A Simple Christmas Eve Family Celebration In Bulgaria

A Simple Christmas Eve Family Celebration In Bulgaria Christmas here with Galia’s family in Yambol was a simple affair with no gimmicks attached. The plan was to have a family get together on Christmas Eve and just talk, eat, drink and dance, bit not necessarily in that order. Four generations of family were all together in one place by 9:00 Christmas Eve and the food and drink was being dipped into.

Christmas is very economical here ijh out household, I don’t think it would be much different if we had money either as the habit of not wasting money is instilled into Bulgarian souls here. As a couple of examples is the fact that we don’t exchange Christmas cards and most of the food is homemade during this season with the majority stocks that have been grown from the summer and autumn. It makes so much sense to be like this/. To me sending Christmas cards was always done in the main just for the sake of it and to not send one was made out to be criminal. This was the only reason many were sent not to be made to feel guilty.

Shopping at Christmas and crowds leading up tot Christmas just doesn’t happen here. To me this is such a great thing to experience and my thoughts are always on my past and the rush and bad tempers and the stress and the commercial rut that the UK is in. It is hard not to get that past and the mayhem of this out of my head even after quite a few Christmases here.

A Simple Christmas Eve Family Celebration In Bulgaria Decorations at this festive season are at a minimum and what we do put out are used year in year out. We just have a simple Christmas tree is a simple half a metre tall plastic affair, which never ages in the ten years it has been used here. It is just as effective each year without lights. No fancy ceiling and wall decorations, just two little Santa Clause figures hanging from a couple of cupboard knobs, that’s it.

Food at this time of year is not that much different form our daily meals. Dishes for the Christmas Eve family celebration consist of vegetarian dishes up until midnight when the meat dishes come out. We all came with out own dishes, which made up the seven different dishes of the night. Seven different dishes on this particular night is traditional although it can be extended to nine or eleven. Apart from the traditional baked bread, the sweet boiled wheat dish and mushroom (in place of mince) filled sarmi (stuffed vine leaves) all the other dishes are regular finds on our kitchen dining table. To me this home made food from homegrown products is a special celebration every day in any case. The difference is the company and occasion, which makes it even more special.

This is a time for all generations to get together as the eldest member of the family starts the celebration off with a speech. Baba at 85 was the eldest and did the honours. She was then handed the flat bread and broke off the first piece then passed to on to every person there. We all hoped to get the buried 20 stotinki coin that gave good luck for next year, guess who got it – Yes me. I felt quite guilty denying all these Bulgarian their luck.

The evening was now rolling with fun and laughter all round aided by lashings of rakia (all three varieties of homemade). Then the dancing started and the gifts made to the children. Not gifts that you expect. These were little gifts of little sweet snacks and some fruit (and apple and an orange) in a little plastic bag. The children of the family were more than content with their gifts, which were gracefully accepted from another older member of the family. The older members of the family are seen with great respect here and again this is so rewarding for me to watch each year.

A Simple Christmas Eve Family Celebration In Bulgaria Dancing, eating drinking and of course talking with the volume on a never crescendo throughout the night continued. Midnight came and the meat was served. This was simply sliced salami and the end of the traditional fasting from meat (just the day for us but puritans from the 5th December.)

We finally left at 4:00 in the morning with Baba being supported on both sides by Galia and myself, I think we both needed her support to be quite honest. Home was only 400 metres away as we arrived and all slept like a log after a heart warming occasion that could and did bring a tear to my eye.

This is how Christmas should be celebrated, with family, tradition upheld and simple food, drink and respect for everyone, something that I am still getting used to here after all the Christmases I never really looked forward to in the UK.
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Working Before Holidays In Bulgaria

I was work this Saturday as it was taken in lieu of the non-public holiday on the 31st January. I thought it was going to be a bit of an easy day with an early finish, not such luck as I wearily walked out of the factory gates at 17:07 after an sharp crisp icy 8:00 start.

What made it worse was that the Lada’s brakes had frozen solid this working Saturday morning after around a –7 C night that followed the rain the previous evening. The water off the road driving home Friday evening must have been the cause of the ice between the brake pads. It was strange that I was the only one stationary this morning, I found out why shortly afterwards. Bulgarian drivers leave their handbrake off during sub-zero temperatures overnight parked up and carry a brick with them to place under the wheel to stop rolling. This won’t happen again with this bit of Bulgarian wisdom taken on board as I embarked into another Lada, this time a taxi) whose driver used this trick last night.

