Saturday, 27 July 2013

Kitchen Duties

Cooler Start Today
Today started off a little bit cooler, and at times it was quite overcast. So it was decided that it was high time that a lot of the produce out of the garden ought to be sorted out ready for later in the year. Yesterday we had also been round the fruit and veg market in Gorna Oriahovitsa, getting other bits and pieces. So while Net was sorting bits and pieces out, I was going round doing the housework. Now I still might not be qualified to drive the washing machine, but at least I can hang the washing out on the line, push a broom round and wield a mop and bucket. The Royal Navy's school of cleaning has stood me in good stead for these kinds of situations.

Today has also been one of various trials and tribulations. Last night we noticed a problem with the satellite system, the picture would freeze periodically and there was no sound at all. So today armed with my client number I phoned them up to try a find a solution. I dialled the number and went through the normal press 1 for English etc. When I had finished pressing buttons, to narrow down the selection, I finally got to speak to someone. Could they speak English, no. My Bulgarian is nowhere near good enough to even begin to try and explain the problem. Eventually I was put through to an English speaker, who decided that I needed to speak to their technical people. So I get put through to them and because I didn't speak enough Bulgarian they hung up on me. Five times this happened, and to say that I was not happy would be a slight understatement. To think that this is a service that we are paying for, maybe when I pay the bill next week I might be tempted to mention my level of satisfaction. In the end we solved the problem ourselves so who needs them anyway.

Whenever fruit and vegetables are prepared, there are always plenty of trimmings and off cuts. At this time of year we don't really want them hanging about in the kitchen bin. So we placed them all in a bag, which I disposed of in the wheelie bin outside. Half an hour later there was more to get rid off, so I took that out as well. In the space of that half an hour the skip divers had been and had a rummage through our bin. Now I wouldn't mind too much if they actually put stuff that they had taken out instead of leaving it dumped beside the wheelie bin for the wildlife to play with. If it continues anymore I shall have to resort to my idea which cured it last time, I shall deposit my patrol bag in there after cleaning up from the three dogs. That will give them a 'nice' surprise.

Chutnies, Relishes, Jams and Salsas 
As previously mentioned today was a kitchen day, and that also included me helping. Salsas have been made, as has Mango Chutney and Courgette Relish. Net had a slight problem with the chillies. The oil that they produce got on her hands, and was getting hotter and hotter. Now normally gloves would have been worn, but we forgot to pick some up yesterday. So it was a case of trying to look up how to take the burning sensation away, while making sure that nothing caught as they were cooked up. I was amazed at the number of 'cures' that the internet throws up. Even my immediate answers came up. So there was Net's hand thrust into a pot of yoghurt. We didn't have any natural yoghurt, so it was a peach one. That didn't work, and neither did milk. Other cures involved salt, sugar, slices of cucumber, olive oil and vodka. They were all about as much use as each other, or as is commonly known bugger all use. Maybe the combination of trial and error eventually helped, or it might have been Net having her hands in the pool for ten minutes at a time.

Sausage Rolls
My job today, or one of them, was the sausage rolls. Now I realise that the picture shows that I might not have made very many. However, these are the ones that I didn't actually eat ...... yet. I don't know what it is about sausage rolls, but there seems to be an unwritten law that you have to start eating them as soon as they come out of the oven. Even though I am not totally helpless in the kitchen, Net seems to think that I surround myself with chaos. Just because it looked as though I had gone three rounds with the Pillsbury Dough Boy, and I had won as I had knocked the stuffing out of him. It was quite surprising where flour hadn't managed to end up. Other pastry items included three apple pies. For some strange reason I didn't really feel much like my tea tonight. Maybe there wasn't much room amongst the sausage rolls, apple pie and cream.

Even though the day started cooler, the heat didn't take too long to start building. It must have been shortly after we had actually started cooking. So we had the heat from outside added to the heat in the kitchen. Hardly surprising that we ended up feeling quite so knackered. I am quite pleased that we did it today though, as looking at the forecast it is going to be getting maybe a little bit warmer. Thank heavens for the pool, as I imagine that we will be in and out as often as a fiddler's elbow.

