Successes and failures in exile – cookery

Cookery blogs spend an awful lot of time telling you about their brilliant works of art.

While I managed some good achievements in exile, I also achieved a few crap ones. Cooking for one is not as easy as cooking for two. You don’t just throw things in a pan hapharzardly and know it will work out. To start with you end up with too much food and end up eating the same boring meal for three days. So I needed to find something different to eat and scoured my cookery books.

I ended up having to relearn how to read menus and measure ingredients. Nightmare. But some good results amidst the disasters.

Let’s start with a few disasters.

In no particular order – first up, wretched pumpkin.

Pumpkin

I was duty bound to use the damned vegetable because it was, as ever, a freebie from next door. Adelina does a rather mean pumpkin dish which tastes slightly spicy and melts in the mouth. I asked her for the recipe:

• pumpkin (obviously) – diced
• garlic
• black pepper
• cumin seeds
• oregano
• and olive oil of course

Pestle and mortar everything except the pumpkin and oil. Put oil in pan, add ingredients and sauté gently. Terrible. Didn’t taste a bit like hers.

Looking good, and all ready to cook. Shame it didn't taste good
Looking good, and all ready to cook. Shame it didn’t taste good

Next I tried pumpkin soup. That was slightly better but only made worth eating by the addition of numerous spices.

I have however, found an extremely good cookery blog written by a Bengali woman, and if I get more free pumpkin, I shall be trying her spicy mashed pumpkin recipe.

What happened to the rest of the pumpkin? The cockerel is probably still eating it and as bored with it as I was.

Cucumber soup

Needless to state, I was inundated with cucumbers from next door too.

Usually I use them in salad as you do, and sometimes stuff them as a savoury dish.

But I had lots of the things, so I thought I would try cucumber soup.

I used a rather flash French recipe so figured it should be reasonable.

It was not. Do not try cucumber soup is all I can say.

Bland, boring, tasteless cucumber soup
Bland, boring, tasteless cucumber soup

On the other hand, courgette and parsley soup was delicious. How can that be? They are so closely related.

Delicious courgette and parsley soup
Delicious courgette and parsley soup

Other good soups were:

Fennel

Yummy fennel, garnished with chives or spring onion leaves
Yummy fennel, garnished with chives or spring onion leaves

and

Bean and pepper, and bean and lemon
(I had lots of beans too)

Bean and pepper soup. I think
Bean and pepper soup. I think

It goes without saying I like green soups.

I was on a roll with courgettes, yes, I did get some from nextdoors, so I embarked on a fancy timbale with champagne vinaigrette dressing. Except I used wine winegar as I was short of champagne vinegar and surprisingly, Supersol in the village didn’t seem to have any in stock.

Fancy timbale, chilled in fridge and turned out, awaiting dressing
Fancy timbale, chilled in fridge and turned out, awaiting dressing

In summary, courgettes, chopped spinach, onion and goat’s cheese, wrapped up in spinach leaves, and chilled until it sets. Very good, also very filling.

Another goat’s cheese recipe – served with kiwi fruit and some green salad leaves and a thyme dressing.

Looking pretty, almost a shame to eat it
Looking pretty, almost a shame to eat it

Setas (oyster mushrooms) with spinach. This one is delicious. I used to cook it from time to time in the UK. Setas are cooked slowly with onions, sherry, soy sauce and creme fraiche. Just yum, a great excuse to cook it as I had loads of spinach in the garden.

Setas and spinach, served with a few potatos
Setas and spinach, served with a few potatos

Beans, guacamole and tortilla. An easy fix brunch. Or lunch. Or supper.

Nice easy and tasty tortillas with beans and guac
Nice easy and tasty tortillas with beans and guac

Marinated veg – aubergine in the centre, left for 24 hours in dressing, courgette (yet again) with red onions and gherkins on the right, and a basic tomato, cucumber and onion salad with herbs on the left.

Always handy to have something tasty in the fridge
Always handy to have something tasty in the fridge

Some traditional Spanish recipes:

Papas a la pobre

Diced potatoes with chillies, salt, and garlic. You can cook this a variety of ways, include peppers, deep fry the veg, or whatever. I tend to shallow fry the potatoes and if we want peppers (pimientos) they get done separately.

