Baking The Night Away

12:00 a.m.

They entered the tiny kitchen through the back door and quickly tossed their fall jackets on cracked wooden hangers.  The mom, Krasimira Murkova, 50, switched the luminous lights on and looked around the cozy bakery, while the son, Martin Murkov, headed for the storage room.

Clad in a yellow apron, Krasi turned the mixer on and Marti dumped into it some 20 kilograms of fine flour, eggs and yeast.

The chipped-bowl mixer first filled the kitchen with its mechanic hum twelve years ago, when Krasi rented the three-room, tin-roofed bungalow on a main boulevard in Blagoevgrad and turned it into a bakery.

“As a student I started working in a sweets shop as a saleswoman to earn my own money and not constantly rely on my mom’s,” Krasi said. Before long, however, she migrated from the counter to the kitchen, where she discovered her love for baking.

Although Krasi tremendously enjoyed getting her hands coated in dough, she left the low-paid job and moved to a lottery retail store to sell tickets. Soon after that she got married and gave birth to her first child, Ventsislav in 1984.

The young family then moved to the Czech Republic, where in 1990 Martin was born.

“Blissfully deluded by the democratic promise of a new, prosperous life, we moved,” she said. “Well, I spent only two years there, then together with the kids I came back to Bulgaria, leaving my husband behind to work there for a little longer.”

When Krasi returned in 1991, she took the bold step to open the bakery that has turned into a successful family business since then.

1:00 a.m.

The dough in the mixer obtained a rich creamy color and a shiny, smooth texture.

“My child, turn the mixer off and cut a portion of the dough for the pizzas” Krasi said to Marti. “You will make the pizzas, won’t you, my darling.”

Marti, a third-year IT student at the South-Western University in Blagoevgrad, looked lovingly at his mom, stretched his thin lips in a smile and obeyed.

“He is of a great help to me,” Krasi said. “Compared to his chatty older brother, Marti is rather shy. But he is deft at making delicious pizzas.”

While Marti rolled out the dough, placed it in curly-edged, iron baking plates and buried it under a plethora of salami, cheese, ketchup and pickled cucumbers, Krasi recalled the time her younger son was away from home.

“He worked in a poultry farm in England this summer, sometimes, earning up to 100 British pounds a week,” she said.

“Which means I had to catch up to 30-40 chicken a day,” Marti quipped. “That, believe me, was not easy.”

Laughing at her son’s remark, Krasi cut a huge lump of dough, staggered to the baker’s table and started forming small balls out of it.

1:30 a.m.

In less than five minutes the small balls metamorphosed into thin sheets, which Krasi sprinkled with cheese, rolled up in spirals and carefully laid in an oil-coated iron pan.

“Gosh, Marti, I forgot to turn the ovens on,” Krasi said, shifting her eyes from the pan to the two bakers ovens. “Would you do it for me, my child?”

1:45 a.m.

Pans of pizzas, banitcas and dzhumaikas hopped into the heated ovens. A delicious aroma wafted in the room. As the smell intensified, the kitchen felt smaller and hotter.

Krasi glanced at the fluffy grey kitten clock face, hung above the door that connected the kitchen to the grand room, where six round plastic tables stood by the plain walls.

“The first customers will be soon here,” she said. “Better go and unlock the front door.”

1:55 a.m.

Holding a slice of pizza in one hand and a bottle of yogurt in the other, Marti left the bakery through the backdoor to go home. Meanwhile, the first customer stepped across the front door’s threshold.

2:30 a.m.

Gaggles of hungry AUBG students, going home after a night of partying, flocked in and quickly depleted the baking pans.

“I like working with students,” Krasi said. “Most of them are polite, chatty kids that view me as their auntie.”

She drifted into reminiscing about Pepi, an AUBG graduate who she described as a tall, doe-eyed boy, who munched on a banitca and sipped a yogurt drink in her bakery every morning for two consecutive academic years.

3 a.m.

