Sunday, 31 October 2010

Banishing the Winter Blues

It is only 9.10 am on Sunday morning, not a time I am normally wide awake enough to write. However my body still thinks it is 10.10 as last night we turned the clocks back to gain an extra hour of light in the mornings. Personally I would prefer to keep the clocks as they were and have an extra hour of light in the late afternoon. Nothing is more depressing than the winter months when it starts to get dark from about 3.30 pm.

To combat the unwelcome signs of oncoming winter The Man has booked tickets for us to go to a "Sixties Hop" that is being run by two friends celebrating their 65th birthday, the money raised is going to good causes. It is a very relaxed affair - come casual or dress 60s - just be prepared to dance the night away. Dancing has been a lifelong passion so I am going to dig into the deep recesses of my wardrobe to create a suitably retro outfit.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Teatime Trauma

Just recovering from a Sunday afternoon Birthday Tea which did not go to plan. I booked our table for 3.15 at the delightful environs of the Courtyard Restaurant at the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square. We had celebrated there before and knew they served a traditional Afternoon Tea [readers will know Tea is my favourite meal]. The Man [Birthday Boy himself] and I arrived on time as usual. Our large family table was, luckily as it turned out, alongside one of the walls of the Courtyard. The Daughter, Son-in-law and kids arrived only 15 minutes late but brought the news that The Son and his two were running rather late [not a surprise - it would have been more of a surprise if they had been on time!]. The Wallace Collection closes at 5pm so we ordered "Tea" and started without them.

First problem. No.2 Grandson, still under the weather from a bug he caught at school just before the half-term holiday, didn't even want to eat a scone - there is a first for everything. He kept yawning and eventually we had to let him lie down on a soft bench and he fell asleep. No. 2 Grandaughter took exception to the dainty size of the cakes on offer "I don't want a little cake!" but unfortunately when The Daughter procured a slice of chocolate swiss roll for her she promptly coughed as she swallowed and puked up all down her new dress, tights and shoes. Oh joy could the afternoon get any better? Her Daddy whisked her away to clean her up and she re-emerged in a rather less "chic" outfit.

So now we had one member of our tea party fast asleep and another reluctant to eat anything else. At this point Grandson No.1 and Grandaughter No.1 arrived, advance party as The Son was looking for somewhere to park. Anxious to get them seated The Daughter pulled the table towards her to make some room and succeeded in knocking over a cakestand spilling several cakes and sending a plate crashing to the floor. No.1 Grandson trying to help picked up the broken china and in the process cut his finger [not badly thank goodness]. The afternoon had now descended into complete farce! The Son had finally managed to find somewhere to park and arrived at this point with about 40 minutes left to find his son having a plaster put on a cut finger - such fun.

We were however very impressed by our waiter who, without making us feel guilty and brushing aside our many apologies, helped clear up, replaced dropped cakes and provided the said plaster.

Dear Readers, we were resolute, helped in no small part by the latest arrivals, we did justice to the Tea. Not quite the Birthday Treat I had planned but certainly an afternoon which will become the "Tea" upon which all others will be judged.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The British are coming

Yesterday was The Man's birthday, we will celebrate with the kids and grandchildren on Sunday with a super tea out in town but meanwhile he enjoyed the telephonic "HB" serenading of both sets. The Daughter and Son-in-law are going to buy him another tree for our Spanish home and we will get it planted when we are there in December. Having now finished the interior work on the property we are into landscaping so "plant money" is always the favourite gift.

I recall that I promised to write more about the Spanish saga so.......................

It all began when an intrepid [if not slightly mad] group of four - myself, The Man, his brother and his wife - bought a 14.5 acre Country Estate in Spain approximately 40 minutes drive inland from Alicante Airport. The Masia [one of only 15 traditional Estate Farmhouses left in the area] was in desperate need of restoration but offered us the opportunity of creating two self-contained family homes and two further apartments for holiday lets. The views were glorious and within our own land we had an olive grove of sixty trees, twenty almond trees, a small pine forest, figs, pomegranates and grapes - we couldn't resist.

Being a Londoner born and bred I can do seclusion but I don't do isolation so our Masia's location only five minutes drive or twenty minutes walk into our local town of Ibi was perfect. Ibi is a fair size town of over 30,000 inhabitants with supermarkets, banks, a wonderful daily under-cover food market and even a branch of Zara [as yet only children's clothes but I am living in hope]. The town is famous for toys and ice cream - what could be better.

Before our arrival in the area the British had a reputation for only buying properties on "urbanizations" which rapidly became ex-pat enclaves, for not bothering to try and learn Spanish and only employing other Brits to do any work required. This did not make them popular. Because this was the opposite of how we wanted to proceed we quickly made friends in the local community. At first they thought we would pull down the old Masia and build a modern home [which on reflection would have cost less] but were thrilled to learn we were going to renovate, as they say, "reform" the original Estate buildings.

