Trekking with Llamas

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Hurray – we’ve finally found an animal that likes eating brambles!  Llamas.  I’ve been told they eat anything spikey and just to prove it they munched and nibbled hawthorn in abundance when we went for a short llama trek.

That’s just one of the interesting facts we found out on our recent visit to National Forest Llamas treks.  I know, the National Forest isn’t in Portugal, (actually in Leicestershire, UK) but as we’ve found there don’t seem to be any llamas to trek with in Portugal.  I hope someone reading this blog will prove me wrong but apart from Quinta Pedagogica, and Aljezur Alpacas on the Algarve which of course only have alpacas, we can’t find a single llama farm. Which is a shame because we would really like to have some Portuguese llamas.

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Not just to eat up the prickly plants at Quinta Blackberry, with its over abundance of brambles for which I am finding all sorts of uses, but to run our hands through their thick woolly coats, hug them, walk with them, talk with them and watch them.  Use them to keep foxes and wild dogs at bay for our planned ducks which they are particularly good at and maybe, you never know, get some wool from their gorgeous, woolly coats. Indeed, I see myself in a natty llama capelet as styled by the casting on couch.

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My current dream, apart from finishing the two houses we are renovating, writing children’s books and expounding the many virtues of Portugal, revolves around trekking through the countryside with a wonderful view of the Montejunto hills, llama in one hand, picnic in the other and the dog at our heels.  Trekking with llamas would be fabulous.  If only we could find some.

Available on Amazon £4.99 or less.

Available on Amazon £4.86/£1.86 Kindle edition

Coming soon from Alicia Sunday, ‘Alfie!’ and ‘Angel Super Sleuth’.

 

 

 

 

The Firefly Sessions; The Deans play live in Portugal

The Deans

The Deans

I love nothing better than sitting in a barn with a glass of wine, lovely food, a buzzy atmosphere and live music. I know.  Not the sort of thing I was expecting to find in Portugal.  Rural France maybe, deepest Somerset.  Well aren’t I lucky because in the same village we have Casal Garcia which along with unique holiday accommodation have turned their large barn and courtyard into a music venue, showcasing some incredibly talented musicians as part of the Firefly Sessions.

The Deans

The Deans

Headlining this weekend are The Deans, a rock trio from Southern Ireland who won the prestigious “Unsigned Only song competition” in the U.S. in 2013 and are currently touring Spain.

Early this month I was privileged to attend the first Firefly Session, and after the fabulous buffet by the resident chef, Gee, there was time to stroll around and enjoy the surroundings before the bands came on at 9.30pm.  I wallowed in the warmth of these beautiful voices heralding from Portugal, Ireland and Switzerland and headlined by Nicole McGuire, culminating in a special homage to the memory of Taidhg Burke, original instigator of these special evenings.

Nina's beautiful voice

Nina’s beautiful voice

Apart from having to physically carry the neighbour’s dog, Dakota, home halfway through the evening because she’d followed us there in the hope of an extra meal it was a fabulous evening and I’m looking forward to more of the Firefly Sessions throughout the summer.
Casal Garcia is based near Cadaval with a superb view of the Montejunto hillside.  Tickets include a meal by resident chef Gee.  For more information and bookings contact Sandie at lightrailproductions@gmail.com.

Beware! Wild Animals at Obidos Chocolate Festival

 

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A Chocolate Festival!  What a brilliant idea!  All my Christmases have come at once.  Off we hopped to the Obidos Chocolate Festival on the Silver Coast last week.  Just after Christmas we had visited the Vila Natal and attempted to see the fabulous light display, so we had an idea of what to expect – plenty of entertainment and attractions for all age groups.  Plus there was always the chance they’d replaced the skating rink that was there at Christmas with a big, chocolate filled swimming pool.

Part of the exhibition at the Escola de Hotelaria

Part of the exhibition at the Escola de Hotelaria

The theme this year is wild animals.  Amazing chocolate sculptures of gorillas, giraffes, snakes and other exotic creatures.  Fantastic cake displays. Once you’ve wandered up the main cobbled street, lined with artisan shops, museums, cafes and restaurants and of course stalls selling chocolate themed items, you turn left at the top of the hill where you can pay to enter the main event.  This is choc full (sorry irresistible pun) of displays and events including chocolate workshops and tastings.