Potatoes just beginning to brown.  These didn't need the lid as they cooked pretty quickly.
Potatoes just beginning to brown. These didn’t need the lid as they cooked pretty quickly.

Salted pimientos

They are sliced down one side and stuffed with salt. Sounds vile to a non-salt lover (I never add it to my food) but they are quite delicious.

Pimientos browning in the pan, note how the curved ones fit round the pan
Pimientos browning in the pan, note how the curved ones fit round the pan

Another potato dish – but not Spanish, individual potato rostis. They worked well. Grate potatoes, season, stick in small ring in pan or on griddle if you have one. Add cheese if you want, I didn’t.

Potato rosti cooking gently
Potato rosti cooking gently

How about another disaster?

I bought some albondigas – basically meatballs, except they were vegetarian. Cost 4.68 euros, ie 52 cents each. They were made from seitan, which I like, and chía, which I had never heard of. Nor do I want to hear of it again. It is disgusting. I felt sick for three days after eating them.

Vile. Utterly vile
Vile. Utterly vile

But I did buy some veg in tempura batter from one of the village shops – cost €2.18. Peppers, courgettes, aubergines and carrots. I got around three or four light meals out of them, so that was a good result.

Tasty tempura veg, just need to make my own batter next time
Tasty tempura veg, just need to make my own batter next time

Recipes are being added to the recipe pages, and a new cookery page will go up with recipes and ingredients for one-person cooking.

Having been back in Gib for more than a week now, have I got my head around the change yet? Well, mostly. I think. And how is the new pup adapting? Or rather, how am I adapting to having a pup in a flat without a balcony, garden, terrace or anything?

It’s a mad dash to get out of the door between six and six-thirty. Usually I take him but if I’m half asleep, Partner takes him. We carry him down the stairs so there are no accidents in the block. If there were, we would clean/mop but it’s easier not to have them.

And then after that, I take him out every two or three hours. He’s impressed with the furniture and happily bounds across the large armchair and onto the sofa and then onto a toolbox (our flat is full of tools and equipment). Just as well we don’t have a ‘no furniture’ rule.

My boys on the sofa
My boys on the sofa

He is most impressed with the fact that we sleep on camping mats on the floor. On his first night he calmly walked into our bedroom and onto the ‘bed’ and plonked himself down between us. Where he has been every night since.

Oh, and for dog people, Pippa and Snows have a new post over on Pippadoblog.

And to end on a seasonal note in the spirit of Advent and Christmas. Last Easter, I told readers about the cactus I had bought at Christmas for my neighbour, except I never gave it to her as the flower buds dropped off and it looked pretty pathetic. But with some TLC from my not very green-fingered Parter, it perked up and flowered at Easter.

Thereby leading me to conclude that it wasn’t a Christmas cactus after all, it was an Easter one.

But now what do we have?

Blooming more than ever. Christmas cactus after all?
Blooming more than ever. Christmas cactus after all?
Close-up of the bloom - reminds me of a chandelier in a Chinese restaurant
Close-up of the bloom – reminds me of a chandelier in a Chinese restaurant

So my conclusion is that it must be a Spanish cactus as they have a word – Pascua – that can refer to either Easter or Christmas. Normally Easter, but sometimes Christmas. So clearly the cactus can flower at either, whenever it chooses. And so far that is the only concession in our flat to the approach of Christmas. However, to those of you who celebrate any type of holiday at this time of year, whether Hannukah, Advent/Christmas, Winter Solstice or whatever, I send you good wishes from Gib and Spain.

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37 comments on “Successes and failures in exile – cookery

  1. I am not the cook in the family and when the better half works late I starve. I just don’t have the skills to make a decent meal. This week I’m on my own, so I’ve been eating lots of baked potatoes and soup (premade). I admire your efforts. Sorry about the cucumber soup. Not sure I’ve ever had cucumber soup. They might be better just in a salad.

    your boys are adorable by the way. We don’t have a no furniture rule either, thank goodness, otherwise I would be yelling all of the time. My dog doesn’t sleep or sit on the floor.

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    • Your bh must love you to bits – I couldn’t live with someone who couldn’t cook. While I do most of it, if I’m busy or sick or whatever, he’ll just muck in and do something – apart from when he buys a take-away of course. I like baked potatoes, but I can’t remember the last time I bought soup. Not sure I ever have actually. Maybe for a camping trip? A packet of dried soup?

