Holidays

IMG_7796.JPG

We managed a few days off this year to celebrate our 10th Wedding Anniversary and Kevin's birthday, thanks to some great friends who looked after the farm for us. I think they really enjoyed the barny aromas of the farm...! 

We took The Mighty Atom II all the way to the Black Sea and enjoyed some time in Sozopol and Ahtopol, both beautiful, although we had a particular soft spot for a gorgeous little jazz and cocktail club in Sozopol! 

Chef's Table with Niki Petrov

IMG_7653.JPG

We were so lucky to have our friend, chef Niki Petrov, come to the farm to cook a special six course dinner with us. It was a popular event and we had terrific fun organising, cooking and choosing the wine pairings. 

We had some great produce to choose from in the garden (despite the heavy rain this year) - some lovely mixed heritage carrots, courgettes, celery, salads...This, along with Niki's flair and creativity made for a lovely menu. 

We're looking forward to next time! 

The Mighty Atom II

We've always been fans of quirky old classics and we have bought this fabulous converted Fiat 126. Named after my first ever car, a Mini 1000, the original Mighty Atom, the Fiat is tremendous fun and seems to be a bit of a head-turner around town! 

IMG_7991.JPG

Spring

30716175_10156371290017417_8746811291848409088_n.jpg

The babies arrived a little later this year, meaning we weren't out in the barn in the freezing cold helping with deliveries this time! March was great, with four sets of twins. As ever, they have been a big hit with visitors. Sadly we have an orphaned pair of girls, but bottle feeding them has been a delight and they are thriving. The circle of life continues at the farm! 

Snowy New Year

IMG_6464.JPG

We've had our first proper snow of the year and the farm looks lovely (the snow covers the muddy garden!). The dogs are enjoying it, Queenie loves digging in it with her nose, but the goats don't like the cold and are getting bored in the barn waiting for spring. Their babies are a bit later this year, so we're all looking forward to their arrival! 

It's a great time of year to sit in the cosy farm house by the fire - come and join us! 

IMG_6458.JPG

Grazia's 'Woman of the Year' 2017

24174236_1906495799390603_2325975419359612472_n.jpg

I was honoured to be invited by Grazia magazine to be part of the Woman of the Year event for 2017. The theme was 'Without Borders' and they made videos of the lives of six foreign ladies who live in Bulgaria to show at the event. The animals were all a big hit when they showed the film about the farm! 

It was great fun to be involved in such an interesting project and it was wonderful to see the great and diverse work being done by women in this beautiful country. It was also nice to get dressed up for a change and not be covered in 'farm debris' :-) 

A Blog by Pieter from his stop at Cottage Farm on his Motorcycle Trip

_MG_9891.jpg

In Bulgaria. I was kindly offered to come and help at a small holding, about one hour south of Sofia. As it was too far to drive in one day I decided to split the journey up into two legs. Close to Thessaloniki I found a cheap camping with a pool. It was the second time ever that I used my tent (after Albania).

The next day I drove to Bulgaria via Macedonia. The pass from Macedonia to Bulgaria is very scenic, so I took quite a few stops to take photos. Somewhere in the afternoon I reached my home for the next two weeks. Enter Tina & Kevin, an absolutely amazing couple from the UK who traded their hectic corporate lives in London with the simplicity of living off the land somewhere in the Bulgarian countryside. Anyone who steps out of the rat race is pretty much automatically on my side so needless to say we got along pretty well. They had bought a house and over the past few years they had turned the weed infested garden into their own back yard supermarket. Or vegetable garden as people sometimes call them. I’m somewhat of a ‘city boy’ in the sense that I grew up with all food always coming from the supermarket. So the notion of walking into your garden and coming back with a handful of ingredients to make a delicious meal without ever going into a store is so alien to me! So much different green stuff of which I’ve already forgotten the names (koriander is one I remember). And it tasted so much more intense than the things you buy in the supermarket! And not just veggies. There was milk and cheese from the goats, eggs from the hens and in the freezer they had meat from last years pig.

