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Friday, 23 December 2016

119. The universe has my back?

I always go through a bit of a self-help phase around Christmas/New Year, and this year is no different. On a recommendation from a client, I’m just about to start reading the brilliantly titled The Universe Has Your Back, which will apparently help me ‘release the blocks’ to what I most long for in life (Cheese? The ability to drink caffeine again? An actual pension?). Not only that, it will help me ‘relinquish the need for control’. Though, whether it will help me relinquish my need for control more than living in Bulgaria has done – where things are permanently out of my control and I rarely have any clue what’s going on – remains to be seen.

I can’t wait. I’m going to grow so much over Christmas. Like, spiritually. Not in girth. Or, at least, not just in girth.

I’m trying to be a lot more grateful and joyful lately, even when it feels like the universe is poking me in the eye with a stick. Barney the Terrible has been missing for four weeks, presumed dead (and now posthumously renamed Saint Barney the Beautiful). But I’m so grateful he appeared in our garden back in 2014 as a tiny, skanky, 900g kitten (and most of that was his silly big ears and ringworm). I’m glad he chose us. I’m even grateful for the ringworm, which was, after all, good blog fodder.

I’m grateful for friends and family, even when they are a plane ride away. I’m proud of our home and get so much joy from our life here. I’m glad Rob and I can still laugh at crazy shit together. And I’m grateful for every day I have woken up this week to sunshine and NO SNOW.

So, I’m feeling warm and groovy (and I haven’t even had a gin yet today) as I wind down for the Christmas break. Christmas is not a very big deal here in Bulgaria, at least not on the circus-nightmare scale of back home. Most people we know just have the one or two days off (if that), presents are minimal and few people go to town decorating their houses. The shop opposite opens all day on Christmas day, the buses still run through the village, and we’ll still be expected next door for coffee at 9.30am. After that, the day is ours to cook an immense meal and get slowly sozzled as the ETA for dinner glides from 2pm to 3pm to 4pm. We don’t do gifts for each other – instead, we treat ourselves to a bottle of fancy bubbly that we wouldn’t usually buy and *try* to wait until midday to open it. We Skype with family. We’ll probably watch It’s a Wonderful Life, again. And I’ll probably be tucked up in bed by 9pm … with my copy of The Universe Has Your Back. Growing.

Happy Christmas, dear reader. Весела Коледа и Честита Нова Година! 

Monday, 19 December 2016

118. Christmas countdown

Snow and ice on the village river

Number of times it has snowed since my last post: Dunno, lost count. Three? Four? It hasn’t snowed for three days, though, which makes a nice change.

Temperature this morning: -9°C. Brrrr.

Number of days without our big woodburner last week (due to an inconvenient hole appearing in the expansion tank): Two, which is obviously two days too many at this time of year. Again, brrrr.

Amount of money spent at Metro on Christmas food and booze: An unholy amount. Too gross to write down. Most of it on cheese.

Number of mince pies consumed: Three, which sounds quite good until I admit they were all in the same 24-hour period.

Christmas movies watched so far: While You Were Sleeping, Home Alone, The Shop Around the Corner, Meet Me in St Louis, Holiday Inn and White Christmas.

Number of hours spent listening to Christmas music: a very restrained six hours.

That reminds me, after my last post there was much discussion among Facebook friends as to their favourite Christmas movies. Let’s see if we can kick off the same thing with Christmas albums. Don’t be shy, I want to know your favourite Christmas albums, from the classy to the downright shameful.

Mine are, in order of how often I annoy Rob by playing them:
  • A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector
  • When My Heart Finds Christmas by Harry Connick Jr
  • Christmas with Nashville
  • Christmas Hits: 50 Festive Favourites, which includes Michael Bolton really *feeling* a vein-popping version of ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’. Hilarious. Highly recommended.
  • The Best Christmas Album in the World … Ever·

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

117. Visualising a tropical beach

If I could type under my duvet, believe me I would. As it is, I’ve spent many a morning this past week working in bed, with a duvet and blanket over my legs, laptop on my lap, and fingerless gloves on my poor frozen crone hands.

Yes, I’m back in the Bulg after my pre-Christmas visit to the UK* and OHMYGODMAN it’s cold here.

