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Thursday, 26 December 2013


Our first Christmas in Bulgaria was lovely. Quiet, gentle and non-commercial. No expensive presents given or received.

While the sounds of pigs meeting their end continued on the run up to the day, it was distant enough that we could escape the sound by just shutting the door. Hopefully the part of living in rural BG which does not appeal to vegetarians is over for the year. It does mean our neighbours have been working very long hours trying to process their meat, with Dave helping to move the cauldron when Venka was alone. The irony is I spent ages making pork pies for Dave while all this was going on.

Other non-essential makes were a huge batch of puff pastry for veggie and ordinary sausage rolls, some are in the freezer, a batch of shortcrust which I have been having trouble with as it has been coming out tough, but this time was perfect. A trifle which I made with cherries donated by our English pals when they needed space in the freezer.

On 23rd I made a couple of batches of shortbread biscuits in plain and chocolate while Dave went to try to get some timber to finish the kitchen units. He didn't get the wood as they were closed but managed a swim in the river on the way home!!! Crazy. He took a couple of photos while he was out and managed to get a pic of a black squirrel, though given the fog it wasn't a very good one! He also saw a great white egret but had run out of juice in the camera.

 When he got home we set about decorating the biscuits to give to the neighbours. We had a few visitors during the day so it took longer than we thought it would (and we were a few light when they went!) but received marmalade and strawberry jam so happy indeed. We were pleased with the results of our handiwork and packed boxes of seven to give away.

The first to get biscuits were the old couple we get the milk from. Dave says the lady was transformed by the gesture from a very bent and tired looking woman to someone wreathed with smiles. They are lovely and chatter away to him even though he can't chatter back. Next the old fellow from behind us struggled down the lane with his stick, carrying a bag of three large pumpkins, so he collected a card and biscuits. Then the lady from across the lane, who sends me flowers, had hers. She came back later with five bread rolls and a bottle of home made wine.

The 24th is the last day of fasting for Advent and food is traditionally vegetarian with rolls and such offered in odd numbers, also bread rolls are baked in a round tin and if offered you break a piece off and hope to find a coin inside, a synbol of good luck. Walnuts are also important at Christmas, and each person will crack a nut and their luck will coincide with the condition of the nut inside.We have so much to learn!

We went round to visit Venka and Jordan on the 24th to find them with their hands full as their chickens had been attacking a couple of their mates and had made a real mess. We handed them their biscuits and a token present each, and some biscuits for the daughter and her family. We lent them a dog crate and some purple spray so they could either isolate them or spray them as the others will attack the red bits constantly. Then Dave spoke to the grandson on the phone as Venka wanted us to go round in the evening. Unfortunately she always leaves it to the last minute to invite us and we were going out already, I felt really bad about it. We would have enjoyed seeing how the family celebrate Christmas eve. As it happens we had a nice evening at an ex-pat house and had a good laugh. I had been busy making bread sticks and pastries to take along, and used the last of the mincemeat to make a tray bake with almond macaroon topping. It was so scrummy that I had to keep half of it! They also had biscuits.

Christmas day was the day for Skypeing mostly Dave's family, including his niece who is travelling around New Zealand, though a couple of them tried to Skype us just as we sat down to eat, forgetting that we are two hours in front. The menu had changed a bit and Dave had chicken, shared with the dogs, and all the usual trimmings. My nut roast turned out great, and we had some of my spiced quince and pear jelly with it. The only down were the sprouts, and no amount of tarting up with chestnuts and onion helped the fact they were frozen, we couldn't get fresh. We will do without next year if we can't grow them ourselves. Apart from them everything was either home made, local or home grown. Even the very expensive but woody parsnips from the market turned out nice smothered in local honey. Dave also made crackers which we pulled while shouting 'bang' just as the Goods did in 'The Good Life' We don't have newspapers for hats but a large brown envelope did the job!
 The dogs had bones donated by our English neighbours, very happy doggies.

Venka came round later with a goody bag consisting of a 2ltr pop bottle of home made wine, some minced beef, a slab of pork belly fat (so Dave can have some crackling after all) a couple of long home made sausages nd a plate of stuffed cabbage leaves and peppers for me. We have enough meat to last months now. She came back later with a plate of tiramisu inspired cake sent by the daughter (they love Italy and spend time there grape picking every year)

Later on we went round to the English neighbours for a chin wag and catch up. Altogether a lovely day.

So our next social occasion is the village 'do' on the 30th, day time. For a small sum you get a burger and some pop and if very lucky all the locals will be wanting you to try their rakia and wine! Watch this space.

