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Saturday, 2 January 2016

Welcome to 2016

All the forward planning for Christmas day paid off and we had a lovely relaxing meal here with my sister and brother in law coming over for the day. We had salmon pate and smoked salmon with sour cream and fake caviar (brought in by Dave after one of his shopping trips) on the blinis, strips of steak with horseradish cream, pigs in blankets and mini beetroot and halloumi skewers on the table to pick at while we chatted and the dinner was cooked. The pork was perfect, the crackling much appreciated especially by Dave who hasn't had any proper roast pork with crackling for nearly three years! The veggies were lovely, sprouts picked in the morning, red cabbage I had braised with apple and red wine in the summer and (bought) parsnips roasted with our own honey. I used the roasties I'd made when our stored potatoes started to go bad and frozen (worth doing by the way, come up lovely and crispy) Home made stuffing balls, apples we had been given....and bread sauce for me and my sister because we like it and it saved making gravy just for me. There was no room for pud so sister went off with a goody bag.

Pork crackled from one end to the other...veg roast...well, not much to say really!

Dave made crackers (you had to yell BANG!) and sister bought hats

Freshest of sprouts

Dave had made hats from an old magazine....very 'Good Life'

Dave made some tree decorations for the crackers, something they can keep as a memento of their first Christmas in Bulgaria

We have since tried the Christmas cake and though I had my misgivings, I have to say it was one of the best I have made. I thought, when icing them, that they felt a bit puddingy, but they weren't, they were definitely cake and delicious with a wedge of cheese on the side.

We had a lovely, very thoughtful present from Dave's sister. It was a hamper with all those little treaty things we used to have but can't get so easily over here. So we had Celebration chockies for breakfast which were packed into a cafetiere and a couple of mini Kilner jars. Coffee to go with them. There were mini Boursin and a bag of mini selection cheeses, some cheesy crackers, Marmite nuts, flavoured tipples for coffee, delicious Green and Black's mini organic chocolate bar selection and a pack of chestnuts to go with the sprouts. A real delight.

Mmmmm, proper chocolate

Because I can be so fussy about my chopping boards and what they are used for.....

And NO, this is not a rude book, just a book of ideas what to do with excess cockerals which find themselves in the freezer!

The weather had been so warm my sister and I, who had been playing scrabble outside that week but had to come in as we were burning in the sun. We were hopeful that Christmas dinner would have been in the garden again but the day was a bit chilly....then back to warm the next day. Ah well. Winter has since arrived in a big way, with night temperatures down to -14 and daytime temperatures staying well below freezing. We have had a dusting of snow but it's too cold for much at the moment though it has been given for the weekend. The ducks are complaining about the lack of pond...well, they'd better get used to it!

Not a clear picture, but these are seven great white egret in a field of rape just outside the village

One day we went out to return to snow

Before the temperatures dropped Dave rotovated some of the ground in the polytunnel and as an experiment I have put in some of the seed potatoes we were given the week before and some peas and broad beans. I have no idea if there will be enough protection from the elements for any of them to grow, it will be a question of trial and error. I have also started a few seeds of tomato, pepper and onions in their own little greenhouses.....large water bottles. It's lovely to get started on this year's veggies even though Dave is sure it won't work. Maybe not, but there is time to start again if needs be. If it does work we will have some nice, early tomatoes from the polytunnel. The rest of the seeds will be sown at regular times.
We have one or two seed potatoes left!
In the bottle to save all those silly plastic bags covering everything. Worth a try

Time to use the lemons....put with eggs for lemon curd?

The chilli plants are dropping their leaves so picked all the fruit....
The chillis went into what was supposed to be chilli jam, but the chillis were too mild despite the addition of hot dried and I now have a few jars of sweet pepper sauce!!!!!

Meanwhile the greens and carrots are filling the need for fresh veggies.

We are getting plenty of eggs again. As well as the two pullets being in regular lay, the two new Sussex girls are also laying. When the weather warms up Dave will be trying some in the new incubator, then hopefully some duck eggs later on. They haven't started laying yet but aren't far off. They are mating and the girls are getting very noisy. Including Coco, who is still having a bit of an identity problem. She is still wanting to bed down with the chickens and yesterday she was making up to Dandy....the look on his face was priceless! Hopefully once her hormones have really kicked in she will realise that she is a duck.
The first egg from the Sussex pullets, a decent size

Suzi pullet found a new place to lay when the box she wanted to use was occupied...the goat's hay bag!