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However we found enough to keep us occupied for an hour or two strolling up the main street.  We meandered along drinking ginja liqueur in a chocolate cup while the children ate strawberries dipped in chocolate fondue bought from a shop selling artisan food, organic vegetables and second hand books.  What more could a girl want?  (Okay, you can probably think of something).

chocolate fondue

Along that line, my son asked if he could go back and get ‘the reindeer lollypop’.  Now I’m not sure what he thought it was but it wasn’t a reindeer lollipop.  I headed over to where he was pointing which I thought was some sort of round edged sword. I had seen these round edged swords on quite a few stalls. Must be something to do with the Knights Templar and castle maybe.  As I stood pointing and discussing whether to spend the 2.50 euros on the lollipop my husband dragged me away saying it wasn’t appropriate for my son to have that because anyone could see it was actually a chocolate lollipop in the shape of male private parts.  Upon further scrutiny (of the lollipop) I realised he was right.  Oops.  I couldn’t see any hen parties or indeed anyone enjoying one in the spring sunshine so I’m not sure they did a roaring trade in those.  Indeed they may have sold more chocolate reindeer.  Well, they would have sold at least one.

Yep.  Its a cake!

The chocolate festival runs this year from 14th March to 6th April, so just one weekend left.  Let’s hope for more spring sunshine.  For further insight into the chocolate festival visit ‘Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal’ who did a brilliant round up of last year’s festival.

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The cake decorating exhibition was amazing!

Quick and Healthy Citrus Spring Biscuits

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This is a biscuit recipe that has evolved from making flap jacks in a hurry at seven in the  morning for the kid’s school snacks.  I like to make them fresh and I really don’t have time to make proper flap jacks, melt butter, weigh everything out, get flour everywhere, that just doesn’t work for me.  Therefore, I use tablespoons instead of weighing scales, because its quicker to grab a spoon and fill it. I thought I’d share my version which I have to say are no longer anything like flap jacks.

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None of the ingredients are set in stone and I suggest you experiment a little.  These are made with oranges because they are in season in Portugal, as are lemons, but in England I would add plum or apple in the autumn, chopped up cherries or maybe a sprinkling of elderflowers in summer, so you get the drift.  Sometimes I add a dessert spoon of desiccated coconut or dried cranberries chopped in half, or sultanas depending on what is in the store cupboard, if I have nothing fresh.

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4 tablespoons rolled oats

4 tablespoons rice flour (you can use ordinary flour, ground almond would probably work too).

1 tablespoon olive oil (of course you can use butter but olive oil is much easier and healthier).

Juice and grated rind of 1 medium orange.  If you are using a fruit that doesn’t contain much juice then you can replace this with milk or cartoned juice.

1 tablespoon honey.

1 dessert spoon sugar – optional.  I tend to add this sometimes as they then go down better with the children.  Half a teaspoon of ginger or cinnamon is a nice addition too.

1 pinch of salt.  Okay hands up, I don’t actually bother with this as I try to avoid salt, so this is optional.

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Combine all the ingredients together.  If the mixture is too sticky add a little more flour.  You shouldn’t need to get out the mixer as it only takes about a minute to combine with a spoon until it has melded into a ball.

Roll out on a floured board (or a large flat plate which is quicker to wash) to about half a centimetre thick and cut with a 2″ biscuit cutter or into whatever size you fancy.  Pop them onto a greased baking tray.  I sometimes don’t even roll them out but pop them into shallow, greased pattie tins.

This should make about eight biscuits but if you want more just adjust the ingredients.

Bake in a pre-heated oven or a halogen oven at 200°C, 400°F or gas mark 6 for approximately ten minutes or until just slightly going golden brown.

