Food


Small Belleek vase with flowersI can’t let St Patrick’s Day pass without a small acknowledgement; Ireland and it’s people share the top spot in my favourites with Romania, though it’s a few years now since I visited. Must remedy that.

The little Belleek vase was bought on one of the most memorable of many memorable Press visits when I was working full time as a journalist. It was bought as a memento for my mother and came to me when she passed on at 91 years five years ago.

Alcoholism, divorce and Blarney

A guest of the Irish Export Board with two other journalists, we were ferried around for three days in a Mercedes limousine, a wonderful – quite crazy – trip around many bars with several factories between. I returned to England I swear with a tan, Guinness tan, a preference for Irish whisky which has never left me, and a lasting wonder of Irish food. Despite the ride in an alcoholic haze (in those days all true journalists worked better well over the limit – alcoholism and divorce were the main enemies), the export board got their money’s worth with a published feature on the working places with export potential which we visited. It must have been 1970 or thereabouts.

The itinerary certainly included Dublin, Limerick and Cork (near which the obligatory kissing of the Blarney Stone took place). We never went anywhere near the village of Belleek, which is just over the border in Northern Ireland, but I acquired the small piece somewhere. I’ve always considered Ireland to be one country anyway.

So today I’m green, with envy, for all those lucky enough to be there over the Irish sea.

 

The author, Christmas morning 2016, with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and champagne breakfast.

Breakfast, Christmas 2016

I’ve been following Cristian Mihai’s blog almost since I began blogging approaching five years ago. I was first attracted to it because of the excellent writing in English by a Romanian, having taught English in Romania for around a decade. Since then I’ve found other Romanian blogs written in excellent English covering one or more of the wide diversity of topics you would find on mine, which as followers will know, breaks one or two cardinal rules if you want a lot of followers: posting frequently, even daily, and sticking to a theme. As I also speak and read Romanian pretty well, though I’ve never cracked writing it well, I now follow quite a few Romanian blogs posting in just Romanian or both Romanian and English, though I was sad to see that after my long absences several seem to have ceased to blog.

I used to post fairly frequently, though never every day, but some serious health issues two and a half years ago meant that posting became very erratic, particularly as I was also attempting to keep up with editing, and blogging on, a site I created for the Yorkshire village in which I live.

Our 'music corner' at home, showing tv with Vienna New Year concert 2017, panpipes sitting on the Yamaha 'piano'

Vienna New Year concert 2017

So followers may well find me writing on any one of my major hobbies – music, photography (on film); food and cooking; my efforts at writing fiction or ‘poetry’, as distinct from journalism (which was my profession), and our local writers’ club formed and run here in Wharfedale by a Romanian (!); classic cars particularly my mini and vw camper; and a few others. Or my major hobby-horses which include: discrimination in any of its many forms; the beauty of Romania, it’s people, traditions and food, particularly my love affair with the Bucovina; the idiocy of politicians; my experiences with our superb National Health Service and its staff here in the UK and the determination of those in charge of it and successive Governments to destroy it; habitual use of certain ‘four letter words’; and again, a few others, including scrambled eggs! (I know, overuse of exclamation marks but perhaps merited here 😉 ).

So, you have been warned; I am not taking up Cristian’s reblogging offer to find a lot more followers, but just to give him a bit of support. Hence this introductory blog which will be the first I’ll be asking him to reblog. After that, perhaps a few of my past blog posts then one or two new ones.

This facility must surely be invaluable to those younger than me who wish to get better known and maybe make a bit of money out of their writing so it would be very sad to see it not continue. I have no such ambition. I write because I like to write – that’s all.

diaryRomanians in general are quite superstitious; Petronela is no exception and with that in mind the number 17 has become pretty significant for us. So, she assures me that the coming year will be good for us, because:

  • It’s 2017
  • We live at number 17
  • In Romania we lived at number 17
  • We’ll celebrate our 17th anniversary this year
  • P was born in ’71 (deci 17 reversed!)
  • Whenever P wins on Lotto, only ever a small amount so far, including New Year’s Eve, her selection includes the number 17

There are possibly a few more but I can’t bring them to mind for the moment.

