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Thursday, 24 December 2015

A meaty time of year....

As the year draws to a close we have had rather a meaty time of things. As is now usual, Dave has been round to help our lovely neighbours with the work that goes with having your year's supply of meat prepared. First the two pigs, then the steer. It takes a bit of the hard work out of it for them to have a strong, young (ish) man to carry hot and cold water down the length of the plot, then carry chunks of meat to hang in the air. But gosh there is a lot of work in preparing for the freezer, rendering fat, bottling meat, curing fat, and mincing, making sausages and patties. Never mind chopping a mountain of bones. The meat usually hangs out in the cold for a few days to 'dry' but there has been a problem there this year. The weather has been so good that a) it's too warm and b) there are still flies about because of it. Our poor neighbours look exhausted.

So anyway, the slaughter season is over once again. There doesn't seem to have been so much around us this year, and certainly our neighbours have said they are having less beasts next year. Unfortunately not everyone does 'the business' behind closed gates, and a trip to a nearby village revealed a pig killing on the lane we turned in to, with quite a crowd hanging about. But this is Bulgaria and old traditions are still alive and well.

So, from buying a half lamb to have some meat in the freezer for the year, joining the surplus cockerels, we now have a mountain of beef and pork ribs, mince and steaks, even liver. And bottled chicken. And today we received more beef ribs and mince from another neighbour. We have half a freezer full of meat now! All for one person.

Today Dave went round delivering cards and cakes and mince pies to the neighbours. They were only little cakes, a token to thank them for their help and advice over the past year. But being the generous people they are, one neighbour sent the meat, a pot of snowdrops, a litre of rakia (we'll have to start bathing in it!) and two litres of wine. I feel sorry for those who do not mix with their neighbours, this is what we like about Christmas here, not trees and presents and spending a fortune you can't afford, but useful tokens and help each way throughout the year. It matters not a bit that I am a veggie tee-totaller!
There is still an unclaimed cake in the cupboard. Whatever did I do before Dave sorted these out?

A few awaiting delivery. Dave did the decorating this year, and a great job he made of them


We really didn't need anything in return, but happy to accept

I just hope the goatherd (a bottle of whisky) and his goat ladies (chocolates) take their tokens as a thank you for their kind hearted handling of our two well settled and happy goats! We don't need any milk or cheese!

We had a visit from a lovely friend...actually two....last week which is always nice as it gives me chance to do some cooking. Another spiced pumpkin cake went down really well, and quiche with oven potatoes and apple coleslaw. And we got pressies too, a very unusual poinsetta and chockies. Yum.
A very unusual colour

We went out for a meal with friends and friends of friends the other day, about thirty of us in all. Dave even got a comment from the car parking attendant about the English invading the city! It was nice to see people but we were both feeling a bit rough, coming down with colds and not sleeping too well, plus sadness at another friend passing away. So we left early with a bag full of brussels sprouts on stalks for the goats! Dave is now in the full throws of a cold, I have yet to go down with it.
Dave's starter, baked brie and blueberry jam

And my fried eggplant in eggy batter

Dave's 'breast' of pork with honey (ribs)

I didn't want a big meal, so had tomato, avocado and mozzarella salad covered in weird crumb....

Other news...the two young chickens are both laying now so we have plenty of eggs again. Dandy seems to have been accepted by the ladies, he seems a gentle soul though has certainly found his voice since the new boy arrived! But he is only little so I think it's good that we want to keep them apart. We might give the new boy a couple more hens once we know what the new girls' eggs look like, the two young ones are big enough and strong so should cope OK.

We still have flowers and insects in the garden. It's really weird as the roses are still in leaf, the weeds growing, daffodils growing and the birds and toads are singing! We have had a good few frosts which has zapped the rhubarb, but the lettuce are continuing to grow as are cabbages and carrots. Good job we have lots of mouths to feed! We are eating broccoli and beetroot too. And fresh herbs still.
Feeding on scabious

There are still lots of buds on

Roses in full leaf
Anemone coming through

Lots of lush weeds

Buddleia growing lots of new leaf

More young nicotiana coming in to flower


Carrots, beets and cabbage

The carrots are pale, but very sweet and tender
Looks like a spring garden, not winter

My sister recently bought a carpet for her sitting room from someone who sells quite a few second hand on facebook, and after seeing it we indulged too and now have a very smart clean one for the winter, pure wool too. It may not be the most practical colour given the amount of mud the dogs bring in sometimes, but it will help to keep us warm for the winter (when it arrives) and I love it!
Not that we need keeping warm a lot of the time at the moment, the fire is only in briefly...enough to knock the animals out. They have a very busy life you know


