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2016/09
Friday 30th September, 2016
Category: 2016/09
Tags: Gostilitsa Day Independence Day garden DIY rugs winter wood

Is it really almost October? It feels like I blinked and September vanished! It has felt like a bit of a whirlwind month with lots of things to coordinate but now all the little loose ends have been tied up and it doesn't feel so chaotic. I'm not a very patient person which doesn't sit well with life in Bulgaria where a dozen phone calls and prompts are often needed to organise one simple thing, and I sometimes feel like there's this ever increasing to do list churning round in my head - sort of like those old plate spinning acts where someone charges from one to the other keeping them all rotating on their poles.

September is a big bank holiday month in Bulgaria with Unification celebrations on the 6th and then Independence Day on the 22nd. They have this system over here too whereby the actual bank holiday gets tagged onto the nearest weekend so you can end up with several consecutive days where banks etc are closed. For Gostilitsa there's also our village festival on the 21st, so basically it was a knees up from Wednesday 21st through to Sunday 25th.

Each year the village seems to celebrate in bigger and better ways, which is great to see in an age where so many little villages are dying out. This year on Gostilitsa day we had folk dancing and musicians in the square during the early evening, and then there was a DJ and disco in the grounds of the old school until late night. The disco was also there on the other evenings of the bank holiday weekend.

Saturday evening there was a celebration of there being a community in this area for 1840 years. It began with the lighting of a torch down at the Roman ruins at Diskoduratera, which was then processed into the village.

The children put on a play in the theatre telling the history of the arrival of people here,

along with more folk dancing. Here are the links to a couple of video clips:

Video 1.

Video 2.

My old neighbour is constantly going on about how the village is dying and it's not like in the good old days, so I was determined to drag her along for this event just to prove to her that stuff still happens. Unfortunately Facebook advertised the start time as 4.30pm - an hour earlier than in reality, so when we arrived we still had a lonnnnng wait. I suggested to my neighbour we go back home for a while then drive back up for the show which she agreed to, on the condition we drive back via her daughter's house so she could let them know where she was.

When we arrived at said house, one of the grandchildren was having a birthday party, so naturally we were invited in. A plate of barbecue food was put in front of me which I nibbled on (having just finished an early evening meal at home) along with a drink. As 5.30pm approached I told my neighbour we needed to be going if we wanted to see the show, but by then of course she was happy to stay with her relatives. I got up to go but was then told to quickly scoff down a chunk of birthday cake which I dutifully tried to do. I'm not a big one for sweet cakes, and this was a child's special, covered in icing and a ton of cream. It took me ages! By the time I'd forced it down and again made my excuses for leaving it was getting on for 6 o'clock, so I missed the torch and half the performance! Added to that, my neighbour still has no idea that village life hasn't ground to a halt.

My winter wood all arrived last weekend after several weeks of worrying that I wasn't going to get any. Actually it's wood for next year, not this, as I try and buy a year ahead to give it more time to dry out. That will be essential with this lot as it came freshly felled from the forest, still sporting green leaves, and will be pretty wet inside for a while. I always buy my wood in meter lengths and then get someone in to chainsaw it up and split it for me. This year that all went a bit pear shaped.

I was under the impression that it cost 10 levs per cubic meter for it to be sawn up and split, and have happily paid this for the past two years. The guys work very hard and even barrow it all into the garden and stack it neatly in the shed for me which is excellent. So, this year, having dealt with 10 cubes of wood, I smilingly handed over 110 levs (100 for the work and an extra 10 for being so tidy). The guy looked at it quizzically and muttered something about last year. Oh, last year I had more wood, I told him merrily, this year it's only 10 cubes, wondering if he was thinking I'd diddled him out of two cubes worth of work. I bid him goodbye and went back in the garden at which point he sat silently in his car for about five minutes before roaring away with the engine revving like mad.

Being the worrying sort and not wanting to be in anyone's bad books I decided to text him to confirm that it was only 10 cubes of wood but to let me know if there was a problem. Indeed there was. Apparently the stacking of the wood in the shed isn't a lovely freebie - I'm supposed to pay for it! Instead of 100 levs the bill was 150. Yikes! I quickly sent back an apologetic text and told him I'd pay the rest. I think he's coming to cut up my neighbour's wood over the weekend so hopefully I can do my best grovelling and clear my debts then. I'd hate to become the Mrs Scrooge of the village!

I had a great find the other day when I was out walking Alfie. We set off across the fields towards the top of the village where there's a long springwater trough and a gorgeous panoramic view of the mountains. Unfortunately it's also the spot a lot of people choose to dump rubbish, so there's always a heap of building waste, beer bottles and mouldy mattresses lying there. Alfie loves nothing more than to snuffle around in it though but I'm always worried in case he cuts his paws on the glass or finds and eats a big slab of pork fat like he did the other year (it's a wonder he wasn't sick). Well, when I got close to where he was rummaging I saw that someone had dumped several of the lovely traditional rugs and blankets in a heap - what a waste!

