First course: Stephane’s prawns flamed in Pernod were wonderful. The only thing I can ‘fault’ is you need asbestos fingers to eat them. But worth it. Washed down with a glass of cold, crisp ‘good French white’. They had been marinated for about 36 hours in the garlic, ginger and olive oil, with a pinch of cayenne.

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

The marinated prawns after 2-3 minutes a side on a very hot iron pan

This was Petronela's best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn't - as she thought was certain - burn the house down

This was Petronela’s best effort to capture the 5 second event; I didn’t – as she thought was certain – burn the house down. Maybe the blur adds the right atmosphere

Main course: The decision to have a brioche dough for the ‘filet de boeuf en croute‘ was the right one – I think it’s much better then the usual puff pastry. I didn’t quite get what I was aiming for – the outside slices ‘a point‘ and the inside ‘bleu‘ (Petronela would have ‘passed’ at the sight of blood) – lack of practice I think (see below). The effort put into a real ‘sauce brune‘ is worth it: you just had to lift the lid of the saucepan, even when cold, let alone taste it, to know why. This washed down with a bottle of Languedoc; I did consider a Fleurie but decided a Burgundy was a bit robust for filet steak. (Just had a thought, I could have taken out a couple of slices and given them a minute or two on the griddle before re-assembling and then baked the whole thing for ‘bleu‘; didn’t think of it at the time).

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

A touch overdone (lack of practice) but still impressive I think

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste

Again, anxious to avoid putting my wife off her dinner completely with a sight of blood, a bit overdone for my taste, though the inside slices were still nicely pink. The duxelle stuffing turned out wonderfully despite the lack of foie gras

3rd course: The pilgrim’s timbale was delicious, though not as pretty as I would have liked because the apricot glaze had to be omitted to satisfy Petronela’s aversion to fruit (so I just put my kirsch-poached apricots around with a few physalis). As I said before, far too much for us but it will keep for New Year’s Eve, when we’ll have open house for the day (Petronela’s birthday) so I’ll dress it up for that. By the way, the name – Le Pelerin en Timbale – comes from the lack of fridge etc so the pilgrims carried nuts and fruit to sustain them.

Delicious! But it'll be made prettier for New Year's Eve

Delicious! But it’ll be made prettier for New Year’s Eve


35 years ago, when I cooked such meals regularly, it would have been much easier. It’s the little things which really make it an effort. One example: making the classic ‘custard’ (creme anglais) with egg yolks, sugar and milk. When I made it regularly it was a doddle, taking just a few minutes. Through lack of practice I was anxious to avoid curdling the custard so had it on a very low heat; it took ages.

Similarly, well-practised I could have produced a piece of meat with outside ‘a point‘ and inside ‘bleu‘ without a second thought. But way back I had an Aga, which beat a modern fan oven hands down. And, of course, I still have a piece of the wonderful filet in the freezer so, without the croute, I’ll have my bit ‘bleu‘ and P’s ‘a point‘ without a problem. But the meat’s so good I might make myself a tatare.

And this point is brought home to me each time I want to produce something to post on my photo blog.

The point about practice was also brought home by my evening tv viewing: the Marlinsky Theatre of St. Petersburg ballet performing Swan Lake, with the almost incredible dancing of prima ballerina Ulyana Lopatkina in the principal role(s) – in fact of the whole corps de ballet – and the little explanations of technique given by our own Darcey Bussel. Blown away by the performance I didn’t get to doing this postscript last evening as I originally intended.

Now that my cooking marathon is over, I’ll get back to posting about other things which thrill, irritate or fascinate me – like how does a culture which can produce something as beautiful as what I saw last evening also produce something as ugly as so much of Communism?

50th post: I was surprised to be informed by WordPress that yesterday’s post was Grumpytyke’s 50th – in about 6 months; not a lot by the standards of some of you but I’m quite impressed with myself. Rest day today; we’re going to one of our local pubs for lunch.

I’ve said on this blog before that I am not a sportsman – neither as participant nor spectator. It is no accident that when thousands of people were arriving in the UK for the Olympics 2012, I was on my way out.

However, there cannot be a Romanian anywhere in the world who was more delighted than I was when gymnast Sandra Raluca Izbasa took gold for Romania in the vault yesterday evening. This was not just because it gave me an excuse to open a bottle of wonderful Romanian red wine, Feteasca Neagra from the Murfatlar wine region in south east Romania.

For me the Romanian female gymnasts are the epitome of Romanian womanhood: very beautiful in a physical sense, hard working, determined, confident, intelligent but also with personalities which can only be called ‘beautiful’ – polite, modest, helpful, simply a pleasure to be with.

One of my followers, a Romanian abroad, commented that the Romanian ‘girls’ – ie young women – are “cute”. That’s a word I would reserve for the children, like five year old Bianca pictured above, who I met at a school gate on Friday afternoon; she was waiting for her mother.

If you watch Sandra in the few seconds of her approach during the vault, you can see all the qualities I mention above in her face. And see how, on the podium, she made no aggressive victory salute, just a winning smile and a grateful wave to all the crowd.

In recent years the Romanian gymnasts have suffered from poor conditions in the country and their dominance in the sport had begun to wane. It was so good to see them fighting their way back. They have in the past given me so much pleasure, completely overcoming my aversion to sport.

Having said that, I am really sickened by the concentration of the media – especially in Britain and the USA – on gold, gold, gold. In my opinion it is a symptom of the sick society we have developed in both my own country and that across the Atlantic. Every one of the athletes who has worked and strived to eventually participate in the Olympics is an Olympic champion, from whom we can all learn much.

Just look how obviously delighted Maria Paseka was to take bronze for Russia in the vault, and that is how it should be.

But to return to the Romanian women: to walk down a Romanian street in the summer, when the women are not padded and furred against the way sub-zero winter weather, you can see that the majority – and yes it is a majority – would not be out of place in the line up for Miss World, except they have a little more in the head than most you’d find there today.

During the time I lived in Iasi and Suceava (another town in northern Romania) I calculate I taught at least 2000 of them, some in their first year at school at 7 years old, others in the final year at 17 or 18, and everything in between. It was a delight. And it is a delight now to hear what they have done; just yesterday I learned one is now a doctor at the Marie Curie Institute in Paris, and another had just gained a place at Churchill College, Cambridge, to study science.

So, women of Romania, I want to take the opportunity opened up by Sandra Raluca Izbasa, to salute you. Felicitari. Salutari.