Monday, June 18, 2012

Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools by Victoria Twead

28. Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools
by Victoria Twead
nonfiction, 2009
fifth book for the Dewey Decimal Challenge 2012
seventh book for the Foodies Read 2 Challenge 2012
Nook book 8
finished 5/7/12

There are many forms of bravery, and one of them certainly must be to pull up stakes and move - not just to another house or even another town but to another country. And that's what Vicky and Joe Twead did. They weren't twenty or thirty or forty. They were 50 and 53 when they got the idea to move to Spain. The start of their adventure is a bit similar to the ladies in the fictional book, Enchanted April. They cannot stand the English weather anymore. They want sun instead of rain, blue sky instead of gray.

Only two and a half hours flight from London, guaranteed sunshine, friendly people and jaw-dropping views.

Here are some weather stats about the place where they chose to move.

Average temperature - El Hoyo (°C)

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

7 8 11 13 17 25 27 27 22 16 10 7

Average rainfall - El Hoyo (mm)

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

39 33 55 43 54 23 35 18 49 107 53 35

She describes El Hoyo thus:
Deep in the fold of the valley, the village houses huddled together, protected on all sides by the ancient slopes. It was just a cluster of houses, most very old, many derelict. Narrow streets separated the rows of houses. In the centre was the square, boasting shade-trees, seats and a fountain. The church was imposing and astonishingly pink.
A pink church!

What I loved was that they didn't choose a typical resort community with golf course, and myriad other retirees. They chose what might be called the 'real thing.' A genuine village, filled with Spanish people.

Victoria Twead is one of those wonderful authors who writes just as they must speak. Her words feel like they are spoken rather than written, and that she is sitting across from the reader just telling all these wonderful stories. She is very funny, and she makes situations sound like fun, even though I cannot imagine myself moving into a house that upon first visitation 'smells damp' and is 'so dark, even with the lights on.' There was a crack in the wall from an old earthquake. When they went upstairs, 'the cement steps were cracked and filthy.' The rooms had tiny windows, and there were beds with mildewed mattresses which housed beetles and spiders. Oh yuck, I shuddered. How could they do it? At first, they agree that they wouldn't live there for anything. But they unexpectedly found themselves becoming 'charmed' by the place. Whereas I would have run a mile, they were intrigued. Admittedly, they had bought and restored and sold a number of houses over the years, so they weren't strangers to hard work. But still. Live there?
Heart was fighting with Common Sense. It was a funny thing, but without warning, the house was growing on me. I found my mind churning with ideas for rooms. How to create a kitchen opening onto that walled garden. Perhaps have roof terraces to take in the stunning mountain views.
"Think of the work!" said Common Sense. "The place is a disaster!"
"Yes, but imagine how it could be… Imagine being part of this little village. Look at those views…" said Heart.
Common Sense gave up the fight. It didn't matter about frayed electric cables sticking out of walls like discarded spaghetti. Never mind the heaps of grit like dusty molehills in every room where the walls were forever disintegrating in avalanches.
Yes, I could see past all the decay. I could visualize this place as our home and project for the next five years, maybe longer. My heart hammered.
If you are like me and can't imagine taking on such a project, particularly in your fifties, do buy this book. Or if you think this is something you might want to do now, or sometime in the future, you'll so enjoy this book. It is pure delight. You will absorb Victoria's enthusiasm and her energy. She makes the reader feel like you too can do this! All things are possible and fun in the world of the Tweads. I loved the book, and have already bought the second one.

One of the many treats of Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools are the recipes! Each chapter begins with one. It is done very nicely on the ebook. You can click it, read it, and then click to go back to the beginning of the chapter again. Also, the recipes are all listed in the table of contents under Spanish Recipe Index, before the first chapter, so it is very easy for the reader to find them. Here is one I want to try.

