An evening photo of the Anchorage near Arrecife with two moored sailboats

 

Its golden hour and we are sitting in the cockpit enjoying the tranquillity.  We sip a little sun-downer and wait for the sun to do its magic as it dips below the horizon.  I will never tire of the beautiful colours at dawn and dusk.  We have come out to anchor to escape the stress of the battery drama which despite our best efforts to avoid, was spoiling our trip.

To cut a long story short, the new batteries we had bought before leaving, transpired to have been sitting on a shelf for over two years before they were sent out to us. By the time we arrived in the Canaries the “new” batteries were not holding any charge.   Getting the mess sorted out, replacement batteries organised, freight forwarders and customs agents to clear in the replacements  with lots of added costs and complications then became our problem to deal with.

Knowing that batteries cost two or three times more in the places we are heading to, we replaced the whole bank of house batteries on the boat. They were still working perfectly.  In fact they are doing a sterling job keeping things running at the house in Portugal while we are away.  They are as old as the boat though, and could have caused us a problem further down the line. So we changed them out.  The new batteries arrived just before we were leaving, when our to-do list was as long as our arms. So we stuck our meter on them, they seemed fine and we put them in. Good to go!

I’m kicking myself now.  It so happens that they have a serial number on them and unusually a manufacture date printed on the top. Had I checked we’d have sent them back straight away.  Normally I am the t crosser, I dotter and small print reader in our house. Chris used to always accuse me of being a pedant, back in the day, though the words pot calling the kettle black, spring to mind when coming from him.

 Because we had so much to do before leaving, I didn’t check everybody else’s work. So we found ourselves, going through the dramas of replacing the batteries, in a far flung place. The very situation we were so keen to avoid. 

Getting out of the harbour and escaping to a calm anchorage the stress just fell away. We had stillness and freedom of the open sea around us. We took our first swim of the trip, in lovely clear water that didn’t feel cold, and started to feel right with the world again.

 As we sat sipping G&T’s in the cockpit we were treated to a great spectacle by the Arrecife Club Nautico as well.  A procession of little boats all manned by young kids came out past our boat. They sailed out beyond the sea wall into the bay to practice.  It was glorious to watch the next generation of sailors learning the art of mastering the wind and taking charge of their own piece of the planet for an hour or two. What freedom, to make their little craft go where they choose. It made me think that parents make so many decisions in their kids’ lives for them. How nice for kids to be in control  of their own self-contained world, that is a sailing dinghy, even for just a few hours each week.

 I do some of my best thinking when I have hours to spend messing about in boats. I Hope they’ll all turn out to be great thinkers one day.  Not too much dreaming though, as there is nowhere more punitive than a small sailing dinghy for making a bad decision. The next thing you know, you are swimming out from under a capsized boat.

Still, it’s not whether bad things happen to us or not, it’s how we recover that counts and sailing does teach you resilience at times.   Resilience is such an important attribute for life. In the words of Winston Churchill “it’s how we go from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” It’s how we manage to enjoy this trip despite of all the things which keep going wrong.  Never mind, we were able to go back and collect the replacement batteries with renewed enthusiasm after our couple of days at anchor.

 I wish I’d have learned to sail at a young age.   It’s my one regret that we live so far away from our nieces, nephews and grandchildren and we aren’t able to teach them to sail.  At a young age children have no fear and they learn so quickly.  Maybe one day they’ll spend the holidays with us and we can get them messing about in boats

I remember back in the days in Plymouth with my ratbag ex-husband we often spent the weekends on our boat surrounded by his grand-children.  I remember the first time we got in a bit of a blow with all of them on-board. We were so worried about their safety and the fact that the experience might be scarring them for life but not so.

The boat healed over dramatically and the younger ones fell into a heap, in the bottom of the cockpit (best place for them) as their legs weren’t long enough to brace against the opposite side.  The older ones couldn’t wait to tell their friends at school how cool it all was.  After that day the lovely calm sunny days that we adults enjoy were considered slow and “boring” by them with constant calls of “make it go faster grandad, make it tip”

There is nothing like a stiff breeze and a quick sail, whats not to love?  But I’m hoping for a lot more calm boring sunny days, with no dramas from now on in.

 

                Check out our latest Video          Click this link to view 

Iced Christmas Cake with Cherries on Top and a Red Ribon
Never Too Late Christmas Cake

I Stir-up Sunday is the last Sunday before advent and was traditionally the day for making your Christmas puddings. I use this day to make all kinds of Christmas goodies and this year it had to include the Christmas cake as I had not managed to find time to make it before.  I  usually try to get the crimbo cakes made in late September so I have plenty of time to feed them before Christmas, but not this year.

 It usually means that whoever eats it; has to stay over, as the cake is so well fed, that you won’t be fit to drive after even a small slice.  That’s the way we like it in our house, but those of you who know us, know we’re close on alcoholics anyway. 