I went down for a little nosy and shook out one or two of the items (gingerly, just in case a nest of rats had already claimed them) but apart from being a bit wet from the rain they didn't seem in bad condition at all. Certainly they were good enough for sitting on in the garden, or for animal beds. So after two trips I came away with 3 rugs, a blanket and two little stuffed toys which were far too sad to be left on a dump.

These are two of the items after being washed.

It was a bit sad up there too because I'm guessing that the owner of the rugs was an elderly person who has died and the relatives were having a clear out. Amongst the rugs was also one of the traditional costumes still worn by the baba singing group. Unfortunately it was quite moth eaten in places but I did rescue two of the dress straps with pretty white beaded details on them.

The other thing I saw on my walk was these berries which at first I thought might be a type of blueberry (no such luck) but which Mr Google tells me could be sloe berries.

No, I'm not starting up a gin still. What I might do is make sloe jelly and see if it makes a usable alternative to cranberry sauce (which you can't get over here very often). I've found some recipes which are pretty easy, so soon Alfie and I will be taking another walk, this time armed with a plastic bag.

Despite it being the end of September my garden is still looking quite bonny, and one little patch in particular looks almost cottage gardeny as there are about 8 different sorts of flowers all blooming together.

The photo doesn't do it justice at all so you'll just have to take my word for it!

 

 

 

 

Saturday 17th September, 2016
Category: 2016/09
Tags: garden diy pets

One of the most common things I get asked is "What do you do with yourself all day? After all, you have no proper job, and surely you can't spend every day sightseeing and sunbathing, can you?" So, here's what happened yesterday for a random sampling of how my days go.

Woke up on the balcony bed at about 7.30am (without an alarm) to the sound of bird song, and, after removing the cats who were snuggled around me, went indoors to make the morning cuppa. Once fully awake I then gave the kitchen and landing window sills a coat of varnish, having tiled and grouted them on previous days.

About this time I noticed the little pots I'd bought the other week from the pottery place. Two of the lids have quite shallow knobs on top which makes them hard to lift (probably why they were seconds) so after a quick rummage in the shed I sorted out some bolts and created little handles.

Whilst it's still cool I often open the gate for Alfie to have his morning sniff up and down the lane (having barked at any passing stray dog or jackal during the night he likes to read their calling cards in the morning) and while he's out I have a quick shifty at the veggies to see what needs harvesting and if anything needs attention. This particular day I had another bunch of parsnips ready for putting in the freezer

and a couple of butternut squashes which looked ready for storing.

Time to feed the animals (pretty quick as it just involves topping up dried biscuit bowls and fresh water for everyone). Sometimes none of them are around, other times they're queueing up, including the neighbour's cat(s) as in this picture.

Only fair I suppose since mine regularly visit their house for bread and milk. Jakey (the white and tabby on the right) waits till mine have had their breakfast before he dives in, even though there's a spare bowl just for him. Fear factor!

Back to the garden, and we're only a few weeks away from potential first frosts, so time to spur on the remaining green tomatoes. I spent a good hour cutting back leaves and stems and removing yucky squidgy overripe tomatoes so the sun can get to the others.

At some point I had my own breakfast along with several more breaks for tea and playing with pets.

The other day I made a bit of an enclosure in the garden for all the horse manure to compost down in, so it was time to barrow the rest of the manure from the heap in the street to the pen.

Welcome to poop corner! Having moved all the manure I then gave it a watering to dampen it all down before covering it in plastic to trap the heat. Boy does it get hot!

While I was backwards and forwards with the wheelbarrow I saw the council workers cutting back all the weeds in and around the little park opposite my house. This is the first time I've ever seen the job done so thoroughly and it looks brilliant now. Once they were gone I went over to tidy up some little saplings which had been pruned but were just hanging part over the fencing. That's when I noticed what beautiful strong stems they had - ideal for bean poles. Minutes later a big bunch of them were dragged down to the garage where I set about stripping all the leaves off.  The leaves were then dumped in the wigwam to mulch down and to act as a weed barrier there

and the bare sticks all laid out in the sun to dry.

There are still lots more of these in the park but I figured Gancho might like to make use of them to block the entrances when his sheep are in there grazing.

It was early evening by now so time to start cooking and today I decided to use some of my windfall peaches (which for the first time taste really sweet and juicy)

along with some apples I picked while walking Alfie on Wednesday, to make a little lattice pie. It was a bit soggy underneath but tasty. Next time I might bake it on a rack so the pastry underneath cooks better.

