Romania


Icon of Saint Dimitrie

This icon of Saint Dimitrie, Dimitrios (Greek) or Dumitru (Romanian), is one of several in our home

Today is Saint Dimitrie’s day, so also ‘my’ day as Dimitrie is my name too, given to me when I was baptised on 26th October. In the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, the name day corresponds to the day on which a saint “fell asleep”, or died (Gregorian calendar).

I was given the name in the Orthodox church of ‘Stefan cel Mare Domnesc (the Lord’s Church of Stephen the Great), Iasi, the church I attended when I lived in that Romanian city (and the church in which I was married).

Although in Romania the saint is known as Dumitru, I chose the Russian version – hence Dimitrie – and that is how my several Orthodox priest friends, and some other friends, call me.

When I was in Romania people would call at my home on this day and share a drink and a snack, or even a celebration meal. Now, in the UK, I receive email messages and ‘iconograms’ from friends and relatives in Romania, especially from my Godparents – Godfather Vasile, now a mathematics lecturer in an Australian university, and Godmother Gabriela.

I first went to St Stephen’s church for the wonderful choir; there are no instruments in the Orthodox church other than the human voice and perhaps for that reason choral singing in church is often magical. However, I met Vasile when he was a mathematics teacher in a high school in which I was teaching English; we became friends and he introduced me to understanding of the Orthodox church service, so eventually to my name.

Saint Dimitrie

Saint Dimitrios was a Thessalonian, of noble parents, an important soldier but also a teacher of Christianity. This is a story associated with him:

When Maximian (Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus Herculius Augustus, Roman Emperor from 286 to 305) first came to Thessalonica in 290, he raised the Saint to the rank of Duke of Thessaly.

However, at a later date it was discovered that the Saint was a Christian and he was arrested and kept bound in a bath-house.

While the games were underway in the city, Maximian was a spectator there. A friend of his, Lyaeus, a ‘barbarian’ who was a notable wrestler, boasted in the stadium and challenged the citizens to a contest with him. Everyone who fought him was defeated.

Seeing this, a youth named Nestor, an acquaintance of Dimitrios, came to the Saint in the bath-house and asked his blessing to fight Lyaeus single-handed. Receiving this blessing and sealing himself with the sign of the Cross, he presented himself in the stadium, and saying “O God of Dimitrios, help me!” he engaged Lyaeus in combat and smote him with a mortal blow to the heart, leaving the former boaster lifeless.

Maximian was very upset by this and when he learned who was the cause of this defeat, he ordered Dimitrios to be pierced with lances and killed while in the bath-house. Nestor, as Maximian commanded, was killed with his own sword.

 

Some month’s ago I removed the requirement for me to approve comments before they appeared and until now that had not resulted in a lot of spam comments. Sadly, over the past couple of days this has changed and, from the content, I suspect that it is originating in Romania or with a Romanian. I don’t think it a coincidence that it has happened after commenting on a Romanian blog – though I’m sure that blogger has nothing to do with it. Most of these spam comments were on past pages with content about Romania. It’s simple enough to remove it and that I have done, but it’s a pain. For some reason they have not been picked up by the usually excellent spam filter; the spammer seems to be ‘commenting’ from Facebook, which I hardly use. I hope it will stop. Va rog, sa va opriti!

Mackerel – don’t overcook

However, I have a pleasanter fishy thing to blog about – mackerel. Among the cheapest of fish it is also a favourite for me and, I think, at its best prepared very simply. Those who follow this blog will know that I like cooking classic French cuisine, often a very complex and long-winded preparation, but for mackerel simple is super. So I thought I would share the way I do it, our meal last night, with you.

Too big for our 10 inch dinner plates, this fish takes about 14 minutes to cook. Very important not to overcook.

Too big for our 10 inch dinner plates, this fish takes about 14 minutes to cook. Very important not to overcook.

I have mentioned before that I am fortunate in having very good fish close at hand – in Leeds Kirkgate market where Marks & Spencer was born. Of course they would be even better straight from the sea and every time I eat them I remember childhood holidays in the Yorkshire east coast resort of Bridlington, getting up very early in the morning to go out on a small boat, line fishing, and returning with the boat full of mackerel just as most other holiday-makers were getting up.

The fish we had last night were large – way too big for the 25cm (10inch) dinner plate you see in the picture. We’re gluttons so had one each, but the only accompaniment was some crusty wholemeal bread.