The little straw decorations from the Post Office ladies.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Shortest day

Well, today is the shortest day so we can start looking forward to next year's planting. We still have a couple of months of winter but as spring comes early we want to be ready to plant out broad beans and peas as soon as we can. At the moment we are still having hard frosts every night as this autumn has been unusually cold. The last few days have been foggy as well as frosty which makes everything look amazingly beautiful, especially when the sun comes out. We are now due some milder weather with temperatures rising to 15 by the middle of next week and no frost. No white Christmas here then.

I thought we would not be bothering with Christmas food this year. I don't know how it's happened but I seem to be spending too much time making 'stuff'. I am still having trouble with pastry so we have not had any mince pies yet, though we have had mincemeat samosas....well we had to make sure the mincemeat was OK. It's lovely. It looks like mud though. Have also made my version of stollen, a much lighter version though, with home made marzipan. Very nice (I did a little one for us to try) but unfortunately it got a bit caramelised on the bottom. Still it's only for us. Also made some nice biscuits. Dave couldn't find peanut butter in Lidl, so got peanut chocolate sauce. Yeuch. Even Dave doesn't like it. However it does make scrummy biscuits, and when our English neighbour came round he thought so too, so they didn't have time to go stale! The cake is made, based on the cherry cake, I have added other fruits such as dates, sultanas and crystalised pineapple, as well as stem ginger. It will make a change from traditional cake which never gets finished, and there is enough fruity stuff with mincemeat and pudding. There is also a thin sponge for trifle and a salmon quiche. I seem to have pork pie and vegetable pie on my list too...and the other day we had some of Venka's amazing pickled peppers with cheese and onion pie and warm mustard potato salad. Better start excercising! Oh, and Pizza.....

 Just as well Dave made a good long unit......

And Dave also had the first of his steaks, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

Dave is having pork on Christmas day, unfortunately not from next door as they seem to have sold it all. Dave has said he has gone off the idea of having a pig to rear for meat. He was outside when no 2 was killed and the noise it made is still in his head. He doesn't think he can go through that with one he has looked after for months. Anyway, we were in Kaufland the other day and he couldn't decide what he wanted. They had frozen fowl of all descriptions but not a lot on the butcher counter, they don't seem to go a bundle on joints and the only one they had I couldn't decide what meat it was, but it looked like beef, so I left him looking and he came back with a couple of pieces of lean belly pork, no crackling but I am sure it will be fine. I shall be making a nut roast with our own walnuts and vegetables.

We have been gobsmacked at the generosity of our neighbours while we have been here, and the other day we were quite choked with the reaction of the Post Office ladies in the village to a simple hand made card Dave took to them to thank them for their help. We had put a greeting inside in English and Bulgarian and it caused a bit of a stir when delivered. The next day they sent us, by courier, (next door neighbour) a glass bowl filled with decorations...baubles, hand made corn decs and mini gourds...and a card with carefully written English and Bulgarian greetings. We both had a little tear in our eyes, what a lovely thing. We have cards for the neighbours which we will give out next week, and a small thank you present each for Venka and Jordan. I just hope they don't all feel the need to give back, but it seems to be their culture.

We have made a bit of effort at decorations. We bought a small artificial tree for the extension and have lights outside, and an even smaller tree which was my late Mum's on the printer. While Dave was putting out the blue lights on the apricot tree he had an interested audience as Venka and Jordan watched, goodness knows what they think of the mad English and their lights, the English next door have also got them out. We have found that the top of the wood burner is great at drying fruit for natural decs.

The chickens are all looking really fed up with the cold weather and mud. And even the chicks are changeing feathers so that is not helping. They are nearly full size now and making very grown up noises. The mud is odd as we have had no rain since the snow, in fact it has been very dry altogether with no significant falls due. Very odd for people from GB! Dave noticed the English neighbours had a huge pile of leaves sitting on their plot and has brought them over for the chickens, happy they were! A few chopped up walnuts thrown in the leaves gives them something to do.

We were told there were deer living on the hills surrounding the village, and the other day we saw a small herd when we went out to the shops. Unfortunately there was nowhere to stop for photos, but maybe another time. Meanwhile there seem to be more and more buzzards about, but they are very shy and fly off when a car stops, maybe they are used to having pot shots taken. But there are still some smaller birds who are not camera shy, like this shrike.

We'd like to take the opportunity to thank all our readers for staying with us through my ramblings, and wish you all a very happy Christmas. I will raise a glass to you all on the day.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

More snow and absent builders

Well, the builder has decided it would be more convenient for him to do the finishing after the new year. This is because the house he uses locally has been 'winterised' when he went home (he lives a way off) and he doesn't want to have to open it up just for a few days. Basically all water is turned off and pipes and toilets emptied in case they freeze and burst. If we had realised he was going home we would have pressed to get the inside finished as there was no reason they could not do it, the outside I can understand. I like people to be straight. If he wanted to go home I would rather he said as we were putting off jobs that we are now doing so we can get the room used. Bah!