The day after I got back, we had our first snowfall of the year, followed by low temperatures of -10C and ‘high’ (*cough bullshit cough*) temperatures of 0. At times like this, I really miss central heating. When I was commuting to London, it never seemed that hard to get out of bed at 5.20am because the flat was toasty warm. This past week, I’ve not exited the duvet until 9am. And if we didn’t have our daily coffee ritual with the neighbours, I might not make it out even then. After coffee, I promptly return to the duvet to do a couple of hours work until the woodburner has warmed the house enough for me to leave the general bed area.  

In my disgust at its early arrival and general abundance, I forgot to take a picture
of the snow. However, this image sums it up nicely.

It’s taken us all a bit by surprise, this ruddy cold. Ordinarily, I quite like the cold weather and have braved many a Bulgarian winter by now (including the -23C, three-feet-of-snow disaster movie of 2012), but this just feels a bit wrong for this time of year. Sure, by January we normally have the woodburner on all day and evening, and wear thermals whenever we go outside, but not in the last days of November and early December!

On the plus side, all this cosy, fire-on, not-going-out-ness is putting me right in the mood for Christmas. Last night we watched The Shop Around the Corner and it made me want to kick off Christmas DVD Season 2016 a bit early (normal start of the Christmas DVD Season: 15th December. Not that I have, like, a timetable or anything). Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection of Christmas movies, on the scale of a mad old woman collecting warts, aprons and cats. I’ve got all the obvious ones like Scrooged, Elf, A Christmas Story, Gremlins, Home Alone, Bad Santa, and Die Hard, plus classics like It’s a Wonderful Life and Meet Me in St Louis, along with a few leftfield ones like Diner and The Ref. If it’s got a bit of Christmas in it, I’ll watch it. I’ve even got Love Actually and that’s the worst fucking movie ever made. It’s practically a Christmas ritual in our house to watch Love Actually while I complain for two hours about how it’s the worst fucking movie ever made. S’tradition, innit?

In other news, while under the duvet I read The Secret (yes, I know I’m about 10 years behind everyone else), and it made me laugh (at it) and think (quite seriously) in equal measure. As a result, I’m now visualising a lot and constantly muttering ‘thoughts become things’ like the kind of person you cross the road to avoid. Ah, the joys of random winter hobbies.

*One friend described my trip home as a ‘tactical visit’, allowing me to spend Christmas in Bulgaria. Much as I liked the sound of this – what lady doesn’t like her actions to be described as tactical? – it’s not quite true. In reality, I wouldn't spend Christmas anywhere but Bulgaria, drinking sherry by the woodburner and soaking up the merry sounds of Slade and pig slaughter, and my long-suffering family know this by now.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

116. Important cider news

There are about 37 other bottles lined up in our hallway waiting for shelving space.
It's a sight to warm the cockles.

I’ve been remiss in updating you all on the cider progress. Bad Auntie Bulgaria. Bad.

We finally got around to bottling the cider around about the last week of October. It had stopped fizzing by then but Rob had read online that if you add a spoonful of sugar to each bottle it makes it fizzy. Sometimes the internet lies, though, doesn’t it? Instead of a fizz, we’ve ended up with more of a slight tongue tingle. But that’s alright. It’s the taste that matters.

So how does it taste? Goooood. It has pretty much the same crisp, dry taste as last year’s batch. At around 5% or so, it’s not as strong as last year’s, which is not necessarily a bad thing – after all, last year’s batch (which was about 8%) frequently stopped us sleeping when we overdid it, because it was just too headachy-strong. Delicious, but dynamite. Besides, even 5% is enough to take the edge off, well, 2016.*

Having said that, this year’s batch does seem to be getting stronger by the day. The last bottle we drank seemed more powerful than when we first bottled it. It’s probably that spoonful of sugar turning to alcohol. Who knows, in a few more weeks, it could be as strong as last year’s and we’ll have to start *shudder* drinking responsibly again.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that
The cider’s main downside is that it’s currently 2,500 km away from my liver. Yes, I’m in rainy, rainy Britain – with its unreliable trains and incessant vapers – for a pre-Chrismas visit. I miss my cider and my woodburner and my cats. And Rob, of course. He stayed at home with the cider, the woodburner and the cats. At least he sends me regular cat photos to entertain me.

Barney (right) and Pepper (left) share a rare tender moment. Usually their only interaction is him pouncing on her
from behind and her hissing at him.

Cat owner bliss. Cat bliss. Fridge covered in cat hairs. Hygienic.