I would just like to thank all my regular (and not so regular) readers and contributers a very Happy Christmas and good health and happiness for the coming year. Thank you all for your support.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A day out

The day we arranged to pick up the new ducks promised to be another bright and sunny one, with a heavy frost and misty start. Off we set before sunrise, we looked forward to seeing a different part of Bulgaria and took a picnic to keep us going and thought we could stop somewhere to enjoy some scenery. And there was plenty of that. The landscape changed from country roads, to almost mountains, flat farmland, watery lakes....and motorway! Most of the drive was on A roads but they are so quiet, not nearly as busy as the one we are used to near VT where lorries are scary (though it has to be said, not nearly as busy as the A55 where we lived in North Wales) Unfortunately the few trucks and cars there were on the road were throwing up lots of spray from the road, mucking up the windscreen and stopping me taking many pictures.
Cold and frosty start



One thing I did want pictures of was the mistletoe growing on the trees at the side of the road in one particular area. At first I though they were old nests, but Dave used to see it when he lived in Kent so recognised it straight away. Masses of it there was, like huge great footballs attached to branches. Unfortunately the combination of strong, low sun and mucky windows meant pictures were a bit of a let down.
Amazing mistletoe



No idea what this was
A huge flock of geese flew over when we stopped for diesel





We hit a new bit of four lane motorway....we had forgotten how boring this sort of road is....and there was even less traffic. It meant we made good time and found the village at about the time we had planned. 11 am. Got out to phone the chap to find we were being watched by a very cute dog on a roof! We had actually pulled up close to the house we were looking for and were hailed from the balcony. We were greeted, at an ordinary but extremely neat yard, by three very friendly and gorgeous French bulldogs. Lovely to see dogs in first class condition running about the yard loose, and unusual over here. We were taken through a double glazed door into some outbuildings and from there to the land with many poultry houses on it.
Eat your heart out, you poor people travelling the M6, 56 or 25....

There are a lot of quarries in the area

Ore being moved by cable car

Someone's watching you....

As we drove off another cute little dog joined this one

All the birds had been kept in so that they could catch our three, which were in two pens. As soon as they were in the crate doors were opened everywhere and we were soon engulfed in a feathery mass of chickens of all shapes and sizes, ducks, geese, turkeys, guineafowl, pigeons. All living quite happily and making their way between enclosures. We were admiring some chickens, but a cloud of Light Sussex caught my eye. They are large meat/egg birds and quite striking with their mostly white bodies, black necks and tails and underwings. Not sure how it happened but we ended up with a young trio in the back of the car!

It was a shame that we had to make tracks soon afterwards, but we did come away with a jar of pickled walnuts and a crate of seed potatoes, and in return we left them with some spiced pumpkin cake from our picnic. We shall be swapping recipes!
Well, pickle me walnuts!

We missed our turning on the way back and took the scenic route to the supermarket to pick up sugar for the neighbours, but still got back in good time to settle everyone in and introduce the ducks to each other. Good job they are a friendly breed. The Sussex have a pen to themselves, mainly because we don't want them cross breeding but also because the cockerel will be so big. We may let him have a couple more of the stronger hens later.
Handsome bunch. They're very large!

And then there were 7

All have settled well. There is a crowing contest between the new boy and Dandy, and one of the new ducks (Coco, the brown one) has a bit of an identity crisis, she came out of a pen full of chickens and has tried to get in with our bunch. But they are having none of it and she is gradually spending more time with the ducks. And, of course, she sleeps in the duck house.

Coco has an identity crisis...but the chooks are putting her right

Friday, 18 December 2015

Milly...the leader. And other happenings

It seems that Milly mother goat has leadership qualities. The goats are still going out with the goatherd as the weather continues fine, with cold nights but generally sunny days. They are both happier for it and though we were going to start keeping them in, we might as well make the most of the weather and I'm sure lead shepherd is happy to be paid for traditionally lean months. He seems to be happy the way Milly has taken up the lead position, heading the herd with Tilly close behind. Talking to their previous owner, it seems this is not unexpected as she was a bit bossy withing his herd.

We still don't know if she is pregnant this time, I hope so as we really don't want her kidding in the hotter months. She is looking well and has grown quite a decent long coat. Her hooves are in better shape with the extra walking too. They are both tired when they come home and after milking (a little less than a litre, plenty for us at the moment) they curl up together on the bench. There is plenty of bedding where they have pulled hay from the hay bags and dropped it on the floor, they won't eat it from the floor and it is a nice thick, warm bed if it turns cold. The chickens like it too!

