My photo

Friday, 27 November 2020

Unveiling the new Auntie Bulgaria site

Finally (finally!), the new Auntie Bulgaria website is ready, and I’m so happy to share it with you.

Please do head over there and tell me what you think of the new look. Don’t forget to update your bookmarks/favourites – or add the new site to your bookmarks/favourites – as that’s where all the fun will be happening from now on.

For those few who were still getting email updates, the new site won’t send out emails. To make sure you never miss a post, do check in with the new site once a week or so (I generally post every week or two). You can also follow me on Instagram (@auntie_bulgaria), where I’ll be announcing each new post and sharing other delights from life in Bulgaria.

Once again, here’s the link to the new site: https://auntiebulgaria.com/


Thursday, 3 September 2020

A change of scenery (and some news)

Back in bleak old January, we booked a little something to look forward to for August – a week in a small guesthouse in Sinemorets. By March, when we went into lockdown, we were already resigning ourselves to the fact that we probably wouldn’t go. By June, much as we love our home and garden, we were beginning to crave a change of scenery. By August, we were absolutely desperate for one.

So we went. And it was great. We took our own food to the beach every day and only ate out in the evenings (all the restaurants have outdoor dining anyway). Everyone was being very good and wearing their masks (properly) in the (few) shops. So it felt pretty safe and relaxed.

I will say the resort was busier than normal, which we kind of expected seeing as more Bulgarians are holidaying in Bulgaria this summer. (Sinemorets generally doesn’t attract much in the way of Brit tourists, who rarely venture further south than Sunny Beach or, at a push, Sozopol.) But our usual spot on the Veleka Beach (or North Beach), overlooking the river and nature reserve, was as peaceful as ever.

So that was it really. We went to the beach, lolloped around, swam in the river, read our books, had a beach picnic (complete with bottle of wine), and ate the same few vegan-friendly dinners. Every. Day. It was delightfully boring and restful.

And now it’s September, which, even as a child-free 40-year-old, always feels like the start of a new school year. A fresh start. Much more so than January. A milestone in every year that never fails to induce a mild sense of panic, excitement, nerves and mad list-writing of the what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life variety.

Speaking of which, I’m taking a break from the blog for a month or so. Auntie Bulgaria has not changed since 2010 (the site, that is, not me. I’ve developed several new chin hairs and aches and pains since 2010), and it’s long overdue a revamp. So I’m taking some time to give this joint a fresh face – a little nip and tuck to celebrate 10 years together. Much like an ageing tycoon might buy his beauty queen wife a new set of tits for their 10-year anniversary. Romantic, like.

Then we can kick off the next 10 years of blogging in style. Or however many years there are left in this thing. Christ, by 2030, we’ll probably all be permanently plugged into a virtual reality universe while the real world burns around us.

On that cheery note, bye for now.

Claire x

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Let's see...

Hello! Yes, I’m still here and haven’t been carried away by COVID, yet. I know I’ve been neglecting the blog in favour of work and gardening (mostly work). But it’s not like there are lots of exciting new life experiences to write about. Every week consists of us not really going out and not really seeing people. How much of that can you tolerate, reader?

But, wait, something did happen. I had a birthday. A significant one. One that starts with a 4 and ends with a 0. It’s wonderful to finally have my age catch up to my pre-existing middle-aged lady sensibilities. I mean, I’ve been wearing crocs and ankle wellies and listening to Radio 2 for about a decade, but now I can truly justify it. Other fun things I’m embracing now that I’m 40 include:

  • Grey hairs (I keep finding them in my fringe).
  • No longer having any sort of ‘hairstyle’. Just one length all over is fine, right?
  • Leggings.
  • A strong urge to splash out on a really good hoover.

Let’s see, what other recent highlights do I have to report?  

  • We went to Magazin Mania for the first time in almost six months and it felt so normal to be rummaging around for second-hand clothes. I bought a mad dress. Naturally.
  • I had a dream where Arnold Schwarzenegger began identifying as a black man. Which was weird for everyone.
  • Er, that’s about it. 

