Sunday, December 27, 2015

Food, glorious food

This food heavy blog starts off badly with Paul suffering after we had pan fried bass, we knew he had an allergy to shellfish but now don't know if it has extended to all seafood, or if his portion of fish was iffy.   He was fed antihistamines and went to sleep it off, with Tracey checking on him every so often.    His recovery was rapid judging by the sifting of sand (to remove debris), followed by his limewashing the workshop walls and then installing a consumer unit all before Tracey woke up.

Sand drying on top, cheesecake baking in the oven
Dedicated workshop.outbuildings consumer unit

We'd decided to cull 40% of the rabbits before winter really arrives for a few reasons: a) we had no spare cages for next years litters; b) we wanted some rabbit meat and c) the rabbits are the most time consuming animals to clean, feed and water so less rabbits means less time in sub-zero temperatures (which still haven't arrived at time of writing).   Thanks to a friend we located natural sausage skins, going for pig intestine rather than the thicker cow because of rabbits more delicate taste.    The killing and skinning throw up an unpleasant experience when one of the rabbits started screaming (in fear) as it was taken from Rabbit Ritz to the kill zone.    Not something either of us had heard before or want to hear again, so in future the rabbits will be killed no more than 2 a time, even though they don't see the others die, or be skinned, they must sense it after a certain number.   Tracey had been playing with various ideas for rabbit sausages for a few weeks but because a friend had requested a rabbit, and came to watch the kill, she narrowed the list down to 4 varieties, although her notebooks do contain the other ideas so no doubt  more variations will appear on next years menus.

We ran out of sausage skins, so burgers became an option

Not just any sausages, properly linked sausages

Whether it was sausage 'designing' or some other random thought is unknown but Tracey decided that one evening the meal was going to be Scotch Eggs but made with eggs that had been preserved over the summer.   The rabbit sausage meat wasn't used for this recipe and possibly that was a good move as we got to enjoy the experience without having to evaluate too many new flavours.  We (Tracey) will be preserving many more eggs next year and her version of Scotch Eggs will be a regular feature of meals.

It was also the last Formula 1 race of the season so Tracey decided to experiment with some double ginger cookies, using ginger that had been previously preserved in syrup.    According to Paul that's a recipe that doesn't need any tweaking, although the (vast) number he ate did give him indigestion.

Double ginger cookies

Scotch Eggs and mac cheese for dinner

We'd been asked a few months previously if we would go, in the van, with Bati (term of respect) Illiya to collect 'some fuel' for his pechka, we knew it wasn't wood as we'd already checked he had a healthy amount to see him through.  It turned out he wanted 600 kg of coal, as this burns slower than wood and he doesn't need to keep feeding the fire overnight.   He may have got slightly more than he paid for as Tracey 'forgot' she was in the empty van when  it was on the weighbridge, and she decided to walk back to the weighbridge so she could have a smoke, arriving back after the van and coal had been weighed.   Even though we took the opportunity to pick up some galvanised steel whilst in town that didn't stop us having to join Illiya in a rakia, mind you we don't think he expected the pair of us to unload the van and put all the sacks of coal into  his coal store - there is an advantage in not being able to understand fully the neighbours.

Away from the kitchen and back in the workshop Paul was unhappy that the floor was uneven, and although Tracey had been arguing it wasn't a priority the floor has now been leveled, which even Tracey will admit makes sense when putting woodworking machinery on it.    The machinery is slowly leaving the cellar and moving into the workshop which is now equipped with both mains and solar lighting, mains power, a wood burner and a well organised tool board.   Now I bet you are all wondering what the first thing Paul made in his workshop of vast dimensions ... was it a back door to replace the heavy rug currently being used, was it a shoe rack, that Tracey has been asking for since year zero?   Yep it was a shoe rack BUT not for Tracey rather for our neighbours daughter, who in Paul's opinion also has far too many shoes.  teehee 
Shoe rack for Sisi