I really loved the animals, even though the pig, ‘Big Mama’, can be a little bit intimidating in the beginning but she just likes to rub herself against your leg when she’s itchy. So there were: Big Mama with her piglets, goats with four young ones, peacocks, chicken & cockerel, ducklings, goslings, one grumpy old goose and two Yorkshire terriers. Oh and a whole family of cats and kittens! They were all so cute, but the funniest ones were the ducklings and goslings. 

Kevin and Tina have become authorities on just about everything there is to know about self sufficiency and they are great cooks, so I have learned heaps of new things in those two weeks. I can also milk goats now! Herding them was a different matter though, I managed to split up the herd. Or actually, one half of the herd just walked back home without consulting me.

I made a few day trips to the capital Sofia, where I met my brother in law who was going to Macedonia with a friend for the weekend to attend a wedding and he was flying via Sofia. So we had pizza at a nice Italian restaurant where only one of the waiters spoke English. On other days, I went to Plovdiv (Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited city, almost 8000 years old!) and to Borovets, a local ski and mountain hiking area close to where I was staying. I took my paraglider with me to start from one of the ski slopes but I decided not to fly as I calculated my glide path and the distance to the landing zone. Worst case scenario (some headwind and more sink than usual) would mean that I wouldn’t be able to reach the landing zone and that I would have to land in a forest on a mountain side, so even though the conditions were thermic, I passed.

I’ve had an absolute blast in those two weeks in Bulgaria and I’m going to miss the telly shouting, the Masterchef Australia sessions and my own pancake making with hysterical background music! Tina & Kevin: Thanks a million! Hope to visit you again some day!

You can find Pieter's blog about his adventures here: http://www.rideandparaglide.com

_MG_9737.jpg

A Blog by Petia, Flying Raconteur, about her visit to Cottage Farm

p1.jpg

I had the loveliest lunch and afternoon today! Tina and Kevin, the gracious British couple who own and run Cottage Farm Alino, invited for me lunch. I found their web site several months ago and I have been following their updates about the farm, the animals, the vegetables, and the delicious food that are part of their lives and work ever since then. And today I got to meet them and spend several wonderful hours in their company.

It was a perfect day to make the one hour trip from Sofia. The scenery along the road was simply stunning in the late summer light. I got to the farm and Tina and Kevin greeted me warmly and invited me into the den. The house is decorated with an eclectic mix of traditional Bulgarian village and English cottage styles, very inviting and comfortable. I could already smell something heavenly being cooked but we went on a tour of the farm first so I can meet the animals. As we were making our way by the vegetable patches towards the barn, a whole bunch of kittens were following us pretty much single file, only interrupted by Queenie the puppy who would joyfully wrestle them while the two fox terriers were playing around our feet - it was a sight to savor!

I met Big Mama and her piglets, the goats, the chickens, ducks, guinea pigs, and the two latest additions - the peafowl. All the lovely beasts as Tina calls them looked so happy. We then embarked on our lunch - and it was truly remarkable. I devoured two generous helpings of panzanella salad that was so delicious I could have been perfectly happy if that was the only dish they served. But no, there was more. The salad came with freshly baked crusty bread with homemade goat cheese. Then followed the most flavorful roasted chicken with white beans puree. And to top all this scrumptious deliciousness off, Tina and Kevin served a freshly baked upside down plum cake with homemade plum ice cream. Let’s just say this was a meal I will daydream about for months to come….

By the time we were done with lunch and coffee, nearly four hours had gone by! Tina and Kevin are not simply wonderful hosts but great conversationalists, too. It was so interesting to hear about their life - back in the UK and in Bulgaria, which they have been calling home for ten years now.

Tina and Kevin host regular Farmers’ Table Lunches/Meet the Animals as well as private lunches and events and trips to Alino Monastery. Visiting them is a fabulous way to spend a day in the beautiful Bulgarian countryside, which is particularly lovely this time of year. 

[This is Day 63 of my “92 Days of Summer” series - as I travel Bulgaria and a few other parts of the Balkans this summer, I am recounting my experience across the region. Flying Raconteur - Bulgaria Travel Inspiration www.facebook.com/FlyingRaconteur/]

p2.jpg

New Pup

We have a new pup here at the farm. She was abandoned in the village (a common problem here) and we couldn't bear to see her on her own, searching for scraps.