Now then, when I came to bake these this morning my halogen oven wasn’t working so I ended up baking them in a grilling machine for 15 minutes.  It seemed to work although not quite as tasty and good looking as usual.  The pictures are therefore of the pre-baked biscuits.

Can’t wait to finally get a proper kitchen and oven.  Sooner rather than later now I think!

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The Firefly Sessions, Good Food, Awesome Music!

Nicole Maguire

Nicole Maguire

Can’t wait for St Patrick’s Day in Central Portugal when our neighbours Sandie and Gee will be launching the Firefly Sessions at Casal Garcia, near Cadaval, an hour’s drive from Lisbon.

It’s going to be an unforgettable experience, an opportunity to hear a range of fabulous live Irish music from several musicians throughout the evening, eat gorgeous food, make new friends and honour the  memory of Taidgh Burke, with whom these sessions were conceived, from the awesome Irish band ‘The Calvinists’.

The Calvinists

The Calvinists

You don’t have to be Irish (I’m not) to appreciate this evening, just have a love of good music, good food and unique surroundings set in the gorgeous countryside close by the Serra de Montejunto, a protected landscape with glorious views.

Hosts Sandi and Gee always create a lovely, warm atmosphere and it’s no surprise that Casal Garcia itself is already booked out with guests flying over from Ireland for the event.  Aer Lingus probably can’t believe their luck!

Nicole Maguire

Nicole Maguire

So who’s kicking off the evening’s entertainment at the first Firefly session?  That’ll be Cork’s much loved singer/songwriter Nicole Maguire.  Taken under the wing of Grammy Award Texan singer Nancy Griffiths and Ireland’s preeminent live performer Damien Dampsey early in her career, this is the buzz:

“Her voice is serenely beautiful and carries her intricate flowing sublime melodies effortlessly. She has an eagle’s eye for detail and her lyrics transport you to places, with great stories. She is a great communicator and can always win over a tough crowd that isn’t her own and all her hard work is now paying off. Definitely a star in the ascendency.” Damien Dempsey.

Nicole Maguire

Nicole Maguire

“Nicole’s singing and playing convey a real purity of sound and emotion. There’s no artifice with her – Nicole’s absolutely the real thing.” Mitchell Froom, music producer.

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Come and join us in the beautiful Montejunto countryside.

The Firefly sessions will continue throughout the summer with The Deans dropping by for the April Firefly Session, so if you can’t make this Monday, 17 March 2014, I’ll keep you posted about further events or you can check yourself for information through the Facebook page of Casal Garcia.  Tickets are £25.00 and include a meal by resident chef Gee.  For bookings contact Sandie at lightrailproductions@gmail.com.

The Album 'What You Really Mean'.

The Album ‘What You Really Mean’.

Fear of the Centipede

Not quite sure what I think about the centipede (Wikipedia)

Not quite sure what I think about the centipede (Wikipedia)

“Mum, mum, there’s a ….thing in the bath.”  Oh no, not a spider, please not a spider.  I peered in.  Ugh.  A strange, long legged centipede.  Like a spider with a long body and oh, about 100 legs.  Great. Now then, an elephant, a tiger, a mouse in the bath would all be fine.  But a tiny little insect. Aaargh!!!

I don’t mind lizards.  Mice, cute.  Rats, hmmm.  Ants, interesting.  Beetles, many hours spent rescuing them from pools and ponds.  A centipede, well this particular type, was new to me, and I wasn’t quite sure…

I'll happily rescue a beetle in distress

I’ll happily rescue a beetle in distress

With no Zed here it was down to me to grab glass and paper and remove it.  I took it outside and it hurried away on it’s 30 plus brown legs.  Not actually 100 legs, apparently. I didn’t count them.  Anyway, for the next half an hour whenever I felt anything on my skin, a dressing gown belt, hem of my skirt, I was convinced it was a many legged something and would jump.

I can cope with mice though.

I can cope with mice though.

I believe this brown, many legged creature is a House Centipede.  We’ve seen quite a few while we’ve been here.  On the plus side, according to information I found on real monstrosities they eat other insects.  Keeping the rest of the insect population down in the house.  They’re particularly keen on silver fish.  On the minus side they can sting and cause swelling or a rash.  Otherwise fairly harmless.

