Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The last laugh

I thought that I had probably already made my last blog entry of 2009...... until I opened my e-mail this morning. OK, so it might be just a bit of 'schoolboy' humour, but it did make me smile for a moment.

The e-mail was from an agency offering pretty girls and/or models to 'pose' on our stand at the Alimentaria trade fair next spring.

And the name of the individual who sent this mail? The very aptly named Gloria Bosom.......Ho, ho, ho!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Traditions at Christmas

I guess it would be fair to say that some traditions become distorted or at least mis-interpreted over time, and others perhaps completely lost. I have noticed that some younger people actually struggle to explain why we 'religiously' follow certain traditions, but that simply makes it all the more interesting to re-discover their origins.

This being the case, I thought that I would look back at a couple of Christmas traditions myself and share my findings with you now.....

Let's start with a big one - Father Christmas, Père Noël or Santa Claus (to mention but a few of his pseudonyms). Did you know for example, that the current rotund, red-suited Santa we have all come to know and love was actually created in 1935 for a Coca-Cola advertising campaign? In his previous incarnation, he was a much thinner, paler character based on the 4th century Greek bishop, St Nicholas, who was the patron saint of children. It was in Holland, where he’s known as Sinterklaas, that he earned his reputation for giving away Christmas gifts (although legend has it that it was possibly St Nicolas himself who started the tradition by distributing gold to the poor).

Now here's another interesting one - have you ever stopped to wonder why you put a pine tree in your living room at Christmas (albeit these days it is may well be plastic)? One theory at least is that it has pagan origins, when an evergreen tree was decorated with fruits to celebrate the winter solstice on 21st December. Later in history the Germans hung crackers on the tree to represent the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, the English eventually replacing the fruit with the glass balls and candles that are more familiar today. The tradition was apparently popularised in the UK by Queen Victoria’s German-born husband, Albert, who started the decorating of trees for Christmas in the mid-19th century. (Artificial trees were first created in the 1930s by the Addis Company, who allegedly manufactured them using spare capacity in their toilet-brush factory!)

And finally, the Christmas cracker (completely unknown here in Spain), was invented by Tom Smith, a London sweet shop owner. After spotting French bonbons wrapped in paper with a twist at each end, he sold similar sweets with a “love motto” inside, and later added a trinket and a bang. His 'Bangs of Expectation' included gifts such as jewellery and miniature dolls, and by 1900, was apparently selling around 13 million a year!

Of course there are many more traditions associated with this holiday, but I will save a few for the coming years.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas message

Click on image to enlarge

I'm not sure if it's politically correct to use the word Christmas these days, for fear of offending our friends of different faiths.... but hey, it IS Christmas (for me at least), and so I apologise to any of our readers who may find this upsetting.

Anyway, whatever your faith, Angela and I would like to send our best wishes to you all. Have a happy holiday time, and more importantly a healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year.

We thank you for your support.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The first frosts of winter

For the whole of November and the first half of December the sun never appeared in Ribadumia, instead only grey sky and a lot of rain.

Apparently this had something to do with the wind direction. Blowing from just off the coast of West Africa, these extra mild winds were able to carry a lot more moisture than the more customary, cooler winds from the north. True, the temperatures have been mild, rarely dipping below 9 or 10°C (even at night), but boy has it been wet, even by Galician standards.

It was actually the 14th December before we witnessed the first clear skies and touch of frost, but only in very sheltered, low-lying areas. This of course provides the ideal weather for pruning which is now under way in our vineyards. As I know I have written many times before, far better to be pruning in a bit of mild winter sunshine, than with rain beating down in your face!

It would appear that many other parts of Europe have also been affected by this cold snap, with many countries suffering heavy snow and freezing temperatures. I guess we should at least be thankful that we have not been stranded on a train in the Channel tunnel for hours on end, like some other poor souls over the weekend...... What a nightmare!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Movida Rustica

We have a friend in Melbourne who runs one of Australia's best restaurants, that just happens to be Spanish. His name is Frank Camorra, and his restaurant is MoVida (also MoVida Next Door, which not surprisingly is located immediately adjacent to the main restaurant)

Over the last few years he has made several trips to Spain, touring the countryside, gathering information and recipes etc., compiling books about Spanish food. I hesitate to call them recipe books, because in reality they are much more than that - Frank delves into the background and traditions behind the food that he includes, meeting the local people who cook the dishes as part of their daily lives. Not professional chefs, but ordinary people who prepare local fare using methods handed down over generations.

