Living in rural Mallorca

Country life in an old Mallorcan finca

London luxury comes to our Mallorcan Christmas

One Christmas, early in our time on Mallorca, a courier’s van arrived outside our gates. We assumed the driver was lost and trying to find a property somewhere in the valley. Much to our surprise, the parcel he had to deliver was for us. We weren’t expecting anything – and certainly not something from the company whose name was emblazoned on the side of the box: Fortnum & Mason.

Having established that the large box was indeed addressed to us, we waved goodbye to the driver and rushed indoors to find out who had sent us such a superb parcel.

Gourmet goodies

It turned out to be from our lovely friends Duncan and Kristina, who live in Oxford. They have been coming to stay with us for a holiday or two every year since we’ve lived here and seem to love Mallorca and the finca nearly as much as we do. Their generous gifts from Fortnum & Mason have continued each Christmas and their carefully chosen selection always adds some gourmet luxury to our Mallorcan festivities.

The DHL driver no longer drives out to the valley to deliver to us. Instead, he rings us at the finca and arranges a time and venue for a meet with The Boss. In a car park in Manacor, the latter exchanges his signature for whatever parcel is being delivered. When the driver rang today, saying that he had a parcel for us, I fixed up the rendezvous and was just about to tell him what type of car to look out for, when he stopped me and said he knew. One thing we’ve discovered about the Mallorcans – certainly in our area – is that they have incredible memories for details like this.

Our unexpected parcel turned out to be another generous gift from our friends. Aren’t we lucky to have such great friends – and such delicious treats to add a touch of luxury to our Christmas in rural Mallorca?

Fortnum & Mason: Fabulous & Moreish!

Fortnum & Mason: Fabulous & Moreish!

 

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7 reasons to love a log-burner in rural Mallorca

The first snow of the season fell on Mallorca this week, in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tramuntana mountain range. The magnificent mountains are a long way from our home, but it still felt pretty cold here in our valley. Like other parts of Europe, we’ve been battered by fierce winds for a couple of days.

Indoors, at least, we’re keeping warm – thanks to our much-loved Jotul wood-burning stove. We often say that this chunk of metal, in our north-facing sitting room, is the thing we love best about winter.

Here are the reasons we’re so glad we invested in this essential piece of kit for winter on Mallorca:

Our winter warmer

Our winter warmer

It keeps us – and the house – warm around the clock. We feed it a big chunky log just before we go to bed and it burns gently through the night.

It makes great jacket potatoes. Once prepared, with a good bathing of olive oil and dusting of flor de sal, the potatoes are wrapped in a double layer of aluminium foil and placed on the fire bricks lining the sides of the wood-burner. One hour later, we have fluffy jacket potatoes with crispy golden skin. Bring on the butter!

Plate-warming is easy: we’ve placed a small metal trivet on top of the stove and I put the plates on top of this to warm them while I’m cooking dinner. If you try this, do make sure the trivet and plates are well-balanced. On one occasion,  I placed the plates slightly off-centre on the trivet and they crashed to the ground, smashing into dozens of pieces on the stone hearth. Plate-warming fail.

Cooking soup on top of the wood-burner is a breeze, and saves butano.  I simply prepare everything on the kitchen hob and then when the soup has started to bubble gently, the pan goes on top of the stove, to sit there cooking gently for the morning until lunchtime

It successfully proves bread dough. I never make my own bread in summer because it’s much too hot to have the kitchen oven throwing out even more heat. But, in winter, I bring out my inner baker and get kneading. Unlike our old home in England, we don’t have an airing cupboard in which to prove the dough. Instead, we use the log-burner: placing the bowl containing the dough on a table in the same room as the fire makes easy work of the proving process.

It keeps Minstral, our elderly Birman cat, happy. It’s only in the past couple of years that Minstral has decided he likes the warmth of the log-burner. Once upon a time he would give it a wide berth as he walked past but, at the age of 17, he’s finally realized that there’s nowhere more inviting than the rug in front of the hearth.

Home is where the hearth is . . .

Home is where the hearth is . . .

It makes everywhere dusty. OK, so this isn’t exactly A Good Thing – unless you love dusting (which I don’t). But with so many benefits, The Boss and I can forgive the Jotul for endowing the sitting room with a layer of dust more befitting Miss Havisham’s home.

