Time for change!

Despite that this blog is called My Bansko I only ever write when I am travelling. This shall change. There is a lot of stuff going on in Bansko. But this is my everyday life and I have been thinking that it will be boring for people to read my views and opinions on our local life. But maybe there will also be some interesting bits from time to time.

Over the last  two years I have slowly but constantly gained weight. And I arrived at the end of the stretch in my clothes. Something needed to be done. But it took me a long time to get my act together. Since Monday now I am on a diet. Atkins diet. Mainly meat and eggs. And only water. We will see how it goes.

This is me, five days before the start of the diet :)

On Monday morning the scales said 120.2 kg, with clothes. On Tuesday I was down to 118.5 kg – without clothes :) . Yesterday morning at 117.3 kg and today 115.6 kg :) Of course, in this initial diet phase it is the water that leaves the body not the fat. But it is a start.

For at least the next two weeks I will be on the strict form of the diet. Only meat, eggs and a wee bit of green salads. If I can stand it I will continue that phase a little longer. We will see.

The first days are lucky because one of my employees slaughtered a pig and gave me 4kg of the finest meat and sausages. This is my food base for this week.

In addition I was able to buy the most wonderful eggs on the Sunday market. They have a taste like I am sure you enjoyed only few times in your life – if at all. The still have the chicken shit on them :)

Interestingly enough, I do not miss the alcohol (yet) after 4 days :)

To eat or to diet?

The proof of the cooking is in the eating, or so. So, a few final words about the calf adventure.

Late breakfast was with toasted baguette and breaded brain:

A very light and pleasant dish :)

Late supper consisted of another round of my tripe soup:

I know that many of you shiver from the mere thought that your mouth might get in contact with such a “disgusting” dish.I do feel sorry about you, because you limit yourselves. But everybody according to his own taste…

This shkembe chorba tripe-soup turned out the best I ever made (and ate). I cannot think of even any Asian dish that would have given me more pleasure! It was the quality of the ingredients and a felicitous blend of spices and ingredients that made this soup so special. A generous addition of Ricard was a lucky pull and the special white wine vinegar for the garlic helped as did the dried Thai chillies and the fresh coriander. No dope needed for this to blow your mind :)

There was also a maybe unusual ingredient with the tripe (I am not so sure if one would count it as tripe):

Any idea what organ of the calf’s body this might have been?

Maybe this will give you ideas:

Suffice it to say that it was tasty and blended in well…and that the calf was female ;-)

Now I will chill out a little as I have to go to Blagoevgrad tomorrow…

 

Between the buttons…

Since a year and a quarter Bansko has a new “government”. The “GERB” party took over Bansko – like they did in many provincial and other towns at the last local elections. Before then Alexander Kravarov guided Bansko for 8 years. He is from the VMRO party (“Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation”), a small and nowadays irrelevant rightist outfit that can only survive in such traditional places like Bansko. Kravarov stood for tradition  – and was supported by the Socialist Party as well as the rightist democrats, at the time when Bansko went through the biggest transformation in its history. Georgi Ikonomov, the new mayor, stands for change. Time will tell what the future will hold.

Since the moment I arrived in Bansko and fell in love with it I was always concerned about its future. I want Bansko to keep its identity and to blossom. And, of course, I have a vision and ideas how this should be accomplished. Which, unfortunately, does not coincide with the views of the people in power. Because I look at things in  a neutral, pragmatic way and have absolutely no own financial or other goals. I do not want to go into any details here or to become political. It is clear that I am not everybody’s darling in Bansko as I am too outspoken.

I have been thinking many times since my return from Asia to use my little blog here to air my views on current developments affecting the future of Bansko. I am not sure, however, if I want to make more political enemies than I already have . But then,?! Give me some more time to ponder.

Back to the subject of food :) I concluded my calf “adventure”. The tripe cooked, partly eaten, partly frozen, partly fed to the dogs and cats. The meat of the head portioned and frozen. The tongue frozen separately to provide a nice intermediate course (probably in hose-radish or Madeira sauce) at some future dinner I will cook.

The brain on a plate waiting to be eaten for breakfast tomorrow, just salted and peppered, dipped in flour and beaten egg, fried in butter. It will probably be too much for breakfast for me so I will try to push it on my staff as well :)

Boiling the calf head yielded about 35 litres of excellent bouillon. Which will be frozen in these bags. If I find enough space in the three available freezers :) To be used for me , the dogs and whoever.

