Contadina's Blog

Living the contadini life among the olive groves

A slow day in contadina’s life November 20, 2010

Filed under: diy,Garden,knit and sew,Recipes — contadina @ 8:09 am

Thanks to the invitation from Pat and Rick over at Living the Dream Portugal I’ve chosen Wednesday 10th, November from a couple of weeks ago as my meme day as we’re currently in the middle of the olive harvest, and our days were a little more varied back then and besides you’ll be getting an olive harvest blog next. Just to explain, in science a meme is a self-propagating unit of thought that is spread from one host to another, so a perfect way to understand what makes fellow bloggers tick.

In the summer we generally awake with sunrise, but in the winter we rely on Gaia to awake us and the other two dogs. She’s got a finely tuned body clock so I’m being woken at around 6.30-7 in the mornings. I don’t know how she does it, but she begins pestering me at exactly 5pm for her supper too.

I arose at around 6am so that I could get some freelance work out of the way before the day started proper. At around 7.30, when Gaia’s nibbling my elbow trick got too insistent to ignore I fixed the dogs their breakfast (pasta, chicken and blitzed carrot and cabbage) and some porridge for myself. I also made some dough using a starter, which was already in the fridge and returned it all to the fridge for a slow rise.

The dogs then came out to help me feed the chickens and to distract the chickens whilst I cleaned their house I dive-bombed their run with pomegranates, which is their current favourite available fruit. Cleaning the chicken house out was unexpectedly aromatic as it is flanked by our nespola and lemon trees, which are both flowering at the moment and smell divine.

With the chickens sorted I thought it was time to turn my attentions to cleaning the wood burning stove and chimney, so Jeremy went up onto the roof with a besom broom head tied in the middle of a piece of string. He fed one rope end down to me at stove level and we both pushed and pulled our end of rope until the broom dislodged any soot, which had accumulated.

Govanne, Gaia and Piglet gang up on a lizard

Happy hounds a hunting

With the stove cleaned and ready for action, I turned my attentions to the garden and did a spot of weeding around the brassica patch. The dogs, meanwhile, occupied themselves with sniffing stuff,  whilst Jeremy completed some plastering around the new doorway he put between the living room and kitchen. We’ve had a big hole for so long now and I was really impressed to see how his plastering skills have improved so I stood admiring the doorway whilst enjoying a cup of tea.

Tea finished and some footering on the computer out of the way I took the dogs for a walk. Wednesday is a hunting day so I tend to take them out when the hunters have gone home for lunch.

For lunch I had some homemade baked beans and marmite on toast with a couple of eggs on top. I’m making big batches of beans and freezing them, as they are such a good comfort food in the winter.

Homemade beans are best

I then got the sewing machine out and made some curtains for the new kitchen door along with a plastic bag holder for a neighbour who liked mine. I was hoping to make a couple of curtains to cover the storage area under the pizza oven and some draws but got distracted by the dogs wanting to play.

I had a run around with the dogs until a neighbour came to bring me some more pomegranates from his trees and some quince jam his grand-daughter made. He also asked if Jeremy would mind making him some shelves to fit a small cupboard. Italians are not big fans of DIY and are generally impressed by Jeremy’s efforts. I swear if he gets called maestro one more time his head may explode.

I then lit the stove in the kitchen and took the dough from the fridge, which I duly knocked back and shaped into a couple of loaves. Whilst waiting for the dough to rise and oven to reach temperature I roughly chopped some vegetables to make some stock. I chopped a squash a neighbour had brought round the day before, along with an onion and some chillies and popped them in the oven to roast to make soup with. I also made a chard quiche to have for lunch the following day, as we’ve a lot of wild chard growing.

Puttanesca or tart's pasta

For dinner we had puttanesca made with our own the freshly cured olives, home grown capers, oregano and  passata. Our chillies seem to have more heat than last year’s, so I just needed to add one to provide the necessary spice. If you are not aware, puttanesca is a colloquial name for a lady of the night so the dish is either so called because it’s hot and spicy or because, said ladies of the night, would entice men in by displaying steaming bowls of the stuff.

Thanks to the new doorway the oven took the slight chill from the air. Although the woodburner is ready to go it’s not really cold enough for us to light it yet. When it gets really cold we’ll light the oven during the day and the woodburner at night. We get more than enough wood to run both along with the pizza oven and barbeque from the prunings of our olive and almond trees. It’s lucky we didn’t decide to light the woodburner as the electricity went off at around 7pm, which would have caused problems as our woodburner has a back-boiler with an electric pump.

The electricity was off all evening so we settled down to playing trivial pursuits by candlelight. Normally we’d watch DVDs and I might knit or read, but it’s always nice to get games or cards out.  By around 10 we were both ready for bed and I happily snored my way through until morning.