      I was expecting the cuc soup to be delicate and subtle. It wasn’t. I’ll get round to adding the recipe to the recipe pages in case anyone wants to have a go though :D

      My boys are good. Pippa is the most handsome of course, but the little one is cute and developing his own personality. Somewhat schizoid at the moment, either asleep and good, tormenting Pippa, chewing happily, or haring around the place as though it is a racecourse.

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      • TBH is relieved that I stopped cooking. No one likes my cooking. Even Miles, the dog, won’t eat my food. I’m not as bad as soup packets, but I do buy pre-made soup from the deli section.

        Pippa is stunning. And the little one is full of himself. I love how each animals has a very distinct personality. A lot of people don’t see that.

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        • Wow! How do you manage that? What do you cook that no-one likes? Although one of my cousins thought she was rather good and we struggled to eat her food. My mother-in-law was crap too, over salted, over cooked, and just yuk. And a friend from university wasn’t too good either, I went to stay and she gaily waltzed off for a bath with her boyfriend leaving me in charge of dinner :D When she got married, it was always a relief when her husband cooked.

          Trouble is I come from a family of good women cooks down the generations so I couldn’t not cook. And despite MiL being crap, she taught all her sons to cook but they didn’t pick up her bad habits just the basics. They probably all thought there has to be a better way to cook than the food she dishes up.

          Pippa gets his fair share of attention here in Gibraltar. Usually strangers rushing up to him in the street and giving him a big hug because he is so furry. Sometimes they even remember to ask. Little One and I braved a ferocious Ridgeback today just outside our block. When we had got to the safety of the steps, he turned round and stood there barking his little head off at the big dog. I was worried as it isn’t a friendly dog and could easily have bitten Snowy’s head off. So could Pippa, but I know he won’t. Hey ho, dog life.

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          • I can prepare simple things, like grilled cheese, but let’s be honest, that’s not cooking. I don’t have a sense for spices and so when I try to concoct something it’s either way too bland or overly spiced and inedible. Luckily my partner is a fabulous cook. And I’m good at doing dishes. It works out.

            I can picture little one barking once he was safe. I have a little dog as well who does the same thing. It always makes me smile and I try to make him feel brave but not too brave since I want him to bark when he’s out of harm’s way.

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          • Is grilled cheese, cheese on toast? Reminds me I was going to make a toasted sandwich but got carried away with blogs :D Taken me years to do spices ad hoc, and I’m still wary of cloves, cinnamon, but fine with cumin, chillies, coriander etc

            Imagine having a partner who is a fabulous cook. Drool. Literally :D But I, on the other hand, am rubbish at dishes.

            Because of Little One’s heritage he is a fierce little dog (not with people luckily) as he is geared to hunting, but he is so small and young, I really don’t want to see him snapped in half :( Anyway, he is crashed out now. I had to put the bed down in our room, because he likes to be in the same place as me ….. so he is stretched out on some blankets.

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        • Pippa is getting on a bit, we’ve had him ten years since he came off the street, so one of the reasons for getting another dog was for the older dog to give some good education. Pippa has the perfect temperament, placid, will play sometimes, and keeps Snowy in order when he gets too boisterous. And Snowy loves going out for a walk with him too. Partner was thinking about a bitch this time round, but I guess we are destined to have dogs, all the others have been dogs and got on perfectly well together as a pack.

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  2. Pumpkins aren’t for eating! They are for scooping out, putting a candle in and sticking in the window at Halloween! Soups look good but a bit samey if you ask me. If this post was a restaurant menu I would choose the salted pimientos and the potato rostis.

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    • I have to agree with you that pumpkins are not for eating and as I don’t do Hallowe’en, I don’t think they serve any purpose at all.

      Soup is a bit samey (in appearance and consistency) if it’s a pureed veg soup. But still, it’s easy, and at least they did taste different.

      If this was a menu, which it wouldn’t be because of too many veg soups, I’d start with any of the soups – not fussed which – or one of the marinated veg, the aubergine or the courgette.

      I agree about the potato rosti, I would have those for a main course, they worked really well served in those small rings, so well that as usual I got stuck into them without taking a photo of the finished thing. I’d probably have the setas and spinach with them because the crispy top and bottom of the rosti would be a good contrast to the sauce and the spinach.

