Sunday, 3 September 2017

It took 9 months to write!

Firstly, I would like to apologise to anyone who follows me (if there is anyone) for the lack of posting since last December.  It's not that I have been doing nothing, quite the opposite, I don't seem to have the time to sit down and actually write it.  I am going to post a potted history of the goings on over here in Hotnitsa around and about.
The winter of 2016/2017 was completely different to the previous year.  We were eating lunches outside last year most of the winter but this year we had snowfall from just before New Year until March.  There were some lovely days in between but it enabled us to get cracking with some decoration in the house.  Although GJ has tiled the kitchen, we have decided to leave the grouting until autumn when the weather changes again.  You will see on various photos that it's looking quite good.  We had had confirmation that some friends were coming over for a visit so it was all hands on deck to decorate upstairs and in particular the guest room.
Yes we did get the bed to look even with the pictures.  The pictures where measured to get the correct distance from the ceiling which just goes to show that the floor is on a quite steep slope......., only in Bulgaria!
The stair hallway where I have displayed all the animal pictures that I have collected or have been handed down over the years.  Some painted/drawn by Dad, some by my Brother in Law, some photos etc. and my Mums collection of elephant figurines.
A random selection of snowy pictures from Jan/Feb:
 View of the garden from the front door
 Bracken still looking for his balls (Not the ones he left back in UK)
 Looking from the gate through to the barn with the Bale House on the left
 Good reason for a 4 wheel drive
 Just to prove that 'snow on the line' is not an excuse here in Bulgaria, we had to wait for the train.
 On the road to Resen
....and finally, our lane after the snow plough had been through.

Our friend Barbara had gone over to the UK to visit family so we took it upon ourselves to feed her husband Stewart up, one Sunday and we all enjoyed a roast leg of Pork.
 with all the trimmings
well we could ne let the wee boy starve!  Actually this happened in May but I cannot be bothered to change it now - Have you seen how long this is!???

On the 1st of February we had the Blessing of the vines day.  This entailed a meeting at the village hall with some singing, music, a blessing from the village priest and free wine from the mayor.  All at 10 o'clock in the morning.  We were then treated to a lamb stew and we gathered inside to eat it and dance.  There was a competition to see who had made the best wine last year and needless to say there was a lot flowing.  

 The Priest doing his thing
 The Mayor (in the Jeans and Puffa Jacket) saying cheers to us all
 The band, - notice the curtains at the back lacking a female touch
 Me, Barbara and Chris deep in conversation.  Funnily enough all 3 of us born in 1961! Coincidence.
 They must have been playing a Scottish song to get Stewart up there with his lovely wife Barbara
One of our neighbours, Vera with GJ

There was also a celebration of Baba Dankers day which is for the Grandmothers or Midwives of the village, we didn't go to this one but from all accounts those ladies of the older generation know a thing or two about letting their hair down.

We also did a bit of entertaining during February with dinner parties for Barbara and Stewart and also Max and Andy - who you will see pictures of later.

On 26th February, we went to Polski Senovets for my sister Sara's annual memorial.  A quiet affair with a few drinks and a meal for some of the villagers who knew her and ourselves. It was hard to believe a whole year had passed.

This month begins with the giving and receiving of the Martinetsa bracelets or broaches.  As I said last year, we are not supposed to take them off until we see the first stork arrive.  As usual they get grubby with housework and end up not being very hygenic so GJ and I went out looking for storks..

In March, one of my original hens from David's flock took ill.  She just sat around and wouldn't eat so we took her away from the others to try and nurse her back to health
Literally, chicken in a basket!
She survived with me feeding her water and cleaning her up, for five days before we thought it was cruel to let her carry on.  She was an ex-battery hen who had enjoyed a fabulous last year with us and given us many eggs.  GJ had eventually to do the right thing.  I'm a bit worried now though, because he seemed to enjoy it!  Moving on, Barbara and Stewart introduced me to a Market that sold produce including hens so I bought 3 lovely black ones that we called Tic, Tac and Toe.  Not long after their arrival I had a sad day when my chickens were attacked by 3 dogs.  I lost the cockerel: he couldn't run very fast because he was little and had fluffy feet. I also lost either Tic, Tac or Toe, not sure which because we didn't actually allocate their names.  So off to market again to collect two youngsters who have now turned out to be the most prolific layers.  Barbara and Stewart very generously gave me one of their cockerels:

These two ladies lay the most eggs. My flock is now 7 hens and 1 cockerel.  He is the perfect gentleman,  finds food for the ladies, calls them and stands back while they eat.  but he does get his perks.

International Ladies Day cannot go unnoticed in this village. Another excuse for a knees up.  There was one old bloke at the gathering and the band were blokes but apart from that us ladies had a good time.

These non posed for pictures are not always flattering. but you notice the cherry drink that was put on the table got left!