We have named her Queenie and so far she has been making friends with the other dogs, our Wire Fox Terriers, Maisie and Noel, and the kittens (although, in fairness, the kittens seem less keen!). She is incredibly friendly, happy and playful and has a voracious appetite. She looks like a Karakachan cross, so we suspect she will be growing into a rather large dog soon! 

Growing Season

Summer has well and truly arrived here at the farm. We have had some scorching temperatures, mixed with spells of heavy rain - perfect growing conditions for our veggie crops. Salads and beetroots have been superb already, along with the first courgettes, and we're  eagerly awaiting our first tomatoes and cucumbers. We're growing mixed varieties of tomatoes again this year, including early Rila, Italian plums, tiny cherries and the prolific Japaneses Black, that were so successful last year - exciting times! The aubergines are looking great too, with a wonderful display of flowers. 

Come and join us at one of our events and enjoy the fruits of the harvest with us! 

Spring Fever

It's been a fantastic spring so far here at the farm, with a bumper crop of babies - goats, piglets and kittens! We have been full every weekend with guests coming to meet them, it's been great fun. Easter week was a great success with super weather on most days, making the egg hunts around the blossom-filled garden a real pleasure. 

Come and visit for Elevenses or Afternoon Tea and you can meet the animals too and see the garden gathering momentum - the flowers are on their way! 

Goosey Goat Herd!

The first baby goats were born at the end of January and we now have three lovely new girls and a little boy. We're waiting for some more now! It has been pretty cold here and the pond has been frozen, so we have put everyone together in the barn to keep warm. Our goose, Lucy, has since become very attached to the goats and won't let anyone but us near them! She knew when Kelly and Prudence were close to giving birth and became very protective and now she grooms the babies and herds them back into the barn when they venture outside! 

It has been fascinating to watch but it means we need to move her back outside when anyone comes to visit - it'll be great when we have the big thaw and she can get back onto her pond full time! 

Happy New Year!

We hope you all enjoyed a wonderful festive season - here's to a fantastic 2017! We have lots of events coming up here at the farm and we hope that we get to see lots of you here. This month, we will be running our popular pig course, followed by a celebratory Burns' Supper at the end of the month. In February we are running a competition to win a Bed & Breakfast stay here, to coincide with our Valentine's Dinner. Have a look at the events pages and get booking before they fill up! 

We are awaiting baby goats right now and are working hard to keep the animals warm and well fed in this snow. Looking forward to Spring when we get the seed box out again and start planning what delicious things to grow for the year ahead. The changing seasons are so well defined here and it makes it very exciting to have so much to look forward to. 

So, cheers to 2017 and come to visit us soon! 

Merry Christmas!

It's been very cheery here at Cottage Farm all December so far, with our traditional Christmas dinners. We've had so many lovely guests over the last few weeks and it's been great fun to have you here celebrating with us over the festive season. 

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas and all good things for the New Year - here's to a great 2017! 

A Blog from Magi Pashova about our famous Christmas Pudding!

Обичайно по това време на годината сайтовете, посветени на хранене и здравословен начин на живот, се изпълват с публикации за алтернативни коледни рецепти и съвети как да не преяждаме по време на празниците. Аз обаче смятам да се разгранича от общия тон, не защото одобрявам празничното преяждане, а защото не намирам смисъл в това да изневеряваме на вековни традиции с извинението, че го правим в името на здравето.

 

Всъщност, все повече се убеждавам, че именно откъсването ни от всичко традиционно и изпитано в начина на живот и на хранене, е една от сериозните причини за прираста на много социално значими заболявания. Защото ако цяла година не се движим, ако цяла година ядем основно индустриално преработени храни с ниска хранителна стойност и високо съдържание на захар и трансмазнини, то едва ли т.нар здравословно коледно меню ще е достатъчно да поправим нанесените щети. И обратно, ако целогодишно се стараем да се храним с чиста и пълноценна храна, да се движим повече и да прекарваме повече време близо до природата, то с чиста съвест можем да се насладим на едно богато коледно меню, спазвайки стари обичаи и традиционни семейни рецепти.

