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Monday, 26 October 2015

It's all go!!

A while since my last post, but life has been a bit hectic around here for one reason or another.

Back in the summer we booked a flight to go and see Dave's parents in the UK. Pet sitter was booked to look after the animals, Venka agreed to milk Millie every day. All organised for a break in the chores. We had wanted to go at the beginning of the month before the threat of frost, but someone else got in first  with the sitter (and later cancelled!) so our trip coincided with the time my sister and her husband started their journey through the UK, visiting friends and family, then through Europe on a leisurely drive to Bulgaria to suss out whether this could be the place for the start of a new life, just as we did two and a half years ago. I hope I haven't given too rosy a view with my tales of living the good life.

Preparations for leaving the homestead clean, tidy and easy to manage were slightly hampered when Dave as suddenly asked to help with the apple picking which had been delayed due to the weather, which meant we lost a day while he was off with his of whom can, and did shin up the trees like a ten year old, singing as she went. I had made a quick batch of rock cakes for him to take s the timing meant lunch would be late and I'm glad I did as the others had taken food too and they had a picnic there in the field, newspaper table cloth and all. There were pancakes, banitsa, meats and the cakes

Dave was given apples...and paid.... but they will not keep as they are not perfect. But they can wait for now!

 It was lovely to see Dave's family, though packed days were the norm, Exhausting! We travelled to Sofia the day before the flight after going through the various animals' feed routines, and introducing the sitter to Venka. The whole street were there to wave us off (we only went for six days!) The journey to Sofia was uneventful and the scenery so pretty with the trees in their autumn colours. The hotel was spotlessly clean but rather noisy, the food a bit bland and the wrong meal delivered, staff (apart from the girl in the restaurant who was lovely) were surly, breakfast odd and Dave had a dreadful cough and cold. Why does that always happen when you have something important on? Lesson not go for a value hotel who has ideas it can't deliver.

Dull weather when we woke and that was the order of the day. Easyjet flight was as normal, friendly crew and no problems. There is usually more leg room for Dave's long limbs on their flights. But he did feel rough bless him.
It's a pretty drive to the airport nearly three hours away

The changing colours of autumn

Sofia on a dull morning

A break in the clouds just as we passed over a brilliant stretch of water

Dull again in the SE of England, but the familiar bright green patchwork of fields is such a contrast to the straight lines of the European fields. So British

Gatwick, making our more familiar Manchester Airport seem so small and intimate.

We were picked up by Dave's brother in law, a taxi driver, and was I glad to see him...and Dave's sister of course. Gatwick is an awful airport for those of us with dicky legs, it seems like we were rushing down corridors forever. Every time we thought we were nearly there we started again, then had to queue for ages at passport control. And Dave feeling worse all the time. But it was so good to see the in-laws, and they were so overwhelmed to see their son from so far away.

One day we made a visit to Howlett's Zoo where Dave used to work in his younger days, and where his nephew now works with the big cats. It was a nasty wet day but we met some lovely cats and Dave caught up with some people he knew, as well as some he didn't but who were happy to hear the tales of how life was for keeper and animals in days gone by. He really does miss working with the animals.

Dave's nephew with one of his beloved tigers


Having a Dave ear scratch

Because of the weather we used zoo transport to get about...which only had the two seats. poor Dave drew the short straw!

Snow leopards, beautiful

Leopard, aloof

No, you can't come out to play!

My favourite antelope, bongo

There were huge borders of hydrangeas, they must have been stunning in the summer

Must have been stunning with the amount of flower heads

Good year for ornamental crab apples

So after a hectic round of visits and visiting, shopping and eating all those foods we can't get over here in Bulgaria (like fish and chips and Atlantic prawns) we set off back to Gatwick with overweight suitcases, and what a horrible experience, we have to do most things ourselves and there was no direction as to what we should do or where we should go. So then it was another mad dash to get to the plane. It was lovely to see everyone but great to be home. To hugs and kisses from all the'd think we had been gone years!
Dave's great niece made us some sweet and sugary cup cakes

