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Sunday, 30 June 2013

Cucumbers....and more cucumbers.

I know we have touched on the cucumber thing already, but it really is out of hand now! I worried about the amount of courgettes I was getting earlier, but these are a lot more versatile than cucumbers, and since we have bought a freezer and discovered courgette and ginger jam, are welcomed. But what do you do with cues? My attempt at pickle/chutney was revolting, and even I am getting fed up of tzatziki every day. As said earlier, the Bulgarians just keep eating them when in season, and two large plates of diced cucumber round at Venka's was a revelation, and an experience I don't really want to repeat (though to be fair, they don't. Repeat that is. )

Yesterday we were given four large ones...they seem to be getting bigger. This brought the total in the fridge to nine. I gave one to the chickens. So, in desperation, I have pickled six of them. I don't really know what I am doing, but took direction from several recipes I found searching the web, all of which recommended you don't pickle regular cucumbers as they go soggy. I salted them first, and de-seeded them, then added a couple of small vine leaves to the jars as this is supposed to help with crispness. So, here we are, with two small jars filled with what were six large cues, which we may never eat. At least I tried, and hope that neither neighbour thinks of us when they next have too many......

Dave is continuing with his wood chopping. We have had a day of much needed rain so that is all he could do outside. He is a bit hyperactive so doesn't do well confined to the house. I have to say he has it down to a fine art, which is just as well seeing the lack of any safety gear!
 With the day's courgette donation I thought I would make a cake with a recipe I found using some of my precious reserve of cocoa. I was pleased with the result when it came out of the oven, it was evenly risen and seemed really moist. I had to make icing sugar for icing, which was a bit gritty, but better than nothing. But I was so disappointed with the flavour. The texture was more puddingy and would probably be better with custard or cream than icing. I have a feeling it needed a spot of salt. Courgettes are quite bland and the butter here is unsalted. I won't make that recipe again, even though it is disappearing fast (well, he needs energy to keep up the chopping!) I have another recipe for courgette muffins saved on my computer. Where is my computer I wonder? Hmmm.

Much to Bella dog's disgust, there seem to be a lot less bugs about now, though the biting flies are plentiful. The cuckoos have also stopped calling and there are a lot of tree sparrow and swallow youngsters in the garden. The sparrows are collecting chicken feathers for refurbishing their nests, the chickens are scrapping a bit so there are a few around. The chickens spend a lot of time chrging at the sparrows if they come foraging in the run, as well as using energy chasing flies and butterflies when it's cooler. The energy should be going into producing eggs. Come on girls!
The apricots are all finished now, with the last of the windfalls mushing on the 'lawn'. The pears, though small, are turning pink and most have fallen, with more to go today with the wind we have. It seems awfully early but they are very sweet and appear to be ripe, but are tiny so too small to do anything with. Which is a shame as all that's left in the way of fruit are plums and three peaches. I can't decide whether to make plum chutney or more jam, though at the moment chutney is popular with Dave. I am sure jam will go in winter when he wants something sweet though, we are planning on having a woodburner with small oven, ideal for rice pudding making. The walnuts are hanging on, I want those to do well as they are really good for you and I eat nuts instead of meat.

 Our poor hydrangea has really suffered in the rain this time. It is a stunningly beautiful big plant when it is allowed to be, but because there are so many lovely flowers it is heavy once wet and collapses. Next year we will have to think early and make sure it has proper support. The neighbours love a handful of flowers occasionally, and the old lady across the road.
 I have touched on the massacred grape vines on earlier pages. They are no doing really well and next year should offer shade, and with a bit of luck some grapes. Dave can maybe look into making wine as a new hobby. Or rakia, which is his preference, though the stills are a bit costly. There are also other trees trying to make a come-back on the lawn. Most are too close to the house to allow to grow, but there is a fig desperate to regenerate, and a peach which we are encouraging. We will see what happens next year, though the fig will need a good thinning. It must be pretty ancient going by the stump.

 The other plentiful source of food are snails. They are huge with really tough shells. Stand on one in the night and the only crunching sound will be your ankle! Venka often offers snails done in garlic butter to family and friends (thank goodness I am a veggie!) but refuses to eat them herself.

Venka continues to mother us, I'm sure she thinks we don't eat. There was a delicious smelling pan of soup yesterday, which she forgot to tell me was chicken. luckily I realised it smelled too good to be veggie, but the dogs relished my share on their breakfast this morning. They haven't eaten so well for ages, and spent a few minutes afterwards chasing the bowls to see if they could make them give more. I'm sure Venka would be delighted.