Sometimes people look at me as if I am crazy, preparing masses of food for a single person, quantities that not even a couple could master. Very simple: I want the real stuff, quality! And in terms of meat this comes not from the shops, portioned and ready to cook. It comes from a farm as a whole, sometimes big animal. And it requires devotion, work and creativity to pay the right tribute to this dear animal that gave its life, by not wasting anything from its precious body but transform it into something delightful that make this animal’s life meaningful in an otherwise rather meaningless world. And it it’s only for a moment or two. Because you and I won’t be remembered much longer once we die :)

Let’s not become too philosophical tonight and conclude this entry with a picture from today’s relaxed view from my sofa:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meat?

Dissecting animals that you are going to eat (even if it is only a calf’s head) provides the open mind with an archaic satisfaction, a feeling of being embedded in the nature of this planet and the life-cycles of its creatures.  Fortunately, a part at the top of the food chain. Lucky me.

I am not going to talk about the respect that I hold for every animal on earth because I have done this many times in the past. It is all very simple: if you want to eat meat, an animal has to die. I can accept that because (apart from the vegetables) every creature on this planet feeds off another living being. But my supposedly superior brain forces me to pay respect to those creatures I eat. And not to buy meat from supermarkets or other vendors of mass production. Yes, I can kill an animal and, yes, I can cut it apart into proper pieces but no, I cannot tolerate the way we humans treat the pigs, chicken, cattle and so on that we “produce” to have meat on the table. My animals are supposed to have a decent life.

The calf, whose head you see on the picture, comes from a village called Cherna Mesta. It lived a pleasant life being together with its mother until it had the bad luck to be slaughtered. The reason why the calf was slaughtered was because the farmer, a poor man, ran out of hay to feed the cow and its sibling until the snow melts and fresh grass becomes available. So, to save the cow he sold the calf as his family depends on the milk from the cow for survival. Rather simple and real.

And this is how I try to lead my life: real and straightforward. Nothing more to be added for today.

 

Of tripe and men

This Saturday went as planned – which is rather unusual for Bulgaria :) Early bread shopping and extensive breakfast with the newspapers.

In the end I decided to cook things separately. Most of the stomach (rumen) will be for the dogs, boiled and with rice. Just too much for myself.

The cleaning and washing took hours and I smelled completely of tripe afterwards (and still do, as does the apartment) :)

A little bit of the tripe and part of the guts I set aside for myself in another pot:

What you see here is hopefully the first stage of a killer tripe-soup. I precooked the smooth first and the second stomach and the upper guts. Took about 4 hours on small heat. I was tempted to finish it in a Laos way tomorrow, with lemongrass, ginger, lime leaves and so on. But as I often have tripe soup for late Sunday breakfast in the old Bansko town I decided to do it in a more traditional way.. Not exactly Bulgarian or Turkish but my way. With white wine and pastis instead of milk :) …but still the traditional garlic marinated in vinegar and for sure ground chillies. That will be interesting.

The calf’s head will have to wait till tomorrow as the tripe occupied my cooker nearly all day. And I will have to cook it the Bulgarian way. Sadly. Yesterday I did not pay attention but this morning I realised that the friendly “kasapin” had taken the skin with its fatty inside layer off the head. And that part is an absolute must for any kind of French or German way of cooking it. The French generally “peel” the meat (with the skin) off the head and cook only that (including the tongue and the brain from the cracked skull, of course) – but you have to be an artist with the knife for this – and I don’t have much experience with calf heads and in addition left my de-boning knife behind when I moved to my apartment (ok, ok, I am sure Maria would give it to me if I asked her).

So, I will have to cook the head the Bulgarian way. They boil the whole head in salted water until the meat comes off. Then they bake it in the oven with veggies. I will also boil it but not just in salted water but in a beef bouillon with the old-fashioned French additions for a pot-au-feu just until I can remove the meat. Then I will braise the stuff, concocting a nice sauce (hopefully). Which reminds me that I will have to buy some good potatoes at tomorrows Sunday market for a side dish.

So far I have not invited anybody to eat with me. I was thinking of sharing the lunch tripe soup with the Pirin Lodge guard on duty. But I am afraid it will be much too exotic for my local friends :)   Hmmm…

The head will also pose a problem. These days we have the “Six Nations” rugby competition and tomorrow at 5pm our time Ireland will play England. Which means I will have to be at the “Irish Harp” to watch (guess whom I will be cheering for :) )! And I am not sure if I will be in a condition afterwards to finish the cooking at the required gourmet level. Maybe better to just have another tripe-soup portion :)

Who cares! In any case I will pre-cook the head and take it apart. It will keep till Monday without problem!