I like this recipe though because even with minimal feeding, it’s still lovely and moist and you can get away with making it up to about a week before Christmas.  I once tried to just make it and eat it. Fortunately I made two small ones that time, because without at least a week to mature and a good feed, it tasted bit dry and nasty.

I say feed, but really, what I mean is drink. I give my cakes  port and brandy alternately every couple of weeks if I have made them in September or at least one drink of each if I make the cakes last minute.  Then they are ready to paint with vodka  to prevent mould growing between the cake and the marzipan if you keep the cake for a long time. I then paint on a thin layer of thinned down apricot jam to help the marzipan stick nicely and finally I can ice them if I want or sometimes I just make pretty patterns in the marzipan and toast it a little with a blow torch for a more natural look.  The cakes will keep longer if iced as well. 

I say cakes because usually at Christmas time I have a whole list of friends and neighbours who put their orders in and the cake making becomes a bit of a marathon.  This year ladies and gents we are off on our jollies so I’m giving you the recipe instead and you’ll have to get busy and make your own. So without further a do 

100g / 4oz dates 

100g /4oz figs 

50g / 2oz prunes 

75g / 3oz cherries 

75g / 3oz mixed peel

75g /3oz walnut pieces

150g / 6 oz raisins  

150g / 6oz currants 

Rind and juice of 1 lemon  

Rind and juice of 1 orange

I slug/tablespoon of rum or brandy 

150ml strong cold tea

3 teaspoons mixed spice

3 teaspoons of cinnamon

 

150g / 6oz butter 

150g / 6oz dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons black treacle 

3 eggs 

200g / 8oz plain flour

pinch of salt 

50g /2oz ground hazel nuts

 or almonds         

75g / 3oz plain chocolate pieces                            

 Mix all these ingredients together and let them    steep/soak for a couple of hours or overnight until the fruit has swollen and absorbed  most of the liquid                                                      

If there are fruits in this list that you don’t have or don’t like, leave them out and substitute something you do like. This time I couldn’t get prunes so I substituted dry cranberries and I  couldn’t get mixed peel so I chopped up some fresh thin skin mandarins instead                                            

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add in the treacle and then the eggs.  Sieve together the dry ingredients and fold them in.

Finally fold in the steeped fruit mix and the ground nuts and chocolate.

Pour into a tin double lined with 2 layers of baking paper and bake for 2 ½  hours on 150C/ 300F/ gas 2

 

In the Video I said gas4 which I need for my tiny low power oven on the boat. at home in my regular oven 150C works perfectly.

Too hot and it will burn

The secret to good christmas cake is

Plumping up the fruit with a bit of liquid first 

and 

Cooking the cake on a low temperature for a long time

For long slow cooking, it’s so important to put more than one layer of paper to prevent it from burning on the edges and the bottom. You will also need to cover the top while baking.  You will need to test if it’s ready by sticking a knife or skewer in from time to time. If it comes out clean the cake is ready.

  The cooking time is a bit of guess work depending on your oven and the size and shape of the cake tin you use.  The deeper the cake tin you use, the more time the cake is going to need for cooking.  Up to 3 ½ hours for a really deep cake is normal.   A 8”/20cm or 9”/25cm tin is fine for this recipe. If you are feeding a crowd and want a big show-stopper cake, double up the recipe and use a larger tin. I have a big 8” x 12” 20cm x 30cm rectangle roasting tray for my oven and I usually make a big, double recipe, cake in that in 2 ¼ to 2 ½ hours.

 

This time because of the constraints of my tiny boat oven, I divided the mix into two 7”x9” 18cm x 23cm rectangle tins which were cooked in about 45 minutes.  When I ice the cakes I have decided to sandwich the two layers together with a layer of marzipan between them to make one full height cake.  If you are in a rush thinner layers is the way to go to speed up the cooking time.

To feed the cake prick holes all over it with a toothpick or skewer and spread the port or brandy all over it liberally with a teaspoon.  After a couple of feeds the cake is ready to be covered with marzipan and Icing.

 I usually make my own  and I’ll be showing you that in a video  coming up soon.  If you are out of time both marzipan and ready-made icing are both available in most supermarkets round about Christmas time.  This is a really easy recipe! if you’ve never made a Christmas cake before, why not give it a go? You can check out my accompanying YouTube video where I show you what to do.              

Happy baking everyone
              and       
a lovely festive season to you all!

Part 2 Icing the Cake

Collage of Caves, a Crator and Cacti taken on our Island tour of Lanzarote

Island tour – a Change is as good as a rest

How many times have I quoted the old saying, that the Cruising life = fixing your boat in Exotic places?  Well we finally got to see a little of this exotic place in which we now find ourselves fixing our boat and it was fab! Lanzarote  the most easterly of the Canary Islands is a bleak and barren place  peppered with  volcanoes  some of them active as recently as 1824 which has left  more than a quarter of the island  covered with lava and ash.  A lot of the island looks more like a moonscape than regular earth. This landscape combined with the fact that they only get on average 16 days of rain a year on this island, makes it a very dry and dusty place.  In no time at all, every inch of the boat, especially the forward facing surfaces that are blasted by the wind while at anchor were caked in ochre dust and after only one day we could write “also available in white” all over the boat. 

