Romania


Picture of lambToday – 26 February – is Fairy Tale Day so I thought I’d try to tell you a fairy tale. Although it is Romanian, called Miorita (I don’t have the Romanian characters but it’s pronounced mee-oh-ree-tsa), the little ewe lamb, I’ll try to tell it in English. My very free – not literal – translation (I would not attempt to versify it) is based on a version collected by Vasile Alecsandri (1821 – 1890, Romanian poet, playwright, politician and diplomat who came from the Moldavian city of Bacau, a little south of where I spent most of my time in Romania).

It’s not really a ‘fairy tale’, it’s an ancient ballad which, when I thought I understood it after several years in Romania and knew the language reasonably well, I began to say “Understand Miorita and you can understand Romanians”. Some Romanians may say that is presumptuous, but I believe it to be true though perhaps I should say “Understand Miorita and you can understand Moldavians”.

Moldavia is the part of Romania in which I stayed most of my over 11 years there; if I have a favourite part of this wonderful country it is Moldavia, though my specific favourite is the Bucovina, where some of the more fragile aspects of Moldavians have been strengthened by influences from the western side of the Carpathian mountains.


Bride and groom with marriage crowns during a Romanian wedding service

“Tell them I went to marry a princess”


Miorita

Once upon a time there were three shepherds, each tending their flock on the plain below the lower slopes of hills which seemed to lead to heaven. One of the shepherds was Moldavian, one Transylvanian and one Vrancean (from three parts of ancient Romania).

The Moldavian had more flocks with the most beautiful sheep, with long horns. He had the best, well-trained horses and the most ferocious hounds; in short he was the richest of the three.

The Transylvanian and Vrancean were envious. In their minds, and planning together, they intended to ambush the Moldavian, and kill him, when the sun went down.

Meanwhile, one small grey-dappled ewe lamb had bleated loudly and continuously for three days, refusing to eat.

The Moldavian shepherd asked her: “Don’t you like the grass? Why do you bleat so long and loud? Are you too sick to eat, sweet little lamb?”

She answered: “Dear master, take the flock into that far field, where there is shade for you.  Call a large hound, a fierce, fearless one, strong and loyal, to be near you. When the daylight is gone the Transylvanian and Vrancean intend to murder you”.

The shepherd said to her: “If I am to die here, tell the Vrancean and Transylvanian to let my bones lie somewhere near, by the sheepfold so that my sheep are close by and I can hear my hounds. Put beside me a small beech pipe with its soft, sweet sound, a small pipe of bone which has a loving tone, and one of elderwood, good but fiery-tongued. Then, when the winds blow and play on them all my listening sheep would come near and weep”.

“Do not tell them how I died. Say that I could not stay but went to marry a princess, the most beautiful princess in the world. Tell them that at my wedding a bright star fell, the sun and moon came down to hold my marriage crown. My guests were trees – firs and maples. The high mountains were my priests, my fiddlers the birds, my torchlights the stars”.

“However, if you should meet somewhere my little, old mother with her girdle of wool, crossing the plains with tears flowing from her eyes, asking everyone she meets whether they had seen, had known, her fine shepherd son, slim as a willow tree with a face as bright as milk foam and a small moustache like a young ear of wheat, with hair as black as the feathers of a crow, and small black eyes that glow like ripe sloe berries, have pity and tell her that I have gone to marry a noble princess on the far hills there which lead to heaven”.

“But do not tell my old mother that a bright star fell for my bridal night, that firs and maples were my guests or that the high mountains were my priests, my fiddlers the birds and my torches the stars”.


I have stood on those hills which lead to heaven and can assure you that they do.

Snapshot from jumping meerkats video clip

What’s this got to do with hernia repair? Read on.

