Winter warmers

We’re having a blast of winter. It’s all relative, I suppose: 9°C in January is hardly cold, but after so many months of warm weather it feels decidedly chilly. There have been many morning frosts in the valley but only three up here, the latest being quite a stonker.

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In the vegetable patch, everything looked pretty unimpressed. Still, it’s amazing how quickly things recover once the sun creeps round the mountain, there is real warmth in it despite the season.

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Sad broad beans . . .

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. . . that’s better!

Not that anything is going to revive the nasturtiums, they’ve had their day . . . but there’s always something new, this week little clumps of violets.

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It might be on the cool side but the days are drawing out quickly and it is light almost until 7pm; although the stove kettle is on almost permanent tea and coffee duty, we couldn’t resist a glass of wine in the evening sunshine . . . and why not?

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The cooler air feels and smells different somehow, fresh and crisp, and there’s a new quality to the light, too.

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It’s still lovely to wrap up, walk about and see what’s happening. The hazels in places are clinging doggedly to their leaves, but the other deciduous trees are bare skeletons; the rocks below are carpeted in abundant mosses and lichens in every conceivable shade of green.

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My favourite spot at the end of our forest track is still bathed in sunshine; I’d like to put a bench here, something plain and simple to create a quiet, meditative sitting spot.

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Crazy to think I’m picking lettuce out of the garden in January! These were a few spare plants I found when clearing out seed trays in November: I decided they might as well go in the ground and they’ve never looked back.

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I always enjoy a fresh, crisp salad but – let’s face it – it’s comfort food we crave at this time of year. We are eating trays and trays of roasted vegetables with squash being the main star every time. I love squash, it seems to have the perfect balance of starchiness and sweetness and is packed with goodness (an official ‘super food’, I believe, full of carotenoids). We roast it, often unpeeled, with whole spices and garlic to eat hot or cold, as a side dish or the main feature in risottos, stews and tagines, mixed with grains or leaves to make salads, cooked with leeks and chillies to make soups . . . it’s just so versatile! Roasted, it also freezes beautifully. We have three ‘Crown Prince’ and two ‘Marina di Chioggia’ left in the horreo: they might not look too glamorous but it will be a sad day once they have gone.

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One of our favourite comfort dishes is roast chicken. We are lucky to be able to buy beautiful free range chickens locally; this might seem quite an indulgence for just two people, but one bird will give us four meals plus stock for a fifth – nothing is wasted. We stuff the chicken with quarters of lemon and garlic cloves then sit it on a bed of vegetables (ruby chard, carrot, onions, etc) with a good slug of white wine poured round. Slivers of lemon peel, bay leaves, herbs, black pepper and coarse sea salt are sprinkled over plus a good basting of village honey. For added comfort points, the gravy made from the juices is finished with a dollop of cream. Delicious!

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We’ve been keeping warm with jobs outside, too. Having dug over the potato patch, we’re now forking it over again and picking out the oxalis seeds which the rain has brought to the surface. There are thousands of them, the soil is saturated. It’s slow work but I comfort myself with the thought that every seed removed is one less weed to deal with later on.

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The next job is digging further up the bank to make a space for squashes.

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Meanwhile, the log pile grows ever higher.

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Needing a trip to Gijón for several things, we decided to pack a picnic so that we could dawdle home and explore a bit of the coastline on the way. We ended up at San Juan de la Arena where there is a fantastic sweep of beach, almost split into two parts by a rocky outcrop. I had thrown my running kit into the car on the offchance the tide would be out: it was, and the beach seemed just perfect for a run. The smaller part of the beach between the sea wall and rocks is a kilometre long so I ran lengths up and down there; Roger – who had already run from home that morning – took the camera and explored the other beach.

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The upside of beach running is that it is blissfully flat and there is no traffic or dogs (they are banned); the downside is that muscles have to work very hard running in sand and as for pushing against the strong onshore wind – well, it really is resistance training (as opposed to my normal ‘resistance’ training which involves looking for any excuse not to go running).

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Still, with all that empty space around me, the breathtaking mountain views, moody sea and invigorating breeze, how could I feel anything but exhilarated? I was certainly warm by the time I’d finished!

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Still feeling a bit miffed at my dyeing disaster, I have started knitting the hiking socks. I decided to follow a fairly complicated pattern of cables, twists and moss stich pattern to add some interest but after several centimetres I stopped. Two things were becoming clear. One, it was a very yarn-hungry pattern and although I seem to have masses of yarn, I need to remember that I’m knitting large size 12 socks this time not medium 6½ – I will need plenty. The second problem was that the pattern was creating a marked texture on the inside of the sock which I thought would feel horrible inside a walking boot: these socks are off to do some serious hiking inside the Arctic Circle, they need to be as comfortable as possible. Reluctantly – but sensibly – I undid the knitting and resorted to stocking stitch.

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Much better! In fact, this yarn is knitting up beautifully into a very firm but soft fabric, I really rate this Romney / mohair mix . . . and if I’m completely honest, the colour effect of those shades of green isn’t too bad, either. Not what I’d wanted, but I think it will do.

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Dried and braided, the dyed Romney from last week is all set to be spun.

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I’ve been whizzing up some Merino skeins as gifts this week, quick and easy in long-draw spinning straight from the undyed wool top.

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Mmm, needless to say it wasn’t long before the siren call of that blue braid had me carding rolags.

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I’m blending in a little natural tussah silk, very lightly so it runs through the yarn in subtle shimmers rather than clumps.

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I’m calling this colour ‘Happy Blues’: there’s something of the summer sea about it and I have just the perfect sock pattern in mind, one that is knitted in waves.

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A little summery in January, perhaps – but I can always dream of those balmy days to come. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Winter warmers

  1. You can’t have too many slugs left if you’re having that much lettuce! And your kale should be even more delicious after that light touch of frost. I just cut into our penultimate squash today, they are lasting very well this year. We had several days of 10-11C, but now it’s gone a bit cooler and more seasonal. Had an exciting seed envelope from Finland today (amazing squash selection, of course) so now I have all the seeds I need for this year. Just a bit of patience needed! Though I’ll start some things next month and then plant them into the polytunnel. We bought a food flask in San Juan which we still use for our porridge every morning. We stayed several weeks across the river from there. Lovely coastal walk on that side.

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  2. Ah yes, those Finnish envelopes of squash seeds – definitely a slippery slope!!! I remember you recommending that walk, we will certainly go and do it one day. We’re off to walk in Somiedo Nature Park tomorrow, armed with a picnic of home baked pasties and muffins. It will be on the chilly side but hopefully pretty spectacular with snow on the higher peaks. probably little chance of seeing a bear, but you never know . . . 🙂

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