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Friday, 25 October 2013

Building has started!

Well, the builders arrived at about 5.30 to drop some stuff off for an early start the next day....and filled the cellar. I thought they were only bringing cement and stuff, but they brought all their builder's tool as well. Took them ages to unload and there was even more the next morning! But we are now on the way to getting some internal stairs at last.

Dave has put the spoils of the footings dig to good use. He has put in a path to the compost heap (and to the back of the new chicken pen, to be built) with the concrete rubbish, and has renewed the top of the chicken run with the soil, so they are very happy!

Now that the teenage chicks are integrated into the adult flock, though they still go to bed in the nursery, the smallest chicks are now out every day in the ark with the door ajar. We have had to raise the base so that the smalls can escape the teenagers who take every opportunity to have a go at any poor soul who gets caught inside. Although they all roost together at night, it's all out war otherwise. The adults are not too bothered now and have given up on the teenagers, rarely bothering to have a go at the babies either. Bella is still very anxious when the babies get upset, but is not bothered about the teenagers now. We are working on switching the heat lamp off at night now they are all roosting away from it. They are, however, spurning both the specially made perch and the walnut branch in the pens. I would rather they stay in their own sides but it may be that we will have to let them all together as they should get on in the dark and hopefully they can all be friends by the time the weather changes. The babies are growing so fast now, the outside life is suiting them and we are hoping the long range forecast is right and we have another couple of weeks of sunny weather to come. Their feathers are looking good, a couple being quite pale grey, and they are getting their fluffy bottoms.
The little ones decided a good safe place for a rest was in one of the out buildings. They easily get through the fence.
Meanwhile the teenagers are in the spot reserved for big chooks waiting for treats from the kitchen door. I just love the way they all end up in piles.
Baby chicks happy in the main run.

We have been spending the time while the builders are here busy being creative. We started to make Christmas cards, an old hobby I have not indulged in much in the last couple of years. Dave thinks it's a race to see how many we can do, but I like mine pretty detailed. Dave has also started a new painting, this time native wildlife, a hoopoe which hovers around the garden and lane. And of course, Dave being Dave he is finding physical jobs which need doing, like the path and sweeping leaves.....handy things those old duvet covers!

We had another stranger in the sky in the shape of a microlight come over the village. With the primitive feeling here in this rural village it seems out of place to see one of these.
Autumn is continuing to show lovely colours and bare trees. We can now see our English neighbours' house.
Had a lovely tea tonight. We are trying to have walnuts a couple of times a week and today it was something I made once before when I couldn't decide what to have. This time we both had it. Very simply it was half a red onion and a couple of cloves of garlic sweated in plenty of olive oil, juice and zest of half a lemon, chervil and parsley, salt and pepper and a couple of handsfull of toasted and finely chopped walnuts. All mixed into some spaghetti and scattered with Parmesan style cheese. With home made garlic bread. Yum yum!

We had our veg at lunch time, honest. We are still trying to make a dent in the cabbages....

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Feeling a bit peeved......

We have been waiting so long for the builder to start work on the stair extension. We were happy to ask him to do the job as he has great reviews, and though he lives away, he does quite a lot in the area. We went to see some of the jobs he had done, then he came here and made suggestions. It was agreed that he could start in September when his current job was finished. Then it was put back, then again. Then he was supposed to start today and hasn't turned up. Getting worried!

We had a bit of a drama yesterday. We had been having nasty niffs upstairs in the bathrooms. Occasionally it has been because something has died in the space between floor and ceiling, a smelly reminder to put up with scuffling rather than use poison (which I hate anyway) But on Sunday the smell was in the garden too so we came to the conclusion that the tank might need emptying. Dave went to see Venka and it was arranged that Jordan would take Dave to the village hall to arrange emptying. Everyone was very worried that it would cost a lot as our's would be the only one and we should wait. But although it didn't look too full, maybe six years just sitting there had done it no good. So it was arranged that they would go back later to find out when it could be done, and then they had to go down and meet the wagon to show it the way! So, although it wasn't very full, it was all done and dusted before 4pm, thanks once again to our lovely neighbours, who also keep an eye on what they are charging. It was much less than we feared and already things are smelling better!

It seems Angel will be back from Italy in three weeks. He will plough our land as soon as he can. I just hope it is not too wet by then to get the onions and garlic in. It is far too much to dig from scratch but we are hoping that once it has been ploughed we can level areas and make paths so that in future we can do any cultivating in sections as they become available rather than having to plough everything. We'll see. We are told he will be removing the machine, whatever it is, from the garage, but I'm not sure we will get our car in it. We would like to as there is the danger it will freeze in winter as we rarely use it.