The latest of his three books, just released, is called Movida Rustica, and is co-authored by Australian food writer and critic, Richard Cornish.

Whilst we are not mentioned by name, we are actually pictured picnicking in our 'El Pazo' vineyard, tucking into some great local dishes such as 'empanada de vieiras' (a corn pie made with fresh scallops). I know that I say it every time, but I will say it again - a perfect dish to eat accompanied by a glass of Castro Martin albariño.

In the picture taken from the book, you can just make out Angela on the left, and see the back of my head (which many say is my best side!)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

'Flat-pack' wine for Scandinavia!

We are delighted, in the last few hours, to have picked up a new customer in Scandinavia, and at exactly the same moment our transporter has given me an inspired idea for the packaging....

Scandinavia is of course, the home of 'flat-pack' furniture, so why not 'flat-pack' wine as illustrated in the photograph above? Compacted into it's new, re-shaped, designer plastic wrapping is (believe it or not) a six bottle carton of wine, reduced to only a few centimetres thick!

Imagine how this new idea could revolutionise the home delivery of wine - if you are not at home the delivery driver will simply be able to slip it through your letter box. It might make a bit of a mess of your floor, but at least you won't have to wait for it to be re-delivered.

It's amazing how some great ideas are often discovered completely by accident.... quite literally.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dope on a rope!

Now, I really like Gordon Ramsey, albeit that times have been pretty tough for him in the last year or so. I always think it's a bit of a mistake when a really talented chef leaves his kitchen and starts empire building - effectively risking his good name and reputation. It rarely seems to work, and usually the only thing that appears to suffer is quality. Almost an inevitability when you stop and think about it.

You can therefore imagine my surprise to see him on TV, dangling from the end of a rope at the bottom of a 300ft cliff in search of a Galician seafood delicacy - Percebes, otherwise known as Goose Barnicles (or maybe dinosaur feet as one of my friends calls them). In fact, swinging at the end of a rope he looked more like the bait than the fisherman.... it was quite dramatic.

Filming for his Channel 4 series 'The F Word', I think it's fair to say that he used more than his fair share of expletives as the crashing waves smashed him against the rocks. In the circumstances I can hardly blame him. Ironically, after a small degree of success he was finally submerged by one huge wave that swept away his precious harvest. I doubt if he will be doing that again in a hurry!

And so back to the Perecebes themselves. An expensive delicacy on any dinner table, and when you see how they are harvested you may begin to understand why. Apparently the Galician coast is especially suited to this type of barnacle, as the fast flowing waters of the Atlantic ocean against the rocky outcrops make the necks of the percebes stronger, fatter and therefore tastier to eat. I have been lucky enough to savour them on a couple of occassions, and when they are really fresh, the flavour of the sea literally burst from the necks as you bite into them..... delicious!

Of course, as always, I can't close without reminding you that they are alsolutely perfect to eat accompanied by a refreshing glass of Castro Martin albariño.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wish you were here....

I thought that I would try to lift your spirits a little on these short, dark winter days (unless of course you are reading this blog somewhere in the southern hemisphere).

This week I stumbled across an article in the UK's Guardian newspaper (travel section) listing the top ten beaches of the world. So where in the world would you find their number one beach? The Maldives? Fiji? Goa? Queensland? Nope.... according to the Guardian, it's about 20km down the coast from our bodega, here in Galicia.

Las Islas Cies are located in the mouth of the Ria de Vigo and form a part of the rather splendidly named Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park. The wild Atlantic coastline of Galicia has some quite dramatic beaches, but none more so than the stunning Praia das Rodas. Open only during the summer months, the beach is a perfect crescent of soft, pale sand backed by small dunes, sheltering a calm lagoon of crystal-clear sea (their description, not mine). Galicians call this their very own "Caribbean beach", and the water is turquoise enough, the sand white enough to understand the comparison..... at least until you dip your toe in the water, and remember that it is actually located in the somewhat chilly Atlantic Ocean.

