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  1. Spent a semester studying and interning in London
  2. Jumped off a 10 meter rock into the sea at the North Pembrokshire coastline, Wales, UK
  3. Traveled A LOT: Visited Stonehenge, Manchester, Oxford, Brighton, Bristol, Bath, Brussels,  Milano, New Orleans, LA, Miami, FL and San Antonio, TX for the first time
  4. Participated in a swimming competition and earned three ribbons
  5. Put Bulgaria on the rout of a girl’s trip around the world and spent 10 days roadtripping with her. Brought two other American girls to Bulgaria and left them with amazing memories
  6. Went to the International Bagpipe Festival in Gela, Rhodope Mountain and danced horo with hundreds of people in the open
  7. Windsurfed and kayaked off the coast of Sozopol at the Black Sea, Bulgaria
  8. Spent an entire night, from sunset to sunrise, dancing on the beach under Armin Van Buuren’s techno beat in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria
  9. Went to a Joe Cocker and to a Sting live concert in Sofia (Sting for the second time :), saw Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in a replica of the Globe,  Aida in the London Opera, Cirque du Soleil in the Royal Albert Hall (the fourth show I’ve seen by them), and a Celtics game in Boston’s TD Garden
  10. Rode a horse on the beach, danced at a country bar with a cowboy hat on, rode a motorbike, and shot a rifle in Texas
  11. Saw the beginning of the building of the family winery
  12. Made some great new friendships all over the world

Happy New 2012! May it be better than 2011!

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Happy Holidays, Dear Friends!

I’m back at home in Sofia for the winter vacation and just celebrated a lovely Christmas Eve with my family!

I wish you to always reunite with your loved ones on such special occasions! I wish you and your families love, good health, joy, and success!

Today I have selected my favorite Bulgarian winter and Christmas children’s songs. Enjoy!

Click here to read my description of the Bulgarian Christmas Eve Dinner. I’d love to hear about your celebrations!

 

“Santa Claus is Clattering in His Red Boots”

 

“The Puppy Sharo and the First Snow” – it’s about the puppy Sharo who is looking out the window and sees, in utter dismay, snow for the first time!

 

“Over the Quiet Hills” – a village is nestled in the snowy hills of a mountain and quietly watches the flight of a Santa’s sleigh.

 


I had one of those experiences that make me feel more and more native to New England – I shucked oysters!

Oysters are those huge shells that you might have seen in movies served raw on crushed ice with lemon juice, cocktail sauce and horseradish and slurped out by rich old businessmen while smoking a cigar.  They are a sign of great luxury and an aphrodisiac.

Of course all Bostonians are cool enough to eat oysters (that is, as long as they have the guts to). My personal record I think is four raw oysters in the Union Oyster House. But after I did that I needed to lay still for a while.

Shucking oysters, however, is a whole new experience that helped me gain an even deeper appreciation for this slippery seduction meal.

We went for a free oyster shucking lesson at the North End Fish Market (on Saturdays, at 99 Salem Str).  We were given gloves, a chisel-like knife and a bunch of local oysters that looked like solid rocks.

The most difficult part, I found, was slipping the knife in the hinge (imagine thrusting a knife into solid rock) and cracking the top and bottom shell open.  Then you slide the knife all the way around the oyster until you actually separate the two shells – and by “slide” I mean strain your muscles and try to push the knife through until you almost break your wrist. Finally, the easy but embarrassing part is to gently slide the knife under the oyster and cut the flesh that connects it to the bottom shelf and then flip it upside-down to have “better presentation” or, if you are me, just drop it on the table and then awkwardly pick it up. At last, you can squeeze in some lemon and slurp it out with a grin on your face. Good job!

After shucking 4 oysters each and deciding that we’d better put an end on seafood for the day, we continued our tour of the North End, the Italian neighborhood in Boston.

 You might also like:

Picking Apples and Cranberries in New England

The Great American Cookout at Kimball Farm

The Boston Marathon 


St. Nikola, a Bulgarian icon

Today, December 6th, is one of the bigger holidays in Bulgaria: Nikylden, or the Day of St. Nikola Mirlikiiski, or St. Nikola the Miracle-Maker. St. Nikola is the guardian of fishermen, sailors, travelers, tradesmen, and bankers (Who can tell me what the connection between them is ?). Nikola was a historical figure born in 270 BC in Patara (today in Turkey). Legend says he inherited a great fortune from his father but gave it all away to those in need. The saint also performed many miracles that delivered sailors and fishermen safely from sea tempests. According to another legend, he plugged a hole in a ship with a carp fish and thus saved it from sinking!

Nikylden is more than a religious day for the Orthodox Christians; it is also a nameday for all bearers of the name Nikola, Nick, Nikoleta, Kolio, Nikolai, Nicholas, etc; actually, most Bulgarian families celebrate the holiday even if they don’t have a Nick in the family.

Poseidon (Neptune) puts a pagan spin on the celebration of St. Nikola

St. Nikola is also associated with the sea, ocean, rivers, and lakes, and in this sense is similar to the Greek god Poseidon (called Neptune in Roman mythology). Germanic nations also celebrate St. Nicholas’ day, although slightly differently, and even associate this saint with Santa Claus.

In Bulgaria, we eat fish on December 6th – preferably fish with scales like carp or sheat-fish because “naked” fish without scales symbolized poverty. We bake the fish whole and stuff it with walnuts (check out a few typical Bulgarian Nikylden recipes here).

To me and my family, the Nikylden feast is the equivalent of a Thanksgiving Feast because my father is called Nikola and he is a “tradesman”. This means that my house is always full of guests on this day!

