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2013/09
Sunday 29th September, 2013
Category: 2013/09
Tags: birthday nursery rhymes

I am exhausted; the consequence of entertaining a five year old for much of the afternoon. Today was Stefka's birthday and I was lucky enough to be invited round for lunch. The meal was lovely: chicken breast with mushroom topping, pork steak, potatoes, a sort of coleslaw in vinaigrette, banitsa and grilled peppers in a light batter.  The batter has 4 layers. You dip the pepper in egg, then flour, then something called galeta (I think) which is a kind of very fine bread crumb, and then in the egg again before frying. To drink I had some of the bright green menta for the first time (it was that or rakia) though it turned out to be more palatable than I imagined. Pudding was a gorgeous birthday cake made by Irena with lots of juicy syrupy layers. There's always tons of bread to accompany any meal and they always think I don't eat it because I'm on a diet. The truth is if I ate any bread there's no way I would finish the actual meal as there's always so much meat on the plate, and in my book protein beats carbs any day!

Irena lives in Gabrovo with her husband, his mother (at least I think this is who Baba Tsonka is) and their two children; Gali aged about 2 and Monika who's 5. I'm not sure if she fully understands why I don't speak to her coherently but God love her for trying. We played hide the tennis ball around the garden though she struggled with the concept of 'warmer/colder' and then had a silly five minutes throwing skittles through a hoop. Bobi brought out a huge beach ball so we all headed into the street for a kick around. Fifteen minutes of this and I was flagging so I sloped off to sit on the bench with Bobi despite Monika shouting for me to come and play again. 

As it turned a bit colder she came over for a snuggle and another stab at playing 'дай баба огънче'. We've attempted this before and the gist of the game is that one person puts their fingertips together as a kind of ladder. The other person touches each pair of fingers in turn saying ' дай баба огънче' which I think means give me fire Baba. The 'baba' invites the person to climb higher each time and as they reach the top fingers the baba says to come in and get the fire. The first person then asks if there's a dog inside who will bite and the baba says no, no, that's just grandpa sleeping but then suddenly the hands become a dog's mouth and you pretend to bite the player with them. So far I've only mastered the opening words but we're getting there.

I sang some little rhymes for her such as Pop Goes the Weasel as the actions amused her and besides which, having her cuddled up to me was keeping me lovely and warm! I'm already looking forward to our next play date ;)

Saturday 28th September, 2013
Category: 2013/09
Tags: recipes garden wine

It's vino season! Everyone is busy cutting down tons of bunches of grapes to make the year's supply of wine and rakia - illegally of course as I'm told officially people are supposed to pay a tax for producing homemade rakia. Yeah, good luck enforcing that one Mr Official. As yet my garden is grapeless, but I am happy with my role as official taster. As a little aside, I may have no grapes but I am thrilled with my harvest of three tasty peaches from one of my peach saplings:

Back to the booze. Baba Ivanka has been trying to educate me on the wonders of the grape and I must admit my knowledge has increased in leaps and bounds. Previously I had just thought that there were white grapes and black grapes in her garden but apparently not. She has at least 7 varieties of varying sweetnesses and purposes, all completely delicious in my book as I've been scoffing pounds and pounds of them over the past few weeks. There was even one sort which smells just like strawberries - how amazing is that! Her big wine barrel has been soaking with water to swell the wood and yesterday her daughter (Nikolina I think) and son-in-law (Mitko) borrowed a ladder to harvest all the grapes. My reward this morning is a big bottle of fresh grape juice. It's very sweet and sticky and as time goes by it acquires a fizziness as it gradually ferments. Gancho also supplied me with a bottle the other day and took great delight in shaking it up before we opened it upon which it frothed everywhere like a bottle of champagne. Apparently it takes about 3 weeks to mature into drinkable wine (which seems very quick to me) but the 8 day version he gave was delicious, like a very sweet fizzy wine. 

I was privileged to be given a little tour of his wine shed the other evening and it was quite an eye opener.  It was very cool and dark and damp in there, with the air full of the smell of wine and happy drunken fruit flies hovering round the open barrels.The first barrel was an open one and brim full with red juice and the grapes themselves. This was fermenting into rakia. The next two barrels were for more mature wine, ready for drinking around April time. Then there were about three barrels of the newly made red wine (some of which we were drinking as the fizzy 8 day stuff) and finally some barrels of white wine. Quite incredible to see.

This little tour was given whilst I was in the middle of my cookery lesson. Stefka and Bobi have been extolling the virtues of a certain butternut squash pudding and so armed with two of my many squashes and a carton of milk I went round to be shown how to make it.

First peel and cut the squash into tiny cubes (make sure to remove every scrap of the shreddy bits around the seeds.

 (Bobi doing the hard work. I was allowed to dice the pieces after she peeled and cleaned them out)

Put the cubes in a shallow metal baking dish and give them a rinse. Glug some oil over it all and then sprinkle over a couple of handfuls of rice. Pour over liberal amounts of sugar according to taste and add a tablespoon of flour.Mix this all well then pour on water to almost cover it.