The kitchen is now back to normal, and there is no longer any sign that I might have been a little heavy handed with the flour. The rubbish is still in the wheelie bin outside, and the satellite system is still working. Best of all, Net's hands have stopped tingling from the chilli oil. The sausage rolls are most definitely edible, and the apple pies are disappearing, maybe my waistline will soon be increasing. I wonder where I can buy some Ex-Pando trousers.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Next Stop .......... Pleven

As things have been fairly busy here recently, when we were invited out for a day trip we jumped at the chance. Especially when it was to a city that we had never been to before. Yesterday was spent gardening and cutting the grass, mainly so that we didn't feel guilty today. So this morning we left home and went over to see that very nice Mrs M. You will understand why I think that she is such a wonderful person when I tell you that we had coffee and home made fruit cake as soon as we got there. As soon as we were ready it was time to head off to Pleven.

As usual whenever we head for somewhere different I take my camera with me. The journey from Mrs M's is a lot shorter than it would be going direct from here. As it wasn't me doing the driving it gave me the opportunity to take in the surroundings. One of the things that immeadiately struck me was that the roads are in much better condition than they are round our way, and they have possibly more heavy lorries on the road. Not long after we passed a small airport we arrived in Pleven itself. The first order of the day was to find somewhere to park, which actually proved easier than any of us imagined.

The next priority was to get something to drink, as it was getting a bit warm. We used a cafe attatched to the Hotel Rostov, two of us were quite happy with our cokes with ice and slice, but Net's Cappucino was a bit of a disappointment. It was one of those strange packet concoctions. Once suitably refreshed it was time to take a slow wander wherever our feet fancied taking us. Many who live out here now will agree that the pace of life is so much slower, but one good thing with it being that much slower is that you do get to notice so much more. You also do not get bumped and jostled, and people do not seem to be stuck in their own little bubbles.

Just at the end of some of the main streets, right next to one of the main shopping malls, there is a very nicely laid out park. There were wide paths to stroll along, plenty of trees to provide shade, there are plenty of fountains providing that beautiful sound of running water. Best of all there are plenty of places to sit and relax, and watch the world go by as we let our lunches digest. Another thing that I noticed was that there wasn't any rubbish littering the area, and as a city it doesn't have that grubby, down at heel look that so many seem to have. Whilst there I did hear my first siren in a long while, now as to whether it was the Police, an Ambulance or a Fire Engine I couldn't say, but it did seem to reaffirm our sound reasons for not wanting to live in a city.

There is much to be said for slowly sauntering round, while eating tubs of ice cream. For any ice cream afficionados out there, I would like to suggest that both the Raffy Lemon and Strawberry flavours are worth more than a taste this season. The Bubblegum flavour was a bit of a disappointment though, even though I did manage to finish it. Holding a tub of ice cream does not make it easy to photograph things though. I am guessing that Pleven was somewhere of military importance of there were plenty of old cannon, and what seemed to be war memorials dotted about.

My abiding memory will be fountains though, as there certainly seemed to be plenty. They have so many there that they don't even have them all running. The empty ones looking like something that has been cobbled together from a WWI submarine. It does pay to keep your eyes open when you are visiting a strange city as there is no telling what you might spot. Don't just look in front of you, but up, down and side to side. It was whilst looking up that I noticed what seem to be dragon heads. They immediately made me think of Viking Longships, but I don't know if the Vikings ever made it down to this part of the world. There were a crowd of people stood around under the shade of conker trees watching a couple of games of chess unfold. I wonder if they would have been so interested if they had been playing that well known spectator sport of Uckers. There were also plenty of statues dotted around. Considering that it was a work day there were still plenty of people out enjoying the sunshine.

All too soon our visit had to end, but Net did manage to find an art shop and so she was able to replenish some much needed art supplies. The next task that we had to tackle was how to get back out of the city centre. Even that seemed to be problem free, well ok there might have been a bit of guesswork involved. Soon we were recognising some of the things that Mrs M had pointed out on the way in. Our day was not quite over, as once we had got back to Mrs M's we went over the road to visit her lovely neighbour Lily. As luck would have it, her son Ivan was also there. Despite Lily not knowing that her son was going to be visiting, or that we would be dropping in from across the road the previous evening Lily had baked a cake. Now that is what I call a successful day, very good company, two different cakes, ice cream, visiting somewhere different and people watching.