I pass the challenge to write their own slow day account to Norm and the hard working hippy and look forward to sharing our olive tickling experiences with you in my next blog.


Gone Glamping July 4, 2010

Filed under: Garden,knit and sew — contadina @ 10:53 am

It’s been almost three months since my last blog, so what have we been doing with ourselves you might well ask. We’ve both taken separate trips back to the UK. Jeremy drove over with a friend to make oil deliveries and pick up enough teabags, marmite, oats and treacle to last the year. He also brought me back some veggie treats, such as tofu, haloumi and tahini. I flew back and divided my time visiting family and friends, shopping and fitting in as many curries as possible. The best curry was most definitely the Sree Krishna in Tooting (an old favourite of mine back when I lived in Wimbledon a good 20-odd years ago). I also managed to stuff my suitcase with spice and all sorts of other things nice.

Trips back home always cause a backlog of work and I’ve only just caught up with myself, which hopefully means more blog and craft time. I’ve just made some new bedding and cushions to go in the tent we’ve erected in the garden.  Jeremy picked up a canvas bell tent when he was in London, so we can provide some luxury camping accommodation for the many volunteer workers we’ve got arriving over the summer. We picked up a selection of spectacularly hideous curtains at the second hand section in the market yesterday to use as rugs to cover the ground sheet. Maybe it’s not quite glamping but it feels pretty comfy in there.

Camping under the olive trees

We’ve a long list of jobs for our visiting HelpXchangers; including helping build a pergola, polytunnel and some raised beds, taking suckers off olive trees, general garden tidying, moving the compost bin to the vegetable plot as we’ve managed to source some worms to start a wormery where the compost currently resides.

Speaking of the garden, things are growing well this year, thanks to an improvement in the soil following the addition of lots of manure, ash and charcoal. Getting creative with courgettes has once again become an obsession so expect some courgette-based recipes soon.

Not surprisingly we’ve been eating a lot of barbeques, as both June and July have been gorgeous. It’s been very hot, but there’s always been a breeze. High temperatures have brought the reassuring sound of summertime, as cicadas produce an overpowering hum during the day and crickets take up the chirping at night. Italians call summertime i giorni delle cicadidi e notti delle grillidi (days of cicadas and nights of crickets) as they provide an unmistakable and unrelenting chorus throughout the summer. During the night the odd praying mantis provide a few clicks and rattles to the nightly serenade.

Cool canvas camping

Next week temperatures are predicted to reach the 40s, so I’m guessing we may make our first beach visit of the year. I’m a little jealous of the German helpers  Jeremy is picking up from the station today as I suspect it will be cooler in the tent than the house next week.

With a heatwave on the way I’m just going to make Jeremy some Thai fisherman’s pants which he can wear to the beach and a sundress for myself. If I haven’t melted by next week I’ll write about sewing our new beach wardrobe in my next blog.

I’m also hoping to turn some olive suckers into baskets, so watch this space for some seriously rustic basketry. I’ll be happy if I can produce just one small one which I can use to collect eggs and mushrooms in. But I’d really love to get proficient at it and make large baskets to keep logs in.


Baby blocks and box cushions February 5, 2010

Filed under: knit and sew — contadina @ 11:01 am

Well it looks like our cold snap has finally arrived. No snow yet, but definitely time to find things to do inside. So, I’ve dusted off the newly fixed sewing machine and busied myself fixing and making a few things.

I’ve made several patches for jeans, which always seem to get torn when pruning almond trees. Getting speared by almond twigs is lethal for clothing, as they seem to snag on everything. They are not as bad as the pomegranates trees though and a suit of armour is required to prune the prickly pears.

With the jeans all patched up. I made some cloth blocks for a friend’s baby who has just reached the need to touch, stick in my gob and explore everything stage. Bearing in mind, baby wants to touch everything and then stick it in their mouths it’s a good idea to use fabrics, which feel a little different, but are machine washable. You need six squares in total for each block, so pairs of three different patterns/fabric textures would be ideal.

To make a cube place the squares inside out in a cross shape, ideally with identical/similar squares every other square. This is the cross seen from the right side. Notice the characters will all be facing the right way when the block is formed (something to bear in mind before you sew it all together).

Sew the cross (on the wrong side) and then stitch the sides together to form the cube, leaving a couple of inches on the last two squares you sew. Using this hole, turn the block the right way round, making sure to push corners out. As baby is very inquisitive at the moment I’ve filled one with wadding, so it’s nice and soft; another is filled with cut strips of plastic carrier bags (so it’s nice and scrunchy but still washable) and the third one is filled with wadding and a rattle (well some dried peas in a container). When filling the blocks make sure they are well filled into the corners and then sew the gap shut.