In spite of its dust and bleakness the island is incredibly beautiful and the people give it real character and charm.  Although the volcano ash makes for very fertile ground, very little grows there because of the lack of water.  A very few weeds manage to populate the landscape despite the harsh environment. In the north there are fields and fields of cacti formerly for the cochineal beetles surrounded by dry stone walls made of lava rock.  In the centre and south of the island grape vines have been planted, each surrounded by its own little wall on three sides to give it protection. As Lava rock is porous it soaks up what little moisture they do get and gives it up gradually but pretty much every speck of green on the island needs to be watered.

The islands beauty comes from the different shapes and colours of rock formed by exposure of different minerals or different rates of cooling when the volcanoes erupted thousands of years ago.  Most of the beaches on the island have black volcanic sand, though we did anchor off of Playa Blanca for a few days. This beach is rather obviously named because it is one of the few beaches on island with white sand that shows its original topography before all the volcanoes poured their mayhem over most of the island. 

We hired a car for a day and did the tourist thing. I have to warn you that Steve and I have both done a lot of travelling in our lives and seen some stunning places. Because of this we are very picky sort of tourists and have become rather hard to impress.  Tourist attractions have to be going some for us to give them the thumbs up for wow factor but on Lanzarote our thumbs are definitely up. 

We bought a ticket that allowed us to see three places on the Island for the handsome sum of €21 which seemed like a good chunk of cash but at the end of the day We feel we definitely got our money’s worth.

We visited the Cueva De Los Verdes, the green caves that were in fact ochre and red and yellow and white and every shade of brown and grey in-between.  Actually the caves were a huge array of colours due to the iron oxide, sulphur and mineral salts seeping out of the rock. The only colour they were not, was green. The name green comes from the family that made the caves their home many years ago. The caves have offered shelter to many of the Islanders who used the caves as a refuge from the marauding pirates in the 16th and 17th centuries. 

These caves formed by air pockets trapped between the lava were very different to the normal stalactite, stalagmite formations in all the other caves we have seen. These caves were by far the biggest and longest, we have ever had the pleasure to visit. The caves start at the centre cone of the volcano and run all the way for 6km down into and under the sea. We were able to visit about a kilometre of it and it was truly impressive.  In some of the caverns you could see three stories above and below you.  For the benefit of tourists like us, the Cabildo of Lanzarote, in collaboration with the artist Jesus Soto very sensitively installed lighting, sounds and footpaths to make it into a spectacular visitor attraction. The deepest part of the caverns where it seems you can look down deep into the bowels of the earth is a surprise all of its own.  Very impressive!

Our second destination was the cacti garden.  The garden is a gorgeous space which was created by the artist Cesar Manrique that beautifully blends art and nature. Hundreds of different species of cacti from all over the world are planted in a big tiered bowl, reminiscent of an old quarry.  You can look down from each level and admire shapes and colours below.  There was lots of inspiration here for my garden back in Portugal when we return.

Our final tourist trap was the national park of Timanfaya the site of the most recent active volcanic eruptions on the island between 1730 and 1736 and again in 1824.  The park covers a huge area and you are taken on a bus tour on a tiny windy road with spectacular views down steep ravines and into crators through the ash scattered land.

It was a bit of a surprise to be herded onto a bus, but in hind sight we were very glad not to have had to negotiate all those hairpin bends ourselves. The road seemed rather treacherous in places but fortunately the bus driver knew it well and was able negotiate the tight steep turns with seeming ease.  Being driven meant we were able to just take in the awe inspiring views all around us and the commentary in multiple languages was very informative.

  Back at the visitor centre a few bore holes have been drilled, into which they pour water; and after a few seconds, a huge boiling hot geyser spurts out of the hole into the air.  This shows how just under our feet, the volcano is still ruminating and could erupt at any time.

 Also at the visitor centre there is a restaurant which we didn’t eat at, but their menu offers a selection of barbequed meat and fish dishes cooked by the volcano. They have a huge hole in the ground with a wall around it that looks like a big water well with a grill over the top. The heat of the volcano cooks your dinner at a temperature of about 285 degrees.

We wound our way back through the moonscape land, past some of the islands larger vineyards to the marina after a busy day full of lasting impressions. We didn’t have time to visit any of the bodegas that day but we did sample some of their produce and I must say the local wine is very pleasant indeed! We can’t let you taste the wine but we can give you a flavour of our day out in our latest YouTube video  that accompanies this blog. 

Why not go there next and take a look? 

Cacti Caves & Craters       Click to view