Last Friday I had ‘open’ hernia repair surgery. Subsequently house bound, even chair bound though decreasingly so, I have decided to set down my thoughts/experience with the operation as they may be of use to others facing a similar procedure. I also want to record the luck of discovering a Romanian doctor on duty at the time the NHS had deemed I should be sent home. I have to admit that I was somewhat anxious before the event, and searching for advice on the likely post-op situation, how long to recover, etc, much of the information was contradictory. With this background I had been warned by everyone from hernia repair surgeon to most acquaintances who had had the op that I should expect severe pain and to be ‘out of action’ for quite a time, even surprise from Germany that it was to be ‘open’ rather than ‘keyhole’ surgery and that I was to be discharged home the same day. I consoled myself that the pain could not possibly be as bad as that experienced last year, first waiting several hours for an ambulance then for quite a while in A & E with bladder retention; then, by the time a catheter was in, I was pretty much lunatic. (more…)

New Year vies with Easter as the most important celebration in the Romanian calendar, the latter being the most important religious celebration of course. New Year’s Eve, Revelion, is an important date in our home as it is Petronela’s birthday – so ‘open house’ in accord with Romanian tradition. All are an ‘excuse’ for a magnificent feast which would please any Yorkshireman. Our tiny flat was stuffed, as were our bellies, with traditional Romanian New Year dance and celebration music as a background (see video clips links at the end of this post).

Carp skeleton

Eaten – crap remains ;) !

(more…)

Christmas shopping in Leeds yesterday; it’s a great city to shop in. I find shopping on line no fun at all.

Carp for New Year (Revelion)

A handsome 1.5kg carp bought in Leeds Kirkgate market for New Year's eve dinner

A handsome 1.5kg carp bought in Leeds Kirkgate market for New Year’s eve dinner

Although I did a bit of Christmas shopping it was mainly to begin to provision for New Year as it is Petronela’s birthday (so ‘open house’ in accord with Romanian tradition) on New Year’s Eve (Revelion for Romanians, and as big a celebration as for the Scots)  and we have Romanian friends coming to stay. (more…)

Tochitura MoldoveneascaBusy times: having ‘retired’ from my part-time job at the end of October, I launched my new business Extraordinary Writing on Small Business Saturday, 6 December. More on this below. More ‘spare time’ seems to mean that I’ve been roped in to more voluntary activities in my village, Menston in Wharfedale, Yorkshire. And, doing more of the everyday cooking, last night I made something worthy of mention I think – Tochitura Moldoveneasca – first time I’ve attempted it; again, more below.

Voluntary activities – eggs to iPads

I was delighted to get a £500 grant from Lloyds Bank Community Fund to set up a project which has two principal aims: to help ameliorate the loneliness of many elderly people; to integrate more young people in our village with the wider community. The £500 will buy a couple of iPads and cover other small expenses for a year.

I call the project ‘Teaching grandmother – from eggs to iPads‘. A small team of youngsters will teach elderly people first how to Skype on the iPad so they can talk to distant relatives and friends; second stage will be how to use search engines; third stage will be how to shop on line. At each session each youngster will have two elderly ‘pupils’ (I know of the advantages of learning in pairs from my English teaching days; also, my time installing ‘obsolete’ donated computers in Romania and teaching teachers and pupils how to use them gives me a good grounding even if the technology is, let’s say, a little more advanced! We didn’t even have Windows in the Romanian schools then, let alone an Apple OS).

I did apply for enough to buy six iPads but the final stage was a public vote on the four projects short-listed. At the time I should have been campaigning for votes I was pretty seriously ill so couldn’t do it. We came fourth. However, we’ll set up as a ‘pilot’ project and if all goes well look for more funding to expand in the future.

Tochitura Moldoveneasca

If you subscribe to the ‘healthy eating’ bibles look away now!

Principal ingedients for the tochitura: belly pork, smoked sausage, smoked back fat, onion and garlic. The sprigs of (Romanian) thyme are my own contribution to the recipe.

Principal ingredients for the tochitura: belly pork, smoked sausage, smoked back fat, onion and garlic. The sprigs of (Romanian) thyme are my own contribution to the recipe.

One of the best meals I ever had in Romania, more than once, was in a school canteen – in a high school where I taught English and where I met my wife – Liceul Mihail Kogalniceanu in Miroslava village, Iasi ‘county’. I’ve eaten this dish many times elsewhere but it has never compared and that’s not surprising because if you look it up in a recipe book or on line there seems to be little agreement about the recipe. Many times it is made to end up as more like a kind of stew or casserole, but it should be (in my opinion) very nearly ‘dry’ – just a little zeama (juice).

Because my Romanian in-laws brought two important ingredients when they visited, I decided to have a go based on how I thought the school cook might have done it. I was delighted that it turned out to be pretty good (though not quite up to the standard of the ‘school dinner’).

