First Christmas (part) with Petronela, 20 years ago. Just work colleagues then, as was Ana Maria on my other side – still a good friend

We are just two – my wife Petronela and me – for Christmas since my mum died. This year we are having our 18th Christmas together but it’s the 20th year we had a part of Christmas together. Twenty years ago I was living in the students’ hostel of the high school at which Petronela and I taught, she as history teacher and head of humanities, I as a volunteer English teacher (so living for free in the hostel). I invited some teacher colleagues for a ‘party’ in my little room and Petronela was one who came (my plan? 😜).

Stockings awaiting Santa

Even with just the two of us we like to make Christmas Day ‘special’, but a time of peace with no stress. So each year it becomes more and more simple. On the other hand, it always begins, after seeing what Santa put in our stockings (yes, we hang stockings like a couple of children) over coffee and (for me) tea, with the same ‘luxury breakfast’: smoked salmon (three different cures this year) with the ‘best scrambled eggs in the world’, as I learned from my mother, and ‘bubbly’ – Freixenet cava; it began by being the only ‘special’ bubbly we could find in Romania 18 years ago or at least one we could afford but, not a follower of fashion, I have not been diverted by the more recent craze for Prosecco (not as good anyway) nor champagne which we could now afford. Same with gin: the latest craze is expensive weirdly flavoured gins and expensive (in it’s true meaning, costing more than it’s worth) tonic; we both like gin and tonic but either Gordons or the excellent one at a good price from Aldi are good enough for us.

 

This year there was something new; usually we do not have any special meal on Christmas Eve but having received something very special from my dear Latvian blogger friend Ilze, and told they – grey peas – were a Christmas dish, I made to Ilze’s recipe, with onion and bacon, and had as the introduction to Christmas. Delicious! Ilze says they should be accompanied by kefir; having been to Marinela’s Romanian shop in Leeds a couple of days before that was easy to follow. Usually we buy the similarly tasting Romanian  ‘sana’ or ‘lapte batut’ there. 

Latvian ‘grey peas’ with onions and bacon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After breakfast we open little presents to each other, found below the Christmas tree. Petronela will always find a bottle of Bailey’s Irish cream and a bottle of Drambuie, I will unwrap a bottle of Scotch, among them and these will keep us going till it’s time to prepare Christmas dinner, not lunch but at about 7pm.

 

I titled this post ‘Christmas simplified’: gone are the days when I’d slave in the kitchen preparing classic French cordon bleu cuisine (neither of us much like turkey or traditional ‘Christmas pudding’). Now we rely on Marks and Spencer which has never let us down. So this year the starter was ‘king prawn and poached salmon terrine’, delicious enough to tempt us to eat two portions each! Main course was rack of venison, easy enough to roast leaving me only to prepare roast potatoes and parsnip, with lightly steamed brocolli, kaylettes, brussel sprouts and runner beans – easy enough. This washed down with the excellent Romanian red wine, from the fetească neagră grape grown in the Murfatlar region, ‘3 hectare‘, brought from Romania. Thanks to the double portion of starter neither of us could eat everything on the plate and needed a rest before the ‘Belgian chocolate and toffee sponge pudding’, an amazing creation with a chocolate flecked with gold dome being inverted over the steamed sponge and left to melt – very tasty if a bit too sweet, as I shall report to M&S, but a good finisher nevertheless.

Happy day

So, a lovely happy day, for the most part immersed in the astoundingly beautiful Romanian carols (I like to sing the English ones but most of these cannot match the Romanian ones for beauty), responding to some WordPress Christmas blog posts, sending and receiving Christmas greetings to dear friends in far off places (some made through WordPress blogs) by email or Messenger and chatting more, and exchanging photos, with one throughout the day – I won’t mention who so as not to embarrass her; let’s just say I’ve come to love her close immediate family though we’ve met only on the wonder of internet.

So, that was our Christmas ‘simplified’. Nothing special for today – Boxing Day – except to laze about, doing nothing special after clearing up the chaos in the kitchen (we don’t believe in ruining a good meal by clearing up after, not even loading the dishwasher!).