Would we go back and see more of Pleven? Yes please



Saturday, 13 July 2013

When Ladybirds Attack

Some of you might remember a statement that I made a few posts ago. The one about how the insects in your garden if not trying to eat your plants will be trying to eat you. So there I was out cutting the grass when all of a sudden I felt something bite me on the shoulder. The only thing there was a Ladybird. It turns out that these little buggers do actually bite. I have noticed that there seems to be a lot of them this year, and on checking the roses, there doesn't seem to be that many aphids about. So maybe either these ladybird needs to go to Specsavers, or I have started to look like a great big greenfly. I am hoping that it is the first of these options, otherwise I might have a few snags that I was otherwise unaware of.

Wasp Spider
As you might imagine there are all manner of insects lurking in the average Bulgarian garden. Some look quite scarey, but these are the peaceful ones. It is the ordainary looking ones that often trying biting lumps out of you. There is a fly , that seems immune to all known fly sprays,whose sole purpose on Earth is to bite people. The closest that I have come to it before now was something called the Blandford Fly. To try and control these bugs and beasties we have got a couple of things from the Agro Apteka. Firstly we got something called Fedona, which can be liberally sprayed round. It is recommended by the World Health Organisation, and is often used out in Africa. A small vial is mixed with 6 litres of water, and that will last you all through the summer. It is also pet friendly, although I am not sure about using it round chickens and such like. We have also got something similar, called Icon 10 which is meant to control the Mozzies.

Then there are the Grasshoppers. These also bite, but luckily we have cats who like hunting them and then eating them. It is not unusual to find bits of Grasshopper leg on the step by the back door. I am guessing that there is not a great deal of meat on the legs, unlike a chicken drumstick. Occasionally we also get Praying Mantises in the garden, but I have only seen male ones so far this year, and not the larger females.

The Fireflies have either disappeared or their batteries have run out as I don't notice them flitting round the garden of an evening now. I am expecting the big Hawk Moths to arrive soon, although as I remember there were not that many about last year. These are something else that the cats love to chase, but unfortunately they damage some of the plants as the leap around trying to catch these large moths.

Some of the larger beetles are already out and about. There are Stag Beetles, which many in the UK will be familiar with. There are also Rhino Beetles as well, unfortunetely I don't have any photos of a complete one as the cats seem to think that these form part of their diet, anyone would think that we don't feed them. Ignore what Mr Cat says, as he feels that he should live on a diet of Cheese, Ham, Chicken and Fish.
Poppy Spider?
Garden Spider
There are plenty of different species of Spider to be found over here. The good news, for those who are a bit worried about such things, is that they are not that big. Although if you do have a bit of a phobia, I am guessing that any spider can appear much larger than it really is.

Quite often you will find that people in the villages keep bees. It is often said that if you suffer with hay fever then if you take locally produced honey this helps to build up the bodies immunity. I know that Dencho, round the back of us, keeps bees as we keep fishing them out of the pool. The little sids are quite ungrateful, as a couple of times we have been stung by them. I can understand people keeping bees, as they are useful for the honey and the wax, and they also help to polinate the crops. With the number of wasps and hornets about, do people also keep these in hives? Last year our Boxer, Fenny, decided to sample a Hornet just to see what it tasted like. Half of his jowls swelled up, and he ended up looking like the Elephant Man's dog, he wasn't too bad after some anti histamine. Surprisingly he doesn't seem that keen on a repeat performance this year.

Jewel Bug?
So as you can see there are quite a few insects that inhabit the gardens, and there are still plenty that have yet to be photographed by me. This will also include the various different species of Ants. I have noticed that the smaller something is the worse it's bite seems to be. Whenever I am watering the garden of an evening, I often get bitten, but on looking there never appears to be anything there. maybe they are related to the famous North American Nosee'ums

Before I forget I would just like to welcome a couple of Ladies who are now officially following the blogs. So a very warm welcome to both Net and Chris. The good news is that there is still plenty of room should anyone else feel inclined to follow the blog.



Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Waterfall's Revenge

The Wall Was Drying Out
It must have been the back end of May when I reported that the cellar had a brand new water feature, a waterfall. Despite the fact that we both like waterfalls, indoors is not really the place for them. It was mainly caused by the sheer volume of rain that we had then, and the gutters not being able to cope. Using timber to try and improve the run of the guttering I had thought that the problem was largely solved. The wall was drying out quite nicely too.

