Monday, 9 January 2017

Christmas and New Year build up......

I always think that the most exciting thing about Christmas is the build up.  It is actually a couple of days of feasting and being lazy (for some members of the family) but the build up has all the fun. From Christmas parties to carols at church, silly songs on the radio heard only once a year thank goodness, to wrapping presents. From sorting out accommodation for the family who are coming to stay, to keeping the peace when the games come out.  This, and a lot more, used to mean Christmas for me but now we seem to be a bit more humbled and our fairly quiet Christmas's are a joy and the village spirit serves to remind us about the real reason for Christmas.

That said, I do love a Christmas tree and as I did in England, always liked having a real Christmas tree.  My thought was, that if they have already been cut, then it was my duty to get them into some water as soon as I could to increase their life -  only the one I had selected of course.  Trees are available here in buckets so they may be planted outside after the festive season but I thought about it, and actually this poor tree would be brought into a nice heated living room and then put outside in what is Bulgaria's coldest period.  How do you think that would survive?  So off to Praktica (like B&Q) for an artificial one...
I do like to see more sparkle than tree!
.....and here is another bit of sparkle on the fireplace.

As far as presents go, I decided that the only thing I would do this year was to make traditional Christmas cakes for our immediate neighbours and an extra one for the village Christmas Party. This was easier said than done for various reasons.  1)  I am no good at baking or cake decoration.  2) Raisins are available but currents are not.  3) Impossible to find glace cherries.  However, in October I managed to make 3 cakes that smelt good and even better when I steeped them in brandy.  I kept feeding them every couple of weeks until finally it was time to ice them.  I managed to get some marzipan from Lidl but I had to research the fondant icing.  After lots of hard work and lots of swearing, I managed to cover the marzipan with a nice white frosting.
From Marzipan to Frosting......

Next problem - where can I get some colouring for decorating?  All I could find were tubes of ready made coloured icing which I had to add to the white but I could get the deep colour I wanted.

We had been invited to Radko and Pepa's house for a meal so it was time to take their cake. Here is a picture of Radko photographing it for immediate posting to facebook.

Us with Pepa
Communication was made so much easier with the use of Google Translate.  The meal was lovely as were the wine and rakia.

Cake No. 2 was for Elenor.....

.....and No.3 for the Christmas Party
Oh well, I will try anything once - or three times!

I have also been making pastry.  One of our ex-pat friends gave us some home-made mincemeat and I had also made my own so I had to have a bake-off to compare the two.
Both were very nice. Mmmm....

Our latest project in the house was to repair and refit the fireplace in the kitchen.  When we bought the house, there was and old petchka (oven/fire) in the fireplace and behind that were two bread ovens. Presumably one for the fire and the other one for cooking in.  Anyway, as part of the renovation of the chimney, the back of the ovens actually collapsed so, as I had no intention of using them, we asked Chris (builder friend) to block them off and re-render the wall around where we would be putting our new fire box.  After he had knocked off all the original plaster....

Excuse the naff photo
Before its all painted up.  I will take a picture again when finished.
Very talented man is Chris, we are very pleased with it.

On December 6th the Bulgarians celebrate St Nicholas day.  On this day they traditionally eat Carp (which is eaten a lot here, fished from the river Yantra) and we had been invited to Ivan's house to eat his Carp.  I remember this time last year and we had been invited to Sara and David's neighbours for "fish and chips".  Then we had fish and chips that had been prepared earlier in the day and so we had it cold.  Carp in cold batter must be an acquired taste, one that we don't have.  With this in mind, we made our excuses to Ivan but apparently he served it as a whole fish with a nice stuffing and it was warm.  Oh well maybe next year.  Incidentally, around about this date, I went into our village shop and next to the till was a bucket with a live Carp in it, flapping around.  I felt a bit sorry for the poor dying creature and then GJ reminded me that when all those fish are caught from the sea, they don't put one of the sailors on dispatching duty.  Never thought about that before - don't think I want to eat fish now! 

Just before Christmas was the village party at the village hall.  Its a shame that it wasn't attended by the Bulgarians as much as last year but the price had gone up to 10 leva per person (£5) so that probably didn't help.  However the Brits were out in force and the Mayor came round the room to say cheers and Happy Christmas.   We all had a go at the traditional Bulgarian dance (7 steps to the left and two to the right, whilst holding hands up and forming a circle) but when the beer goggles are on, 
its hard to keep count....
Brits and BulgariansIt seems strange to dance with all the lights on.

Down the far end of the Brits table.....

.....and up at our end.  You will notice that the plate with the Christmas cake on is almost empty!

On Christmas eve we had some friends over in the afternoon for mince pies and mulled wine.  Then Christmas morning started like this............

This was a very pleasant Bulgarian Sparkling Wine which cost us the equivalent of £1.70.  Absolute bargain.  This was accompanied by lightly scrambled eggs (from my girls) inside very light croissants.