Romania, Romanian doctors and medication

Towards the end of 2016 the year became better as a very poor prognosis for me earlier in the year was revised to be much better and new medication (thank God for the NHS; I’m told it costs around £2,000 a month!) has resulted in me feeling better than for two or three years (though I think that 6 weeks of Romanian summer and food had something to do with that too! I’d add to that, odd as it may seem, ending up in A&E my first day in Romania, when the wonderful Romanian doctors identified why long journeys were causing me a problem, so now I can take preventative steps).

I had a lot of problems getting in the ‘Christmas spirit’ last year, with the slaughter and starvation of children in Syria and the Yemen, to mention just two, let alone the events in France and Germany. I’ll probably return to this in future posts.

To end on a happier note, I can do no better than end with my New Year’s post on what I think is the best social media site (I’m excepting WordPress), blipfoto, when I ‘blipped’ a photo of our ‘musical corner’, where the tv sits. I returned to this wonderful community, which has none of the ‘crap’ so often evident on Facebook, just before Christmas after a long health-enforced absence (it’s based on keeping a photo diary). I don’t privatise my posts on this so if you’re interested you can probably find ‘realgrumpytyke‘ there.

The world stops for Vienna (my 1 January ‘blip’)

vienna99-17

Little did Petronela’s younger sister (RIP) know what she was starting when she insisted that I, then a volunteer teacher staying alone in the school hostel in 1999, be invited to spend New Year’s Day with the family. We watched the Vienna New Year’s concert together, P and I married about 18 months later, and we have watched the Vienna concert together every year since that first time.

The concert combines two of my great loves, so-called ‘classical music’ and classical ballet, a love affair probably begun when I was about 7 years old, being taken to live performances at Bradford’s St. George’s Hall and the Alhambra by my grandmother after years of listening on the ‘steam radio’ and wind-up gramophone.

I think there was less ballet this year but it was great to see flashbacks to earlier years in this year’s concert, including ‘our year’, and to see students from the Vienna State Opera Ballet Academy dancing among the audience.

Thankfully no CCTV in our flat to catch P and I dancing/clapping to the Rodetzsky March in our pyjamas (the concert did start as early as 11.15am!).

PS. I see that unthinking I slipped in a word of ‘the other language’ – for me Romanian – above. I’ll leave it. We often do that in our conversations as I often cannot think quickly of the English word and P cannot think of the Romanian one! So our conversations are often a garble of the two languages. Very confusing for eavesdroppers.

table1-2

Happy New Year to you all!

La Mulți Ani tuturori!

lobsterChristmas breakfast & dinner – smoked salmon (three varieties), scrambled eggs and champagne; lobster, guinea fowl and chocolate pudding.

This year I intended to do minimal cooking apart from what has become our traditional breakfast (I’ve prattled on about scrambled eggs before so will not do so here and food blogging has really progressed since then) so set out with the idea of buying everything for dinner semi-prepared from Marks & Spencer – always reliable in the food department even if their clothes have gone off track (I blame their following of the common herd and rebranding as M&S!). However, the starter we had chosen was no longer available when I arrived to make the order and no alternatives appealed so I bought a lobster (Kirkgate market is just across the road), which forced me into doing a bit of cooking, making lobster in chaud-froid (summary recipe below).

The champagne (blame Marks and Spencer for the change from our usual Cava; the half price offer was tempting and the result was superb) and the ‘easy carve’ guinea fowl, with pork, leek and smoked bacon stuffing, were excellent. No fancy accompaniments, just roast potatoes, sprouts and cauliflower. The juices from the bird needed no enhancement to be a very tasty sauce. There should have been roast parsnips but they were ‘lost’ somewhere between the market and home!

We managed to make room for some M&S melt-in-the middle chocolate pudding with simple cream about 2 hours after finishing the main course – again very good (neither Petronela nor I like ‘Christmas pudding’).