Crap I’ve bought while in the UK
Some friends of ours have started importing British food into Bulgaria, which means I need never lug another suitcase of sweaty cheddar and illegal volumes of teabags ever again. So, I had a mercifully light, and somewhat random, expat shopping list this trip: one jar of stem ginger, a box of decaf Yorkshire Tea and a Christmas ham. (Well hello, Christmas, you sexy bastard, how did you get here so quickly?) That leaves plenty of room for the seven bowls I’ve bought while in the UK. Yes, you read that right: SEVEN bowls. And I’ve still got another six days here so that figure could rise. What’s that you say? No, no I don’t have a pottery problem. Honest, it’s totally under control.

*I went past Poundland the other day and it had big signs up saying ‘Everything 90p’. Proof, if needed, that this really is the end of days. If anyone needs me, I’ll be under the duvet in my parents’ spare room, eating Nutella and making a sort of ‘murrrrrrr’ noise. 

Monday, 7 November 2016

115. Pottery addict

I love Bulgarian pottery in an almost unhealthy way. I mean, it’s not like I want to cover myself in Vaseline and roll around on a set of plates while listening to Sade. But … almost.

The in-laws came to stay recently, so we took them on a day trip to Troyan Monastery. The monastery is very pretty and blah blah, but my main reason for going there was to visit the nearby craft museum and ogle (and, I may as well be honest, fondle) some pottery.  

Is it just me? Do other people have pottery fetishes? Is there a name for freaks like me? (Potishists? Ceramadists? Or perhaps BDSM really stands for Bowls Dishes Stoneware and Mugs.)

It’s worse than my Ikea rug habit.

Anyway, if you should ever find yourself at Troyan Monastery, head to the craft museum about 100m up the road. It’s not just for potishists. It’s got stuff for wood carving addicts (whittlewhores?), leather enthusiasts (hideheads?), and metal lovers (blacksniffs?). And, after you’ve been around the exhibition, there’s a huge shop where you can buy beautiful stuff to take home and worship on a sheepskin rug. Ahem. There’s also another pottery shop, with less of a selection but with silly cheap prices, just over the road from the museum. *Squeals*

Well, I clearly need a lie down. While I’m gone, here are some pictures of our various adventures with the in-laws.

Troyan Monastery

Some saint or other.

There were lots of repairs going on, hence the scaffolding in the background.

The bells! The bells!

Bell tower.

We went on laundry day, clearly.

I love the traditional slate roofs in Bulgaria. 

The resident cat. He's called Satan.
(He's probably not called Satan.)

Wonderfully safe scaffolding arrangement.

Craft museum/porn palace

It looks so innocent from the outside. Inside it's a hotbed of ceramic sin.

I think this wood carving looks a little rude. But my mind is basically a cesspit.

I managed to purchase this lot before I was forcibly removed from the premises.

Teteven waterfall
A different day trip, with no pottery involved (probably for the best).

The walk up from Teteven.

Giant haystacks.

Into the woodland. I don't remember it being quite this yellow...

At least I got to indulge my other weird obsession: moss.

So, so yellow.

Yosemite Falls it aint, but we liked it.

Litter hall of fame
Because it wouldn’t be a day trip in Bulgaria without a few piles of litter…

Dozens of wet wipes strewn by a layby.

Next to a bus shelter. 

Back in the town. Right next to some houses. Very close to a big metal bin.


Friday, 21 October 2016

114. Should've worn my dungarees

Lordy, it’s been a while since I last wrote. Now, what have we been up to…

Claire 1 – 0 Goats
A herd of goats broke through our fence and trampled around our garden. ‘Help me,’ cried Rob, as he struggled to round them up (and I just stood there taking photos). ‘Er, how?’ I asked (when what I really meant was, ‘Er, they’re a bit smelly, can you just do it please?’). ‘HERD THEM!’ he shouted at me. Reader, it is the only time in my life someone has shouted the words ‘herd them’ at me. I’ve never herded anything before so I just did the first thing that came into my head: act like David Seaman in a penalty shootout – spread my legs, make myself really big, clap my hands. There’s a mental image you won’t forget in a hurry. 

Right in the vegetable garden.

We’ve been drinking lots of White Russians lately. Weird.

