25/02/2017

Why Chorizo?

First of all an apology for another lengthy delay in following up my last posting. A string of medical appointments with which I shan't bore you, kept me from my keyboard.
Why do I begin a food focus with a recipe for making your own chorizo? After all, there's no shortage of places to buy it at a reasonable price. Apart from allowing you to choose the amount of spiciness that suits you, though, it has much to teach us about the history of 'typical' Spanish food.
Spain until the death of Franco in 1975 was a country with an economic chasm between rich and poor.  Especially in the south there was the system referred to as 'latifundia', which is to say that the rich - mainly absentee - landowners possessed vast estates relying on day labourers to do the work. The work such as it was, was was seasonal, casual and poorly paid. Families lived in cramped properties on a small plot of land which had to supply everything they needed. Maybe a few olive trees, a vegetable garden providing potatoes, onions, garlic, root vegetables, maybe tomatoes, peppers and beans - eaten green in the summer or dried for eating over the winter. Meat was either by chicken or by a pig. The chickens also provided eggs, but the most important meat was pork, and every family had its pig, bought young in the spring, fattened by whatever it found and by kitchen scraps. Then in November came La Matanza, the slaughter. The animal was slaughtered at home and the hard work began; the throat was slit and the blood drained into a large cooking pot where it was mixed with some form of cereal and then boiled to be spiced and packed into gut and made into black pudding to be dried and eaten through the winter. The loin was for early eating while still fresh. The belly provided bacon. The hind quarters were packed in salt, then hung in a cold, dry atmosphere to produce what we now refer to as Serrano ham. Just about every part was preserved so that it could be used as necessary right through the winter.
That then left the bits and pieces which couldn't be used in any of these ways. Some could go into stews with vegetables and pulses to be eaten pretty much straight away. Then there were the remains bits. They were ground down along with garlic, smoked paprika, maybe chilli, and packed into intestines. And there you have chorizo!
In Britain sausage is sausage; you can eat it with mashed potato, with a batter for toad in the hole, or with flaky pastry as sausage rolls, and that's about it. 
Chorizo, on the other hand can be used in a huge variety of stews and casseroles - peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, chickpeas; it is not so much a product in its own right so much as a preserved ingredient providing a source of protein in the winter diet. When you live on or below the poverty line such sources of protein are vital to survival; chorizo serves a much wider and more fundamental purpose than today's British banger.