A well organised tool board, the bench is a work in progree

It has also been decided that as Ruby is happy flying on her own, and Jim isn't visiting this summer We are going to see Tracey's father, and some friends, in France rather than visit the UK    Our outward flight has been booked which is a bit of a gamble as we still haven't got a definite house-sitter organised.   There is a possibility of a flying visit to the UK as the Audi is past it's best and Paul's brother is going to see if he can locate one for us.    This is a much  better option than buying one here as we know it will have been properly checked and nothing 'hidden' from us, although there is quite a nice one for sale, by a Bulgarian, nearby which we may check out.   In addition to the Audi being past it's best before date the starter motor of the van decided to pack up mid December, until we manage to replace, or repair,  it the van is only being used to go places where we can leave the engine running, or park on a hill.

Recently 2 of our neighbours needed help with some trees, so we gave ourselves the day off from pottering here and went round with chainsaw and enthusiasm. We expected it to be a couple of hours but 7 hours later we'd removed a 40(ish) year old walnut  from the building it was growing around and some major limbs off 5 other trees. in exchange we received 2 metres of the 40 year old walnut, about a metre of younger walnut, a bottle of rakia and a jar of honey. We now just need to wait 2 years or so for the wood to dry (hopefully without splitting) and then Paul can turn it into things of useful beauty.   We do need to go back and cut the wood into log sized pieces for dyado, but we ran out off fuel and he's in no rush for the wood.   When we got home Tracey rustled up a quick meal and Paul decided he was going to make a banana & ginger parkin, as one does after a days tree felling.

You can see, near Pauls feet, where the tree is growing around the roof

Notice Bulgarian Health & Safety - no ropes, no safety gear and he's using a chainsaw up there

This was the walnut and the roof it was growing round

This tree just needed some limbs removing

Home to cake making, and precision cutting
One of the trunk pieces we got as payment

Planks, from the other piece of trunk had to be cut on site, because of their weight

Potential woodworking wood NOT for burning

This was the damage the roof had caused to the tree

As mentioned earlier we had decided to turn some of our rabbits into sausages and burgers, it's a pity we hadn't decided to downsize on the poultry as well.  A local is currently in Germany, visiting family, and rather than ask family or friends in the village to look after his dog he just kicked it out on the street letting it fend for itself.   As we have no crops growing at the moment the animals have been free ranging in the garden mainly, sometimes visiting the fodder field unfortunately the dog became aware of this and we lost 2 chickens and 2 ducks.  Tracey upset a number of animal lovers, when she asked for advise regarding the official procedure for dealing with strays, a lot of animals lovers seemed to think we should not 'deal' with the dog, but restrict our birds to a smaller more secure area.  A very good blog was written in response to the unpleasantness that the situation caused, you can read it at:    As a result of the bird losses for the first time since moving to Bulgaria we have had to buy eggs. 

Tracey had asked a friend who was due to slaughter one of their pigs if she could buy a couple of pieces of back fat so we (she)  could make some Salo and Paprikaspeck.  When we went to collect it wasn't just the couple of pieces of back fat we were expecting, as the pig owners still had plenty of lard from last years kill they had given (yep they wouldn't take any money for it) us all the fat from the pig.   Currently we have about 20 200g coffee jars of lard, and 4 boxes of back fat in assorted cures.    In addition there are 3 bags of 'scracthings' in the freezer (lightly salted, sweet chilli and ginger), 4 bags of fat cubed for the poultry, once the temperatures drop, and 14 fat balls for them as well.

Lard at various stages of setting

Sweet chilli on the left, lightly salted on the right

poultry's winter treats

As well as making goodies for us Tracey has also been adapting traditional English xmas recipes to incorporate local products, as gifts for baba & dyado.   So christmas eve we delivered trays containing walnut shortbread, filo mince pies, cinnamon & orange cupcakes and apricot & walnut cookie truffles ... our rakia collection has expanded as a result of this.   Bati Illiya also got a jar of lard included in his package, well he is our Bulgarian papa afterall.

