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Monday, 30 September 2013

Apologies

I must apologise to those regular followers of my ramblings, this seems to have turned into a foodie Blog! There is little going on lately so I have to decide whether to cease posting for a while or continue with mainly food posts.

Of course, food is a very important part of what we came out here for. We want to be as self sufficient as possible, so all the practice cooking what we have growing is experience from where I can take the best bits to give us a good diet with what is available (and some nice treats too!). Some things work and some are best avoided. And although we want to eat seasonally, our British tastes, which we have practiced for over fifty years, means we would like to spread the bounty over the year and have a more mixed diet over the twelve months. But we really want to do it to our taste, with fresh veg all year rather than a lot of bottled or frozen. Anyway, I will get it out of the way for now.

I am feeling very happy that we can make an interesting meal having made everything myself. This week we had a cheese platter with three home made cheeses, herb and garlic ricotta, a more mature cheese and a fresh one. We had it with some of the quince paste and some caramelised walnuts, brioche style rolls and walnut rolls. Lovely and very satisfying.....and no butter!
Autumn has come in with a splash. We need the rain but it's getting a little cool at night too. The birds seem to have deserted us, though we still have tree sparrows and woodpeckers, and the great tits have returned. The trees are dropping their leaves and the wheat in the fields is growing well, ready for the harsh winter weather. We are having our fires put in this week. This is costing more than we hoped as the chimneys need attention. They are both too low and one needs re-building as it's too narrow. At least we will have a fire upstairs while the builders are here a week later, so can be comfortable up there.

In the garden not much is happening. The brassicas are growing well, the Tuscan black kale is lovely and the broccoli is very strong. We (Dave) picked the largest of the cabbages today. It's huge and could keep us going for a month! I just hope we aren't presented with a barrel for making sauerkraut! We know it should have been picked earlier, but with Jordan spraying for flea beetle a month without eating is a must. There will be no chemicals next year.


Note even Dave is not in a T shirt! We are waiting for the garden to be ploughed now, and have onion sets to go in over winter, and will get garlic next time we go to market. For an outlay of three quid we can get enough sets of both to grow enough for the year....providing we do it properly. We have space for the plastic greenhouse which will go up in the new year. With spring being earlier here we can get things in during March and the greenhouse will give us a head start.

The chicks are doing well, growing like mad. They can be funny, one had a spider this morning and was charging around followed by the other six wanting a piece of the action. They didn't get any. The older chicks are really active and I can see them flying over the barrier soon. Luckily we can see in the shed before opening the door. Solo has developed a twisted foot like Silver. No idea when this happened, or why, but being a light framed bird it shouldn't matter too much. She will be staying with us anyway. The laying hens have slowed right down, we are only getting two or three eggs a day now, as opposed to five.

The dogs are a lot more lively now it is cooler and lots of playing is happening with all the extra space they have. They are also eating better with Bella being a lot less fussy. The mud they are bringing in will no doubt wear me down....but it will soon be spring!

And finally, as I like to do, I will end with a foodie theme. I bought some thin Bulgarian pastry last time we went shopping, in a mad moment, and as it needed using today I made a walnut baklava. Gorgeous, a real pick-me-up!




Thursday, 26 September 2013

Seven little bumblebees

Well, the last of the year's Shumen eggs has hatched. One little mite died but we have seven little bumblebees to cuddle and coo over. The rate they grow they will not be cute for long, so forgive me if I indulge!







 The ugly older class have a lot more space in their indoor quarters and the little lad is making the most of it by chasing the girls around. This has got to be good exercise for Solo's legs and she is a lot stronger than she was, keeping up with the others without falling over. Dave says it is easy to tell when you have hold of her as the extra week has given her more weight.

We have a firm order for a cockerel from the chap who gave us the house hens. We don't know yet if either of the two new male chicks will be blue, so if he wants a blue it might have to be Trouble.

After everyone in allotment land going on about quince paste I decided to give it a go. The jelly I made is lovely and I managed to get the set just right. The paste (membrillo in Spain) is supposed to be wonderful with cheese and meat. I hope so as I seem to have made rather a lot. We will resist trying it till I can get my hands on some decent cheddar. I would love to try it with Manchego as the Spanish like it, it is my favourite cheese and one of the things I have had to give up here. So I made slabs of the paste and also set some in small silicon bun/tart cases for individual portions. Looking on the internet it's difficult to find a difinitive way of keeping it, so I have had some individual ones in the dehydrator overnight, on low, to dry off and packed them into a plastic box with paper between, then put it on a shelf. The rest I have put into the fridge. With the amount of sugar in it I would think it wouldn't need to be kept in a fridge, but we will see.