Lunch in Canterbury, starting with cheesy garlic bread
. We don't see many steaks in Bulgaria so Dave had to have at least one

We were right by the cathedral gates

But not excited enough to pay a huge entry fee

Fish and chips at Papa's in Wincheap, freshly cooked and so delicious I actually ate most of my chips! Dave went for the large size

Lunch in Canterbury, this time with the in-laws at Panteli's

Better weather for the return trip

We even saw some mountains

And a sunny drive home

While we were away my sister and her husband had been making their way across Europe in their camper van, Kevin, and were taking a break at Camping VT where we often attend the car boot sales during the summer. So a day later they made their way over to us where they are going to stay while hunting for a potential home. They have a large labrador called Bracken who has never met a cat (but does know Bonnie and Bella)  and was a bit bemused when Charlie decided to do his 'I wanna be your friend' loving bit, but when Charlie turned his back Bracken thought the chase was on. Charlie just gets out of the way and continues to make the occasional attempt at winning Bracken round. Spud, on the other hand, after being quite happy to have this very large dog around if it was OK with us, has now become rather scared after being chased a couple of times. It's early days but hopefully time will sort the situation out. It might even do Spud some good to realise he can't always be in charge
Kevin the camper van outside our house, he is too big to fit where the car goes

So today we have been showing my sister around the area, seeing what villages feel right to them. There will now be a series of viewings and we will see what happens later.
Autumn at Hotnitsa waterfall

Meanwhile the weather here in Bulgaria, though there was rain while we were away, has now settled down to sunny days and cold nights. Great for sitting outside at meal times but it's taking it's toll on tender plants in the garden .Though I have to say the runner beans have flourished and today's pick yielded quite a few foot long, tender beans, with more to come, frost permitting. We are going to be digging up the sweet potatoes and attempting to cure any decent ones for storing. The onions and garlic have sprouted, carrots and beets are growing and the kale is lovely. The two mild chilli plants have been potted up to see if we can keep them going long enough to ripen the fruit but we can't do much about the peppers. Lots of fruits but all green.

Meanwhile the walnuts keep falling a lot faster than they can be processed and we are hanging bags of them in the cellar to see if they will last. We have also picked some late raspberries, chard, leeks and celery. All good stuff for hearty soups for four.
You'd think these dogs were starved!

Hearty home grown veg soups are the order of the day rather than salads now, first of many for our visitors

The chickens and ducks haven't noticed us being away of course. As long as they are fed they are happy. We are getting plenty of eggs for us all from the hens, the cockerel chick is looking...well...strange, going through and odd looking phase but also growing some beautiful, glossy gold feathers and the drake is colouring up after a drab spell.

The goats are happy to have Dave back. They have put some weight on and look set for winter. Milly is giving more than enough milk for us all but it has to be said that my sister is not a fan of goat's milk in tea...but fine as custard! We had some of the blackcurrants I bottled in summer in a crumble, they were lovely with custard. Well pleased.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

More tidying

We (or more correctly, Dave) managed to get the onion sets in before the heavens opened and the temperature dropped, and planted the lettuces. Brrrr He has also uprooted the tomatoes, we have brought all the golden butternuts up (but left the green ones for a while) and are monitoring the weather to see if it is worth digging up the sweet potatoes and potting some peppers before we fly off to the UK.  At the moment temperatures are forecast as low as 2c, but any lower and it could be dicey. It changes so quickly at this time of the year.

The last of the tomatoes, not too many green ones

The butternuts, not masses after losing all the earlier ones when they split, but they will keep us going and hopefully be used before we get sick of them! There are still half a dozen green ones on the plants

One for the goats, not sure what did this, maybe mouse or mole cricket

We have three crates of walnuts now, as well as the ones already frozen

On the left from our tree, on the right from next door's overhang. Very different
The winter bed looking tidy. The onions are under nets to stop the cats from digging them up

The flowers which were so perky last time I wrote are looking soggy and fed up now but they can stay a while, we'll just pick up the bits that fall through the weight of water. If the sun comes out so will the bees. The morning glory keeps flowering!
Soggy canna

All the flowers above are photographed by Dave

Dave has been very busy decorating all downstairs and the spare room, so we are ready for visitors due soon

He has also put some hanging shelves in the cellar ready for any produce and flower rhizomes which need a frost free home over winter

So we have had the first fires of the year, just to test the new flues. We soon realised we are a bit early when it got too hot and we had to open the door. But equally it's a bit cool without it in the evenings too, that awkward time. Most of the animals approve, but Charlie is a bit wary and jumps if a log moves. He'll soon get used to it though, and as I check this back he has taken Spud's place by the fire.