Random jars of homey fermented pomegranate

Walnut Shortbread

Dark Chocolate Truffles

Milk Chocolate Truffles

We had to test one of each


Add caption

Tracey admires those who can produce food that looks like the mass produced version

Random cookies

We approach the end of 2015 reasonably satisfied with what we have achieved this year (we can always do more/better) and both suffering with winter sniffles, probably as a result of the mild weather.   Next year we will probably more actively encourage helpers from both   and as in the past the really good ones have tended to arrive just as we need an injection of enthusiasm.   It's all well and good living 'the good life' but building, growing and livestock doesn't give you a break and the volunteers with their fresh ideas and smiley faces benefit us more than a couple of days away would.

Wishing you and yours all the best for 2016. Whatever the year brings you remember to love, laugh and be happy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pre-winter update

Due to not concentrating Tracey shrunk a mohair cardigan that her gran made her over 30 years ago.   After her initial upset ideas for repurposing  were considered, so far some has been made into terlitsi and a hotwater bottle cover (with rest put in material pile)

After hearing from  a French guy  in Macedonia with no place to move onto, we agreed he could come as a helper.   Unfortunately he was a lot better on paper than in person, didn't like making decisions, had no opinions on anything and showed no interest, apart from when he asked why something had been done a particular way long after the job was completed and our thought process had moved on to other things.  A couple of days after he arrived we heard of a couple of Bulgarian guys who were hitching to a nearby music festival and stranded about 10km away, so Paul went to collect them so they would be dry and fed (it was raining heavily).   Luckily I'd made a big batch of veggie curry that night which was consumed with vigour, in exchange we had an evening of stimulating conversation - mixture of Bulgarian and English.   Both the lads spoke good English but were happy for us to practise our Bulgarian on them, although they were surprised we were taking the effort to learn it.

The gates were completed and  installation took two visits as the customers orchard and piglet field needed the gate posts concreting in, and allowed to cure.   Paul still isn't totally happy with the finished article,  but then again as an engineer  building rustic was always going to be frustrating for him.    Payment for the gates paid for the animals winter fodder which we needed to buy in as our fodder field failed terribly, with not being ploughed.   It was a wonderful sight seeing them being ploughed this year.  

Paul came to bed a while after me one night, got in and promptly leapt out shouting at me to put the light on.   Something had 'stung' him and he was concerned it was a wasp (yes I react to their stings as well)  luckily it was just a praying mantis so trip downstairs to get the camera was needed, he stayed in the bedroom for a while before unfortunately getting caught in a spiders web (possibly Sybil's).

Sybil the Spider
Percy the Praying Mantis

We have obtained a  lot of extra vegetables, honey and rakia, from the assorted neighbours, over the past couple of months in exchange for Paul planing wood to size for them.   We never realised how popular having a planer/thicknesser would make us.   We also had our pumpkin and cabbage mountain added to when Paul repaired a neighbours roof, a job he wasn't happy doing as they wanted a cheap (materials wise) job doing rather than a proper repair.     It doesn't bear thinking about what we'll be inundated with when they realise Paul now has his mig welder here.   We love it really, the sense of community spirit and being able to help your neighbours is what life is about.   With these vegetables given to us 'in payment' and what Tracey grew the jars of preserves is not only an impressive quantity but also the variety is wider than in past years, we eat much better than we we ever did in the UK.    Because our grapes are not seedless they are not great for cooking with or dehydrating but Tracey finally found a use for them - grape juice, after which she dried the pulp (pomace) and ground it for flour, not something she will be repeating unless VERY bored.