 (Stefka topping up the sugar for my sweet tooth)

Put it in a fairly hot oven until the squash is very soft (this took about an hour I think). Meanwhile beat two eggs in a bowl and then mix with about half a litre of milk. Some vanilla can be added too. I'm aware that all these measures are very vague but that's how they did it, judging everything by eye without a weighing scale or measuring jug in sight. Once the squash is so soft it mushes when touched then pour the eggy mixture over it to cover it.

Now sit back and wait for the eggy stuff to set. It's ready when bubbling and golden on top.

Delicious, sweet, comforting, sticky, heart-warming, yumminess! I can see me eating plate after plate of this stuff through winter and probably gaining about 10 kilos in weight but it will be worth it.

Whilst we were waiting for it to finish, Stefka explained a bit more about how she preserves red peppers. In a big 3 litre jar she puts whole red peppers and some herbs (dill and one which smells like celery). If you like you can fill any gaps with green tomatoes or carrots. Put water (presumably a couple of litres) about a cup of vinegar, sugar and salt in a saucepan and boil till really hot. Whilst it's still bubbling, pour it over the peppers to fill the jar and then throw in four aspirins - yes, aspirins - and seal the lid on the jar. Turn it upside down and place it under a coat overnight. The aspirins apparently stop it from spoiling, the coat she couldn't explain; it's just how it's always been done. It would certainly be a lot simpler than boiling the jars for ages like I've been doing so I may investigate this method next year. I wonder whether it would work with my smaller jars though, so maybe I should start scouring the markets for the giant ones.

Ah, lunch time. Off to warm up some more of my butternut squash pud... 

Monday 23rd September, 2013
Category: 2013/09
Tags: wood remedies DIY

Brrr that wind is exceedingly nippy to say the least, which is spurring me on to get my stove pipes sorted out pronto. I dismantled them a few weeks ago and bought some new ones as the old pipes were made up of varying designs and didn't fit together properly. Unfortunately the new ones are slightly shorter, leaving a few inches gap in a couple of places. Luckily I noticed the other day that one of the DIY shops in Dryanovo had some little short stove pipes on the shelves, so I need to properly measure the total length of pipe I need, list the pipes I've got, draw a pretty little diagram and let the man in the shop work it out for me!

I'd gone to the DIY shop to buy some Terraflex to repair a few cracks here and there, and also try and buy some smooth plaster to go around where the new windows were put in before I paint the walls. He showed me a big 25kg bag of stuff so I asked if he had any smaller sizes. How much do you need? he asked. About 10kg, I replied, upon which he went and got an open bag out the back and began scooping it onto his weighing scales to make up 10kg for me. Imagine an exploded bag of flour - that's what his counter looked like by the time he was done. I'm dreading running out of the stuff and going back in for the rest of the bag.

Whilst I was finishing off the plastering this morning, Bobby phoned to ask if I was free for coffee, so after cleaning up I went round. The subject of my gigantic butternut squashes arose and I asked if Stefka would show me how to make the rice pudding with sweet butternut squash topping which sounds so tasty. She's told me before how to do it but unless I actually write down the instructions I'll never remember it, and watching someone else do it will be much simpler. AND we can sample the results afterwards :D

My ever growing stash of winter wood is almost done now and there was just a cube and a half still to chain saw up. I mentioned this in passing and to my horror the next thing Bobby is on the phone to Gancho telling him I need my wood cutting up! No, no! I protested - the wood is for next winter anyway, there's no rush, but too late, he was on his way. I felt terribly guilty as the man has just been to the hospital and had some nasty big blisters dealt with from the top of his feet. He was hobbling quite painfully and is all bandaged up, but manfully went and got his chain saw to tackle the work. Guilt, guilt guilt! An hour later it was all finished, ready for me to slash to splinters with my trusty axe.

Whilst he was working, Bobby and I went for a walk down to the stadium field at the bottom of my lane. There seems to be a little gypsy family camping there under a tarpaulin tent at the moment. Bobby says it's because they don't have a permanent house. I dread to think what this must be like when winter comes, and really hope they have friends or relatives they can stay with. 

Bobby pointed out some of the autumn berries as we walked and tried to explain how they are used for remedies. The rose hips I already heard about. You let them dry and then put three or four in boiling water along with the fragrant seeds and leaves from the 'lipa' (lime) tree and drink it if you have a cold or a cough. The rose hips add a dose of vitamin c. She also pointed out the dark black berries growing on weeds (the same weeds which are the bane of my garden as no matter how often you pull them up, the roots send out more shoots). She said you take a three litre jar and layer these berries alternately with layers of sugar. Put muslin over the neck to keep out bugs, and leave it in the sun. Eventually it turns into a syrup which helps ward off winter sniffles. I'm very tempted to have a go at this as it sounds quite simple, though I will use a much smaller jar.

These sort of traditional remedies fascinate me, and it's a shame that much of this knowledge was probably prevalent in England not so long ago but is rapidly disappearing as each generation seeks the convenience of over the counter medicine instead. I for one intend to learn as much as possible about the old ways.

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