Welcome everyone Sandra in Spain - FlamencoI’m Sandra Piddock, and I’m a freelance writer, dividing my time between Spain and the UK. I’ll write about anything that interests and/or challenges me, and I like to focus on the lighter side of life whenever possible.. Read more
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Smart Shopping and Saving inSpain

Overall, it’s much cheaper to live in Spain than in the UK. However, not everything is cheaper, and there are tips and tricks to help you get the most from your Euros, whatever is happening elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world. I come from the Midlands, and we know how to make the most of our cash there, so I’ll be passing on stuff that will help you to make your money go further here in Spain.

The Secret of the Statement Dress!

Statement Dress

In my Statement Dress at the UK premiere of The Cucaracha Club. Although I say it myself as shouldn’t, I don’t scrub up too badly, do I?

As Sandra In Spain, some pretty exciting events have come my way. However, the prize for the Best Thing So Far has to go to the invitation I received to the UK premiere of The Cucaracha Club. That’s the independent spy thriller filmed entirely on location in Torrevieja, if you don’t know. Lots of my friends were involved in the making of it, but that’s not why I’m promoting it – it’s a quality product that all the family can enjoy, and it really showcases the area where we live and the talent we can draw on.

Of course, now I had a major event to go to, I needed a new Statement Dress. Although I have about 247 dresses already – according to Tony, anyway – there was nothing that jumped out of the wardrobe and said ‘Wear me to the premiere.’ Nothing had that ‘Wow’ factor. As there was a distinct lack of sympathy from Tony, I turned to Billie Anthony Gaddess, the screenwriter, executive producer and male lead in the film. After all, the premiere was on his home turf, at the Darlington Arts Festival, so he’d be sure to help. Or maybe not. This is a mere man, talking about dresses. I wasn’t enthused or encouraged by his response, which went something like this: ‘Howay man, bonny lass, divvin’ git up a height.  You’ll lyeuk canny in owt, an’ it isn’t a posh dee.’

For the benefit of those who haven’t been binge watching Auf Weidersehne Pet and Byker Grove in order to get fluent in the Geordie lingo, what Billie actually said was ‘It’s okay, lovely lady, don’t upset yourself. You’ll look nice in anything, and it isn’t a posh do.’

Well, posh do or not, this was the best excuse for a new frock I’ve had since my grandson’s christening last year, so it wasn’t going to waste. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. Red – of course – and something not too dressy or casual, but different enough to make a statement of success, since I was with the team that had put together a really good film, despite the fact that many of them had never been behind or in front of a camera before. It was dress to impress time.

I had around two months to settle on the right dress, and I was looking forward to a few girly shopping trips with my friend Joan. And if we happened to pick up a few more frocks in the search for my statement dress, so be it. However, either Fate took a hand, or Tony bribed someone Upstairs as he imagined weekly shopping trips and hundreds of Euros being sacrificed in the attempt to find ‘The One,’ because less than a week into the search, I found exactly what I was looking for. It was red, it was smart but not too dressy, and it had the ‘Wow’ factor, and then some. The only slight problem was it seemed a  bit clingy around the tummy area, but I reckoned a week on the Cabbage Soup Diet and a nice pair of ‘pull you in pants’ would sort that out, along with a few extra walks for Paddy.

Joan and I didn’t dip out on our shopping trips though, because I had to accessorise it. I got the sandals sorted pretty easily, and the bag, but we needed an expedition to find a suitable jacket. We struck gold in

Statement Dress

The Statement Dress when I first bought it – work needed in the tummy area, but I knew it would look alright on the night – and it did!

Torrevieja, and also snagged ourselves a couple of tops and cardigans for good measure.

I was pretty confident as I got ready to unleash myself on the glitterati of Darlington. The combination of Cabbage Soup Diet, extra walkies around the orange groves and lycra laden pants had worked their miracle,

and I didn’t look half bad. I got admiring looks and compliments from men and women, and I felt like a million dollars. One friend was particularly impressed, and asked where I’d got the frock from. I told her it was a Roman Oroginals dress, which I’d bought in Spain. ‘Ooh – that must have set you back a couple of hundred Euros,’ she said. ‘I bet Tony doesn’t know how much you piad for it.’

She’s wrong, actually. Tony knows exactly how much I paid for it. And for once, he didn’t need resuscitating when I told him. He thinks you can still buy a decent frock with five bob and a handful of clothing coupons, so anything costing more than €10 is likely to ramp up his atrial fibrillation more than a little bit.