 

Затова и днешната предколедна публикация няма да бъде за здравословен, а за традиционен десерт – прочутият английски коледен пудинг. Връщайки лентата 20 години назад през първата ми година като ученичка в английска паралелка на езикова гимназия, в съзнанието ми изплува спомена за дребната фигура на Мис Джули, учителката ни по правилно произношение, която по онова време беше взела доста екзотичното решение да живее и преподава в посткомунистическа България (за ужас на собственото ѝ семейство, както сама ни беше споделила). Мис Джули беше англичанка и когато се прибра след коледната ваканция ни донесе класически английски коледен пудинг, направен специално за нас от майка ѝ, (която междувременно беше приела избора на дъщеря си и беше решила да изненада приятно учениците ѝ).

Години наред помнех вкуса на онова парче пудинг, защото вкусът му беше различен от всеки сладкиш, който бях опитвала дотогава. Мис Джули ни разказа, че пудингът се приготвя няколко седмици преди Коледа и се оставя да узрее, като редовно се полива с няколко лъжици алкохол. Точно тази комбинация от всякакви сушени плодове, захаросани портокалови корички, ядки и алкохол правеха пудингът толкова различен и вкусен.

 

Търсила съм рецепта за коледен пудинг в много кулинарни книги и сайтове, само да разбера, че има различни рецепти, съставки и методи за приготвяне и някои от тях ми звучаха толкова сложно, че дори не се осмелих да ги пробвам. Затова, когато Кевин и Тина от Cottage Farm Alino ми предложиха да им гостувам и да видя как те приготвят своя коледен пудинг, знаех, че няма да пропусна тази възможност!

Убедена съм, че повечето от вас познават Кевин и Тина, но ако все пак се чудите кои са, те са симпатичната английска двойка, която можете да срещнете на фермерския пазар в София всяка събота или да им гостувате в тяхната ферма в село Алино до Самоков.

Ако преди 20 години решението на Мис Джули да дойде да преподава в България е изглеждало екзотично, то това на Кевин и Тина в наши дни по нищо не му отстъпва! Двамата са преподаватели по право с успешни кариери в Лондон, от които се отказват, за да заживеят в българско село и да създадат самоиздържащо се стопанство, където отглеждат плодове, зеленчуци и животни, правят домашно козе сирене и всевъзможни сладка и мармалади, известни сред посетителите на фермерския пазар.

 

През последната година Кевин и Тина бяха участници в различни кулинарни събития, гости на ТВ предавания и домакини на вкусни обяди от типа „от фермата до масата“ за гости на къщата им в Алино.

Всъщност всеки път, когато им гостувам в Алино, се убеждавам, че изборът им да се откажат от градската лудост и суета е колкото смело, толкова и правилно решение. Пример, който се надявам да мога да последвам в някакъв етап от живота си.

В деня, в който се бяхме уговорили да ги посетя за приготвянето на коледния пудинг, заваля сняг. Оказа се единственият истински снежен ден за сезона до сега, но и през ум не ми мина да се откажа от уговорката ни. Пуснах си диск с коледна музика и тръгнах с идеята до час най-много да съм в Алино.

Увереността ми се изпари някъде по средата между селата Бистрица и Железница, където пътят изобщо не беше чистен, и въпреки зимните гуми и стабилизиращите системи, колата застрашително започна да поднася по завоите. Освен това явно не бяха много ентусиастите да пътуват в този ден, защото за цялата отсечка между двете села се разминах само с 2 коли. В един момент се чудех дали да продължа напред или да се върна назад, но понеже не се отказвам лесно, спрях коледната музика, фокусирах се върху пътя и решително продължих напред.

В къщата в Алино цялото ми напрежение от шофирането се изпари за минути, защото попаднах в коледна приказка. Украсената елха примигваше с цветните си лампички, по топлите плочки на пода се излежаваха мъркащи котета, а домакините ме посрещнаха с обичайните си ведро и предразполагащо настроение.