Throw on another log . . .

 

 

 

 

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Tasting the fruits of our olive tree

It’s that time of year when I reach into the back of my cupboard to find the jars of Christmas mincemeat that I made the previous year – to put in this year’s Christmas cake. (I always use Delia Smith’s Last-minute Mincemeat Christmas Cake recipe because it takes only one-and-a-half hours to cook – so doesn’t use too much butano gas).

Treasure from the deep

I have deep kitchen cupboards and only short arms, so it’s not unknown for me to encounter things back there that I’d forgotten about. Like the olives from our young tree, which I picked and preserved a while ago. Quite a while ago, as it happens. When I pulled out the jar (just the one; we had only 22 olives that harvest) I read on the label that I’d preserved them in December 2010. We did try them during spring 2011, but they were unbelievably bitter and The Boss had even suggested that we throw them away. Well, there’d been too much effort involved (yes, even for just 22 olives) so I buried the jar at the back of the cupboard and decided to leave them a little longer.

Four years later, the olives had human contact once again when I retrieved them from the buried treasure in the dim and distant back of the cupboard. We had some with our lunch one day. The Boss’s verdict? “They’re almost pleasant.”

Another year in the cupboard and they may just make the grade . . .

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Patience is a necessity when living on Mallorca

I’m not the world’s most patient person but, since we moved to Mallorca, we’ve realized that some things just don’t happen quickly here. We waited eight months to have an electricity supply; 18 months for planning permission for an outhouse in which to store our generator, invertor, and solar batteries, and seven months for permission to re-roof our ‘casita’ to stop the leaks every time it rained. It’s a good thing that I’ve never been one to chew my fingernails . . . I’d have been down to my knuckles by now.

This summer we decided to replace our old south-facing wooden front doors. They’d always been painted dark brown and it didn’t take long for the sun to do its work: fading the colour and burning off the sheen from the gloss paint. We decided to invest in new wooden doors that wouldn’t have to be painted, and would be stronger and more secure than the originals. We also considered replacing the inner front doors – also the worse for wear as a result of the sun’s fierce rays.

We found a company that seemed to offer just what we were looking for and a man came out to look at the job, discuss our requirements, and measure up. This was in July. In due course we received the quotation and, after a sharp intake of breath, decided to replace only the external doors. There was a visit to the factory to view and choose door furniture (handles etc, to you and me), and a 50 per cent deposit was paid.

“Gone to the beach”

But August got in the way. Not a lot happens on Mallorca in August that doesn’t involve beaches, swimming pools, and holidays. The factory closed for the month and we were told that our new doors would be delivered in September. In about the middle of September the man came back to the house to ‘check his measurements’. Our hearts sank.

On October 24th two helpful young men arrived with the new doors. They weren’t finished – they still had to have the special protective treatment applied – but this visit was to check the fit. All seemed fine. Until we realized that the holes for the handle and lock were on the wrong door. Oh dear.

Desperately seeking a solution

We visited the company to discuss the problem. The man who’d been out to our property didn’t remember what had been agreed as he’d “been on a month’s holiday” since then! It seemed that all the clipboard notes he’d scribbled during his visit to us had also gone on holiday – and not returned. We left him contemplating a possible solution.

Finally our doors were delivered and fitted last week. They look great and we’re really pleased that the company found a way to resolve the problem, without The Boss having to puff out his chest and get stroppy in Spanish.

But the story isn’t over yet. The new doors have been fitted with a modern brushed chrome handle, rather than the rustic-style door handle and keyhole that the (same) man had suggested at the factory. The very same rustic door furniture that we’d asked him to fit to our new doors. At least the bolts look rustic.

Patience. I just can’t get a handle on it . . .

 

The inner face of one of our smart new front doors.

The inner face of one of our smart new front doors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pip’s progress

If you come to live in the Mallorcan countryside, you’re likely to end up sharing your life with a few animals. We arrived on the island with two cats: Minstral, our Birman, and Smokey, our Maine Coon (who died a few years ago from lymphoma). Minstral lives indoors, and has done so happily for just over 17 years – 13 of which have been with us.