So let’s turn to the veg garden, where – thank Christ – things are happening all the time.

Our new squash patch, located where the compost heap used to be. Looks like the squash is
loving the nutritious soil there.

I also grow some squash plants up a trellis, where I can prune them regularly
(to ensure the plants put all their energy into growing big fruits, rather than long vines).
Look at the size of this bad boy!

The rest of the veg garden is looking well, too.

Meanwhile, the flower garden has reached its big, shaggy phase…

And the rustic greenhouse finally has a roof. It’s polycarbonate (because we can’t afford proper toughened glass for the roof), but the front and sides will be made out of lovely old windows and stone. It looks a bit conspicuous right now, but it’ll blend more once the windows are in. Rob is also going to grow some grape vines along the front.

That really is about it. Not that I’m complaining. I’ve absolutely loved indulging my secret introvert fantasies and ignoring the world for months. But, as I enter my fifth decade (fifth! Jesus!), here’s hoping there are some *slightly* more adventurous times ahead.

Friday, 24 July 2020


Because, sometimes you just have to get in the washing machine and hide away from everyone.

Is it me or is the world particularly deranged this month? I mean, more than usual for 2020. You know shit’s not right when you see the actual president of the United States utter the words, ‘Show me the deaths chart,’ in a TV interview. Like it’s a totally normal thing to say, too. Show. Me. The deaths chart.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s embroiled in yet another corruption scandal. And the bag-of-grey-skin-and-red-hot-narcissism that serves as the UK’s prime minister says the country’s response to coronavirus shows off the ‘sheer might’ of the UK. Sheer might? SHEER MIGHT? To paraphrase that scene in When Harry Met Sally, I’ll have what he’s having.

And why, for the love of God, can’t anyone in Bulgaria wear a mask properly. It’s not a chin strap. I get it, masks are uncomfortable, especially in the heat. But when you wear it around your chin you literally have all the discomfort of strapping something to your face in hot weather with NONE OF THE FUCKING BENEFITS.

Anyway, this is why I’m staying indoors for the next, oh I don’t know, forever, and making chutney. Last weekend was mango chutney (mangoes being a rare find in the shops, and mango chutney even rarer). This weekend, I’ll be making a beetroot, apple and onion chutney with our first beetroot harvest of the summer.

OOOh, and we harvested the first of our spuds. We haven’t bothered growing spuds for years, but I can’t think why. It’s so fun squirreling around in the earth and coming up with big spuddy nuggets – like panning for gold, only with more starch. Today we’ll be throwing some spuds on the barbecue, along with veggie sausages, and generally congratulating ourselves on living in the middle of nowhere away from all the batshit craziness.

But if this madness continues, I might have to further isolate myself and get in the washing machine with Iggy. He may be our dumbest cat, but he’s got the right idea there.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Out in the garden – a photo essay

‘Photo essay’ being a grandiose way of me just inserting a load of pictures instead of crafting a logical collection of words. (It’s Friday. It’s sunny. We’re barbecuing. Who wants to be inside typing?)

Here goes…

In the veg garden

Pepper sizing up the garden.

The veg garden is beautifully full this year, with lots of flowers as well as edibles.

Gladioli (for cut flowers) and calendula among this year's stonking beetroot.

Exciting new crops for this year: sweet potatoes (which we've not grown for years); our first kaffir limes;
a wild-and-woolly-looking potato patch (spuds not being something we normally grow);
and our first attempt at green beans.

Plus a few old favourites: purple sprouting broccoli; tomatoes; grapes; this year's garlic harvest;
the first butternut squash on the vines; and monster courgette.

In the flower garden
And to think we never gave a toss about flowers until a few years ago…

Meanwhile, the rustic greenhouse project continues
I mean, what can I say, it’s huge. And it’s so far behind schedule, Rob’s had to plant the tomatoes and build around them!

Thursday, 25 June 2020


We did it. We did the post-lockdown cliché thing. We went to Ikea.