So, there’s a clue to the Secret of the Statement Dress. It was less than €10. A lot less, actually. I didn’t lie about it being a Roman Originals and buying it in Spain. I bought it in a charity shop in Javea, while we were on a motor home rally. It was priced at €5, but on the day in question, everything was reduced to clear to just €2 per item. I bought a bath mat to use in the shower block on our campsite at the same time, and that cost three times as much as the dress!

Yes, you read that right – my ‘Wow’ factor dress cost just €2 – around one-hundredth of my friend’s pretty accurate estimate.  You can dress to impress for less – but don’t let on to anyone, will you? I’m only telling you because I know you’ll keep the Secret of the Statement Dress for me.

Why I can’t live healthily in England

Tony and I - healthier, happier and better off in Spain!

Tony and I – healthier, happier and better off in Spain!

It beats me how people can say they’re going back to the UK because prices have gone up in Spain and they can’t afford to live here any more. What planet are these people on? We’ve just come home after two months in England, and we’re short on cash and a bit short on temper, because life has been very different to what we’re used to.

For a start, we’ve hardly been out for a meal in two months. Not that we eat out all that often in Spain – maybe once every week or 10 days, and the odd snack – but it’s just way too expensive in England. Tony’s favourite snack lunch, Cornish Pasty, is up over £3 now in England, and there’s so much pastry it’s repeating on you all day. Yesterday, my friend and I had  chicken and prawn sandwiches with salad, and paid just over €3 each for the privilege of enjoying a healthy, filling lunch to keep us going.

Most of the tapas on offer come out at around €2 each, and for that you can get magra – lean pork in a delicious sauce – Russian Salad, seafood, chicken wings, and all manner of delicious, nutritious food. Two tapas with bread comes out at the same price as a Cornish Pasty, but without the indigestion!

As for eating out, last week we went to our favourite Chinese restaurant, and enjoyed three courses each and a bottle of wine for just €15. The wine with the meal costs more than that in England, and you’d have a job to get one 3 course meal, let alone two, for €15 (around £11).

People say groceries are cheaper in the UK, and they are, if you want to eat stuff like pies and ready meals, but if you’re looking for healthy ingredients for a home cooked meal, you’ll be digging a lot deeper into your pocket. Free range eggs are about half the price in Spain that they are in the UK. I pay €1.35 for a dozen large eggs, and you can’t even get 6 medium for the equivalent price in the UK.

Another one of the ‘cheap things’ in the UK is sausages, and unless you pay the equivalent price of a small joint of meat, you’re not going to get decent sausages – they’ll be full of cheap fillers such as suet and breadcrumbs, and it will come through in the taste. Plus you’ll have a pool of grease left in the bottom of the pan, or the barbecue will be up in flames from all the dripping fat. When I cook fresh Spanish sausages, I need a little oil to stop them from sticking to the pan or the barbecue griddle. That tells me there’s more meat than fillers in my sausages, and the taste confirms it.

Okay, you can get cheap fruit and vegetables from the supermarkets in the UK these days, particularly Aldi and Lidl, but the problem with most of them is that they’re harvested before they’re fully ripe and shipped around the world in cold storage. Here in Spain, produce is picked and sold when it’s ready to eat, so you’re getting the full hit of vitamins, nutrients and flavour. I can honestly say the only vegetable I really enjoyed back in England was Savoy Cabbage – everything else was disappointing. Except for the strawberries and raspberries that is. Nowhere does those quite like England!

I’m not a big fan of lettuce, but I do enjoy a Cogolla – it’s okay, it’s not a new kink I’ve developed, it’s what Little Gems are called here! And at 4 for €1 on the market, they’re a real bargain, but the poor specimens I managed to get in England had obviously had a flavour bypass – they tasted of nothing at all.

Like many people of our generation, Tony and I moved out to Spain to have a healthier lifestyle, and to make our money go further. The area around the salt lakes of Torrevieja is the healthiest in the world for people with joint problems and breathing issues, and we tick both those boxes between us. When we were in the UK, I was popping painkillers for pastime, and Tony spent so much time at the doctor’s he was worried they’d charge him rent! In almost 8 years in Spain, he’s never needed to test out the Spanish health service, and that’s pretty impressive for an 81 year old.

The truth is, the climate here is healthier, and it’s cheaper to eat well, whether you eat out or cook at home. And because of the warmer weather, you don’t tend to eat so much, and you go for lighter foods like salads, rather than loading up on bread and potatoes. Most importantly, we both enjoy much better health here. It’s not just about Pounds versus Euros, it’s about quality of life, and for us the quality of life is so much better here. Cheaper and better in the UK? You cannot be serious!