One night in March, one of my new chickens did not go into the hen house before I locked it for the night and I don't know whether it was shock at being left out or some kind of illness but it went blind. Well, I say it went blind, it wouldn't open its eyes.  I took it out of the flock because I didn't know what was wrong, gave it the run of the garden which it seemed to enjoy and by the evening, it was OK again - very strange.
Poor little thing.  
We installed an irrigation system in the poly tunnel.  We were told of a plumbers supplier in VT so off we went with our photographs showing dimensions and came back with a whole heap of stuff

Some of the pipework....
....and the fitting... voila
My birthday present from GJ was a home-made cold frame.  Exactly the sort of birthday present I like.

Basic but very efficient.

This was also the month that I made an epic bike ride.  It was agreed one drunken night that 3 of us girls would ride from Hotnisa to Resen, the next village which is about 10 kms away.  Now if anybody reading this has read previous post when we rode bikes in France, you will know that it is not a regular pastime for me.  Barbara and I were plodders but Tanya in her hi viz jacket was a marathon runner by comparison so we thought we would have to keep up the pace for her sake.  Somehow we made it encouraged by lunchtime in a local cafe.  
 Just past the Resen train station - well its a level crossing really
Tanya insisted we had a Rakia with our coffee. Medicinal of course!

We had a girly day in VT for Max's birthday.  Went for lunch at La Bianco.  good grub and good company
 Max, Tanya and Jules
 Jules, Shirl, Me and Max....
...and the food, stuffed, thanks Max.
After lunch we went in search of a sewing shop that Max had been told about.  OMG!, firstly you wouldn't have a clue from the outside of the building that anything was in there.  I think it was once a doctors because there was a big red cross on the door.  When we entered, it was like an Aladin's cave with rooms full of reams of material all different grades, types, colours and the final room we went in was the workshop which had everything from zips of all types, sizes and colours to pins and needles.  Everything you would ever need in the sewing department.  I bought two types of material and made two new dog beds for Bracken.

All in all, it was a busy March.


April was mostly spent in the garden:

Various stages of veggie growth.

A few of us ladies did get chance to go to Pavlekeni market in April.  Lots of purchases made like hats, a top for me, plants, veggies and of course lunch.
 Max sporting her new hat
...and Barbara in hers.

On St George's day (23rd April) Ivan always holds a St George's party.  The day was beutifuly sunny this year and we were able to sit outside under his new gazebo.

 A selection of invited guests
 Ivan himself.  Traditionally, Rakia is drunk with the first course of salad.  Its amazing how Ivan manages to keep his salad in front of him all day
 The new gazebo
......and not sure if it was lamb or goat but it was good.

Now boys will be boys and at this point I have added a video of Chris Fox and Warren Sharpe trying to hit a water tank with one of Ivan's home made cannons using some gun powder he just happened to have lying around.


On the 6th of May we were invited to Ivan's house for another meal.  Not sure what we were celebrating this time but I do remember sitting next to a Bulgarian gentleman who was constantly lighting up.  No I'm not one to fuss but WHILE I'M EATING!

We had been meaning to invite our lovely neighbours Radko and Pepa over for a meal.  They have been so generous feeding us traditional Bulgarian food (Pepa is a great cook and baker) so we 
decided to feed them some more western style food.  The table was set with my silver and crystal and we started the night with some sparkling wine.  The starter was a selection of salads that I had mostly grown which we had with the Rakia that Radko had made the previous year.  I had made Chicken breasts stuffed with peppers, mozerella and basil which I have cooked so many times before but I hadn't allowed for the Bulgarian custom of 'taking your time over the starter' and unfortunately the chicken was a bit dry.  Hands up but they were so polite that they eat everything. We finished with Creme Brulee, which even though Radko is a builder by trade, they do not use blow torches when they do plumbing so it was a bit of a novelty for them to use my cooks blow torch to finish the dish off.
 Pepa bemused
but Radko the Master.

In June we had our first little holiday in the camper van.  We did a circle of Bulgaria reaching both mountains and the Black sea coast.  First stop was a Lake called Batak
 The view from our pitch
Yes it drizzled a bit but we were in the mountains.

Next stop was nearer Plovdiv, the capital of Bulgaria. We didn't venture into Plovdiv because having accidentlly stayed in the centre of Budapest on our way over to Bulgaria, GJ seems reluctant to take the camper into a city again.

And relax!

Our billet for the night
We were given instructions to the nearest restaurant that night but we got a bit lost and decided to follow our ears and head towards the music we could hear.  We got to what was actually a house where clearly some sort of party was going on.  We tried to slip away but got caught by the obviously inebriated owner of the house (left of photo) who insisted we come up to his terrace and have a drink with them.  The music got louder and louder and other people started arriving so we managed to skulk away with a promise to return when we had eaten.  As an example of the party, see the next video.

