Thursday, 24 February 2011

Rondas growing wine industry.

Ronda is famous for its ancient bullring, the height defying bridge that spans the impressive gorge, el Tajo, its spectacular fortress like location and the beautiful scenery that surrounds it. However recently Ronda has also become famous for its growing wine industry. Until a couple of decades ago there wasnt really a wine industry to speak of, although the region has in the past been an important wine growing area; infact in Roman times the local currency even featured a bunch of grapes on one side of the coinage. Unfortunately the ancient vineyards were wiped out by Phylloxera in the 19th century and it dropped into obscurity until in 1982 a German, Friedrich Schatz decided to plant some vines, realising that high daytime temperatures combined with low night time temperatures were the ideal growing conditions for vine growing. His organic vineyard is now one of the best in the area and has won several awards. Since then he has been joined by many others; some local Spaniards but also Germans, Argentinians and Austrians.

The main varieties to be found are Shiraz/Syrah, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo and Cabernet-Sauvignon and also the local Romé, and after serious lobbying the wine growers have managed to achieve the areas wines to have their own “Designation of Origin Malaga – Serranía de Ronda”. If you are a wine lover but dont quite know where to start, most of the local wines can be tried by the glass at a small wine bar called Entre Vinos on Calle Pozo just round the corner from the Alameda Park. Owner Javier has more than 12 varieties to try by the glass and stocks an extensive range to be ordered by the bottle. They also serve delicious tapas all presented with style and at reasonable prices; they are closed all day Sunday and Monday lunch, but are otherwise open everyday lunchtimes and evenings. Just around the corner on Calle Molino is the amazing wine shop Placer ego run by Fernando Angulo that stocks all the local wines plus over a thousand more varieties from around Spain and the rest of the world. So if you are planning a trip to Ronda and like a good tipple you are in for a serious treat.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The humble Lemon,

Yep its that time of year again- there are lemons everywhere......the tree outside my window is laden down with these rather overlooked fruits and if its going to produce more for next year they really need to be picked. So Ive been doing my best to use them in everything; instead of vinegar in salads, squeezing the juice and freezing it in icecube trays for the times when lemons are not so abundant- late summer, making lemon syrup- this involves copious amounts of squeezing and boiling up with even more amounts of sugar etc etc. By now Im a little fed up of these bright little fruits and there just doesnt seem to be many takers round here for the odd lemon or two!

But I did make a lovely luscious gorgeous lemoney cake that used up 3 fruits in one go! and it tastes absolutely yep you guessed it lemoney! A bit rich due to the serious amounts of lemon syrup that soak through the cake, but it helps to soak up the oat flour. So heres the recipe alittle fiddly but not too bad but it is yummy and super sweet, I like to think its good for me too with all that vitamin C but somehow I think probably not. Anyway try making it you wont regret it and you might just get rid of a few lemons.

Ingredients: 400gm sugar
125g butter
100ml oil
3 Lemons zest and 100mil juice
3 organic eggs
225gm flour
2tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
75g gm oat meal flour

Beat 250gms of sugar with the butter and the oil till light and fluffy add the eggs one at a time and the lemon zest. To this add 75ml of warm water stir well. Next add flour, oatmeal and raising agents sifted folding them into the mixture carefully. Line a baking tin with paper and place in a preheated oven at 180 degrees C for 50 minutes or until firm. While the cake is in the oven mix the juice with the rest of the sugar and gently heat till all the sugar is dissolved completely. Once the cake comes out skewer all over and pour the syrup all over the cake and down the sides. Leave to cool and voilá.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Fairy tale walk in Los Riscos de Cartajima- Serrania de Ronda

Today its a beautiful sunny crisp day here in the mountains of Ronda and I thought about all the lovely walking that can be enjoyed here and that it would be nice to share the details a walk that we did last weekend when visiting some friends in Cartajima.

Cartajima is one of several white villages that sits in the Alto Genal Valley that is a short car journey ( about twenty minutes from Ronda going out on the road to San Pedro). Perched at an altitude of 826m and surrounded by steep valleys covered in Chestnut trees and ringed by impressive limestone outcrops known as Los Riscos its a truly beautiful place to relax and enjoy unspoilt countryside and discover some of the local flora and fauna.