It was indeed a couple of weary people catching a life home only to find that we had guests waiting who didn’t’ know we worked today and it was preparing food and drink after seeing to the Lada with a brick hand. We parties on through the evening and I even got the privilege to see my football team Arsenal live on television Arsenal winning 3-0 against Hull City. The sound was muted and Bulgaria music was played over it. It was quite a funny two hours of football watching Arsenal dance around the opposition with Chalga and Bulgarian conversation in full flow.

Our guests were out of work, but they look upon this a break or ‘pochivka’, I wasn’t too sure whether they were trying to put a brave face on it or whether they really saw it like that. I think the former was the case as they left us at midnight. It was a deep sleep we both had still waking up at 6:30 naturally then going back to sleep again, just a great moment that!

Galia hates the cold and it’s cold. Just walking 100 metres to the shop and back with an artic wind in your face just doesn’t bother me at all, but Galia finds this extremely uncomfortable. My greatest hate about winter is the time it takes to get dressed and undressed, always in a rush, it is frustrating with the amount of clothing that has to be put on just to pop down the road of a loaf of bread.

We now have Sunday off, but an early bed awaits us in the evening with a 6:30 alarm call again Monday morning. Three days of hard graft then 4 days of Christmas to look forward to. I just hope we get paid before the holiday. We are due to have the whole of Galia’s family together her cousin’s apartment block Christmas Eve to see us all into Christmas Day. It will be mainly a vegetarian affair with banitsa and other Bulgarian goodies including lots of dark beer and rakia until midnight when the meat party begins for real and of course freshly slaughtered pig salami will be the first on the new look menu. Most people now only fast on the day rather than from the 4th December which it the strict tradition. We did the same thing three years ago and a memorable event it was then, before I started blogging though. (You can read about Christmas Eve in a Bulgarian Village on my other blog 365 Bulgarian Adventures)Picture from 365 Bulgarian Adventures (Christmas Eve In A Bulgarian Village)

I was too tired to use the camera last night, besides which I am still not too familiar with the set up and am quite disappointed with the quality of pictures to date. I hope to get quite a few shots over Christmas though. I case I don’t get time to post another blog before the 25th can I wish everyone a lovely family Christmas from Galia and myself.
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No Garlic Planted And Chicken Gizzard Balls Result

No Garlic Planted And Chicken Gizzard Balls ResultIt was back in the village farmhouse after a two-week absence. The plan was to sow 1,000 garlic sets for early green garlic for salads early in the spring. All was fine travelling the 37 kilometres in the pitch-black countryside knowing that there was a wood burner waiting to get started when we get there alongside a salad and the new batch of rakia that was brought along. Today was the start of winter weather and was the first day of frost overnight as the supply of fresh daily peppers form the factory farm took their last bow.

We needed this short break this weekend, as it is an extra working day next week working Saturday to make up for one of the non-public holidays in the four-day break at Christmas. We don’t get paid for any public holidays either, that is how it is here with many Bulgarian firms.

Effectively we lose four days pay over the holiday period due. Initially I thought we have been hard done by, but thinking about it again, this makes complete sense, why should you get paid for not working? I had it too easy in the UK it seems getting full pay for a total of around 12 weeks year in year out on holidays when the schools are shut. Having said that, most professionals, including teachers here do get paid during holidays as well, but they are the exception to the working class rule.

Back to the village farmhouse it is a cold house we met, but that was short lived as the fire was started and the thaw began. Within the hour it was a warm lived in home again and the long evening was a treat knowing that a 6:30 start wasn’t due the next day.

I woke at 6:30 the next morning as my body alarm hasn’t a switch off function. It was snowing and my initial smile dropped as I realised that the garlic sowing was going to be difficult if not impossible with the amount of the snow lying and still falling. It became an impossible task by midday as the fall continued throughout the day and evening up to the point of typing at 8:00 this evening!

Garlic on hold it was now anti-freeze in the lada radiator, a load of straw stuffed in sacks and squeezed in the water shaft to prevent freezing up when we are away and rose bushes pruned. Funny, only two days ago I was sunbathing outside during my lunchtime break in a short-sleeved shirt.