So, next summer, throw away your worldwide travel brochure, abandon your ideas of the Costa del Sol and book your ticket to the world's best beach, in the same region where you can find the world's best wine....Castro Martin albariño.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bird on a wire?

There was once a song by Led Zeppelin called 'communication breakdown', and that's precisely the problem that we have suffered in our bodega over the last week or so.....

Excluding my frustrations with post and courier services (which are, after all, forms of communication), we also lost our telephones for nearly 48 hours following a big storm last week. The cover of a junction box in our office was scorched and blown clean across the room, presumably at the height of the storm. Fortunately all this took place during the night, and resulted in our 'mini' telephone exchange being rendered useless.

As you may have read in my previous post, we only have one working day in the office this week, and so you can imagine my reaction when I arrived to find no ADSL connection in the bodega this morning. Naturally I assumed that it was an internal problem, until finally calling Telefonica only to discover that it was actually a problem with our local network - perhaps a pigeon sitting on a wire somewhere blocking the signal?

No, we don't have fibre optics, and yes, we do have some of the most expensive and slowest internet connections in Europe!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Holiday time!

The winter holiday season really starts in the U.S. with Thanksgiving at the end of November. I must start by apologising to our American cousins for not posting a message last week - A belated Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Next week we have a couple of National holidays in Spain, the Constitución Española and the Inmaculada. In Ribadumia (where the wine cellar is located) this is compounded by a third, local holiday falling on Thursday, effectively meaning that we have a very short week....

Following this we have Christmas Eve which is a most important day in Germany, as well as here in Spain. A day when friends and families gather together and celebrate by attending church, often followed by an evening meal, before finally exchanging and opening gifts.

Over the Christmas period it is probably the 25th December itself that is considered more important in the UK. As in many countries it is celebrated with a huge family meal, followed by watching the Queen's annual speech to the Commonwealth on TV, and then a siesta (strangely the latter often coincide). The Brits then also have an additional holiday on 26th, known as Boxing Day. The origin of Boxing Day derives from the time when wealthy people gave gifts to their servants, workers and tradesmen. This gift was known as the "Christmas Box".

On 6th January celebrations continue in some countries with Epiphany or the Reyes Magos (three kings) as it is otherwise known. Until recently this was the day that gifts were traditionally exchanged, albeit that an increasing number of Spanish people now do this at Christmas - a lucky few children get both....

The downside of all these holidays is that we still have to try and fit a bit of work in between!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Post Script (no pun intended)

OK, so only two minutes after I made the last blog entry I checked the tracking site of the aforementioned parcel from Hungary..... it re-appeared on the site (but with a gap of two days). At least I know that it's arrived in Spain, albeit I don't know exactly where.

(By the way, I do realise that these are International courier companies, and therefore you may think that Spain is not necessarily at fault. However, it is my belief is the problem may be caused by a failure of updates, or possibly scans at local depots).

Of course, if there is anyone out there who can shed any more light on how this courier system works, I am more than happy to be corrected.

Spanish post excels!

I am usually the first to criticise the Spanish postal service (joking that they must still be using donkeys to move the mail), but on this occassion I find myself obliged to compliment them on a small but significant event.

A couple of days ago I signed a batch of Christmas cards to send out to friends and family, anticipating that they might take a couple of weeks to reach their various destinations around the world. They were posted (using a standard service) on Monday, and so imagine my surprise when, only two days later, I was speaking to a contact in England and they thanked me for my card! My astonishment that they had arrived so quickly was however tinged with a small concern. That my friends might consider me a very 'sad' person for sending out my Christmas cards so early (I just call it being organised, and that's my excuse)!

To balance my story I still have one small complaint about the courier services in this country...... Yes, they do work, but then fail miserably when it comes to updating the tracking information on their websites. It's as if your package disappears into a black hole when it reaches the Spanish border, at least until the moment that it arrives on your doorstep. At this very moment I am tracking a parcel that started in Hungary (don't ask), moved on to Austria and then Germany, where it boarded a plane to Spain where it disappeared two days ago.

Maybe the European Community has developed it's own 'Bermuda triangle' - possibly the same place that they send all our taxes!