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New year, new plans
15 January 2016
I fly south to Olhao and the glorious vegetable colours and textures of the Saturday market. Beans pods flecked with pink like a painter`s abstract are a joy to look at let alone eat .
More building is in progress at the house to open up the living/ eating space. I am moving a bathroom to what I call the monk`s cell, a poky inner room with a glass brick in the ceiling as the only light source; a not altogether unreasonable Olhao detail, as it is the coolest room in summer and warmest in winter. The new L shaped space has an open hatch to the kitchen. We couldn`t knock all the way through because the giant chimney on the roof above would have no support, and I didn`t want to lose this traditional and distinctive Algarve feature. I am looking forward to the delivery of blue and white floor tiles, in a simple checked pattern that are being made in the traditional way by Artevida near Lisbon.
London`s autumn streets swarm with black ant-like crowds dodging and diving from shop to shop as if buying has become as serious as life itself Of course my well over 50 perspective is skewed but no way is my city as rough and exciting around the edges as it was in the 80s` when my dodgy Molton Brown bob and frilly white New Romantic shirt were cool. No Boris bikes to take me to our broken down Georgian wreck in rather grubby Spitalfields . Our youthful optimism and passion for rescuing beautiful architecture also unwittingly prepared the scene for the influx of the current hipster generation; you can hardly move between the foodie pop ups and designer handbag displays. Thankfully Olhao, remains a source of solace and visual inspiration and the Saturday market with its life, understatement, colour and fabulous fresh produce beats any West End/East End foray.
Figs from the flat capped owner`s garden - all shapes and sizes none of which would pass the supermarket test for shape and uniformity
The Saturday Olhao market is in itself a wondrous gem. Yet amongst the makeshift counters and shady awnings it`s the one-offs ,a simple woven basket of glossy fresh white eggs or a bundle of roughly tied herbs from the seller`s garden that are the most special, at least, for me. A posy of wild flowers, dunked haphazardly in a plastic washing up bowl is everyday, yet artful and intimate, far from the supermarket `mixed seasonal bunch` . The creators of Olhao`s market couture tend to be the beady eyed older ladies whose stock is less plentiful, and bountiful then some others, but they sure know how to make a few oranges rock on a bed of shiny green leaves.
Daisies, and snails.
Buy a bundle of bay leaves - so good for flavouring meat and fish stews.
Petite piri piri peppers are packed with fiery energy. Be prepared. NB And are even more dangerous if you buy them in jars dried and crushed.
My mother’s coffee cake was as much a part
of childhood as the roast on Sunday.
died fifteen years ago
and I haven’t
been able to pin down the coffee-flavoured
and textures until last
weekend when I downloaded
Cloake’s Perfect coffee and walnut cake. Apart from my mum`s touch,
I think the light brown sugar element is what was missing in my previous attempts.
Here is the recipe with a few tweaks, and
sans walnuts because I prefer
my coffee cake without .
It was the pudding queen at a family get-together
in my `secret
shed` glowing with candlelight at the bottom of the garden. Basically I dressed up
the garden shed with candles and tea lights in jam jars, spread the table with a white cloth and unwound a cable from the house for a heater. It was snug and good to be semi-outsde on a
dark autumn evening.
Heat oven to 180C and grease and line the
bases of 2x20cm cake tins
Mix the coffee with ltbsp boiling water and
leave to cool.
Beat the butter and sugar together until
light and fluffy. Add the egg mixture. Once incorporated sift in the flour ,
baking powder and salt and fold in with a large metal spoon, adding the coffee,
Divide the batter between the tins, if very
stiff add a little mili. Bake for 25minutes . Cool for 10 minutes in the tins
and put on a wire rack to finish cooling.
2tbsp coffee with ltbsp boiling water and leave to cool.
Beat the butter until soft, sift in the
sugar, salt and add the coffee and cream. Stir until fluffy and smooth.
Spread one cake with
just under half of the icing, and place the other
cake on top. Spread the remaining icing on top.
Olhao council has some grim proposals for `modernisation` including the removal of
calcada cobbles, see below, in favour of shopping mall style smooth grey slabs and seafront lighting all football floodlight bright. It is easy to destroy centuries worth of beautiful detailing when there`re millions in the bank combined with inappropriate architectural plans and ill-informed Council types. I have sent my objections together with everyone in the Olhao community who wishes to keep it`s visual spirit which is what makes this little town so human and special.
Head down and chasing ideas and making pictures for my new book about
colour. We have a publisher , hooray, and it will be on the shelves next
spring. In between, sensual respite for a few days in Olhao. Soaking up
the sun and splashing in first swim of the year sea . So cool and
invigorating and then to eat and feast on fish. Vegetables
come home in Olhao where the market is spilling over with plump tomatoes
and greens. A plate of roast tomatoes, onions, peppers and courgettes
is my offering for supper with friends.