I’ve just used some scraps I had lying around but you could use any funky, fun fabrics, and I guess, if you were the coordinated type you could even use them to decorate a nursery.

getting comfy

I also made a couple of box cushions with covers for some wooden chairs and an oven glove. Perfect for sitting in front of the cooker peeling veg and eating hot cakes.

Blocchi per bambini e cuscino da sedia

Ebbene sembra che il freddo intenso è finalmente arrivato. La neve non c’è ancora, ma sicuramente c’è il tempo per trovare cose da fare dentro. Così, ho rispolverato la macchina da cucire e ho occupato me stessa riparando e creando un paio di cose.

Ho fatto diverse toppe per i jeans, che sembrano sempre ottenere strappi potando gli alberi di mandorle. Essere infilzati da ramoscelli di alberi di mandorla è letale per l’abbigliamento, visto che sembrano attaccarsi a tutto. Ma, loro non sono così male come gli alberi di melagrano e è necessaria una armatura per potare i fichi d’india.

Con i jeans tutti riparati, ho fatto alcuni blocchi di stoffa per il bambino di un amico che ha appena raggiunto il bisogno di toccare e mettersi tutto in bocca Tenendo presente, che i bambini vogliono toccare tutto e mettersi tutto in bocca è una buona idea utilizzare tessuti, che si sentono un po’ diversi al tatto, ma sono lavabili in lavatrice. Avete bisogno di sei quadrati in totale per ogni blocco, quindi coppie di tre modelli di diversi tessuti e disegni sarebbe l’ideale.

Per fare un cubomettere il tessuto al rovescio a forma di croce, idealmente con I quadrati identici/simili alternati. Questa è la croce vista dal lato destro. Notare: i personaggi saranno tutti dritto, quando il blocco è formato (una cosa da tenere a mente prima di cucire insieme il tutto).

Cucire la croce (dal rovwescio) e poi cucire i lati insieme per formare il cubo, lasciando un paio di centimetri sugli ultimi due quadrati. Utilizzando questo foro, girare il blocco nel verso giusto, facendo attenzione a spingere fuori gli angoli. Visto chel il bambino è molto curioso in questo momento ho riempito uno con l’ovatta, così è bello e morbido, un altro è pieno di strisce di sacchetti di plastica (per cui è bello e scricchiolante ma ancora lavabile) e il terzo è riempito con ovatta e un sonaglio (alcuni piselli secchi in un contenitore). Nel riempimento dei blocchi assicurarsi che siano ben pieni negli angoli e poi cucire il divario.

Ho appena utilizzato alcuni pezzi di tessuto che avevo in giro, ma si può utilizzare qualsiasi tessuto divertente e strano, e penso, se tu fossi il tipo per le cose coordinate voi  si potrebbe anche usare per decorare una cameretta per bambini.

Ho anche fatto un paio di cuscini per un paio di sedie in legno e un guanto da forno. Perfetto per sedersi di fronte al fornello e sbucciare le verdure e poi mangiare dolci caldi.


Soap-making and more January 9, 2010

Filed under: bees,Garden,knit and sew,soapmaking — contadina @ 8:00 am

Not exactly resolutions but I mean to get motivated. After a very relaxing Christmas and New Year I’m itching to awaken from my festive slumber and become more active again.

Luckily there is a lot to do in the garden, where the weeds are threatening to dwarf the vegetable patch. The ground has been drying out since the last downpour so we should be able to tackle the weeds between us. Freezing (-7) temperatures are forecast tonight so I must remember to cover all our newly planted trees and the lemon tree which is heavy with both fruit and blossom at the moment. Failing that I’d best make some more limoncello. There was no freeze just strong winds…phew!

Sunshine is pretty much guaranteed here from May through to October but we don’t really know what a typical winter is. Last year we had continuous torrential rain; the year before was drier but really cold; while this year has been, in the words of Goldilocks…just right.

Speaking of cuddly bears, I’ve very nearly finished knitting Jeremy a sock. Although it’s taken me months to knit just the one sock I’ve learnt quite a lot doing it and I’m sure knitting the next one will be a breeze. I just hope I can complete the pair before summer arrives so Jeremy can wear his belated Christmas present before the sandals come out. Ivan’s brother very kindly fixed my sewing machine so I can finish a dress I began several months ago. I’m a faster sewer than knitter so I may make some pyjama bottoms out of an old Donald Duck sheet I bought second hand.

I think I’ll also make a new batch of soap, so I’ll write instructions with photos and links for anyone who is interested in making their own.

Soap-making instructions

I like to make soap as it’s free from detergents and is really gentle to the skin. I use it to wash my hair too as it doesn’t make it frizzy like shampoo does.