I hope you all had an equally happy Christmas Day as we did; I know some of you were not very well but I trust that despite this you had a day of peace and contentment.

Now, in our little household, we move on to New Year, a really big ‘celebration’ for most Romanians, made even more so for us as Petronela’s birthday is on New Year’s Eve so, following Romanian tradition, we have ‘open house’ with the table full of Romanian delights, of which more at the time.

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Most people who know me know that I dislike Facebook intensely; I’ve said so on here several times. Nevertheless I have a Facebook account as it is useful for small ‘closed’ groups, like our writers’ club, a project I did with a group of teenagers in our village and even my ‘daily journals’ following our summer trips to Romania during which I had limited access to internet.

It’s also useful for ‘Messenger’ for brief communications with someone you know opens it regularly but otherwise, for anything important, it’s better to go to email as Messenger messages are often ignored.

As far as the Romania trip is concerned, I’ve begun to receive ‘requests’ to join the group from people whose names mean nothing to me. What is really strange is that, typical of Facebook, they say nothing about themselves. Consequently, such requests are ignored.

Facebook laziness

It could be they read about the group on this blog as I’ve referred to it a time or two but, if so, why on earth don’t they say so? Facebook inspired laziness I think; now, for so many things you just ‘push a button’ not needing to write a word. Yes, it’s good to have a reminder of a friend’s birthday but for heaven’s sake write a personal message to them! (But take care, they may be telling a ‘porky’ in their profile 😳).

’Publicize’

For quite a while the ‘Publicize’ facility of WordPress was turned on on this blog, putting a short summary of posts on Facebook and Twitter (I never selected the other options). A few posts ago I turned this off. One of the problems with this facility is that Facebook may choose the least relevant picture if there are more than one, people putting a ‘like’ on that having never read the post. As pictures I put on a post are always an integral part of the post the ‘like’ doesn’t mean a lot. I reckon if anyone is really interested in what I have to say they’ll follow the blog.

Very occasionally I may turn ‘publicize’ on to tell the tightly restricted group of ‘friends’ on Facebook (who may or may not be friends) of a particular post which may be of special interest to them, excluding those who, for whatever reason, I don’t want to point to it.

Of course a ‘like’ from someone I don’t know on this blog is always welcome because, as I said in yesterday’s post, it often sets me off on a journey to other realms as I almost always follow up with a visit to the blogger’s site.

WordPress reader

Nevertheless, I have noticed a similar problem to that with ‘publicize’ with the WordPress reader. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that some of the ‘likers’ have not read the complete post, just putting a ‘like’ on the introductory few words and the one picture which accompanies it. If I put a ‘like’ on a post you can be sure I’ve pushed the ‘visit site’ button, read the whole thing and seen all the pictures.

As I’ve said before, the above comments may not apply to anyone using their blog to promote a business, whether it is declared as such or not (eg, those asking for a donation in some way, or promoting a book they have on Amazon).

I can’t remember when I last stayed in bed on a Sunday morning; it’s quite a while ago. Maybe it’s the edge of storm Brian blowing outside, though we are on the edge of it so it’s not severe here. Mind you, many people might consider the present hour, 9am, early for a Sunday morning! I’ll do no more than start this post here, waiting to see what the day brings.

It already took me off on a journey, following up on a ‘like’ from a new-to-me blogger in the southern USA (these journeys are one of the delights of blogging for me). Though I can relate to much of what this young woman writes, it it is the excellent writing which, primarily,  has prompted me to ‘follow’ her.

Of course, before that I ambled through my usual blogger friends to see what was new, commenting when appropriate, my usual first-thing-in-a-morning activity. Now, being Sunday, bacon and eggs calls.

2.45pm

Healthy breakfast!

