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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Yet more new creatures

We had arranged to buy some breeding emerald Cayuga ducks, but one way and another circumstaces prevented it. So Dave came home with his Christmas present...two white ducks, meat birds really, but he will not be having duck for Christmas dinner. They came looking rather bedraggled and dirty, in a sack, and have gone into the smallest pen until the visiting chickens go home, now looking like the new year which is a pain. But these two un-named and un-sexed creatures will be able to go out into the veg plot and forage about for slugs and such amongst the sprouts. No idea how the chickens will take that, my ex-batts can be a bit intolerent. They are friendly and cheerful, I like ducks and though they have a reputation for being messy hopefully they have enough space for it not to be noticed too much. Dave will be putting a pond in the pen once the visitors have gone, meanwhile they have the roof box pond the geese had, but don't seem to know what to do with it, they are having the equivelent of strip washes, grabbing mouthfulls of water and preening.

The chooks dashing over to have a look

I think there is one of each

Splash getting ready to run away....

While we were out messing about, Bella folowed us and unfortunately found out the electric fence was on! She did yell, and Venka came out shouting, thinking it was one of the stray dogs. Poor Bella, she will not be going over there again in a hurry!

We have found out why the dumped dogs are a bit aggressive, and why they take the chance of going in and stealing Molly's food. They have a litter of well grown puppies in an old shed in the back of the empty house at the end of the lane, so the bitch must have been pregnant when they arrived, maybe that's why they were dumped. Unfortunately the dogs have taken to pooing outside our gate, I hope the pups, as they grow and are hungry in the middle of winter, don't cause a problem when trying to get the girls out for their morning walk.

It's been a bit cold here, we had our first frost last night, quite a sharp one if the ice still covering buckets is anything to go by. I didn't really notice when I let the chickens out, too bleary eayed after being kept awake half the night by small ginger monster playing...must have been the cold, either that or Kaufland's cat food has too many e-numbers!

The other day, after the rain, the path was criss-cossed with what looked like twigs, but on closer inspection they were huge worms, a couple of feet long. If they wriggle they are in danger of being brought in by Splash, but apart from that danger, the chooks don't seem to like them, just too big I suppose.
Ugh!

To show the scale

We had a lovely parcel today. A work colleague from the Tesco I worked at in my previous life sent us a parcel of treats for Christmas. His neighbour is Bulgarian and agreed to bring the parcel with him and courier it over to us. Things like this make me very emotional and I do miss the chance of chat and natter occasionally. But we really thank Nige for being so very thoughtful and generous. We have lots of old favourites, like Cadbury's chocolate, chocolate coins and smarties, as well as Advent calendars, a Chistmas pud (I haven't made one yet) and three pots of proper glace cherries. I am going to make a cherry cake for me (I might let Dave have some) at Christmas, much prefer that to fruit cake. So I have had to hide the goodies, someone who sits over there has a very sweet tooth! Not long now before he can have his Advent calendar.

I have been very busy making Christmas cards, many of them special personalised ones for friends' family back in the UK, and Dave has found a technique which he enjoys so he has made some the last couple of days, he likes quick results, and has sent off cards for both families today. It may seem early and most letters get back to the UK within a few days, but you never know, things do go astray. We have recently recieved the second lot of card making stationary after the first didn't arrive, free of charge. My thanks to Craft Creations in the UK for fantastic service.

I have been practicing with the pasta machine, and actually got some photos before eating what was produced. This time I did ravioli with chard, garlic and sirene, in a light sauce of diced onion, tomato, peas and parsley. It was super scrummy. The pasta left was made into sheets and frozen for lasagne and canneloni.
The first time I have made ravioli

And none burst

Also in the kitchen, after ring chilli jelly on all sorts, I have decided after saving one for a friend who goes back to the UK for winter, I am going to keep it all for ourselves. It is great on cheese scones and sausages. Yum. And I don't even like chillis!
And Venka has started the soup run again. They really are tasty soups she makes, but a lot, like this one, have meat in them, in this case mutton. It comes hot in a pan, which is strange when they don't often eat hot food.



