Ten A Day 

24 Feb

You’ve no doubt heard about the recent study that recommends we each eat ten portions of fruit and vegetables every day. It was widely reported in the British press and TV (here for example). If, like me, your first reaction was “Don’t be ridiculous”, you were also probably further perturbed by the suggestion that only two of these should be fruit and canned or frozen was bad news.

Now, I’ve always thought we managed to get fairly near the five a day currently recommended, at least most days, but looking at what a portion actually is I’ve started to doubt it. Increasing this to ten portions would need a radical change in our eating habits and I don’t know if I’m prepared to do it, to be honest. Neil takes a lot of persuading to eat most vegetables as it is.

However, the reported analysis showed even increasing intake by small amounts had a health boon – obviously more is even better. One of the researchers mentioned by the BBC, Dr Dagfinn Aune, said: “Fruit and vegetables have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and to boost the health of our blood vessels and immune system.”

I already have issues with cholesterol and hypertension. After initially totally rejecting the idea, particularly as I misunderstood that tinned tomatoes and frozen peas would have to be excluded (it’s just fruit they’re on about), I came to the conclusion that I’d have to give it some more thought and at least try. The local supermarket here in Spain has an excellent assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables and seems to be a lot cheaper than in the UK so really we don’t have any excuse.

So this morning I piled a selection into the trolley, much to Neil’s bemusement (I think that’s the right word) but he went along with it. Unpacking the shopping at the munchie time of around 11 o’clock I automatically cut myself a wedge of cheese. Now hang on, thought I. This is when I should be choosing vegetables not delicious Stilton. I duly cut some carrots and celery into batons (eating the Stilton as I did so – well, I’d already cut it) and spooned a dollop of guacamole onto the plate to dip into. Not bad. In fact really very good.

With no great expectations I offered Neil the plate. He rejected the celery, of course, but cautiously dipped a piece of carrot into the green glupe, then another. It wasn’t long before he asked for his own plate and gave the verdict that they were really quite moreish! Being hungry helped, I suspect. Round one to the vegetables. Now what am I supposed to do with this huge bag of Spinach?

Laura’s blog here 

Almond Blossom and Sanitoriums 

9 Feb

In all the time we’ve spent in Jávea over the years we’ve never managed to go to the Jalón Valley when the almond blossom is in flower. Less delayed than expected by this year’s unusual weather, as soon as we heard the blossom was out we changed all plans and drove to this lovely area away from the coast.

Finding a narrow, winding road almost by accident gave us the most beautiful views at every turn and so quiet that stopping to take photos wasn’t that difficult. In fact I wish I could have recorded a sound track: a dog barking in the distance, a cockerel trying to impress the ladies and, close to, the steady hum of bees. Of such moments are memories made.

Deciding to drive further afield into the Val de Laguar we came across Fontilles up in the surrounding hills. In such a beautiful location in the middle of nowhere, why did this small village seem to contain only hospitals and sanitoriums (sanatoria?)? A bit of Googling revealed that the original Sanatoria of San Francisco de Borja had been founded by a Jesuit Priest for the treatment and research into leprosy. Well, that makes sense, then. http://unitingtocombatntds.org/endorsement/fontilles

If we learnt anything today it’s that there still so much more to explore in this area. We have to go back. Soon.

Snowy Spain 

18 Jan

Like most yotties I tend to be a bit (OK, a lot) obsessed with the weather. You may have noticed. Well, here is another weather post. I hope you’ll excuse me because this is something that really is a bit out of the ordinary.

Of course it snows in Spain, there are ski resorts about three hours drive from here, but Jávea is the northern Costa Blanca. It has its own microclimate, or so I’m reliably told. We had lunch in the garden on Christmas Day which is nothing exceptional. Today there was snow on the beach. Although a dusting on the nearby mountains is not uncommon, the general consensus seems to be that the last time Jávea saw snow like this was 1983. As you can see from the pictures it wouldn’t have been a big deal at home in the UK but, believe me, here it is something special. A red alert for snow is in force for the next two days which means there may well be more to come. 

So I had to post some of the pictures kindly shared on Jávea Connect. I think they are all perfectly lovely. I hope you agree. 

