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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Chickens

The new chooks are settling well. Dave put them all together to see what would happen. Initially the rooster wouldn't venture out into the big wide world, but encouraged by Venus he soon got brave. The first day was spent finding their feet, but by yesterday Sevi decided it was time to put my girls in their place and gave them the runaround. I'm not sure Cagney is too happy, she has been well and truly told she has been demoted from boss to follower! We will see how things go, but I am still worried about my girls ending up as scrappy looking as the new ones. There were two small eggs offered up yesterday, one white and one slightly tinted. The Shumens are white egg layers so there is a possibility that the other is from one of my girls, maybe Venus as her comb has suddenly turned bright red and she is flirting shamelessly with Sevi. They were both very small, we will have to see. A lot of the eggs in the shops here are tinted rather than brown.
 Jordan came over to see the new chooks and seems very impressed. I have to say I am a bit miffed that he seems so enthusiastic at the scruffy lot, when my girls are so beautiful. But that's men for you. I have to say, though, front on Sevi is pretty gorgeous!
The bottling continues. I am going to have to stop with the tomatoes and lutinitza. We have enough to last a few years after yesterday's lot. If that means that the tomatoes will be ploughed back into the ground then so be it. Yesterday I did eleven jars of lutiniza and six jars and two freezer boxes of tomato and pepper sauce. Then Venka handed me more courgettes and cucumbers! The chickens will be helping with them. We have had to show Venka a picture of the full shelves in the cellar to show we have enough. She seemed surprised and rather impressed.

We have wireless at last. So now have three computers we can use and don't have to fight over one. We have had the router for months but couldn't get it to work, so one of our new friends came round to help.

Had to rescue a tiny ladybird from the pool yesterday. Who would have thought you could fit so many spots onto such a tiny thing?


Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Hot...hot...hot

I'm not a great one for heat, and usually if the temperature is above 30 you will find me doing something inside...or nothing if it gets too bad!

Yesterday, however, with having to pick up Dave's new project chickens, I had no choice but to go out. Dave loves the heat, it doesn't seem to be able to get too hot for him. We took the scenic route to the place we were to collect the chickens. It really is very pretty here even though we are only at the foot of the mountains. There is plenty of green vegetation, a huge variety of trees along the roads, always with some fruiting and some flowering. Until winter sets in, of course, when it looks bleak with most trees being deciduous. But my, it was hot. When the car stopped I felt I was going to melt.

Ploughing has started with a vengeance, the tractors being followed by a huge cloud of dust which obliterates the road when they reach it. We have no seagulls to follow them, being a long way in land, but we do have something more exotic. Storks. There were eight following this tractor, an amazing sight, and we might have got better pictures if we could have parked up, instead of just idling at the side of the road.


By the time we reached our meeting point it was baking hot, and I was glad of a coffee in an air-conditioned garage. Another thing about BG, most garages have meeting and cafe facilities. You always meet people who you follow to your destination, and any deliveries stop in the village square and ring to be met and directed to the property. Unfortunately it feels even hotter when you go back outside. The temp gage on the car was reading 38. Anyway, the chap met us and we followed him back to his parents' place where the chooks are kept. It's rather higgledy piggledy, with a lot of birds in small spaces. Our three looked a bit bedraggled, and the chap explained that the rooster had been in a fight recently. The hens looked as if the rooster had been a bit amorous, with feathers missing on their backs. We were given fetching blue covers for our shoes, not sure if it was to keep them clean or stop us taking germs in.....

While Dave chatted (the chap speaks some English) I gradually wilted in the heat. Dave just doesn't feel it...but the Bulgarians did and I had to drag him away eventually. We were given a bunch of grapes by the man's 3 year old son, bless him. So cute.

 We thought it was going to be easy to find the main road again, but the sat-nav kept trying to send us up one way roads the wrong way, and we went round and round....for about half an hour. Eventually we gave up and took a track  which you wouldn't attempt if you didn't have a 4x4 as we could see it came out by the road...and we were off!

The temperature at home reached 42 and all our chooks were panting and holding their wings out, but they still ran to greet us. Bella was unwell and threw up a few times, and had (has) a runny bottom, but her signs are good so we figure it is a combination of heat, being left for four hours and her eating unmentionables if she can get her chops around them. The new chooks were cool enough, the car has air conditioning. It is hot again today.