Luckily we were visiting some good friends in the area that know all the more out of the way walks and they took us to a newly marked route that takes in the hidden pastures of Los Riscos. Just a short car journey from Cartajima on the way to Juzcar about four kilometers out of town there is a sign on the right for Los Riscos, and a well maintained track takes you several kilometers up hill to a parking area, where there is a well marked map of the route. There are wonderful views towards Juzcar and back towards Cartajima across the Alto Genal Valley. Across the track from the car park is a newly made wooden gate that marks the start of the path- go through and just follow the path that is marked with natural limestones on either side. The walk starts gently circling the limestone outcrops on ones left and on the right is a field of Almond trees that at this time of year were all in blossom. As one ascends, the path takes you into Los Riscos that from the outside look craggy and closed off but once inside there are small glades and its really like being in another world. Craggy rock formations with nooks and crannies are all around and the floor was carpeted in wild iris it was really magical. The path is dotted with 5 threshing circles where the local farmers would have brought their wheat or chickpea harvests to be threshed by a mule or donkey. Along the route there are information posts that explain how these threshing areas would have worked and a little bit of history about the area. Once deep inside Los Riscos its surprisingly open, with larger glades and flat areas ideal for picnicking and just taking in the wonderful views or watching the birds fly overhead. The walk takes you through Los Riscos and back around the mountain peak to finish where you started back at the carpark. If you fancy there is also a longer round trip walk from Juzcar to Alpandeire and back to Juzcar that also starts from the same car park area.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

All about Shea butter

Shea butter originates from the karite nut tree found in West and central Africa-most of the shea butter used in the west is infact produced in Ghana. It has incredible hydrating, soothing and skin protective qualities and due to its content of natural Cinnamic acid it can provide a natural protection against the suns rays having a sun protection factor of anywhere between 1 and 6. Its a very highly prized ingredient in cosmetics as it has high levels of natural vitamin E and A and fatty acids that help to retain skin moisture and promote cell renewal. It has also been demonstrated to have anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties which is why its been used for centuries in Africa to heal burns, sores and scars and is a useful aid against dermatitis, and psoriasis. It absorbs quickly into the skin and doesnt leave a greasy residue or block pores. When used in soap making it is unsaponifiable which means it remains in the soap providing a moisturizing layer on the skin after use- making it ideal for any extra dry skin condition.

The process of extracting shea butter is time consuming and is carried out by the women of West Africa providing a valuable income. First the nuts are collected once they drop off the trees between the months of May and July before the onset of the rainy season. Then the outer husk is removed, the de-husked nuts are then transported sometimes many kilometers and usually on foot to a compound where they are then boiled in large pots to make it easier to crack the shells. They are then laid out in the sun to dry before pounding them to release the nut inside the discarded shells are used as fuel. Then the fat is boiled to separate the clear oil that is the butter. As this oil cools it is beaten to turn it into the pure unrefined shea butter. It is very important when buying shea butter to use on ones skin that you buy the unrefined product as all its vitamins remain intact- there is a slight odour but it dissappears quickly once applied.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Extra special places to stay around Ronda.

I thought it would be nice to write something about some of the more unusual and special places to stay in the Serrania de Ronda. Ronda and the area are full of hotels, hostels, and private cortijos- to suit various types of budget. For those who would like something really special the area abounds with fantastic, scenic well run accomodation.

But there are some places that deserve a special mention. One of the most unusual and beautiful places to stay is the Hoopoe Yurt Hotel in Cortes de la Frontera. Set in idyllic, tranquil countryside; the individual yurts are exquisitely decorated and set within their own private gardens. The owners Ed and Henrietta run an eco friendly retreat that features self composting toilets, natural soaps, and runs entirely on solar power.

On the way from Ronda to Sevilla is the modern style Hotel/Restaurant Al Lago in Zahara de la Sierra. Set on the lakeside all the rooms have wonderful views over the lake and the surrounding countryside and they also have a restaurant that serves really good contemporary Spanish cuisine prepared by American chef Stefan Crites. The restaurant itself is a favorite location for locals and tourists alike and they often feature Indian and Flamenco weekends.

In the other direction heading towards the coast is the Hotel Bandolero in Juzcar. Set in the Alto Genal valley which is surrounded by spectacular mountain views studded with chestnut trees, its an ideal location to enjoy unspoilt mountain walking. They also run a contemporary art gallery within the hotel and host various themed holidays.

