Saturday, December 02, 2017

Home from Montrondo, a new Kenwood, lunch with friends, a royal engagement, a sad trip to Valladolid, a visit to Simancas, Christmas came and other stories of the week.

Sunday 3rd December, 2017
The castle in Simancas where the Spanish national archives are held.
Good morning all.

It's December. And what does that mean? Christmas of course. I love Christmas but I will come to that later.

A week ago today was our last day in Montrondo. It was cold but sunny. Since then it has snowed there and we have missed it. We went for our walk to Senra and back earlier than usual. On our way, as always, I admired the animals, especially this lovely black horse.
Black horse in the fields of Montrondo. 
Eladio enjoyed the walk too although he isn't one for pointing out the animals. I suppose that is because he was brought up on a farm where they reared cattle and they are not special to him.  Here he is, with little Pippa by his side, on the walk back that morning.

Eladio and Pippa on our last walk in Montrondo on Sunday
We had an early lunch of leftovers before setting about packing up and closing the house. We left at just after 3 p.m. Being a 4 hour drive, we were home by 7ish. Everything was in order and both Zena our weekend carer and Lucy, our weekly one, were there to greet us. The first thing I did when I got home was print my Sunday blog post for my Father who is my biggest blog fan. By 9 we were in bed watching the news and then a political interview with Artur Mas, the brain behind Catalan independence and José Rodríguez Zapatero, the former socialist PM who was much involved with the statute for Catalonia. 

Olivia was not at home as her boyfriend Miguel had been with her all of last week. However, she accompanied me on whatsapp for the most part of our drive home. They had gone out Christmas shopping that day which reminded me I must start soon. She had seen a new Kenwood model I wanted for Christmas and sent me a photo. You see, my Kenwood (the A9012P model made between 1976 and 1988) was given to me by my Mother when we got married in 1983. My Mother had had a Kenwood (food processor) ever since I remember and I learned to cook many dishes with it. My Mother adored kitchen appliances although she wasn't the ordinary housewife but she did love to have the latest devices. She was one of the first women in the UK to buy a washing up machine and I remember when it arrived; I must have been about 4 and my Father raging over it. I think he even threatened her with divorce if she bought it!!! He never liked her Kenwood either as it he who had to do all the washing up hahaha.  It has stood me in good stead, though,  since then and it has been my most important kitchen device.  With it I make all my soups, bread, cakes and anything that needs mixing or liquidising. This is it.

My old Kenwood which has lasted 34 years
It still works well but I thought it was time for a new one and it was to be Eladio's present to me, although, I would be buying it for me from him if you understand hahhahaha. So there and then in the car I ordered my new Kenwood on Amazon. It is the Kenwood Prospero 282 and comes with all these accessories, more than my current model has. Perhaps one of the best accessories is the dough hook which I use to make my bread.
My Christmas present for this year, the new Kenwood Prospero 282
It came on Thursday morning in a huge box which I have kindly asked Eladio to hide and wrap up for Christmas day (hahahhaa). I can't open it yet of course but I do know what's inside and how it works as I scoured the net and found this great "unboxing" video on You Tube which you can see here. I hope it turns out to be as long lasting as my old Kenwood, my trusty kitchen friend with which I make so many dishes. 

