Walking on Clouds…

Tonight I am walking on clouds.

Last week was slightly more stressful than usual. My car is in Blagoevgrad for repair and Maria was in Sofia. Which means I had to look after the critters. Now, Pirin Lodge is at the Southern end of Bansko and the house at the Northern edge. And no car ;( Well, I survived as you can see and since Maria came back tonight I did not have to feed the animals and  was able to stay at Pirin Lodge all bloody day :) )))

I forced myself to remain in bed till nearly 10 am, had an extensive breakfast together with yesterdays papers. Then I idled the time away till my massage appointment at 3 pm, answering less important emails that had been waiting, settling accounts between some foreign banks and generally getting my life in order.

At 3pm I had a modest two hour massage – and my body was transformed into something that I would expect my son to feel like (if I had one :) ) – or rather: I am feeling like in my twenties. I know that this is only temporary, sadly. But what a great feeling! And all without drugs, alcohol or whatever!

I am blessed, privileged and all the rest because I have such a great life – in fact, always had. In rags and riches. Freedom/independence and quality of life in all its varieties, good people around me…walking on clouds tonight, as I said. Listening to Marta Gymez (the Colombian singer) at the mo, drinking a 2006 Chardonnay from Targovishte that I used for cooking mussels with spaghetti

and which has become a bit “thicker” and sweeter since I bought it 5 years ago for Pirin Lodge but still quite pleasant,

desert waiting in the form of Bourbon vanilla ice cream with “rum plums” I preserved in 2005.

All it takes now is the doorbell to ring and the sexy lady that has been so keen on me for the last months to overcome her shyness :) I hope she comes with her car to take me to the Sunday market tomorrow :) ….

 

 

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)…