Some none Bulgarian friends were going up to Ruse (builders merchants, lunch and homeware/giftshop) and invited us along.  We don't see the other two couples as often as we possibly should.  T'was a nice day for all concerned Paul got to indulge his tool fix habit and Tracey picked up some pretty fripperies for the house.    It's always nice to spend a relaxed day but still achieve something, however minor.

Tracey kills house plants so is being brave this year and as well as splitting and transplanting herbs in the garden she has potted some up for inside the house over winter, as well as some of the hot chilli plants.    We don't have a lot of confidence on any of them being alive in spring but they do have a chance with being edibles.

The goats, which we got in April, weren't proving to be a great success.  Yes they were amusing, they were friendly - too much at times following us every where like dogs, but trying to build and entertain goats was possibly too much for us.     We protected the trunks of the fruit trees we didn't want killing but in September we found a fence between the compound and garden broken resulting in loads of stolen green tomatoes, other tomato plants with snapped stems, raspberries 'pruned' and Krava had lost her collar again (we still haven't found it).  Fence got repaired and we kind of accepted it as part of having goats and then the little darlings found out they could open the kitchen door, they also developed a liking for cement bags ripping them open, spilling contents everywhere.   Eventually discussions were had about selling or freezing (after killing) so Tracey put an advert in one of the livestock groups and the goats went to their new home the following day.    We had the goats 7 months, we sold them for more than we bought them for, Paul had always wanted goats but now we know we will stick with the smaller animals until closer to completing the building works and when we obtain more big animals they will be sheep.

It was mentioned earlier that we needed to buy in winter food for the animals this year and Illiya, our elderly BG neighbour located a source and offered to come with us to ensure we got charged locals price.   In exchange he needed to do a few errands on route, that suits us fine - all part of the barter system.    If only life were that simple!   The errands were numerous and spread out, possibly Illiya felt he got the better deal because although Tracey had bread, meat and rakia for when we got back  Illiya refused ours putting his meat, bread and vodka on our table.  Tracey really needs to learn how to look like she's drinking without consuming alcohol, 2 glasses and she needed a pochifka (rest, aka nap).   Our method of grain collection seemed to fascinate the Bulgarians - normally you take shovels and bags, filling the bags yourselves, they are then weighed and you pay.   The only time the staff normally get involved is with the weighing and paying but if instead of shovels you take buckets, to scope into the grain mountain, the staff are intrigued and want to have a go at this 'weird' method - we did get nods of approval so it may become a more widespread practice.    We unfortunately  had a bit of an 'issue' with our gypsy neighbour who seems to have lost the saw she borrowed last year, she came round asking if Paul would go and chop wood for her (no idea where hubby is), she would pay for the chainsaw fuel.    Normally this would not have caused an issue but Paul was in the middle of a job that couldn't be left, so Tracey suggested she return in a couple of hours when Paul may be finished.  2 days later she returned, again at an inconvenient time, and was very put out that she was offering to pay cash but we wouldn't go and do it immediately.   We think  she expressed her unhappiness to our local Baba who seems to have explained things to her as everything is now back to normal.   We also had an interesting discussion at the door with another Bulgarian who had snapped his cars fan belt and seemed most surprised we didn't have the means to repair it, or a spare just sitting around.

Although Tracey would have liked parts of the house finishing before starting the barn rebuild nearly half the barn had been designated as Paul's new workshop which would be necessary if he were to build a stable door (replacement for the burnt backdoor - currently a heavy blanket) and other items necessary to get our home finished.    So breeze blocks were purchased to build the east wall - this wall will be between the animal part of the barn and the workshop, breeze block will be a more effective fire break than a timber wall (Yes Tracey is still paranoid)  We were progressing slowly and then Miki & Laura arrived from Barcelona, wow did their enthusiasm move that job along.    It also helped that neither of them had a problem with heights, so were able to be more help to Paul than Tracey, who will now go up ladders but is in tears after the 3rd rung.   This couple have joined the small bunch of helpers we are pleased entered our lives, NOT for the physical help they provide (we appreciate that from all helpers) but their personalities are such they bring a new lease of life to projects (rebuilding our home) that survive long after they leave.     We are not just rebuilding it for us but also for them, not literally but helpers like this show so much faith, in us, and admiration for what we have achieved we can't give up, however tired we sometimes feel.    Although now the temperatures have dropped Tracey has discovered her hip (dislocated summer 2014) is still causing her pain and restricting the weights she can lift/carry, so no doubt work will slow down considerably for the next few months.    The barn/workshop is now at the stage where electrics are going in and whilst the tools need mains, or an excessive amount of batteries, the lighting will be supplied by LEDs, mainly for their quality of light but they have the added benefit that we can solar power them.