Spud enjoying the heat
Bella tolerating Charlie in a strange position

zzzzzzzz all is peaceful

This really is a lab!

Spud now prefers a fleece on the floor in the bedroom since Charlie has found his spot on the bed

Helping at the computer

His spelling's a bit dodgy though!

Out in the paddock we had a bit of a scare when Milly managed to get hold of too many walnuts and got a belly ache. She didn't have full blown bloat as goats sometimes get, but was rather quiet for 24 hours. Dave hovered over her (which she loves) and rubbed her tummy and gave her some bicarb and she was back to normal by next morning, shouting for attention every time she saw Dave. Today Venka came round to see what Dave does when milking as she will be doing this chore while we are away. Unfortunately Dave got things in slightly wrong order and Milly was a bit unsettled...she does like her routine. But she'll be fine. Venka is very experienced.
Milly chatting to Charlie...probably asking him to pass her a squash!

As for the other residents of the paddock, all is calm and quiet. I think we have two boys amongst the three chicks but as yet they seem quite calm. One has very feathery legs, like a Marran. The ducks are moulting heavily so have stopped laying altogether. The hens are giving plenty at the moment though so we still have a few to give away.

But some have been put to good use in baking. Today was the last car boot sale of the year so I made a couple of cakes, a ginger slab and a rhubarb and custard, (links below) to take with us, as well as some fruit buns for the freezer. It was a very wet morning and normally we would have given it a miss, but a few people had asked for things and it's nice to close on a good note so off we went, waterproof coats and boots donned....and got soaked! Not many sellers showed up and very few buyers even though most of the stock went as the ones who did brave the weather bought chutney and jam for winter. We were eventually beaten by the weather so soaked through and cold we packed up at about 11, when some customers turned up and asked if we were leaving already. Hmm, three hours in that weather, I'm sorry but we don't have a lie in because it's wet and enough is enough! The cake went down OK with friends though.
White chocolate and dried raspberries make for tasty rock buns...Dave approved!

Fruit buns, rhubarb and custard cake, ginger slab and brown and white bread
I was going to leave the rhubarb, but it put on a spurt of growth in the rain so I pinched some
Setting off in the rain....

...yeuck, must be mad....

...Dave acting the fool....
....and going home, even wetter.

Also new from the kitchen, I made what the Americans call dilly beans, lightly pickled runner beans. They use French beans but there shouldn't be much difference. We haven't tried them yet but we'll see, they might be nice. I just don't really eat many pickles. We have enough beans in the freezer and they are still producing well...though at the moment it is far too wet to walk safely on the land.

Used self sown fennel instead of dill, and some nice fat garlic cloves

They look OK, if a bit grey

I hav also done a bit of dehydrating. I have done some sliced garlic as it's so handy for chucking into stews and casseroles during winter, and some Portabello mushrooms which cost us less than two pounds for a carrier bag.
Two nice jars of garlic

Beautiful mushrooms

Dave had a couple of the largest ones stuffed with some of our own ricotta and some ham and baked

And we had mushroom and garlic yummy soup

The rest of the carrier bag, well over a kilo, went into two jars. Great for adding depth of flavour to soups and stews
And apart from this bounty, we have been given a crate of peppers from Venka and now have to think what we are going to do with these.....

A strange but surprisingly light and moist cake, though I used home made creme pat and twice as much rhubarb. Nice.

A nice light ginger cake recipe, though I did as others suggested and did half syrup and half treacle, and upped the ginger to four teaspoons