Sunday, October 25, 2015


Seems time in Sevilla is zooming past.  Finally feel like there is good progress on the Annual Review, which is good because the deadline is just over a month away!  Learning lots of great things from both the Jordano and Vilà groups, and feel like we've got a great work-life balance going here, doing something fun every weekend, and taking road trips on the long weekends.

One of the things we are all really enjoying is cooking.  Elias has been really digging in, responsible for at least one dinner a week, and being very creative and successful with his cooking.  He's learning lots of new techniques, and applying them in great ways.   Tonight he and I worked together to make home-made pizzas, starting with fresh tomatoes for the sauce and hand-made crusts.  Awesome!

But our finest hour of cooking has been the olives he and I made, starting a month and a half ago.  I bought a big bag of olives, a wooden mallet, and a bucket.  And we got to work.  First we smashed each olive individually to crack open the skin.  

Then we soaked them in water in the bucket, changing to fresh water daily until most of the bitterness was gone.  Our sources said two weeks, but it took us more than three weeks to get to an edible stage.  Then we divided them into six batches, and made several different variations of how we handled the brine, vinegar, and spices.

Some were brined, and then later put in vinegar and spice.  Others straight into a combination of brine, vinegar, and spices.  Some then got packed in olive oil, others just got a sealing layer of oil on the top of the jars.  The spices ranges from very simple to very spicy!

Each version came out delicious and very, very different.  I'm just hoping we can eat through enough of these in the next month so that Ingrid lets us make more batches while it is still olive season!

Here are the recipes we used for the olives.
Pre-prep:  Wack each olive with a wooden hammer until it splits, to allow the bitter oleuropein to leach out.  Put all the olives in a plastic bucket filled with water.  Put a plate on top of olives to keep all submerged.  Change water daily for about 3 weeks, until the the olive taste mellows (I've read that this can be done in a week, but for us 2 wks seems close, and 3 weeks perfect).  Divide the olives into batches for different spices and treatments.  Mason jars work really well for this.

We invented 6 varieties based loosely on different recipes we saw on line.  
1. In Oil.  Cover olives with brine (1/4 c salt + 4 c water), and let soak for a week.  Rinse olives. Place in jar with olives 2 squashed garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig rosemary, and cover with olive oil.
2. Simple. Place in jar with olives: 2 bay leafs and 2 tsp coriander seeds.  Cover with 1/4 c salt, 4 c water, 1/2 c vinegar.  Layer with olive oil to cover surface.
3. Spicy.  Place in jar with olives: 1 tsp black peppercorn, 2 tsp coriander seed, 2 tsp oregano, 6 cloves smashed garlic, 6 pico-de-gallo chilies, 4 bay leaves.  Cover with 1/4 c salt, 4 c water, 1/2 c vinegar.  Layer with olive oil to cover surface.
4. Lemony. Place in jar with olives: 2 cloves smashed garlic, peel of a lemon (dried first in the oven), 1 tsp oregano.   Cover with 1/4 c salt, 4 c water, 1/2 c vinegar.  Layer with olive oil to cover surface.
5. Plain.  Place in jar with olives: 2 tsp peppercorns.   Cover with 1/4 c salt, 4 c water, 1/2 c vinegar.  Layer with olive oil to cover surface.
6. Romero.  Place in jar with olives: 3 sprigs rosemary, 2 sprigs thyme.   Cover with 1/4 c salt, 4 c water, 1/2 c vinegar.  Layer with olive oil to cover surface.

All six of these recipes produced great olives we enjoy eating.  The Simple and Plain varieties are pretty straight-forward olive-tasting olives.   The In Oil variety is good, but not better that the others packed in brine with a little olive oil on top -- not really worth the extra oil.  The Romero variety is tasty, with that Mediterranean spice flavor in the olives, but still a strong olive flavor.  The two family favorites are Spicy and Lemony.  I like the Spicy best: the olive flavor is still strong but the mix of flavors and touch of hot (mild, but noticeable) from the chilies combine to be the kind of olives I'd go back to buy on a regular basis.  The Lemony are Eli's favorite, which a strong lemon-zest component that is very distinctive and tasty (but a little too dominant a zest flavor to be a strong favorite for me).  The Romero and Simple are great sides to otherwise flavorful foods.

Monday, October 12, 2015

La Alpujarra

It has been a good, busy couple of weeks.  Ingrid and I have integrated more into the labs of Montse Vilà and Pedro Jordano, joining in lab meetings, lab lunches, and getting to know people.  We've also been feeling good about work again, with good progress on paper fronts.  Writing the Annual Review feels like writing pre-qual exams, but with the expectations that we can sound authoritative, not just well informed.  Part of the challenge is figuring out the exact audience we are writing for, because it is both for plant pathologists, most of whom have little background in evolutionary ecology, and for evolutionary ecologists who are interested in diseases, but with less real pathology background.  So there is a lot of framing needed for each group that doesn't really overlap.  Still, as always, being forced to write helps me figure out what I know and don't know,  and points me toward what I need to clarify in my own head.  Such a perfect project for sabbatical.

Elias is well settled into school now, and has regular Friday outings with the gang of kids from his class.  He is also very busy with the conservatory, which just got busier because he was accepted into the "external" orchestra, which plays at various places around the city, and includes another 2h/wk of rehearsals.  He is very excited to be playing so much.

This was a long weekend for the Fiesta Nacional de España (odd that it coincides with Columbus Day), so we managed to find an airB&B and a rental car and headed to the mountains.  We went to the southern part of the Sierra Nevada, called La Alpujarra, and stayed in a lovely old town, originally settled by Berber from Morocco.  All whitewashed buildings made of slate and chestnut, with defensively labyrinthine pathways through the town. 

We spent a lot of time hiking the trails through abandoned farms (it is a decidedly vertical existence there, a bit of a challenge after the flatlands of Sevilla), but such a wonderful, green escape from the urban life.  It was also a chance to try out my new Lumix FZ1000, which was a birthday replacement for my aged Nikon.  Fun chance to see what I could do with it. 

On the drive up we marveled at the clouds draped across the tops of the mountains, and it turned out that we were in those clouds most of the weekend (sometimes with rain, sometimes not).  But it was wonderfully cool and fresh and wet.  

We hiked hard for hours on Sunday, learned some plants and fungi, took some pictures, ate local cheese and bread,  and made friends with a wandering gang of local residents along the trail.  They don't talk much, but are cute.

Getting chestnuts ready for roasting
Collecting chestnuts
There are countless ripe chestnut trees and a lot of walnuts and rose hips to munch on too.  We collected over 100 chestnuts in about 10 min, roasted and ate a bunch, and brought the rest home.  Had some other great food too -- Eli and Ingrid shared a jabalí stew (wild boar). 
We stopped in the Arabic section of Granada on the way home for lunch, and then arrived back in Sevilla just in time for the festivities for the holiday.  Of course another virgin parade past our house, with marching bands, candles, and lots of incense.  We have prime seats from our balcony. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pisos y Paredes

This was a project I've been working on slowly throughout our travels through Denmark, Istanbul, Athens, Ydra, and Sevilla.  I love the brick and stone work in walls (paredes), floors (pisos), streets, and sidewalks; some ancient, some new.  It was hard to narrow it down to just 24, but these are my favorites.  Can you guess where they are from?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Off to work we go

Ingrid and I have a wonderful commute to the EBD.  Ingrid even lets me carry her school bag.  I think she likes me.  ☺️