      I think you would need something else with the pimientos and the rosti so I would add the marinated courgette, it’s quite sharp though, so if you aren’t a vinegar/pickle fan not a good idea. But it would be a good contrast with the pimientos.

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  3. We discussed pumpkin at length while you were in exile – it might have saved you the bother and subsequent disappointment!
    It’s odd about courgettes – they do turn out well in most things – I do a courgette and bacon (sorry) carbonara which is quick and delicious, while a good friend makes not carrot but courgette cake and it is wonderful.

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    • It’s one of those things that next door give me from time to time, I think I’ve chucked it in casseroles normally. A bit like sweet potatoes, a little goes a long way.

      What is strange is that they are all the same family and yet, courgette are far more versatile. Same with the cucumber soup fiasco, courgette and cuc are interchangeable for stuffed recipes but the soups – totally different.

      Anyway off to peel the spuds, and wash – courgettes :D

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  4. I enjoyed seeing Pippa in sole charge of The Toy.
    Since the pernicious poodle puppy was given us the other dogs have taken to tucking their favourite toys in odd corners….but by the end of the day she has found them all.

    I loathe pumpkins…at a pinch I would make soup with them, with prawns…..but that was it, so imagine my horror when I found that some variety of the damned things is running riot all over the garden and producing as if the idea of contraception had never been thought of.
    They even climb on to the roof and reproduce….a row of grubby looking landmines awaiting their victims.
    I give them away – plenty of people want them, it seems – but they keep on coming and my husband and Danilo clamour for them to be cooked. They even found a recipe for pumpkin lasagne – it was disgusting and the dogs turned up their noses at it. Even the chickens weren’t over the moon about it…

    A friend in France gave me her recipe for courgette pate…slice, sweat them off in butter and mash them with hard boiled eggs, seasoning to taste.
    She also showed me her bean soup for those going over the top.
    Sweat onions, add beans and tomatoes, stock and cook out. Puree. I add cumin to it.

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    • I think he gets as much enjoyment – or more – out of taking them from Snowy and hanging onto them just to frustrate Snowy. His sheer size and strength means he wins out, even though Snowy is so fast and agile and can run under chairs and in and out of small spaces. Although despite his size, Pippa was pretty fast and agile in his youth, bounding around like a mountain goat when we used to go for longer walks. He conserves his energy these days in the hopes of finding a cat to chase when the youthful fast Pippa suddenly reappears.

      Poodles are meant to be super intelligent are they not? Neither of these two hide toys, although Snowy has taken to squirrelling biscuits away, currently down the sofa. Must be for when times get hard.

      Glad to hear I’m not the only one who isn’t enraptured with those strange orange or green balls. The soup I made was all right, but any other veg soup would have been better. Saw a recipe today for pumpkiin and lentil soup and my first though was why ruin good lentil soup?

      We’ve got a neighbour who lives in a van on a small patch of ground under the former sea cliffs. He’s got pumpkins growing right up the cliffs. Luckily he’s only offered me red wine not pumpkins. The thought of pumpkin lasagna is enough to send me diving for a beer to take the taste away.

      Courgette paté sounds good. And simple, simple is always good. I’d probably add some herbs, thyme or parsley probably. Most soups are pretty similar are they not, the variety is in the different combination of ingredients and sometimes the odd win is a real winner. Bean and lemon was good.

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  5. I can’t believe the size of Snowy, he’s grown so much, and just look at those ears :-)
    I like the look of all your meals, but I think both the goats cheese ones would be my favourites.
    Perhaps your confused cactus will flower at Easter too. :-)

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    • Compared with his puppy pix he is huge. His head still fits inside Pippa’s mouth though, maybe not the ears :D

      I had the goat’s cheese in for Snows, so I thought I might as well give the recipes a go otherwise I prob wouldn’t have bought any specifically as I try to avoid cheese. Plus I had lots of spinach in the garden.

      Am hoping it might bloom again at Easter too. Who knows? .

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  6. I wonder why your sauted pumpkin didn’t turn out — the recipe looks delish. My favorite way is to dice it like that, sauté in olive oil and salt and pepper it. Or brush larger pieces with oil, salt and pepper it, and bake it. I love pumpkin.

    Snowy and Pippa look like they’re getting along. Snowy looks like he could get BBC signals with those ears (I’m sure Pippa has already pointed that out).