If Friday was Black Friday, Monday was Cyber Monday which I largely ignored. I used my old Kenwood early that morning when I made bread, double the quantity, for it to last as I freeze most of it. I made it with the Murias rye flour, wholemeal and spelt flour and added pumpkin seeds. Eladio says he loves my bread now. I'm not sure he is being honest. This is what it looked like. As I didn't add any white wheat flour it didn't rise as much but the taste is delicious.
The bread I made on Monday
I was too busy to make lunch that morning. In any case I was going out for lunch and the men would be having Montrondo leftovers hahaha. I had a lunch date with my great friends, Julio who I met at Nokia and Fátima, my ex colleague at both Motorola and Nokia. We went to El Acebo nearby which has great food, with not such great decor and it's rather expensive. Here is Julio about to dig into the little scallops ("zamburriñas").
Julio at lunch on Monday
Fátima arrived late. She had an unexpected hospital appointment and didn't get to the restaurant until 3.30. She has been going to see doctors and having appointments since February as she is fighting cancer and it is our duty as her best friends to support her as much as possible. And what a fighter she is. I admire her. Here she is with Julio. It was lovely to be together again. We shall see each other over Christmas twice for the traditional dinner at both our house and Julio's. 
Lunch with my best friends, Julio and Fátima on Monday
I came home to the news of THE royal engagement which I don't have to tell you about because you already know. However, for record's sake I will. On Monday, Buckingham Palace announced the engagement of Prince Harry (sorry Henry) of Wales to the American divorcee actress (from the TV series Suits) Meghan Markle. This is the announcement.
The official announcement
And here is the happy couple the news of whose engagement was much expected. 
The happy couple
They are to be married at Windsor Castle in May. The next day the papers (well online news too) were full of it. They gave an interview to the BBC which you can watch here. I'm very happy for them both and also happy Harry is now allowed to marry an American divorcee unlike his ancestor Edward VIII who had to abdicate the throne as King of England to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. I'm sure the Queen's sister, Princess Margaret, would have turned in her grave asking why she couldn't have married her divorced boyfriend, Group Captain Peter Townsend. It's good to see the British Royal Family becoming a little bit more modern. I look forward to their wedding. As Churchill once said, I think, royal weddings are wonderful at lifting spirits in depressing times. I think he said it in different words hahaha. 

Tuesday was spent food shopping, going for our walk and in my case, going to the dentist. There was bad news that day when we heard that Agustin, a well known villager from Montrondo, had died of kidney failure after many years of suffering. I'm so sorry for his wife Lourdes, his son Javi and daughter Lorena. The family sent a wreathe for the funeral which was held in Montrondo on Thursday. There was more bad news that day when we heard that my sister-in-law, Dolores' older sister, Merche who lives in Valladolid, was gravely ill in hospital. 

But it wasn't all sad on Tuesday. In the afternoon I had a good laugh when I received a message from one of the modelling agencies I have signed up with, to attend a TV advert audition. Believe it or not it was for a Yoigo Christmas advert. Of course neither the production company nor any of the agencies involved would have have known that I had been the Communications Director of Yoigo for 10 years until very recently.  Some people urged me to go along but I decided from the first moment not to as I knew that as soon as the new marketing people in the company saw me in their ad they would most probably veto it.  

Wednesday dawned and the first notification I saw on my phone was a new Airbnb reservation. There have not been many lately as it is very obviously the low season. 7 young men from Galicia will be staying here next weekend during the December bank holiday. 

I spent the morning working and cooking. That day I made cream of vegetable soup and coq au vin for lunch which was much appreciated by the men. The latter is one of Eladio's favourite dishes. 

There was sad news that day when Dolores told us that Merche had died. It was all so sudden and unexpected. She had been admitted to hospital the previous week and then just a few days later died of massive metastasis which no one had any idea she had. She was only 72, far too young to die, and leaves 4 wonderful grown up children and a loving husband and 3 sisters bereft. I remember her well, especially from my early years in Spain, as a vivacious woman with lots of character, well loved by all. RIP.  We would go to Valladolid the next day to pay our respects to the family. 

I mentioned Churchill, yes Sir Winston, earlier. Well, that afternoon I watched the Brian Cox film I had ordered on Amazon.
The new film on Churchill which I watched this week
I was brought up to think Churchill was a national hero, perhaps the greatest Briton ever to live. I remember his funeral when I was a child in 1965 when the whole nation mourned his passing away. He will go down in history as the man who won the 2nd World War. He is also remembered for his amazing speeches and cantankerous and explosive temperament. However, the film portrays a different man, an old and weaker one and I'm not sure I liked it. The film concentrates on the days leading up to D Day on 6th June 1944 and the film exposes his efforts to stop what was called Operation Overlord which he thought would not be a success and would cause a major numbers of deaths. I was surprised to hear this although it is backed up by some historians in the "extras" part of the DVD, The making of Churchill. Whether that was true or not, Churchill for me and many other people, is still the greatest Briton ever to have lived. Or can you think of who it should be if not him? 

