Holiday!

We finally managed a few days away at the end of September courtesy of a friend who very kindly looked after the animals for us. We had great plans...'let's drive down to Greece and lie on a beach...' (we do miss being near the sea after having been ten minutes' away from it in the UK). The weather didn't look so great, but we headed on down to Halkidiki, planning to stop at a lovely looking little hotel in Arnaia. The village was very pretty, set in the hills, with lovely historical buildings. We sat down to a lunch of Souvlaki (pork shish), Tzatziki (mlechna salata), Greek salad with feta (Shopska with cirene)...and it was only twice the price of Bulgaria...

It subsequently turned out that the hotel we wanted was closed and there were no responses to our call or email. Ah well...we looked at the museum buildings...they were closed. We stayed at  another ok hotel, but they wanted to charge us nine euro for tea, coffee and two pastries the following morning, on top of the inflated room rate. The weather still sucked. So, rather than drive down to the coast, we turned around and came back to Bulgaria and headed for beautiful Melnik. 

The welcome was friendlier, the food and wine was better, the weather was better and we understood the language! We'll stick to Bulgaria for our short breaks in the future! 

Kapana Fest - Plovdiv

We were invited to attend Kapana Fest in Plovdiv last weekend. We spent the week before frantically cooking and labelling to ensure we had enough stock and enlisted our friend, Irina, to help with sales. Another friend, Paul, came along for the ride. The road trip was fun, including the singing of Scottish songs by Paul and we had a great result with parking and a lovely little hotel right where we needed to be in Kapana. We were warmly welcomed by the organisers.
We knew it would be a good weekend! 

It was a fantastic three day festival of food, crafts, music and culture and the weather was just perfect. It's a good few years since we've been to Plovdiv and it has changed so much - we just love the boho feel and the proliferation of creativity in the city. The magnificent Roman ruins have been beautifully preserved and presented and the old streets and buildings are so pretty. 

Our products were well received and we had great fun meeting lots of new people during the day. In the evening we met up for dinner and taking in the amazing atmosphere of the city, which was full of people of all ages enjoying the music, food and wonderful temperatures. We all had a fantastic time, it was genuinely tremendous fun - thanks PLOVeDIV, we'll be back! 

Beautiful Bulgaria

Our surroundings are stunning.  Sitting here writing this, the sun is streaming through the windows on every side of the cottage. It has been a great summer and throughout the seasons, our view of the Rila mountains from the farm is a constantly changing scene of brilliant blue sky and amazing sunlight; giant cloudscapes; crackling electrical storms all along the mountain range; even the glistening snow is beautiful when it comes. At night, the stars are myriad and bright - the moon looks huge. We sat outside watching the Perseids, spotting the constellations and the Milky Way. A tremendous thunder storm here a few weeks ago produced some dramatic and unusual clouds (and a distinct lack of electricity for several hours!) The place is teeming with amazing wildlife - birds, insects...even tiny frogs, one of whom paid us a visit in the dining room last night! How fantastic it is to see and discover new things like this so regularly and to feel so in tune with nature and the seasons in this beautiful country.

This late-summer time of plenty is such a contrast to early spring, when the farm is empty and bare, but full of the nutrients from our compost heaps, waiting to nurture the next planting of seeds for the coming summer. This August, the Goldfinches have been visiting to eat the seeds from my Cosmos and Sunflowers; the goats’ fur is glossy and perfect after months of grazing up in the pastures; the little water voles are happy along the river bank; the plums are turning beautiful pinks, oranges, purples and yellows; the chillies, corn and tomatoes are ripening every day; the Jerusalem Artichokes are growing taller before our eyes and will flower soon; we are still overgrown with courgettes and pumpkins; the basil still thrives. It’s extremely satisfying, and humbling, after all the hard work.

The next couple of months will be a time of plenty – harvesting, seed-saving and preserving – before we turn full circle again. 

TV – The Aftermath!