They were dusted with louse powder and settled in to their new home, a five star palace after their last place. They looked a sorry lot after the indignities of the day, and especially as our resident chooks look so well. But they look better this morning.
 Girl one
 girl two
 Boy Sevi, named after the town he came from

Our girls were intrigued by the chooks sitting looking out of the window next to their run, Venus especially was acting like a tart! They were left to settle, with a ladder to the perch as it is a bit high for them, they came with clipped flight feathers. This morning Sevi has been letting the world know he is here, but luckily he has a fairly quiet crow. Everyone has been introduced, but only one hen will venture out of their shed. Sevi will not! But our girls have been in to see him and Venus has shown herself to be a real tart, crouching down to him. A sign which means she should be in lay very soon. There was a bit of a stand-off between head girl Cagney and one of the new hens, but it came to nothing. The new hens are smaller than the old ones but nearly a year older, so more worldly wise. Sevi is eight months old. We now await new feather (and weight) growth with their new home providing plenty of good food, fresh air and exercise....if we can get Sevi out! I'm sure my girls will help there, but he had better not get rough with them or I will split them up.

STOP PRESS!!!!!!

We have an announcement. We have had our first pearly white egg! It is not very big, but the new hens are small anyway (yes, it was a shumen egg) but with having so many hens potentially laying that is no bad thing. After a while Dave will set some in the incubator, but we don't think Sevi has been running with these particular girls so not sure who the daddy is. They are all out together now, even Sevi. And very happy he is at having another five good looking girls in his harem!




Sunday, 28 July 2013

Rakia with the neighbours.

We were thinking of locking the chickens up and going to bed the other night when we got a call from the other side of the fence, and an invitation to go over for rakia. We went round in trepidation, knowing things are never that simple. And we were right. There were seven places laid at the table in the garden, where Jordan was nodding off in the heat. Out came Venka with plates piled high with tomatoes and a scattering of olives and grated home made cheese. The best rakia was dished out (grappa) and toasts given, plus some sickly sweet strawberry(it said on the bottle) pop. We normally eat fairly early, about six thirty, as I don't sleep well with a belly full of dinner. We are sick of tomatoes now, with having to deal with so many every day, and also eating them at lunch time every day, but it would be rude not to eat them. We tried to eat slowly, spending time chatting (!) to neighbours. One did speak a few words of English, which helped things along a little. She has a son working in England so is keen to improve her language skills. Her mother lives over the road to us, a lady known as Baba Danka, who insists on talking to us in fast Bulgarian, but luckily doesn't seem to need any answers. She is quite a characterful old lady, very bent and arthritic, though still very active and can throw a log with the best of them, and who always wears a scarf and drab clothes. For this evening, though, she had got dressed up and uncovered a lovely head of dyed, healthy shiny hair. She presented us with three dahlias as a welcome to Bulgaria gesture, in a colour Mum would have loved.
By this time Dave and I had finished our pile of tomatoes and this had been replaced by....another pile. Oh dear. They are lovely tomatoes, but this was a struggle. Off Venka went and brought out the usual beautifully arranged meats. I thought I had got away with not having any more food, but she suddenly dashed in and brought me two roasted green peppers, icy cold from the fridge. Interesting. They still had the seeds in but were very sweet. By this time another lady had arrived, someone who works in a coffee shop, and a lively night was in full swing. Then out came watermelon, after that, yellow melon, then the courgette and chocolate muffins I had given Venka earlier, and if anyone wanted anything else there was a box of chocolates! By this time the pop had turned to beer. We had to call a halt to the evening when our hosts looked as if they were about to drop off, and as it was 12.15, so were we! A lovely evening though and it's nice to get to know a few more of the resident Bulgarians. They are such friendly people, and seem to appreciate that we are trying to communicate without expecting them to speak English, though they find it amusing to try out some words, usually British football teams.

The builder has been out to see what can be done about putting some internal stairs in. At the moment we have outside stairs to the bedrooms and bathrooms, which will be awkward in winter. It looks as if we can make do with a small extension to the kitchen, making the bedroom window into a door (there are two large windows) and moving the kitchen window out. We will see what the estimate says.

