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

Monday, 29 August 2016

Parties and Rock Festivals

Well I last left you I mentioned Ivan's birthday party which was actually held at our local bar and not his house this time.  Now I took some photos of the group that gathered and of him cutting his cake but for some reason they have been wiped from my camera before saving on the computer - suffice to say when you let the menfolk fiddle with things something goes wrong.

We made a card for him using a few good pictures (the front was as above) we had of him and I was so looking forward to him opening it and the look on his face but the Bulgarian way is to open cards and presents privately.  We did subsequently ask him about the card and his face lit up so that was enough for me.  As far as a present is concerned we racked our brains and we spoke to Chris who he works for and he suggested a tool of some kind (because he does some building work).  We actually came up with a multi-tool come penknife thing which we hoped he didn't already have.  I had an image of him reaching into his back pocket and coming our with a penknife to open his present - ha ha.

The garden is blooming with produce.  I had planned to use the large tomatoes that our neighbour gave us for skinning and chopping up to individual portions for the freezer but for some reason the actual plants they gave me have not produced as much fruit as the plants I grew from seed.  I seem to have planted mainly small tomatoes which are better for salads.  So we had been told that our local Frenchman and chili farmer had opened a shop in the village to sell his produce so I thought "support the locals" we would seek him out to get some more tomatoes.  We had trouble finding it because he had the smallest notice on the door that he could find.....

His opening times are only a short window as well but we managed to get some tomatoes and he went to great lengths to tell me that they are all organic because apparently those people buy at market are not.
Just a few of the kilos that I bought from him
Spag Bol, Chili, Lasagna etc. here we come

Because I had a glut of the little yellows tomatoes, I decided to make some tomato ketchup

A big pan like that only made two bottles.....but it is very nice

We were walking Bracken down a lane one morning and on the verge I noticed what looked like courgette flowers.  A couple of weeks later I cam across this in amongst the flowers...
Now I hope it didn't belong to anyone - it did look like somebody had just thrown out some seeds and they had germinated by mistake - anyway I did a runner with it and now it is chopped up and frozen ready to bring out in portions for making soup bases in winter.  Don't like waste.

A couple of weeks ago we went to "The English Market" which isn't quite what you think. The is a big truck which a chap called "The Freezer Man" has converted to hold freezers and shelving and he ships over things that are not available here.  GJ and I made an order for things like Weetabix, Peanut butter, Jacobs Cream Crackers, some sausages, some mince (English Style) and a joint of gammon.  There was one other sweet stall there but that was it.  However the setting is nice and it has a restaurant by the lake where we were able to get a sausage and bacon sandwich.  Yum!
Some residents in the lake......

We have now sorted out our residency in Bulgaria and we have also registered the car - finally.  What a pulava this was.  Firstly we had to go to an Insurance office to buy some insurance and then next door to pay some Eco tax.  Then we went over to the KAT office and waited in a queue from 9.30 til 12.00 (no appointments) and then at 12, the one lady that was doing all the registering and re-registering went for lunch for an hour and then after another hour we were eventually seen and documents processed.  We then drove the car around the back for a technical test.  After lots of scratching of heads, they decided not to do the tech test because the last one they did on a Range Rover, broke the transmission brake so now they are being sued.  Not to bore you with this but apparently permanent four wheel drive cannot be stopped on a rolling road with the handbrake so we were ushered off to another shed where they put on the number plates...
...then back to the KAT office to fill in some more forms and hand in our British number plates.  We then had to leave all our documents with another lady and told to return in two hours.  After some refreshment across the road at a cafe, we returned and were given the equivalent of a laminated registration document.  The next day we had to go to another garage to get a technical test done where they don't test the handbrake.  No the fella said, you need to have a stamp on this document to say you have paid your Eco tax.  So off we toddled to the Tax office who told us that the KAT records don't get to their office for at least 3 days.  This meant waiting until the following week before we could get a copy of the receipt for tax paid, show it to the testing garage and they went ahead and did the test.  It made me laugh though, they put a probe up the exhaust to test the emissions but didn't ask GJ to put his engine on before they took it out again and said that they were OK!

GJ has been doing some work on the walls in the living room.  When we took the kitchen away (now installed outside in the summer kitchen) all the walls had been badly affected by water when the previous occupants had had a flood, so he stripped all the boards off and has now replaced them with new ones and they are ready to be plastered.  We know an ex-pat who does plastering so very useful but she is busy for the next few weeks so I'll catch her in action before the next blog update.

We have decided to have some more wood delivered.  Us westeners are so casual when it comes to heating the whole house in winter but the Bulgarians move everything to one room - Kitchen with bed, TV (if available), washing facilities in the kitchen sink (if available) and toilet usually down the garden.  Luckily we have central heating which is run by the main fireplace and hence eats the wood.  We had already had 8 cubes of large logs delivered, hired some bloke with a chain saw to cut them down then a local fella (who seems to live in the bar) to come and chop them down some more.  By the time we had paid all these fellas and paid for the wood it worked out more expensive than just asking the mayors office to deliver some ready cut.  So we thought another 5 cubes should do it and at 8 o'clock one Saturday morning they turned up at our new gates so GJ had to stumble down to the gate in his disheveled state to point the drivers to the back of the property and into the barn.  Then they couldn't tip the load right into the barn because the tipper opened from the front up and the height of the barn door affected it.  Next job that morning was to throw it all into the barn with a view to stacking on another day - phew!  Even in the morning the heat can reach 30 degrees.
13 cubes all stacked now. See the glove photo-bombing!

One of the autumn jobs is to clear the other side of the barn so that we can put the chicken shed under the mezanine for some protection from the cold weather when it comes.
 Big job this one!

Last week end we took Kevin the Camper out for a trip to the Mindya Rock Festival
We couldn't park in the little field that we were advised to park in so we just parked on the road under a tree and away from any entrances to properties.  We got there on the Saturday at around 5 and by around 7 cars were parked all the way down the road where we had parked so we were not so conspicuous.  After eating in the van (we were not sure of the catering facilities so we took our own) we wandered down to the town square from where the music was in full swing.  A few pictures...

 Even Bracken enjoyed it for a while - better drinking wine from a cordial bottle when in public!

 Chris and Karen with their book stall - slowly got drawn out to the music
A great time was had by all.  Great atmosphere, no drunks (apart from us) no bad behaviour, glass ashtrays on the tables at the bars - yes glass!  The video is part of one of the English songs they sang, not the greatest singer of all time but the musicians were very good.

 The bar across from where we were parked - I just love the way the Bulgarians build around things - notice the trees coming out of the roof
I spotted this field of wild lilac on the way back, the picture doesn't do it justice.

So that's it for now, I promise to take my camera out more often because there is always something unusual to see in this quaint country.  Oh and next time I could have news on whether we manage to get Kevin registered (I suppose there will be scratching of heads again) and whether we manage to get signed up with a doctor.  Cor blimey, it's all go.

H, GJ and Bracken