Or maybe not.

Bella on the beer...

Friday, 28 June 2013

Tomatoes and benches.

We had the first of Venka's tomatoes yesterday, In fact we had a carrier bag of tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers. I now have six cucumbers. Heck, what am I going to do with six cues? Dave also picked me a big bowl of cherry sized plums, easy enough to decide what to do with them. Three lots in the freezer for over winter and four jars of jam.

Had a baking day too, so cheese bread and toasting loaves join the fruit bread in the freezer. It is so nice to have the time to do these things. Made some shortbread for Venka and Jordan, but find it difficult to know what to do to repay their  constant kindness. I hope as the year goes on we can do something to help them.
The post lady called today as we had a bumper post delivery. Well, two anyway. A letter from  one of Dave's ex colleagues. It is a pleasure to get a hand written letter, made all the more special as it is so rare. So thank you, Paul and Ann. There was also a late birthday card and housewarming card from the office. Lovely.
Dave is turning his hand to crazy paving around the 'pool'. There are lots of stones around begging for a job.
After being so disappointed about my missing seedlings, I have padded out what is left with more peas and beans and a couple of rows of carrots. I can put more peas in later, I would like to find space to put enough to freeze some. The frozen ones we have had here are like bullets, and starchy, even after ten minutes boiling.
While we were out on our patch we could hear something going on on the road....even a dog passing is an event. But when Dave went for a nosey he found Venka and Jordan fixing the bench outside the gate. The frame was still there, but the wood was long gone. Dave went out to try and fix it a few days ago, but didn't know how long it was till Venka pointed out that some was hidden in a shrub. So was planning to get some wood today on the way back from shopping. But now it's done. Everyone has one of these benches. They are handy for waiting, for chatting with neighbours (and avoiding having to ask anyone in) and just watching the world go by. Outside here, there is usually a gathering late at night, long after we are in bed. I don't know when we will use it, but use it we will. There seemed to be a lot of drilling and hammering, and I believe they went through a few bits making new holes, but it is nice and wide for mature bums!Meanwhile Dave made a thank-you card for them with a picture of him and the dogs enjoying it.
This morning, when Venka and Jordan were tying up tomatoes bin our side, they called Dave over to tell him they are our tomatoes and they have started to ripen so we had better get picking! There are about fifty of them, all laden. So I hope either she will use some, even though they have about a hundred plants of their own, or I am going to be very busy with my little outdoor stove making tomato sauce. There are also about a hundred pepper plants, twenty or so aubergines and pumpkins and thirty sweetcorn. The courgettes we have been eating since we arrived. I hope I don't have to have all the produce from those!  I'll have peppers to last a lifetime. Now, where are Mum's recipes for chutney and hot tomato sauce?

Been to Kaufland shopping today and arrived at the same time as the Scottish couple who showed us around the market a few weeks ago. I have found some different sugars, but not what I need for Christmas cake, so will have to have a re-think on that. Silly me used what I brought with me on the chutneys. I never thought I would say it....but I would love an hour in Tesco!

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Something is eating my veggies!

Went out to do a bit of hoeing (Venka disapproves of our Dutch hoe, not Bulgarian!) to find most of my carrots have disappeared. They were only seedlings, but starting to feather up, so I'm fed up about that. I will sow some more and hope it is not too late/hot for them to grow. Something has also eaten half my beans, which I have also re-sown and they have come up. If they do it again I will give up for this year. At the moment we have enough plants to be able to supply us and the freezer if they survive.

The chickens are really growing and looking like adults now. Cagney and Lacey have gone red in the face as if they might be thinking of laying. It's about time they started to earn their food.
The cucumber pickle/chutney might taste dreadful, but the courgette and ginger jam is lovely. Mum would have approved the gingeriness. If I get the chance I will make more. It seems the last three cucumbers were given to us by another neighbour from across the road. It seems everyone has too many.
We went to the market with Venka and Jordan yesterday. It was bigger than ever and a really social occasion, especially for Jordan, he talks more than a woman! We think they wanted to come with us to show us the market, not realising we had already been a couple of times. They didn't buy anything except a lotto ticket (and one for us) and we didn't want to disappoint them by saying we had already been. We bought some jam jars and a gas stove so that I can boil stuff outside in the hot weather, instead of heating up the house. All we need to do is find where we can get a fill of gas. They tried to explain but gave up! Venka kept an eagle eye on the stall holders to make sure we were not charged English rates, and had words if they tried. Coffee was fun as Venka's friend, Maria was already at the cafe. We were bothered by Gypsies selling needles, but Maria told them........

