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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

And still it snows.

After a mild autumn, apart from the blip a couple of months ago, we are at last getting a taste of a Bulgarian winter. We are better off than some, having only had about 15 inches or so, a bit difficult to say as there was a bit of a thaw one day. The snow plough goes around regularly, even all the side roads are done, and it pays to keep an eye on you gate entrance as there can be a build up of moved snow in big heaps at the side of roads and can block your way out in an emergency.

The dogs are loving it, Bella will charge and dig, lying down in the snow to chew on something unmentionable. Bonnie also loves to run and play and is always hopeful that she may be allowed to go out with Dave every time he puts his....er my....wellies on. He bought some new wellies from the market when his wore out, and they lasted just a couple of weeks before going the same way. He has not been able to get any better ones, so I suggested he try my posh wellies I bought last year, thinking they will do me years. They are rubber and waterproof, padded fabric with go fasta stripes, fully adjustable, and large fitting to accommodate the removeable thermal linings. Without these linings they fit him snugly, and now he has got over the idea that they were bought for me (female!) he has taken to them well. With those and a full length waterproof riding coat and woolly hat, he's the business! Just as well because if he was forced to stay out of the weather we would all be climbing the walls.

Dave has been climbing up the hill in breaks in the falling snow trying to find animals which should be visible in the snow. But though he has seen plenty of tracks, seeing actual animals is proving difficult, maybe they have the sense to hole up snug..... But he did catch sight of a moving dot in the distance. He took a photo for ID, and this is one below. Can you see where it is? Answer at the end of the post.

The birds have been eating seed, walnuts and home made fat balls like there is no tomorrow. Mostly large flocks of great tits and tree sparrows, but the black redstart has visited (briefly, no photo) the little yellow serin which Dave got some lovely shots of....then promptly wiped them from his camera!!!! We also have a resident pair of chaffinch, our woodpeckers and the occasional visit from the jay, who looks enormous puffed up against the cold. He is still very shy though and doesn't hang around for a photo call. The only other birds are the odd flock of starlings who are not as brash as those in the UK and don't hang around the house, and a couple of magpies from across the way.

Poor photo of our male chaffinch...poor light and snow hampering visability.

The village is totally whited out. It makes such a difference having no traffic to make dirty slush. There are icicles hanging from the fountain and the skeletons of plants are lovely with a smattering of snow.



And the patterns on the inside of the frozen windows, fascinating.


The chickens are a bit bewildered. Only the two Shumen hens will have seen snow apart from the little we had earlier. They are huddled together and complain bitterly at you when you go out. They are all getting a warm mash every day and the fences have been arranged so that each of the two groups has a couple of shed options and a space for scratching about in dry ground, the older birds in the wood shed and the chicks in the building next to our living room. They should think themselves lucky, a lot of chickens don't get the option to get out of their sheds! The water, which is indoors, needs the ice breaking a few times during the day, and in the morning they are almost solid with thick ice. It is bitterly cold.
 That stove comes in handy!


And us humans? Well, Dave is using his surplus energy to clear the paths regularly. I go out in it as much as I need to, which means when the chickens need seeing to or the bird feeders need filling. I have been making cards, and an ex-pat from the other side of the village asked me to make one for his brother, so Dave has gone over to see them with a few for them to select from. Dave has done another quick painting. Quick because if he wants to sell in BG he will have to reduce his prices which means not spending a lot of time refining the pictures, not easy for him. He has another commission from the UK, the money will be put away in the heating pot.

Where I sit in the living room is opposite a badly fitting door, and round the corner from the stove. Along with the position the tiled floor is cold as we only have a rug in the middle of the room because of the muck which makes it's way in. We tried moving a sofa into the kitchen on a temporary basis, but it didn't feel right and was too big for the room, never mind upsetting the dogs. Plan B came into play, sofa moved back and a brand new and unused electric blanket. It is a very temporary measure (we hope) but has already proved popular with Bonnie! (And me) Next year the draughts will be addressed as the winter might not be so kind.



The stove being lit all the time means there is plenty of heat going begging for cooking. It is ideal, on low, for making rice pudding or layered potato bakes, and when hot, garlic bread, pizza, yummy cheese scones (well, I had to have something to go with the Lurpak!) roast veggies and potatoes. I am trying not to make cakes as we are trying to make do with the few eggs we are getting from the ladies, though Yorkshire puddings are a must at least once a week, in one form or another.

And finally, the dot in the distance which you acnnot see in the first picture. Fuzzy but recognisable.

 Dave said he was hunting for small creatures under the snow, but there was no hope of a video at this distance!