The film was rather short and ended abruptly, leaving me wanting more but more about his greatness. Instead, I continued watching season 2 of Victoria. She may be the greatest British woman to have lived but I'm not sure. In any case the series is very good and that day I watched the episode which is about the Irish potato famine. Again it took me right back to my history lessons with Miss Scorer at St. Joseph's College Bradford. The potato blight in the 1840's and 1850's left more than a million dead and forced another million to emigrate to the USA. Queen Victoria was unable to persuade the PM at the time, Sir Robert Peel, to get Parliament to agree to sending food to Ireland. 

While I was watching the series, many people in the telecoms sector were getting ready to attend the ADSLZone awards dinner. In 2014 they awarded me the prize of Best Communications Director in the sector. However this year, I wasn't invited. I tried not to think about it.  

But the biggest news that day was when Slobaodan Praljak, the so-called Monster of Mostar, died after drinking poison in the courtroom in The Hague upon hearing the confirmation of his 20 year prison sentence for crimes during the Bosnian war. There is a huge investigation going on as to how the poison was let into the courtroom. You should have seen the face of the judge. As he drank the vial, he declared his innocence, denying the evidence.  
Drinking the poison.
On Thursday morning I was up extra early as we were leaving for Valladolid at 9.30. That morning I discovered the scheduling tool or app called Doodle. I'm sure all you techies out there know it and use it but it was my first time setting up a new schedule for a group of people to choose a date that the majority could agree on. I did this for my group of Nokia girls and my ex PR Agency, Ketchum for Christmas reunion lunches in December. It's called Doodle and in my experience this week it's a "doddle" hahaha. If you haven't used it, try. It's great. 
Doodle a great scheduling tool. 
We left for Valladolid, warmly wrapped up as it was a freezing day, at about 9.20. It's 200 km to Valladolid and we arrived at the Funeral parlour about 2 hours later. The place is amazing, it's more like a park. Some of Eladio's brothers and sisters had arrived from León too. It was so sad to greet Dolores' family in these circumstances. The last time I had seen most of them was at a much nicer event; Miguel and Claudia's wedding last year. They were all shell shocked that Merche had left them all so suddenly and I think they were still trying to take it in. So was I. I felt most sorry for her husband, Gabriel who now has to face retirement alone. That is so cruel at that time of life. I was happy that we went so that I was able to comfort Dolores and her sisters Cristina and Esther as well as Merche and Gabriel's daughter Chiruca, so much like her, and her sons Antonio, Fulgencio and Gabriel. We would have loved to stay for the funeral but it wasn't until later that night. I'm sure she had a tremendous sendoff as she was such a well loved person. 
RIP Merche. 
We left at around 13h and decided to have lunch on the way. In the end we stopped at the medieval town of Simancas about 10km from Valladolid. We had never been and it looked attractive with it's white stoned 15th century castle which houses the Spanish national archives, as well as the white stoned 16th century church, El Salvador. The photo illustrating this week's post is of me by the castle. We visited it very quickly. There wasn't much to see apart from the archives which you couldn't really see either.
Some of Spain's national archives housed at the Castle in Simancas
Simancas is most famous though for a big battle against the Moors in 939 between Abd Al-Rahman III and King Ramiro II of León which was part of the reconquering of the Moors in Spain, an era called "la reconquista". No prizes for guessing who won. 

