Tuesday, November 30, 2010

All I want for Christmas is...

A big leg off a dead pig to hang in my kitchen! Yes it’s preparation for Christmas here in Spain, the supermarkets will all be open the four Sundays of December and the Christmas trees and decorations are out in force. Christmas music is being played and some truly awful things are in the shops, like the fuzzy felt nativity scene we saw, all in luminous greens and yellows! Christmas preparations in Spain have their own unique flavours, with the supermarkets full of traditional dried fruits and marzipan, more turron than you can shake an almond tree stick at (turron is a sweet confection of crushed almonds and loads of sugar all mixed together into some sort of sticky treat – Owain had not tried it before, to the horror of one of his school mates who promptly nagged his mother to purchase some, which he brought in for our deprived boy the next day! The Spanish are very kind in so many respects.) Finally of course, the cured pig legs. I had quite a shock when I entered Carrefour to see a load of pig legs on display, and the cost....about 100 euros for some.
They always look really rustic when Jamie Oliver uses them in his recipes but as a vegetarian, they don’t really appeal to me. I do like the fact that this is not meat in disguise though...it’s not that pink ham nicely sealed in plastic wrap, all sanitised for your sandwiches and not looking at all like it ever came from a pig. No, this is the real, undisguised thing; it looks like it’s come off a pig...and not in the too far distant past either.
We won’t be getting one but Merry Christmas preparations everyone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to make 16 litres of the purest olive oil.

Step One
Buy a beautiful house in Spain with a rather bare and dusty garden, the garden has three lovely looking olive trees, as well as three other small trees that bear some sort of small fruit, but you´re not really sure.
Step Two
Completely neglect the garden, as your priority is to get the house sorted for your own comfort and your children. Focus on the house and pool. Occasionally remember to water the trees. Periodically notice that one tree is very large and keeps bashing into the gate as you open and close it to leave the house. Spend large amounts of money on the house.
Step Three
Notice that the olive trees seem to have an abundance of green olives on them. Other than watering them intermittently, ignore them.
Step Four
Do a desultory search on the internet about when to harvest olives as you are utterly clueless. See an article about deep watering the trees. Spend a couple of minutes, with four year old daughter helping, watering the olive trees, feeling a bit guilty.
Step Five
Notice that some black olives are being blown onto path; they look ripe, wonder what to do. Notice that one particular tree is very overladen with weighty olives which are dragging the branches down to the ground…hmmmmmm
Step Six
Have a conversation with friendly neighbours about picking some green olives as they have a recipe for them
Step Seven
Overhear some folks at work talking about taking their olive crop to be pressed. They swapped their weighed olives for oil! Yippee! Immediately ask where olive pressing place is, only to find it is miles from your own home. Thankfully, kind Spanish member of staff offers to take your olives for you if you drop them off at school!
Step Eight
Discuss olive pressing plan with neighbours, agree to meet at weekend to pick olives, neighbours will take green olives for a recipe and remainder will be taking for squashing
Step Nine
Neighbours come over at weekend to help pick. Thankfully they are equipped with plastic for the ground (to catch dropped olives), sticks for beating the tree so that olives fall off, and baskets for collecting.
Spend a good part of 6 hours picking olives, supervising 4 and 7 year old as they beat the olive trees, chatting to Spanish neighbours. Become ridiculously upset each time you accidentally step on an olive and crush all the oil out of it. Become obsessed with getting as many olives off the tree as possible. Realise that the trees have an enormous number of olives on them. Realise that picking olives is thankless. Realise why olive oil is so expensive.
Step ten
Clear up plastic, sort green olives from ripe ones, sweep path. Realise that you have about 80kg of olives in back of car. Discuss with neighbours re-convening on Tuesday as there is one final tree to strip!
Step Eleven
Drive olives into work and drop them off in kind Spanish colleagues car…realise that they are quite heavy! As you drive out of gate, look up at “stripped” olive tree and realise there´s a whole section that four adults and two children have completely missed, it is jam packed full of olives!!
Step Twelve
Meet with neighbours and strip third tree. This is quicker as you are now experts at laying plastic, climbing tree and stripping olives. Also, final tree is smaller! After final tree is stripped, jokingly comment to neighbours about section missed on first tree, at which point, they lay down plastic…strip final section of first tree, which yields about another 15 kg!
Step Twelve
Colleague brings in your olive oil!! 16 litres in exchange for your 80kg, they normally give 15 litres per 100 kg, but apparently your olives are particularly good quality (obviously because of the love and care you have lavished upon them!) And you still have the olives from the third tree and the remnants from the first tree in the back of your car! Give 2 litres to kind Spanish colleague, who says it is too much. Insist that he takes it! Share half of remaining olive oil with neighbours. Plan to give some of your share as Christmas gift. Feel very happy with your first harvest!! Wonder how many more litres you will get from final buckets in the back of your car! Begin to wonder about pruning trees for next year…


Modern Classics – The Handmaid´s Tale by Margaret Atwood

As a feminist, I have a fascination with the similarities between the religions of the world that are so opposed to each other in so many different ways but seem to have so many common elements. One of those elements, inescapable in Atwood´s novel, is the subjugation and persecution of women in the name of religious beliefs.
Over the last 15 years, the veil has moved into the public consciousness as a symbol of female persecution and male dominance. It´s a debate that´s well worth having and one that is alive and well in a number of Muslim countries. It´s a question for another blog whether the veil is any more offensive than the g string or thong, is the morality of covering up any better or worse than the overt sexuality of clothing and advertising in our world?
In Atwood´s novel, the veil is certainly a symbol of the control and power than men have over women´s lives. The genius of Atwood is that she takes existing ideas from current society, like religious extremism in parts of America and some Arab states, and pushes them to the very worst possible case scenario. By doing so, she forces us to turn a mirror upon the religions that would prefer a woman to be subject to the needs and desires of the male. She forces us to think about sexuality and the way that it can be controlled and destroyed by patriarchal control in the name of religion.
Ultimately, Atwood is a great modern feminist and an utterly brilliant modern writer. By setting The Handmaids Tale in a seemingly post apocalyptic future, we see the horrors of dictatorial control over women. We see men as military fascists, herding women and treating them as a lesser breeding tool. The most wonderful and frightening aspect of the novel is that the beliefs within it are alive and well in this century, right here, right now, no need for an apocalyptic disaster to push some on the America right to an even greater desire to control women. The irony is of course that America went to war on terror to give people greater freedom, but that excludes the freedom for women. The other irony is that those on the far right of American society have a great hatred of Muslim cultural traditions and yet the extremists on both sides have very much in common when it comes to female sexuality and power.
It´s a fantastic, exciting read. It does not have to be read as an overt political text and I´m sure Atwood wouldn´t necessarily want it to be. However, many women in the world today are suffering under culturally prohibitive patriarchal mores. Many other women are living in the mythology of the cultural enrichment of breast enhancement and surgery leading to the perfect woman. Many women are repressed by the veil; others are repressed by a culture that values female beauty and submission above all other qualities. It´s a novel worth reading for the exciting story line and Atwood´s visionary writing. It´s also a novel worth reading to reclaim feminism as a battle worth the continuing fight.