Today we had a visit from the man who gave us the chickens. He had asked Dave to paint a picture of their do for a surprise gift for his wife. It seems his wife accidentally saw a picture of the painting on his computer so the cat was out of the bag! He kindly called in to cash and carry for glace cherries, icing sugar, a whole brie and tome taters. He seemed delighted with the painting and paid more than he was asked for. He went off happy with his picture and four rhubarb plants, and was delighted to meet his rooster for next year, boy teenager chick. It was a six hour round trip! Bless him. So lovely to have a visitor and chinwag.

All the chicks are spending their days out in the run. Big chicks are managing to cope with the occasional attack from the adults, and baby chicks have the mini run as a bolt hole. There is only really a problem when they get split from each other, though we try to keep big chicks out of baby run as they get them cornered and let them know they are their superiors! Little chicks are looking tatty and not at all pretty at the moment. All very complicated.
Big chicks checking out the adult quarters. It will be a while before they are in here.
 Little chicks looking...well...little

We had a strange happening on Sunday too. Dave was out watching the chooks and saw lots of white stuff floating around in the sky. Eventually some dropped by him and he found it was a big clump of spider silk with a baby spider attached. Really weird. On speaking to our visitor today it gets worse later. We will see.

We have also had an increase in ladybirds who crash into you rather than just landing. They were having a go at Dave while he was up the ladder painting the window frame. They seem to bite for the hell of it.

We hope we have seen the last of the walnuts now. We are at the stage when we are shelling them and freezing them for any wild birds in winter, save us finding peanuts for them. Bella and Bonnie are both walnut thieves, a bit worrying as the shells can be so sharp. Bella would like her's shelled please!
I have made some quince and pear jelly and also a spiced batch. I ran out of jars so was using whatever I could find. We gave Venka and the quince lady a slab of chocolate and beetroot cake, which confused things a bit. Venka then sent us a jar of quince jam and another big jar of mixed veg!

We also had a quince tarte tartin which was delicious. I would like to thank Maykal in Romania for suggesting it. This is how I made it, but you could use any hard fruit.

I had some home made puff pastry to hand but a good shop bought one would do and if I could get it I would use it!

I poached thick slices of quince as I wasn't sure how long it would take to cook. I used a tablespoon of sugar and a splash of water with half a teaspoon of cinnamon and poached till tender, then left the fruit in the syrup to cool. I then removed the fruit, added another couple of tablespoons of sugar and boiled till it went a rich caramel colour. Take it off the heat and (carefully) arrange the fruit in the hot caramel. Leave to cool, cover with a layer of pastry and bake for half an hour at 180c. I do the whole lot in a small frying pan but sit it on a tray in case of bubble oever.

Put a plate over the top and turn the whole lot over. Be careful as it is extremely hot but if you leave it too long it will set in the pan.
Also this is a link to a really lovely Beetroot cake. We don't go for the pink icing, but a layer of cherry jam or similar in the middle and chocolate ganache in the middle and on top. I can't get cream here to make ganache so use a dark chocolate buttercream made with scalded cocoa.

I make it, as all my cakes, in a large roaster and freeze half. It freezes really well. If I am giving it away I will use half as much mixture again to make it deeper.

Friday, 18 October 2013

You live and learn......

The last five months have been a huge learning curve, with things here being done so much differently than we are used to. Today was one of the days when I look back at the last few weeks of worrying (about the walnut harvest) and finding out I have wasted my time! I worried and read up about how to tell if the walnuts were ready. Worried about all the black and wormy ones, thinking we had a real problem with them. Worried that throwing a stick to make them drop was a dangerous thing to do for the odd bowlful of useable nuts. After last night I am now worrying about what I am going to do with all the flipping walnuts that have dropped when I thought the few kilos I have in the freezer are enough! We have eaten them all ways now. When we first started to pick them and they were soft and low in tannin they were extremely moreish raw. We have had them candied and spiceed as snacks. In cake and bread, baklava and pasta. With cheese, given some to hens (the browner ones and those with residents) and trodden on them to crush them for wildlife. There are still plenty for them over winter, and I have a feeling the buckets I have picked up the last couple of days will be shelled for the birds in winter. Next year I will be patient and wait for them to drop on their own!