It is `quinta-feira da espiga` (ear of wheat Thursday or Ascension day) and there are bundles of olive, wheat ,poppies, and daisies piled outside the corner shop. It is is good to see the survival of simple country rituals.
Same but different: the beach at Camber sands the day after friends daughter`s 21st. England is as beautiful as any Algarve coastal retreat. But, and this is a big one I`m not enthused about murky English channel shallows.
View from my room, below. I am booked on late rooms.com at Pontin`s `holiday park` fulfilling a childhood curiosity of what`s behind the wire of a holiday camp. It`s housing estate on sea: slot machines, chips, flimsy walls, and family bbqs. Could offer more quality for the price. And don`t punish your guests Mr Pontins: clean the windows, shoot the seagulls and put in bedside lights.
Sunday morning Long island style at Camber sands, below.
Travelling mentally to more watery paradise with Clare Lloyd`s My Greek Island Home. Australian artist, designer and photographer, Claire left the stresses of city life in London to set up home in a small village on Lesbos. The book is a visual feast in which Claire eloquently describes the simple pleasures of reconnecting with nature and community. I love the feline details.
To Colefax and Fowler on a fabric hunt and to see the new collection. I want to order the linen stripes by the hundred metre rollful but am content with a sweet carrier bag lined with `Bowood` my favourite Colefax print
There`s no place like home and my back garden on a hot day in June.
Today I will squeeze into trainers and have a quick jog to the seafront and back. New year, new promises and fabulous colour in Christmas earrings and new green cotton t shirt. Small splashes of colour can be as dramatic as an all out colour assault whether it`s in the wardrobe or for decorating a room.
A trip along the coast. Down cobbled steps fringed by tumbling purple convovulus and cactus plants with paddle shaped limbs green succulent, and deadly spiked. Eating springy bread buns with hunks of sweet tomato and goats`s cheese on the grey wind and rain spattered beach is more Bognor regis than the Eastern Algarve, but we are also feeling the whirling effects of the UK`s fierce winter storm.
I am glad to be off major cooking duties for a few days. But it was hugely satsifying over Christmas to produce Elizabeth David`s, Carbonade Nimoise and La Daube de Boeuf Provencale from French Provinical Cooking. Both essentially hearty stews cooked long and slow, the former involves lamb and potatoes with a typical southern taste and smell , and the latter beef with more rich southern juices flavoured with orange peel and herbs .
At the Saturday market there are mounds of cabbages and greens - rich in winter nutrients and fibre for little more than a few centimos. Wish I could carry back furry quinces for membrillo, but would be at expense of reading matter . No I don`t have a Kindle, but maybe I should for the
Sunday, and it`s Fuzeta fleamarket. No I don`t want a bucket of golf balls or a bobbled polyester dressing gown, but I do have my eye on a couple of retro aluminium jugs for olive oil. Five euros each. Not bad I think, but do I really need them? But do we really need most of the stuff we have. Buy them, says the daughter and dedicated shopper of her generation in my head I go back and have a another shifty look. No. I`ll save my money. In the car on the way home. Regret. I should have bought them. So useful and such great shapes.
Anyone for a hammer?
Pots , pans , simple china and utilitarian junk like these mesh filing trays are what make Fuzeta a rich source of pickings on a sunny Sunday morning.
Sunday morning market in Estoi a few miles inland from Olhao. It`s hot by 11, I need my hat (a pleasant need it is too) and the breeze carries a richly textured smell of churros frying, horse dung and spring flowers, from the sprawling market site on the edge of the village. Everyone is here: gypsies in black waistcoats with black flat caps and thick beards; farmers from little fincas dotted about the countryside; children; dogs; lovers; groups of men in hunt of jamon and beer from one of the many food stands.
In contrast to the piles of bright kitchen plastics , ribbons and trimmings, and rails of trashy print dresses, the salt cod
bachlau and garlic stall is a sea of cool whites and is the one I head for first of all. Slabs of creamy fish and bundles of papery white garlic bulbs streaked with purple, are assessed by customers who will later cook up a rich fish stew with these staples of the Portuguese kitchen. I like to slice raw salt cod very thinly (after rigorous soaking to get rid of the salt) and serve with thin slices of orange for a simple tapa.
I also gravitate to a van wreathed in baskets. The stall holder employs her mother and others who still know how to weave in the traditional way .I imagine quiet industry with bundles of dried grass on tiled floors in village houses where orange blossom scents float over whitewashed walls. Baskets like these feature heavily in my house- for storing vegetables in the kitchen , winter bedding on top of the wardrobe in my bedroom, and for accessories stowed away under the bed. I shall be looking out for the baskets and the van at one of the other local periodic markets - any excuse to top up my basket supply.
