Romanian food


We’re not likely to do much today as it will be so hot but this evening we will meet up with the former ‘county inspector of history’ who had and has a high regard for Petronela as a teacher and has now become a friend. She wanted to meet in an excellent restaurant “to eat fish”; we agreed to the location but will settle for an icecream or sweet of some kind. As I said on my Facebook ‘diary’ yesterday, I did nothing of note so it seemed a good idea to write another post on grumpytyke after about a week here in Iași.

A picture of some small carp in a bowl, prepared for cooking

Small carp

Today many Romanians will eat fish. A high proportion of the Romanian population are practising Orthodox Christians so follow rules of ‘post’ (ie , fast) laid down by the church and today is a day on which they can eat fish but not meat.

Post (fast) in Orthodox Romania

When I first came to Romania I lived for six months with a Romanian family and although something different would have been cooked for me I preferred to go along with whatever they were eating so became used to not eating meat on Wednesdays and Fridays and for longer periods at certain times of the year (eg pre Easter, and now). As it seemed a good idea, for health reasons, not to eat meat for a couple of days a week, and for longer periods a couple of times a year or so, I’ve followed this ever since and having a ‘schedule’ makes it easier though I don’t do it for religious reasons. In fact, according to the rules of  ‘post’ it’s not a matter of not eating meat but of not eating animal products, so ‘vegan’. We don’t do this; we often eat eggs, cheese etc on ‘post’ days but sometimes ‘vegan’ meals, eg a kind of ‘baked beans’, ‘borș cu fasole’ – bean borsch, or ‘tocănița cu cartofi’ – potato stew, which are three favourites of mine.

Pește, fish

There’s not a day each week when it’s ‘allowed’ to eat fish but in periods of post there are days where eating fish is allowed and today is such a day. So, as Petronela’s mother follows post pretty strictly today we have fish on the menu. However, because most Romanians (at least in this part of the country) will eat fish today it was difficult to acquire it unless you’re an angler. So Petronela’s father stood in a queue for 1.1/2 hours in the market yesterday to buy the preferred fish – carp.

The carp bought yesterday are extraordinarily small (see picture). I’m more used to them weighing several kg but none larger were available.

(As an aside, I was amused when UK anglers were horrified when east europeans expected to eat the carp they caught. Equally, the east Europeans  were perplexed by UK anglers putting back the carp and other fish they caught; it seemed a pointless activity).

In the UK we usually eat fish on Tuesdays. There’s no link with the church in that, it comes from my ‘honorary grandmother’ in the Bucovina, but that’s another story. Again, having a schedule ensures we eat fish at least once a week.

Mujedei (garlic ‘sauce’)

Obligatory with fried carp is a raw garlic sauce, ‘mujedei’ (pron mooj-day’). This can be simple crushed garlic with water, with sunflower oil, with milk, with a combination of the latter two, or other variations. I prefer it simple with oil, particularly as carp, like tuna, is more like a beef steak with little fat.

To accompany the carp we’ll have ‘mămăliga’ – a kind of cornmeal hash similar to ‘polenta’ but far better if made with the cornmeal from the countryside here; I think this is because a proportion of ‘tăriță’ (chaff) is left in it and probably also because it it is grown on the smallholders’ lots so truly ‘organic’ – a ridiculous term but you know what I mean. (Big Romanian food producers or Western invaders have invented a new one, applied to many packaged, branded foods which, of course, have preservatives, etc: ‘Bio’ is now plastered over packets of such products – more crap!)

Crap

Crap in Romanian is, of course, carp in English, a source of great amusement to Petronela’s students in the UK and to my fishmonger in Leeds Kirkgate market where I buy it, particularly for New Year when it is a traditional Romanian dish. His come from France so not as good as those from Romania, but OK.

WordPress app “beautiful new editor”

I’ve always ignored the WordPress suggestions to use the “improved” editor or the WordPress app. They have always been crap (in the English sense) compared to the traditional desktop version so I use that on both the Macbook and the iPad (as now). Most recently there was a notification that the app had a “beautiful new editor” (or was it “lovely”?) so I had a quick look.

Again complete crap!

In my experience, apps are almost always rubbish compared with the desktop versions, including Facebook, with the exception of Messenger which works very well. The Twitter app is also good. Of course many of the small specialised apps, for which there is no desktop equivalent, are very good. An example is a thermometer app which I’m using to report temperatures on my daily Facebook ‘diary’ – Dusty2Romania.

If the day ever comes when WordPress withdraw the traditional editor interface, as they once threatened to do but relented after a scream of protest from long-term bloggers, I will look for another platform or cease blogging altogether.

Why so many developers insist on fixing things which ‘ain’t broke’ I don’t know; maybe they have scores of programmers sitting around with nothing to do.

I’ve been waiting for the Romanian scenery for a year. I’ve been waiting for the Romanian people and their hospitality for a year.  But, OMG, I was waiting for the food! Of course we cook Romanian at home but we don’t have the ingredients from the smallholdings in the countryside, either brought into market by the elderly ladies or brought by friends of the family. They’ve never seen a pesticide nor fertiliser other than natural from the animal. Tomatoes, carrots, peppers, etc, etc, which taste as they should;  my first experience of the taste of these three in 1993 I have never forgotten.

Left to right, mutton, urdă, cașcaval and caș

Left to right, mutton, urdă, cașcaval and caș

Six cozonacs, one cut showing a slice marbled with a chocolate cream

Cozonac – typical Romanian: mama does not make one, but six.

I was too tired to eat last night after the journey, just drinking about a litre of milk, proper milk, ie direct from the cow. Unfortunately it just reminds me what rubbish we have to drink bought from the supermarket in Britain. But this lunchtime I was ready for some proper food. Of course we ate in a restaurant yesterday but I’ve never found a Romanian restaurant which serves food comparable with Romanian home cooking. So, I ate three types of sheep’s ‘cheese’ with slices of a giant tomato: caș, simple sheep’s cheese; cașcaval (a harder cheese more usually made from cows’ milk); urdă – not sure whether this is classed as cheese or not, it’s made from heated sheep milk.

Mutton

This was followed by long, slow cooked mutton, marinated in wine, with a variety of vegetables. The mutton is superb but British style ‘lamb’ – ie sheep about six months old – is not generally available, just suckling lamb at Easter. There’s nothing like the taste of Romanian pork in UK, not even free range rare breed; I reckon it’s because most of the fat has been bred out of it. I’ll have pork tomorrow 😃 . Beef in Romania is best avoided.

Cozonac

Finally, a slice of cozonac baked by mama ‘to order’; it’s a kind of leavened (ie with yeast) cake which has a chocolate and walnut cream running through it like the Victorian marbled cake. Other ‘fillings’ are possible – most usually rahat, that’s turkish delight in Romanian, but it’s also a word for sh-t, appropriate I think so as it was my order, no rahat … Wonderful with milk, proper milk!

I’ve been documenting the journey from home to here in Iași on a Facebook closed group, so if you’re interested in our ‘adventures’ so far, or in the future, go to (click) Dusty2Romania

table1-2

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.

 

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 🙂 .

 

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