The weather is very hot now. The dogs are finding the nights uncomfortable, as we are, but we don't whine and pace and pant! Putting the fan on helps, but only if you stop pacing. Bella is not keen on fans, when it suits. In the garden many of the plants wilt alarmingly during the day, but we are being trusted to water now, so we know most of them are OK. The most alarming ones are the pumpkin/squash, but they don't get water at all. It is amazing that they can look so dead when we go to bed, but come alive over night.



 The cabbages are growing so fast you can almost see it! The leeks are doing quite well too, though Venka insist we keep nipping the tops off. The tiny broccoli and kale plants we put in last week are holding their own. We have lost a couple but they are planted a bit close anyway, and are more than we need if they survive. Time will tell. We are getting lots of French beans now and my next project is to try salting some....once we are tired of them. We will freeze some too, but some books say salted beans keep their texture better. We'll find out soon enough.
We are about half way through the tomatoes now. I made a year's supply of tomato ketchup yesterday. Only 1.5 litres, but enough for us. It took forever, but used up loads of tomatoes. We have bought another set of shelves to store all the bottles in the cellar, but there is only one shelf left to fill. We have enough tomatoes to last years, but when scrabbling around in the food cupboard found two tins which came out from the UK with us.
We have arranged to pick up our trio of pure bred Shumen chickens today, so depending on age (Dave forgot to ask) there may be a new cockerel voice added to the dawn chorus in the morning. I hope he's friendly, I am not going to deal with him if he isn't, and I don't fancy his chances of a long life if he has a go at Dave too often!

Friday, 26 July 2013

All sorted

We are now fully registered as residents and have our photo ID cards, a painless procedure in itself, but stressful having to negotiate Veliko Tarnovo on a busy Friday to fetch them and also go to the DIY store, equivelent to B&Q. We got paint to re-do the bedrooms which leaked in the storms. On the way home we took a detour to see the garage chap to see about getting the car registered before the insurance ran out at the end of the month. Unlike in the UK where you have to make appointments well in advance for a thing like this, which entails local MOT and many forms to fill in, never mind new number plates. I was taken home and Dave went back to the garage, then back to the same place we went to in VT then home. Four hours in all, in awful heat, but a great job done. Hopefully we will be able to avoid VT for a few months now, most ordinary stuff can be sorted out locally....when we find out where!



Apart from that, things are carrying on as usual, tomatoes, veg and more tomatoes. The other day Dave went out of the gate and accosted by the other neighbours behind us. He was given a tour of their garden, and says it has a beautiful area besides the immaculate produce garden. He came out with five cucumbers and a carrier of lovely tomatoes!!!!!! Dave tried showing them the tomatoes in the garden, to no avail. The tomatoes they gave us weighed between 1 lb 3oz and 1 lb 8 oz, and like all the garden, were immaculate.
Other things are coming through now, including the biggest, softest, sweetest figs I have ever had, and lovely sweet corn cobs. As well as these, my French beans are giving decent sized beans now, and the runners are not far behind. No doubt we will soon be fed up of them too. Ungrateful bunch.


We saw a couple of birds of prey sitting in a field when out and about. We couldn't stop to take photos as we were on a small road with a white van stuck to our behind. We got some on the way back, but they had both moved away so were too far off for my camera. But the photos were good enough to be able to see that they were different, and big. Can't find a match, but will keep an eye out for better photos for ID, and take Dave's camera. One, at least, looks like some kind of eagle, maybe both. e saw eagles over the road on the way into VT too, they were enormous, but we couldn't stop.




Well, off to bed for me, though the temperature is still in the high twenties, so little sleep tonight.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The first of our own harvest

I am feeling extremely ungrateful for the huge mountain of veg which was ready planted, and very guilty for that. But also, after having to replant beans so often in the last couple of months, rediculously happy at a quarter handful of fine green beans and peas of our own. Every juicy, tender pea was savoured and the beans too. The peas may be the last we have as they started flowering at a couple of inches high and stopped growing. We have planted more but next year we will have a totally different strategy. They will be planted in pots and grown on to a good size before planting out, as most stuff is out here. The beans look as if they will be successful though, and no doubt, as is my nature, I will soon be moaning about too many beans and hankering for something else! Never satisfied, me!