For three years we have also had a ‘glaring’ – a highly appropriate (at least at feeding time) collective noun for a group of cats. Five of these were born (in two litters) to a black feral cat we named Jetta who, after being with us for more than a year, went off one day and never returned. Our land has always been the territory of her offspring.

Along came two more . . .

Shorty arrived (dumped?) as a tiny ginger kitten, dragging an injured back leg. His incredible tenacity enabled him to wheedle his way into the existing feline family and, today, he’s a handsome cat with a love of cuddles (and a tendency to dribble all over you). Peanut – another dumped ginger kitten – stayed for several months but went off one day and didn’t return. It had taken some time for her to be accepted and although she was eventually tolerated, she clearly felt the need for her own space.

Shorty

Shorty

And another . . .

On September 18th this year the latest addition to our feline family arrived. We came home late from Nit de l’Art in Palma de Mallorca to find a little scrap of a kitten just inside the gates, cowering near the dustbin. Another dumpee, it seemed. She clearly wasn’t feral, as she readily came over to us and The Boss was able to pick her up. She purred like a train – probably pleased to be out of the reach of the other cats.

We call her Pip and, since her arrival, she’s been living in our annex bedroom overnight and when we’re out and unable to keep an eye on her. We can’t be sure how old she is, but the vet has suggested we have her spayed during the last week of November/first week of December. Until then, we’re keeping her out of the reach of any passing tomcats, and keeping an eye on her interaction with our other cats. Initially it seemed as though she wouldn’t be accepted but, apart from the very occasional paw swipe from one of the big boys, tolerance generally prevails.

The new kitten is growing – in size, character, and confidence. She’s a fanatical tree-climber (The Boss has once had to resurrect his boyhood tree-climbing skills to rescue her when adventure overtook ability). She loves playing with the stones on our drive – grabbing one between her front paws and tossing it into the air. And her dribbling skills (of the football, rather than Shorty variety) with a small ball could teach Real Mallorca a thing or two.

Needless to say, our initial thoughts of finding her a new home have been forgotten. Welcome to the glaring, Pip.

 

Cuddle time

Cuddle time

A walk on the wild side

A walk on the wild side

"Scared? Moi?!"

“Scared? Moi?!”

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Summer turns to winter on Mallorca

It feels like ages since I wrote a post on this blog. In the meantime both the weather and clocks have changed – and I’ve added a year to my age.  I’ve been super-busy, and have just completed a major writing job that has seen me up at the crack of dawn at the laptop and sometimes working until bedtime. After filing the last piece of copy for the job, an hour ago, I ran out onto the terrace and shouted an ecstatic “Yippee!”. My apologies to any sheep I might have frightened . . .

 

"What the Dickens was that noise?"

“What the Dickens was that noise?”

Last Saturday was my birthday and the weather for the whole weekend was sunny and warm. On Monday, during a brief coffee break on the terrace, The Boss and I agreed it was almost warm enough to wear shorts. It’s been confirmed by the boffins in the Spanish Met Office that the average temperature in October was the warmest on record for that month. We even managed a swim in the sea, something we’ve not done in that month previously.

Winter comes a-knocking

How things changed on Tuesday this week, when a cold front sliced across Spain and the Balearics. We were lucky in our area and didn’t suffer the hailstorms, thunder, and lightning that affected other parts of the island. But we had heavy rain and it has turned colder. I’ve resorted to wearing a cardigan for the first time in months, and plan to spend the weekend retrieving my winter clothes from their summer storage and laundering them.

The Boss, meanwhile, has been doing that man-thing: preparing the log burner for the next drop in temperature. Cleaning the flue and the stove itself, and renewing the rope-like stuff that prevents the escape of smoke around the door and the junction of the stove and flue, has occupied a few hours of his time – and left him looking a bit sooty. I can tell he’s itching to get the thing blazing again. But I’ve just checked the weather forecast and it looks as though our high could be 21 degrees Celsius again tomorrow . . .

Next time I’ll give you an update on the progress of Pip, the latest kitten to join our feline family.

 

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Look who’s cooking . . .

