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Wednesday 29 November 2017

151. Prepper’s delight

Greetings from the UK, where this image pretty much sums up the state of affairs:

Vape shop?? Vape? Shop?
Only two more days then I'll be back in the Bulg and hunkering down for winter. Which brings me to this epic post...

Having got ourselves ready for winter and written more lists than you can shake a stick at, I now feel the need to get you, dear reader, ready for the Bulgarian winter. So here’s what I think you need if you’re going to sail through the winter months. Are your fingers limbered up? Do you have your pen and paper handy? Good. Then let’s begin.

Home comforts
I’m going to assume you’ve got your wood for burning. (If you haven’t, Jesus Fuck, the rest of this post won’t help you.) I’ll also assume that you have sensible winter clothes, meaning proper wool jumpers (when we first arrived our winter jumpers were totally unsuitable for the Bulgarian cold, because they were designed to look nice and be worn in centrally-heated houses. If you’re in the same boat, go to a second-hand clothes shop and fill your boots on big thick jumpers), but also thermals, waterproof trousers, a very warm coat, and snow boots or other waterproof winter boots. I live in my old waterproof leather walking boots all winter and they’re one of the best things I ever bought.

Home-wise, you really don’t need much to brave the winter. A nice big woodburner, obviously. But that’s about it. Our first winter, we didn’t have a kitchen or lounge. Our bathroom consisted of a toilet and shower head – no bath, no sink. And we had an outdoor staircase, for heaven’s sake. An outdoor staircase in -17°C. It was outrageous. But we just drank a lot of wine and got on with it. Six years later, we’ve come so far, we now even have a boot room for dumping muddy/snowy shoes as we come in. Bliss.

If, like us, you have a draughty old house with no double glazing (our house is so porous, I can smell when next door lights his fire!), there are things you can do to make the house cosier. We have inexpensive curtains up at doors and windows, which I’ve lined with blankets to provide extra insulation. Some people line their windows with plastic sheeting or cling film, although we’ve never needed to. We also use a big old cat cushion as a draught excluder by our back door, which helps a huge amount. It’s also worth getting a second duvet for your bed – come December, we sleep in a wonderful duvet sandwich: one duvet on the bottom, covering the mattress, and the other on top of us. When we wake up on January mornings and there’s ice on the inside of the windows, we’re seriously toasty in our 30-tog sandwich heaven.

According to our builders, our bathroom pipes have been lagged (*cough* bullshit *cough*), but our bath/shower tap and toilet flush still freeze up every winter when it hits -10°C or below. There’s not much we can do about the toilet. We just have to flush it with a bucket of water for a few weeks every winter. As for the bath tap, we try to leave it dripping overnight when really cold weather is forecast. But we always forget at some point in the winter – which means it’ll freeze up overnight and there’ll be no showers for us for a few weeks…

I don’t know about you, but if even one snowflake falls in our village, our power starts cutting in and out. So get lots of candles. And if, like ours, your woodburner is one that runs on an electric pump (to heat radiators elsewhere in the house), it’s well worth buying a cheap 200 lev woodburner that doesn’t need electric – just as a backup, in case of a lengthy power cut (our backup battery for the stove only lasts a couple of hours). We bought a spare woodburner our second winter, after surviving a four-day power cut in our first winter, and it’s earned its place many times over.

Toilet rolls
Look, don’t even mess around on this one. We’ve currently got about 80 rolls and I honestly get nervous if it drops below 30. But stockpiling loo roll is a weird year-round obsession of mine, not just a winter thing. You’re probably not weird about this. In which case, maybe you can be cavalier and just have, like, 20 rolls. God, I actually just shuddered as I wrote that.

The monster freezer
If you don’t have a chest freezer, get one right away. Right away. Stop reading this and get to your nearest freezer emporium right now. When we first moved, we bought one of those silly little under-counter three-drawer things and it was such a waste of money. We had to upgrade to a chest freezer by the next winter.

Having secured ourselves a monstrous freezer, we fill it with milk, cheese, butter and cheap meat for the cats (they get chicken necks, not tinned or dried food). We’re not big meat eaters ourselves, but we usually have some bacon and mince kicking around in there. Plus chillies, herbs, veg, pesto, tomato passata, homemade stock, emergency crumble topping... Basically, in our house, if it doesn’t move, it gets frozen. 

Veg galore
I usually freeze some of our home-grown parsnips and beetroots, plus I buy a kilo or two of carrots and freeze them. We also have lots of home-grown squash, which will store well all winter. And we stock up on other long-life veg like onions, garlic and potatoes. If you have some crates or sacks filled with sand, beetroot and other roots will store okay for quite a while in those.

We’ll then buy fresh fruit and veg (leeks, apples, etc.) every couple of weeks, when the roads are clear. Or, if the weather’s bad, we can always get out on foot. Many’s the winter we’ve done a rucksack veg run in deep snow, with our giant leeks poking out the top of the rucksack, attracting some funny looks…

The staples
I love having a proper pantry. It’s one of my favourite rooms in the house, and it gives us so much space for stocking up on the staples and storing all our preserves.

Pantry or no, get yourself plenty of flour, rice, pasta, pulses, sugar, spices, tea, coffee, etc. Whatever you like to cook with, buy lots of it. And don’t forget kitchen/bathroom supplies like washing up liquid, cloths, bin bags and toothpaste. Personally, I like to have several months’ worth of tahini in the pantry (I eat it by the spoonful like peanut butter), but I accept that may not be a priority for you. And we’ve got 10 litres each of olive and sunflower oil. Admittedly, that’s a bit excessive, even for us, but they were a good price and I cannot resist a food-related bargain. We also stock up on big 10-litre bottles of water, just in case the water goes off at some point (not unheard of in our village).

A serious word on food storage
Just as important as stocking up on food is making sure you’ve got good, critter-proof stuff to store it in. For us, the problem isn’t mice or rats – it was moths. A few years ago, when we had food stored in normal plastic and paper packaging or plastic zip lock bags, we somehow ended up with a moth infestation in our pantry. And, as we found out, moths will chew through pretty much any packaging to lay their eggs in the food. Rice, flour, chickpeas, even bags of powdered spices – we found the tell-tale webby-egg-floss stuff in everything. We had to get rid of so much food.

But those little mothy fuckers can’t chew their way through glass, can they? So now we store everything in Ikea glass jars and bottles (which are cheap but nice and robust for a butterfingers like me). Plus, it’s really handy having rice and lentils stored in big one-litre bottles because you can neatly pour out a cupful at a time, without them going all over the counter, like they do when they’re in a wide-necked jar or bag. Even better for a butterfingers like me! So, get yourself to Ikea and stock up on cheapo glass jars and bottles.

If this all sounds a bit much, maybe you’re right. We never really know how bad the winter will be. Maybe there’ll be hardly any snow, and we can get out and do a normal shop every single week. Or maybe, like our first winter, there’ll be three feet of snow and the village will be completely cut off from the outside world until the snow plough can get to us. I’m not taking any chances.

My attitude is, I only go out in winter when I want to – when it’s a lovely crisp winter day and we feel like going for a walk or getting back in touch with civilisation. We don’t go out because we have to, because we’re down to our last toilet roll and the nearly empty washing up liquid bottle is farting out one pitiful drop at a time. There’s enough to be dealing with in winter, you feel me?