We also entered the beautiful church of El Salavador (the Saviour). Here while we were admiring the stained glass, a man was carrying  and rearranging pews. 
The church of El Salvador in Simancas
So I got Eladio to help him. It was to leave space for the big Nativity Crib he was making for Christmas. He promised later to send me a picture when it was up and running. When the pews were all in place, Eladio and I carried on exploring the small town (some 5 or 6000 inhabitants). We walked through the Plaza Mayor. Remember I once told you nearly every town in Spain has one? And here is my husband posing for the camera in the "Main Square".
Eladio in the Plaza Mayor of Simancas
From the Plaza Mayor we made our way to the "Mirador" from where we were supposed to see the 2 bridges, one of them Roman but the viewing point was guarded by railings and it was impossible to take a photo. So, here is one from Google images of the Roman bridge. We never did see the other one which was built much later. 
The Roman bridge in Simancas
There weren't many options for lunch in Simancas. We had been recommended a place called Las Tercias but it was closed. Valladolid is famous for suckling lamb and that is what we had hoped to have for lunch in Simancas. The only other decent looking place that was open was Los Infantes de Simancas. It was nothing to write home about and they didn't have roast lamb on their menu. Thus, they did not get a good write up from me on Trip Advisor hahaha.

We left at around 3.30 pm and were home by 5.30 but too late for our walk as it gets dark at 6 and I had to catch up on my work for Adamo. 

After a heavy lunch, well not so heavy, I made a delicious light dinner which is one of my favourites: smoked salmon (the very best) served with my home made multi cereal bread and thin fresh and steamed asparagus. This is what it looked like.
A light and healthy dinner on Thursday night and also my favourite combination, smoked salmon with fresh asparagus!
Of course we watched the news in bed after dinner. I was pleased to hear that the UK firm Caterwings had ranked San Sebastián in the north of Spain the  best food destination in the world. Yes, in the world. Wow I wasn't surprised as in San Sebastian, apart from lots of Michelin star restaurants which are great, you can eat the most amazing "pinxos" (tapas in the Basque Country)  for just a few coins. In the list there were 3 Spanish cities in the top 10 which certainly shows just how good Spain is when it comes to food. I remember a taxi driver telling me once in San Sebastian that all the tourists came there to eat. No wonder! 
The top food destinations in the world. Spain has 3 cities and San Sebastian tops the list
Friday came and it was busy. I was up before 6 that morning. After my breakfast with the dogs and reading the papers (The Times online and others), I made bread again. This time I used 4 types of flour and included sultanas, walnuts and seeds. 3 hours later, voilá it was ready and smelled delicious.
The bread I made on Friday morning
I was busy that morning getting the 3 rooms ready for a family of 6 coming from Vigo to stay. They were here for a wedding in Boadilla del Monte and were my first Home Away guests. Up till now, our advert was only on Airbnb although I did try with Trip Advisor, but Home Away seems pretty big too, so let's see. 

I also had my weekly conference call with Adamo which was supposed to be a video call using Google Hangouts but it didn't work despite having fiber internet at home. It did work once but that was in the kitchen and nearer the router so next time I shall try in the kitchen. We welcomed on board a new colleague, Pedro, who, like me also worked at Nokia which gave me a good feeling.

There was just time for our walk with the dogs before lunch. And wow it was cold and windy although the sun was shining. In other parts of Spain, mostly in the north, there was snow.

It was also very cold in London or so Suzy told me in our phone call after lunch on Friday. She was walking back from a consultation she had given to a Spanish woman at her health clinic in Harley Street, Britzke Nutrition, and was enjoying the sun too. We had a long chat about Christmas. Wow, I can't wait for her to come and she can't either.  She was happy with the outcome of the consultation which was with a Spanish woman who had lost 4 kgs in one month. Later she posted a photo on Instagram with Maria which I have pinched from her account and hope she doesn't mind hahaha.
Suzy with one of her happy patients
My guests arrived from Vigo at around 5.30 p.m. They brought with them a delightful young Indian girl who had just flown in from Bombay or should I say Mumbai called Nisar.  She had spent a year with the family on an exchange and had learned Spanish perfectly.

While they were settling in, Eladio, Lucy and I started putting up the Christmas tree and decorations to the sound of carols. It was a joyful hour or 2. Traditionally we have always done this later in the month but for some reason or another, this year I wanted to do it on 1st December. It's one way of prolonging Christmas which I love. The Indian girl later commented how beautiful it looked and what a lovely house we had. And here are the results of our efforts.
The tree and part of the Christmas decorations

Christmas came to our house on Friday 1st December
Eladio was in charge of the lights, Lucy in charge of the tree and I did the rest, placing all our Christmas bits and pieces collected over the years, a lot of it from the Stockholm Christmas market, in the rest of the lounges and dining room. We were pleased with the result and so were the girls when I sent them the photos.