We are having the fire in most of the time now, which makes for very happy animals. Splash is often to be found lying on the warm tiles by the fire, but if not, there are plenty of bodies to snuggle up with! I just wish he would sleep there at night! He and Bella can often be found looking out of the window as Dave has kindly moved my sofa for them! Haha






Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Pup and lovely veggies

Well, I can safely say I will not be buying too much pasta any more. I was under the impression that it was more trouble than it was worth to make your own, and I know Mum had a pasta machine but we never really got to grips with it, though to be fair Mum wasn't a big fan of pasta other than macaroni. After trying some tagliatelle the other day and a quick spag with super fast cherry tomato and olive sauce with the other half today I am a complete convert! I have a plan to make some ravioli to have in the freezer for days like today when we were out unexpectedly. Watch this space!

It disappeared so fast there are no photos!!!

We were out at the bakery cafe/bar this morning with the neighbours and half the OAPs in the village. It seems they often have a get together for chats, and Venka took along some very sweet biscuits, tiny little melt-in-the-mouth morsels with tooth rotting amount of sugar and decorated with very hard, brightly coloured sugar balls. Along with coffee the cafe provided hot and salty freshly made popcorn...it was so moreish. I only had a taste of the sweet stuff, but I couldn't leave the popcorn alone. I thought two baskets was an awful lot for seven people, but Ivan (a new friend) and I polished nearly a whole one by ourselves, while Jordan, who has a famously sweet tooth, and the other ladies seemed to prefer the sweet biscuits. Margareta, Ivan's wife, got well into the language books Dave takes everywhere with him. Lots of laughs and warmth, curiosity from some of the other customers, our lack of Bulgarian conversational skills no barrier at all. We agreed a name for the neighbours' new puppy, settling on Molly, though it seems that is quite a difficult name for them, Jordan didn't even try to get his teeth around it and I suspect he will call it Dog! Venka is keen for her to learn to sit as our girls do. We will be working on getting them to have it neutered and more socialised than normal so that Venka doesn't get frightened of her.


We met the puppy, a small and wriggly round black and white fluff ball who will no doubt turn out quite large, last week when Dave was trying to fix up a strip of electric fence to stop the dogs from coming into the garden. She is adorable of course, what puppy isn't, but Venka seemed worried that Bonnie might swallow her whole. We knew she had one, we had heard it crying in it's lonely kennel on the animal yard. We had also heard it yelping one night and Dave saw a dog running away. It seems that dogs have been coming in and stealing the pup's food, but today Venka said that the electric fence seems to have stopped it, so Dave has exteended the fence to include the end of the garden where the chain link is only a metre high, it will only be switched on at night and when we are out, and is for several reasons. One, to stop dogs pinching poor little Molly's food, another because dogs are pooping in the garden, leaving sheep wool filled poo everywhere which apart from carrying parasites, may be attributed to our dogs and that is not on. Also, though our girls don't go down that way as it is fenced to keep them off the mud, the stray dogs tend to just plough through the mesh and easily get tangled, or may get caught on our side and that is a worry when we let our girls (and boy) out. The other concern is that we have a lot of chickens running about, and easy meal for a hungry dog. Hopefully they will soon learn that it is a good idea to avoid our patch!

We had our first cauliflower this week, only because it was being ruined by rather large cabbage white caterpillars which had pooped on the curd. In another life I probably would have thrown it away, but now I just cut off the ruined bits and soak the rest in salt water. I can tell you it was very nice. I have never grown them before and we have a few but the others are looking clean so far so can grow some more. We also had our first grown sprouts. They were not looking promising, rather blown and I only took them off to have a little look before throwing the plant to the chooks. But after peeling away the loose leaves there were tiny, firm little sprouts hiding so the plant, and others, have been reprieved for now. We have hopefully still got a bit of growing weather but if not we will at least have some for Christmas day.
Not the prettiest, but tasted great

Only the potatoes were bought, even the beans for the sausages were our own, Lovely with chilli jelly

I have used the last of the apples, making a double batch of apple chutney which will have time to mature properly with the pear before going off to the car boot sales next year.  I am not sure if there will be much of the chilli jelly left, it's rather nice if I do say so myself, great with veggie sausages. That really should be all till next year now, I have no more standard sized jars.