Traditionally, you don’t send official invitations for your nameday: you are supposed to prepare a big meal and expect your closest people to show up for dinner by themselves. So you basically never know who is showing up until they do, but you expect your closest relatives, godparents, best man and woman, and good neighbors to pay a visit. They might bring flowers, alcohol, and other presents.  Don’t expect them to leave before 2am.

Stuffed carp - I want to be home right now!

The table is, naturally, very festive! In addition to the stuffed carp, my mother also prepares salmon, shark, scard fish and turbot (eh, probably not all of them every time!). We have a variety of salads and other yummy dishes and lots of wine – Villa Melnik of course!

I’m so angry I missed it again this year, but HAPPY NIKYLDEN, DAD!

The Russian church St. Nicholas the Miracle-Maker in Sofia, Bulgaria

Namedays are very big in Bulgaria, maybe even bigger than birthdays. There are less presents for the person celebrating but more of a communal feel since this day is not a personal celebration, but a celebration of all people who bear the same name, of the saint, and of all the virtues that the saint represents. I love my name, Militza, because it is the name of my great-grandmother and is very rare, but I’ve always been jealous that it is too rare to have a saint or a nameday associated with it! Oh well, I just get to celebrate my birthday and half-birthday!

***

You Might Also Enjoy:

The Newborn Baby and the Naming Dilemma

St. Sophia and Her Daughters: Faith, Hope, and Love

Tsvetnitsa: Name Day for All Flowers


The highlight of my college career! I swear, it was by chance that they gave me ribbons in the colors of the Bulgarian flag! It's fate!

I just went through the highlight of my college career! Nothing can surpass the excitement and feeling of pride with myself after finishing my first swimming competition – not even the first day of classes, possibly not even graduation!

This swimming competition was probably one of the few competition sporting events I have ever participated in. But this is not the best part! The best part is that two semesters ago, I couldn’t swim!

Allow me to start from the beginning! During my sophomore year, I wanted to sign up for a sailing course here at Boston University. They told me that I needed to pass a swimming test. OK, I said to myself, thinking that I knew how to swim.

As it turned out, I knew how to move in the water from shallow point A to shallow point B using a stroke that resembles breaststroke only with my head above the water like a submarine’s periscope. No one at Sunny Beach had ever told me that this is not the right way to swim!

So needless to say, I got flunked. Not only that, but I also discovered that I am utterly terrified of the deep water (BU has an Olympic size pool) and can hardly hold my breath for more than 5 seconds (so much for hookah pipe). In other words, I almost got a heart attack and a panic attack simultaneously in that pool. I was that close to accepting that I will simply never learn how to properly swim (big deal, right..)

As a Bulgarian would say “Yes, but no!”  That night, I had a nightmare about drowning and woke up drenched in sweat and determined to learn how to swim!

Since then, I completed a beginning swim class, passed the swim test, completed beginning sailing and intermediate sailing, completed intermediate swimming, tried jet skiing, catamaran, wind surfing, and kayaking, went coasteering (jumping off 10 meter rocks in freezing 3-degree C water wearing full wetsuit, boots, and a helmet, off the coast of Wales) and now, successfully completed a swimming competition!

I don’t know if you can imagine how scared I was as I was about to do each of these things, and then how proud I felt with myself for not giving up and persevering. If there is one thing I learned in college, it is that I can do anything!

I participated in five events today – three individual and two relays in a team of four. I earned  ribbons for my individual events! And isn’t it just precious that the three of them – Second Place 100m backstroke, Third Place 50m breaststroke, and Fifth Place 100m freestyle, are in “White, Green, and Red”. Karma: I’m Swim Team Bulgaria! 

Me, windsurfing in calm waters near Sozopol, Bulgaria

Totally uncoordinated, but very very happy! Near Sozopol, Bulgaria

Kayaking in full gear near Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK

Coasteering with Preseli Venture

Coasteering - climbing up rocks and then jumping off! Wales, UK

And sailing on the Charles in Boston!

Read more about the Bulgarian beach here:

Armin Van Buuren at Cacao Beach

Nesebar and Sand Sculpture Fest in Burgas

And about rowing on the Charles here:

 Joking with the Turkish Rowers, Head of the Charles 2010

The best picture of the Head of the Charles 2011 ever!


I bought liutenitza and kyopolo at Trader Joe's in Boston

To all devotees of Bulgarian cuisine: Trader Joe’s sells the two gems of Bulgarian culinary genius: liutenitza and kyopolou!

Liutenitsa (liutenitza) is a heavenly spread made of, tomatoes, red peppers, carrots, onion, eggplant and herbs that could be a little bit spicy or not. We spread it on bread or use it as a side to grilled meat… and actually anything else. My personal favorite is a slice of bread with liutenitza (the layer should be as thick as the bread) and Bulgarian white feta cheese! Yum-yum!

Kyopolou (kiopolo) is made of roasted eggplant, garlic, parsley, olive oil, and sometimes peppers or tomatoes. It is served cold as an appetizer or spread on bread. See recipe  for both spreads (we call them salads) from BG Taste.

Several countries on the Balkans have similar products. You might have previously tried Turkish kopoglu or Serbian ajvar.

So if you are craving an authentic taste of Bulgaria – run to Trader Joe’s! They call the two products “Red Pepper Spread” and “Eggplant Garlic Spread”, but the labels clearly indicate that this is a “Product of Bulgaria” and a “Traditional Bulgarian Recipe”. Enjoy!

Find the nearest Trader Joe’s here.

 

If you want to try out more Bulgarian recipes yourselves, you can take a look at the Bulgarian cookbook I received last year or read my blog post on preparing a Bulgarian Christmas Eve’s dinner.

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