We needed a new teapot, you see. And some margarita glasses – yes, we needed margarita glasses – and Rob wanted some special paint for a garden project. So we figured we’d do a quick get-in-get-out run to Sofia. And it was fine. There weren’t any queues to get into Ikea. There were some queues at the checkout, but people were mostly keeping their distance and wearing masks. We used so much hand sanitiser, the car smelt like an alcoholic had been sleeping in it for weeks.

It was the most ‘going out’ we’ve done since February, and I can’t say I’ve missed it that much. My bank card almost combusted with the shock of being used to pay for such frivolous things (all we’ve bought for months is food and petrol and, er, cement). And it certainly hasn’t led to a new-found confidence about going out. In the two weeks since our cheeky Ikea run, we’ve gone back to hunkering down at home and only venturing out for mushrooms, soya milk and gin. Because we’re fun like that.

Here in Bulgaria, everything has been returning to normal across June – non-essential shops, bars and restaurants (even for indoor service), cinemas, blah blah blah. But coronavirus cases are on the rise, breaching 100 new cases a day for the first time since the pandemic started. Yesterday there were 130 new cases. That won’t sound like a lot to anyone in the UK, and it isn’t. But I read one Bulgarian health expert said that if the country were to hit 300 cases a day, the health system wouldn’t be able to cope.

So I don’t really feel like getting back to normal, and am kind of aghast that other people do. Obviously, I’m showing my privilege here, because I can work from home. Some people don’t have the option to stay home. Others, though, are just bored of it all.

Look, all I’m saying is, I went out to buy margarita glasses, felt a bit dirty and guilty about it, and now I’m staying in (food shopping aside) for the rest of 2020.

Christ, I didn’t even sit down to write about coronavirus. I sat down to write about our veg garden! I’ll do more of a deep-dive on this year’s veg-growing efforts next time. For now, I’ll just say things are coming along well – despite the iffy weather – and the veg garden is beautifully full, with flowers as well as edibles.

Also, we’ve been busy making stuff. Inspired by something we saw on Gardeners’ World, we made a rack for drying herbs. Like everything in our lives, it’s wonky AF, but it works well – much more effective than hanging herbs in bunches covered with a paper bag, which is what we used to do.

And another thing we saw on Gardeners’ World: we made a succulent garden. Pretty, isn’t it?

Finally, we turn to cat news. Iggy, our oldest, dumbest cat has started eating ants. We have a big rock in the garden that must be on top of a nest, because it's always covered in ants. (Our garden is like a minefield of ants’ nests. You have to know where to step and where not to step if you don’t want your feet covered in angry ants.) Iggy has recently discovered these rock-loving ants (it’s only taken him eight years), and seems to find them pretty tasty. His technique has evolved somewhat over the last few weeks, although I’m not sure it’s evolved for the better – while he used to sit next to the rock, licking the ants off it, he now sits on the rock, waits for the ants to crawl all over him, then just cleans himself with his paw, scooping the ants off his body and into his mouth. I mean, are there classes you can take to improve your cat’s intelligence? Like dog agility classes, but for the cat’s, you know, brain? Answers below, please.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

The boomiest of booms (also, cake)

Stormy season has arrived. Look at those clouds rolling in.

Ah, June. A great month for those Brits in Bulgaria who love wanging on about the weather. (So that’s all Brits in Bulgaria, then.) It’s hot and sunny one minute, then you hear the familiar rumble of thunder rolling in over the mountains, then before you know it, the road is a river, there’s water coming into the house in various places and the garden is getting pummelled.

Not sure if anyone’s studied this, but Bulgarian thunder must be the boomiest in the world. I don’t know if it’s because we’re in a narrow village that weaves between mountains – so the thunder reverberates around – or the general lack of other noise (except cars, tinkling sheep and chainsaws), but the thunder here is LOUD. In the old days, it used to make me cry out and spill whatever alcoholic beverage I was holding (I’m usually holding one). Now, we just give each other a look that says ‘Blimey, that was another big one.’ Each storm seems to circle above us, then move away, then circle back for a final flourish. BOOM!