As with pretty well all fish the only difficulty is making sure you don’t overcook them. At the size shown they take about 7 minutes a side under a hot grill (on a good summer day I’d do them over charcoal outside but this is a bit more difficult as you need more than usual separation between the coals and the fish, otherwise the outside can be overcooked before the inside is done). The meat close to the backbone should only just be cooked, still very moist and juicy and slightly pink.

I prefer the head left on but it can be removed for the squeamish. Make deep slashes, but not cutting right through, on each side of the fish. This helps them cook evenly. Rub the fish with oil then squeeze ‘French mustard’ (I use the best – Dijon) in each slash. No other seasoning at all; if you like things salty this can be added while eating but personally I prefer them without. Then under (or over) the grill, turning half way through. That’s it!

Gravlax, Scottish smoked wild salmon, monkfish tails or turbot – all wonderful – but none of them beat the taste of this simply prepared mackerel for me.

Having had an enforced break not only from posting but also from reading the blogs of those I follow, it’s been a real struggle to catch up. There were more than 500 email notifications of new posts etc going back to the end of March and I haven’t got through them all yet. To be honest, many have been ‘filed away’ unread but there are some bloggers who I know will produce something which I don’t want to miss in every post – fortunately they do not post every day, let alone several times a day. I’m slowly getting through these. Catching up on my other (photo/film cameras) blog was much easier as most of those I follow just post a picture or more, most writing very little if anything.

Birthday treats

:) So yesterday was my birthday – don’t ask how old but it’s very. I got some real treats.

:) First, a lovely Romanian lady found the one post I did manage to make a few days ago and followed this blog, so of course I went to hers. A wonderful site mainly devoted to Romanian food. She writes in Romanian but also in very good English. The title, amintiridinbucatarie (‘Memories of the kitchen’), is a clever play on the title of a very famous book by the Hans Christian Andersen of Romania, Ion Creanga, called ‘Memories of childhood’.

:) A ‘liker’ in this Romanian blog took me to my second treat – a young lady in Canada, of Romanian descent, who blogs not only on food but on my second passion too – photography. She provided the basic recipe for today’s evening meal but also, praising her father’s photography, took me to his blog, so I’ve signed up to that :) as a third birthday treat. I will not reproduce her recipe here , just click that link to find it, but I made one or two minor modifications which are noted below.

My modifications

1. I did think of eliminating the ‘g’ from the oil, making it rapeseed oil (from Yorkshire) but decided to go for the authentic Romanian – sunflower – instead.

2. I had some genuine homemade sausage in the freezer – made by my mother-in-law and smoked by my father-in-law in Romania, so I used these (we usually put them with another Moldovan staple – beans – which I adore). We also make both potato and bean casserole with smoked ribs of pork, or bacon ribs.

3. It doesn’t apply to the whole of Romania but in Moldova, in the north and east of the country, where my Romanian persona was raised, a dish without dill is almost unthinkable, so a generous handful of chopped dill went in a couple of minutes before serving.

:) 100+ followers

My other treat? I saw that the number of my followers had just passed 100. I know that’s small beer compared with many but it’s a great thrill to me, especially as my blog doesn’t meet the rule of four Us: I think it is usually ‘Unique’, and often ‘Useful’, especially when about food; but this blog is certainly not ‘Ultra specific’ – intentionally so – nor ‘Urgent’. Nor does it follow WordPress’s constant urging to post every day (from my observations bloggers who do that rarely manage to keep a high standard).

PS. Why no picture? The aroma from the ‘ceaun’ (Romanian pot) so excited my wife when she came in after her day of teaching she couldn’t wait to get it on the table, so I forgot to take the picture until after it had been eaten!

I don’t have a lot of time for blogging at the moment – the weather is superb for walking and photography but unfortunately that means it is also ideal for some much needed ‘tender loving care’ for Lofty, our beloved VW camper. However, having just cooked and eaten the obligatory full English breakfast I thought I’d use the 15 min ‘digestion’ pause to get this off.

The Romanians are almost uniquely able to have a joke on themselves and, being far better generally educated than the majority of people coming out of UK schools, are able to do it with a wit and substance sadly lacking in much of what we see from British commentators. I just love the poster campaign launched by the Romanian paper Gandul (‘The Thought?) in response to that from the Guardian. The posters are in English so English speakers can understand them even if the accompanying text is in Romanian.

http://www.gandul.info/news/why-don-t-you-come-over-raspunsul-gandul-la-campania-britanica-nu-veniti-in-anglia-update-10528548

So here are some of the Romanian poster words, each of which has a postscript “Why don’t you come over. We may not like Britain but you’ll love Romania”. There are many more gems.