Now I have to watch some films and start drinking. For my body to build up the desire for the tripe soup tomorrow for lunch with every fibre of its existence :) I call this foreplay, Bansko style!

Have a good night and don’t follow my example…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bansko Life

Somehow I have been busy lately without achieving much. And physically challenged with all kinds of little aches and pains that kept me from enjoying myself and from communicating.

At least tonight, however, I feel in great shape and in good mood. In the afternoon was a big town meeting organised by the mayor about the future of our skiing zone. A round-table discussion in our town-hall with experts from all over Bulgaria. Alas, I had booked a massage for this afternoon already a week ago. So, I decided to get my priorities right :) – and had the most wonderful nearly 2 hour massage instead of arguing with a bunch of nitwits. The massage makes my body feel like floating. Well done, Frank :)

And I had invited my friend Crispin for a Bansko-Thai dinner. A chicken curry:

Not the best I have ever made but quite edible. Crispin just left half an hour ago and I am now sipping a Jameson whiskey and am listening to an album of Madeleine Peyroux. And feel completely relaxed.

And I better be relaxed tonight. Because tomorrow I have a lot of work to do. Last night at the weekly rehearsal of my Star Merak choir one of the boys told me that they would be slaughtering a calf today.

In my youthful innocence – and after a few glasses of rakia – I opted to take the head and the tripe of the calf. And forgot about it again nearly immediately. But – no escape. While I was being reduced to a heap of groaning meat on the massage bed, my friend delivered the goodies.

Somehow I had not expected the head to weigh about 15kg and be about half a metre in length :) I have no pot that is big enough to boil it in:

And the tripe! Another 5kg at least:

The tripe is, of course, the biggest challenge – as it has not been washed properly and has a certain smell to it. Cleaning and washing it will take a substantial part of my day tomorrow. But I won’t be discouraged!

Having loads of local friends solved the pot problem within minutes. One of them brought me a steel “kazan” from a Bulgarian army kitchen, big enough to hold the head and the tripe…The question is now how to heat it. I might have to get my powerful gas burner that I use to distil brandy in my 60l still. But first I will try to combine several hobs on my cooker. We will see. Where there is a will there is a way.

So, the plan for tomorrow morning is clear: a decent breakfast to set the tone for the day. I will quickly rush to “Le Retro”, our French sandwich shop, to buy some baguette of them as I don’t have nice bread at home. During breakfast I will decide on how to cook the calf’s head and the tripe. The Bulgarian way – or the French way. Bulgarian is simpler and certainly tasty. French “tete de veau” and “tripes a la mode de Caen” is a lot more work but more refined :) But I should have Calvados for the tripe, which I don’t, and the alternative to cook it with French champagne is not really feasible (you need a LOT of champagne for 5kg of tripe!) as I have only three bottles left in my cellar.

The deciding factor on how to cook all the stuff will be whom I will be able to invite to share these delicacies with. Calf’s head is not everybody’s darling, nor is 5kg of tripe, despite that they are utterly delicious if cooked properly. So I will have to make a list of potential victims at breakfast and then start phoning around. My friend Crispin already said he won’t answer the phone over the weekend if he sees that I am calling :) Well, challenges make you grow. In a worst case scenario I can cook everything and then freeze it in portions…

Have a good night and dream about organic calf tripe (as I probably will)…

 

 

 

 

Bansko on a Saturday

For the last few days I have been planning not to cook tonight but to have some lovely Irish beef from Kildare at the Irish Harp pub – as long as it lasts.

Well, since I have spent my cash allowance yesterday at the Pirin Lodge charity event (organised by our valued friend Ian Holbrook) I won’t be able to afford the blue sirloin steak I was craving for but will have to settle for some roastbeef or something else less expensive. I will consult the executive chef at the Harp. I am sure he will create something rather tasty for me.

It’s always nice to have something to look forward to :)

Especially after a hard and stressful day like today, having to spend so much time in the morning in the kitchen to bake up some ciabatta, squeeze loads of oranges and whip up a classical French omelet to go with the smoked salmon, answering critical emails, checking if all traces of yesterdays party were removed, turning on the heating in some patrons’ apartment that were arriving later today, personally inspecting the water quality and efficiency of the blast nozzles in the whirlpool while waiting for my massage lady to arrive, then delivering myself up to 1-1/2 hours of her ripping my meat off my bones… with the help of the lemongrass massage oil I brought for myself from my last trip and the tropical jungle noises disc that I guard for such purposes…

Then striding back to my “loft” in my tent-sized Japanese gown (surely hand-made for Sumo-masters), with the looks and demeanor of Hercule Poirot on a mission, only to be greeted by a message from the reception that some Corsican nouveau-riche owner of apartment 24 wants me to look at some damage in his quarters! So, instead of slipping into my Cashmere home-outfit for relaxing I squeezed myself into the previously worn clothes and set off to inspect the apartment. Well, it turned out that he and his copains had made excessive use of the logs he had bought after he bought the apartment a year ago and heated the fireplace until the ceiling surrounding it came off. OK, I will email them an offer next week – as he, his girl and his friends are off to Hongkong and then Thailand tomorrow.

