I have fallen in love with the Mediterranean way of life.
Everything seems more relaxed, more at ease. The sun shines (almost) constantly and you can't help but feel more spring in your step when you wake up to a beautifully sunny day and the kind of warmth that means you don't even have to think about taking a jacket with you.
You kind of feel like you're on a constant holiday.
The evenings here are my favourite part of the day- just before the sun sets, when the streets are full of people and there is a real orangey/red hue to the sky.
It's at this time of the day when the city comes alive. The squares and terraces are full of families, couples and friends enjoying a couple of drinks or sitting down to a Spanish meal.
I think I'm going to find it very hard to get back into life in Edinburgh next year. This is what I'll miss most- the fact that the streets are always full here. You are never alone and you never feel rushed. Spanish people like to spend their time outside and I love how they eat their breakfast at a streetside cafe with the doors flung open onto the road, or how they sit on the terraces for a coffee and or in a bar where the windows turn into giant window seats.
The sunshine makes everywhere and everyone so much more chilled out - a glass of wine becomes, wine, tapas and a few hours spelt sunning yourself in one of Madrid's hidden little cafes or a walk in retiro park, watching the world go by.
Unfortunately, as much as I love this time of day, work has been so busy that I feel I've been rushing everywhere and rarely appreciating the city and climate I'm living in - I now like to take just two minutes out of my walk home and sit on the park bench in the sun to remind myself that the stresses of work aren't the end of the world and that I'm living in a city full of sunshine!!
Finally, last weekend I had a bit of time to myself and chance to cook up a few things I had been craving. One of these was a really fresh and spring-like pea and watercress soup, topped with salty crispy bacon pieces, tangy spring onion and served with really good sourdough bread and lashings of salted butter.
Sometimes you really can't beat the simple, classical recipes and this is one of those.
Perfect for a quick lunch or as a starter for a spring dinner party.
Ingredients: (serves 4)
2tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves
2 sticks of celery
Pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar
1 medium-sized potato
400g fresh peas (or frozen)
2 big handfuls of watercress
1 litre vegetable stock
In a large frying pan, add the olive oil and put it over a medium-high heat.
Finely chop the garlic cloves and the onion and add to the pan. Turn the heat down slightly and sweat the garlic and onions over a medium heat for 10 minutes until soft. (Don't let them brown.) Add in a big pinch of salt and sugar.
Finely slice the celery and add this to the pan along with a good twist of black pepper.
Fry the celery for another 3-5 minutes along with the potato (peeled and diced.)
At this stage, add in the peas and half your stock.
Leave the frying pan on a medium heat to simmer for 5-10 minutes. (After 5 minutes, add in the other half of your stock.)
Let the vegetables simmer until the potato is soft. Then add in the watercress. (You may need to add in a bit more stock if you think it needs it.)
Then transfer the entire contents of the pan to a blender and blend for 2-3 minutes until you have a smooth and creamy soup. (You may need to do this in 2 stages if all the mixture doesn't fit into your blender.)
Serve the soup topped with bacon pieces (fried on a high heat until crispy and golden) and some fresh sourdough bread with butter. You could also spoon a little creme fraiche over the top or a dash of really good quality olive oil if you fancy it!