3rd October 2015
8th October 2015
13th October 2015

17th October 2015

18th October 2015
4th Novemeber 2015 (South side of roof still waiting for us to locate tiles)
21st November 2015, Paul not happy about tiles being a different colour but we can possibly sort that at a later date

Unfortunately we couldn't keep Miki and Laura but while they were here the workshop roof started being tiled, we had to wait a month before it could be finished as we had problems locating reclaimed tiles.   Those we got weren't exactly the same but close enough to give us a leak free workshop roof, and far enough away to give Paul some more grey hairs.

Some of our winter clothes have come down from the attic and while up there Tracey decided to bring down some pictures for the kitchen/diner walls, there is a rumour she's going to turn into a girly girl.   We also got round to ordering double glazed units for the east wall windows, that weren't in the original plans, but we loved the light that came through before we got round to boarding them up so decided more windows.    Because of their none standard shape we expected to have to wait a week or so, but no we were told they would be ready for collection the following day.

Many more to come down from attic

Each pane roughly 20cm by 100cm 

We have  obtained a  cooking pechka for the extension, and although that means Tracey has a comfortable temperature for her cooking and other potterings, the lack of a back door, and corridor ceiling/floor, means we are sleeping in the main house again this winter, rather than the above kitchen/diner mezzanine which will be our normal bedroom.    On a positive note the giraffe wall is acting as a fantastic heat sink, if we have the pechka kicking out loads of heat, or on for more than a few hours in the evening, it's still got some warmth in it the following morning.

We also had a friend who lives a few hours away come visit with her son.   Because we have local friends who originate from the same country Tracey invited them and another couple to join us for dinner.   It wasn't her finest meal but, nobody died and, the company was more important than the food.     She did refuse to tell them the ingredients of the cake (green tomato) until they had tried it, probably just as well, as all said they would have been reluctant to taste when in fact it was a nice cake.

Before the decision to get rid of the goats was made Tracey had started digging trenches, so she could use some of the old beams to fence off the garden.    This action was triggered by the fun the animals are having with open access to all areas of the property, not just the compound.    Even though the goats are not here anymore the fencing will continue as the birds can also be destructive, especially with newly planted seedlings.    The plan is to have protected areas that will only be accessible to livestock when no crops are planted but the areas between these areas will be available for free ranging livestock.   Unfortunately, rain has stopped play, with these projects although we may be able to complete before snows arrive, and if not they will be finished before planting commences.  Talking of crops we had an unexpected crop of oyster mushrooms growing on wood we have stockpiled in previous years.    Another decision Tracey made, regarding the gardens was to weed and cover (mainly old lino) areas she is unsure what is happening with.   Helping Paul, with building works, and managing to stay on top of the demands made by the garden has proven difficult and whilst this may not be an ideal solution it prevents her getting disheartened by a mass of weeds.

You can also tell it's approaching winter as Tracey has switched from preserving to baking, although we seem to be getting a number of vegetarian burgers made for the freezer.  Burgers are a nice way to store vegetables for winter usage, as not only can they be the main part of the meal but they also go well with meat - much to Paul's delight.

No pictures of cakes and biscuits because Paul eats them too soon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Summer of more fun than work.