Back in the farmhouse it was a wondering mind thinking about what I could do with chicken gizzards that we had got out of the freezer. Galia was keen to cook, but I love doing the same on my home patch and got the nod to use my imagination on the gizzards. Gizzards are a quite tasteless and tough so the would need a lot of boiling and other ingredients to make them tender and a have more taste respectively. I ended up with a very complimentary result, which had full praise from Galia who is very honest in her opinions of whether she likes the food she tries. I noted all the ingredients and the process and give the recipe here:

No Garlic Planted And Chicken Gizzard Balls ResultChicken Gizzard Balls

500 gm Chicken gizzards
1 medium onion finely chopped
2-3 garlic cloves finely chopped
6 chestnuts (boiled and skinned)
100 gm sirene (goats cheese)
1 egg
Brown breadcrumbs (two slices worth)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
200 ml red wine
¼ chicken stock cube
1 teaspoon paprika pepper
Sunflower oil for shallow frying

For the batter
200 gm plain flour
1 egg
3 tablespoons plain yoghurt
150 ml dark beer

Tidy up and wash the gizzards. Put in a pan, cover with water and bring to the boil,. Take the scum off with a ladle and simmer for at least 4 hours. (This is where a cooking space on our wood burners come in useful in.)

Prepare the batter by mixing all the ingredients together really well and putting in the fridge whilst working on the gizzard ball preparations.

Drain and rinse the gizzards with cold water. When cool, chop the gizzards up finely with a knife or use a food processor. With a little oil fry the onions and garlic until soft. Add the gizzards, chicken stock, a little salt, pepper, paprika pepper and raise the heat stirring continuously for 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and leave to simmer with a stir every so often until the wine has totally evaporated. Add the sirene and chestnuts and stir in well until the mixture is well blended.

Place the mixture into another bowl and leave to cool for 20 minutes. Add the egg and breadcrumbs and mix. Using your clean hands mould the mixture into balls the size of golf ball and lay on a plate ready for batter dipping.

Bring the batter out of the fridge (it should have been in there for at least an hour.) Heat the oil in a pan and test the right heat by place a drop of the batter in the oil, which should sizzle and turn brown after a few seconds. When ready, submerge the gizzard balls in the batter and gently place in the hot oil. You can probably get them all in one go, if not just stagger the frying.

The balls will need turning after 2-3 minutes or if the underside is lightly browned off. The same process once turned will lead to the balls being ready for placing on a plate with a kitchen towel to take up the excess oil. Leave to stand for ten minutes before serving alongside a salad, fresh bread and your favourite wine or beer.

Hot and cold they taste great and puts chicken gizzard in a new culinary light. They will last for a few days in the fridge if stored in a sealed container.

Having just digested a few just over an hour ago, my thoughts turn to eating some reheated for lunch two days later at work. Somehow though I don’t think they will last that long as Baba is due to try some out tomorrow and Galia and I will no doubt dip into them again to keep her in dining company you understand. No garlic planted, but the sliver lining is chicken gizzard balls which wouldn't have come about otherwise.
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Freshly Picked Peppers In December In Bulgaria

Bell pepper, with both green and red colors, n...

It was quite amazing as I walked out into the factory farm today at lunchtime. Still there before me were peppers ready to be picked and eaten and that was exactly what I did. From July to December (6 months) I have eaten freshly picked peppers daily for my lunch and more. The massive stocks that were picked at the height of the growing season are still in the freezer untouched for very good reason.

In Yambol there has yet to be a frost that would decimate the last remains of peppers that hang there and still grow on. This is unfounded so the Bulgarians tell me. Most of them pulled up all their old pepper producing plants and turned the earth over for winter months ago. It seems that laziness has its rewards here with my production still rolling on.

On other fronts, we have had to cancel our weekend trips to the farmhouse twice over the last three weekends as party invitation had to be taken up. And why not, there isn’t much to do on the Skalitsa farmhouse other than finish sowing the garlic and there’s no rush. The party starts at 1:00 tomorrow (Saturday) and the occasion? Well the family just fancied a party, that’s it!

Well after all we have spent the best part of a year working the land so it is about time we did a bit more socialising with the town folk during winter. It looks like whether we are in the town or village, partying is the main vocation with winter upon us, albeit a very warm one right now.

Lastly, I am still trying to get a digital camera sorted out; I never thought it would take as long as this and apologise for the lack of photographs in recent months.

Image by Martin LaBar via Flickr
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