Crispy Potatoes in Spicy Tomato Sauce
Patatas Bravas

1 kg. (2 lb) potatoes, peeled, and cut into cm (1 in) cubes
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
500 g (1 lb) tomatoes
3 teaspoons paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon tomato puree
Olive oil, for frying
Chopped parsley to garnish

Par-boil the potatoes for 5-10 minutes.
Drain the water.
Let the steam evaporate for a minute or so and then give the pan a good shake. This roughs up the outsides nicely.
Set aside.
Prepare the tomatoes by cutting a cross in the base and plunging them into boiling water for 10-15 seconds.
Plunge into cold water and the skin should peel away easily.
Chop the tomatoes.
Fry the onion until soft.
Add the garlic, paprika, thyme and cayenne pepper, then cook for another couple of minutes.
Add the chopped tomato and puree and cook, uncovered, until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.
During cooking, add the salt and pepper to taste.
If the sauce seems too dry, add a little water.
Meanwhile, re-heat the frying oil and fry the potatoes until golden brown.
This gives them a crisp coating and prevents the sauce from soaking in too much.
They should be beautifully crisp outside and soft and fluffy inside.
To serve, place the potatoes in a serving bowl, then cover with the spicy sauce.
Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Serves 4.

Sure sounds good to me!

Addendum: I should have mentioned that I first heard of the book here at Debbie's blog, ExUrbanis.

Addendum 2: In case you didn't see her comment, Victoria Twead now has her pictures on Pinterest:

Actually, the comments here have spurred me on to do something I've been meaning to do for ages. I've now made a Pinterest display board of all the pictures, and a few extras, that appear in 'Chickens' for readers who'd like to see the photos in colour.
Click here.

Here is Victoria telling a bit about her book.


  1. Nan, since it sounds like you might enjoy other books in this genre, I'd like to suggest Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. It combines the fraught situation of moving to a foreign place with tales of delicious meals (alas, no recipes!) and frames it in monthly installments. It seems like it would be right up your alley.

  2. Oh, I did love that book, and his others! And I bought the dvd with the late, lamented John Thaw.

  3. Nan, you introduce me to so many wonderful books.
    have to have this one.
    Reminds at the age of 43, a divorce and a past 100 year old falling down farm house was purchased.
    I started a new life. Loved it and now live down the road on this same property in a cottage by the woods :)

  4. You have written a good review Nan, this sounds like a great book.
    We did a similar thing when we escaped to Wales in 1990.

    1. Thanks Cait. Did you write on your blog about this? Perhaps before I was reading?

  5. I have already downloaded this one Nan. It sounds like something I would love to read and further more love to do. What an adventure. Love your header photo.

    1. I was just thinking about you. I can see you having much the same spirit and joie de vivre as Victoria Twead. Any locales in mind?

  6. Well, let's see...nonfiction, check....English connection, check...good recipes, check. Okay, this sounds like my kind of book!

    1. You are so funny! It's just your kind of book!

  7. So far, I have not head reason for leaving my home town for good; I am happy to live in this place where I have my flat, my job and - most importantly - my family and most of my friends close by.
    Maybe I lack the spirit of adventure the author has, and am content with reading about them rather than living them myself :-)

    Patatas bravas was something Steve used to make for us. He lived and worked in Catalunya for six years.

    1. I don't have that traveling gene either! And if I were you, I'd never leave. I think we are called 'armchair travelers' :<)

  8. Oh my! Nan, thank you so much for reading "Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools" and HUGE thanks for the wonderful review of it. I loved writing it and I'm absolutely delighted that you enjoyed it. I do hope you get round to cooking the Patatas Bravas recipe which is Joe's favourite, and really delicious...

    Nan - I'd love to give you a free download of the sequel (Two Old Fools ~ Olé!) if you'd like it? I'm currently working on the third in the series.

    We've also put together a collection of 100+ Spanish recipes. It's called "Mouth-Watering Spanish Recipes" and if any readers of this blog would like a free download of that, just email me (TopHen at Victoria Twead dot com). It would be my pleasure to send you a copy. Just let me know what ereader you use, or you might prefer the pdf which is good for home-printing and seeing all the photos in colour.

    Thanks again for making my day!

    Victoria :)

    1. What a thrill to see your name here!! I really appreciate you taking the time to leave me a note. I'll be writing you about the cookbook. Thank you!

  9. I am going to see if Nashville Public Library has this. I love this kind of book. Have you ever read Sunset House by Lady Fortescue, Nan. She and her husband settled in Provence-

    1. It is well-worth buying if you can't find it in the library. Pure delight!
      Thanks for the recommendation. I'll look into it.