We didn't actually find the restaurant but luckily, I had planned for such an event.  The campsite was really just somebody's back garden but it had all the facilities you could need (apart from catering) and it was spotless.  The neighbour's garden backed onto the campsite and I was admiring his chickens when he came out in his underpants and tried to sell me some eggs.

I quickly tried to explain that I had chickens of my own and kept my gaze fixed on the chickens before backing away!

The next day, we drove on to the Black Sea coast.  The drive up to Sozopol reminded us of Spain some 30 years ago, awash with new buildings but thankfully not high rise.  We stayed within a stones throw of the beach...... 

...which also looked a bit like Spain but unfortunately, we were not able to let Bracken onto the beach to have a splash about in the Sea.  It was officially just before the start of the season and people seemed to be setting up ready for the onslaught of customers including the restaurant that was literally within spitting distance of where we had parked up for the night.
 The view from our table once we had asked the waiter to take the brolly down.
It was so new, our first choice of food was not available.  I was dying for some seafood because we don't get any inland so I ordered seafood linguini which was actually a few muscles and some 'seafood sticks'.  Graham wanted a Pizza but they hadn't charged up the Pizza oven yet so he chose a pasta dish as well. Er hum.  The starter however (which in Bulgaria comes with the main course) was Calamari which could so easily have gone wrong, but it was great.

While we were away, we were invited to an Ex-pats 60th birthday party.  Forgot to take my camera so no pictures.  Dougie's partner Shirl (who was on pictures earlier on) did us a spread and we consumed the usual beverages, well it would be rude not to.  I was stuck for a present so took them a selection of what was growing in my garden at the time.


June came and we were busy tidying things up at the homestead to welcome our first guests.  Helen (who was a colleague of mine when I worked in the UK) was bringing her children and partner for a four night stay in Plovdiv and then two nights with us.  It was great to see them and catch up on all the old office gossip.  Scott and Roman had to sleep in the camper van because we only have the one guest bedroom but I'm sure they coped.  A great time was had by all, splashing in the pool in the afternoon and a barbeque at night.  The following day we planned to go into VT to show them the sights but alas we had a downpour of rain.  We still went into VT but hopped from one umbrella to another.
 Isla, Helen, Scott and Roman
Choosing lunch
I had a great idea that Roman and Isla could name my newest red chickens.  I had taught them to feed sitting on my knee so they happily obliged for the children.  They loved the chickens and named one Gabby and the other Rosie. Scott decided that the cockerel should be called Arnie after Arnold Shwartzanegger due to the size of his drumsticks.  It was sad to see them go but I'm sure they had a good time.


On 30th June, we had been to our local bar and when we returned there were two little kittens just inside our gate.  Of course I was all for taking them in but GJ's sensible head said, no wait until the morning in case mother is around.  Next morning I was all over the garden looking for them to no avail.  So we decided to take Bracken out for his morning constitutional and we heard these little squeaking sounds.  Turned around and there was this little bundle of ginger fur.  There was no sign of the little black one we had seen the night before but I couldn't leave her out in the sun so decided to adopt her.

She weighed less than 500 grams and we estimated that she was at most 4 weeks old and should really still be with her mother.  It's quite common here to drop kittens or puppies off in an English peoples garden.  The Bulgarians know we are suckers but they cannot afford to pay for their animals to be spayed or neutered so it is a big problem.  Squeak (so named because that's all she could do at the beginning and we didn't know if she was a male or female at the time) grew steadily but we were told by the vet that he couldn't vaccinate until she was over 1kg.  By July 30th she had reached 1025 grams but suddenly became quite lethargic.  We were just about to go out for the evening and she vomited up something that was moving - Worms.  We took her sharpish to the vet who confirmed it and that she had lost a bit of weight.  We gave her some worming cream that was squirted into her mouth so she couldn't spit it out and after 3 sessions of this, she was back to normal. Bless her.
Once she had got over 1kg again she went back to the vet for her vaccinations.  He informed us that she would not need to be spayed until she has had her first season, which he assures us would be at 4 months but as we will be in the throws of winter then, it probably won't be til spring.  I wish I had his confidence,  she spends all her time outside in the summer kitchen and I know (CCTV) that she has other cats visiting already.  Watch this space!

July is Rakia making time.  GJ was taken out by Radko and his mate to find the best plums for this years brew.  They hunted high and low until they came across the best ones.  GJ has his uses, he brought along with him a big lopper so as to make it easy to shake the branches. Radko thought it was marvelous because his piece's of T&G was a little short.
 Radko mooving the cows along!