The bees had been out and about while the days were warming but are well tucked up again. At least we know they are OK.
Busy bees...they have since gone back to bed

And the goats are confined to barracks while it's so cold, maybe even for a month. Hopefully they will get used to not going out every day and stop complaining! We are not sure if Milly is pregnant but we hope so. Both of them are looking well covered but that might be the extra thick coats. We may stop milking soon so all her energy can go into making babies....if she doesn't come back into season that is! Meanwhile we have had to put up a new run of fencing after Tilly got tangled in the chicken mesh and had to be cut free. There is now a five foot chain link fence stopping them getting into the Sussex pen, a fence which will be moved to give more space at a later date. The Sussex don't need all the area they have now, but the chickens are spending most of their days on the veggie plot, scratching about for titbits. Dave has barrowed the old compost heap out there and the chickens are spreading it for him and adding to it as they go.

We went to my sister for a lovely roast dinner on New Year's eve. She did lamb and it was enjoyed by them all (I had veg roast left from Christmas) The redcurrant-jam-turned-chutney I made the other week was delicious, I had some with my roast but everyone else opted for traditional mint jelly.

So as the new year begins we are getting ready to settle ourselves in for a spell. Dave has gone round to help sort the wood out next door and make sure they are OK. They have few animals to care for at the moment but are still looking after Baba Danka's sheep and dog. We went round for a new year meal with them and their daughter and son in law which is always nice. There was the usual pickles and cold meat (beef) to start, lots of bottles on the table, rakia, two lots of rough white wine from the village, lots of soft drinks and beer. Venka had baked one of her huge celebration breads and to go with it they had a meaty plate of home made sausage, a pork patty, another huge lump of pork, stuffed pepper and cabbage leaf (I had half a smoked mackerel) followed by a huge wedge of cake. Then a banitsa (cheese pie) came out with some twigs adorned with little notes and we all had to choose one. On mine it said I was getting a new car, Dave is going travelling, Venka getting new pigs...then Venka found the wrapped coin so she is hoping for an easier year.
Venka sent us home with banitsa for breakfast

Dave came home stuffed again, with the same as we had yesterday. Poor Dave, he hasn't mastered the art of leaving a little on his plate to show that he has had enough!

I hope that there will be less sadness this year. Losing three friends in one year is not nice though I suppose is expected as we get older in an ageing Bulgarian population.

But moving on, there will be a different way of doing things in the garden (trying to make less work) and different things to grow. There has been a big change in the livestock over the past year but hopefully we are settled into egg laying hens, egg laying ducks (and breeding) and the Sussex for eggs and breeding. Dave is more determined to grow more of his own meat in the form of excess cockerels. We don't know if Millie is pregnant but hopefully we will have kids and then there will be the decision of what to do with the boys if there are any. Hopefully we will not get the same problem that our friend Margarita got a few days kids from two goats! Phew, she's going to be busier than ever helping to raise them!

It's lovely to have my sister close by and we look forward to showing them more of our chosen country as the weather improves, and maybe we can do the shopping together (and even girly things) and leave the men to do the physical work. Dave does hate shopping, and no doubt the brother in law does too. It will be interesting to see what they settle on in their new home, plans are changing all the time as they realise the differences between living a simpler life in Bulgaria where you can't just nip out and buy what you want, and that in the UK where you tend to spend so much to make life easier for the short times when you have days off from work. Also what they can grow, keeping chickens etc. How the dog will cope.....though he is no longer a cat chaser after his time spent here!
The electricity went off while we were at the Sister's house, then the electricity board came up the lane cutting limbs from trees near the cables. Dave and the BIL had just cleared the area by the wall!

No H and S here!

Flowering weeds

Are they snakes....or are they slow worms? Unfortunately the photo is not clear and we know very little about reptiles. They are hibernating under a septic tank lid at my sister's.