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    • I’ve no idea. Probably my innate dislike of pumpkin came across in the cooking of it and transferred by negative vibes. Not that I actively dislike it, I just don’t like it – if that makes sense. It doesn’t seem to taste of anything.

      I was reading about Podencos last night and found an interesting blog that was talking about their heritage and how they have been bred for hunting for thousands of years, and they are a multi-sense hunting dog, nose, eyes and – ears. Even in the city, when he picks up the scent of something interesting, he has his nose glued to the pavement, ears back and slips into a tracking mode. Perhaps I should attach an antenna to his harness and see if we can get the Beeb.

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      • Your bean, guac and tortilla (probably my all-time favorite meal, btw) reminds me that I’ve had black beans and pumpkin (small cubes sauted in garlic) in tortilla that was very good. If you don’t actively hate it, and you can get it for free, and it has lots of fiber and other good-for-you things, it’s probably worth trying a few dishes to see if something sticks.

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        • I lived on bean, guac and tortillas for my brunch for around a week until I ran out of ripe avocados :( No black or red beans in my village supermarket so I used pinto beans. Much the same really, it’s the spices that count.

          I’ll need to cook the pumpkin when Partner is not around! I did mention the Bengali site I found and as it was a curried recipe, he might possibly be persuaded to try that. A bit like parsnips (which I read about today on a food blog hence the mention), I don’t hate those either, I just don’t like them enough to buy them.

          I’ll persevere with the pumpkin should I get any more freebies. If I don’t find anything I like and end up in the divorce courts, it will be on your head :D

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  7. some of those ‘disasters’ look quite lovely, actually.. that cucumber soup looks very appealing. so thank you for the warning. but the other dishes look great, too. especially some of those soups. the courgette (we call them zucchinis here) and parsley soup i can almost taste from here.
     
    your pups are beautiful! i love how Snowy is resting a paw on Pippa’s shoulder. so sweet.
     
    based on the info i could find, it is officially a Christmas cactus, based on the shape of its stem segments. the Easter ones tend to be smoother, and the Christmas ones tend to have teeth. for an article which may end up making things even more uncertain, check out Wikipedia’s article on Schlumbergera. i will probably end up in your spam box for this, but here’s the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schlumbergera

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    • The cucumber soup looks far better than it tasted, probably due to the garnish. I will eventually post the recipe and you of the cookery fingers may consider making it – it wasn’t difficult – and if it tastes awful, or rather tastes of nothing, you will know it is not your fault :)

      Never mind his paw on his shoulder, the cheeky pup is lying on top of Pippa.

      That was a good link, and spot on. Thank you for that, although I will have to investigate the pollen to determine which sub-family it is. Perhaps last year it was reverting back to the southern hemisphere and trying to be a Cinco de Maio cactus. Regardless, it sits happily on the windowsill and flourishes with flat life and neglect. I am so pleased we saved it, it is quite beautiful and I am sure if I had given it to the neighbour when it was in a state of shock, she would just have thrown it out.

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  8. Many thanks for the greetings, which I’m happy to return (not unopened, I don’t mean!) :)
    Lime and courgette cake is lovely. Not that I’ve ever cooked it- my cakes are not my forte. In cookery terms I’m still looking for my forte. In general I exhibit a distinct lack of enthusiasm for cooking. It’s no sooner on the plate than it’s gone in our house.

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    • Return to sender? :D

      I am so not a cake cook. I have tried to bake scones twice but I think they were trying to become rock cakes. I’ve made a couple of decent fruit cakes, nice and moist but I have no interest in them. But on the savoury side, I’m pretty multi-skilled although obv don’t cook meat/fish/fowl any more. I went through a phase of being determined to be successful at various things – egg dishes, pastry, mayonnaise, bread (these last two were harder), mayo was the last one I ticked off the list, as for bread, I took a week off work and decided to make a loaf every day until I got it right. Fortunately it didn’t take a week but I was blessed with a Rayburn which helped with rising.

      I stick to basic cooking these days though. A bit like your house, when people are hungry they will mostly eat what is in front of them. Maybe I’ll fiddle with fancy recipes when I have more time, but maybe not.

