The Buttermilk Issue

I think I have found an answer to the buttermilk pancake question in Bulgaria.  For those of you that haven’t spend hours searching for buttermilk or online tips and trick to transform regular milk to buttermilk, you probably won’t understand my joy at this moment.

When I was in the States this past June, I went to Earthlight and stocked up on my favorite natural goods, when I stumbled upon dried buttermilk pancake mix!  You can’t imagine how excited I was.  
For the last few months, we have been making Jeri Ann’s Pancakes, which if you happen to be somewhere with out buttermilk, but can find cottage cheese, they are a nice alternative.  
The measurements are equal, but she uses the 200g (or aprox. 2 cups)
  • Whole Oatmeal
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Eggs
Grind the Oatmeal in a blender till it reaches a fine 

consistency.  Add the Cottage Cheese and blend till incorporated, then add the egg.  Cook normally, or like me in a non-stick skillet with butter till air pockets form.  Flip and cook a few minutes more.  Serve with your choice of topping!

This morning I woke up and whipped up a batch of buttermilk pancakes for the family and they were awesome.  I feel dumb that I didn’t stock up on the dried pancakes earlier.  Oh well!!!

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La Capannina

About 3 days ago, I went to dinner at La Capannina in Sofia.  This was not my first visit, but I think it will be my last.  I always hear good buzz about that place that the food is so amazing, but I hardly think so.  I am not saying the place is a dive by any means; the locale is nice, the interior is clean and modern, plus the service is decent.

My issue is with the food.  How can critics claim it has the “best italian food in Bulgaria”, when they can’t prepare a simple risotto. I mean for 30 BGN ($24 USD) I would hope it wouldn’t taste like plate of packaged processed rice with two frozen shrimp chopped into little bits. My starter was grilled apricots with prosciutto with greens and balsamic vinaigrette, which was nothing special. The flavor combination of the apricots and the prosciutto was off and the vinaigrette was bland. My husband had the fresh ravioli with pesto. The pasta was nice, but the pesto was tasted like basil and mint blended with oil and salt and pepper…. umm did you forget nuts and cheese (these can be experimented with, but you need to taste them).

I really get tired of all these trendy places that don’t live up to the hype. If you have a recommendation please pass it along. This is one of the reasons, I am so eager to learn how to cook properly, but that can only take me so far, with out the freshest ingredients, no skills and tricks can transform shit into gold.

La Capannina
Sq. Narodno Sabranie 9  
Sofia, Bulgaria
Tel: 02 9804438

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The Hunt for Ingredients

When we first arrived in Bulgaria, our house wasn’t ready yet, so we lived in an apartment in Sofia, which is the capital for those of you who don’t know.

I had gotten my hands on a english language ex-pat guide to Sofia called the Sofia Insider’s Guide .  It was really useful because it listed all the grocery stores in Sofia and where to find stuff.  The problem was there was not one good grocery store.  Each had something good to offer, but to get all your shopping done, you needed to go to 3 – 5 different stores all in different parts of town.  For example; HIT in Mladost 4 (Младост 4) a really good produce section.  You can find shallots, different lettuces, avocado, ginger, star fruit, mango, passion fruit, etc…  Elemag in Lozentez (Лозенец) had Argentinean beef and cooking wines (Marsala, Madeira, Sherry) Picadilly had a variety of international ingredients, such as Mexican & Thai. 

Besides the driving there was another problem the price.  A bunch of old asparagus was close to $7.00 USD (10 BGN). Beef, well that was truly a bank breaker, when you could actually find it.  My grocery bills were astronomical especially compared to Bulgarian standards.

I try to go back to the States every 6 months and during my time home it is usually spent at the grocery store.  The things that I bring home in my luggage is astounding.  Here is a brief list:  Annie’s Deluxe Macaroni and Cheese, JIF Peanut Butter, Vanilla Extract, Hoisin Sauce, Organic Maple Syrup, Aunt Jemima’s Butter Lite Syrup, Molasses, Crystal Light Decaffeinated Ice Tea, Echinacea Immune Boosting Tea, Quaker Instant Oatmeal….

Besides the ease of shopping and finding ingredients for recipes, I missed TAKE OUT!!!  I loved having any food I desired delivered to me in under 30 minutes.  Wow!  With my husband and I both working while we lived in New York, dinner mostly consisted of something delivered.  Right before we left, we were addicted to Papa John’s Hawaiian BBQ Chicken pizza.  Now “Papa” can’t hold a candle to good NY pizza, but this specialty pie was heaven.

So, tonight I am going to attempt to make a Hawaiian BBQ Chicken Pizza.  I found an italian recipe for pizza dough.  I am a little “yeast-tarded”, but things seem to be going good so far.  The dough has doubled already.  Then I have the BBQ sauce, chicken, pineapple, onion and pancetta (there is no good bacon in Bulgaria or maybe I haven’t found it yet).  My standards are set high, I will report any success.

I have been back in the States four times since moving here and each time I miss the food less and less.  When I go home now, I end up going to a TGI Friday’s. AppleBee’s or Ruby Tuesday’s with my family.  I realize now that that stuff is crap, well, I do love the Jack Daniel’s Sauce at TGI Friday’s.  I am usually so busy visiting family and friends, I don’t have time to just roam around New York City eating at my old haunts! I will have to make a point to do that the next time I am back.

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A blog about food, gardening and living abroad!

18 months ago my husband, kids and I packed up and moved from Astoria, New York to Kyustendil, Bulgaria.  Since Kyustendil is my husband’s hometown, it is less arbitrary then throwing a dart at the map.  We had been living in New York for 6 years.  I was working in television production and he was an iron worker.  We knew that we were going to move closer to his family, so he could help with the family business, we just didn’t know when.  

I had visited Bulgaria many times since we had been together, so I was somewhat prepared for the change.  Although who can really prepare for such a move.  I was however looking forward to a more natural and fresh approach to life.  Tomatoes and cucumbers from your own garden, picking cherries, apricots and plums from the trees that grow on your street, fresh herbs… Yum!!

Come the spring of 2007, I was happy to see fresh lettuce at the markets, albeit one type.  I am a salad fan.  I will take what I can get, but come mid-June there was no lettuce to be found.  I went to all the markets and stores in Kyustendil searching for lettuce to no avail.  I was bitching to my husband about the lettuce shortage and he informed me that once it is gone, it is gone.  People here only grow it and eat it in the spring.  I was angry and astounded.

Coming from the New York City area, there is never a shortage of anything.  I was familiar with the concept of seasonal eating and I agree it makes sense, but when you live for so long, in a place where you can find what you are looking for 24/7, you forget that fresh food doesn’t grow in New York in December!

At dinner, a few days later, I was trying to converse in Bulgarian with my father-in-law about not only the lack of lettuce and greens, but also the lack of variety.  I suggested that someone should expose Bulgarians to tender baby spinach, Belgian endive, red oak leaf, watercress, escarole, romaine, OK even iceberg. He just laughed and looked at me as if I was crazy to make such a suggestion.  He told me that no one would buy it. Here are the two main reasons: 1. People don’t have the money and 2.  This isn’t America, people don’t need more than one or two types of lettuce.

So, that started it.  I was going to buy seed from the States and grow my own lettuce.  The only problem, I have a black thumb.  I’ve tried growing things when we were in Astoria and I just kept forgetting to water them and other tenants of basic plant care.  My goal is to grow all the food and herbs that are not available in Bulgaria, so I can continue my love for cooking and eating! 

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