  10. Ooops! Nan - I see you already have the sequel! Thank you! When the third book (Two Old Fools on a Camel) is published, I shall give you a copy of that if you'd like it.

    Victoria (silly old fool) :)

    1. Thank you so much for the offer! What adventurers you two are!!

  11. This book sounds amazing! I love that the author's voice rang so true. How did you happen to come across this one???

    1. A blogging friend, Debbie wrote about it. I should have noted that. I'll put an addendum on the entry.

  12. Thank you SO much for your lovely comment today, it was a treat to read it!
    Oh this book is definitely going in my Wish List, any that sounds like 'Enchanted April'does it for me,
    I must have read this numerous times and then watched the dvd, my daughter even aspires to
    wear her hair like Lady Caroline!!
    I LOVE your blog its really lovely to have a fresh gorgeous photo on your blog-header each time I come over.
    I have a friend who moved to Spain almost two years ago now. Her and her husband were both in their 60's and were Spanish teachers in the U.K. before taking early retirement to move, a very brave thing to do I think but as you say, especially so when you are getting-on in years.


    1. Well, the book isn't really like Enchanted April. The only connection is really that people wanted to leave the rain and gloom of England for sunnier climes.
      Spain seems to be very popular with English retirees. It seems like France used to be the place, but now Spain is more popular. I am amazed at people who can make such a change at that time of life.
      I'm so pleased you like the blog headers. In the spring and summer, I change them according to what is in bloom!

  13. I do enjoy this sort of book.Thanks for letting me know about this one. I've never restored anything and I have a hard time imagining how it's all done, but I do enjoy reading about it. :)

    I loved the Tuscany books by Frances Mayes and the Provencal books by Peter Mayle and the Venice (and other Italian places) books by Marlena di Blasi (Have you read those? I think you'd love them, Nan.) All intrepid 'restoring' adventures. Fun.

    1. These folks are truly amazing. You'll love it.
      I'll look into the di Blasi. Thanks for the recommendation.

    2. I have this title by Victoria Twead on my Kindle. Thanks for the nudge, I need to start reading!

      I've read 3 books by di Blasi, and in my humble opinion the first (in Venice) is the best.

    3. You'll enjoy it, I'm sure!
      Thanks for the mention of the di Blasi books. I shall check them out.

  14. And I thought we were brave to sell our house and go RVing! I am buying this book as soon as I can!!! Doesn't her video make you think they should make a BBC series of this?

    1. You are brave!! And you'll love the book. It would make a great series. Maybe you should email Victoria Twead with the idea!

  15. Nan, your book reviews are the best! This book really intrigues me, as we've just come back from the French countryside. I kept thinking that it's a good thing I'm not younger because I would want to move there.

    1. What a nice thing to say! Thank you. If you read this book, you just may reconsider!!

  16. Nan, I'm so glad you enjoyed this book!

    Thanks for the mention of my blog. Here's the link to my review:

    1. The 'here' links directly to the posting! I am so grateful to you. I loved it.

  17. I'm loving this one - thanks, Nan - started reading on my Kindle, but then switched to the PC for the color photos.

    My Kindle doesn't have color - does yours? - do any of them?

    I really like travel book because I can't do much of that any more (for various and sundry reasons) - going to look up diBlasi now

  18. No, it doesn't. Nor does my Nook. I have the low-end reading only versions. :<) There are lots of photos on her website.

    This isn't a traveling phase of my life either. Who knows if it will come again.

  19. Love the sound of this, Nan! Just my cup of tea. Will see if the library has it.

  20. Nan - thanks a trillion for spotlighting 'Chickens' and all the kind words. I feel a bit of a fraud really, because the books were such a joy to write. They kind of wrote themselves, and I chuckled (and sometimes shed a tear) all through the process. I can't tell you how surprised and delighted I am that other people enjoy them.

    Actually, the comments here have spurred me on to do something I've been meaning to do for ages. I've now made a Pinterest display board of all the pictures, and a few extras, that appear in 'Chickens' for readers who'd like to see the photos in colour.
    The link is

    Thank you, everybody, for your interest, and thank you for pointing me toward other authors I haven't tried yet!

    Victoria :)

    1. Oh, what a good idea! Even though I'm not officially a P. member, I can still see all the pics. I'll put an addendum on the blog entry. So nice of you to write!


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