As some of you will have noticed, and others may have read, we have recently been experiencing a little bit of rain. OK, it has been rain of Biblical proportions and possibly worthy of an Ark being built. It has been coming down like stair rods. With it there have been a few problems. Our pool is now so full that even an insect landing on the surface of the water is enough to cause it to overflow. We have had a small leak through the ceiling of the kitchen, a slightly bigger leak in the hallway caused by an overflowing gutter, and joy of joys that bloody waterfall came back into the cellar.

Not A Water Feature That We Would Recommend
Now not only does it look like a schoolboy has been seeing how high he can pee up the wall, but he has brought all of his classmates with him. It has been an on off battle trying to get this sorted out. I found an initial problem not long after we moved here, the waste pipe going out to the septic tank had been positioned so that it was trying to flow up hill. So I dug that up, lagged it and repositioned it. That seemed to cure the problem partially. We also had an apple tree round the back, and leaves, apples and twigs had filled the gutter causing it to overflow. Clearing the gutter on a more regular basis also helped, and then we noticed the tree was partially rotten, so it had to come down. One thing that I hadn't realised was that this apple tree was also taking care of fluid levels with our septic tank. I did a bit of research and it seems as though cherry trees are quite thirsty, but they don't have invasive roots. So we have planted three around the tank area, but they will take a while until they are as effective as the apple tree.

At least our problems are slight compared to some others. Some have their cellars flood as the water table rises, others have their own spring or river running through at certain times of the year. All problems can be overcome, supposedly. Most of ours has involved polythene sheeting. If you have ever seen inside a Bulgarian attic, you may wonder where the sarking felt is. They never used to use it, and none of the old roofing timbers are straight. Our roof timbers are all sound at the moment, so what we have done is tent the inside of the attic with polythene sheeting. The tails of the polythene go out over the eaves, so if any rain does get in under the tiles it can run straight back out again. The only problem with this is that strong wind can also get up under the eaves and pull some of the polythene sheeting down. Which is what happened to cause the leak in the kitchen area. The hallway problem has hopefully been rectified by changing the pitch on that run of guttering.

What Every House Needs, Running Water
So that brings us back to our cellar waterfall. We had tried putting in a path round the back of the house to shed water away from the wall. For a while it was successful, but let's face it the cement here is crap. It just doesn't seem to cope with the extremes of temperature. Also a word of warning, don't let the  local gypsies knock up your concrete mix, it is not very well mixed at all, so that will not help. So yesterday afternoon we had a slight seepage down the wall. Nothing that a mop couldn't sort out. The next rain we had caused the waterfall to get bigger. So I was outside round the back of the house playing in the rain and trying to divert the cascade from the guttering. Needless to say I got soaked. It probably didn't help with me striking a pose with every flash of lightning, just in case someone was doing a photo diary. As Sod's law dictates the rain eased up as soon as I got back indoors. I quickly stripped off and put all of my wet clothes in the washing machine, hoping that the rain had finished. No such luck, but Net went out playing in the rain the next time, as I was in my bath robe by then. Net managed to get soaked too, but the rain clouds seemed to be moving away.

The rain and thunderstorm started back about 11 last night, at that time the waterfall was not in evidence. I have got back into the habit of reading for a while before I go to sleep, and last night was no exception. Just after midnight I went back down to the cellar to check. Brilliant water all over the floor, and running down the wall. So there I was mopping the floor until gone 1 this morning. Net only woke up when I got back into bed, but at least the rain seemed to be easing. Just as I was nodding off the storm returned, so I get back up and check the cellar, everything looked OK. As we were both awake Net went and put the kettle on. With coffees made and the cellar looking ok I thought that I would give it half an hour and then recheck. You've guessed it the waterfall was back. So once again I am round the back of the house, wearing a bath robe, a pair of crocks and a head torch. I was getting a good soaking from the cascade, as I was prodding at the gutter with my length of timber, it was like something from a low budget remake of The Last Of The Bengal Lancers. Hopefully none of the neighbours were taking notes, none of the dogs fancied coming out and lending a paw. Once I was thoroughly soaked I managed to stop the water flowing down the cellar wall. We were cleaning down in the cellar until gone 3, and Net did a further check half an hour later.