I hope we do get some birds in winter! At the moment all we see are a few tree sparrows and the odd flock of starlings flying over, the woodpecker, occasional jay and magpie. I have to admit I miss my favourite song birds. The blackbird and robin take some beating, but we don't seem to have them here.

The leaves are falling now. It is a beautiful mild day today but breezy. Dave has put his pool away and is missing it. Most people have had their plots ploughed but we are behind. We thought Angel would be doing it but he and Peppa are still in Italy picking grapes. Their son is being looked after by Venka in VT so we have seen nothing much of her to ask, just see her rushing up and down at the weekends. We need to get onions and garlic in before the end of next month.

We have acquired some chain link fencing so Dave is busy erecting that so that the village dogs cannot get in through the neighbour's garden. He has brought it in a few feet from the old broken down wall as a good thicket of rhus grows there in summer giving us plenty of privacy then. All that needs doing is the broken down wall between us and Venka and Jordan, to stop their dogs coming in and our's going out. I have to say I am quite impressed with our two. Bella has had a little foray into the thicket as Dave is doing the fence, but apart from that they are very good and just hang out while we are out in the garden.
We also have two proper compost heaps going. One should be ready early spring and the other will go into the bean trenches a bit later. They have shrunk down well and are covered with pool covers which have a good amount of holes to let some rain in, but also keep the heat in but let air circulate.

We are having a visitor over the weekend. He is coming over the mountains to pick up a painting of his dog Dave hasdone for his wife's Christmas present. While he is here he can collect the rhubarb I have grown for him, but the blue Shumen cockerel chick will probably stay here for the winter till he sorts out his flock. His young ones are growing on for the freezer. Our lad will be going to inject fresh blood into the flock.

The big chicks are still having to use their bolt hole. Although they get the odd peck from the girls, Sevi sometimes has a real go, then at others just leaves them alone. There tends to be a bit of a panic when one gets caught out and can't find the hole, but so far no harm done. Cagney, on the other hand, looks a bit plucked around the neck, but still not sure if that is abuse or just a partial moult though new feathers are coming through. Lacey might be going the same way. There are a lot of feathers in the hen house, the majority of them black as the Shumen hens will be moulting properly being older, but also a lot of red ones.

One of the mini cockerel chicks has decided he likes to roost with the big ones at night. He is only three weeks old here and looks tiny behind the others. There are lots of natural and timber roosting places, but they have all decided here is best. Poor Solo usually ends up falling off on the wrong side and will wait to be picked up and placed with the others.

Dave has just been called over by the neighbour behind us. She has given him a load more quince and some windfall pears. The pears are very hard and green still but go a lovely yellowy blush colour when ripe. Unfortunately they don't taste great, I will probably bottle some and freeze some.

Looks as if the preserving is not over yet!
Recipe for low fat cake. Good with butter on I should imagine, but luckily I can't get decent butter so do without!

Cheese and walnut bread.

500g strong flour, I use half white, half wholegrain.

7g sachet instant yeast

heaped teaspoon salt

325ml tepid water

75g coarse grated strong cheese

100g roughly chopped walnuts

Mix everything except cheese and walnuts together and knead well for 5-10 minutes till smoothe and elastic (or 5 minutes in a mixer with dough hook)

Leave to rise, covered, till doubled in size. It can take a while in a cool room. Knock back and add cheese and walnuts, knead in and split loaf into two cobs. Leave till almost doubled again. Bake at 180 for about twenty minutes.

Eat! Yum. If you like you can add a little honey at the beginning.


Sunday, 13 October 2013

They keep switching us off!

Well, the internet is down again, so might as well update the blog. We are starting to get fed up now. We have cable internet and apparently it should have good connections unless there are any major works happening. But it goes off for a period most days now. It used to be very good until we had a few stormy days a month or so ago and since then we have had problems. Not just us, others too. And we are paying top whack. We will have to investigate. It is amazing how cut off you feel if you have no way of contacting the outside world. Considering I was brought up without a telephone, and the first years of (first) married life we didn’t have one, even though we lived in a remote village in N Wales, I really feel it now.

The water was only off for one day after all. It really did not make any difference to us, except I forgot at bed time when it came to washing and teeth!

Autumn has come to the village, despite the heat, with the trees around the church and springs turning the most incredible yellow. I can’t decide on a photo so will put a few on.