Yesterday’s storm was the biggest of the year so far. When it storms, most of our cats either come home or find somewhere dry to hide in the garden. Not Baxter. Ordinarily, Baxter is our smartest cat, an evil genius who has somehow learned to unlock our locking cat flap. But when it rains or there’s a storm, he’s the only one guaranteed to come in sopping bloody wet. And immediately try to jump at us for a cuddle. I think he does it to torment us.

A very wet Baxter, looking like the unloved 'before' picture
in an RSPCA advert.

God knows how bad the garden looks today after yesterday’s storm. It’s almost midday and I still haven’t been outside to inspect the damage. Our tomatoes had no protection from the hailstones. And I hadn’t got around to staking the taller of the foxgloves. It probably looks like a dystopian wilderness out there. And it looked so pretty before the storm…

I suppose I’ll have to brave it after lunch, head outside, and try to salvage floppy, bedraggled plants wherever possible. (And do the daily snail hunt. Bastards.)

Speaking of lunch, Rob made this delicious toffee apple upside-down cake the other day. It’s egg-free, dairy-free and looks as pleasing as an Orla Kiely bag. (Which is very pleasing.)  

He also made – he’s been getting more into baking lately, which is great for me as I get all the pleasure of cake with none of the mess of making it – some fab peanut butter banana bread blondies. These were so good we didn’t even take a picture before falling upon them and devouring them, like a small but no-less-efficient pack of hungry wolves. Highly recommended if you want a different take on the lockdown banana bread cliché…

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Cold spring, gardening boast

Spring flowers from the garden.

Hard to believe it’s June next week, when it feels like spring barely got started. It’s been a funny old spring, weather-wise. Much colder than usual, with only a week or so of temperatures above 25°C. The rest of the time, the thermometer has been struggling to get out of the teens.

You’d think the garden would be lagging behind as a result, but it doesn’t seem to be. Things are growing well enough. The courgettes and squash have been planted out pretty much on time. The tomatoes haven’t been planted out yet, but that’s more to do with logistics than the weather (their home-to-be, the sunken greenhouse, is still just a hole in the ground).

The only casualty of the weather has been my chillies – after two separate sowings, all I’ve managed to germinate are two pathetic seedlings, which possibly haven’t survived yesterday’s downpour. It’s not a disaster – we still have loads of last year’s chillies in the freezer – but I’ll miss them in the garden. There’s something very festive about a plant decorated with ripening chillies, like an edible Christmas tree. Maybe the neighbours will donate some spare plants…

Otherwise, the garden is looking well. Or at least, the half of it that isn’t a building site is looking well. Gardening has been a godsend this spring, as we’ve spent even more time at home than usual. It’s given us exercise, fresh air, fresh food, and constant things to look forward to. Gardening is an optimist’s game, after all.

It’s also mindful work. Which is good for people, like me, whose brain is constantly skipping ahead. (Kumail Nanjiani said that when he eats something delicious, he’s mourning the end of the delicious thing from the first bite, rather than actually enjoying eating it. That’s me, with everything.) When I spend an hour weeding, I almost forget that 2020 has been knocked completely off its orbit.

So although it’s freezing cold and rainy today, although the garden is probably being munched by our unwanted snail army as I write, enjoy some pictures of warmer days this spring and indulge me in a little gardening boast.

But first, let’s remind ourselves what it looked like when we bought the house 10 years ago…

Grass, molehills and some mature trees. That was it.

The 'view' from the back of the house wasn't exactly great. Unless you
 like chain link fences and haunted umbrellas.

And here it is in May 2020. I mean, we'll never be 'done', but we've come a long way...

Monday, 18 May 2020

In search of cheese – or, the Great Bulgarian (Vegan) Pizza Off

Firing up the pizza oven for the first time this year.