We had so much stuff to prepare the other day that I had to get Dave off his ground clearing to help with the preparation of veg. Another couple of buckets of tomatoes, aubergines and peppers were processed into bottles of solid packed tomatoes, passata and lutinitza, a delicious sauce made from all these veg plus onion and garlic. Yummy! Next time I make it I will freeze some in small lots for pizza sauce. There were also yet more courgettes and Okra. The okra went straight into the freezer for another day, the courgettes are languishing in the fridge.......
We made good use of the gas ring, which we put next to the outside sink where it could bubble and splash away without re-plastering the walls of the kitchen in tomatoes. I would like to say it kept the heat down in the kitchen, but I had the oven on and two rings, so it was boiling.
 Of course, as the oven was already on I might as well make a cake.........................lemon drizzle.

I came across a beautiful spider while picking tomatoes. This is apparently a wasp spider, I wonder why? It makes the most strange re-inforcing zig zag extra webbing. I know what I mean!


Dave has also had a couple of encounters. One with a stag beetle, which was huge and ready to take on all comers, and the other was a wasp nest he came across when clearing a gutter. Amazing things, wasp nests, and this one will be left to grow as it is not somewhere it will bother us.





I had some 'proper' milk from the shop the other day. Unless you know where to get fresh milk, there is only UHT available in the shops. But they had run out and when Dave asked, he got a litre of fresh milk from under the counter.....in a beer bottle! For the equivelant of 44p. We are going to have to make enquiries as it was so nice. I even had cereal for breakfast. When we first arrived lovely neighbours' grandson told us that she could get us fresh milk from her friend, but at the time we left it as we were already a bit overwhelmed with things. Something we will persue next time we see him.
We have a builder coming to see the house at the weekend, to see if we can work out a way of putting in internal stairs ready for winter. We went to see some other projects he has worked on recently and our's will be a doddle compared to them. A lot of the Bulgarian houses have very small rooms and you seem to need to go up or down steps to get into each room...and duck if you are anywhere near six feet tall. Much as I like character in a house, as I get older these things are more difficult, though I suppose if you live with them long enough you get used to it. It was lovely to chat to some new people though. The people who were going to come and visit on Sunday cried off at the last minute for the second time, ah well, their loss, dogs' gain, they love chicken, especially roasted. Dave reckons the chicken tastes a lot nicer here, which is amazing as he doesn't normally comment on food, though he is very keen on the lutinitza he helped to make.

This is a lovely flower, an okra flower. Beautiful.



Sunday, 21 July 2013

Things do go wrong......



Although we are loving our new life here in beautiful BG, it is not all perfect, nothing ever is.

I am really enjoying the preserving side of life, though there is far too much stuff. Next year, if we have too much, I would like to find out if there are any charities or other ways we can give our excesses to rather than letting them rot or using them in an way which wastes not only fuel and time, but sugar and other ingredients when we know we are never going to use the resulting mess. I have two loads of chutney in this category. One is cucumber and the other is a spiced courgette. They are both revolting with baaad texture. The recipes were recommended by unknown people on-line. The cucumber used up some of my precious soft brown sugar, which we have yet to find over here, and a lot of spices. The texture is slimy and the spices weird. Waste of everything and it will go on the compost heap when we get one.

The courgette chutney I made last week might improve, but the smell of overcooked vegetables when I was bottling it made me gag. It smelt like a very over cooked curry, due to the curry powder in the mix, but tasted exceptioally sweet. Ugh! This was recommended by someone who has made three lots this year and is finding it gets eaten before it is ready. It is supposed to be left for the flavours to mature, so this is what I have done. We'll see. There are plenty of other chutneys which are nice.

Lovely neighbour asked us, the other day, if we would like to buy some peaches a friend was selling for one lev (44p) a kilo. I asked for two kilos and they duly arrived next day. I say they arrived, they were actually nectarines, but never mind.
 My intention was to halve them and bottle in syrup. So all excited I got the pan of water on to blanch and skin, and another of sugar syrup to which I was going to add a splash of brandy. Then I tried to get the stones out. Well, you have never seen such a mess. They were the type who won't give up their stones without a fight! Unfortunately, instead of bottling them whole, I tried to persevere and ended up with enough quarters for one litre bottle and the rest of the bits I intended to make into a compote to put over rice pudding, ice cream or yogurt. On the fortunate side, three had boogies in the centre which I would have been mortified about if I had opened the jar for a special occasion. Tried using a smaller pan to simmer the jar of quarters in brandy syrup, but turned the heat up too high when it went off the boil, to restart it, and the contents must have got too hot and the lid blew off! What a mess. I managed to save some fruit and added it to the compote fruit, which luckily I hadn't started as I was waiting for sugar. So we will have to wait and see how it turns out. I now have five jars of the stuff. You live and learn and what I learned is you can't cut corners or take your eye off the ball (or pan).