Poor old Bonnie's old bones are feeling the change in the weather, poor old girl is joining us with aches and pains, needing a good stretch and massage to get going in the morning. Bella and Splash get going by having a good play, Splash being a better size for Bella to play with though he can be a bit rough with her. I have been waking very early, around 3am, and unfortunately once he knows you're awake Splash goes into play mode, purring very loudly. So there have been some early mornings and once he and the dogs have been fed and the two young 'uns a play, they are soon snoring leaving me waiting for daylight! Grrrr....

We have changed the sitting room around. The heat from the fire was having trouble reaching me around the corner so rather than wait till the weather goes too cold I have swapped places with the telly for the winter. The animals were a bit put out at first but have soon come to rather like the new arrangement. Bella and Splash take turns sitting on the back of my sofa looking out of the window. Bonnie is basking in uninterrupted heat coming from the side of the woodburner and Dave is learning to turn a different way to use his computer.

While the furniture was out of the way, one wall has had a coat of green paint which has given the room a bit of a warmer look. The rest will have to be done but it will probably have to wait intil we stop using the fire so much. It'll keep.

And the big news of the day....roll of drums....it seems we are having our stone road re-done, with a proper surface of asphalt. Whooppee Aren't we posh! We will not hold our breath!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Made the cake

The Christmas cake that is.

On Thursday we decided to go to the cash and carry. We don't have a card but you can get a day ticket. We have avoided going for 18 months as I tend to get a bit carried away in these places. Our neighbours had taken us once last year to show us where it is. But we needed fruit for the Christmas cake and there was an outside chance that they might have currants....fat chance! But I did get a lovely big 1kg box of glace cherries. And a pasta machine. And some butter (Lurpak spreadable, such luxury) We didn't do too badly though, apart from the pasta machine we only bought what we needed.


So yesterday I had a baking day, a nice change from chutney. First it was cherry cake, haven't had one for a while.and with all those cherries begging to be used it would have rude not to.

The cherries don't sink in this recipe

Then it was bread making day so three batches of dough on the go. Two bloomers, two cheese and onion and one pizza base made.


Then for lunch it was leek, kale and sirene pie. With salad. Note to self...use more sugar in the pickled beets next year...they are sharp!
Some of our lovely kale, used instead of spinach and works just as well



Once the bread was baked it was time to put the Christmas cake in. I had improvised with the fruit, following a basic Mary Berry recipe for weights (a little less boozy than the mncemeat!!!) and soaked the fruit in sherry as I didn't have brandy, and orange juice. So the actual batter was as it should have been but the fruit part was golden and dark raisins, cranberries, a few prunes, lots of whole cherries, although we have candied peel I don't like it so orange and lemon zest for flavour, and home grown dried figs and walnuts. So a bit different to the normal fruit but it looks lovely and smells gorgeous. And there are two of them! The recipe called for a nine inch tin and the one I use all the time is eight inch, so I lined a six inch just in case and the mixture did the two cakes. Ah well, it'll keep.
Cake in waiting



Splash has a new box. Dave took the pasta machine out to have a look and the cat was in there before he had put it down. So he is a happy boy, it's just a nice cosy size for him.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Dogs and stuff

There have been a couple of dogs dumped in our village. It happens from time to time, noticeable because most, if not all, the dogs in the village belong to someone. These two appeared at the end of our lane and have taken up residence in an empty house. It is unlikely they will be around too long as one is aggressive and that will not be tolerated. Dave has had to stop taking the dogs down the lane as they go into attack, possibly to defend their new territory and the communal bin which will be a food source.