Продуктите за пудинга бяха вече приготвени и включваха приблизително по 200 гр от следните съставки: сушени плодове, накиснати в бренди (в случая в домашна ракия с билки), настъргана ябълка, портокалови корички, кафява захар, брашно, масло, че яйца, 2 ч.л. микс от коледни подправки и 1 ч.л. сода за хляб.

 

Всички продукти за пудинга се объркват в голяма купа и точно тук се намества традицията: всички членове на семейството и гости на дома се изреждат да разбъркат тестото и да си пожелаят нещо, замесвайки желанието в пудинга. Някой друг да прави паралел с българското наричане и месене на хляб? Но това не е единствената прилика с нашите обредни хлябове. В коледния пудинг англичаните слагат и сребърна монета, за да донесе късмет на някой в семейството.

Тестото за готовия пудинг се изсипва в дълбок конусовиден огнеупорен съд, завива се добре с фолио и се поставя в тенджера, за да се готви на пара. Ако се използва класическа тенджера, този процес може да отнеме няколко часа, но Кевин и Тина имат хитър начин за пестене на време и използват тенджера под налягане, в която пудингът е готов за час.

През този час с домакините пием чай, хапваме mince pies (кексчета от маслено тесто с пълнеж от ароматен домашен мармалад) и те ми разказват още интересни английски коледни традиции като например специалната супа, която се приготвяла само веднъж в годината и се сервирала късно на Бъдни вечер след като семейството се прибере от църковната служба. Едно малко коте се е настанило в скута ми и тихичко преде, а аз с любопитство попивам историите, защото всички истории за отминали времена и традиции за мен са като приказки, само че по-вълнуващи и истински.

В сладки приказки и истории времето минава неусетно и е време да извадим готовия пудинг от тенджерата. Докато Тина сваля фолиото, Кевин приготвя маслена глазура от масло, захар и бренди и докато я излива върху пудинга, от него се вдига облак ароматна пара: перфектната коледна гледка.

 

Всъщност без глазурата и добре опакован, пудингът наистина може да се съхранява със седмици и само от време на време да се напоява с няколко лъжици бренди. В този случай преди сервирането му на коледната трапеза той отново се поставя за малко в тенджера на пара, за да се затопли и едва тогава се глазира или се поднася фламбиран за допълнително празнично настроение.

 

Повече за Кевин и Тина можете да видите на техния уебсайт и Фейсбук страницаили да се запознаете лично на фермерския пазар в събота. А след това английско гостуване, аз си запазвам последния пост преди Коледа за българските коледни традиции, така че отбийте се и следващата седмица.

Bacchus Dinner - фермерска кухня

We were invited by Bacchus Magazine to be guest chefs for a dinner at ShowHow on 20 September - what a blast it was! We were nervous and excited, of course, but we had fantastic support from the chefs at ShowHow and from Bacchus and we managed to rustle up a four course dinner of our farm grown produce for 70 paying diners. There were clean plates all round!

The menu started with an amuse bouche of our prosciutto, followed by smoked trout and goats' cheese pate on crostini with a garnish of our 'Japanese Black' tomatoes. We followed this with a beautiful salad of our pickled vegetables - beetroot, golden beet, green tomato, onion and peppers. The main event was gorgeous twice-cooked pork belly, celeriac and potato purée and mixed greens. We were really pleased with the way dessert turned out - our goats' cheese and orange parfait with orange curd and honeycomb, decorated with calendula flowers.

It was hard work, but tremendous fun and if we ever get invited back, we'll jump at the chance! Thanks to everyone for joining us there and for your support, it means an awful lot to us.

You can read about our adventure here in Bacchus Magazine:

http://bacchus.bg/novini/2016/09/25/2832433_neustoimata_fermerska_vecheria_na_tina_i_kevin/

 Pictures courtesy of Bacchus Magazine.

Pictures courtesy of Bacchus Magazine.

An August Day at Cottage Farm

We were recently asked to write a piece for Sofia Restaurant Week about a day on the farm, so here it is! 