Ronda and the surrounding area is an exceptionally beautiful place to stay and spend some time exploring its diverse landscape, enjoying the tranquility and authentic Spanish atmosphere or discovering its plentiful flora and fauna.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Insider tips on the best tapas bars in Ronda update

Ok its been nearly two years since I wrote the last post on where to get good tapas in Ronda, and feel its time to update just a little. All the places I mentioned in the first post are still great options but since then there are a couple of new places that really deserve a mention. The first is a small but fantastic bar called Entre Vinos on the Calle Lauria Pozo just up from the Parque Alameda, that combines the highly acclaimed wines of Ronda some of which are also Organic, available by the glass and some wonderful tapas. The bar is decorated stylishly and run by a young couple who are both friendly and helpful, there are digital slide shows of the most famous vineyards of the Serrania de Ronda and you can delight the taste buds with local cheeses, Iberian pork and my personal favourite the Pato Confitada or Duck Confit.

Not quite so chic are the bars that have opened up just infront of the Bus Station overlooking the municipal free carpark. I did mention Los Caracoles in the first post, but this bar has now been joined by several others all offering fantastic fish tapas, whitebait amongst the best. Its not quite the scenic environment associated with Ronda but its 100% authentic and atmospheric and allways packed lunchtimes and evenings with locals out for a quick, good,cheap bite.

I have to mention the bars in the Barrio San Franscisco, which really are amongst the best not only for the food but also for the setting. In the main Plaza of the Barrio lined with ancient trees you can enjoy a variety of excellent tapas, tortitas de camarones, smoked stuffed salmon or maybe a palm heart salad. Its a great place to take the kids as theres a nice little play ground within viewing distance and it really is full of Spanish families, from greatgrandmothers to little babies. The main Bar Sanfranscisco (pictured) is one option, or if you want something more elaborate the Almocabar on the oposite corner also has a terraced dining area in the square. If you really want to push the boat out you could try Casa Maria where the British chef Jamie Oliver decided to whet his appetite.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Palm oil- why I wont use this product in any of my soaps

Many years ago , when I was still in my teens I was lucky enough to visit the first orangutan sanctuary set up deep in the Sumatran jungle. It was a major task getting there but was well worth it although the only fresh food available was bananas and they were all for the orangutans!

That was more than 25 years ago, and nowadays these animals and many more are in serious danger of losing their natural habitat in part due to extensive de-forestation. Its estimated that the size of 3 football pitches a minute are being destroyed for palm oil plantations in Kalimantan alone ( an island in Indonesia).
A palm oil plantation takes around 4 years to be able to harvest any profitable crops from palm oil palms, but companies benefit from an instant cash injection from sales of the cut down indigenous hardwood. Thankfully there has been a lot of bad press for palm oil which has helped to initiate schemes for sustainable palm oil sources, but still they are hard to find and in my opinion still a little dubious.

Quite apart from the environmental factors involved, I just dont really like working with this oil as in its raw form it has a considerably unpleasant smell, although its blessed with a striking orange colour, and to deodorise and decolour an oil means it has to go through some sort of process that probably diminishes its properties in some way. Palm oil does contribute hardness to a bar but otherwise it is an inferior oil that is used mostly as its far more cost effective than say Olive oil is. Since I started soap making I have always used a mix of olive and coconut oils in varying quantities as the base for all my soaps although it does mean they are slightly more expensive to produce.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Amazing Argan Oil - a treat for skin and hair

On a clear day I can see the tips of the Rif Mountains in Morocco from my patio, and its only half a days journey from my village to get to this land of beauty and intrigue that feels like its in another time. In the southwestern part of this fascinating country grows the until recently in decline tree Argania spinosa that produces a hard nut which when crushed and toasted results in the much prized Argan oil.

The harvesting and milling of the argan nuts has traditionally been the job of the Berber women who inturn have used the oil on their skin and hair. The oil contains twice as much vitamin E as Olive oil and is also extremely rich in the essential fatty acids, Omega 3, 6 and 9 that are essential in maintaining hidration levels in the skin, making it a fabulous aid against any dry skin condition such as excema or psoriasis. The high levels of Omega 6 (35.9% of fatty acids) means its also a useful oil for use in massage therapies as it´s been shown to be an effective antinflamatory when applied to the skin.

Fortunately for me I was able to buy some of this organic argan oil and have started using it on my hair and skin, which seeing as Im in my mid forties are quite often on the dry side. After washing my hair and conditioning it as normal I squeeze a small amount ( about the size of a peanut) in the palm of my hand and then disperse this evenly through my towel dried hair. It really helps to make it more silky and manageable and has notably improved the shine and also the definition of my curls. On my skin I then rub on whats left. The great thing about this oil is it doesnt sit ontop of the skin or hair but goes straight in so it doesnt leave a greasy residue.