So, dinner while watching a bit of telly, then clear up and head back up to the balcony bed to read for a while before sleep. One day I might get round to some sightseeing and sunbathing!

 

Tuesday 6th September, 2016
Category: 2016/09
Tags: cob oven pottery factory murder mystery night

Last Friday night we had a fund raising event in the community centre to raise money towards the ongoing renovation work in the hall.  The theme of the event was a murder mystery evening led by detective Willie Catchem! About 30 people attended in teams of 4 to 6 and as we sat in our groups we were presented with the case: murder by poisoning.  We were given some background information to the victim and then shown photos of the five suspects and told their connection to the case.  We then had access to snippets of clues - bank statements, a will, diary entries, letters etc - which we discussed in our teams (fortified by food and drink of course) trying to uncover the murderer, the method and their motive.

Partway through the evening we had a little break during which there was a crime themed quiz, and after that we got some more clues to the case.  I'm giving nothing away about the actual crime but the team I was on won not only the quiz but also came closest to solving the murder! Our reward was a sherrif's badge each and some choccies.  I'm thinking of changing my name to Juliet Delta ;)

Altogether 300 levs was raised which I'm sure will be put to great use.

Remember the cob oven I was repairing a few weeks ago?  Well the clay eventually dried (thankfully with only hairline cracks around the edge) and so it was time to be brave and actually light it.  I made a little fire with twigs and newspaper, though it took a few goes to actually light as the paper didn't seem to burn very well at first.  Once it got going it was great to see the smoke only coming out of the mouth of the oven and not through any part of the body at all.  It was a bit weird from the outside as all the smoke was drifting up through the shed roof tiles (much to the annoyance of the wasps nesting up there) and it looked like the whole roof was smouldering.  Here's a link to a video of it.

I kept the fire going for a while and then decided to test its cooking ability, so wrapped a potato in foil and pushed it to the back of the oven near the embers. I haven't got a door for the oven so I just wrapped a plank of wood in foil and propped that over the entrance.  It took nearly three hours but that potato got cooked!  Next time I clearly needed a much bigger fire.

So, yesterday I got a bit more adventurous.  I lit the fire again only this time kept adding wood each time it died down a bit to try and get the temperature in there much hotter.  I also had a bigger range of things to cook: some peppers, a tray of chicken giblets (treats for the animals) and my dinner concoction which was red cabbage, onion, peppers, mushrooms, courgette, tomatoes, pork, and a sauce of wine with left over bolognese sauce. Once the fire was no longer making any smoke I pushed all the embers to one end (I've since read that you should try and get the embers spread evenly around the sides) and then stacked the dishes to go in:

This time I put my oven thermometre in there to see what the actual temperature was, and then sealed the doorway with a sheet of foil plus the wood:

After half an hour I had a quick look and the temperature was up to 200 degrees celcius.  After another half an hour I checked the peppers and giblets and they were all nicely cooked.  I wasn't ready for dinner at that point so just left mine in there for almost two hours. Once I got it out it was still piping hot though the oven temperature was down to about 100. It was all cooked lovely, very moist and tender with a bit of a smoky flavour to the meat:

The next challenge will be getting the embers around the edge and maybe making something a bit more solid as a door for the oven, but it's a fantastic way to cook just for the price of a bundle of sticks, and it will also be a way of providing a little winter warmth in Alfie's kennel area.

Speaking of Alfie, I saw him catch a mouse for the first time a few days ago.  I'd seen him jabbing his nose into the sage bush and looking very excited, and the next thing he was proudly playing with the mouse (now dead) on the lawn. The cats of course are prolific hunters especially of voles which they find quite frequently.  Poppy bagged herself a bigger catch the other day though; a reasonably large slow worm:

He had a couple of minor wounds on his body but was otherwise intact, and since Poppy didn't seem interested in eating him I decided to give him a second chance and put him safely under the big butternut squash leaves. Poppy didn't seem to care and went to sleep on some warm stones. An hour or so later when I went to check, the slow worm had gone so hopefully he survived okay.

Saturday I went to a pottery factory with some friends.  It's located between Sevlievo and Troyan and is brilliant because any items which are slightly imperfect (a tiny chip, a bubble in the glaze) are put outside and sold off for pennies.  I went there a couple of years ago on a coach trip from the village, and have been wanting to go back for some time.  Saturday I came away armed with two boxes of goodies - 4 plates, 3 bowls, 3 mini stew pots, 9 little pots with lids (which I'm going to use for herbs), 3 candle holders and a vinegar jug.  The total cost - just over 24 levs. My treasures are now all cleaned up and arranged in the kitchen; a plate and two bowls having already been christened.

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