Your weekly rent covers a month here – pub nights included

Our Tube was not designed with sardines in mind – sorry sardines

Our newspapers are hacking celebrities’ privacy, not people’s phones

Our air traffic controllers have seen snow before. They were unimpressed

We don’t have a congestion charge here. We believe congestions are punishment enough.

Our draft beer is less expensive than your bottled water.

And my favourite – almost absolutely true:

Half our women look like Kate. The other half, like her sister.

Most of my followers will know I have a serious love affair with Romania and Romanians and the majority of Romanians coming here so far are very well educated, hard-working and an enormous benefit to our society. But this doesn’t mean my eyes are closed to the problems: corruption is endemic (but worse in Bulgaria) and certainly a large number of Romanians coming here have come to commit crime and will do so in the future (the Romanians would say that they are not Romanians, but gypsies, and while I cannot support this racist statement there is an underlying truth).

So, much as I love Romanians and their country, the concern about freely opening the door to them is well-founded.

But it will be great for Britain to have a boost to the population of people who can actually speak English!

Sunday 3 Feb 2013. Another multi-tasking day, I’m starting to write this while I cook the obligatory Sunday ‘traditional full English’ breakfast and scanning a film to put some pictures here; I felt I must do this post after reading a recent ‘News’ item from WordPress about using internet in teaching:

http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/educators-on-wordpress/

The special 'Allstars' project room from we did internet teaching projects using first one, later (here) two, 'obsolete' laptops. This is 'Allstar' Daniela with me, 1994

The special ‘Allstars’ project room at industrial High School No.1, Burdujeni, Suceava, Romania, from which we did internet teaching projects using first one, later (here) two, ‘obsolete’ laptops. This is ‘Allstar’ Daniela with me, 1994

I think I might have been a bit of a pioneer in this field; the teachers in UK, Canada and USA with whom I did the projects in 1993/94 certainly were. Oddly enough, I had referred briefly to my email projects for teaching English only a few days ago when I did a post about how I became an English teacher in Romania.

For most of the projects we used a single obsolete lap-top on which the children took turns; it had been discarded by some Arizona school; later I got a second. There was no Windows available to us (though it had been launched about 10 years previously); we used MS-Dos and saved our work on ‘floppy discs’. We supplemented the emails with airmailed communications and exchanged photographic prints. The slide show below, click on any picture to see it, tells some of the story.

The ‘Allstars’ as they chose to call themselves, from class 9s (‘gymnasium’ or middle school) in the industrial school no.1 in Burdujei, Suceava, did projects with schools in Liverpool, Canada and Northumberland on histories of their respective countries and other subjects; the much younger Bunnies, a special needs class in school no.11 in Suceava, did a project with special needs children from the ‘Jim Allen’ elementary school in Pensacola, Florida, on their respective towns.

Both these groups of Suceava children were not expected to achieve very much by the Romanian system. However, the head teacher at School no1 was very supportive, even giving the group its own small project room (top picture). The head teacher of school no.11 told me at the beginning I was wasting my time with the special needs children. He was gracious enough at the end of the year to admit that he had been wrong, when they invited him to a year end exhibition of their project. Their teacher, Vasilica, never had any doubt; she had no special needs training, no special needs resources; she taught them with love alone.

The Leo Club of Suceava Burdujeni

The Allstars went on to form a Leo Club, despite their parents’ objection to them doing any voluntary work (this came from the enforced unpaid labour as ‘Pioneers’ under the Communist system) and, among other activities, they worked with special needs kids in the orphanages; some of them eventually took some of the 30 available places at one of the two top high schools – the leading school for humanities and languages – in Suceava, something no-one would have believed they were able to do. There was already a Lions Club in Suceava, instigated by a French Lions Club soon after the revolution.

Working with the Allstars and Bunnies and many other Romanian children was probably the most enjoyable and satisfying part of my time in Romania, if not in the whole of my life.

That year, or the year before, I presented two or three papers on the use of internet for teaching English as a foreign language at a conference which had physical audiences at centres in the USA and Mexico but contributors from around the world via internet. I had to go 600km to the capital, Bucharest, to find the facilities to take part, which I did in the middle of the night in Romania. The papers were eventually published in the conference proceedings; I’m hoping those will turn up in my ‘store’ in Romania.