It is very sad that people will do this, and can be worse at this time of the year when ex-pats return to their country for the winter but don't want to take the dogs or cats they 'rescued' while they were here in summer. Rather like what happens when people kick them out in the UK before they go on holiday. It saddens us so much. Dave was feeling so fed up one day he mentioned these dogs on his facebook page. Sometimes you just need to rant. This caused one person to launch a nasty attack on Dave for not 'doing something about it', like taking the dogs to be castrated which a) would mean exposing our dogs to them and b) there is no point in putting them and us through that to let them back onto the street where as I have said before, they will not be tolerated. This person knows nothing about us or our lives, what we do and don't do. We certainly can't take them in even if we could afford to, it would not be fair to our own animals, especially Bonnie, and not fair on the dogs themselves if we had to suddenly leave and have to find yet another home (or worse) for them.. We understand all too well that numbers of puppies and kittens need controlling and the best way of doing that is to have everything castrated/speyed. This is how we got Splash, and even Bella in the UK. We do our bit in trying to gently show others that neutering is not cruel, (look at our happy neutered girls) and that dogs can be companions as well as an alarm dog chained all it's life and fed bread. The neighbours are fascinated with our dogs and cats, and how much pleasure we get from having them share our lives while still being guards.

If we could afford it we would have loads of animals who need homes, to join our rescues and ex-battery chickens already here. But it would be irresponsible when we couldn't afford to care for them properly and take them back if we had to go home. Moan over....move on.

We have also had a dog in the garden. It's unfortunate that once they find their way in it is hard to keep them out and we are hoping to get the wall between us and the neighbous re-built this winter. Last time it was in it got temporarily entangled in the chicken mesh and panicked so hopefully that will stop it trying again. It's a worry when we have chickens everywhere and a kitten, never mind our two dogs.

The chutney pans have been on again. They keep being taken down to the cellar only to be brought up again. A friend asked us to make some to see them over the winter and so some of the excess peppers and tomatoes have been used, as well as onions and chillis. So they took 20 jars. I have also made some chilli jelly with a bag of the donated apples and some more of our chillis, as well as getting some stewed down to have in the bulging freezer, so just one bag to sort. The rest of the pears have been bottled and put away for winter, just in time, they were getting very juicy.

We went out the other day, to a friend who lives half an hour away. It made a lovely change to sit and chat and do nothing while someone else cooks lunch! And what a lovely lunch it was, a vegetable bake but not like any I have had before, it was gorgeous and I watched carefully so that  can do it myself...and soon. Once again, I had a moment of view envy. It was a misty, murky day but I can't wait to see it on a nice day. Don't get me wrong, I am very happy with our home, but however happy I would love a view across a valley to forests instead of the back of someone else's barn. I wouldn't change our home, views are one thing, a nice village and solid gold Bulgarian neighbours are what count.
What happened to our sun, all this drab weather means the beautiful autumn colours are just....grey!

Splash had a busy day yesterday. Dave took him down to the vet for his jabs, chip and passport. he was a very good boy, no squeals or scratches and admiration from the vet, even a little chat with their own kitten. So in three months he will have his second rabies jab and be castrated and he will be good to go if an emergency arises and he has to travel. He is growing so fast now, but still has mad moments when he is titally uncontrollable but as long as the weather holds he can go outside and let off steam, climbing trees and chasing mice in the barns.
Exhausting for a small boy

And finally...there are not that many bugs about at the moment, but this was very large. Oooo-er.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Apples and pears (Updated sorry)

To anyone who might have read this blog while still in it's raw state, I apologise. I clicked on publish instead of save when I went to get our soup!

I keep thinking I've finished with produce as mentioned last week, but here we are with a sack of pears as well as the two shopping bags of apples. My freezer is full, I must leave a square foot for emergencies. While I am contemplating the pears are ripening fast, and very juicy they are. So it looks as if I may be bottling a few more to go with the ones I did earlier in the year. As for the apples....well I think tomorrow I will find some apple trays and store what I can and make juice with the rest. A bit of research is needed I think.