Maybe I’ll keep the house centipede and throw the elephant and tiger out with the bath water instead.

Where’s our Puppy Gone?

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We were tempted by these puppies last year but common sense ruled.

“Dakota’s had puppies!” yelled Zed, coming in from taking Milly on her evening walk and looking slightly windblown with a light drizzle of rain still glistening on his shoulders.  “Who wants to come and see them?  I think we should see if we can have one.”

We raced over to the neighbouring barn.  Dakota isn’t our dog.  She lives under a table next door and belongs to someone in the village.   Whenever she breaks free she bounds over to our house and scampers around with Milly, our Labrador cross.  We don’t actually know her real name but Dakota is as good as any don’t you think? A little black and tan mongrel featured in a previous blog ‘Scruffy and Woofy’.

Dakota

Dakota

We peered under the table at the two tiny, black, newly born creatures wriggling around near their mother in the dark.  I could see two but maybe there were more hidden the other side of her.

“Should we ask if we can have one?” asked Zed. In that moment all common sense went out the window along with the unspoken and disturbing thought that maybe they weren’t wanted and would be drowned.  Home was, after all, a table.

The following morning Zed dashed out with a translated note which said something like ‘If you don’t want all the puppies can we have one?” and left it on top of the table for the owner to find.

Later that day the owner came by.  Zed tried out his Portuguese and after a conversation of sorts managed to establish that there were three puppies, that the owner was having one, another neighbour the other and there would be one for us.  Well, we think that’s what he said.  At one point the owner mentioned ten puppies and reeled off names across the neighbourhood.  Ten puppies?  Eh?  Where were they? What?

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Dakota and her puppies were rehoused in a wooden shack the following day. At intervals I would peek my head around the door and watch them suckling or barging around the room. They were as cute as teddy bears and I couldn’t resist them, couldn’t wait for the day when we could take one home. They were black and tan like their mother.  There was just one little thought bothering me, we could still only see two puppies…not three…not ten…

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Ola, ola!”  shouted a neighbour at our gate late one evening. My daughter translated their problem.  It seemed that the puppies had gone missing. Oh no!  Had we seen them? Knowing that Dakota plays in the garden we wondered if she’d brought them in and hidden them somewhere. Clearly wanting us to be the proud owners.  Were these the neighbours who were having the other puppy?

The following morning a makeshift fence had been put up in the yard.  Outside on the road stood Dakota, shaking slightly. I could hear the puppies whimpering in the shed.  They’d returned safely from their wander but she couldn’t get to them.  Emergency!!  I raced into the house to fetch Zed to help me lift Dakota over the fence. When we got back the dog was already the other side having found another way in.  As they fed and then scampered out to play I wondered whether we would be given the boy or the girl. I didn’t mind which. We hadn’t come up with a name yet. Maybe ‘The Wanderer’?  I bought a tin of puppy food.  Just in case.

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We waited for them to be weaned, visiting them often, holding them, playing with them. They started eating solid food.  One evening my son came rushing in.  One of the puppies had gone!

The following day we watched the carnival parade in town then came home and cuddled the last remaining, gorgeous, fluffy puppy.  Was it ours?  When could we take it?  Where was the owner to ask? More importantly – do we really need two dogs?

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carnival parade

The next morning Dakota was there, bounding happily in front of us as usual.  At the shack there were no puppies left.  Not ten, not three, not two, not one.  They say dogs start to look like their owners and with his light, tan, floppy hair and cute face Jae was starting to look uncannily like one of the puppies.  It clearly wasn’t the sign I thought it was though.

Done hens and ducks.  Tilly the hen.

Maybe a chicken instead.

Ah well.  They have chickens for sale in the Agriloja store.  Maybe a more practical option.  They are for sale next to the cutest floppy eared rabbits though…..

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book cover rivoli

‘The Rivoli Wigwam’ by Alicia Sunday
A fantasy adventure
for 7-9 year olds.