I worked in one school which had a more ‘modern’ computer network and I think the operating system was Linux; if I remember correctly we emailed using a program called Pine. I think I first saw Windows in about 1996, when I began to teach English in the computer studies high school in Iasi, though I didn’t do the email projects there; I taught the curriculum more conventionally.

Two students on the week long course I did at the University of Bratislava, Slovakia, on using computers and doing internet projects for teaching English

Two students on the week long course I did at the University of Bratislava, Slovakia, on using computers and doing internet projects for teaching English

The work with computers and internet projects not only took me all over Romania, showing teachers and pupils how to use computers and how to do such projects, I was even lucky enough to go to Slovakia for a week and do similar things with students as the University of Bratislava. What a lovely town!

Old battered films

Although most of my photographs taken in Romania seem to have been left there – prints, negatives and slides – as I cannot find them here, a few weeks ago I finally got around to taking some films which I did bring back from the canisters in which they had been stored for years. I had to leave them under some weight for several weeks to get them flat enough to cut into strips for the scanner, and I cut them a few days ago. I’ve just sorted out some to scan for this post – it’ll take weeks or months to do them all (about 60 35mm films). Unfortunately the pictures I want for here are on three, four or more different films and as I might as well scan them all rather than just the shots I want it’ll take a couple of hours or more (Tuesday 5 Feb: in fact it took all day and more so the intention to post this on Sunday went by the board!).

The films are rather battered and bruised and the colour is way off after their treatment over the past 20 years or so. I hope they are interesting nevertheless as I don’t have time to do any ‘repairs’, though I hope to do so sometime.

Back to cooking and tv

However, after I’ve finished with the films for this post I’ll go and scan a film (black and white) I shot yesterday for my photo blog – while making some bread (we’re out) and getting ready to cook the evening meal – it’s pork chops from a named farm nearby via our excellent local butcher; left to my Romanian wife she’ll cook them Romanian fashion – for at least an hour – rather than the 10 minutes they deserve. Some things can benefit from the long cooking like, strangely enough, runner beans, which become something quite different and eat very well with mamaliga (Romanian corn meal mush or ‘polenta’) when cooked for an hour and a half.

And all this before my Sunday evening tv marathon begins with the news at 6pm (over dinner). Then there’s ‘Country File’, followed by ‘Call the Midwife’ (how good to have a drama with good stories, no violence and where the characters have a vocabulary other than four letter words), and then ‘Ripper Street’, which has enough interest to overlook the sometimes gratuitous violence.

Although I’ve said before that photography and cooking have quite a lot in common (or perhaps because of it), it’s quite difficult to scan films and cook at the same time. Apart from trying to remember to wash my hands before putting on the cotton gloves to handle the film, or remembering to take the scissors to cut the film but the knife to cut the vegetables (for braised red cabbage with Juniper, steamed caulifower and brussel sprouts, and roasted potato wedges) I have a big worry that I’m going to cut off a finger or steam a film!

I’d better get the scanning done soon. It’s creeping up to 6pm and I’ve started on the cook’s obligatory (unless they have a medical condition forbidding it) red wine; although it’s vital for cooking it ain’t so good for scanning. In fact, it’s beginning to look as though the scanning will not finish by 6pm, so this post will not be posted until tomorrow (didn’t make that either).

This blogging ‘lark’ has taken over my life; how the bloggers who post ten times day, especially those who write something rather than just post a picture each time, do it I don’t know. I started this blog to write about my interests but now blogging itself has become an interest and I find myself writing about that.

I’m conscious that I wander about a bit in my posts but no apologies – two of my favourite blogs do this too. Food and Forage Hebrides hides super recipes among all sorts of insights into life on a Hebredian island; My French Heaven tucks anything from Coco Chanel or how to clean silver to long distance sailboat racing in his wonderfully illustrated food blog, though admittedly not usually in the same post.

“What’s with the ‘mafia’ in that factory?”, I asked my companion. Or, rather, what I actually said was “Ce este cu ‘mafia’ la fabrica asta?”, necessarily exercising my newly-acquired broken Romanian in my first few months as a volunteer in Romania. This was May 1993.

My companion in the train compartment was my landlady, who had kindly accompanied me on a train journey from Siret, in the far north of Romania, to Focsani, 300 kilometres south, to what I had been told was “The best factory for BCA building blocks in Romania”. We were now on the return journey.