I just hope he doesn't decide to visit us....or our chooks! Stick to hunting rodents Mr Fox.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Winter is here...

We had just stuffed ourselves with home made crusty garlic bread, garlic (very!) yogurt dip and cheese and pickles the other night when there was a ring on the door bell. Dave went out and found Venka and her meat lady friend who invited us over with the phrase book. You know when you have eaten too much and know you shouldn't have? And we were right, the table was laid for four, with egg and chips BG style. I hope my groan wasn't audible. So it was out with the rakia while Dave translated the card our neighbours had given for the 50th anniversary. We had found a verse on the internet and printed everything in English and Bulgarian. The picture Dave painted was on the wall and Venka asked if he would sign it on the back, till I pointed out that he had signed it on the front! Gales of laughter and reaching for glasses...The salady plate was a pile of cold chips with cold tomato sauce, hard boiled eggs, olives and pickled gherkin, with more rakia of course. Then Dave and the meat lady, who has a few words of English, set to work. She was writing words in both languages and trying very hard to pronounce 'th' and 'w' to more laughter. Venka managed better. She showed me her tomato seedlings already starting to grow their true leaves. I was shocked, but when Dave came home next day with a packet of seeds it gives three planting dates stretching over six months from January. I have done my first now, I don't want to get left behind! More rakia and cakes and we had to go home early as we were both feeling rather uncomfortable, but a lovely evening. Sleep was elusive, I am not good on a full stomach.


Well, the tender seedlings are in the house now. The weather has turned and we made a dash to the supermarket in the rain, mainly for fresh fruit and veg and dog food. We set out early in heavy rain and the car grew fins and swam for twenty five minutes to get to the nearest major supermarket. You could almost hear the water being sucked up by the ground. A quick scoot round for those things we can't get locally and we set off home in sleet, but our village had a covering of snow which has turned into a blanket. It can do it's worst. We have food and warmth, chicken and dog food for a couple of months and the chickens are on warm mash in the afternoon.


Yesterday our British neighbours very kindly took us on a tour of VT, showing us where doctor, clinic, large pet shop and better DIY store than Praktiker are, ending up in the cash and carry where I spent ages looking and ooing and ahing over stuff I would, at one time, have bought just because I can. But the new me only buys what we need now, with the odd non-essential to get me excited. This time it was a kilo of glace cherries and yet another brand of icing sugar to try, a small bag of prawns and some......roll of drums....Lurpak butter!.It was only the spreadable but it is slightly salted, such luxury. Stuck to 250g though, along with essentials like flour and a huge bag of frozen peas. I could have spent a fortune, but restrained myself and  kept it to under £50. We then went for lunch in the town, an Italian restaurant that our friends liked. This is the first time we have been for a meal since moving to BG. As we had been told way back, even if you order everything together it comes out when ready. We had ordered coffee and cokes which came first, two salads and two identical bruschetta, and a side of chips and a garlic bread. My salad arrived, followed by garlic bread, chips, then a wrong salad which was left there while a new one was ordered, what chips and bread hadn't been eaten by then was stone cold. Then the replacement salad, one bruschetta...and twenty minutes later when we had all finished, Dave's bruschetta. In between times as soon as a fork was put down plates were snatched away. Still, it made a nice change.
 The last of my cherries are in this cake, padded out with sultanas. I am happy now I have more.
 Breakfast, toast and Lurpak. Dave likes the unsalted butter we usually have.

The dogs have been enjoying the snow. Bonnie will be a bit creaky tonight with all the running around she has been doing. The birds are stuffing themselves on the feeders.

 Catch me if you can............


 Come back 'ere, that's my ball...............

Bonnie out for the count....Bella wants to play! Kids!


Three of the chicks were supposed to be going to a new home this weekend. We haven't heard from the people who are supposed to be having them, so we have sent a message to let them know they can leave it till the weather clears but have had no response. Luckily there is a waiting list so if they have changed their minds it is not really a problem. We'll see. We will be putting some more to hatch soon, but are also looking for some green or blue eggs to hatch for my layers so we can have mixed colours. Drawing a blank so far so might have to try getting some from elsewhere in Europe.

We have found out that the seeds Venka was planting in next door's garden are peas, so we will be putting some in as soon as the snow clears. We have some starting in pots already but you can never have too many peas! Elsewhere in the garden, Dave has started to construct a proper composting area. While tidying up the existing heaps he came across a resident hibernating hedgehog....very lucky to not be speared on a fork! Cameras out before he was gently returned to his chamber and covered up. A job which will have to wait for warmer weather. I did tell him to keep an eye out for snakes which also like to live snug in compost. He didn't seem too keen!


Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Misunderstanding..................

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that we had invited Baba Danka over for a return visit and we thought it was all organised. I wanted to make something we would have for lunch. while using ingredients similar to what the Bulgarians might use. So instead of filo type pastry I made short crust, instead of sirene cheese (like feta but lighter) I used the last of our precious cheddar, and with eggs and a bit of German ham made a quiche....or should I say egg and bacon flan? With a leek version for me. I opened the last of the pickles Venka gave me, and made luscious chocolate brownies. At the same time doing the biscuits for Venka's party.




Dave saw Baba Danka with her wheelbarrow going down to the village to get her chicken food and after speaking to her he thought she was coming round later, but it was not to be. The sooner we learn conversation instead of just words the better! I have to say the quiches and especially the brownies were simply delicious.

The shortbread recipe is worth passing the link on. It keeps crisp a long time if properly stored...and if it is not eated immediately. For chocolate I substituted some of the corn flour for cocoa. I used double quantity in the Kenwood Chef with the K beater on gentle till it all came together.
http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/8637/sam-s-school-shortbread-biscuits.aspx?o_is=LV

And those delicious brownies. I don't add the choc chunks as they are not needed, they are great without.
I also used cheaper chocolate, not high cocoa butter chocolate, and used third milk and two thirds-ish dark.
http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1223/bestever-brownies

We had a shower of much needed rain in the early hours of yesterday, which led to a particularly interesting sunrise. No amazing colours but beams of light reaching upwards instead of downwards. Took masses of photos, as you do, but they don't really capture the drama. Here are a few.




The mist came down and we went off to the timber yard for some t&g, via the river. Dave had his usual dip then drove the car close to the water and gave it a bit of a swill off.
By the time we got home the sun had come out and it was another glorious day. The birds have started singing, not the robins, blackbird or thrush as in the UK but great and blue tits and tree sparrows chattering and chirping. It was still uplifting. A wander round the garden revealed lots of bulbs poking through the grass, daffs, tulips and grape hyacinths, and these little beauties which unfortunately are coming up just where the dogs charge around the big box bush! I don't know how many of the bulbs will actually flower, but when we dig the borders for flowers we will split and feed what we find in hope for next year.

The broccoli seems to have picked up a bit with the shower. I had noticed the few leaves on the kale were wilted, but it didn't occur to me that they might be short of water. The fog and dew just touch the surface so the ground is rather dry further down. The onion/garlic/strawberry patch has been given a dressing of wood ash. The onions are not showing much green growth, but there were a fewlying on top which have amazing roots for such tiny seed onions, as have the garlic which also had a few on top. No idea what can be pulling them up, but can't blame the dogs as it is fenced against them. I would like to put some red onions in if I can find any sets.

All the seeds indoors in their little mini greenhouses are up, some really tiny seedlings. But they are drawing towards the light so while the weather is  still good they have gone into the greenhouse where the peas are starting to sprout as well as other veg. I will be clearing the 'craft' table in the spare room in case everything has to come in, and hope it will not be for long. If it is we will have to set up a foil reflector behind them.



The wilted cutting Baba Danka gave us at the end of summer is growing away well. Still don't know what it is, but will find out. It looks as if it may be a type of geranium.
Dave has been cracking on with the new chicken house and we can now separate the youngsters from the adults. There is massive tension between Sevi and the eldest cockerel chick, which is not good for either of them, so better to separate them off before threats turn to batterings. We have moved the original deluxe nest box from the chick pen to the new one as the eldest hen chicks will be thinking of laying soon. Dave has built a more basic open one for my hens with an extra large segment for the big girl (Dave has re-named her Chubba, as she weighs a ton! Her original name, Silver, has been given to the lightest chick) Hopefully the trend for untrampled eggs from Chubba will continue. There is a big strong door and a strip light as the window doesn't let in a huge amount of light. just some holes to fill before we can let anyone stay over night.



 A pile of chicks...
And Trouble, who keeps flying out of Sevi's way, having a nap on the wrong side of the fence.


The young lad (above) who is causing the problems is going to a new home at the weekend, but there are three more a month younger coming through to take his place, as well as one chick we thought was a hen, and although looks like a hen and acts like one, has a couple of sickle feathers in it's tail and a few glossy feathers on it's neck. It is still quite dainty in comparison to it's hatch mates, but is not looking hopeful and she will be he. Shame as it was earmarked for a friend.

So the older chooks are enjoying a bit of peace, except for Ebony the Shumen who has been fascinated with the chicks all along. She is pacing the fence looking for them.