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CHRISTMAS

#Navidad: How to make a Spanish version of mulled wine (using Galician fire-water!)

Heath Savage, who moved to rural Galicia from Australia, gets to grips with the local fire water and shares her own recipe for a Christmassy mulled wine.

#Navidad: How to make a Spanish version of mulled wine (using Galician fire-water!)
Photo by Gaby Dyson on Unsplash

Galicia enjoys an annual rainfall of around 1000mm. Most of that has fallen within the last four weeks. It has teemed.

Our little corner of Australia would see an average of 400mm, in a good year. The past five years have been very dry. The once-green pastures of northern NSW look like Weetbix. Ironic, since this is wheat country, where crops have been devastated.

Our new homeland is not short of water. Miraculously, much of this water gets turned into wine! And such wine! Local “adegas” produce exquisite reds and fragrant whites from ancient, and new, grape varieties. The most famous being Mencia and Albariño.

Aguardiente de orujo, pomace spirit – a type of clear brandy made from grape skins, like its more famous cousins, Italian Grappa and French Marc, is another type of water that is plentiful in Galicia; fire-water!

At it’s most rustic and rough it could be used to start a tractor; at its most refined, it is as complex, fragrant and suave as any French or Italian equivalent. Flavoured with coffee, herbs or aniseed, it is the essential “fin de una comida.”

A “chupito” (or three) comes with menu del dia in most cafes. At the fortnightly village market, I amused locals when I first arrived: we were enjoying some pulpo with a side of patatas fritas, when I liberally sprinkled my chips with, what I thought was vinegar. It was not. The little bottles were there as a gratis digestive. I announced to my partner, in my most embarrassingly Aussie tones: “Jeez, these chips tastes weird!” All became “claro” when I saw other people splashing the “vinegar” into their coffee.

Recent experiments with my neighbour’s generous offerings of grapes have produced half-decent batches of pickled fruit, which is astonishingly good with local cheeses. I have also created a batch of very nice grape syrup, which is ideal for a non-alcoholic version of mulled wine and is also lovely in a glass of cava to make a version of Kir Royale.

It can also be added to a cup of camomile or fennel tea on a cold night.

The element of fire is ever-present in our lives now. Our log-burner in the kitchen keeps the upstairs toasty. It’s the first thing I attend to in the mornings, now that frost has descended.  We are learning the importance of keeping a store of dry wood, and rotating our log supplies to make sure they are properly seasoned.

Summer will bring fire-bans just like back home. We have been careful when we’ve enjoyed our Aussie barbis. I’ve cooked the local speciality, Churasco, as well as my Jack Daniels BBQ ribs. Using chestnut and apple wood on my fire imparts so much more flavour than charcoal.

One local fire ritual we have not experienced is “Quiemada”, which many local people performed around Hallowe’en. It’s not so much the spooky incantation that freaks us out (‘though we have heard some hair-raising stories of Quiemadas that have gone very wrong!)

It’s the idea of a person under the influence of the local hooch setting fire to ladles of grog indoors that makes us wary! Perhaps next year…

This spectacular land of contrasts and contradictions is our home. Our second Christmas is just around the corner. We’ll burn our chestnut and oak logs, and light up our house with joy.  Get fired up for your own Navidad with my mulled wine recipe!

Ingredients:

To make a litre of mulled wine:

1 750cl bottle of red wine (Mencia is fab for this)

250cl of orange juice or apple juice (freshly pressed and strained is best)

1/2 cup muscovado or soft brown sugar

2tbsps honey

1 spice bag (use a clean white cloth, fill with the spices and tie tightly)

2 Cinnamon sticks

6 cloves

Tsp Coriander seeds

1 bay leaf

Tsp cumin seeds

Tsp caraway seeds

Tsp cardamom seeds, crushed open

Tsp nutmeg

2 pieces star anise

Thumbnail-sized piece of peeled fresh ginger.

2 shots of aguardiente (clear or herb flavoured)

Method: 

Dissolve the sugar, hooch and honey in the juice and bring slowly to a simmer. Gently cook it to a syrupy consistency. Add the spice bag and all of the wine. Heat through, for about 20 minutes, but do not boil.

Remove spice bag, and pour into tin or enamel cups to serve (I have copper mugs which are great for this and other punch recipes). A slice of orange studded with a few cloves, and a cinnamon stirring stick is a nice garnish if you want to be posh.

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CATALONIA

Which Spanish regions are likely to allow people to remove their masks outdoors?

As Spain's vaccine campaign gains speed and the infection rate drops, there are indications that facemasks will very soon no longer be compulsory outdoors in several Spanish regions.

Which Spanish regions are likely to allow people to remove masks outdoors?
Photo: ANDER GILLENEA / AFP

Spain’s Health Emergencies chief Fernando Simón said at a recent press conference that he is hopeful about relaxing the rule about the use of masks in outdoor spaces, as long as the safety distance of 1.5 meters can be guaranteed.

“It is very possible that in a few days the use of a mask outdoors can be reduced. Of course, always guaranteeing that the risks are decreasing,” he said.

However, Simón also added that “reducing one measure does not mean that the same should be done with all measures”. In addition, he asked citizens to go “step by step and be careful until we see the effects that mean we can relax the restrictions”.

Although this will be decided in the next few days Simón does not want anyone to “fall into false assurances”.

Face masks have been compulsory in public in Spain since May 21st 2020, and since March of this year, you are required to wear them in almost all indoor and outdoor settings, even if you’re sticking to the safety distance, unless the activity is incompatible with mask-wearing such as eating, drinking, sunbathing, running etc. 

Regions that could possibly relax restrictions on the use of masks outdoors

If the mask restrictions are relaxed by the government and the health authorities, the regions that could already qualify because of their low-to-medium risk epidemiological situations include Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla y León, Castilla La-Mancha, Extremadura, the Valencian region, Murcia, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands.

Which regions are in favour of the move?

Both Catalonia and Galicia have said that they would be in favour of dropping the use of masks outdoors.

The Catalan government was one of the first regions to open the discussion on relaxing the use of masks outdoors.

According to Catalan Regional Health Secretary MarcRamentol, the Catalan government considers that with at least 30 percent of the population fully vaccinated and more than half of the population having received at least one dose, the matter is worth discussing. 

Not having to wear a mask outdoors will help the summer “feel more like 2019 than that of 2020”, said Ramentol.

President of the Xunta of Galicia Alberto Núñez Feijoo, said last week that he expects the use of masks outdoors will be abolished in July, however on Tuesday, May 18th at the Hotusa Group Tourism Innovation Forum in Madrid, he insisted that it is only “a matter of weeks”.

Although Valencia currently still has some strict rules in place, Regional President Ximo Puig has stated that he is in favour of the mask not being compulsory in open spaces. “We know that in open spaces there is a much lower possibility of contagion and I have been supporting this for a long time – it is not necessary to use the mask in some open spaces, natural spaces or on the beaches,” he said.

Which regions want to keep making masks compulsory in outdoor spaces

Regional authorities in Madrid and the Basque Country, the regions which the highest infection rates in Spain have criticised the national government’s position regarding masks, arguing that’s it’s too soon for masks to no longer be obligatory outdoors.

Andalusia is also against the proposal. Jesús Aguirre, Minister of Health and Families in Adalusia, has said that it would be a mistake since the mask is “the most powerful weapon” with which we have to avoid possible infections within the region. 

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