Finally found what they were looking for and this was just a small amount
 Radko's mate picking some of the twigs and leaves out
Back home and Radko crushes the plums into a barrel 
Sugar added and left like this for a week with one stir a day and then another week without stirring.
On the 30th, Radko had sorted an appointment for both his own and GJ's plums to go to the still.  We knew it was going to be a long night so as Stewart was away, I went around to Barbara's house for some supper (very nice too) and a little vino, whilst GJ and Radko did their stuff.  10:45pm before he picked me up!
 Off we go then
 The still - note the TV on in the background.  If ever there is a TV in Bulgaria, its always on.
We've done it.
The following evening, Radko came around to put some Mulberry bark into the container with the  Rakia and at this point it was measured for the alcohol content. If I remember correctly it was about 55%.  The Rakia was then left for another two weeks before another visit from Radko and his son to add the distilled water to bring it down to approximately 43%

When Pippa arrives next month, we intend to try it out on her because we just know what a seasoned drinker of Rakia she is!


Our second visitor of the year was an old friend called Pippa and her lovely daughter Zoe.  They arrived for the last two nights of their epic Bulgarian 3 week holiday.  This time the weather was better for us and we managed to do the sightseeing trip to VT with them.  Finally we got to see Tsaravets, the old fortress that sits on the hill overlooking Veliko Tarnovo.

 Guess who's got the camera
My dainty figure is well hidden there by Zoe!

We talked and talked and drank a little til the early hours, it was great fun to catch up and hopefully one day we will go over to Pomporovo (Bulgarian Ski Resort) and visit when she is there managing her apartments.  No that's not a hint Pippa, just an acknowledgement of your invitation! Oh and by the way, she loved the Rakia so much so that she took some away with her.  Still GJ, only another 13 litres to go!

I was invited around to Barbara's house to help her with wood roasting her peppers in August.  That was a very hot job on a very hot day
 Just a fraction of the amount we finally roasted
Barbara in charge of the prodder!
All in all, we got a good deal of packets made up for our freezers, what with those and the never ending courgettes and tomatoes, My freezers are full to bursting.  Traditionally the Bulgarians bottle everything in either brine or vinegar because not everyone has a freezer but most houses have a cold room or cellar that you will find shelves stacked to the brim with bottled produce.

Our friend Stewart had his 60th birthday on the 28th.  Barbara and I trekked through VT looking for some little suprise presents for him, such an arduous task that we had to take in lunch as well.  Finally presents sorted it was invitations to his friends in Hotnitsa to join him for a drink at one of the bars in the village. a fun night was had by all and Stewart was given a cake to share out and a bottle of Rakia that GJ had produced, to toast him with.  GJ made up a label for the bottle which congratulated Stewart on being 60 years young and he even cheekily put on a warning about too much alcohol consumption (as a joke). Stewart is very much a Scotsman and he would never over indulge in anything - other than cake maybe!

 I think we were possibly singing to him at this point.
A good night was had by all, thanks Stewart.

And now for some random pictures:


The growing up process
 A way of using up courgette glut - dog biscuits

 We were shown a new place to swim - and retrieve

Did I do good Dad!

Food in house and out
 Steak and Mushroom Pie celebrating my pastry making skills
 You see GJ can cook too!
 A double yoker from one of my girls
 More pastry skills - think this was chicken and veg

 Gaspacho soup made with the first of the tomatoes and cucumbers, oh and basil

 Another way to use up courgettes - In a martini!
 Sometimes,  only a pink gin will do

 Best french bread to date
 I asked for two racks of ribs and got all this from them, think my butchery is coming on!
 Face to face - Hens egg vs Duck egg!
 Duck egg was possibly a bit richer but you're hard pushed to beat my girls!
 Barbara saying oh noooo, don't take that!
And Maria certainly wasn't ready for this!

Arbanasi day out

These two hand painted gourds cost me 50 leva (£25) which gives me an idea.....

 The productive patch
 Some of mine, Barbara's and Warren's Jams
 ...and they just keep coming
...... and coming
 ....and coming
 ....and coming
 Home made chilli tomato sauce
 ... and coming
 Pickled cucmbers
 Courgette and Lemon cake
 The seed packet said butternut squash
 Beets for winter
 Carrots for winter
 You know those expensive hand painted gourds.........
 Start of a wicker fence - new skills
 Dried Lemon and Nastursium petals, both crushed and nice added to a dressing
 Pickled spiced courgette
More Peas
Other randoms:
 Before Squeak arrived this was a nightly visitor to our summer kitchen
 Sleepy little Bulgarian village.....
 ......with a motor dealer with expensive taste - you just never know whats round the corner
 ... to more practical horsepower
 Again in the middle of nowhere, a breakers yard
 The old part of VT

 The river at Resen and Warren and Sylvi who showed us the route with Pudding and Cherry

Well thank goodness that's over.  I hope somebody reads it but if not, at least I can look back.
Stay well
H, GJ and Bracken and now Squeak but not the hens - they can't write yet!