowers in Spain, just as there are distinct seasons. The flowers are just different from the ones I was used to while growing up in Ohio or living in New England. First we have the almond blossoms, which I almost missed this year, being away in the States until mid-February. But drives across country and walks along hilly trails in the past few weeks have always presented gorgeous profusions of yellow wildflowers. There are several different kinds, all of which are unknown to me, including one which looks almost like a dandelion, and another like a buttercup, but they aren't either of those. Today, while biking through Roquetas on yet another new bike path along the Mediterranean, I stopped in my tracks when I saw this display of naturalized yellow miniature blooms popping their heads up over the blades of grass in a small park--grass itself being a rather unusual form of greenery in this area.

My favorite spring plants, though, are the low borders of green succulents along the sea promenade, that suddenly spring forth with round magenta flowers each March. We watched one of the promenades being built, and the green succulent leaves served as a ground cover during the winter. Only a few flowers blossomed the first year, but each spring since, there have been more and more, so now it sometimes appears as a magenta carpet over the entire area. Danish friends told me these are middagsblomster, and a German friend verified that in Germany they are mittagsblume. But I've never been able to find either the Spanish or the English name. Now, after leafing unsuccessfully through two Spanish flower books with pictures, I found a lovely multilingual site on the Internet, Biopix. Clicking the Spanish flag produces two imaginative names for this plant: diente de dragón (dragon's tooth) and flor de cuchillo (knife plant). The individual succulent leaves could certainly be regarded as the long teeth of a dragon. But the British flag reveals two surprising and unjust names, I think: giant pigface, and Hottentot fig. The Latin name is neutral: Carpobrotus acinaciformis. I think I would prefer to remember dientes de dragón.