Monday, 22 February 2016

Liquid Goldish

There are some readers of the blog who actually know me, and some of those hardier souls will even admit to it. One thing that they all have in common, is that they will confirm that I have what is commonly known as a 'sweet tooth'. I do eat savoury stuff, and spicy things, but I have a weakness for sweet things. I know that these 'treats' are bad for me, but after so long it is probably too late to change the habit of a lifetime. Over here, in Bulgaria, you can get all sorts drenched in honey, much of it locally produced. The only problem I have with that is, despite my sweet tooth, I dislike honey. To me there seems to be no reason why I should eat something a Bee has sicked up, or that has come from it's backside.

The other day I was idly surfing the Internet, as you do on a wet and windy day, when I found an article a friend had posted up (thank you Hazel). It was how to make your own Golden Syrup. Now this is something that I have not had since moving here all of those years ago, and the recipe seemed easy enough to follow. So I thought that I would have a go. Today was the day. Thankfully my Mum brought us up well, and none of us boys are helpless in the kitchen. I have two brothers and a sister, and I am in the middle at №2. No laughing at the back. I can still remember the green tins in my Mum's cupboard. They seem easy enough to get in the UK, probably about £2 for a big tin. Here in Bulgaria they seem to be a bit of a rarity, or hellishly priced. I also thought that if my culinary skills failed me I could always use the resulting mixture as bait in my fly and wasp traps.

So once the housework was done, I began to get myself organised in the kitchen. Although I can cook, maybe I'm not the tidiest, but I am organised. With a shake of her head Net left me to it. Fortunately it has been a nice sunny day, so she was sat outside with her Kindle. She was close enough that if there were any major problems she could come to the rescue. I found the scales, and the sugar, we didn't have any Lemons, but I used pure Lemon juice instead. Part of the recipe called for  boiling water, so I boiled the kettle and the hot water went into a thermos flask. The recipe is basically done in two stages. So I had one stage on the left of the oven, and the other on the right, and even by that stage I had managed to get sugar over the kitchen floor. Whoever thought of making bags of sugar so difficult to get into without the bag tearing? So I swept up before I even really got started, fortunately I am a graduate of the Naval school of cleaning.

So the first stage called for 100g of sugar, and 3 Tablespoons of water. These had to be added into a saucepan on a medium heat. This mixture had to be stirred for the sugar to fully dissolve. Initially not a lot seemed to be happening, but then it began to slowly thicken and finally darken. reading the recipe it called for a dark caramel colour. It didn't tell me that it would carry on darkening, and smell like a candyfloss stall at a fairground. That great smell of burnt sugar, even though I had taken it off of the heat. That was the first stage complete, so it was quickly on to the second stage.

This called for 300ml of boiling water to be slowly added to the stage one concoction, and stirred in. Adding it too quickly causes stuff like napalm to jump out of the saucepan and stick to the tile backsplash behind the oven. Then 500g of sugar had to be added, and again stirred in until it had completely dissolved. Then the missing quarter of a Lemon should have been added, but I used 50ml of pure lemon juice. Apparently this will help prevent sugar crystals reforming, so it is chemistry that I have been doing and not cooking stuff. All of this is left to simmer for 45 minutes on a low heat. I don't know if I was meant to carry on stirring it or not but I did anyway. All was going well until about the 30 minute mark, when the previous coffee made its presence felt. I was in need of the loo, but should I stay tending my witch's cauldron of gloop, or head for the loo. Eyes watering, and legs crossing I soldiered on, until finally I could take the pan off the heat, at which pointed the lemon could have been removed. Maybe that's why it calls for the mixture to be left to cool for 5 minutes, it's a convenient loo break too.

Once the cooling time had finished I had to strain the mixture into a sterile jar. Luckily I found an old tea strainer in the odds and sods drawer, which served the purpose nicely. I did manage to stop some burnt crunchy bits of sugar going into the jar. My effort is more tawny than golden in colour, but trying some of the cooled napalm stuff from the side of the saucepan its not a bad first effort. As it is still hot it has a runny consistency, but it thickens as it cools. The lid has to be left off of the jar for an hour to let the heat escape.

I have just checked my jar and it has thickened up nicely. They do say that if it is still too runny the next day simmer it again for 5-10 minutes. Or if it is too thick make up another half recipe and add the jar contents to it. Mine might be a bit on the thick side, but I will find out more tomorrow. Hopefully my first attempt will stick to the spoon, and not run off like honey, or will not let me have the spoon back. So if I can make this then I reckon that anyone can. Just think syrup sponge, syrup cake and even proper syrup flapjacks. I am now off to chisel some of the napalm off of the tiled backsplash in the kitchen.