10 more years
Our five-year lichni carti (ID/residency cards) ran out this month so we had to go to Sofia to renew them. I dread any interaction with Bulgarian bureaucracy but it all went surprisingly well. We’re very pleased to have been awarded (like an OBE) 10-year residency cards. But it wouldn’t be Bulgaria without an extra layer of unnecessary bureaucracy, would it? So, as well as updating our personal cards, we had to re-register my car so it matched the expiry date on my new card. As a consolation prize, we went for noodles at Wok to Walk and had salted caramel ice cream at Confetti. Ah, civilization.

Tomato? Tomato
Unbelievably, we still have some tomatoes ripening in the wonky polytunnel. THEY WILL NEVER DIE!!!

Looming plumbing emergency
I think there’s something dreadfully wrong with our plumbing. Sometimes when I flush the toilet, there’s an almighty gurgling sound coming from underneath the bath. Other times, it’s totally fine. I’m just trying not to think about it. Whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll go away on its own. That’s usually how these things work, right?

Ugly squash
We’ve harvested our butternut squash and, thanks to the big storm (with hailstones) this summer, they’ve all got huge scars and craters in them. Just look at this poor bastard.

And this one...

Undignified garden incident
I got stung in the butt crack by a wasp. True story. I knew I should have worn my dungarees...

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

113. Seasons and cider

Isn’t autumn the best? I love the change in temperature, clothes and food. I get strangely excited by getting out my favourite jumpers, wearing woolly hats again, the first lighting of the woodburner, harvesting squash, making toad-in-the-hole. It’s like living in a glossy catalogue. With more batter.

Best of all, even better than oversized cardigans and sheepskin slippers, it’s booze-making time. A few weeks ago, we started this year’s cider batch. I’m not really one for instructions (giving or reading, I’m far too impatient. Any new gadget or appliance is simply plonked down in front of Rob with a whine of, ‘Rooooob, make it woooork.’), but here’s a skip through how we do it.

Get a shit-load of apples and chop them up. We started with around eight sacks of apples this year. Don’t ask me what kinds of apples they were, it’s whatever we can get our hands on – our eating apples, our crab apples, apples from friends, sometimes even pears. We chopped them all into eighths (quarters for the little crab apples) and got rid of any that had worms living in them (yep, we’re all about the health and hygiene). By the end of this stage, we had three giant plastic tubs (each 60 litres) full of chopped apples – double what we had last year. Our livers trembled in fear.

Three of these bad boys full of apples.

Bash the apples in the container. Last year, Rob just bashed them with a big old bit of wood. As we had so much more this year, he decided to get creative. First he made a tool out of a wooden pole and our garden strimmer blades (fully sterilised, obviously). 

Improvised apple-bashing tool.

Unfortunately, the pole broke after about five minutes. Then, he thought he’d try with the actual strimmer itself. We have a big Stihl petrol strimmer. Words can’t quite convey how hilarious it was seeing Rob stood on a chair ‘strimming’ a container of apples. Luckily, I took a picture.

There are no words.

This worked well, although the strimmer was starting to smell a bit, erm, hot and smoky after a while. Chunks of apples are obviously quite a big tougher than grass blades. So we switched to something a little more low-tech: a bulb planter. Ours is only a cheapy plastic thing, but it’s got a sturdy handle and serrated edge which made it brilliant for bashing up the apples. Lots of elbow grease required, though. I suddenly had something very important to do far, far away….

Pressing. Once you’ve got a brown, puply, disgusting mess, it’s time to press the mixture to get out the apple juice. Rob used to do this with a car jack and a simple, homemade wooden box with a hole in it for the juice to run out. It worked really well, but was slow going because you could only press a tiny amount at a time. Benevolent dictator that I am, this year I bought him a proper fruit press from Metro (we think it’s designed for grapes but it works well on apples). This pressed all the fruit in next to no time, leaving us with one 60-litre container of yummy apple juice.

Mmmm, get in my belly. Not.

Fancy new press.

Liver. Trembling. Mouth. Watering.

Turning apple juice into rocket juice. Basically, you heat up some of the juice, dissolve sugar in it and then add the sugary mixture to the container of juice. How much sugar, you ask? Anywhere between a kilo and four kilos, depending on how sweet your juice is. (Trying to get exact measurements out of Rob is like trying to get a red wine stain out of a white shag carpet.) He started with around a kilo for our 60-litre container, then tasted it and decided another kilo was needed. Rob says it should taste sweet at the beginning, but most of the sugar will get turned into alcohol. Then we left it for a week or so, went on holiday to Sinemorets (hurrah for holidays), and came back for another taste. Rob has just informed me he put another two kilos in at this stage! Christ almighty. ‘We *probably* won’t have to put in any more,’ he says. (Note: we make a pretty darn alcoholic cider. We think last year’s batch was around 7%. Presumably, less sugar would make a less alcoholic cider?)