Poor Bella had an accident yesterday. The girls were playing ball. This usually means Bonnie gets the ball as Bella is not interested in catch, Bella takes the ball from Bonnie (who gives it to her, whereas we have a major tugging match to get it) then tries to get Bonnie to chase her by wafting it in front of her nose or putting it on the ground and picking it up before Bonnie can and running off with it. Bonnie will chase her for a while, but sensibly gives up when she gets hot. The disappointment on Bella's face is rather sad, she just wants to play. This time Dave picked it up and both dogs went for it, resulting in collision and Bella ending up with a couple of cuts on her nose. Bonnie completely ignored Bella's yell and her desire for the ball didn't waver, but Bella couldn't understand what happened and is now wary of games. She'll get over it, but no doubt she will not try to catch the ball for a while. Bless her, she is very subdued today, and has a swollen nose, she must have a headache!


We are now having major problems with insect bites. For a few reasons really. One is that we forget to spray before leaving the house. The house is relatively fly free, we have two electric socket thingies which take a pad of fly killer, a sticky strip, a Bella to catch them, and plenty of house centipedes which also keep the spiders down. W also have an electric zapper, but the dogs can't cope with the noise when a fly gets in there so we don't use it. In the bedroom we have a mozzie plug-in and screens at the windows....and more centipedes.Luckily they are harmless to us and the dogs.
We have found that a raw onion rubbed on the really vicious sings/bites calms them down, but what a pong! We have to go into the garden at the end of the day, not just to put the chooks away, but also to water and plant seedlings as it is too hot during the day. This seems to be when we are our most tasty.

The shower rooms continue to pong occasionally, but not nearly as badly as they were. You can control it by putting water into overflows, with a drop of our precious Zoflora added. It seems so much worse when they dry up.

On the up side, Dave has finished cutting the wood for winter. He is growing a bit of a six pack from all the physical work and has lost a lot of weight. We have ordered another half load of wood, just in case we have a bad winter, but this time we are getting it already chopped, and for less money than the last lot. You live and learn, and we have learned that we took down the wrong telephone number last time!


Dave cleared a bit more ground ready for Kale and psb, which are coming on well despite the late start. The first sowing failed completely but we are hoping these will catch up. I transplanted the seedlings into their own modules last week, thinking they would have a couple of weeks to grow on before planting out, but the neighbours had other ideas! Trenches were dug and the tiny seedlings, with a small ball of compost carefully shaped around the root, were carefully handled into holes dug by Dave with a trowel. The trowel was so admired as a new and exciting tool that I dug out another, luckily new stainless steel one to give as a thank-you for helping. The tiny seedlings are now living under fleece or fine green netting to keep the sun off, but doing ok. I don't know who is going to eat all the purple sprouting broccoli if it does well though. I will eat it every day, but it can't be bottled so no good for lovely neighbours. They won't have seen it before either and I can imagine the puzzlement on their faces when they see that it only grows tiny flower heads but masses of them. And the kale is the Tuscan black stuff, so that should be interesting too.

The beans are coming along, with the climbing French beans growing three inch fine beans, something else they don't grow here.


 I think we can safely say our peas have failed. Most of the few plants which have survived five attempts at sowing are only a few inches high and have produced a pod of peas and decided their job is done. Next year we will take a completely different approach and grow them early, in pots, to a good size before planting out. No point trying now, the ground is very dry and dusty.
We are being bombarded with melons now. The big yellow ones are a bit floury for our taste, but the chickens love them. We have had a lovely water melon, but Bonnie took a dislike to it. We have a video of her giving it a good telling off. The chicken like the skins of those too, and tomatoes. It's a good way of making sure they get moisture.


 We had chilled tomato soup the other day. It was delicious. The huge tomatoes, weighing up to a pound at the moment, are so juicy and sweet all they need is a bit of garlic and onion, salt and pepper to make a very nice lunch.

Well, here's hoping Bella is soon back to her usual self, the flies leave us alone and the bottled goodies all keep well!