So chutney making has started again. I made a double batch of spicy pear chutney, which is sweet by anyone's standards and somehow lacking in depth, but a couple of weeks/months sitting might sort it out. I once made a huge batch of chutney, tasted it and threw some away when I needed some jars, forgot about the rest then when it came to light, tasted it and it was delicious! So we'll see.
Ten bottles of pear chutney, I hope it improves with keeping

The leeks have been pulled while the weather is good. I sat on the yard and peeled, washed and sliced the mountain into just a few bags for the freezer and a bunch to use in the fridge. I am trying not to fuss over the caulis and sprouts, I haven't been to see them for a few days. Sprouts are my second favourite veg after psb but they do need a bit of frost on them  to take away any bitterness (I just hope I am not tempting fate!)
Picked

Trimmed

Washed

Souped



This week we recieved a seed order from the UK. The seeds were being sold for 25p a pack in a sale so worth ordering the things we can't find so easily here. Generally seeda are very cheap here, but limited.

Apart from all that, the walnuts are either slowing down or getting lost under the leaves. We have plenty this year I think as long as I don't get into feeding them to the birds again as I did last winter. There is one feeder filled at the moment as the great tits are back in force, but the sparrows tend to go for the easier chicken food. But there is less of that going out as the chickens are getting mostly fermented grains at the moment, with some dusty stuff to carry the DE. I'm not sure it does any good, but we don't seem to have a worm problem.

We lost one of the ex-batts this week, not sure why. It was Tansy from group two. Still, she has had a nice few months living free and eating her head off, not sure if she was laying, it's hard to keep track of the brown ones.

Chubba hen, Sevi's favourite, is looking as bald and motheaten as her sister Cagney was, and has completely lost her tail now. Cagney is growing her new feathers well and now seems mostly covered though still untidy. All the Shumens did an earlier moult and are now looking sleek again, though they have given up laying for the year. Sevi's tail is growing back, along with even more rogue brown feathers. They all seem a lot more contented on the new feed, they have stopped mobbing us every time we go into the pen. The ex-batts are still laying so still need the calcium supplement and vitamins, but if they continue to do well (whether they lay or not) it will cut the winter feed costs dramatically, the dusty top of the range feed is very wasteful even though we have tried feeding it wet.
Poor Chubba

Sevi looking better

And the ex-batts fully clothed

The visiting hens are still here, they were supposed to go at the end of the month but there is no sign of the owner coming back from the UK in the near future, which is a shame as we really need the run for some new fowl. Ah well, not much we can do about it. But their food bill is running up

The other day was All Soul's Day in Bulgaria. As usual we were treated to a tray full of goodies in memory of the neighbours' parents, two rather tasty buns, two wafer biscuits, some cheesy bread and some wheat milk pudding.
We also had a visit from a friend who couldn't get down on my birthday and she brought with her the most dainty cross'stitch card...I couldn't have done anything so fine...and my very own knitted ladybugs and flower brooch. She is so talented and we treasure each little animal she gives us, especially the two mice which Bella covets but luckily will not touch.


November roses

Today I made my mincemeat for Christmas. It is loosely (very) based on a Mary Berry recipe, but doesn't do her boozy reputation much good, a huge amount of brandy was required (what hqppened to two tablespoons) but I'm afraid I didn't put that much in Mary, it was swamped with a lesser amount. I don't use candied peel, though I did get some in Lidl as it was there and cheap. I used plenty of grated orange and lemon zest though for the flavour. I also put cherries in, they came from Lidl too, a very rare thing and it seems only for Christmas. Expensive but needs must. I actually found some currants in a village shop, but at nearly £2 for just a handful we left them there. I'm sure it will be fine, though I might add a bit more fruit if it is still boozy when it comes to using it.

Dave is still painting when he is confined to the house. He has moved the paintings to the bedroom just in case they get damp in the unused rooms where his painting stuff is. His last completed is a large leopard head, just what you want to see when you wake up bleary in the morning. So real looking.


Watching

Splash is turning into a real wimp. It seems he feels the cold, and I have to admit his coat, though soft and shiny, seems quite thin. If lost you have to be careful how you sit down as he could be under any throw or blanket that is lying around, and has even been found, after a mega frantic search, under the duvet on our bed! I do NOT think so Mr Splash, I am not keen on animals on the bed, in the bed is definitely out of bounds! Other than that he drapes himself over the box by the fire, or in front of it. He looks longingly at the top but he really will regret it if he tries to jump up there. Luckily if he stands on his little box it collapses so there is nothing to thrust against to jump.

Leave room for me you lot!