And for the main event we had chosen to have goose.  I was pleasantly surprised that it was neither dry nor fatty and it was extremely tasty, almost like a slightly richer duck.

All the usual trimmings, bread sauce, stuffing and chipolatas but the greens were from the garden.  Very small sprouts cut in half and purple sprouting broccoli both sauteed in a little butter
After a walk to settle the food, we came home to light the fire, made liquor coffees, and settle in for a good film.  Bliss.

Between Christmas and New Year, we had our first fall of snow.  We went up to the Hotnitsa waterfall to take some pictures. It was all we could do to keep Bracken out of the water.  If he had any nuts, they would have dropped off, it was that cold.

Not quite frozen but not far off.

Evening view from our bedroom towards Elenor's house

Similar view but during daylight and taken from the ground
Deep enough for Bracken to loose his balls - bouncy ones that is!
Some funny woman walking her dog!
...and here she is walking her chickens!
Seriously though, when ever I go through the gate I feel like the Pied Piper of Hamlin,  they chase after me expecting food - Labradors of the chicken world!
The chubby little cockeral is always at the back!

We decided to invite a few friends over for New Years Eve.  Another fall of snow stopped one friend coming but we managed to bring in the new year with a bottle of bubbly or two, we played a few silly games and I had prepared some canapes.  As usual, I forgot to take pictures until they had nearly all been scoffed....

...but you get the idea.

Bracken tried to join in with the games and when we took no notice of him, he decided to make his presence known....
...normally never allowed on the sofa.

This was a silly game that I had seen on facebook.  Like pass the parcel, whilst one person tried to open a parcel with oven gloves on, the next person threw a dice until he threw a 6, then it was his/her turn to open the parcel with the gloves on.  I tell you what, it brings out the competitiveness in people.

After New Year, we had some more snowfall and it is still coming.  As soon as a path is cleared, its topped up again.  Good job we don't have to go out - except for dog walking!

This is the main road into the village.  This was taken last week but as of today, things are even whiter and you cannot actually see the road - and that's after the snow plough has been through.

Well that's it for now, a lot more has happened but if I forget to take photos, I forget to put it down in the blog.  In some circumstances, it is not appropriate to take photos.  as an example, we went to a funeral of a chap who lives just up the road from us.  Amazing turnout for him because he was well known as the water meter reader man.

I have got GJ working on tiling the kitchen so I will update in the next edition.

Keep warm,
H,GJ & Bracken

Sunday, 30 October 2016

One year on since we arrived

Yet again time has run away with me.  Life just seems to be so busy that I not only forget to catch up with the blog but I also forget to take photos.  I remember my sister Sarah took her camera everywhere with her just in case, but I keep leaving it behind. Still here goes.....

The last entry ended with our trip to the rock festival at Mindya - that long ago!  Since then we have had Kevin registered and both he and the car now have their Bulgarian plates.  What a palaver.  We thought it was bad with the Range Rover but this time we decided to pay an insurance man to take it though the process for us.  Well the English plates came off, went back on again, came off and went back on again.  When the KAT office (registration office) people finally decided that it came under the category of "Special Purpose Vehicle" then we were granted some plates and all the taxes were paid.

We have been doing some restoration work on little things in and around the house.  GJ has tackled the fire place giving it a respray.  It came up very well.
 Oh and who put that bottle there.  It wasn't there for very long!

......and I have been restoring the gates that go into the barn area because we want to move the chickens into here for the winter.  I will take another photo when GJ has hung them again.
This area was used as a dumping ground and we couldn't actually see the barn when looking over from the poly tunnel frame so finally we decided to tackle it.  We hired a lady from the village to do some clearance work and we had several fires. She was amazing, they build them strong around here.  So now with a lot of hard work and effort by us all, the area is cleared.
Looking from the barn to the house......before work done

The barn just visible through the winter trees last year
 .....but they've all gone now

 This was how the chicken run looked before all the hard work.

....and how it looks now
Before Kevin's parking spot was established.....
 and now he looks quite cosy.
 and so do the chickens if a bit straggly from the molting.
 We had another dinner party. Chris and Karen came whom I have mentioned before and two of their friends who have bought a house in the village and as yet have not sold up in England but are hoping to be here by spring next year.  As usual, I didn't take any pictures of the actual party but I did take a picture of the table setting...

It was a good excuse to get out the crystal and family silver.  I seem to have inherited it so I might as well use it.  I was going to serve a vegetable terrine to start which consisted of carrot and cauliflower layers but unfortunately when I decanted it from the terrine mould, there was an overwhelming smell of cauliflower which I thought might be a bit off putting so I ditched it and served a Smoked Salmon Pate instead. When I say ditched - the Chickens loved it.