Bottle it. After about a month, when it tastes like delicious cider, decant the cider into sterilised bottles. We like a slightly fizzy cider so we bottle it while it’s still fizzing a bit. If you want a still cider, just wait until it’s stopped fizzing. Ours is always the colour of a badly dehydrated marathon runner’s urine, but, hey, it tastes good. Oh, and for heaven’s sake store it in a cool, dark place. We inadvertently put a bottle on a shelf in front of a hot water pipe once. Cider explosion all over the pantry. Sticky, sticky, sticky. We’re still finding sticky patches almost a year later.

Ours should be ready to bottle in a couple of weeks. So, come Halloween, we’ll be sitting in front of the woodburner, enjoying a supremely tasty, ridiculously alcoholic, dubiously coloured glass of cider. Isn’t autumn the best? 

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

112. The bucket list

God, I hate the term ‘bucket list’. In terms of annoying things people say, ‘bucket list’ is right up there with the likes of ‘nom’ and ‘cheer up love, it might never happen’.

But I fully embrace the idea of a bucket list. Something about this time of year always gets me thinking about what I really want to do with my life. Work is going really well and I love being a freelancer but I sometimes feel like I’m killing time before getting to my ‘real’ career. I don’t even know what my ‘real’ career would be – publishing/editing/writing is all I’ve ever known and all I ever wanted to do (apart from that brief but intense pre-teen phase when I wanted to be a firefighter. Don’t laugh).

Anyway, it’s at this time of year, and the period between Christmas and New Year, when my imagination starts hammering on the door of my real life. Case in point: yesterday I was helping Rob chop apples for cider and that led to a whole new, and very intricate, fantasy about setting up a microbrewery. I don’t know what it is, I just get antsy around this time.

Maybe it’s because we’ve already done the whole ‘moving abroad’ thing, which is a major item to tick off the old wish list. Perhaps this makes me invent new things to aspire to. Which brings me onto the, *shudder*, bucket list. Mine is as follows:

  • Publish a book. Every now and then, kind friends or readers will say something like, ‘you should write a book’ or ‘you should turn the blog into a book’. I always nod wisely and say, ‘hmmm, maybe one day’, like it’s the first time I’ve ever considered such a thing. The truth is I consider it all the fucking time. I just haven’t done it yet. My inertia is really starting to bother me. I mean, I’m going to be 40 soon (in four years). I’m not sure why being 40 (in four years) has anything to do with it, but it does.
  • Go trekking in Nepal. Sorry, I know this is a dreadful cliché. The thing is, I really want to see Mount Everest. Not climb it, obviously, not with my asthma and vertigo and congenital weediness. But I would love to see it with my own eyes. From a distance is fine. Even from a plane will do.
  • Hike across Bulgaria, taking in some of the trails in Walking in Bulgaria’s National Parks. I’ll be just like Reese Witherspoon in Wild. Except I’ll make Rob carry all the heavy stuff and I won’t have quite so many saucy/sad flashbacks.
  • Drive across America. All across the top, from New England to Seattle, takes my fancy, followed by a trip down the Pacific Coast. But then I’d also like to see the Deep South, and Miami (party in the city where the heat is on), and wherever Bloodline was filmed. It’s not a very streamlined itinerary, is it? I may as well just say, ‘I want to go to ALL OF AMERICA PLEASE AND THANK YOU’. And don’t even get me started on Canada…
  • Learn to dive. I’m one of those awful breast-strokers who bumble along keeping their chin out of the water. I have never dived, or even jumped, into water because I am too scared of getting my face wet. I’d love to be able to dive gracefully into a pool, but, to be honest, I’d settle for a comedic belly flop or cannonball.
  • Be fluent in Bulgarian. While my Bulgarian is fine, it’s not up to scratch for someone who’s been here five years. I should invest in a residential course or something. Or, I could just lie when people ask how long I’ve been here. If I tell them I’ve been here two months they’ll think I’m a GENUIS.
  • Learn to play the banjo. Or piano. Piano is certainly less ridiculous for a British woman in Bulgaria. But I am, inevitably, drawn to the ridiculous. And I do love dungarees.
I've even got the book. True, I haven't opened it yet. Nor do I own
an actual banjo. But I think we can all agree I've taken an important first step.

