Friday 30 December 2016

Hygge ...

I have to 'fess up to never having been to Denmark, and to have a knowledge of that country, its language and its people that has largely come to me as a by-product of my enthusiasm for crime fiction. So far, so good. These days however there is one aspect of Danish culture that I find myself drawn to, and that is this thing called hygge. Everyone seems to be talking about all over social media.

Now I certainly don't pretend to totally understand what it's all about. For one thing the internet tells me that hygge is a concept incapable of direct translation into English, which is a bit daunting. Apparently we simply haven't got any words to express it.

The Danish word, hygge (pronounced “HUE-gah”) is translated by Babylon as cosiness, which is, I suspect, an over-simplification. Other sources elaborate on it being the art of enjoying life's simple pleasures, such as family, friends and warm homes in cold weather. It could, for example, be the pleasure of taking off your unwieldy ski boots, massaging your cold feet and slipping them into the furry embrace of a comfortable pair of Ugg boots. Do you ever feel elated when you finally get those cumbersome ski boots off? Me too! Well, I'm pretty confident that what we're recognising here is a warm, happy moment of hygge.

Whatever the sense of it I'm probably not doing hygge in a way that many Danes would recognise, but out here on the Costa Brava I'm making a valiant attempt to nail it. These sleepy down-days between Christmas and New Year, when the holiday mentality carries on regardless of whether there are bank holidays or not, seems to present the perfect opportunity to achieve moments of hygge.

Thursday 29 December 2016

Mas Molla ... going strong since 1338 ...

At this time of the year we tend to go through rather a lot of vino, with friends and family dropping in, dinners, celebrations and general merry-making. Having had a fairly thirsty Christmas we headed out yesterday afternoon to replenish supplies for the New Year.

Rather than trekking off to Oddbins, we went to the bodega of Mas Molla, where the same family have been making wine  in the same way on the same land since 1338. I kid you not. They cared for their vines in the fields hereabouts as the Hundred Years War raged across Europe. They shivered with fear as the population round about perished from the Black Death, which flared up for the first time in 1348 - just 10 years into their history here.

When they first started out in business it was still (fairly) respectable to believe that the world was flat, and it would be almost 200 years before Nicolas Copernicus suggested (in 1543) that the earth revolved around the sun. Can you imagine that? The Molla family were working here when heliocentrism was regarded as a dangerous heresy. They were doing their thing whilst poor old Galileo was being investigated, and held under house arrest by the Roman Inquisition for having supported the heretical notion that the sun was at the centre of the solar system.

More than a century and a half would have to pass from the time they opened shop here before Christopher Columbus sailed across the pond and discovered America.

I could go on in this vein for some time ... .

Standing there yesterday looking out over the terrain, dotted with rows of (very dead-looking) winter vines it sent a real shiver down my spine to think about just how long this family-chain, down through the generations of the Molla family, has been tied to these same fields. I was more than a little bit blown away by my own roll-call of events that they've lived through ... .

Mas Molla, Calonge (Girona)
The cellars of Mas Molla, Calonge

Tuesday 27 December 2016

La Sardana

Yesterday was Boxing Day - or Diada de Sant Esteve, as it's known in this part of the world. To celebrate the village went dancing in the Passeig del Mar.  They laid on a live band, everyone brought their dog, and the young and the old and everyone in between came out to dance the Sardana in the bright Christmas sunshine.

Saturday 24 December 2016

Merry Christmas ...

I'm all cosy and snug with my nearest and dearest here on the Costa Brava. Our tree is up, our presents are wrapped, the turkey is stuffed and set for roasting, and there's nothing left to do but enjoy the moment.

Well, seeing as I've got everything under control, how'd you you like to step out with me for a moonlit stroll around my pueblo? They've really pulled out the stops and put on the Ritz with lots and lots of Christmas lights. Come on! You'll hardly need a coat. After the recent winter storms the weather's turned benign.

Sun set over the bay in Sant Feliu de Guíxols

Friday 23 December 2016

Harbour fix-ups ...

It's a quiet time of the year down at the harbour, with not so many boats going out every night. But that gives the fixer-uppers an opportunity to get ahead. There's been a lot of activity mending nets, painting hulls and doing refits.

Early morning at Sant Feliu de Guíxols harbour

Thursday 22 December 2016

Super-chunky-knit cushions ...

Super chunky knit cushions - pattern follows : dog - an inimitable one-of-a-kind!

I bought some of this ultra super chunky wool a while ago. I'd noticed that other people were getting into all sorts of knit-something-in-a-day projects, and I was curious to see how it would work out. So I ordered some colours that struck me as harmonious without a very clear idea of what I was going to do with them.

Now I have to confess that this kind of knitting is not really my thing. I'd never advocate using the resulting textile for anything other than upholstery. It produces a knit that's just too chunky and unwieldy for my tastes: think Axminster carpet as opposed to 2 ply cashmere ... . Wear it and you're likely to melt in any environment that boasts even the most rudimentary heating system, and, even if you're as thin as a pencil, a padding of this ultra super chunky knit is guaranteed to make you look like a bear who's ate all the honey and is heading off to hibernate.

But where it does come into its own is for seat cushions. I'm a big fan of sitting outside on sunny days right through the winter months. I love to be outdoors with fresh air and winter sunshine. When I'm skiing I love how they cosy up the patio seating with throws and cushions and padding. And this is where ultra super chunky wool comes into its own: if you're looking for über insulation it's the real deal. For seat cushions that are guaranteed to keep your rear end cosy in the depths of winter it's the business. Added to which whatever you make will knit up in super quick time.

I knocked these together in just a few hours. You could have a whole new suite of patio cushions knit and sewn together over the course of a stay-at-home Saturday.

Just read on for the patterns:

Tuesday 20 December 2016

All set for Christmas ... Costa Brava style

You know you're a grown-up when you're the person who has to deliver Christmas. And this year I'm the designated adult. All of Mr B's siblings and their families are coming to us for Christmas Day. And out here on the not-so-sunny Costa Brava finding an ostrich-sized turkey to feed them all with is proving to be a bit of a challenge ... .

Friday 2 December 2016

Oxtail soup ... the ultimate winter warmer

It's turned really chilly here in London. The days are bright and clear, with blue skies and sunshine, but once the sun goes down it gets s-o-o-o cold.

At this time of the year, as the nights draw and the cold strengthens, I turn to hearty food: soups and stews are the things I want to cook most. And there's nothing better on a cold winter's night than a steaming bowl of oxtail soup. It is the ultimate, luscious, warming, comfort food. Mine gets cooked all day in the slow cooker, filling the house with its tantalising smell. By nightfall the meat is falling off the bone, and the liquid is a rich, deep chocolatey brown ... ambrosia in a soup bowl!

Given that there are only three bears who usually sit down at my table every night, this recipe has been calculated to feed three people. You can big it up if you've got more folk to feed. Just read on for my recipe:

Oxtail soup