Apart from anything else this oil is also a great addition to any meal particularly salads where one can really pick out its unique toasted nutty taste. I would really recommend sourcing some of this product and trying it out both in the kitchen and bathroom.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Rosemary - a natural skin and hair tonic

Here in Southern Andalucia the recent sunny weather has brought out the first flowers of the herb Rosemary or Rosmarinus Officionalis which in Latin means"dew of the sea". Wild rosemary on the hillsides flowers alongside the first flush of almond blossom, and makes a welcome flash of colour in the herb garden. This versatile herb is also a useful natural ingredient for both the hair and scalp and also in several skin care preparations. Its ability to stimulate the circulation helps the skin to eliminate toxins and to regain a healthy sebum production therefore making it ideal for both overly greasy skin problems and extra dry skin irritations, however it is perhaps best known for its wonderful effects on the scalp and hair. For centuries people have been steeping handfuls of this aromatic herb in boiling spring water as a general hair rinse and tonic. Its toning effect on the scalp stimulates the circulation which inturn stimulates hair growth and general hair strength. Macerating the gently crushed herb in an oil of choice such as Olive or Jojoba and then using this oil to massage into the scalp can help to reduce more severe scalp problems such as seborrheic dermatitis or dandruff.

I have recently combined pure locally distilled rosemary essential oil and the algae spirulina in one of my soap bars to aid the treatment of overly greasy skin. The concentrated spirulina powder helps to detoxify and also feeds the skin with nutrients, and gives this soap a lovely soft green colour combined with the rosemary oil that stimulates the circulation and is an effective natural anti inflammatory, anti fungal and antiseptic. For an extra skin care tonic after washing with the rosemary and spirulina soap you can tone the skin with an easy to prepare tonic - by just steeping lightly crushed rosemary leaves in witchazel and then gently dabbing this onto the face, before moisturizing if necessary.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Olive oil beauty care

" Oro verde" translated as Green Gold is how the Spanish refer to this wonderful, natural product. Here in Andalucia olive harvesting has now finished and most farmers have their yearly quota of olive oil sitting at home in 5 litre cans, to last them through the next year, eaten simply with fresh bread and a little salt, used to lace all kinds of dishes with its heavenly flavour or dribbled over sun ripened tomatoes in the hot summer months. Every olive grove produces its very own uniquely flavoured oil and if you ever have the chance to taste someones own olive oil you will never be content again to use the mass produced product that gets sold in our supermarkets. Olive oil has also been used here for centuries as a cure all for various ailments such as cradle cap in babies to a sting soother mixed with a little vinegar. Spanish women have also used it since time immemorial as a beauty aid. Mixed with a little lemon juice and applied to the skin as a moisturizer with the lemon acting as a lightener for blemishes and as a general astringent. Full of natural antioxidants vitamins E and A and squalene a natural moisturizer its the perfect choice for sensitive and dry skin conditions. Infact it´s a very useful aid in the relief from excema and psoriasis, but of course the choice of an organic olive oil is very important as any chemical residues can be absorbed by the skin and commercially grown olives are regularly treated with pesticides. Olive oil can also be used as a hair treatment- gently heated and applied from roots to tips leaving it to work its magic a while, before washing and rinsing thoroughly. If massaged into the scalp it can also help to decrease the appearance of dandruff especially if infused with the herb rosemary or with a few added drops of rosemary essential oil. So next time your at a specialist food hall, pick out a good organic olive oil and use it in the kitchen or as part of your daily beauty regime.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Fresh organic olive oil handmade soap

So its been a while since I last posted but Im proud to share my latest wonderful soap creation made from extra virgin organic olive oil and nothing else ( if you dont count spring water). It all started when a local well known organic olive oil producer approached me to make him his very own exclusive extra virgin olive oil soap. He left me a 5 litre bottle of his olive oil thats just been ranked in amongst the top 20 organic olive oils in the world and off I went into the workshop to try out various recipes. After a couple of test batches, I finally hit on the right formula to create a beautiful smooth creamy coloured bar that lathers well and leaves the skin absolutely soft to the touch. Extra virgin olive oil is quite hard to work with as it takes very long to trace - infact the successful batch took over two days to harden sufficiently and despite having a 5% reduction on the lye content and having to make several adjustments on the water content, it lathers incredibly well infact I couldnt stop washing my hands and working the lather into an abundant almost cream like texture. The bars were so good that I swopped the made bars for more oil and promptly made more and they are now available for sale on my website under speciality soaps . They really make a wonderful option for delicate skins and extra dry skin problems like excema or psoriosis, and due to the high quality and purity of the oil used that was not heat treated in any way all the goodness of olive oil is left in the final product.