To continue on the European theme I made Portuguese custard tarts with the pastry left over the other day. Never made them before and they were totally scrummy (they looked a fright!) They were deeper than the ones we had in Portugal on holiday but just as good. Will have to be a rare treat though, low in calories they are not!

We picked another load of walnuts too, and there are two boxes more in the freezer, weighing 2lb 4oz. We have enough in there to last a good while now, so any which look really sound are going to be left in their shells to keep, any dodgy looking ones will be opened and frozen if any good.

Had a bread day today, and the smell of the cheese and onion bread is driving me mad. We have had some for lunch so it is just my brain telling me how greedy I am. I'm trying to get plenty in the freezer for when I can't use the oven.
And talking of that, the builder has put the starting date back another week. Because of this (I am not happy!) we have had to organise someone to put in the woodburners. We can't risk them putting us off again and then getting caught up in the pre-winter rush for fire fitting. We can manage without the stairs over winter, but not the fires...NO WAY!

So we could have two lots of work men in at the same time. The chimneys need raising to a height which will ensure a good draw to take the smoke away (something like that!) and the one for the kitchen is too small (he said) for the fire but 'no problem' The chimneys look as if they have had repairs whenthe house was renovated for holidays, when they didn't need chimneys.He can't understand why we are having two fires instead of central heating though. But I am not keen on central heating, never mind trying to juggle two lots of tradesmen tearing the house apart.

Dave has solved the mystery as to why Venka grabs any green plants we chop/pull, and where she takes the huge courgettes (and maybe pumpkins) It seems they have a couple of pigs in their yard. He had reason to go down the lane past their house and saw them. Amazing that we have been here since May and didn't know we had pigs backing on to our plot!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Try something new

Had a busy few days in the garden. Venka has been away looking after her grandson while his parents are away, but came back at the weekend and got Dave organised pulling up the pepper plants and picking off the remaining peppers. We were hoping to just leave them for Venka, we have them sauced in bottles, roasted whole, stuffed and diced in the freezer, dehydrated....masses of them and will never get through them. But though she took one bucket full, we ended up with two banana boxes full. So we set about slicing them up to dry in the sun as there is no room for more in the freezer. Quite a few we couldn't use as they were past their best, but we still had a bucket full of sliced peppers. They are now sun bathing on the wall. Venka also managed to find us a couple more watermelons...thought they had finished!

We have sorted out the compost heap. A lot of stuff is burned as mentioned before, but when processing the waste has been put on a heap of weeds to try to encourage rotting down, rather than just drying in a heap. It worked in patches but the heap was sprawling and under trees, so we moved it and tidied it' mixing the drier bits with the rotting bits and it is now more likely to do the job. We are now going to start a new tidy heap next to it and do the job properly. We really need the humus to help the soil structure. The soil is incredibly fine and clags together like concrete after rain, though it certainly grows stuff well!
We are carrying on with trying to get the walnuts harvested. The tried and trusted method seems to be throwing heavy sticks into the tree and seeing what falls down....lots of black ones but also plenty of useable nuts. Bonnie thought this was a great game and was convinced Dave was throwing the sticks into the tree for her, and her excitement could be heard all over the village. Bella was hiding behind me! Time to chill...
The weather during the day is still very warm but with a breeze, meaning I am not hiding inside out of the sun most of the day. There are still butterflies everywhere, the roses are still flowering well, and we found a little aster which needs rescuing before we get the plough in.


The chicks have a new run and are spending lots of time outside while they can, supervised by nanny Bella. Our neighbour is amazed at how well they are growing, and likes the fact they are local breed of chicken. Should we have any spare next spring we will let them have some to do with what they want. Someone else has expressed an interest too, but only wants hens which defeats the object of having a rare breed, he only has them for pets.

We have extended the chicken run to give them some fresh ground. We intend to allow them the run of most of the plot during winter, they can keep the weeds down, eat the bugs and fertilize all at once. They need to earn their keep over winter if they stop laying! The girls soon found the wall and decided it was a good place to find out what was on the other side, the grass being greener and all that. Strangely enough they have not been onto the wall since. Can't have found us very interesting.