And there`s more: trays of vegetable seedlings, fruit trees, caged chicks, hens, even a sorry looking pair of swans. The highlight for many- including me are beakers of red wine , grilled chicken, jamon, or cheese at makeshift restaurants with dark awnings that give the scene the look of one vast outdoor Arabic souk.
Clumps of grass between the cobbles and pantiles sprouting wild flowers show winter in Olhao was as extreme in rainfall as in the chill we endured here. So releasing to peel off wool layers and sun bathe under blue sky spring busy with swallows, tweeting sparrows and swooping nets of silvery homing pigeons . We trundle to the market and load the Rolly Rolser with armfuls of wild flowers, eggs, asparagus and oranges.
So good to eat with sun on the face sea in the air. This demands something celebratory like buying a net of
amejoias boa for clam and tomato pasta. I shower and soak the shells in the sink, picking out any broken ones. They feel smooth and cool, with a promising weightiness like solid chocolate eggs.
I chop tomatoes, garlic and fry until soft. Some pepper, dregs of white wine from last night, and then the sauce is ready for the clams. Steam under the saucepan lid, shake frequently and after seven minutes or so the clams open like buds in a speeded up film to reveal tender flesh and juices with a fragrant shellfish taste
We spoon clams and sauce over bowls piled with
spaghetti or any other long type will be right. This is an athletic dish: twirling strands of dripping pasta around one`s fork, sucking the last bits from the shells. It takes me back to being 18 and the
spaghetti vongoles of my first Italian summer.
Mopping up a trail of the teenager`s false tan splodges (the new floors really are tough) is my friday night treat, this, and finally putting the house back together again after it`s paint and brush up. There`s time to post these shots from my short break to Olhao a couple of weeks ago.
Spring is springing here on the Algarve. The fizz of candy floss almond blossom, flapping storks and grilled sardine smells are my kind of exotica. The house is stone cold but a small discomfort when you can step out first thing into the street all sunny and blue. My thoughts are ferry and beach and this is where we head to sprawl on the sand and, even swim. I skip like a child in the shallows. It is bliss, like an icy rinsing and sloughing-off of winter.
We eat one of our typical Olhao beach picnics: crusty buns filled with chicken and coriander. Handfuls of dried figs and almonds are also perfect picnic finger food.
Waiting by the pier for the ferry home I watch seagulls bob around looking for an opportunity, and fisherman swill out their boats and grease engines. Their ropes and nets are organised in artful heaps. Old ways can survive in the age of plastic.
The Saturday market is also a stylist`s dream, so vibrant and rich in its everydayness. See below bunches of herbs tied with string, bundles of wild asparagus, clementines, and thick wedges of pumpkin laid out like a Melendez still life. This bustling outdoor visual and edible feast is so much a part of Olhao`s heart and soul.
I wake to the mass twittering of sparrows and a distant bell. The air is sea salty, the breeze warm and the sky is bright morning blue. Olhao. We’re here again for the spring holiday with a case full of books for revision and fabric to make cushions for summer. Breakfast is toast with soft springy sourdough-like bread which they slice for you from the café on the corner. I have a jar of orange flower honey from which I spread a thick coating onto a slice along with curls of butter. We eat outside in the quintal and squint at the sun which is glowing with promise for the day ahead.
Oranges are so good and fresh here; so much sweeter and more intensely orange flavoured because they`re not long picked from a tree. We squeeze juice with the 13 euro juicer - a definite qualifier for what I think is a `best buy`- and pour it into small glass tumblers. So much more of an enjoyable experience than opening up a carton.
I throw black jeans, sweater and thick socks to the back of the wardrobe and feeling expectant for a first of the season session at the beach pull out last summer`s floaty cotton dress, sandals in which to brave winter feet, and straw hat. I’ve been through quite a few hats here, one or two have blown into the sea whilst on a boat of some sort; one was washed away by a rogue wave, and another met its end with an uncontrolled puppy.
The fading terracottas, yellows, and greens of Olhao’s crumbling façades are balm to my tired city eyes. Most luminous are the pale cobalt blue lime washed walls that give the buildings a mediterranean seaside flavour. My friend Piers mixes blue pigment with white cal (lime) to create this timeless effect.
At the Saturday market the senses are hit with the aromatic smell of mint and the fragant childhood summer smell of strawberries. Wrinkled men with flat caps look after stalls groaning with oranges, pumpkins, broad beans, and peas. Cages with live rabbits and uncomfortable looking hens are clustered by the sea wall. I want to take to take it all home, all of this colour, and sensation. We settle for eggs, a bag of plump peas shelled by the vendor, a bunch of radishes with pink roots slashed rather stylishly with white, more sweet oranges and a kg of plump and richly coloured strawberries for the picnic.