Trench Warfare
This morning has seen us digging a trench and lining it with polythene sheeting. It might look a bit naff, but at the moment it is only temporary. We need to find out if we have dug the trench in the right place, or if we have to shift it left or right to catch the full cascade from the gutter. It does seem to run down towards the boundary wall ok, but I have found one place where I got carried away doing my Navvy impression, as it seems to be deeper there. So that will require building back up. Now we are waiting for the return of the storm, just to make sure that everything is doing what it is meant to be doing. One slight problem, there is never a torrential downpour when you want one. On the bright side, at least I have stopped sweating like the last chicken in Colonel Sanders' back garden. I can also feel the need for another coffee. There is no point getting upset by things such as these, as I have previously said others do have it much worse. It is frustrating without a doubt, but you just have to crack on and make the best of things. A full night's sleep would be quite nice though.  

The Navvys Have Been


Wednesday, 3 July 2013

It's Wednesday, It's Polski Trambesh Market

As some of you may, or may not, know Wednesday is market day is sunny Polski Trambesh. As markets go, this is one of the largest that is within a reasonable distance from us. There are plenty of other ExPats who also like to make use of the weekly markets here. As we do seem to meet them from all over when we have gone there ourselves. Normally our first port of call is the fruit and vegetable market. Much of it is so fresh that the sellers might well have picked it the previous evening. A lot of the produce is seasonal, so sometimes it is a case of buy it when you see it. You can always find something that you didn't realise that you needed at these places.

Today's bargain buy was Peaches, which have just come into season. This is a particularly happy event for me as it means one thing. Peach marmalade. Now if you have never tried this, you don't know what you are missing. Besides Marmite, this is what toast was made for. During the depths of winter, it really does help to remind me that soon the snow will be gone and the sun will be warming us again. Not all of the peaches will be used for making marmalade, as we did get some purely for the purpose of eating. If temptation gets too much for people I would like to remind them about the joys of wet wipes. The peaches are often so juicy that when you bite into them the juice will run down your arm and drip from your elbow. If you don't fancy bees, wasps ad flies plaguing you, then the wet wipes can be a real benefit.

The market at Polski Trambesh is divided into two halves, and it is the railway lines that are the dividing line. You can either use the underpass, or cross the rails themselves. If you cross above ground it is prudent to remember that it is a working railway and to keep a watchful eye out. Using the underpass, although nice and cool on a summer's day like today, can have it's own problems. Sometimes the smell of not very clean bodies can be quite potent. The good thing is that there is none of the usual hustle and bustle that those brought up in the UK would have expected. This is Bulgaria after all, and things are carried out at a much more leisurely pace.

So with the fruit and vegetables bought there is always time for a coffee. People often arrange to meet up on these occasions, and today was no exception. The Ladies had planned to go to lunch today, even some of us men were allowed to attend, and we didn't even have to wear a frock. So the coffee stop was an ideal place to exchange information on what bargains were to be found where. Also the logistics of providing directions and times to appear at the restaurant were also reiterated for those intending to attend. So with coffees drunk, and people aware of the plans for later it was time to make our way to the other side of the market.

We chose the fragrant path way of changing sides, and fortunately it wasn't too bad at all. It's a long way to hold your breath if you are going from one side to the other. For some reason it didn't seem quite so busy there this week, and it was possible to take your time without being jostled. Another good thing with Polski Trambesh is the cafes are great places to sit and people watch, especially the ones just off of the main square. The only problem with people watching is that you don't actually notice the time passing, and before we knew it, it was time to head down to the restaurant.

Some of the ladies, and some of the men, had already arrived by the time that we got there. Luckily Iskra had previously phoned the restaurant and let them know that there would be a larger than normal gathering of ExPats there for lunch. It gave them a chance to push tables together, sort out extra staff for a couple of hours and possibly get extra supplies in too. Whatever happened it all seemed to work very well. I think that I can safely say that everyone enjoyed their meals and various conversations that were ebbng and flowing round the tables. I was quite pleased with myself, as even though the menu was in English I managed to order my meal in Bulgarian. The best of it was that what I got served was actually what I hoped that I had ordered. So I can definitely recommend the chicken livers with onions and a side order of chips, if anyone ever finds themself at this restaurant.
As these things have a habit of doing, all too soon it was time to finish, as people started to drift off to go and attend to livestock. It still left about nine of us to go for a final coffee, just off of the main square. It made for a very pleasant Wednesday, good food, good company, good conversations and the sun shone. The good news is that hopefully it will not be too long until the next lunch date. So very many thanks to all who were able to make it, and looking forward to the next one already.