It’s a busy, varied life here at Cottage Farm and never boring! The first round of milking starts at 8am. We open the barn door to a chorus of chatty goats; they all know it’s time for some food and then a day out in the mountains grazing. Our pigs, geese, ducks, chickens, cats and dogs also need feeding in the morning. It’s amazing how quiet it becomes here when everyone has had their breakfast!

We have eleven goats right now – four milkers, five babies and two old ‘aunties’ who look after the babies when their mothers are out with the village herd. We take part in the village ‘co-operative’ where each owner takes their turn to herd everyone’s goats for the day. We walk ours up to the village square to meet up with the others and hand them all over to the goat herd for the day. It’s a great time to catch up with the neighbours, sit for a coffee and buy the delicious ‘village bread’ which is delivered at 8.30 every morning, still warm from the oven. We come home and prepare the cheese from the morning’s milk and then decide our plan for the day over breakfast.

We grow a broad range of fruit and vegetables here, including many heritage and more unusual varieties and at this time of year, when the planting has all been done, it’s a matter of keeping on top of the weeds (we use absolutely no herbicides or pesticides) and watching everything ripen . It’s a wonderful time of plenty, reaping the rewards of our hard work earlier in the year. Right now we are enjoying a beautiful mix of tomatoes, peppers, chillis, beans and a huge glut of courgettes!  Soon we will have sweetcorn, onions, cabbages, pumpkins and later, the root vegetables; celeriac , Jerusalem artichokes, carrots and turnips. For the first time we are experimenting with growing quinoa this year. It is growing well, so we are looking forward to seeing what the harvest brings us.

Some days we have visitors to the farm, who come to see what we do, meet the animals and enjoy a traditional English Afternoon Tea, sitting outside next to the flower garden. It’s a treat for us to share our antique linens and crockery that we brought with us from England! On other days perhaps we’ll have a project to complete – building a fence, repairs to the barn or painting. The farm was derelict when we bought it three years ago and after a lot of time and effort spent rebuilding the farmhouse and setting up the garden, we now have a little more time to make everything ‘look pretty’!

Our produce is harvested to make our jams, pickles and chutnies, which change with the seasons. At the moment, our basil is perfect – rich and fragrant – so we make delicious fresh pesto with it (it’s a real hit at the farmers’ market!) We take photographs, write articles, blogs for our website and facebook pages and regularly are asked for media interviews – something we never expected when we set up our little small-holding with the primary aim of self-sufficiency!

We love to cook and one of the key drivers for our self-sufficient lifestyle is the high quality produce we can grow for our recipes. We always cook everything from scratch, using as many of our own ingredients as possible. As we often have volunteers here helping us over the spring and summer, this means we spend a lot of time in the kitchen preparing dinner for everyone! We suspect the good reviews of our food on the volunteer website is, at least partly, responsible for the steady stream of applicants we receive!

At around 7pm, it’s feeding time again. The pigs will enjoy the whey from the cheese (along with a healthy portion of courgettes to go with their grain mash!). The geese toddle their way into their house for the night, the chickens hop onto their roosts – they all know the time and where they live! We meet the goats in the square and bring them home for their evening milking, then tuck them all away safely in the barn. Then it’s our time to relax and think about the changing seasons, with something delicious for dinner and a glass or two of wine. 

Plovdiv and Villa Yustina

We celebrated our wedding anniversary this week with a stay in beautiful Plovdiv and a visit to the excellent Villa Yustina winery near the city. It was wonderful to visit as a tourist (we sometimes work in Plovdiv at events) in the gorgeous sunshine (it was raining here in the mountains when we left!). 

The winery was an inspiration and the staff were so welcoming and helpful, providing an interesting and knowledgeable tour of the winery and the processes involved in the production of their delicious wine. We enjoyed a tasting of a lovely, fresh white blend (the description of 'wet stones' was perfect); the Four Seasons range Spring white and the wonderful, deep, smokey and complex Monogram red. Well, we had to treat ourselves to a few bottles as an anniversary present to ourselves! We couldn't recommend Villa Yustina highly enough, so if you're in the region, pay them a visit, you'll love it!