But the day wasn't over. We had a dinner engagement that night. We were having dinner with Irene and Tomas at our latest favourite, Filandón, actually quite far from here but near where Oli lives and where they live too. I dressed for the occasion and chose a dress I had bought some months ago at Zara but had not yet worn. Here is a rather bad selfie of what it looks like.
New Zara dress
I had to add plenty of layers as it was freezing outside. At Filandon they had put their Christmas decorations up too and the whole entrance was covered with lights which made it look magical. Dinner, as always at Filandón, was first class. We had tomato and tuna salad to start with as well as their grilled octopus. Everything we ate was of the best quality and at moderate prices. Tomas told me that Filandón is the restaurant with the biggest sales in Spain. I wasn't surprised. We had to have a photo to remember the occasion but the ones taken by the waiters were bad quality as is usual, but this one of Irene and I taken by Tomas is lovely don't you agree?
With Irene at Filandón on Friday night
Irene is a member of the lovely Spanish family I lived with as a student many years ago in Madrid. I was supposed to teach her and her brother Gerardo to pay my keep. Her family welcomed me with open arms and it has a been a love affair ever since. I consider them my "Spanish family".

Saturday came and despite having gone to bed after 1 p.m, I was awake at 5.30. That is not enough sleep. Pippa insisted on going down for breakfast at 6.15 and so we tiptoed down stairs in the dark so as not to wake our guests.  Very soon I was cooking lunch and made "bacalao a la riojana" (cod dish with garlic, onion, tomatoes and peppers). I was joined by Nisar and we had a long lovely chat about India and her life too. She is a relaxed Muslim who studies journalism in India and has plans to work in the film industry but not in Bollywood funnily enough. I asked her what she thought about "Slumdog Millionaire" and she told me it had caused a huge hoo-ha in India but she agreed that about 20% of the population did live like that. Later she would be wearing a sari to the wedding and I do wish I had seen her. 

I had lots of errands to do on Saturday morning. After cooking and chatting to Nisar, off I went to the post office to pick up online orders that for some reason had not been delivered , including a box of Christmas crackers. Then I rushed to Mercadona for some emergency food shopping as on Sunday we would have guests for lunch. I was home just as Oli was arriving. We hadn't seen her for at least 2 weeks - too long - but soon got up to speed as we went on our walk with the dogs in the freezing cold I should add. 

Straight after lunch, Oli and I left in my lovely little Mini to do some Christmas shopping. I got lots more Christmas decorations and some stocking fillers at Plaza Norte at a shop I love called "Tiger". I could have got more if Oli hadn't been with me hahahah. From Plaza Norte we went to Centro Oeste in Majadahonda where I got a big poinsettia to add to the Christmas decorations, as well as some supposedly fresh big prawns for dinner (gambones).  We were tired after 4 hours on our feet but happy. There is nothing nicer than going Christmas shopping with your daughter in my mind. It is something I used to do with my Mother and always enjoyed. We even had a coffee with a very nice but very naughty pain au chocolat at Rodilla before we came home happy with our purchases. 

At Tiger I had also bought a Santa coat for Pippa. It was not a very good fit and I don't think she likes it but it's fun for photos like the one below hahaha.
Holding Pippa with her Christmas coat by the tree
The light was not very good so we shall be taking some more today.

Dinner was delicious. I steamed the giant prawns and Oli shelled them. I served them with cocktail sauce and salad which we had with some of my bread. And then it was early to bed. I needed my sleep after only getting 4 hours the night before.

Today is Sunday. I was up at the unearthly hour of 5.30 but soon I was raring to go as first I had to finish and publish this post, then make more bread and a huge lunch for Eladio's family who are coming today. Plus I have to get my morning walk in.

So now I shall love you and leave you and get on with everything while the rest of the household sleeps. 

Cheers and an early Happy Christmas greeting to you all. Until next Sunday,


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