Sorry for the delay, in the update, it's not due to work this time but the fact we have been living life and managing to fit some fun activities in for the first time in over a year.

Tracey had said, within a day or 2 of the fire that we were having a party on the anniversary to thank those who helped us, Bulgarian and ex-pats.    As June approached this was looking like a very silly idea, in fact just a week before the date (all invites had gone out) we still had no kitchen.     For most people this wouldn't be an issue, after all  it's summer we could have a BBQ, yes and all the salads, breads, nibbles etc that HAVE to be home made,   need a kitchen, bloody women.    Anyway kitchen was usable, at least 36 hours ahead  of the arrival of 40+ friends.   The highlight for us was  Pauline & Guillaume who interrupted their renovation process to come from France.  Unfortunately our English friend, Diana, who had also stayed and helped in the aftermath had a medical condition that prevented her from flying over.   Despite all the panicking, by Tracey, nobody was horrified by how little we had achieved, there is enough still to do, including the barn rebuild for those who'd given us remote support to get an idea of our starting point.   At least one of those people commented that they hadn't realised how extensive the area affected had been.  

July saw the arrival of Ruby & Jim, Paul's youngest 2 children, for the summer.    Last year hadn't been the holiday they had been expecting with us having no roof, electric, hot water, etc, etc so this year we didn't want them working on the property preferring them to enjoy  'normal' fun activities.

Jim decorating a headboard

That didn't stop  Ruby help us concrete a  floor and act as her father's assistant on some rustic gates someone asked him to make for them.     That's an interesting process - watching an engineer build rustic.    In addition Ruby went to help a friend, as a photographer's assistant for a wedding he was working at.    As a thank you our friend took his younger brother, Ruby and Jim out for the day to a local open air swimming pool - where Ruby experienced sunburn incident number 2, the temperature had dropped to 25 degrees C and there was cloud cover so she didn't expect it.  

Ruby's first ever apple pie

Jim's jammy bodger biscuits

Beginning of August a friend was having a BBQ to celebrate being in  Bulgaria for a year and kindly included the kids in their invitation to us.    August also saw us acting out of character and booking a house sitter and a couple of nights away at the coast.    Paul didn't think it was necessary and Tracey would have preferred the coast in the north of the country but as we were using the children as an excuse we went to the old town of Sozopol in the south.    Sozopol itself is split between the old town and the newer area, our guesthouse was between the 2 so we managed to experience both.   The main beaches were exactly what you would expect from a tourist destination but we found a rocky outcrop at the far side of the old town which was much quieter and interesting.

Coastal fun and games

Highlight of the holiday was buying a smoked roast chicken, some corn on the cob and having a picnic on the empty beach, the rest of the visitors heading towards restaurants and bars.    The kids eventually had to return to  the UK and it was Tracey's turn to go back with them.    She had planned on going to France for a few days to see her dad before heading to the North East, of England, to see the rest of her family but left it too late to book the French flights.

A week in the UK started with Paul's mum collecting her from the airport which gave them a wonderful opportunity to talk and get to know each other better.   The following day Tracey's mum & sister, along with her sister's 2 grandchildren collected her for the trip up north.  A detour had been organised to visit Tracey's ex mother-out-law, who has aged dramatically in the past 4 years.   The remainder of the trip comprised of shopping, shopping and more shopping - Tracey was extremely glad to return home where life revolves around things that matter.   That said, family is important to Tracey so how accurate her decision not to visit the UK next year proves to be we will wait and see.

Little things have been done around the property and this year Tracey has managed to get produce grown in sufficient quantities to preserve some for over winter.    Do we regret having a summer of none-achievement?   No - we didn't move to Bulgaria and this lifestyle to work to deadlines.   Yes - we are now at the end of summer and some things we wanted to achieve this year remain undone, life won't end because they aren't done though.

 Shelves seem to be getting fuller by the week, if not the day