An important feature is that there should be plenty of fat in the meat, either by using a ‘fatty’ cut (eg belly pork) or by mixing lean (eg shoulder) with fatty. Of course, the better tasting the pork the better tasting the tochitura; it took me months to find good tasty pork in the UK. Two other important ingredients are good smoked sausage and smoked ‘slanina’ (back fat). The latter two, home made and smoked, were brought by my mother-in-law. Other than that there are just onion and garlic, salt and pepper. It helps to have garlic from Botosani in the far north east of Romania – one clove will do the job of ten bought in the UK (and has an even better taste).

The finished tochitura, with mamaliga, fried eggs and cheese (Feta in the absence of Romanian fermented sheep's cheese).

The finished tochitura, for two, with mamaliga, fried eggs and cheese (Feta in the absence of Romanian fermented sheep’s cheese).

So, the smoked back fat is sauteed a little, the chunks of meat added, browned then water added. Simmer until the meat is tender. Add the sliced onions and garlic, salt and pepper. Simmer for another ten minutes. Now I had to be inventive to get the almost dry, caramel covered meat I remember from Miroslava. So, I removed the meat, browned it again in a very hot pan with a bit of the fat. Skimmed the remaining liquid (a lot of fat now to be removed), reduced it to a thin layer in the pan then added back the re-browned meat.

It should be served with mamaliga (firm cornmeal ‘porridge’), a fried egg and fermented sheep’s cheese (cas framantat). I didn’t have the latter but my wife doesn’t like it anyway so she had cottage cheese and I had crumbled Feta cheese (vaguely similar). Pickled peppers, cucumbers and green tomatoes (gogonele) are a perfect accompaniment.

My new business – Extraordinary Writing

Having ‘retired’ from employment, and loving to write, I’ve decided to try to add to my meagre pension by writing, specialising in writing news pieces and features for companies or other organisations (for placement in the Press or house magazines) or writing, editing and producing newsletters and house magazines.

I’m not sure how I had the audacity to choose the name I did, with so many ‘extraordinary writers’ among the bloggers I read regularly, but I did.

First step was to make a simple website and I made this ‘live’ on Small Business Saturday – ie last Saturday. If you would like to have a look at it go to:

http://extraordinarywriting.net

I had landed my first job, to write, edit and produce a regular newsletter, by Monday :) .

 

Yesterday was a damp, misty, chilly day so very suitable to serve our dinner guests a classic boeuf Bourguignon (or, if you prefer, boeuf a la Bourguignonne); very filling so a simple, light starter (more below) and a small but rich classic desert – mousseline au chocolat – with a little side of fresh fruit to offset the richness.

Romanian wines, red and whiteMuch as I like French wine, it was a good opportunity to drink a couple of excellent Romanian wines which have been in the rack for a while, a red called ‘3 Hectare’ (three hectares) from the Murfatlar wine region, between the Danube and the Black Sea in south east Romania and made from the ancient Romanian grape variety Feteasca Neagra, and a sweet white called Grasa de Cotnar, from north east Romania, with the dessert. This latter is a wine favoured by French visitors as an affordable alternative to Château d’Yquem. With the starter I chose a refreshing dry Riesling from Germany.

This is the first ‘haute cuisine’ I’ve attempted in quite a while, for reasons I touched on in the previous post (and I forgot to take photos for this post so have cobbled some together from left-overs and pix taken by my wife at the occasion). (more…)

Grumpytyke is back, I hope fairly frequently, after a long absence, and I’m trying to decide whether to resume with the wide ranging subjects which I wrote about before – Romania, VW campers, classic minis, haiku, Yorkshire and food and cooking, and a few more as the mood takes me – or to limit myself to one or two themes. That might be difficult for me.

I just ploughed through emails going back to February this year – helluvalot of spam – and was glad to see a lot of ‘old friends’ still posting, though some seem to have disappeared in recent months. Apart from one short post in February ‘explaining’ my absence I haven’t really posted or looked at emails for about a year.

Me

Much of my absence has been due to a major health problem. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, had my first ever stays in hospital and spent a while with tubes and bags limiting my movement. Hopefully it’s under control for the moment. I might have something to say about the wonderful overworked nursing staff in the NHS, but the often abysmal administration, management and systems, in a future post. (more…)

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