Raluca, Alina and Ramona, l to r, with Ancuta behind. Four of the 'Bunnies', my delightful special needs class from School no.11, Suceava, in 1994. They are wearing T-shirts from a special needs school in Pensacola, Florida, with which the Bunnies did an email project (despite the headmaster's attitude which was that I was wasting my time trying to do such a thing with them. He had to eat his words, but more of that in a future post about the delights of teaching English in Romania.

Raluca, Alina and Ramona, l to r, with Ancuta behind. Four of the ‘Bunnies’, my delightful special needs class from School no.11, Suceava, in 1994. They are wearing dandelion coronets we made on the day, and T-shirts from a special needs school in Pensacola, Florida, with which the Bunnies did an email project (despite the headmaster’s attitude which was that I was wasting my time trying to do such a thing with them. He had to eat his words, but more of that in a future post about the delights of teaching English in Romania).

She didn’t speak English but, as a book-keeper and someone I already felt I could trust after living two or three months with the family, she was an invaluable companion on an expedition to purchase building blocks for a new ‘half-way house’ to be built by the charity I was working with as a volunteer in Siret, for teenagers coming out of the then infamous institution – the camin/spital (hostel/hospital) – in Siret.

A big bag full of bank notes

Purchasing building materials in Romania in 1993 was not a case of picking up the phone, placing an order, waiting for delivery and an invoice to be subsequently paid, as I was used to in the UK. It was necessary to go to the producer, select the product, see it loaded on a freight train back to where it was required, and pay in cash on the spot. The necessary cash, in the ‘old’ Romanian currency – lei (lions) – was not a few bank notes in my pocket; it was a very large sports bag full of notes of the maximum denomination. I cannot now remember the actual amount, but it was millions and millions of lei in a heavy, zipped, padlocked bag (carried by a very nervous tyke).

“Everyone knows about the mafia”, was the response in perfect English, not from my companion but from a tall, slim, elegantly attired lady sitting opposite. The smile was friendly, but there was also a hint of some joke I had not seen and an overlay of amusement in her eyes.

It wasn’t unusual to meet an English speaker on a train then – there were a lot of British, American, Canadian and other English-speaking volunteers in Romania in the early 90s – but to come across a Romanian speaking near-perfect English was very unusual; the usual second language for well-educated Romanians was French (ignoring the Russian which they had been obliged to learn). Opening up Western tv programmes to the population changed that and then internet came and every child I ever met wanted to learn English. What a wonderful situation for a teacher of English – pupils desperate to learn.

You don’t have to be a teacher

Back to my new acquaintance – Felicia: she turned out to be the Inspector for English for the ‘county’ (judet) where I was living – Suceava. Eventually she pleaded with me to come to ‘teach’ English in what she described as the top high school – Liceul ‘Stefan cel Mare’ (‘Stephen the Great’ High School) – in the ‘county town’ of Suceava. “I’m not an English teacher”, I said, though I had taught English, for short times, to immigrant children in south London and to adult Spaniards at the Berlitz school in Madrid. “It doesn’t matter”, she countered. “We have excellent teachers but have not and never have had a native English speaker”. She was very persuasive and we finished the journey with me having agreed to extend my 6 month stay in Romania and go to ‘teach’ in Suceava. How things went from there is another chapter, sometime; suffice it to say for years more I taught English all over Romania and ended up married – to a Romanian history teacher

The Mafia

Oh, I’d almost forgotten the mafia. “The word you were hearing, was ‘marfa’ not mafia”, Felicia chided me. “They were talking about the product you wanted – ‘marfa’ is Romanian for ‘produce’.

“Mind you, you almost certainly encountered a mafia”, she added with another wry smile.

***

This addition to my ‘About’ was prompted not by something from Romania, but from another tyke (Yorkshireman for any of my readers who – unlikely – don’t yet know this dialect tag which we proudly bear) who has gone ‘self-sufficient’, building a strawbale house, in Poland (despite the post title, it’s in English):

http://winkos.wordpress.com/2013/01/26/przepraszam-nie-mowie-po-polsku/

I just love where blogging takes me and I was surprised to learn that Eddy’s story has so many things in common with mine, including being lured into teaching English. My own wanderings into strawbale building will have to wait for a future post.