Being the borderline millennial clichés that we are, it was only a matter of time before we started eating vegan-ish. We already ate vegetarian 95% of the time (the other 5% being a weakness for barbecue ribs). We ate vegetarian sausages and burgers, and cooked our fried breakfasts with halloumi instead of bacon. Our curries and pasta sauces were consistently meat-free. Bean chilli is, in our book, far superior to chilli con carne. Yes, we’re those type of people. Bean-eating, Europe-loving, wet lefty lettuces.

And we used to say to ourselves, every time we watched a documentary about factory farming (because we're fun like that), ‘Well, at least we hardly ever eat meat.’ Then the penny dropped earlier this year: yes, we hardly ever ate meat, but we were still eating animal products every day. Milk in tea, a dollop of yogurt or sprinkle avalanche of parmesan on top of most meals…

So we went vegan-ish a few months ago. I say ‘ish’ because we still wear leather shoes and eat honey, which disqualifies us from the vegan club. And there’s a strong chance we’ll still bake a ham this Christmas, which would definitely disqualify us from the vegan club. I guess the correct terminology would be ‘95% plant based’. As in, ‘No cheese for me, thank you, I’m plant based.’ But who can bring themselves to say such a thing?

It’s been easy, too, since all we had to do to turn the majority of our meals from vegetarian into vegan was simply stop dumping yogurt or cheese on top.

Which brings us to the main point of this post: cheese. I suspect cheese is the one thing that stops most vegetarians going The Full Vegan. There are certain meals where cheese is absolutely essential – risotto and pizza being obvious examples. (I know you can get vegan cheese and nutritional yeast, but we can’t get any of that stuff locally and I’m bollocksed if I’m traipsing to Sofia to hunt down nutritional yeast in the middle of an actual pandemic.)

But we love risotto and pizza, so we came up with a way to get that rich, creamy, savoury-saltiness you get from cheese, without using any real cheese. The method we came up with involves tahini. Wait, come back! Stick with me…

For some reason, the combination of tahini and garlic and a load of olive oil makes a sauce that tastes … not exactly cheesy, but sort of. I don’t know if it’s some special alchemy between the particular brands of tahini and olive oil that we use, or if the same thing happens whatever tahini and olive oil you use. No idea. All I can say is it works for us. (Recipe coming up at the end, for those who are curious.)

We use this magic concoction in lots of ways, basically any time we want to replace the dairy hit achieved by cheese or butter. It goes into our bechamel sauce for lasagne. I stir it into risotto in place of the butter and parmesan. We’ve been known to dollop it on top of a veggie burger. The other day, I used it as the base of a vegan mushroom rarebit (add English mustard, Worcester sauce and Marmite to the magic concoction, stir it through beer- or cider-cooked mushrooms, pile onto toast, bake in the oven for a bit. Delicious).

And, the other weekend, we pooled it on top of pizza as a substitute for mozzarella. In the interests of science (and using up the vast quantities of cheddar we have in the freezer), we made some pizzas with cheese on, and some with the magic not-cheese, cheesy sauce. You’re welcome, science.

Homemade tomato sauce (tomatoes, garlic, oregano, balsamic vinegar
and olive oil cooked down for half an hour or so).

Pizza 1 (left) with pools of 'cheesy' tahini sauce. Pizza 2 (right) smothered in cheese.

The results of our experiment (apart from epic indigestion)? Cheesy pizzas are better. Duh. Of course they fucking are. Cheese is the best thing ever. The magic tahini sauce obviously doesn’t stand up to real cheese. (And maybe isn’t even as good as vegan cheese or nutritional yeast, we don’t know.)

But as vegan pizzas go, they were pretty damn good. I’d definitely have the tahini version again, because it hit the same sort of fatty, creamy spot as mozzarella. It’s certainly better than just having a pizza with tomato sauce and vegetables, which, as Rob insists, isn’t a pizza at all, but is just a flatbread with stuff on.

So there we have it. Vegan pizza isn’t as good as, well, pizza. But it’s still pizza. And I haven’t yet met a pizza that I didn’t like.