Monday, 15 February 2016

The Weather Changes, Then Changes Again

We now find ourselves midway through February, and the last clumps of snow have finally left the garden. Snowdrops are flowering, and birds are singing in the trees. Sometimes it is easy to think that Spring is just around the corner, and then the weather switches and reminds you that it is still winter. The snowdrops instead of nodding their heads in the breeze are being battered by strong winds, or being deluged under rains of Biblical proportions. This morning I had to quickly nip into town to pick up a few odds and ends, and the bushes and shrubs have yet to wake from their winter slumber. The good news is that Spring must be on its way, as last week they were setting up the Martenitsa stalls in the square at Gorna Oriahovitsa, which always seems to be a good indication. With this year being a leap year we get an extra day this month, which means that Baba Marta will be delayed by a day. Hopefully she will look kindly on us for letting her have a lie-in, and not be grumpy because we kept her waiting.

Although the night time temperatures are still a bit on the nippy side, we haven't woken up to frost covered gardens for nearly a week now. Unless the rain overnight had washed the frost away before I emerged from my cocoon beneath the duvet. The dogs are a bit miffed now that the snow has gone, no more barking at snowflakes invading the garden, no more playing in the white cold stuff that can be eaten, and no more trying to discover what treasures might be hidden beneath it. The cats prefer no snow, as now they can wander where they like without having to follow paths that a mere human has dug. Personally I am glad to see the back of it, with the last lot being the wet snow which causes so much damage to trees and shrubs. At times it was almost like being in a snowball fight, there I was clearing the steps out the front when clods of snow were shed from the branches of the walnut tree overhead. No matter how well you wrap up, the snow will always find a way to go down the back of your neck. As to whether we have seen the last of the snow, who can say one way or another. In previous years we have had snow at the end of March, so I mustn't raise my hopes just yet.

Today is an odd day. Through one window I can see blue sky and white clouds, yet through another it looks grey and overcast. We have had some strong winds recently, and today it is a stiff breeze blowing. Yet the temperature is an unseasonable 20C, looking at the forecast it is set to get back to normal about midweek, whatever normal might be. About the only thing that can be said about the weather in February and March, is that it is predictably unpredictable. I did get some odd looks in town today, well odder than usual, as I wandered round town with no jacket or jumper. Even the spits and spots of rain didn't cause me to go scurrying back to the car to grab a jacket.

Yesterday was Valentine's Day, also my wife's birthday, and here in Bulgaria it was also Trifon Zarezan Day. This is when the grape vines are blessed, hoping for a bountiful harvest in the coming months. The weather was gorgeous, and how did I spend it? Repairing part of the garden wall which had fallen down due to, in part, all of vagueries that the weather had thrown at it. I wouldn't mind so much but it was a patch that we had previously had repaired by some of the local maestro's in the village. It doesn't help that the field on one side of the wall is two feet higher than on our side. It also wasn't the section that fell down the other year.

Many will know that when you are told that something is 'nyama problem' (no problem), you know that it will turn round and bite you, and so it proved with this 'repaired' patch of wall. I guess that I was lucky to have noticed it when I let the dogs out for their evening constitutional. At least I was able to prevent them from making a bid for freedom across the field and terrorising the village. We found out why we had a problem, the locals had filled it with earth, which acted as a wick from the field, then the freezing and thawing meant that it just popped like a cork. So yesterday my neighbour and I were out there trying to rebuild it. Just imagine trying to complete a jigsaw, without the picture on the box lid. Some of these 'stones' were a fair old weight, and where my knees and back were creaking and groaning, my neighbour was moving them round as if they were no more than a bag of sugar. Between us, we managed to get everything rebuilt solidly, and we had various rocks, stones and boulders left over, which can now be used elsewhere.

So next month I will be scanning the skies, looking for that first Stork. Although we do still have to get through the rest of this month first. Hopefully the weather will be more settled, and not all seasons in one day. Wherever you may be I hope that the sun shines down on you. Just think that it will soon be time to blow the dust and cobwebs off of the lawn mower, and give the grass its first haircut of the year. Even if it does look like soggy straw at the moment. The confused bees will enjoy the better weather, and hopefully find some flowers instead of pestering me.