It looked good and tasted good but you are never sure with things like cauliflower.  I followed the Pate with a Spanish Chicken dish with Savoury Rice, designed for minimum work on the night.  However, when I tasted it, it was a little too spicy and I tried everything to cool it down - great for GJ and I but I had heard a conversation once about someone not liking things too spicy so I had to recreate the sauce and transfer the chicken into a milder version.  The third thing to go wrong was my pudding.  I had decided to follow a Mary Berry recipe for a lemon tart which used a sort of Shortbread pastry case and it turned out to be hard as nails so that was ditched for a Chocolate Roulard.  I don't think I have ever had such a challenging dinner party in my life!  Nobody knew anything about my capers and calamities but if they read this now, they will!
Karen bought two tubs of clotted cream with her to the party and as we only used one with the dinner party, I decided to make some scones to go with the other and I took them down to the bar on Friday night to let all the ex-pats have a little reminder of "old home".  At least they worked OK first time!

I have been using up the last of my home grown tomatoes by making tomato sauce and chutneys.  I have also put portion size packets in the freezer to last a while into the Autumn. 

This first year in the garden has taught me a lot, not least how the weather affects everything and how well certain things grow.  I have been planing what to plant where for next year and I am not going to do such a wide range of things but only plant things that we use a lot of. i.e Tomatoes (large ones for sauces and chutneys) Carrots, Beetroot, Courgettes, Sweetcorn and Onions.  I still have Leeks, Brussel Sprouts and Swiss Chard in the garden so I still have something to harvest but things like Cabbages, Potatoes, Broccoli etc are very easy to come by here and don't seem worth the effort to grow.  I have had very poor results with peas and beans this year but when I spoke to our friends, the nurserymen, they have assured me that the heat this year was exceptional and that they would have been better in the shade.  As I still have seeds left, I will try again next year in the area which is inhabited by the chickens at the moment.  They are fertilising the area nicely.

We have been to our local cash and carry again where we can get some nice meat products.  As an example, we bought quite a few of these pork chops (made for Desperate Dan I think!)  They were all extremely tender and now I'm itching to go back and refill the freezer.

I had some of the girls around for lunch one Saturday.  Their partners were off on a long bike ride so I thought it might be nice to have some fun too.  We chatted long into the afternoon and only opened two bottles so we were quite well behaved.  Barbara (one of the girls) and I took ourselves off to Veliko Tanovo for a girly day out and lunch.  We had a great time and it was a chance for me to get the layout of the shopping streets of the town.  While we were there, there was a festival on and the streets of the old town were laden with market stalls


Here a lady was teaching children to make flat breads....
...... and I would have loved to have bought one of these ladies but I'm over the stuffed toy stage now!  I did in fact go in search of chickens! Bulgarian windows are double windows with a void between each one so I have one window in my kitchen with ducks in it and another which I wanted to have chickens in (pottery ones of course).  I have now filled both windows but I haven't photographed them yet so I will post the results on the next blog.  Barbara and I went to lunch in restaurant that was on the edge of a rock face (a lot of VT is) and the view from the veranda was stunning...

Lunch as usual was quite slow - well there was a festival on.  But we both ordered Pizzas so you would expect them to come at the same time - no mine was about 10 minutes before Barbara's.  Still they were hot for once.  It was a lovely day out.

The temperatures have started to drop a bit but we have still been able to sit out in the summer kitchen for a while at night.  GJ has put up enough lights around the property to light up Blackpool but you never know what lurks out there....

 As with the advent of Autumn, the pool has been taken down and put into storage......
..... and as with Autumn comes the fruit - Apples.  Our lovely neighbour handed GJ a carrier bag full of apples so to thank him, I made an apple pie.

We took it round and Pepa his wife insisted we sat in the sunshine and had a portion with them.  When we left, Radko handed GJ a crate of Apples.  I'm still making things with them, one of which is an Apple, Ginger and Sultana chutney.

One of the bottles was duly swapped with a neighbour for green tomato chutney and recently I had made a batch of my Mum's Sweet Pepper and Tomato chutney (all from the garden).  We went out last night to Warren and Sylvi's (swapping neighbour) for dinner and of course I took him a bottle of this too.  I think it might be chili jam next!

 Sometimes I do have my camera with me and would you believe that in October we have a type of Crocus growing on the grass verges - I couldn't believe my eyes.

And finally to the Christmas cakes.  I have made 3, one each for my immediate neighbours and one to take to the Christmas party at the Town Hall.  I have been told that you can get Marzipan a bit closer to Christmas but I'm sure Sarah told me you couldn't so I have a large stash of ground almonds just in case I have to make my own and finding Santa's, Reindeer or Christmas trees for the top is proving quite difficult.  I did think about asking my friend Barbara if she could bring me some Marzipan back for the UK (as she is out there at the moment) but as GJ reminded me, it does look a bit like Semtex which can be used to make bombs! I thought I wouldn't get her into trouble just before Christmas!!
 Look at the different sizes of eggs from my girls - some huge and some slightly smaller!

I've been feeding all three with liberal amounts of Brandy - Just like Momma used to make!

That's all for now - doesn't sound much but retirement is full on, but with it comes memory loss! Keep warm folks!
Helen, GJ and Bracken x