Magic not-cheese, ‘cheesy’ tahini sauce
  • Tahini (A couple of tablespoons. It’s got to be good tahini, of the sort you’d get from a Middle Eastern shop. Sometimes the tahini you find in the ‘health food’ section of supermarkets is a bit grainy. It has to be perfectly, perfectly smooth for this sauce.)
  • Cold water
  • Lemon juice
  • Smooshed-up garlic (half a clove to a clove, depending on whether you want the sauce to actually taste of garlic or not)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil (several good glugs)

  • Put two tablespoons of tahini in a bowl (give it a good stir in the jar first).
  • Add a small drizzle of cold water (like, a tablespoonful or so) to the bowl and stir the shit out of it. The tahini will separate, seize up and generally look disgusting at first, but keep stirring and it’ll begin to get smoother.
  • Once the water is incorporated and the tahini has gone smooth again, add a little more water and stir and stir and stir again. Do this (adding a little water at a time and stirring vigorously) a few more times until it reaches a nice loose consistency – much thicker than a vinaigrette, but looser and more voluptuous than the tahini in its original state. (Think of the consistency of salad cream or a really thick natural yogurt and you’ll be on the right lines.) Don’t worry if you’ve added too much water and it’s too runny – just add a bit more tahini to thicken it up. Stir, stir, stir.
  • Slosh in some lemon juice, and add the garlic and a pinch or two of salt and pepper. The garlic is key, for some reason, so don’t leave it out. Stir, stir, stir.
  • Then add a good glug of olive oil (like, a couple of tablespoons) and, you guessed it, stir, stir, stir. Do this a few more times until the sauce looks like something you want to put in your mouth – rich, glossy, almost mousse-like. Taste it, and if you want it saltier or more lemony or more garlicky, tweak to your tastes.

And that’s it, you end up with a luscious, shiny sauce that – to us – has a savoury richness not unlike cheese. Or maybe we’re just weird.

Friday, 8 May 2020

The ‘rona report, part 3: Where’s my head at?

At least this dude is enjoying himself.

Seems we’re all a bit woo-woo, mentally speaking, at the moment. But what I don’t get is why Rob and I are affected. We blasted through the first month of lockdown feeling very pleased with ourselves for being in rural Bulgaria, where the number of cases is low. We smugged to each other about having a big garden and a chest freezer. Then a few days ago we just … deflated. Why, when our life is carrying on pretty much as normal?

I mean, we already had the skimpiest social life going. This whole not-going-out thing is normal for us, and that’s the way we like it. So why do we suddenly feel so claustrophobic and antsy?

We’re used to living in each other’s pockets 99% of the time. So why are we getting on each other’s tits so much? Why does he seem glum and why am I so irritable this week?

I work from home and ordinarily display Spock-like levels of self-discipline. My working life hasn’t changed, except for a slow-down in the volume of work. So why can’t I concentrate for shit right now?

Example: I just did an online Moonpig order for a friend’s 40th birthday. Ten minutes later I get that pee-your-pants feeling and think, ‘Wait, did I even sign my name at the bottom of her card?’ I go back to Moonpig and discover that, yes, thankfully, I did sign my name, but that’s all. No customary post-name kisses. And I left off Rob’s name. It’s too late to change it, so my poor friend will just have to put up with a very curt birthday card that completely excludes my partner of 14 years. 

I wander off and forget to reply to WhatsApp messages. I read emails about 14 times in a row because I can’t seem to remember what the previous sentence said. I walk into the pantry, switch on the light and think, ‘What did I come in here for then?’ I call things by the wrong name so often, Rob’s stopped correcting me (and he fucking loves correcting me).

Why? Why, when our life is very much fine? We’re taking our vitamins, eating well, and sleeping well. Folks back home are as safe as they can be (*touch wood*). We’re having more video chats with people than ever. The garden explodes a little more into life each day. It’s asparagus season. And, obviously, we’re safely tucked up at home, far removed from the realities of frontline work.