Sevi wondered where his ladies had gone, he was wondering about looking for them! They were jeering him!

I've been busy in the kitchen too, trying things I have not done before, with some success. The first was donuts (saw James Martin making some and had to try!) which was a way of using up some of the eggs an milk in the fridge. I made the mini donuts, then some with a piece of chocolate inside, and some plain rings. The rest of the dough is in the freezer. Put some of my grape and pear jelly in the little ones, they were lovely. The chocolate I use was too bitter, but I have frozen the donuts and will have them warm with a slice of ice cream inside when we need a treat (or cream if we can find any)


As well as the quince hanging over from next door, Venka sent us three, beautifully presented on a plate we had sent a piece of lemon cake over to Jordan on when she was away (he has a sweet tooth...only the one!) with the stalk carrying two leaves. So as everyone raves about quince jelly I made some. Looks lovely but it is recommended we don't eat it until it has matured a few weeks.
The other thing (again, James Martin's fault) I tried was puff pastry. I have tried making it before but somehow it didn't work. This time it worked and we now have cheese and onion pie (got some real cheddar) and a couple of Eccles cakes for later. The only thing wrong was the flavour, the butter here is just not right and I am having difficulty getting used to it.
And yes, I know the puff isn't huge, but I rolled it thin to make it go a long way. Over half the pastry is in the freezer now.

Mind you, the Yorkies I made last night were HUGE!













Thursday, 19 September 2013

Say goodbye to the tomatoes

And to be honest I am glad to see the back of them. Regular ramblings readers will know I stopped preserving them a while ago, and we have been using what we (and the chickens) need from the plants. They don't have too much flavour now and are rather acidic for my taste. It's awful to see them dropping off the vines but I am heartened to notice the (Bulgarian) people at the back of us had the same problem. Far too many! Dave is, at this very moment, pulling them all up. So all that is left to get rid of are the peppers, aubergines and okra. Dave is a hard work junkie, and although a lot of the weeds could have been ploughed in he has hand weeded everywhere. It is getting near to finished, the hens have a bit n more fresh space and we need to decide where we are going to plant the garlic and onion sets next month.


Wonder if Jordan wants all his stakes back (that's him on the new chook shed roof above)
Dave couldn't bring himself to throw out sound tomatoes, so these will go in the cellar to ripen slowly.
He had a touch of nostalgia when he was pulling up weeds. He originated from Kent and in his youth was surrounded by hops at this time of year. When he came across this one he missed earlier in the year he couldn't resist bringing it in and it is now adorning the corridor upstairs.

 Stained his hands though

Went shopping yesterday, something I am liking less and less. We saw a dead jackal on the side of the road, and I am still having difficulty getting my head around seeing animals I usually watch on Africam or other wildlife programmes from Africa! There is a definite change to the scenery now. Although there is not a lot of autumn colour, the leaves are dropping and a lot of trees are suddenly bare. There are bright berries and hips everywhere, as well as all the different seed pods hanging from the trees. But some of the fields have been re-seeded, possibly winter wheat, and are turning green again. The few showers we have had recently will help. But we still have very blue skies.

This is coming into our village, very pretty.
But some cloud before the sun has risen can be very pretty.
The swallows are gathering in force now. I thought they had moved off a while ago but it seems they were just going further afield for insects, it has been so dry here but by the stream there will be more food for them.
I am continuing to preserve our surplus eggs in cakes for the freezer. Dave worries about eating cakes, but rather that than chocolate bars and greasy, salty snacks. I tend to cut down the sugar on most recipes, and use recipes which have yoghurt in them rather than lots of fat. Something must be right as we have both lost weight. Lemons are cheap at the moment, so I have made lemon curd too. They have a strange perfume, these lemons, and I couldn't put my finger on what it reminded me of. But it is like one of the citrus fruits we get around Christmas, don't quite know what. Nice though.

The seeds I sowed last week are all through, helped by a little rain and warm ground. The roses are still blooming well, and I have been able to freeze herbs for winter stews and soups. Had a very nice soup yesterday, caulies are in season and cheap, so made a healthy, light soup (because I can't get cream!) and some cheese and walnut rolls to go with. Yum.

The dogs are enjoying having more space in the garden as well as cooler weather. They still come in during the warmest part of the day, but enjoy a bit of sun bathing before relaxing on the sofa! We have dug out a lightweight duvet as the nights are cool by 2am and sheets not enough. I could shut the window but I like the night sounds.
So, still enjoying everything, but not sure if there will be anything to waffle about much longer, we'll see. We still have the excitement of the builder at the end of the month and then the fires can go in.