The Boss has excelled himself this year with his BBQ cooking. He’s not particularly keen on conventional cooking in the kitchen – although he used to cook dinner for me on weekdays when I was working at the BBC. Back then I really appreciated coming home to a hot meal after battling Oxford’s terrible traffic on the way home. These days I do most of the cooking, but the warmer months bring me the chance to enjoy the results of The Boss’s labours over a hot BBQ.

This year we invested in a new Weber, after our more-than-12-year-old Outback BBQ burst into flames one evening late last summer, while my dad and uncle were staying with us. Using a Weber has been a totally different experience, which The Boss has embraced with enthusiasm. Living in rural Mallorca, we’ve had the weather most  evenings over the past five months to cook outside. Our versatile lidded Weber could even cope with cooking our Christmas turkey, but we probably won’t risk it (unless there’s an emergency pizza in the freezer).

Like many men, The Boss is a little bit territorial about his BBQ, but I’m not complaining. I get my dinner cooked for me – even if I have to do some of the kitchen prep. And if there’s any doubt about who’s the king of the coals (although, strictly speaking, there are none on our BBQ) this apron – a gift from our friends Duncan and Kristina when they visited in September – says it all!

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If you’d like to see a bit more of the camera-shy Boss, hop over to http://www.eatdrinksleepmallorca.com (my other blog – which is one year old today) or visit http://www.ponderosabeach.com. Yes, those feet in the sand are his . . .

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Home . . .

untitled (1 of 1)-2 Home is where the heart is. And our hearts and home are firmly in rural Mallorca, at our finca. We cannot imagine going back to live in England, but quite a few of our friends and acquaintances have done just that. The recently published NatWest IPB Quality of Life Country Index* – based on a survey of 1,804 (strange number, eh?) British expats by the Centre for Future Studies – reported that 63 per cent of those living on the European continent had thought about moving “back home”. We’re firmly in the other 37 per cent: Mallorca is our home. Back to Blighty Last evening we met up in Palma with fun friends Karen and Ian, who are spending a week’s holiday on the island. Until two years ago they lived and worked here. They went back to the UK – not because they didn’t like living on the island but, rather, because it can be difficult to make a decent living here. They’re very happy back in England, but clearly also miss the island. We miss them – as we miss other friends who have left. Some have sadly regretted their move away from Mallorca. It’s easy to forget the negative aspects of your home country that probably influenced the decision to leave it in the first place. It’s also easy to adapt to the more relaxed pace of Mallorcan life, and forget how fast-paced life is back in ‘the old country’. Of course there are some things we miss about England, including our families and friends, rivers, the rolling Cotswold landscape, good bookshops, and Waitrose. But we enjoy having relatives and friends to stay with us here, and have found compensations for the other things. One day, if Euromillions surprises us with a substantial win, we may even find ourselves holidaying back in the homeland. For now though, this is home – for us and for our David Austin rose . . . a little piece of England on Mallorca.

The first rose of autumn for our David Austin 'Lady Hillingdon' rose.

The first rose of autumn for our David Austin ‘Lady Hillingdon’ rose.

*For information, Spain slipped to 11th position in the index. From 2008 until 2011 it had held 7th position. Portugal came in at 12th. Top of the list was Australia.

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September storms on Mallorca

It’s the last day of September and, although we expect storms on Mallorca this month – after the long hot summer – we seem to have had more of them than usual. And along with high temperatures, the high humidity has made things uncomfortable at times.

We’ve also had three lots of visitors staying with us during September. The first visit was from our friends Duncan and Kristina, who were surprised to find it so hot and humid – having stayed at the finca with us before at around this time. During their stay, we spent the best part of one day with them in the lovely coastal village of Banyalbufar (enjoying an excellent lunch at 1661 Cuina de Banyalbufar – a most-visit restaurant if you’re ever in that part of the Mallorca). The sun had shone all day and was still shining as we approached home. One thing was evident though: puddles were everywhere.  Clearly it had rained, but stopped in time to give us a warm and sunny end to the day.