And on the subject of that, we have started to do the staining of the ceiling wood, but as the stairs are not finished we can't do them. Dave has turned his new DIY hands to laying ceramic tiles on the floor and has done a very good job, as he always does. It was a bit stressful for him as the kitchen tiles are not straight so that finding where to start was interesting. But hopefully he can get our Christmas tree decorated, which we were putting off while we thought the builder would have been making dust. They will still get dusty from the fire but hey ho.

The fire is proving very efficient. As mentioned before we do not have central heating, but the heat travels through the extension and up the stairs and heats everywhere. We have frost every night so it has been well tested. Dave usually lets the dogs out in the night if he needs to get up (we go to bed by 9.30, old habits die hard!) and puts a couple of logs on, but even if he doesn't the embers soon catch in the morning, so we haven't had to re-light it for a while now. We occasionally light the one upstairs if it gets too cold, or if one of us wants to use the 'craft' room. Dave is still painting if the weather is bad or he is not doing anything in the house. He has done one recently of Marilyn Monroe, which is lovely, but unlike all the photos it hasn't been airbrushed and I think is better. So now he has had a go at a person, he is going to have a go at local beauty spots, so landscapes next.

Dave has also been having a go at plumbing. He is so busy, just as he likes it, but not when he is busy with something else! Just as he was setting up to paint I realised I was paddling round the kitchen. The U-bend had detached from the kitchen sink. So it was off to the shops for more bits and while he was at it he put some shelves in so I had more space to keep things tidy.

Our lovely neighbour, Venka, is still trying to keep us (Dave) well fed. Even though we bought all that meat last week she called him across yesterday and gave him a kilo of mince and a couple of jars of potted beef (she NEVER stops working, the outside fire where she does her preserving is always lit). When I was letting the chickens out there was a lot of activity over there, and Venka seemed excited when I said hello. It all became clear when I went out to put the washing on the line and there was an almighty noise coming from their stock yard where the pig was seeing it's end. What timing! In I rushed and switched on the radio and now all is quiet. Dave might be going over for rakia some time soon to see if he wants anything for the freezer again. They must think me very strange for hiding from the world at these times even though they know I don't eat meat. Bless them, I just hope they are not to offended.

In the garden there is not a lot happening. Weeds have sprung up under the snow, which disappeared overnight when we had a warm breeze, only to start snowing again by 8am. It was different snow this time. The first batch was like the wet 'snowball' snow we had in the UK, this was fine and powdery, no good for snowballs. I didn't last more than a couple of days. The broccoli is looking very sorry for itself. The snow had bowed it down and the constant frosts have kept it looking sad, but it still looks healthy, if that is not a contradiction. The forcast tells us that the frosty nights will continue for weeks yet, which I suppose is why the gardens are emtied of veg for the winter....apart from lettuces(?) and onions and garlic. The cabbages still there are frozen coming in to the kitchen so I just cut off what we need and send the rest to the chickens.

And talking of chickens, there is now a duet of crowing in the mornings. Mini Sev had joined Big Sevi in the dawn chorus. Sevi has a very clear "cock-a-doo" where as Mini Sev has a very hoarse "cock-a-gurgle" bless him. We are still only getting one egg most days with and from Silver occasionally, the rest of the time they are eaten.

In the kitchen I am still experimenting with making veggie stuff with walnuts and trying to get to grips with the wood oven. I am getting a dab hand at one pot meals, but obviously that has to be two meals, one with meat. The latest experiment was some beany spicy bites. Bites because the texture was not quite right so I couldn't roll them in to balls, so just put little bits on a tray in the oven. They were so delicious and I couldn't stop eating them. I kept it simple as I knew I would forget to write the recipe down, so it was a good handful each of sweated onion, roughly chopped borlotti beans, very finely chopped walnuts and breadcrumbs, with a beaten egg, sage, salt and pepper and garlic. With a dash of gravy browning as the colour was a bit too sludgy. Put a few in my 'meat and tater' pie when Dave had his beef one and really enjoyed it.

As Dave had been especially busy I also made him another favourite, chocolate sponge with chocolate custard. But with some butterscotch sauce and rather ripe banana in the bottom. I forced myself to join him but then suffered with indigestion at bed time. Ah well, sometimes it's worth the suffering!

And finally, we had the most beautiful little bird in the garden the other day. Initially, with the sun behind it Dave thought it was a robin as it was that shape. We have not seen a robin here but we are told they are about. But it turned out to be a lovely black redstart, which we found out after studying the photo he took and asking for ID. As my brother in law said, it looks like a very cold robin, due to the blue/grey colouring!