Romanian food


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Happy New Year to you all!

La Mulți Ani tuturori!

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.

 

I’m writing this in Germany, using the WordPress app on an iPad mini for the first time, so anything could happen. However, a great week began a week ago last Saturday (2 May): I discovered a new ‘Writers Club’ looking for a permanent venue and arranged one in my village. Sunday the ‘Tour de Yorkshire’ came through my village – a massive turnout, wonderful community atmosphere, to applaud the riders through. Then, I decided to abandon my usual ‘Biftek hache a la Lyonnaise’ hamburger and experiment  with making a hamburger ‘Romanesc’ which turned out to be a big hit with my Romanca (ie Romanian lady – wife) so I’m going to tell you about it.

Writers Club

I think it’s fitting that my village, Menston, in which Lassie was created (by Eric Knight, a Menstonite) should become the ‘home’ of a Writers Club, though the club was first formed in a nearby town which has an increasingly renowned literature festival – Ilkley. What might be really surprising to many people, though not to me, is that the club was initiated by a young woman, a graduate in Behavioural Psychology from Bradford University. Not surprising? No, that isn’t; that the club was started in this tyke’s county by a Romanian might surprise most people.

Ruxandra Busoiu, founder of the Writers Club. Pic by club member Bob Hamilton.

Ruxandra Busoiu, founder of the Writers Club. Pic by club member Bob Hamilton.

She’s Ruxandra (what a great ancient Romanian name that is!) Busoiu and in a very busy life she’s aiming to write a novel. Another member is a mathematician who runs a software development company in the town of my birth, Shipley, now almost absorbed by the Bradford metropolis; he has written a book – not fiction – and been published; he’s also a pretty good photographer. Then there’s a journalist, and now there’s me – blogger, former journalist, occasionally attempting a haiku and a couple of short stories, yet no urge to write a novel. The first meeting with them was nothing short of inspirational so I’m really looking forward to our next meeting on Saturday next, close to my home.

A ‘Romanian’ hamburger

The hamburger with baked potato, pickled bell pepper and pickled unripe tomato

A ‘Romanian’ hamburger?

I often joke with my wife that Romanians (Romanians in Moldavia that is) eat bread with everything. including bread, and cannot cook a dish without a liberal dose of dill. So a very large handful of fresh dill (in fact frozen – one drawer of our freezer is almost full of the stuff), finely chopped, was next to the mixing bowl with just under a lb (400g) of good, lean, minced beef.

The lean beef needs some fat and I usually add butter, but for this ‘Romanian’ hamburger I added some finely ‘chopped’ slanina afumata (smoked pork back fat) bought from the Romanian shop in Leeds Kirkgate market.

A good dose of boia de ardei dulce (sweet paprika) was added after mixing the meat with some gently sweated finely chopped onion with chopped garlic, a little salt and pepper and a pinch of cimbru (thyme).

Formed into two thick rounds, seared in a very hot pan then cooked on a lower flame until just pink inside. The pan was deglazed with red wine for a sauce. Apart from a baked potato, the other accompaniments seen in the picture are pickled gogosari murati (pickled bell pepper) and gogonele murati (pickled unripe tomato), both from the Leeds market shop.

As I said, my wife rated this experimental hamburger very highly and has requested that it be regularly on the menu.

 

 

 

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 🙂 .

 

Two interesting ‘new’ shops for foodies in Leeds, one selling Romanian food and ingredients, the other ‘hot’ chilli products.

Kaiser, Toba, Bors, Buillon and 'real' cornmeal (malai) from the Romanian shop in Leeds Kirkgate market

Kaiser, Toba, Bors, Buillon and ‘real’ cornmeal (malai) from the Romanian shop in Leeds Kirkgate market

In my post of 5 November I mentioned the difficulty of getting cornmeal as good as that I was used to in Romania and that I would visit a ‘newly opened’ Romanian shop in Leeds Kirkgate market to see if some could be brought from my wife’s grandmother’s village. It turned out that the shop stocked some rustic cornmeal (malai) and this is much better than those which I’ve been able to get so far. It’s not quite as good as grandma’s but I think it’s a matter of texture as it seems to have a bit less bran (tarate).

Wheat bran is the basis of bors (odd that a Romanian product doesn’t use the correct Romanian character on the label – see picture; the final ‘s’ should have a cedilla to give it the ‘sh’ sound. I don’t have it on my computer. However, ‘sh’ or no it’s great to have real bors as it gives a much better taste to the sour soup made throughout Moldova, also known as bors (borsh), than the dry packeted stuff produced under the Maggi (Nestle Slovakia) and Delik’at (Unilever Romania) labels. By the way, Romanian bors does not necessarily have beetroot; two of my favourite versions are potato bors (vegetarian) and bors made with chicken wings. (more…)

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’. (more…)

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