From time to time I’ll do a bio post like this, in no chronological order, and eventually add it to the pages under ‘About’ above.

This simple recipe comes from Romania. Neither my wife nor I are vegetarian, and have no reservations about eating meat, but we don’t eat meat on Wednesdays or Fridays. I don’t do this for any religious reasons, but it comes from the Orthodox Church in Romania, which decrees that most Wednesdays and Fridays are days of ‘post’, that is ‘fast’. On such days animal products should not be eaten (or drunk), so if followed correctly it is vegan not vegetarian.

New potatoes with garlic in a 'ceaun'

New potatoes with garlic in a ‘ceaun’

I got used to it as I lived in a region in Romania where about 70% of the population regularly attend (the Orthodox) church, so there’s no meat on the table on the days of ‘post’. I came to believe that this ‘rest’ from meat was beneficial (I’m now quite certain this is so – it fits in with my ideas that it is very beneficial to eat everything, but each in moderation) and having a set two days means you take this rest ‘religiously’ (we also eat fish on Tuesdays, for even more obscure reasons, but again it ensures we have fish once a week). Adhering to this ‘rule’ does not prevent us eating ‘veggie’, or fish, on other days if we feel like it.

So the simple recipe, which works best with smallish new potatoes:

Heat some oil (sunflower oil in Romania but others are OK of course – just avoid those laced with chemicals as are all the fiercely promoted ‘margarines’) with some butter in a thick-bottomed pan. The Romanian one you see above is known as a ceaun (that’s cha-oon), made by Romanian gypsies. Tip the washed potatoes – don’t peel or scrape them – into the oil, stir up so that all the potatoes are coated, and add a lot of peeled garlic cloves (there are about 20 in the pot shown but these are brought back from Romania – very strong – so you might need more of those bought in the UK). Cover tightly and leave on a very low light. Stir up from time to time.

Because the potatoes are steaming in their own moisture it takes longer than you might think until they are cooked; reckon at least an hour – test by sticking a knife in; when done just keep them hot till you’ve done whatever else, they won’t spoil. Towards the end grind over some salt and black pepper and stir up.

They are really delicious; make more than you need for the meal because they are great cold too.

Served simple with steamed green vegetables

Served simple with steamed green vegetables

Eat them with some of your ‘five a day’; various steamed green vegetables as seen here are good (with some of the oil/butter mixture from the ceaun poured over – if you’ve been brainwashed by the cholesterol nonsense go for a run), so are sauteed mushrooms, or a mixed salad. You can, of course, make them part of any meal, with meat or fish.

As I said, I am a carnivore. I really like meat and fish and have no qualms about eating anything – I’ve eaten hedgehog, dog, and very strange things from the sea. All were delicious. And, in view of the recent controversy, I’ve eaten horse – very tasty and I’d gladly eat it again.

A couple of days ago Stefane, our favourite foodie blogger (My French Heaven), mentioned making hot chocolate for Sunday breakfast and, just about to go out into the snow to try to get some photos, I noted to make that rather than tea as a warmer when I arrived back.

Hot chocolate and 'afine' jam; the afine are related to blueberries but, in my opinion, far superior (as are British bilberries).

Hot chocolate and ‘afine’ jam; the afine are related to blueberries but, in my opinion, far superior (as are British bilberries).

However, the post also reminded me of the only French lesson I enjoyed at school – somewhere around 1952/54 – when our usual draconian French teacher, Mr Milton, said “Today we are going to learn to make hot chocolate, as the French make it”. I’ve been following his instructions ever since.

A crucial part of the plan is to mix the cocoa with sugar first, then a little milk to make a paste, before adding the hot milk. Stefane advised the same thing, though he said ‘powdered sugar’ – perhaps that was mis-translation as I think powdered sugar is what we Brits would normally call icing sugar, but I think granulated sugar works better. So here’s what Mr Milton told me (and what I have just done to make the cup pictured above – I even got out French ‘porcelaine a feu’ in deference to Stefane):

Put cocoa powder (I like my chocolate very chocolaty so 2 heaped teaspoons for the cup shown) and unrefined sugar (I don’t like things very sweet so about a rounded teaspoon) in the cup and add a little cold milk, from what you have measured for the cup, a bit at a time stirring continuously till you have a thin, smooth paste.

Bring the rest of the milk, with a small pinch of salt, just to the boil and pour into the cup, stirring all the time till the cocoa paste is completely mixed in. Pour the mixture back into the pan, add a small knob of butter (if you use the usually salted English butter you can leave out the salt in the milk), bring back to the boil and simmer for one minute, whisking all the time .