We were featured on BNT1’s ‘отьлизо с мира’ in a two-part segment on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th July (you can see it via the links under the photographs to the right). The filming took place at the end of May and was great fun - the team filming, editing and presenting the piece were great company and we really enjoyed it. It was a real pleasure to share the farm and our reasons for moving here and we were quite happy with the result (although it was a little embarrassing to watch!) We have had a positive response so far and it has been really surprising how many people have commented on it, in the feed-store, the bank, our local pizza restaurant to name but a few!

However, we have been caught out several times! Our family were highly amused by Kevin’s comment that we ‘never have a cross word’! Ok, ok, we RARELY have a cross word! Yesterday we went to the supermarket, we can’t grow everything we need here on the farm – rice, tea, coffee etc., but we were spotted buying chicken! The staff member nearby said, ‘I thought you only ate clean food!’ (she obviously didn’t much rate the supermarket fare either!) Oh, the shame! We rear our chickens for eggs only, meat chickens are different breeds and require different conditions. If you’ve ever eaten chicken that was a laying hen, you’ll recognize the difference! So I’ll come clean, like most people, we do buy some food from the shops, particularly when we are having a lot of people to stay, as we have this week, with four workawayers coming to help us out on the farm. However, the vast majority of our food is home-reared, home-grown and more healthy and delicious for it! Rest assured, we will all be tucking into Cottage Farm pork, eggs, cheese, fruit, vegetables and salad, with only the odd ‘dodgy’ chicken!

Winter is Coming

I know we all want to throttle the first person who says this in the summer, but it’s something we do have to think about quite carefully here at the farm. It’s been very hot for the last few weeks, in the 30s, so we’ve been skinny-dipping in the river up in the mountain when we’ve been goat-herding, we’ve been swimming in Lake Iskur (with costumes!) and generally enjoying the sunshine. We have also been swimming in a veritable tsunami of courgettes, hence the new recipes! 

However, once the summer fun is over, the goats will be stabled in the barn (they hate cold and snow) and will have to be provided with hay to feed on. We will no longer be able to rely on the sun to heat our water with the solar panels and we will need the full-force of our wood burner to keep the -20 degree temperatures at bay. So, this week, Kevin went to collect 50 bales of winter hay. These needed to be loaded onto the tractor trailer, driven back to Alino and then loaded into the top floor of the barn straight away to avoid it spoiling.  All in 35 degree heat. It’s quite some feat and he did us proud. 

At the same time, the delivery of our annual 15 cubic metres of wood has started. Ordering the wood in the summer means we get a better price and it has time to dry before it is needed. You don’t want to be looking for expensive, wet wood in February when it’s snowing! After several unsuccessful years with unreliable axes and chainsaws, we pay for the wood to be chopped for us by the professionals, but we still need to stack it all. At least we’ll start the winter quite fit, before the pork casseroles and rakia take their toll!

4th Anniversary Party - 24th May 2015

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We have been living in Bulgaria for four years now – it hardly seems possible. It is also one year since we started selling our produce at the Farmers’ Market in Sofia. So, to celebrate these momentous occasions, we held a party here at the farm. Of course, as is always the case, despite our inviting everyone at least two weeks before the party, we were belatedly informed of additional market events the same week! This meant hasty prep, cleaning and tidying and Kevin sorting out the hog roast on the Saturday night before the party, after we had both worked at a market each! Despite having to do the preparation in the dark towards the end, he did a fabulous job and everything was ready on time.

We had a wonderful turnout of great friends joining us to celebrate, with home-grown Cottage Farm pork, salads, home- made bread and accompaniments. We have met some great people here, of all ages, from different countries and from all walks of life (even someone from our old town of Faversham, who we never met when we lived there! It’s a small world!) and it has been a great privilege to do so. We have learned so much in our four years’ here and much of that is down to our lovely friends. Here’s to the next party! 

Tsanka The Master

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Most country people in Bulgaria make their own Rakia, from plums, grape must - after the wine has gone, or from other fruits (quince is particularly good). It was recently time to distill ours, from last year’s grape must (the wine was a good Cabernet Sauvignon, sadly long since gone!) Knowing how busy we’ve been lately, our neighbours, who have a still, kindly offered to do it for us.