There, I feel better just writing it all down. What’s on your bucket list? Go on, do tell...

Friday, 9 September 2016

111. A very Bulgarian party

Party essentials, apparently.

Every now and then Bulgaria rises up and slaps me in the face (figuratively speaking) with a reminder of just how different life is here. Like whenever I see our neighbour riding his donkey past our window. Or that time a dear neighbour died and we were rounded up to pay our respects to his actual body, which was laid out in a coffin in his house.

Last weekend we were invited to a party celebrating the start of the hunting season. Hunting wild boar is a big thing in Bulgaria, with many men (always men) from the villages heading off into the mountains on weekends, and organised hunting parties coming up from Sofia. We can hear the shots from our house and I’m becoming strangely immune to the sound of gunfire. I didn’t realise, though, that our village has an official hunting club. They have their own flag and everything. 

Personally, I’m okay with the idea of hunting for food. (Sport hunting is obviously sick, and hunting humans is only okay in Jean Claude Van Damme films. Got it?) I eat meat. I like boar. If I was a bloke who liked guns, I would probably try my hand at hunting. Anyway, whether this lot ever catch anything is another matter. In five years, I’ve seen our neighbour come back with his shotgun dozens of times, but never with a dead animal in tow.

(I should explain that Bulgarian men are very sociable creatures and it’s common to see big groups congregating for morning coffee or afternoon rakia in cafes and bars – and this is just as popular with young lads as the retired gents. So, essentially, Bulgarian men love any excuse to hang out with other men en masse. Hunting has the added allure of guns, so you can see why it’s popular.)

Back to the party. Svilen told us about it in the morning (you never get much warning with a Bulgarian event) and we agreed to be ready at midday. All we knew was that it was to do with hunting and someone had made soup. We weren’t sure what to expect.

‘Do we have to take anything?’ we asked.
‘Bread,’ he replied.

We didn’t have any bread and didn’t have enough time to make a loaf so we figured a bottle of rakia was a good substitute. Then, at midday, Svilen arrived at ours carrying a few slices of bread, a bottle of his homemade rakia, a bowl and a spoon.

‘Do we have to take bowls and spoons?’ I asked.
‘Er, yeah,’ he replied. (With a strongly implied ‘Duh! Who doesn’t take their own bowls and spoons to a party?’)

We grabbed some bowls and spoons and off we went. It was a big outdoor do in the front garden of our local wood yard, just a short walk from our house – useful for staggering home. Surprisingly, there were about 60 people there (all with their own bowls, spoons and cups. Luckily, Svilen had three plastic cups stashed on him, clearly planning for his useless English neighbours). We ate cabbage and carrot salad (much nicer than it sounds) followed by lamb soup (delicious) and kebabs (not so nice, but then I never enjoy the heavy cumin flavour of Bulgarian ‘kebabches’). A lot of rakia was drunk. I nursed half a glass until I could palm it off onto Rob while no one was looking. It’s hard to be sober at a Bulgarian party, so thank goodness for the couple next to me, who had brought a couple of bottles of their lovely homemade wine with them. (They were very generous and I was very grateful.) As the afternoon went on, and the music got louder and the bottles of rakia emptied, the inevitable thing happened for a party full of merry hunters: someone got out their gun and fired it in the air several times. No one was surprised. Not even me. Like I said, we’re getting used to the sound of gunfire. Conversation just carried on.

We only stayed a few hours but we could hear from the thumping music that the party raged on for another seven hours after we left. Seven hours! There was more gunfire too. If we ever get invited back (I hope we do), we'll try to stay the course. 