07/02/2017

A Long Look Back


It's hard to believe that more than thirty years have passed since I first set foot in Frigiliana and was immediately entranced. It was one of those actions to which the word 'serendipity' may be genuinely applied. I was forty two years old and apart from going to an unsuccessful job interview in Dublin, had never travelled outside the United Kingdom. Moreover the packages offered in the travel brochures had never tempted me; high-rise hotels accommodating hundreds of guests were for me the stuff of nightmares. But we had a pair of very good friends, running a bar/restaurant in the fishing village of Portpatrick. They decided to buy themselves a holiday home in southern Spain for use when the Scottish season ended each year. A house was recommended to them which they were happy to buy unseen. The vendor, however, was insistent that they should inspect it and make sure it was what they wanted, so Judy and their youngest daughter went to look. Once they got there it became clear that it was they who were being vetted as suitable buyers!on
Anyway, we were invited to come and stay with them and to this day I am delighted that we accepted.
It was a very different place back in the early eighties. For a start it was much more isolated.It was many years before the motorway would be built, so from the airport you drove through the centre of Málaga before setting off along the N340 coast road through a succession of small towns, consisting typically of single storey homes strung out along the main road. When finally you arrived on the outskirts of Nerja, you turned onto a narrow, potholed road with crumbling edges to drive the final 5km up the mountain to the village, praying all the while that you would not meet the bus  or a truck coming in the opposite direction. Indeed, many of the visitors we got into conversation with down on the beach at Burriana, had set off for Frigilana, but their nerve failed and they turned round and retreated to Nerja..
Foreign residents in the village amounted to a mere handful of middle class professionals who used their village property as a holiday home to be visited as and when they had time. No tour operators brought holiday makers up to the village, so if you lacked the courage to drive you had to rely on the local bus - which ran to exactly the same timetable as it does today.
So this was a much smaller, wholly Spanish village, which brings me to the food! Typically Andalucian, home cooking which catered entirely to Spanish tastes. In the intervening years, as the number of foreign residents and visitors has expanded exponentially, so the dishes have changed into blander, less challenging offerings, one of the main changes being the humble chorizo that classic pork sausage rich in garlic and smoked paprika. My favourite was chorizo al infierno - sausage from hell. it threatened to blow the top of your head off!
Fortunately Judy had a wonderful cook book ("The Food And Wines Of Spain", by Penelope Casas an American writer married to a Spaniard) I devoured it at the time and it was the first Spanish cook bookI bought when I got back to England.  I's Old and falling apart nowadays but there are still half a dozen recipes that I return to; one of which is for chorizo. In the beginning this meant hand grinding the meat in a Spong mincer and the somehow stuffing it into casings ordered from my local butcher. Nowadays it is much simpler. I buy packs of collagen casings online from Lakeland, and I have a food processor which lets me produce the texture I want easily. Also online, I tracked down a delightfully simple sausage stuffer from the United States.  The website is and their sausage maker accommodates about 1kg of meat which is basically pushed cleanly into the casings making cleaning up afterwards simplicity itself. Depending on your skill, you either form links every four inches, or use butchers' twine to tie them off every four inches; I'll be honest, I'm a twine man.
Which brings us to the recipe.
INGREDIENTS
1.5kg lean pork loin
50gm diced pork fat
50gm minced pork fat
2tbs smoked mild paprika (I much prefer Chinata brand if you can get, but the main thing is that it must be smoked paprika)
1tsp smoked hot paprika - this is one of your key 'to taste' ingredients; add as much as suits your palate.
2 tsp coarse sea salt
1/4 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 cloves of garlic, crushed. this can also be adjusted to suit your tastes.

METHOD
put everything into the food processor and blitz it down to a fairly coarse paste
transfer to a bowl and seal with cling film, then pu it into the fridge overnight.
the following day stuff the casings twisting or tying every four inches.
hang it up somewhere cool and dry to firm up, the wrap in greaseproof paper ans store in thr fridge to use as required.

Well that's the recipe I got from Penelope Casas's book. The next question is how to use it. This post is quite long enough already, so that will be the subject of my next post.

31/01/2017

Change of Tack? Change of Topic?

There  is a structure to the year in Frigiliana. A yearly cycle which repeats itself in a predictable fashion. Each year the same festivals and fiestas come and go, and are each celebrated in its customary manner. Of course, other things happen too. A bar closes or changes hands, a new restaurant opens, usually nowadays more up market than hitherto, so that the village more and more becomes a 'foodie' destination. Babies are born; older people die and are given a respectful send-off.
But the very predictably creates its own problems for the blogger. It becomes more and more difficult to think  of something new. I love my blog, and I love the act of writing it, but I wonder if perhaps we have reached a natural end. I had hoped, as many of you know, that by now we would have said our  goodbyes and moved back to England from where I could find a new lease of blogging life telling of a new dream to live. So far that hasn't happened.
So I turn to you my readers for your thoughts. A growing passion over the past forty odd years has been developing and honing my love of cooking. I have amassed an impressive collection of cook books covering a wide range of cuisines, and I thought that if anyone were interested I could begin to share favourites, old and new - fully crediting the sources of course, so that you might find ideas for your own planning. Looking back, it's amazing to see how fashions have changed. Who now remembers a classic starter from the late sixties, half a grapefruit generously dredged with Demerara sugar and caramelised under the grill, for instance? And who, in all honesty would dream of dishing it up now?
Anyway, I ask a favour. Please let me know what you think about this idea to hold the fort until I can start to regale you with tales of life on the Isle of Wight.