The last two evenings have been a bit cooler, thank goodness. We even had the windows shut last night (though I wished later we hadn't) so we weren't woken at 11.30 when the neighbouhood seem to gather out on the lane for a chinwag before retiring. They will not be shut tonight, woke up stuffy and hot.

Dave is picking the little plums we all have in the garden and are growing along the side of the road everywhere. Jordan uses them for rakia, but I am going to make some for jam and freeze some for later. They look like cherry tomatoes and are the same size as the large cherries.

We really must get on with painting the window frames while it is cooler. They have not been done for six years and the paint out here is more like distemper. We bought some Weathershield and undercoat out with us as we were forewarned. But sanding the old stuff off is not easy. On the one hand it is falling off and on the other, bits stick like cement. I love the old windows though, which are two sets with a four inch gap between, and think it's a shame when people rip them out to put plastic double glazing in. The inner set of windows are in better condition and can wait a year or two longer.

With the help of other ex-pats we have found an on-line pet food supplier who will deliver good quality food. The girls have been trying a few available here, but are not impressed. The heat doesn't help, but they will still eat their old food so it's not affecting them that much. Most things are cheaper here, but quality dog food is as expensive as in the UK. Unfortunately the food they were on before we came out was made locally of good human grade ingredients and is not available here. It was extremely reasonable too so the bill for this lot was a bit of a shock. It is almost worth getting a pallet sent there's an idea.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Yellow, yellow everywhere

And no, it's not rape. That is done and harvested. This is much prettier. The region is known, among other things, for it's huge swathes of sunflowers, and they are all coming in to flower now. We have all seen pictures of them in France and such, but to see them in reality is something else. And they are so quick to grow. We have only been here a month and they were seedlings when we arrived. So here are a couple more pics to add to the many on the internet.

After another storm (which Bonnie coped with quite well this time) we thought it would be a bit fresher by morning, but the heat continues. We had to go into the main town to get a cable for the computer and at the same time we got a paddling pool to cool us off on a hot day. If you buy one in the UK you can almost guarantee it will be hardly used, but I think we can safely say we will get our money's worth here. And it is such a shame not to use the area Dave has worked so hard to clear. We can't leave it empty just in case we have visitors now can we? It may never happen after all. And to see Dave's face as he submerged himself in cold well water, well, that was priceless. Keeping the dogs out might be a problem, but we will worry about that if it happens.

We will not be using chemicals as we have no drains here so it would have to be emptied on the garden, but we can do regular changes from the well as we can use the used water on the garden, and it has a filter pump. We will be planting flowers around the pool and a climbing something on the wall between us and the people behind, as his head has been appearing over the wall to see what is going on. So now we have a 'house with pool'.

We now have telly! The cable we went into town for was to connect the laptop to the telly so we can catch up on favourite programmes on that site where people post their home videos. Not that TV is going to be allowed to rule our lives, but while it is so hot in the afternoons it gives the fidget, Dave, a reason to come in out of the sun for a while. We also bought a router so we can both have our laptops going and will not have to fight over his. Unfortunately we are not up to speed with technology so will probably have to call on an ex-pat to help. They are a very helpful lot here in the village.

Today I must find a way of pickling some of the cucumbers Venka keeps bringing over. There were another three yesterday and a person can only eat so much tzatziki! All the strong, fresh garlic I am using doesn't seem to keep the flies away though. And talking of flies, I love to watch the fireflies when they come out in the evening, but this morning one was under the washing machine flashing away. At five in the morning I am not always at my best and couldn't understand why there was a standby light on under the washer....


Venka, bless her heart, came over with some eggy cheese on toast while Dave was strimming, trying to get the weeds back under control. I'm sure she must think I don't feed him! While she was there she picked me some courgettes. I haven't had any for a while, so that's lunch sorted. But of course there are too many, so I will try making some courgette and ginger jam, one of my late Mum's favourites. I had just finished preparing all the cucumbers for a pickle/chutney recipe I found on the web when there was a yell from Dave, and he came in bearing another three large cues! Oh dear, tzatziki it is then. Good job we found a stack of jars in one of the outhouses. Looks as if the cellar will be put to good use after being empty for nearly a decade.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

It's hot work, this preserving lark.....