Returning to my apartment I decided to iron on of the 25 or so crumpled shirts in the shirt wardrobe to have something to make me sociable for my Irish Harp night and the beef.

That put me under pressure with the five o’clock tea. I managed, however, to make a pot of Ceylon “Black Bird” tea (fruity and with little acid) that goes well with a tiny shot of Havana Club Anejo Blanco with its fresh sugar cane aroma. I refrained from eating some of the Christmas biscuits or chocolates that I bought at “Lidl” in Razlog the other day at a 50% discount (Christmas being over) with the tea. They might have kept me from enjoying my beef tonight.

Incidentally, my friend Crispin, has his year-end/year-beginning company party at the Irish Harp tonight and last night he invited me to join the drinking. So, I have to stop now to organise transport there – as it might turn out to be a heavy night.

Which I basically cannot not afford as I am supposed to be in the village Dobarsko tomorrow morning to assist the priest in the celebration of St. Jordan’s day…but that’s another story…

Winter BBQ

Last night Ian, one of our Pirin Lodge owners, organised a “Winter BBQ” with proceeds going to Cedar Foundation and to Animal Rescue Sofia.

The funny part for “us” Eastern people was that the Western European people wanted to have the winter BBQ indoors :) Hehe. No problem.

There were about 25 people and seating was a bit improvised as we have no restaurant facilities at Pirin Lodge. It still turned out to be great fun and  everyone had a good time. Fund-raising was not as successful as I would have had expected but still! Some help for good causes! Thank you very much, Ian!

This morning most of Bansko is like an ice rink. It thawed yesterday but then towards the evening fierce, frosty winds set in and a lot of road surface is as smooth as a mirror and very slippery. Good that I won’t have to leave Pirin Lodge during the day.

Today I feel in better spirits, sitting on a plastic inflatable swimming ring not to put any pressure on my tailbone :) This way I even felt encouraged to have an extended breakfast with a classical French omelette, smoked salmon and ciabatta – and a litre of freshly squeezed orange juice.  Marvellous!

Later at 3pm I am going to have my weekly massage. And I decided to relax until then  instead of ironing the 20 or so shirts waiting in the wardrobe :) Later I may iron 2 or 3 of them to keep me going for the next few days…

See you guys :)

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year to all of you!

Seems like I am slightly late with my good wishes.  It just so happens.

Writing a blog when you travel and experience new things every day is different from writing about your daily life in your very own environment. As it is your daily life there are very few new and exciting things that you find interesting enough to communicate to other people. In addition , in Bansko I am busy these days with Pirin Lodge being full with guests.

Not much has been happening since my last entry. I decided to end the last year not with a fancy champagne-celebration and foie gras variations – but I cooked myself a modest chicken soup – that I turned into my own idea of “happy eating”.

This is what I call my “Golden Broth” – and it is my key to the gates of heaven. Whatever I build on this is bound to lift my body and my spirits to the seventh level of happiness – no drugs needed :)

And the New Year started the same modest way that the old one ended :) Perfect for me.

This is the New Year’s view from my place to “Todorka”, our skiing mountain. I could watch people with my binoculars – but for what ? :)

I decided 2013 to be an outstandingly good year. I like the 13 at the end. Having been born on a Friday the 13th, the serenity of this figure gives me confidence and hope. All I need to do at the moment is to overcome the constant pain around my tailbone, the rheumatism that was re-ignited by my giving up smoking as well as the arthrosis in my right shoulder (that did not give me any trouble during the last few years and also awakened again only with the absence of cigarettes) that floods my right arm with pain and keeps me from using my right hand properly…minor items. Once I have dealt with them I will be flying to new horizons…

Till then, take care my friends…

 

 

 

Christmas Interim Report

25.12.2012 – 15.30h

 

Time flies and Christmas passes quickly.

 So far I was rather busy, silly me :) All the last three days I prepared and precooked food, always washing dishes in between – and taking an occasional break for a cup of tea (as I don’t smoke any more).