Buying canned tuna? Go Grande and save money

Monster can of Nixe tuna, ready to go

Monster can of Nixe tuna, ready to go

Tastes sometimes vary in Piddock Place. Take tuna, for instance. I love it, Paddy loves it, and Tony doesn’t mind it once in a while. So I always used to buy those handy small tins with just enough for one round of sandwiches, or a filling for a jacket potato. Then one time we were having visitors, and I was making a tuna pasta bake for 8 people, so I needed a large can. Looking in Lidl – my first port of call for shopping in Spain and England, I came across their monster size Nixe tuna. 900 grams – 650 grams drained – of lovely chunky tuna for just €4.29.

I daresay lots of people are put off by the size of the can, because I hardly ever see anyone else with one in the trolley, but I’ve kept it in the fridge, in the tin it came in with the plastic lid, for up to 5 days with no problems. And there are lots of other things you can do with it, apart from the obvious jacket spuds, sandwiches and salads. I make appetisers for buffets or tapas meals using leaves of cogolla (Little Gem) lettuce, or halved pequillo peppers. I fill them with various things – tuna, mayonnaise and sweetcorn, crab salad and cucumber, coronation chicken, prawns in Marie Rose sauce. The chunky tuna you get in the giant tins is also good in a tomato based pasta sauce over penne or spirals. And it made a fantastic tuna pasta bake too.

I alvays drain off as much of the sunflower oil as possible, first by lifting the ring pull just enough to be able to drain off the oil without losing any tuna. Then I have a crafty trick for getting rid of as much oil as possible. I place a coffee filter in a large plastic funnel – these are very cheap from the Chinese bazaars if you don’t already have one. Then the tube on the funnel goes into an empty milk or oil bottle, and the tuna goes into the filter in the funnel. You’ll be surprised how much more oil this extracts, but you need to be patient.

Which reminds me. When I was at school, during the Religious Education lesson, the teacher asked us to write a prayer asking for patience. I thought mine was very good, but the teacher wasn’t impressed. It went like this:

‘Please God, grant me the gift of patience, and can I have it right now, please?’ But I digress.

When the can is empty, Tony collars it to melt down all the end bits of the citronella candles we burn on the terrace during the summer. He puts a wick in the middle, and hey presto! – we have a long burning anti-mosquito candle for free. At the risk of Stating The Bleeding Obvious, I should say that it’s a good idea to give the can a good wash first, otherwise your candle will burn with a distinctly fishy smell. And no, we didn’t do that, but someone who shall remain anonymous to preserve what’s left of their dignity did. It ended badly, with the candle being consigned to the bin.

One word of warning – all monster tuna cans are not created equal. I recommend the Nixe one because it has huge chunks of tuna which hardly soak up any oil. But the own brand one they sell in Mercadona is more flaky than chunky, and no matter how well you drain it, you’ll get an oil slick the size of a small island on your plate. If you have any other recommendations, please pass them on in the comments.

So, have I tempted you to Go Grande when it comes to canned tuna?


Seasonal fruit and vegetables – organic at bargain basement prices

Mediterranean diet

There are so many things I love about life in Spain, but top of the list has to be shopping for seasonal fruit and vegetables at the street markets. If I wanted to, I could go to a different market almost every day of the week, and all within 10 – 15 minutes driving distance of our home in Algorfa. These, then, are the markets I can choose from:

  • Benijofar  on Tuesdays
  • Algorfa, San Miguel or Guardamar on Wednesdays
  • Rojales on Thursdays
  • Torrevieja on Fridays
  • Almoradi on Saturdays
  • Zoco or Lemon Tree Road (Guardamar) on Sundays

At some point, I’ll review the markets, and tell you about my favourites, but the main thing I go to the markets for is fruit and vegetables. The great thing about Spanish street markets is that everything is seasonal, so it’s at the peak of taste and vitamin content, and it’s cheap.

You don’t actually realise how cheap it is though, until you get to know how stuff works in Spain. The growers who sell their produce on the markets are small independent farmers who have followed madre and padre onto the land. That means they don’t use chemical pesticides – they stick with the tried and trusted natural treatments that have been handed down through the generations.

What this means is that you are buying organic produce, without paying a premium for it. Last week on Zoco market, cherry tomatoes were going for 2€ a kilo, and plums and pears were the same price. Melons were 2 or 3 for 1€, depending on the variety, and you could get 4 – 6 Cogolla (Little Gem) lettuces for 1 €.

Those prices are pretty amazing anyway – especially to Brits who are used to taking out a second mortgage for the week’s fruit and vegetable shopping. But when you remember that you are paying these prices for organic produce, you realise just how lucky you are to live and shop in Spain.

Photo credit: Maggs Perkins @ maggs224.com