Bordeaux Blanc and Syrah from Chile

A very good Bordeaux Blanc from Fortnum and Mason and an excellent Chilean Syrah, both gifts so a step up from our day-to-day plonk, completed the table (the second ‘bottle of red’ seen, also a present, is a candle which, apart from the wick, is almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing).

Best present!

One of the things I really love about the run up to Christmas is trying to come up with something ‘special’ for Petronela. Seems this year I succeeded with a cushion, which P has told her friends is “the best present I’ve had ever had”. Eric Clapton’s piece became ‘our song’ well before we married; for people who don’t know Romanian, Ursulețul is ‘The teddy bear’ – no need to tell you who!).

Recipe

Homard en chaud-froid (based on a recipe in my ‘bible’ for classic French cooking for the past 40 years or so – Mastering the Art of French Cooking).

  • Lobster boiled and meat extracted from the body. Claws retained whole for ‘decoration’.
  • Empty shell pieces returned to the liquid with a good slug of the wine to accompany lobster later. Simmered to extract all the flavour, shell drained and liquid reduced until a strongly flavoured stock remains. Body and tail shells cleaned to contain the chaud-froid.
  • Lobster meat chopped into small pieces, fried slowly in butter with a little onion, pinch each of mustard powder and chilli powder, for 2 mins, cognac added then reduced to almost no liquid. Well chilled.
  • A little powdered gelatine soaked in a little of the wine to be served (enough to softly set the sauce).
  • Equal quantities of single cream and the lobster stock simmered with a sprig of tarragon, until reduced to about 3/4. Extract tarragon and correct seasoning if necessary. Stir in softened gelatine until completely dissolved. Leave to cool until almost set.
  • Fold lobster meat into about 3/4 of the sauce, spoon into the shells, spoon rest of sauce over and decorate (I used a few slices of Italian white truffle).

Simples! … and simply delicious.

New Year (Revelion).

New Year is all about Romanian food so it’s Petronela’s turn and now I can relax, almost – cârnați (Romanian sausages) to be made, a joint effort. All prepared before New Year’s Eve which is also P’s birthday so following the Romanian (at least Moldavian) tradition, we stay at home and friends – anybody – can drop in and sample the feast. There’ll be at least a dozen different dishes on the table.

 

 

Picture of the goat's milk and geranium soap in its cellophane packaging

Pure soap from Gosia’s Soaps in Poland

My experiences with hospitals over the past couple of years (mostly good) would make several episodes for a hospital ‘soap’ tv series but it’s the pre-tv soap I’m referring to here: pure soap from my internet friend in Poland, which arrived yesterday – goat’s milk and geranium. The physiotherapy and my ‘organic foods’ soapbox come later.

I’ve become good internet friends with Eddy though we’ve never met despite two abortive attempts. It began a few years ago when I had dreams of building a strawbale house in Romania and found his site ‘Winkos: a strawbale building adventure in Poland‘ and found he was from Yorkshire. His wife, Gosia, makes a range of pure soaps and I’ve been waiting for about a week for one to arrive. This morning I washed my face with it – wonderfully creamy with lots of long-lasting colourful bubbles reminding me of soaps in my childhood. Whatever has been done to them? Well now Gosia is making a range of them; you can see the range (20 in all I think, including a shaving bar) and order them – for great Christmas presents? Details of the range, prices, etc are on the above site under the ‘Soaps for autumn 2016‘ menu.

Pumpkin seeds and ‘organic’ foods

Accompanying the soap were pumpkin seeds from what Eddy says has been a bumper crop. Some will be going into the bread I’ll be making later today as they are of course truly ‘organic’. You know what I mean despite the stupidity of the term – they’re hardly mineral or abstract.

One of the things urging me to return to Romania, to live, is that such food is still the norm in the countryside there and I am sure this was a big factor in feeling better than for years after six weeks there this summer. Add to that the taste and living amid extraordinary natural beauty and I might even desert the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales if I can.

Though I have my suspicions about much labelled ‘organic’ here in UK supermarkets, and the higher prices, I was fascinated by a video clip shared by Eddy on Facebook showing a study of a Swedish family, members of which were full of insecticides, fungicides and plant growth inhibitors on their normal diet. After two weeks eating only ‘organic’ food, these had almost completely disappeared. Worth watching.