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      • A week of breadmaking! I am so impressed with your determination :) But the smell is wonderful! Mam used to bake her own.
        Our Christmas pres to each other is 12 days in the Algarve from 2nd Jan. Doubt we’ll go far, but you never know. Have a lovely Christmas if we don’t speak before.

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        • I got so used to it, I made bread on automatic pilot after that. Come in from work, add yeast to water, flour in bowl blah blah – add together, put to rise, get on with tea, put tea in over, mess around with bread, fast forward, dish up tea, and take bread out of oven. Fall into bed unless it was a Sex in the City night. (To watch not to do)

          No smell of bread with a Rayburn, although it did smell good when I took it out.

          The weather in Jan could be anything couldn’t it? I hope you have a lovely time though, and you know where I am if you do venture this far.

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  9. I liked this post a lot since it featured a veg diet. I use canned punpkin to make soup which I use as my dessert, sometimes. I merely add honey and soy milk and bring to a simmer. It tastes pretty good even though I don’t add any spice since those now do not agree with my body. I also use acorn or butternut squash for either a dessert or eat if plain with salt and pepper. Anyhow, the receipes are all great looking and your pics of them are quite good.

    Finally, Snowy is so dang cute lying there beside Pippa dog.Those ears are beautiful.

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    • Thanks Yvonne. I really needed to make some different meals, and ones that wouldn’t last endlessly, it was quite hard to get into the mindset of cooking for one. You won’t find any dessert pix or recipes on here, as I have no interest in it at all. The nearest I get to dessert is fruit for breakfast.

      Snowy and the ears are funny. Sometimes he will sit down on the floor in front of me and I will talk to him. He looks at me very seriously, turns his head from side to side to listen to the intonation of my voice and looks for all the world as though he is taking everything in and considering what I am saying. I wouldn’t be surprised if he replied one day!

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      • Of course I think that our dogs are smarter that we could ever fathom. If they could talk, yes they would. Mine make different whines and woofs, arfs, and have eye and facial expressions. Dogs are such good company and wondeful to be near.

        My dessert is not really dessert. I just like something sweet and it is always with honey. I eat so much fruit and that is why I am a “fruit cake.” :-) Lots and lots of grapes, apples, bananas. Love dates and figs but there seems to be too much sugar in those for me in the last couple of years. Also relish persimmons.

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        • Our dogs probably think we are too stupid to be worth speaking to :D They are so easily pleased and contented, unlike people. All they want is food, warmth, shelter, company and a nice pack. Both of mine are happily snoozing away now.

          I have fruit urges from time to time, but I am not a great fruit eater. I think I’ve ot apple and pomegranate in the fridge which probably need eating up!

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  10. I am cooking pumpkin now! I found a wedge at the farmers market the other day so it is now going to be mashed with potato and a little scrap of nutmeg to spice it up. Your tortillas look so good, as indeed do most of the dishes!

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    • Pumpkin seems to be a part of life in America. I don’t think I’d ever seen it in the UK when I grew up apart from for Hallowe’en. If I mash anything with potato, it’s usually one of the other root veg eg carrot, turnip/swede or parsnip. But I usually stick to potatoes on their own, and put the other veg in a casserole.

      The tortillas don’t look as though they have a lot of beans and guac on them, but as soon as you roll it up, they squelch out of the ends!

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  11. Yum, I’m hungry now, and wishing I had been in exile with you. I’m a not so great washer-upper but I’d have managed if you were doing the cooking. However, I’m with you on the albondigas… mmm… nup.
    I love Snowy’s big, warm, soft, furry Pippa pillow – too cute.
    C&E is a very common practice, usually people who go to church just on those days… ahh that would be the G.O. and I, although if we were at TA more, we’d go to church more, not just at Christmas & Easter, but that is more than before we were at TA.

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    • The good thing about doing soup is that it is one-pan cooking, with in some cases, the blender. So not much washing up. The timbale was a bit washing-up intensive. I actually like albondigas – and the Spanish are pretty good at them – but I definitely don’t like chia.

      Pippa is so tranquil with Snowy, if I try and cuddle up to Pippa he jumps off the sofa. OK, I suppose Snowy is a bit smaller than me.

      My mother was quite churchy before she married and she would always moan about people who turned up at C and/or E but never went for the rest of the year. As a self-confessed atheist I can say it’s a few years since I last went – apart from funerals as a mark of respect.

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