Yesterday I peeled and cleaned chestnuts (1-1/2 h). Cleaning and chopping a head of red cabbage (2kg), some sour apples etc. and marinating them in vinegar and salt, Making the liver dumpling mixture by soaking sliced white bread rolls in milk, sauteeing finely chopped onion, adding parsley at the end, mincing lemon peel, grinding calf liver – mixing everything with my tall bare hands, adding salt, pepper, marjoram, nutmeg, egg and a few secret ingredients.

Cleaning my apartment in between – to feel like experiencing a holiday :) Listening to Bavarian mountain Christmas carols and music…busy, busy.

 And around 6 pm I went to “my” old house to take care of the cats and dogs that live with Maria now. And because of Christmas I had prepared something more special for them.For the dogs I had a huge pot of delicious beef soup, concentrated and full of taste, with Italian “Fusili” noodles and beef cutlets and lots of meaty bones.

The cats got freshly minced calf liver (as I had bought too much for my dumpling soup). They would not have cared so much about side dishes :)

Everyone present was very happy :) Apart from me! And I fear for the worst. But Christmas makes me hope for the best. Of the four dogs (one of the previously five dogs was shot by some neighbours when I was in Asia) only one, Baerchen, the black one, was present. Knopfi, Boiko and Belushka were missing. And none of them joined Baerchen and me when we did our usual walk around the area (which they do normally, when they are not at home because they need their freedom-break). I am not going to discuss this right now. Tonight when I go back there we will see more.

Also, of all the cats only Sissy, Rizhko and Spotty were there! But that does not worry me. They are all beautiful and smart cats and neutered (apart from Rizhko). And there are some people in our area (women, mainly) that fall prey to their charm and feed them and even let them into their houses.

 So, Christmas started for me yesterday at 7.25 pm. When I came back to Pirin Lodge and Christmas Supper was ready (apart from the liver dumplings, which only needed to be put in the soup and simmer there for 15 minutes).

 With my stupid cold and my literal pain in the butt (from falling on my tailbone three days ago) I had decided that a warm bath would be the right thing for me to get me in the Christmas and relaxing mood. Therefore, after coming back I immediately went to our Pirin Lodge whirlpool (40 degrees C) turned on the bubbling programs and soaked in the hoit water for 20 minutes. Afterwards I ”decorated” myself with some nice scents (in this case “Santos”,” the Saint”, from Cartier – fits me perfectly, don’t you think) and put on some silk and cashmere stuff – to feel in a festive mood.

 Earlier I had invited an English friend who lives here in Bansko on his own (he is 5 or 6 days older than me) and who agreed to share my Bavarian liver soup :)

He brought a nice winter salad (apples, cellery, cream dressing) and a bottle of red wine. We had supper, philosophical discussions about Bulgaria and I tormented him with Bavarian mountain Christmas music. He went home at 11.30 pm and I watched some television before going to bed as well. Sadly, for the first time, I did not manage to talk to my sister. Her phone in Germany was busy all the time. But I did talk to my daughter Nina, the best woman on this planet!

This morning the sun was shining in Bansko and temperatures had gone up. Fortunately and unfortunately. Because it means that our snow is melting away. The snow that makes everything look so clean and beautiful. But it was a wonderful atmosphere looking out of my sitting room window. Like the peak of our “Todorka” (the skiing mountain) as seen from my balcony this morning.

After an idle breakfast with coffee, nearly 1 l of freshly squeezed orange juice, two soft boiled farm eggs, thinly sliced Bansko ham, buttered Italian ciabatta I felt GRAND, like going back to bed and sleep another round :) ))))  Hehe. But I had a rest on the couch and the recent newspapers instead.

 I also had some setbacks, though. My beef soup has turned slightly sour (just within two days). So, I have boiled the rest of my liver dumplings two hours ago and will be freezeing them individually. The “sour” soup will go to the animals. They do not mind.

I also have decided not to have my stuffed duck today. Tomorrow!  It will keep till then and give me a chance to relax more today. I still have to boil the marinated red cabbage and the chestnuts for the stuffing. And, of course, prepare the potatoes for the raw Bavarian potato dumplings.

Tomorrow is another day :)

 Now I am sitting on the sofa, drinking tea with Scottish whisky (I ran out of good rum), watching fairy tales on German TV (the usual Christmas thing – but I do love children’s fairy tales :) ).

Life is beautiful :) It all depends on what you make out of it :) You are the one in charge of your own life. No one else.

 Au revoir e a bientot,