Had a call over from our lovely neighbour, Venka the other night. Dave had gone out to the bar to see if he could find a Brit for some advice on our internet package. I was finishing making some apricot and plum chutney and sweating like a pig,
 and Venka wanted us to go round for a drink. I was a bit wary as there is usually more to these visits. I managed to get across that Dave was out having a drink with someone, but she insisted I go round anyway. So quick head dunk and change of clothes off I went. I sent Dave a text and tried to phone but was low on credit. When I turned up there was the usual rakia, a bottle of bright green lemonade and a huge plate of dressed cucumber with four olives....on four plates. Venka was looking out for Dave and I couldn't get her to understand that I couldn't get him on the phone. There were plates of preserved meat all circling Dave's plate, getting warm. Eventually managed to get him and much to everyone's relief he was soon there, phrase book in hand. I am still shy about trying anything I am not sure of, but can often get the gist of a conversation before Dave, though he know how to say more. Sitting with Venka and Jordan (who's English is restricted to "Liverpool" Manchester United" and "Sunderland") was a bit of a strain for an hour. Another plate of cucumber was produced for me as I don't eat meat, and Dave got stuck in to the meats and rakia.Venka went back in to the house and came back with two plates of figs in syrup, bottled the year before, for her and me. They were delicious, but incredibly sweet, and there were four. I managed to get Dave to eat one, and struggled through three. He didn't realise how many rakia he was drinking, or that Jordan was only having half tots. He knew the next morning though!!!! In fact he realised when he nearly ended up wobbling into their petunia bed when we left, at 11.45. Unheard of! Dave was invited to watch Jordan make rakia. He makes it out of any fruit available, which at the moment is apricots and little plums, which he gathers as windfalls. Later his better stuff will be made from his own grapes. And they explained why they were having fires on the yard, Venka had started bottling veg, which I presume is why we have not been given any courgettes lately (We can get our own, obviously but only if we want them) Very sensible doing all that hot stuff outside, I am looking out for a gas ring to do the same. Of course I didn't come away empty handed, I had a bottle of freshly processed beans and some eggs in a bag to get home, never mind an inebriated husband. His headache the next day was a lesson to him...that rakia is too easy to drink!

Dave was feeling very delicate till lunchtime. I decided to have a bread baking day to get some of the freezer space filled, and made a pizza for lunch, which helped. More sweating.
                                        Some of the bread, which will join the cheese and onion bread and unbaked fruit ring in the freezer..

Isn't it just the way though? We had just finished the pizza and Venka brought across some of her own(far superior) cheese bread, hot from the oven, along with a plate of porridge and yet another cucumber.
As Dave was feeling better by this time, and taking his cue from Angel, the neighbours' son in law, we decided it was time to pick some apricots. They were falling at an alarming rate even though a lot are still hard.

Of course, what is picked then has to be processed, so I tried my hand at bottling, got a load of jam on the go, and loaded the dehydrator all before 9am. I was a bit worried about my floating apricots but Venka's beans were also floating so it must be ok. I didn't want to pack them too tightly as they bruise if you look at them.

 There are still loads on the tree, so I think I'll just freeze some. We don't eat a lot of processed fruit and veg, but might do in winter when there is no chocolate in the offing.

Dave has been clearing the area where the old woodshed disappeared from with the intention of making it a place to sit out of the sun during the morning, and hopefully, if we can get the vine under control and make a garden there, a private place for any visitors to sit if they want to be alone.

This is Eric, the smallest mantis ever, but brave enough to take on the camera!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

At last...internet! 20-6-2013
We were up early to go to the river to see what we could see. It is a lovely area, the birdsong is amazing, but no chance of them posing for a portrait! And the same for hares. Saw one which was gone before the camera was ready. Put it away and blow me there was another....bah! However the dogs enjoyed their play, as did Dave, though there was a strong current which meant Bonnie got nowhere at one point though she is a strong swimmer.

I was thinking it would never happen, but when we came back from taking the dogs (and Dave) for a swim in the river a chap turned up to connect us to the internet. We think it is a package of some sort but as we do not speak Bulgarian and he doesn't speak English, we will have to wait to find out. At lest we have access to everything, and skype, though we still can't get our emails as TalkTalk is down! Such is life. Anyway, it is cheap and fast in comparison to the UK so not complaining. Time to seek out our new ex-pat friend who knows about computers and telly and stuff so he can put us straight