Interesting moth. Anyone know what it is?








Sunday, 15 September 2013

Walnuts



Over the years I have been surprised that fruit which is only really been available to us having been stored a while is so different and delicious when you eventually get to try it straight off the tree. These are usually fruits you get to try while on holiday, warmed by the sun and nothing like the supermarket offerings. The first surprise were tomatoes, peppers, garlic  and cucumber in Greece. I had always grown tomatoes, but they were nothing like the Greek ones. Apart from some exceptions (my favourite cherry tomato, Sungold being one) the tomatoes I grew at home seemed somehow.....constipated, for want of a better word. As if they wanted to be something nice and tasty and juicy but not quite managing it. Still miles better than the supermarket offerings, with the added spice that you actually produced them yourself. I am delighted, therefore, that the Bulgarian tomato is just as delicious as the Greek I remember. Our neighbours had planted a few different varieties, from the huge beefsteak weighing in at a pound and a half (700g), through ‘conventional’, to bottling varieties and even a rather tasteless orange one. I know there is a thought that arthritics shouldn’t eat anything from the nightshade family, including tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and potatoes, but then we are told we can’t eat anything else either, including dairy, eggs, grain, coffee, green vegetables...the list goes on. As food is a hobby of mine, I am afraid I will just have to hobble! Other fruits (which I shouldn’t have either) so different fresh are citrus. They don’t grow in the ground here as the winters are so cold, but they do grow well in pots taken in at the end of the year. The ones from holidays, orange, grapefruit and lemons, just delicious. In Portugal in Autumn it was grapes and figs, nothing like any I had tasted before. Now here in Bulgaria I have been pigging out on cherries, apricots, peaches and nectarines, figs and grapes, and now we have started harvesting the walnuts. Even Dave has eaten some, and he doesn’t like them! And wolfing down the coffee and walnut cake like there’s no tomorrow. They are not easy to harvest though, the tree is huge so we have to let them drop and hope they do so before turning black.




I have been making cakes and enriched bread for the freezer, using the surplus eggs. I tend to make the cakes in traybake form, usually without icing as the icing sugar is non existent and making your own too grainy. I have found that the butter here does not give a good texture to the cake, being too whipped, but the sunflower spread is great (but NOT on toast!)

 I have also tried to use up some of the hundreds of peppers still on the plants by stuffing them with a rice mixture and freezing them. No idea if they will ever get eaten but I am still having trouble letting things rot on the plant. The mountains of peppers of all size, shape and colour in the markets and for sale at the side of the roads have to be seen to be believed. Even Venka buys them to add to the huge colourful bottles of whole vegetables she does.

 And bless her, she sent over a bag full of beans as mine are no more. I have to say, though they look dry and unappetising, they are actually very good. I don’t know what she is doing with them, but the squash and pumpkin mountain is shrinking. She comes and takes a few at a time to who knows where.

We have found out why the little black dog from behind, Mimi, is on the loose. Two of our neighbours have lost chickens recently, one losing ten, which is a huge blow when you rely heavily on your own produce. Whatever killed them just ripped their heads off and left them. Some say fox, but knowing there are martens around and that they will do that to anything that flaps (often broody hens escape as they will not move) that is my thought. I hate leaving the chooks in latein the morning, but rather that than dead. A friend also believes that martens on the roof of the chicken house and scaring the girls might have contributed to the hens passing soft eggs in the night from the perch. So Mimi is left loose to scare off any intruding predator.
Mimi’s owner also seems to be waging war on the wild birds. She can be heard regularly banging a metal bin lid, hissing and snarling, for twenty minutes at a time. Deafening when you are in the garden, but strangely the dogs ignore it!

Dave has made good progress clearing the weeds from the garden, with half now looking ready for something, but so dusty as the few showers we are having hardly dampen the ground. When it does start raining no doubt it will soon turn green! But at least he is catching the annual weeds before they can seed, and certainly lessening the perennial couch grass. Bella is forever in attendance, either just lying close or playing or hunting crickets. Exhausting!
Both dogs are going through yet another moult, (or is that a four month moult?) and we have found that getting them up onto the wall not only saves your back as you attack them with the furminator, but the hair blows away too. No doubt to be caught up in the brassicas on the other side of the wall.