Physiotherapy

Right leg with 1.5kg weight strapped on with a scarf One of the most frustrating aspects of my recent ailments is the inability to walk any distance. I used to walk 25 – 30 miles in a day without a problem, the only ‘sport’ I’ve ever indulged in. In fact the inability to do this was a major factor in electing to have two hernias fixed last year. I was just getting into my stride, managing eg 6 miles, when after a relatively short walk in May something happened with my right knee and apart from hobbling about the house, with some pain, I rarely managed a mile. I managed at last to see a physiotherapist on Monday and was given a series of twice daily exercises which I began on Tuesday. I managed most in the morning but they triggered another problem so I passed on the second set. However, feeling good this morning I managed almost all and now, several hours later, I’m not having the bad effects of yesterday so reckon I’ll do the second session this evening.

1.5kg 'dumbell' weight

The only one I haven’t done properly is one with one of Petronela’s 1.5kg weights tied to my leg, ie I did only one or two lifts before giving up. But I’m confident I’ll soon be able to do the full set and that I’ll be able to say I’ve been doing that when I next see the physio in a couple of weeks. He did seem to me to know his stuff and made someone who has never done exercises as such in their life before, reckoning I was active enough, optimistic that I’ll be out again on Ilkla’ Moor, wi’ or bah’t ‘at, before long.

 

'Slices' of parkin on a plate

Cut but to be wrapped in foil for several days before eating

It’s a bit late for me to make Yorkshire parkin for 5th November, the traditional ‘cake’ to eat on ‘plot’, or ‘bonfire’ night as it improves if left to mature, to get the vital moist stickiness. The eight days left now is less than I would usually leave but it’s enough.

I couldn’t remember the quantities of each ingredient but having gone onto internet and seen recipes from various ‘celebrity’ chefs, I didn’t find one who truly understood what makes a ‘proper’ (thus the word in the title of this post) Yorkshire parkin. There are three essential ingredients: oatmeal (not porridge, or rolled, oats); ginger (not mixed spice) and bicarbonate of soda (not baking powder). These three ingredients, including the bicarbonate, are what gives Yorkshire parkin its unique taste and texture. I think also you should use dark brown sugar, not light brown as suggested in several recipes.

Out of the oven

Out of the oven

I took the quantities for a 9 inch (22.5cm) square tin from a BBC recipe, doubled them as I was using a much larger tin (a roasting pan, as used by my grandmother), and where necessary changed the ingredients to bring into line with the comments above.

Recipe (for 9 inch square tin)

200g butter, plus extra for greasing
1 large egg
4 tbsp milk
200g golden syrup
85g black treacle (molasses)
85g dark brown sugar
100g medium oatmeal (I substituted a little pinhead oatmeal to make even ‘nuttier’)
250g self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1 tbsp ground ginger

Method

Butter a 9 inch cake tin (or line with baking parchment).
Set oven to 140degC fan (160degC/gas 3)
Gently warm the butter, sugar, golden syrup and black treacle in a pan until the sugar is dissolved.
Mix together very well the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Add the melted ingredients and mix again very well. Add the milk, mixing well again, and finally add the lightly beaten egg and mix till very well combined.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake in the oven until firm (about 50-60 minutes – it was longer from my larger parkin).
When cool turn out, cut into squares and wrap in nonstick paper then foil (or put in an airtight tin). Try not to eat it for a few days; I prefer a couple of weeks.

By the way, it makes a great pudding; just warm it and pour over a generous helping of custard.

Other parkins

I should say that there are other parkins, notably from over the Pennines in Lancashire. I’ll leave it to others to argue about where it originated.

Other traditional foods for plot night are baked potatoes (in the bonfire, not the oven – taste quite different), and plot toffee (basically parkin without the dry ingredients, boiled till it will set hard).

I was horrified to hear an advertisement for Heinz mustard claiming that hot dogs are traditional bonfire night food. Bull****.

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