Pour back into the cup, sit down and slowly savour your ‘hot chocolate’.

Stefane mentioned American blueberries but although they have become very fashionable I don’t really like them. But I really like their smaller wild cousins – bilberries from the Yorkshire moors in Britain or ‘afine’ from the lower slopes of Romanian mountains – the two are similar but not the same. Neither are cultivated – they are there free for the taking in August.

The jar of ‘Afine 2012′ jam in the picture was made by my ‘unofficial godmother’, Lucretia Hariuc, in her home in the Romanian Bucovina region. I brought it back (with a lot of other ‘goodies’) last summer. If you would like to know more about this remarkable lady who made it, you’ll find much about her in articles about Romanian decorated eggs under the ‘Romania’ menu above.

Because I have no particular theme for this blog, I am often torn between several subjects. I’ve shunted off classic photography to another blog, but even that’s a problem as there are so many commonalities between cooking, which I often write about on this blog, and the processing side of ‘classic’ photography (ie on film) – measuring, timing, weighing, careful attention, care (even love) – come to think of it, much of that applies to the taking of photographs too.

fragi

Fragi – tiny Romanian wild strawberries

As I’ve said before, I’ve no need of the WordPress daily prompts; my problem is how to find the time to write about everything which motivates me to write, especially as I have an hiatus in my soujourns on internet as I spend two days away from home attending to the ‘communications’ needs of the small charity for which I work (and I’ve recently introduced  a weekly blog for that, though it’s a very simple one).

Then there’s the whole ‘grump’ thing; I originally set up this blog to ‘have a go at’ so much I find wrong with the world, particularly the UK, today. And I’ve written almost nothing about music, which has been an inseparable companion for the whole of my life. It’s coming: I’ve got a major grump boiling up about ‘Classic FM’ radio, which – X-Factoring everything including Beethoven – is getting close to being shut off permanently in my home.

This afternoon I made a small pot of tea (my Romanian wife doesn’t drink it), Yorkshire tea of course (no, it doesn’t grow on the moors here but we know how to select the best) and, fancying something sweet, I spread a couple of slices of my home-made bread with ‘strawberry’ jam. But I don’t like strawberry jam! Except for a very small summer window, strawberries with any really ‘good’ taste no longer exist. The ‘window’ coincides with one of my pet hates – Wimbledon – but this is the English strawberry season.

However, the strawberry jam I ate this afternoon would blow your mind. I say ‘strawberry’ but this was made with miniature versions of the fruit we buy, or maybe grow, here – between 0.5 and 1 cm across. They grow on the lower slopes of the Romanian mountains and are called ‘Fragi’ (that’s ‘fradge’). Even as jam they taste extraordinarily good, but picked fresh on a Romanian mountain they explode in the mouth insisting “This is what a strawberry should taste like”.

Red cabbage with quickly seared pork shoulder (forget the old wives' tale that pork must be well cooked if you want some flavour)

Red cabbage with quickly seared pork shoulder (forget the old wives’ tale that pork must be well cooked if you want some flavour)

That’s not to say there’s nothing in the UK which tastes good – there are many British bloggers I read who show that to be untrue – so today I’d like to sing the praises of red cabbage, which I’ve been cooking to accompany quickly seared slices of pork shoulder around taking some pictures and processing the film for a grumpytykepix photo post – probably tomorrow morning.

The picture above isn’t up to much but I forgot to tart up the plate and take a photograph before I dived (or is that dove?) in.

So, for two people: chop up quarter of a small red cabbage (they’re actually purple of course). Chop up a large shallot (or onion) alongside. Spread freshly ground black pepper over it, sprinkle on a pinch of salt and a handful of juniper berries, tip into a saucepan with a knob of butter and a bit of oil (any good oil will do so long as you avoid the over-publicised poison – margarine). I’d add a chopped up Granny Smith or Bramley apple but then my wife wouldn’t eat it. Put on a low heat with a tightly fitting lid for about 45min, stirring occasionally, until it’s well cooked. Delicious and the perfect accompaniment to pork. I tried some Stella Artois cidre with it (it was a cheap offer in the local supermarket). OK, but a poor substitute for the real thing from Somerset, or Britanny.

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HAPPNEW YEAR

to you all

may your year be full of rainbows

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