 Guardian of the springs

People have been complaining of a plague of ladybirds. We haven’t had that many, but more than usual. So far five different colourways have visited our landing window. We have black spots on red, orange with loads of spots, darker orange with less spots, bright yellow with masses of spots, and black with orange spots and white cheeks.Although they will bite, they make a nice change from the wasps, which have become very sluggish and touch wood, fewer. The grasshoppers and crickets have re-appeared, much to Bella’s delight. And on the subject of insects, these bad boys have been coming into the house. They are about an inch long.

The big chicks have been allowed some time in the big run, after shutting the adults away. Only the blue ones have ventured far. The boy is proving to bereally feisty! I think he might be going to Barry in Plovdiv in spring, though we wanted to keep him as he is not related to Sevi. We will see how he turns out.

We had a poorly rat in the run this morning. They are pretty little things, not at all like the ugly great things we used to have around the stables. He wasn't poorly long. 
We ordered some seed from a UK firm a couple of weeks ago as we have some money in PayPal to use up. They arrived within ten days at very reasonable cost considering the charges we have been quoted from other sellers. So a big thank you to vegetableseeds who also sent two extra packs free. Unfortunately they were for tomatoes (and regular readers will know how I feel about them right now!) and sunflowers, massive fields of which surround us in this large sunflower oil producing country. Never mind it was a nice gesture. 

A neighbour has expressed an interest in buying fresh veg from us once we get going, I think she has designs on my purple sprouting broccoli! I think there may be an opening to make a few pennies with British favourite veg if I can persuade them to grow. I have parsnips, swede, sprouts and lots of psb for next year, as well as French and runner beans and peas. The frozen peas in the supermarkets are like bullets, and stay that was however long you boil them. I notice there are some in the bottled mixed veg Venka gave us recently, so they would need to be pretty hardy to cope with that.

Off to plant some anemones for spring now. We know there are daff and tulip bulbs in the wall border, but have no idea if they flower. We will wait and see as daff bulbs tend to be a bit expensive. But I have two types of the anemones, the tall ones for cutting and the small daisy type for naturalising. We hope to get some more roses as they do so well here, they are still flowering well at the moment. The rest of the flowers will be the cottage garden varieties which seem to do quite well. And we will get some cannas too.....oh dear, I must stop!

NEXT DAY.........

And today the electricity has been off all morning so no internet either. Electricity now on at 11.30 but no internet! Grrr....on a Sunday too, family chat day. Lucky for us it came on last night just in time to set the recorder for Strictly and Casualty. We managed to watch Casualty before seven this morning. As it is also dark and raining, too dark for Dave to do any painting, we have been playing cards outside where the light is better, and watching dogs and chickens. Lucky we have the camping gas ring so coffee not a problem.......and now it’s off again!

We managed to get some nice apples from a tree in our English neighbours’ garden yesterday. So then I had to cook the ones with wrigglers in, so an upside-down apple cake made an appearance. I shall be going out for a couple of quince to add to some to make mint jelly when the rain stops. They are lovely apples but they say we can have them as they don’t go down that end of the garden. (Venka uses it)

The chickens have been allowed more of the garden. We have no problem with the dogs and chickens....Cheran, one of the Shumen hens, has put Bella in her place when she got a bit close for comfort....but for one thing. The dogs follow the chooks who are very generous with their poo. They are totally disgusting and then insist on coming to tell you all about the tasty morsels, makes me heave! But the chooks are enjoying hunting for crickets and grasshoppers, there are not many who venture into the wasteland which is the normal chicken run.

We are still getting walnuts, but as with everything else this year there are too many for us to use. Venka has had a couple of buckets full from us, but I still can’t get over the waste when I see stuff lying on the ground. Time to search the internet for more idea, when I can get back on for more than a few minutes.

After a whole afternoon in the dark we seem to be back on now, fingers crossed.

Recipe for the apple cake.

Put three tablespoons of sugar in a pan with a splash of water over a medium heat. Boil till you have a caramel colour and tip into a greased cake tin. Alternatively you can do this in an oven safe frying pan, but take it off the heat and dip the bottom of the pan in cold water to stop the cooking.

Peel, core and cut into eight enough apples to cover the caramel.

Make a sponge by creaming 4oz butter or spread and 4oz light brown sugar,

Add two eggs, one at a time.

Fold in 4oz self raising flour and half a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Pour over the apples, place pan or cake tin on a tray in case it bubbles over, and bake for about 20 minutes at 180c 350f gas4.