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2013/12
Monday 30th December, 2013
Category: 2013/12
Tags: mail box DIY

The past two days have been pretty dull and murky outside in stark contrast to all the lovely sunshine we've enjoyed. I suppose the weather matches my mood a bit as I'm in the post Christmas, post time with friends, post excitement lull. Thinking back I've been pretty busy since October doing a lot of driving for people and then preparing for Christmas and now suddenly everything has come to a full stop. So, to spice things up again I decided to tackle the letter box I've been meaning to make for a few months now.

I have, this year, had a PO Box in Dryanovo post office but it hasn't really proved any more reliable than having mail sent to my home address so I'm going to finish with it at the end of this year. The only problem with my home address is that at the moment there's nowhere for the post woman to actual put the post other than throwing it over the gate or giving it to someone else to pass on, hence the mail box project.

The idea is to cut a slot in the gate for the letters and then have an openable box on the other side for them to fall into, so this morning I braved the cold to go round with a ruler and measure up for a box that would fit on the gate and that could take up to A4 size letters (in anticipation of my Metro junk mail). This was balanced with the available pieces of scrap wood lying around in the shed and so I decided on a 40cm by 30cm box with a hinged door on my side to get to the mail.

It was way too cold to be making things in the shed so I gathered up several pieces of wood, a saw, spirit level, drill and pencil and headed indoors to begin. I must admit I'm not one for sitting down producing detailed technical diagrams, and nor do I have the know how to just get started straight away. The compromise was a childish set of scribbles on one of the pieces of wood until I had the basic idea for something which might just work.  The next step was to measure and begin cutting the wood. My workbench consisted of the two small kitchen stools I have, with a couple of chunks of wood on one to bring them up to equal height - wobbly but it worked.

 Weapons of messy construction!

 The part which will be attached to the gate.

Once I'd got the back of the box started it was easier to see how the rest of it would come together. It was also apparent that my original plan would have had the weight of the door hanging on a very flimsy piece of wood, so in best botch it style I chopped up a few filling pieces and attached them with screws and 'No More Nails'.

 Attaching the door.

Amazingly I actually had everything I needed including a couple of little hinges. These took a lot of planning and a lot of sitting cross-legged on the floor opening and closing them, trying to envisage how the door would work. In the end my first attempt (pictured above) had them on the wrong part of the frame but this was soon remedied.  Once the door was on and opening and closing, complete with a little white door knob, it all got very exciting as I could now imagine the end product and that it might actually function! Some old bits of tongue and groove were cut up for the sides and screwed into place. At this point I must mention my complete love affair with my electric drill. It was bought for me by my mum many moons ago and has been the singularly most useful and most used tool I have ever owned.  Three cheers for the drill!

And here we have the finished product:

 This is the inside view showing the slot at the back where the mail will come through. (You can just make out part of my initial diagram on the back)

 And the front of it.

I need to paint it up and then mark on the gate where the slot on the street side will be. That will cause some problems as I have no tiny saws for cutting holes, so my plan will be to drill a row of joined holes and then try and poke the saw into the gap to cut along. To fix up the box I'm going to put some metal brackets on the gate. 

Everyone has to write to me now to test it out!

Saturday 28th December, 2013
Category: 2013/12
Tags: Christmas Day Boxing Day

Yesterday my friends flew back to the UK after spending what I hope was a lovely 10 days in Bulgaria. We went out and about a few times in the lead up to Christmas and it was great seeing their interest and enthusiasm over everything. All the local towns were decorated festively so here's a quick whistle stop tour of the locality:

    In one of the village shops, keeping warm whilst waiting for the chimney sweep to come and do my chimneys.

 In Gabrovo where the little park in the centre of the pedestrianised area was turned into a cartoon themed children's garden complete with traditional favourites like Mickey Mouse and Tom & Jerry, as well as more modern movie characters like Shrek. 

 In Sevlievo. We wandered around both markets and were lucky enough to see a chap sitting at the side of the road playing the traditional Gadulka instrument, which is a stringed instrument played with a bow. (Click here for the video)

 In Veliko Tarnovo where it was freezing! We spent some time in the Christmas market and also walked along the main high street looking at the lights before returning to the central area for a ride on the big wheel. In between we enjoyed several of the lovely big hot chocolates pictured here.

 Finally we drove over to Tryavna whose Christmas lights were truely magical (and not done justice to in this pic!), especially the little canopy of white lights over the bridge. We ate out here and the roast lamb Mercy chose was delicious. The rice was cooked with tiny chopped livers, mushrooms and nuts - gorgeous.

Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day were the traditional delightful round of eating, drinking, playing games and watching TV. It's the very first time I've been the Christmas host so it was especially exciting for me to be making the Christmas dinner. I slow cooked one of the chunks of beef for about 5 hours and it turned out remarkably tender. Served up with roast spuds, mash, honey carrots, runner beans, cabbage and of course a big dollop of gravy.  I wasn't sure if Baba Ivanka would be with her family or not, so I invited her over for dinner. Unfortunately I forgot about the lack of teeth, so she couldn't try the beef, but she said she enjoyed everything else:

My pride and joy was my uneven homemade Christmas cake which went down a treat with some of the nice strong English cheddar my friends brought with them:

I've thoroughly enjoyed Christmas and sent my friends on their way with heavy hints about checking out flights for next year, hopefully this time to include New Year. Better start planning my menus!

Monday 23rd December, 2013
Category: 2013/12
Tags: meat

The past week has flown by as my friends and I have been out and about showing them the glories of the region (more about that another day) but yesterday has to be the crowning spectacle when we went along for coffee at the neighbours and found them... wait, maybe I should broadcast a warning at this point. Do NOT read on if you are squeamish and/or vegetarian...

Amongst their many and varied jobs, Gancho's family also boast a sizeable quantity of farm animals including a flock of sheep, two calves, a couple of pigs and many chickens. Yesterday it seems that two of the menagerie would not be hanging up their stockings this Christmas as they were scheduled for dispatch, namely one calf and one pig.  

When we got there, we saw two big barrels of water boiling in the street, a hose pipe laid out and two metal tables at the ready, the uses of which were to become apparent later. Indoors we enjoyed coffees, little cheesy bread breakfast rolls, cheese pastries, chocolates, peanuts and some homemade wine - all the things which are offered as par for the course to visitors without batting an eyelid. I asked about the water in the street and that's when it became apparent what was to take place later. The hot water was to help with the removal of the bristles from the pig's skin after it was killed. She asked if we wanted to go and witness the event and I must admit I was in two minds. As a meat eater I think it's something I should see, after all my food doesn't miraculously appear wrapped in cellophane in the supermarket, but on the other hand I was a bit worried about how swift the killing would be. Was I prepared to see an animal twitching and possibly squealing in pain as it bleeds to death? I confess on this occasion the answer was no and we elected to stay indoors. 

After a while we headed outside to see what was going on and found that the pig was in the process of being cleaned up ready for butchering. They had a blow torch powered from gas cylinders and were scorching all the outer skin:

 (Click the picture for video clip)

Then boiling water was poured over the animal and it was covered in plastic for a few minutes:

After this the bristles were easy to scrub off using knife blades or a natty little scorer made from an empty tuna tin with holes punched through the bottom.  Hot water was continuously poured over it to wash away all the scrapings:

The hose pipe was to rinse down the street as there was a continual drip of blood coming from the pig and presumably a lot more when it was first killed. From looking at the carcass it seems it was killed by a knife straight into the neck as there were knife holes on either side of it. 

Gancho mentioned that he would be selling some of the meat so when I got home I began googling different cuts of beef as I have absolutely no idea what comes from where. The next day I phoned Bobi and asked her to tell Gancho that I was interested in buying some of the beef if he was still selling it. She told me to go straight up if I wanted first choice as there would be lots of other customers coming that day, so armed with a couple of carrier bags we headed off. 

I didn't notice anything when I first walked into the garden but suddenly my attention was drawn to the area near the outdoor oven which now resembled the store room of a butchers:

Bizarrely I had imagined an entire cow or something and that I would point to a section and off would come a nice neat supermarket type joint. No, nothing like. The cow had already been cut into huge sections and was strung up on the frame. It mostly looked like legs and rib sections and Gancho, who was sharpening some of his knives, said to go and choose what bit I wanted. I had no clue so thank goodness Mercy was there to give me an idea. All I knew was that I wanted something roastable! Anyway, we looked at the various bits and when Gancho came over I pointed at a smallish leg and some ribs next to it. 'That's the pork!' he said. Dammit, time to choose again. The next piece I chose was a single leg (don't ask me if it was a front or hind leg!) so Gancho cut it down and carried over to some old fashioned metal hanging scales to weigh it. It came in at 19kg! That was going to be much too much (not to mention a tad over budget at 7 levs a kilo) so back over to the frame to choose another:

This one weighed in at a much more acceptable 11kg and so I asked Gancho to cut it up into smaller bits for me. Out came the axe and the leg was swiftly chopped into five big chunks which were put in a clean plastic bag. The shopping done we sat in the garden to have a coffee and soon the place became busy with other people arriving to make their purchases too.

Back home I sorted out one of the pieces to have for Christmas dinner and then packaged the others up for the freezer. I need to find an expert who can tell be about the process of hanging meat to mature it (hopefully free from attack by mice and cats) and also whether I should have gone for the leg or ribs. I've certainly got enough beef for a year's worth of Sunday dinners though.

I've had a look at some recipes on the internet (even though I'm still not sure what cut I possess - is it the flank, the shin, 'round'??) and I think the safest option will be to sear it on all sides to seal it and then put it on a rack at a very low temperature for about 4 hours to cook very slowly. Hopefully by then we will have something juicy which will just fall off the bone and be delicious with the roast spuds, mash and assorted veggies...

... or I'll open a tin of sardines!

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