It's been a slow spring, but things are greening up at last.

A good haul, earlier this week.

So why are we morphing into crap, sad zombies?

One theory, of course, is that the lockdown novelty has well and truly worn off. But I’m not so sure. I think it might be the opposite. I think we might be (whisper it) a bit sad to hear talk of lockdown measures easing, both here and back home. I’m not ready for it to end. Setting aside the bigger picture of whether it’s even safe to ease restrictions, I just haven’t got anything meaningful to show for it yet. I had all these grand plans to be creative and active and productive, and other things that end in ‘ive’ (reproductive? deductive?).

Instead, life outside is already returning to normal (in BG, at least) and I’ve done nothing useful except not get sick. Oh, and we’ve frozen a lot of lemon slices. So I guess that's good. 

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

The ‘rona report, part 2: Freezer pleaser

This week we have mainly been drinking frozen margaritas. You?

It all started with the frozen lemon slices. Before long, I was freezing pretty much anything that wasn’t nailed down...

When you grow your own veg, you quickly learn to love the freezer. We make huge batches of passata with our tomatoes and freeze them for winter. Our entire basil crop gets frozen into a couple of dozen bags of pesto. We freeze surplus veg. We freeze (as well as dry) homegrown chillies and herbs. 

I've even been known to keep a stash of emergency crumble topping in the freezer. That's how dedicated I am to my chest freezer. But, lately, we’ve kicked it up a notch and are freezing more than ever. Anyone else doing this? When we venture out to the shops, I buy extra veg to cook down for the freezer. It’s all getting used, too, since we’re eating like a pair of wrestlers.

I’ve even taken to freezing slices of banana to make frozen banana daiquiris on demand. Anyone else? Just me?

Onions can be frozen as well. I remember once seeing ready chopped, frozen onions in the supermarket and thinking (judgemental goblin that I am), ugh, what kind of gross chav uses frozen onions? But when we ran out of fresh onions recently, I would have been very grateful to have a bag of frozen onions. So next time we went shopping, we bought extra onions for freezing. Just dice and bag up in useful portions. Admittedly, it’s not the funnest way to spend an hour, peeling and chopping a dozen onions...

We’re also freezing chopped, sauteed mushrooms. This may sound like a faff, and it is, but when you’re making something like veggie burgers from scratch, which already involves a lot of elements, not having to clean and cook mushrooms is a big time-saver. Now we just get a bag out of the freezer and they defrost in no time.

Speaking of burgers, when we’re going to the effort of making our own veggie burgers (beetroot, carrots, onions, mushrooms, spices, breadcrumbs, and whatever beans and lentils we have lying around), we make a batch of at least 12 and freeze them before cooking. We also routinely keep burger buns (sometimes bought, sometimes homemade) in the freezer. Since the burgers can be cooked from frozen and the buns don’t take long to defrost, we’re only ever 30 minutes away from smashing a delicious burger into our mouths. There’s something deeply reassuring about that, especially now that we’re eating like wrestlers.

In case you’re worried that our fridge is feeling left out, it isn’t. It’s full of mysterious jars, like that jar of chickpea cooking water, or the used-up gherkin jar that we refuse to throw away because the pickling solution is good for dressings.

Reader, we've started pickling dill. (Just pack some chopped dill into a jar, pour hot white vinegar over the top, fasten and store in the fridge when cool.) It’s not as strong as fresh dill, but it gives a good enough dill-y hit for burger sauces and dressings.

Most of the garlic in the shops at this time of year is abysmal and won’t keep for long. (We’ve long since used up our homegrown garlic from last year.) So when we finally found a stash of decent garlic in a local shop, we bought LOADS of it and spent a good hour peeling every clove to store in vinegar (again, pack the cloves into a jar and pour over hot vinegar. Store in the fridge when cool).

Now, full disclosure, home-pickled garlic does have a worrying tendency to
turn blue, but The Internet assures us this is perfectly fine
and nothing to worry about.