21/01/2017

Horses For Courses

I write this in a much happier frame of mind, and for a number of reasons. First and foremost, my back is so much better. I didn't risk the bed last night, but I got a straight eight hours sleep last night without discomfort, and this morning I stood and moved around relatively easily.
Also yesterday I had my appointment with the osteopath. To be honest in view of my suffering at the hand of the physiotherapist on Wednesday, I was dreading the encounter . And yes there was a lot of pain involved. The difference was that my pain responses were incorporated into the assessment of my condition, rather than being seen as being what needed intervention. The conclusion was that the muscles of my lower back were so inflamed and so liable to go into spasm, that he could not do what was needed without inflicting unacceptable levels of pain, and so he recommended that I go straight away to the ambulatorio.
Here, a couple of digressions. The ambulatorio is the emergency ambulance station, and it is located alongside the health centre in Nerja. In addition to the paramedics there is always at least one emergency doctor in attendance. You walk in, explain your problem and you will be seen by the appropriate professional, in my case a doctor who examined my back, immediately called in one of the paramedics to administer cortisone injections into the affected muscles, and then sent me by wheelchair next door for X-rays. These showed problems with my two lowest lumbar vertebrae (L4/L5 for the technically minded). Another injection followed, a cocktail of pain killers, prescriptions for a course of tramadol and diazepam, a report for my doctor and instructions to her for daily injections over the coming week. A visit which took only three hours, largely because the doctor had to leap into an ambulance and go out on an emergency call. Today I am already well on the way to recovery, with no need to head for A & E, nor to seek an emergency appointment with my own doctor.
I later had time to compare this service with what would have happened if I still lived in the UK. The local NHS Trust has just announced the closure of two walk-in centres originally opened to relieve the pressure on the local A & E Dept. Cuts to their budget mean a counterproductive saving has to be made, with no thought for the needs of the patient.
The second digression relates to the osteopath. I trained as a psychologist and worked for many years in the fields of psychotherapy and hypnotherapy. People sometimes asked me which school of therapy I subscribed to. I told them that I thought of myself as eclectic; that is to say I read widely on the basis that no one had a monopoly on truth, and so my task was to nick the good bits from wherever I found them. But also I needed to be aware of when the client's problem fell outside my competence. So I was pleased rather than disappointed when my osteopath was honest and confident enough to say, "I can't help you with this. You need chemical intervention to resolve the immediate problem. He apologized for charging his full fee while not able to do more than examine me. As I shall tell him when I return for him to treat the underlying cause of this flare up, I value treatment by its quality, not by the quantity. He knew his limitations, knew where I needed to go, and sent me off in the right direction. I couldn't have asked for more than that.
If you're one of my local readers, I'm talking about Mark Shurey who works two days a week at Fisioterapia Holandesa in c/ Almirante Ferrandiz, Nerja.

19/01/2017

Waiting For Amazon

I'm sitting here feeling sorry for myself. Just about a week ago I did something to my back - what, I don't know - and things have got progressively worse ever since. I've been taking paracetamol and using an ibuprofen gel, but neither has really helped. The last four nights I have slept sitting up on the sofa, which has a nice high back, elegantly draped in a duvet, as if I lie down, I get an excruciating stab of pain whenever I try to turn over.
Anyway, eventually I managed to get an appointment with a local physio, who worked on my back for three quarters of an hour yesterday to no avail, except to leave me feeling worse rather than better. Tomorrow I have an appointment with her colleague,,an extremely well-regarded osteopath, to see if my spine needs one of his therapeutic nudges. Today I shall spend with a hot water bottle on my lower back.
I have occasionally had low back pain in the past but not on this scale, so I've decided that prevention would be better than cure; I have ordered myself a lumbar support belt from Amazon. I now impatiently await its arrival. Meanwhile, just to top things off, right now we are having our coldest spell for over ten years.
Moan over - for the moment!