Their still is a magnificent copper contraption, sitting on a fire box expertly fashioned from an old tractor wheel. The grape must is put into the big copper, which is then sealed completely with a flour and water paste. The fire is started, then, it’s a matter of feeding the fire and waiting for the floral-scented, but very potent, clear liquid to emerge from the condenser pipe. This can take a good five or six hours, so it was no lightly-made offer of help from Tsanka, who tended to it for us.

She did a great job, even fending off interference from her husband Mitko, saying ‘I am the Rakia master today!’ We now have a lovely fresh batch (in a ten litre bottle!) ready to offer our guests and to warm us up in the winter months! 

We Love What You’ve Done with the Place, Flo!

So last time, I mentioned that Flo, our breeding sow was looking very and unexpectedly pregnant. Bearing in mind the delivery of goat kids up on the pasture the previous week, we were keeping a close eye out for signs of imminent labour. In pigs, this is usually preceded by the building of a cosy nest of straw in the sleeping quarters of the pig house. Flo likes to arrange a little straw trough to lie in and then she tweaks the surrounding straw to her liking. 

She started this process last Friday evening, so we checked on her periodically. On one of these inspections, we noticed that both her big food and water buckets were inside with her developing nest. As they are quite large, we moved them out so that she had more space. On a later check, she had taken them back in! They were clearly an integral design feature which we obviously just didn’t appreciate due our woeful lack of understanding of porcine interior design trends!

Suffice to say, as soon as we stopped moving her furniture around, she settled down and had the babies early on Saturday morning – ten little piggies- how joyful!

International Jet Set

My oldest friend, Cathie, and her son, Josh are here with us this week, all the way from New Zealand. The neighbours are fascinated of course and it struck me that since our arrival in sleepy Alino two years ago, we have introduced some real exotica to the locals. 

We use a website called ‘Workaway’, a site which matches up travellers with room and board in exchange for work.  In this way, we have accommodated Canadians (it’s true what they say – they are adorable); Mexicans; Germans; Spaniards; French; Australians ; Greeks (the least said about him the better!), Brits and Irish. These have been, generally speaking, very successful, amusing and mutually beneficial arrangements which have also provided our neighbour, Stefka, the opportunity to practice her ten words of German and French many times over! The neighbours are also thrilled and amazed that these travellers work for free! (bez platno? Tochno?!) No greater ruse could be imagined here. 

I doubt very much that in Alino’s long history that anyone ever imagined our little village hosting such a diverse group of people from all over the world, but we are delighted to share its beauty and quirks with them.

DFL (Down From London)

We used to live in Kent , the county just below London and years ago, Whitstable, a small seaside town near us was a grey, depressing kind of a place. Now you can barely move for Porches with Knightsbridge and Islington parking badges and people called Tarquin and Camilla skipping up and down the road looking for the deli to restock their lobster fridges. The DFLs have arrived! Whitstable is the closest Kentish seaside resort to London and the weekenders discovered it. Thanks in no small part to their input, and lots of work by the locals, Whitstable is now a pretty place, full of lovely bistros, boutiques and some good hotels and B&Bs and is a real pleasure to visit.

Since we have lived here, we have often thought about the proximity of this beautiful area, surrounded by mountains and countryside, to Sofia. And now it would seem the DFSs (Down From Sofia?!) are considering this area as an ideal getaway, that’s not too far from the city. An estate agent friend of ours informs us that she sold a house here this week to someone who knows us from the market and several of our customers have expressed an interest in buying weekend houses here. That’s fantastic! I don’t think there’s much potential for boutiques or bistros here in Alino, but we have beautiful countryside, Belchin Bani, Tsari Mali Grad, Borovets  and Lake Iskar are close and perhaps we can accommodate some visitors in the future and feed them some delicious goodies from the farm! Is this the beginning of the commuter belt proliferation we experienced in the UK? Either way, it will be fantastic to see new life being breathed into the village.