I should stress again that we live only 10 miles from a well-stocked supermarket. Clearly all this activity stems from a need to try and control events, rather than any real fear that we’re going to starve. But from a control-freakery point of view, it’s working wonders.

How is your inner control freak making itself known?

Thursday, 16 April 2020

The ‘rona report, part 1: No scrap left behind

When life gives you lemons (and orange cordial), make (orangey) G&Ts.
Then re-use the lemons.

I’ve always been a bit competitive about food and drink. The number of times a waiter has looked at me in a restaurant and said, ‘Are you sure you want to order all that? It’s a lot for one person to eat.’ And I’ve puffed up my chest in response and said, ‘Just watch me.’

When I was in my twenties, I got into a Guinness drinking competition with a Geordie man twice my size and I won. True, I was so ill later that night I gave up drinking alcohol for five months. But I won! And that’s all that matters. What I’m saying is, had I been born American, there’s no doubt in my mind I’d be a champion pie eater. I’d probably have to get around on one of those mobility scooter things. But I’d definitely be state champion.

As it happens, I’m not an American. I’m a middle-aged English woman who lives in rural Bulgaria, where there isn’t a lot of scope for competitive eating. Which is perhaps why I’m so competitive about leftovers.

Yes, leftovers. It’s a source of personal pride that I can make something tasty out of pretty much any leftovers, and we almost never throw things away. A bit of unused ketchup in a bowl becomes the basis of a chilli sauce for falafel. A couple of handfuls of leftover cooked lentils gets turned into a mustardy lentil salad. Chickpea cooking water goes in a jar in the fridge to make future mayonnaise-like sauces. The dill vinegar from an empty jar of cornichons gets saved for dressings. We laugh in the face of expiry dates.

You get the idea. In our house, throwing away edible items is a sign of weakness. But lockdown life has taken this competitive thriftiness to a whole new level. Even though we have a decent supermarket within 10 miles of our house, and we’re generally shopping for food every two or three weeks, I’m acting like we may never see another food shop again. In my head, every wasteful scrap put in the bin or on the compost heap will surely lead to future starvation. I am, in short, a bit more mental than usual.

For example, I mentioned before how we’ve been freezing sliced lemons, thus ensuring a constant supply for G&Ts. That’s a good thrifty tip, you may say. No, it’s not thrifty enough, the new, improved, slightly-more-mental me would reply. So I’ve taken to fishing the used lemons out of our empty G&T glasses and keeping them in the fridge to be used again. Turns out the finely chopped, G&T-soaked rind is lovely in everything from pasta sauces to risottos to houmous.

Then we made a dozen fruit buns for Easter weekend. What we should have done was halve the recipe, because 12 buns is obviously too many for two people, even two gluttons like us. Pretty soon they were turning stale, and we still had six buns left. I was livid at our feckless wastefulness. And so we spent our Easter Sunday morning picking out the sultanas and cranberries and whizzing up the stale buns to make sweet, spicy breadcrumbs – that were used later in the day, with walnuts from the garden, to make a festive nut roast.

First they were buns. Then they went stale. Then they were
resurrected into a nut roast. #EasterFoodParables

But I think I hit a new high (or low, depending on your viewpoint) yesterday. I’d chopped some onions and carrots for a lentil thing I was making, and I had the peelings and dirty dog-end bits in a bowl ready for the compost heap. That bowl did not look appetising. But every time I looked at it, my brain would scream, ‘DON’T YOU FUCKING DARE THROW THOSE BITS AWAY.’ You can guess what happened next, can’t you? I spent the rest of the morning making vegetable stock from the peelings, which then became veg and lentil soup, using some of the lentils I’d cooked for lunch.

This is all very admirable, but my God it’s a drain on my time. I reckon I’m spending 90% of my waking life finding new and inventive ways to use lemon rind and onion peelings. When my freelance work returns to normal levels, I genuinely don’t know how I’ll find the time to fit it in. The work, that is.