To make soap it’s important everything is accurately weighed. There are lots of online calculators, to calculate the correct measurements for every type of oil.

I use olive oil and caustic soda, which in the correct quantities cancel each other out to make soap. As caustic soda is dangerous I wear gloves and a mask.

Best be safe

First weigh the water and caustic soda and mix them together in a glass bowl. While these react together and heat up I heat some weighed olive oil with a little bit of beeswax (just 2oz with 32oz of olive oil). By using a thermometer I wait for the olive oil to reach 100 degrees F. By this time the caustic soda should have cooled a little, so pour it carefully into the hot olive oil.

Mix it together with a wooden spoon and then use a stick blender in short intervals until it looks like thick custard.


After 5-10 minutes saponification will have occurred. It is then time to pour the liquid into moulds. Pringle and tetra packs are good as you can cut right through them to make bars of soap.

Leave the soap for 24 hours with a blanket on top. By this time the soap should be hard and ready to cut. Once cut leave it somewhere cool for at least one month.

Fare il sapone in casa e di piu
Non esattamente una promessa, ma ho intenzione di avere nuovi stimuli. Dopo Natale e Capodanno un molto rilassanti ho voglia di risvegliarmi dal torpore della festa e diventare più attiva di nuovo.

Per fortuna c’è molto da fare in giardino, dove le erbacce stanno minacciando di sorpassare l’orto. Il terreno si asciugato dopo l’acquazzone scorso, quindi dovremmo essere in grado di affrontare l’erbaccie tra noi. Stasera prevendono temperature di congelamento (sette sotto zero) ) devo ricordarmi di coprire tutti i nostri alberi appena piantati e l’albero di limone che è pesante sia con frutta e fiori in questo momento. In altrimenti sarà meglio fare qualche limoncello di più. No congelare grande solo venti forti … Boh!

Il ole è praticamente garantito qui da maggio a ottobre, ma in realtà non sanno cosa sia un tipico inverno. L’anno scorso abbiamo avuto continue piogge torrenziali, l’anno prima era asciutto, ma molto freddo, mentre quest’anno è stato, nelle parole di Riccioli d’Oro (Goldilocks)… giusto.

Parlando di orsi da coccolare, ho quasi finito di fare a maglia un calzino per Jeremy. Sebbene ho impiegato mesi a lavorare a maglia solo un calzino ho imparato molto a farlo e sono sicura che la calza prossima sarà piu facile. Spero solo idi essere in grado di completare la coppia prima che arriva l’estate e Jeremy potrà indossare il suo regalo di Natale in ritardo prima di uscire con i sandali. Il fratello di Ivan, molto gentilmente, ha riparatola mia macchina da cucire cosi posso completare un abito che ho cominciato diversi mesi fa. Io cucio più veloce che fare a maglia così potrei fare qualche pantalone del pigiama diaun vecchio lenzuolo di Paperino che ho comprato di seconda mano.

Penso di  fare anche un nuovo cumulo di sapone, così mi scrivo le istruzioni con foto e link per chi è interessato a fare il proprio.

Saponara – fare il sapone in casa

Mi piace fare il sapone perchè è esente dai detersivi e è realmente delicato sulla pelle. Lo uso per lavare i miei capelli anche perchè non arriccia i miei capelli come fanno gli sciampo.

Per fare il sapone è importante tutto sia pesato esattamente. Ci sono molti calcolatori su Internet, che possono calcolare le misure corrette per ogni tipo di olio.

Uso l’olio di oliva e la soda caustica, che nelle esatte quantità si annullano per fare il sapone. Perchè la soda caustica è pericolosa io porto i guanti e una mascherina.

Per primo pesi l’acqua e la soda caustica e mischi la due nella scodella di vetro. Mentre queste reagiscono insieme lo riscaldi l’olio di oliva pesato con un po ‘di cera d’api (solo 57g per 907g di olio). Usando un termometro aspetto che l’olio di oliva raggiungungo 100 gradi di F. Nel frattempo la soda caustica dovrebbe raffreddare un poco, in modo da versarla con attenzione nell’olio di oliva caldo. Mescolarla insieme con un cucchiaio di legno e allora utilizzare un frullatore a brevi intervalli fino a renderla piú cremosa e consistente (come crema di pasticceria).

Dopo cinque o dieci minuti la saponificazione sarà accaduta. Dopo cinque o dieci minuti la saponificazione sarà accaduta. Allora esso  è  il tempo di colare il liquido negli stampi. I pacchetti di Pringle e Tetra sono buoni come potete tagliare  loro per a fare le barre di sapone. Lasciare il sapone per 24 ore coperto. Nel frattempo il sapone dovrebbe essere duro e pronto da tagliare. Poi lasciare qualche luogo freddo per almeno un mese.