We found each time we arrived to stay and supervise works the word had spread that "The English were back on the hill". However since we completed the works we have been staying more regularly for as long a stretch as we can manage away from work [4-5 weeks in the Summer, 2 weeks mid-Winter to celebrate New Year's Eve in Spain, and 2 weeks around Eastertime]. Although we do not celebrate Christmas we enjoy observing the way our Spanish friends avoid the over-commercialisation that is so evident in London.

Our friends and neighbours have now visited us many times and are very interested to discover that we are Jewish. For most of them we are the first Jews they have met and certainly the first that they have had as friends. We have had guests for Shabbat [Friday Night] Dinner and much fun was had trying to explain all the traditions in a mixture of our limited Spanish and their limited English. They are very hospitable people and now that they know we don't eat non-kosher meat they go out of their way to provide vegetarian or fish options for us when we visit their homes.

Not many Spaniards are vegetarians and they probably think we are quite mad, especially when we give away a whole goat [beautifully cleaned and prepared for roasting] given to us as a "Thank You" by our closest neighbour in return for us letting him graze his flock on our land.

It hasn't been plain sailing all the way but we have got there in the end even to the extent of building our own transformer to get a decent supply of electricity. This has removed the dubious excitement of suddenly being plunged into darkness in the middle of a shower but you can't have everything!

Vista Alegre [which means beautiful sight/view] is now very much a second home not just a holiday getaway. We annually harvest our olives [around 26th December onwards if anyone wants to come and help] and when we have a good crop we spend the last days of our Summer Holiday harvesting almonds - all very biblical in our own Garden of Eden. You can see pictures and more info on our own web site:

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Honey Cake as promised

On one of my earlier posts I mentioned that this Jewish New Year we were all, particularly the grandchildren, missing the scrumptious Honey Cake [Lakech] that my late mother-in-law baked for us every year. But luckily the Recipe has been found and for those of you who requested I share Grandma Betty's Honey Cake with the world - here it is:-

8 oz. Plain Flour
6 oz. Castor Sugar
1 level teaspoon Cinnamon
1 level teaspoon Mixed Spice
1 level teaspoon Bicarbonate of Soda dissolved in 4 fluid ounces of Orange Juice
6 oz. Clear Honey
4 fluid ounces of Oil
2 Eggs
Almonds to decorate

Mix together flour, sugar and spices.
Make a well in the centre of the mixture and add honey, oil and eggs - mix together.
Dissolve bicarbonate of soda in orange juice and mix in.
Pour into greased, lined baking tin 10" x 6" x 2"
Sprinkle with flaked almonds
Bake until firm Gas Mark 3 or 160 C. for just under the hour.

This is a cake that needs to be air-sealed [tightly wrapped in kitchen foil will do] and left to mature.

Don't wait for next New Year - try it now.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Grandma Time

Last Friday played truant from work to spend the day with No.1 Grandaughter. She had the day off from school [Teacher's training day or something] and we had wanted to have some time with her to take her on a birthday shopping trip. She had her birthday earlier in the week and has reached the very mature age of 9. It is funny that this generation who spend so much time travelling in cars actually love going on trains and buses - so we obliged and took her "Up West" via the tube [London Underground] to Bond Street. She had book tokens to spend and we headed for Waterstones, three books duly acquired and it was time for lunch. There was quite a lengthy queue for tables as, as luck would have it, we had actually picked the best day of the week weatherwise and bucking gloomy economic forecasts the world and his neighbour seemed to be out and about in town. Leaving The Man in the queue we headed off for a little clothes buying in Gap [there was a sale on..... hurrah!]. She delighted in being allowed to select three new tops and we arrived back at the Restaurant to be shown straight to a table for 3. Although we usually take our grandchildren out together it was rather nice to be able to concentrate our attention on one at a time and hear all her news without the interruption from her older brother. She was particularly excited to tell us she had auditioned and won a part in a production of Aladdin. Rehearsals start in November and the production is over the Christmas and New Year holidays. All in all it was a lovely day even if it means I will have to catch up with some work over this weekend.

Friday, 1 October 2010

The passage of time

This weekend we are looking forward to celebrating the 80th Birthday of a very close friend. It is very difficult to accept that this is his age - he neither looks it or acts it. By that I don't mean he pretends to be younger, he is not whatever the male equivalent is of "mutton dressed as lamb" - just that he is still interested in the world and therefore the world is interested in him.

We are all told that we are going to have to work longer and retire [if we can or if we want to] later than perhaps planned because of the recession and ongoing problems of national debt. This is not, of course, good news but I must admit that although I am a grandmother and, as you all know by the name of my blog, over sixty - I don't see myself as "old". The media often launches into "40 is the new 30" and questions when middle-age begins. With many of The Daughter's generation delaying parenthood into their 30s, the old idea of middle-age starting at 40 is not longer applicable. With young children around to keep them young the whole cycle changes. Therefore I am declaring that middle-age doesn't begin until you are at least 55 and I shall personally not be growing old disgracefully for a good few years yet.