How all those people got home safely I will never know (oh yes, most people turned up in their cars and no cars were left overnight – it’s a mystery). Some things are too terrifying to imagine … like a bunch of boozy, armed Bulgarians taking to the roads.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

110. August roundup

Crumbs, it’s the end of August. Where did that go? It’s been a lean month in terms of exciting Auntie Bulgaria news, as I will now demonstrate:

Birthday Weekend (because one day isn’t enough). Oh, how I love Birthday Weekend. I’m not much of a diva in terms of presents or parties, but I do insist on being well fed and watered. This year, Birthday Friday consisted of prosecco for breakfast, chocolate cake for lunch, and a barbecue for dinner. Birthday Saturday consisted of homemade pizza and beer with friends, followed by more cake. Then, to compensate my poor ageing body for the excesses of Birthday Friday and Birthday Saturday, Birthday Sunday consisted of a ruddy great walk. We hiked for a couple of hours and climbed to a peak that we’ve not been up before, hoping to be rewarded with amazing views. Unfortunately the pine trees were so dense up there that we didn’t get much of a view at all, but we enjoyed huffing up there and back. And we only drank one bottle of wine in the process. You’re welcome, body, you’re welcome.

Clumsy Claire. I sprained my ankle in a minor wine-related tumble (to put it bluntly, I fell down a ditch). Then, less than a week later, I fell off my bike while I had both feet on the ground. The less said about all this, the better. At least none of it happened on Birthday Weekend.

Tomato? Tomato. Still coming thick and fast.

Hunchback. Still there.

Brits in heat. I’ve come back to the UK for a visit and, unbelievably, the sun has been shining almost every day. (Apart from that one day I went to an open air music festival on the seafront. Obviously, it rained that day.) Brits in hot weather are a tragic bunch. One day I was stood at a train station in perfectly pleasant 23°C weather, listening to a loudspeaker announcement telling people to carry a bottle of water at all times. 23°C! That’s a nice spring day in Bulgaria. I was wearing jeans. Bonkers.

Expat shopping list. Surprisingly light Tesco shopping list this time: Yorkshire Tea, golden syrup, Marmite, icing sugar, Maldon Salt. Somehow my suitcase is still filled to the brim with all sorts of random crap: picture frames, a wooden serving board, terracotta bowls, a dungaree dress (because what I really need in my life is more dungarees), a fucking plant pot. I just go a bit mad when presented with British shops. It’s a sickness.

Don’t hate me but... I note with disgust that X Factor has started again. You know what that means don’t you? It’s practically Christmas, that’s what it means. Sorry.

And here are some photos from our Birthday Sunday hike:

Leaving the village.

This funny little place is where the village sheep live in the summer.
In winter they stay in barns in various villagers' back gardens.

Heading up into the mountains. You can just see the roofs of village houses to the left.

And up even further. This bit was a killer.

Wouldn't kick this view out of bed for eating custard creams.

Fucking rubbish, as usual.

I wore sensible hiking shoes...

...while Rob the Mountain Goat came out in his little rubber shoes. 

Mmmm, blackberries.

Watching out for horned vipers, which were clearly waiting to pounce at every turn.

Monday, 8 August 2016

109. Tomato? Tomato.

When I was a student, I read a play called Blue Kettle. I don’t remember much about it except the words ‘blue’ and ‘kettle’ began to randomly replace other words in the dialogue until, by the end of the play, ‘blue’ and ‘kettle’ were the only words left. Literally every line was ‘blue’ or ‘kettle’ or a combination of the two. Life feels a bit like that at the moment.

‘What shall we have for breakfast?’

‘What’s for lunch?’
‘Tomato salad.’

‘Should we tomato more tomatoes for the freezer?’

‘I tomato you.’
‘I tomato you, tomato.’

One day's harvest. 

Only a freak would organise their tomatoes by variety. Ahem.

We’re snacking on tomatoes. We’re having tomato salads for lunches. We’re cooking up huge pans of tomato sauce to have in meals each week (useful to keep in the fridge for a quick pasta meal at the end of a long day). We’re roasting tomatoes in the pizza oven every week to make smoky tomato freezer sauce. We’ve made a giant batch of tomato ketchup. We’ve made oven-dried tomatoes in oil. Next, we’re planning to bottle our own passata – even though I am terrified of ballsing up the bottling process and dying of botulism. If we’re still inundated after that, we might make some barbecue sauce. I’ve also noticed there’s a recipe for tomato fritters in Vefa’s Kitchen (a cookbook I’ve had for years but am suddenly obsessed with). Fried tomatoes make me gag but I’m getting so desperate I might have to give it a whirl.

Who knew that growing 70 tomato plants would lead to such a glut? Well, obviously we knew, but we pressed ahead anyway. As the saying goes, ‘Feel the tomato … and tomato it anyway.’ Or something. I am losing the power of tomato.