Dry January? 

5 Jan

Yes, this really is a thing. If you’re not from the UK you may be unfamiliar with the concept and unfortunately, no, it doesn’t refer to the weather. The idea is to not drink any alcohol at all for the whole of the month of January.
It appears to have been started by Alcohol Concern who registered the term as a trademark in 2014 and teamed up with Public Health England in 2015. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dry_January It takes advantage of the general feeling of over-indulgence, not to mention hangovers, most people experience on New Year’s Day along with the traditional making of resolutions that often include cutting back, losing weight, getting fit or eating healthily. Alcohol Concern have a calculator on their website that claims to measure the impact of your weekly alcohol consumption on your weight (calories) and on your wallet (cost) while raising your awareness of how much you drink in a week. There’s an app you can download and, oh yes, raise money for them. http://www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/dry-january Other charities have also jumped on the bandwagon along with lots of other app makers.

Am I starting to sound a bit cynical? While that’s probably my default setting but I do remain to be convinced. Aimed at social rather than dependent drinkers, I’m definitely in their target range and who wouldn’t be tempted by the claimed benefits of losing weight, saving money, sleeping better and having more energy?

With alcohol containing almost the same amount of calories as pure fat, abstaining for a month should reduce weight. I’m told fat accumulates in the liver as a result of drinking and that two weeks abstinence can return your liver to good health, reducing the risk of alcohol-related liver disease. As for improving sleep, well, that’s something I could really do with. Sure, I want all of that. But I like wine. I don’t particularly want to be drunk although the evening tends to be more fun if everyone is a bit “merry”. And there’s the rub.

Alcohol, wine in particular, is a fundamental part of my social life. “Drinking White Wine in the Sun” is not just a Christmas song, it’s a lifestyle choice. When we meet up with friends eating and drinking is involved. What do you drink with a meal if not wine? The only suggestions seem to be smoothies, sickly, sweet mocktails, fizzy drinks or water and, for me, plain water is the only one that is bearable with food. Wine positively enhances the flavour of food while anything sweet is just a non starter. And sugar is the new smoking, right? Aren’t we supposed to be ditching that, too? Maybe if you’re a beer drinker the availability of alcohol-free makes this a choice and it has improved in flavour over the years but alcohol-free wine doesn’t really exist and certainly not in Spain.

So I decided to do a bit of research, just a casual bit of googling. What I found was that last year there were lots of articles popping up that were having the debate about whether abstaining from alcohol for a month was a good thing or not. This year I couldn’t find a single item in the popular media that wasn’t overwhelmingly positive. So case proven? Well, that just makes me suspicious.

I read an article recently http://health.spectator.co.uk/the-great-alcohol-cover-up-how-public-health-bodies-hid-the-truth-about-drinking/ and it made alarm bells ring. Last year the Chief Medical Officer for the UK reduced the recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption. Upon announcing this, she also asserted that there is no safe level of drinking and that the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption were ‘an old wives tale’. The article goes on to say

“… in order to trust this latest piece of health advice from our Chief Medical Officer, we must believe not only that every previous Chief Medical Officer got it wrong but that every other country in the world has got it wrong. That requires a degree of patriotism that I am unable to summon up, particularly since the current advice bears no relationship whatsoever to the scientific evidence”

“What is a safe level of drinking? Sally Davies says there isn’t one. In so doing she is encouraging the public to believe that the only safe level is zero. But that is not what the epidemiology shows at all. It would appear that you can drink significantly more than 14 units a week — or two units a day — and have a lower mortality risk than a teetotaller. Why would she misrepresent the evidence?”

Interesting, eh? I really do recommend reading the whole article.

You may well say that I’m looking for reasons not to give up alcohol for a month and you are probably right. Friends have done it, felt the benefits and will be doing it again this year. Nevertheless, I won’t be joining in. Reducing my intake is certainly a good idea but I would have done that naturally after Christmas and all that goes with it. We already have at least two completely dry days a week (5:2 diet) and usually more.