A trail of destruction

The weather, in our absence, turned out to have been more than a heavy shower.  As we drove through the gates onto our drive, we noticed that the dishes under all the flowerpots were full of water. That was the only sign there that there’d been a storm. But when we opened the shutters at the back of the house, all was revealed: two teak dining chairs blown over; a parasol (on a stand) lying on the ground, and another parasol broken and blown some distance from its original position. And down in our field, two almond trees had suffered severe damage. We now have a couple of almond tree trunks standing forlorn and without branches and leaves.

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One broken almond tree

One broken almond tree

Flying chairs

Flying chairs

Another broken tree

Another broken tree

We found out later that there had been an intense hailstorm, with severe winds. It seemed that a mini-tornado had whipped its way through our garden, leaving its calling card in its wake. We checked out our Swiss neighbours’ garden (in their absence) as it appeared to be on the trajectory of whatever had passed through our garden, but the only damage suffered there was a potted plant that had been blown over.

Mallorca’s green and pleasant land

This was a very localized storm, and there have been quite a few of those on Mallorca over the past few weeks. Every day we’ve checked various weather apps, finding the forecast of more storms. Our visitors this September have not had quite the weather they’d expected. We’ve now had enough rain (hopefully) to top up the reservoirs depleted during the summer months. Mallorca is looking green again, with an enthusiastic showing of early weeds in our garden. But the most unexpected sight in our garden – due no doubt to the continuing warmth and all the rainfall – has been almond blossom on one of our several trees (undamaged by the storm). We don’t usually see that until January/February. It’s been a strange September . . .

 

 All photos courtesy of Duncan Matthews.

 

 

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Yet another kitten arrives at our Mallorcan finca

Last Thursday evening we returned late from Palma (where we’d attended La Nit de l’Art with the previous owners of our Mallorcan finca, who are now dear friends). As usual, when we come home late, our glaring of cats – a family of ferals that have adopted us – came to greet us, in the hope of a little more food.  The Boss went out to add some more biscuits to their bowls before we locked up for the night. He’d been outside a few minutes when he called me back out of the house to come and see something.

There, cowering near the dustbin, was a tiny kitten. Another one. Only a few weeks have passed since our last ‘arrival’ – Peanut – left us, presumably in search of a territory of her own.  After her departure, the rest of the cats seemed much calmer:  Peanut had been a bit disruptive to their peaceful lives around our place and, although she’d been with us for around 10 months, they had tolerated rather than enjoyed the presence of the little ginger female.

This latest arrival immediately ran over to us and seemed to be seeking attention. We were  able to stroke it and pick it up. Clearly this was no feral kitten that had wandered away from its mother and become lost. Its ease with humans suggested that this was an unwanted kitten that had been dumped in the countryside and left to fend for itself. This kind of thing happens frequently around here and such cruelty makes me furious . . .

Short shrift from Shorty

The other cats were not impressed. Shorty – who was the first of the ‘outsiders’ to arrive and successfully infiltrated the ‘family’ – surprised us the most, growling at the small kitten in a very aggressive and un-Shorty-like way. He clearly didn’t remember that he was once the scared kitten in need of food and care. We didn’t want to bring the kitten into the house in case it was carrying any disease (we have an elderly Birman living indoors), so for the little one’s safety, we put it overnight into one of our large cat-carrying baskets, along with food, water, and a litter tray.

On Saturday morning we discovered that Itty-Bitty-Kitty (well, we had to call her something) had been sick and seemed to be a little feverish. We had The Boss’s sons staying for the weekend, so I left them at home to have some ‘man-time’ and headed off to the vet’s with the kitten. Our vet always records a name for the animals it treats. Clearly I’d have been there a long time if I had to spell out Itty-bitty-kitty in the Spanish alphabet, so little one became Pip. Easy to spell, and appropriate, given her diminutive size. Yes, it’s another female . . .

A few days’ medication later, Pip seems to have recovered from her virus and is eating well. The vet says she’s about three months old, although she looks very small. Today we are taking her to be vaccinated and for blood tests to make sure there’s nothing nasty lurking within. As for the future, who knows? It will certainly be brighter than if Pip hadn’t found a feline-friendly place to hide . . .

The latest arrival

The latest arrival

Chilling out on the terrace.

Chilling out on the terrace.

Such a small creature in The Boss's arms.

Such a small creature in The Boss’s arms.

 

 

 

 

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