Geri, an Albanian student at the South- Western University, came in, grinning.

“What does my favorite bakery offer tonight,” he asked.

“Pizzas, banitcas, dzhumaikas and if you wait for a couple of minutes- milinkas,” Krasi said.

“The guys are waiting outside to eat,” Geri said. “Give me, please, five slices of pizza and three dzhumaikas. And five bottles of yogurt drinks.”

“They are on the way, Geri.”

3:05 a.m.

“He is a regular client of mine,” Krasi said promptly after Geri left the bakery, clutching two black plastic bags bulging with breadstuff.  “It is always a pleasure to see and chat with him. But I should not waste precious time. Let us go back in the kitchen and start making butter croissants.”

The mixer’s steady thrum again floated in the kitchen.

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Dozen of Juicy Apples

 

Georgi

“Girl, these are the best apples you will find in town. Besides, they are really cheap! You simply cannot pass by them!”

The broad smile and warmth in the elder man’s eyes made me stop and buy a kilogram of red, juicy apples. The next day I bought another kilogram and by the end of the week I had a mound of apples under my desk and a new, talkative acquaintance.

The elderly man is Georgi Angelov, 77. Since the beginning of the academic year at the American University in Bulgaria, Georgi has been spending his mornings eloquently and skillfully promoting his home-grown apples and grapes to the students who walk the alley along the river on their way to classes.

“I have two gardens of apple trees outside Blagoevgrad. My life now revolves around them,” Georgi said smiling.

But he has not been a gardener all his life. In 1953 then 17-year old Georgi enrolled at the railway transport school in Sofia and served as head of Blagoevgrad’s railway station for 20 years. After that he took a swift turn in his life and taught metal processing at the local high school for 14 years.

However, Georgi does not talk much about his professional career. The part of his life he most enjoys reminiscing about is how he met Todor Jivkov, Bulgaria’s Communist party leader.

“My daughter, Valentina, was accepted at Sofia University to study medicine. We received a confirmation letter from the university, but when we went to Sofia, we were stunned to find out that her name was erased from the list of accepted students,” Georgi began the story of the memorable meeting.

Nobody at the university could give him a plausible explanation why his daughter’s admission was suddenly revoked, so Georgi decided to take the matter in his own hands. He quickly figured out that the only one who can get his daughter back at the university was Todor Jivkov.

“I went to the guards at his residence and told them I had an appointment with Jivkov. They let me in,” Georgi said.

To Jivkov’s secretary Georgi said he is a good friend of Blagoevgrad’s then governor and has a meeting scheduled with Jivkov.

“Once Jivkov heard the name of governor Aleksiev, he decided to meet me. They were very close friend. So there I was, in Jivkov’s office. I told him about the revocation of my daughter’s university admission and he assured me he will get her back in,” Georgi said.

Well, it turned out that back in Communist Bulgaria it was easier to meet Jivkov than to send your children to university. Jivkov did not fulfill his promise and Valentina married. Eventually, she studied medicine in Blagoevgrad and now works as a nurse in one of the private medical centers in town.

Another story, Georgi loves recalling is the story of a pair of shoes.

A couple of years ago, Georgi was selling his apples in front of the South-Western University in Blagoevgrad. One day a student approached him with a request to borrow 50 levs to buy a new pair of shoes.

“I am 77-year old. Many people in my long life lied to me and took advantage of my amicability. So, I was skeptical at first and asked him whether he had parents to take care of him. The boy said he was an orphan. Although I did not believe him completely, I took pity on him and gave him the money,” Georgi said.

Four days after that, the boy came to Georgi wearing a new pair of shoes and gave him a box of chocolates.

Although a broad smile graces Georgi’s wrinkled face most of the time, his eyes become teary when he mentions his son Slavi, a military officer, and his futile attempts to find a job for seven years now.

Hear more about Georgi’s dreams and hopes for his son and the hostility he sometimes has to deal with as an apple seller:

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