All I know for sure is that we’re in Spain where Dry January is never going to catch on. For a few short months we have some of the best food and wine in the world on our doorstep and I don’t want to miss a month of enjoying all that it has to offer. Maybe I’ll go for a “Damp January” – one day at a time.

Merry Christmas 

24 Dec

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish everyone who manages to find their way to this blog a Very Merry Christmas and to thank you for all your kind comments and good wishes. Thank you all so much for reading. 

Oh Little Town 

24 Dec

The indoor market in the old town of Jàvea is always well worth a visit. Built on the site of the former nun’s convent it justifiably takes its place close to the fortified church. Selling probably the best produce locally, it also houses what seem to me to be the most authentic tapas bars we’ve seen in the Costa Blanca area.
At this time of year, however, it also displays a delightful Bethlehem nativity scene. Telling the essential Christmas story, it also manages to reflect the life of both the biblical town and it’s own. The star lights up the windmills on the hill, recognisably similar to the ones that look down on the modern Jàvea, while the figures are individuals, full of character, and suggest people we all know.

Some figures are animated: a woman sits sewing, her needle rising up and down; the sails of the windmills turn and the water flows as a woman washes her hair in the fountain – surely a memory from the time before indoor plumbing.

But it is the market setting and the extraordinary detail of the model’s stalls that brings the world of the Nativity to present day Spain.

Christmas Humbug? 

18 Dec

You may have gathered from the previous post that we don’t go overboard on Christmas. In fact, we’ve almost checked out on it completely. When I read a newspaper article this morning (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/dec/18/dear-santa-i-want-not-to-buy-presents-eva-wiseman ) it all came flooding back to me exactly why. Entitled “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is not to have to buy presents” the author succinctly describes the ludicrous, to me at any rate, forced buying of gifts that no-one really wants.

Come on, admit it, most of what you buy is junk. It will be drastically reduced in price come Boxing Day if not sooner and the only people who will buy it are those poor “organised” souls getting in early for the following Christmas. Of course, you may well have bought useful presents: food or drink of some sort, clothes, tools or kitchen gadgets and so on. This, of course, assumes the recipient hasn’t already bought the same item for themselves. Ergo they either didn’t like it enough to buy it for themselves or they couldn’t afford it which is a whole other argument on pity, embarrassment, forced reciprocation and escalation.

When it comes to buying for your partner you are truly blessed if your other half knows you so well that they effortlessly choose something you love and wanted year after year. Most women I know either hint or explicitly tell hubby what to buy them. A couple go shopping with him to make sure he gets exactly the right thing. I’m sure lots of men do the same thing. I get it. You’ve had too many years having to gush about a gift you either think was a waste of money, dread having to wear in public or is so practical as to not feel like a gift at all. I know, #FirstWorldProblems.

I wasn’t always this cynical. I bought Christmas cards as soon as they came into the shops, probably around September. I had a Word document with all the names and addresses of those to whom they would be sent along with the name of every offspring and if they had sent one to us the previous year. This was necessary as most were not family and friends I was in regular contact with but rather people I hadn’t spoken with in years. Oh, and don’t forget the little letter that had to accompany most of these, listing holidays, achievements and anything else that said how wonderful one’s life was.

Christmas was an event to be planned for. Endless lists and shopping and disappointment. I so wanted everything to be perfect and to give my son wonderful happy-family memories all whilst trying to instill the “real” meaning of Christmas. These aims were not necessarily compatible. Then, at a particularly difficult time, I stopped coping. I bought everybody scarves – the gift that says you really couldn’t be bothered. It had to stop. The following year I didn’t buy gifts for adult family and just gave money to the now teenage nieces and nephews.

Fortunately, Neil feels the same way. We don’t buy each other gifts. Our itinerate life style means we rarely spend Christmas at home any more. Nobody can send us cards as we don’t have a letterbox. Emails and Facebook serve to send our Christmas greetings worldwide. Celebration is largely based around eating and drinking too much although I make it a rule that I’m not spending all day cooking! It suits us.

What we really look forward to is Alex and his girlfriend joining us in January. He works in retail so he doesn’t get much time off at Christmas. Perhaps if everyone else did the same as us he’d have more. Then again, maybe he’d be out of a job. So keep spending folks.