One of the things I want to try this year is making my own toiletries. I have limited access to ingredients and will not be buying on-line at inflated prices and extortionate postal costs. So the first attempt was a simple lip balm using coconut oil (bought for the dog) our own wax and some essential oil I have in. It's very light and I will tweak it slightly next time by adding a gram or two more wax. But pleasant enough all the same.

And the slightly altered mobile. He's still not happy, I think it's great! Sorry, utility area is not the best for a photo

I would once again like to thank all readers, old and new, for taking the time to keep up with what we are doing here and especially those who regularly (and occasionally) comment. Your input is much appreciated and encorages me to keep going.



  1. Any spare set potatoes or onions - Don't forget me!

  2. Happy New Year to you and I hope that all your plans for the coming year go well. I look forward to continue reading about them.

    1. Thank you Lindsey. And a happy New Year to you too

  3. Have loved reading about your exploits in 2015. Wishing you all a happy, healthy and productive 2016. Happy New Year! Best wishes, Michele from Somerset

  4. Happy New Year! It will be so nice to have you sister and BIL so close to you now. I'm sure you'll spend lots of time in each others company.

    1. Happy New Year Janice. Yes, quite close enough! I'm sure she'll agree

  5. Happy New Year! I love the book about eating the cockerels... I might have to look for that one... though hubby thought it was a joke! Although we are confined to the house with heavy rain today I am determined to get to grips with the veggie plot and see if I can match your bottling and preserving. Thank you for keeping me inspired.

    1. Thank you Jane. We are confined by snow!
      We all have our strengths and weaknesses, my weakness is definitely the fact that my legs are not really in good working order any more so there is a lot that you do which would be impossible for me....but I can potter all day. Given kind weather your veggies will be fine. Happy New Year to you both

  6. Another great read. I look forward to the coming years exploits and inspiration from the pair of you.

    1. Thank you Tracey. It works both ways, you and Paul have done so much on the house. And for others.
      Happy New Year to you both. Look forward to pinching some of your ideas!

  7. Hi Dave & Sara

    I read your blog often (sorry I don't comment) so please keep it going. I love hearing how you are doing and find your new life so appealing. Pleased to see the girls are both doing so fine, looks like Bella has settled down completely over there compared to your posts on the Lab forum! Happy New Year to you both and keep up all of the good work. Take care
    Jackie (Lab Rescue Bonus Ball person!!)

    1. Of course I remember you Jackie. How can I forget all those bonus ball wins? I do sort of keep up with Lab Rescue, but only via Facebook since I know so few people now.
      Bella loves the life here (though the neighbours are scared of her!) but she is still a stubborn little madam. These days most of her destructive tendencies are geared towards tissues and sticks, preferably marker sticks from the plot!
      It's lovely to hear from you and Happy New Year

  8. Hiya and Happy New Year. Sorry I have been quiet of late but have been avoiding social media as not been in the mood. I'm glad you had a lovely time and it must be really nice having some family close by now.

    Love your Light Sussex hens - I wanted another one but haven't found any at the market the last few times I've been for more hens.

    I'm almost certain those are slow worms as grass snakes and adders have more markings and look more scaly - although I don't know what other snakes you might have there.

    1. Happy New Year to you both too Mandy, we hope this year will get better and better for you.
      The 'snakes' were tiny youngsters and the only other one it could be is a whip snake which are common here. Doesn't really matter as I love to see them anyway.
      The Sussex are doing great and we will add to them one day, either from our own or from a local breeder, maybe even swap eggs. I didn't realise they were so big. Laying well now, one laid a huge egg today, possible a double yolker...don't want too many of them!

  9. Happy New Year. The Christmas roast pork and crackling looks delicious. I love the photo of Suzi in the hay bag. I too think they are slow worms rather than snakes. We have them in our garden sometimes so I am quite familiar with them. They are so smooth and shiny whereas the whip snake has more obvious scales I think. I look forward to following your continuing adventures.

    1. Thanks Carol, I've never seen a slow worm. Funny, though they are just up the road they seem to get different wildlife to us.
      And thank you for the nice comments

  10. Thank you for making me smile! Have a great New Year and keep on blogging.

    Kath and TB

    1. Thank you Kath, and a happy New Year to the two of you too. I hope you manage to sort out your property dilemmas this year.