There has been yet another change in poultry towers, are you keeping up? The three original ducks have gone to a new home. Although the ducks were all getting along, generally, we don't want them cross breeding with the runners so the choices were that we have two pens or find the big ducks a new home, despite the noise they were making telling us they were getting ready to lay. We put feelers out on Facebook to see if there would be any interest and to our surprise they were sold within minutes. So they have gone to live with an even more diverse flock than our's and are so happy one has started laying already!
The out-going trio just before they left

Dave has been trying to find some more female runners and a breeder has agreed to sell us some. So it's off on a trip to fetch them in a couple of days. It will take most of the day but we will see a part of the country we have never seen so it should be interesting.

Dandy seems to have settled in well, the girls seem quite happy with him. He has found his voice properly but does not crow as loud, for as long as others have done. He likes to sit in the corner of the goat house clucking to himself (a bit confused?). One of the chicks, young Suzi the white one, has started laying, he first being rather large for a maiden (ouch!) and the second a nice small pullet egg. Dandy has taken to sitting with her. Her sister, Hairy Mary is showing no interest in the nest boxes yet. So despite some of the chickens looking decidedly oven ready as they moult, egg numbers are starting to creep up.
Dandy watching out for Mary

Pullet egg on the right
Well, he's seen the hens settling themselves to lay, so thought he'd have a go

Poor Chubba, usually she has a very luxuriant covering of glossy feathers, but with those bald patches she must be feeling the chill in the air.



The cats are being a bit of a pain. Especially my little ginger friend. He seems to be getting hold of some e-numbers and has reverted to charging up and down the stairs at 3am, unsettling Bella who is convinced she is in mortal danger. When they play like this the two cats can sound like a herd of horses! We tried stoking the fire to keep him too warm...but then we are too warm. So last night we had to just shut the bedroom door. Sounds simple and it is, but as it gets colder we will have to leave it open to keep upstairs heated.
If Spud leans any closer to the fire he will fall off!

A safer option, though not sure what he's doing with that chew

Bonnie tolerating Charlie

In the garden our Christmas veggies are coming on well and there are plenty of herbs to boost flavour. There are still flowers and weeds growing but the most vulnerable, such as rhubarb, are at last going to sleep for a while after a few light frosts. I will be starting the indoor sowing in a week or so, but anything that can be sown direct will be, there seems to be no benefit in starting such as peas, beans and sweetcorn indoors. I am going to do more onions from seed though and they can be started now, but I will stagger the tomatoes in an effort to get some late fruiting plants. I seem to have too many varieties though.....which to choose?
Our first feed from the winter broccoli. The actual purple sprouts are small but tasty

I have started to prepare for the Christmas meals. I don't see the point of leaving everything till the last minute. So my nut  roast, the stuffing and breadcrumbs for bread sauce are all in the freezer. We already have apple sauce done (they are having pork) The cakes have been started, I have used home made marzipan for our's and bought stuff for the give aways (brought over from our visit to the UK) I have had to make some more mincemeat just in case as friends have asked for some. I've just made a large batch of requested blackcurrant jam, some raspberry just for us and some redcurrant chutney-jam. It started out as redcurrant and orange jam, but soon moved on to be chutney with the addition of some onion, spices and vinegar. No idea what it tastes like but we will be having some on New Year when we go to my sister for roast lamb (and nut roast!)
Double yolker in the stuffing

Nut roast with chunks of quorn ready for the freezer, the left over will go for veggie sausage rolls

Redcurrant and orange chutney-jam

16 jars of blackcurrant jam....definitely the last!

I have also found a really nice recipe for spiced pumpkin cake which is useful for using up some butternut squash and makes a delicious moist cake, very yummy. Of course I tweaked it. I added orange zest and walnuts and used a water ice made with orange juice for the top. Will be making it again soon.
http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/14835/spiced-pumpkin-cake.aspx

Baking day
And a cheese pastie stolen from a hot tray straight from the oven by the ginger  monster....who doesn't like cheese!

My favourite thing at the moment is a slaw made from apples, carrots and some other veg, either cabbage or fennel, with nuts and seeds in honey and lemon dressing. Really lovely with home made cheese and freshly boiled beets from the garden.




Dave has started a new experimental hobby. First he started with the sewing machine and made a table cloth and fixed other bits and pieces, but now he has moved on to air dried modelling clay and has made a really sweet mobile of clown fish. It will be interesting to see where it leads.
Haha, don't rub your nose while using clay!