Well, that was so far a lazy day. I didn’t start the bacon and eggs immediately after writing those first three paragraphs. I was diverted by a quote from poet Denise Levertov, posted under the title ‘Wear scarlet’ (the first two words of the quote) by my good blogger friend Iulia which, after a brief  ‘blog chat’ with her during which I couldn’t resist pulling her leg about my ‘healthy’ breakfast, sent me into a contemplative mood.  Breakfast became brunch, at about 11am.

The quote came as a bit of a shock, another of those ‘coincidences’ I don’t believe in. As the result of the ‘like’ from the blogger I had not previously known , referred to above, I had been reading her blog. She seemed to have decided to “wear scarlet”, as you will see if you visit her blog.

I knew as we were now out of bread I should make some but although it’s hardly an onerous task I just couldn’t jerk myself out of contemplation. I decided to watch a film (‘Buried Treasure’) which I have been meaning to watch for a while  on catchup, before it expired. With John Thaw in the principal role, an actor I admire greatly not only as Inspector Morse, I wanted to watch it but I knew the subject matter was likely to upset me (which may be a subject for another day, or never). It did, so now I’m back to the bread-making.

Endeavouring to assign a category to this post I’ve found it impossible, which suggests I’m ‘rambling’. So I’ll stop right there.

My Latvian blogger friend, Ilze, who I mentioned yesterday, said in answer to a comment I made on her blog that she was surprised by how much she had learned in a year of blogging. Not only can I say the same, though with me it’s just over five years, it is for me one of the delights of blogging.

Before I ‘met’ Ilze I knew almost nothing about Latvia, although I did once visit Riga briefly when the country was part of the Soviet Union. I can’t even remember why I went though it was on a trip which also included Helsinki and St Petersburg (then Leningrad). All I remember of the Latvian capital is the architecture.

Daily life

Not that Ilze writes specifically about her country; her blog title, a day in the life of a Latvian mum (though she uses the American version ‘mom’), sums it up perfectly. One day you’ll get a recipe, another her craving for a piece of porcelain, another preparations for a birthday party, another a blow by blow account of her constructing her kitchen, etc, etc. Overlaying all this is obvious love of her immediate family, husband and three delightful daughters (I’m a sucker for little girls!), and her extended family. It just gives me a warm feeling to read it each day.

I’m not looking for information

The point I’m making is that I don’t read/follow blogs for information, in fact if they’re too specifically informative I rapidly tire of them. Yet on the way I seem to learn a lot.

I could have picked quite a few of the bloggers I follow, writing on apparently different subjects, to make this point but it was Ilze who prompted it by her comment about learning. A small number I now sometimes correspond with on email, or Facebook messenger. Some have set the number of comments in a thread low (eg 3) so I have to resort to email if I have an address.

Females dominate

Also interesting, to me, is that among those I follow the females outnumber the males maybe by as much 10:1. The males that there are have something in common with the women: few of them are writers as such; they just write from the heart and it shows.

As most of my reading of blogs takes place early morning, UK time, it invariably makes my day.

One of the most irritating things about the emails I get saying my blogs’ SEOs could be improved, so I could get much more traffic, is that the sender clearly hasn’t read my blog, though they sometimes claim to have “analysed” my site(s). In the first place I don’t want “more traffic”; in the second if I did need advice on improving the SEO (I do know quite a bit about the subject) I have two delightful lady followers in Bucharest, who do read my posts regularly, to whom I would go. Anyway, I write whatever comes into my head and analysing it for SEO etc would spoil the whole blogging process for me. Of course, if my blog(s) were about promoting a business I’d have a different attitude

Why not more traffic?

Why don’t I want more traffic? Because I try to go to the blog of every blogger who follows me or leaves a ‘like’ and, even more so, who leaves a comment and, if I decide to follow them, to each of their posts; I just could not handle a very large number as some bloggers seem to do. Moreover, this gives what is, for me, an ideal way of adding to the list of blogs which I follow. As I’ve said before, I don’t put likes or comments on the summary in reader; I go to the actual blog, so it could become too time-consuming if I followed very many people. In fact I could prune the present list a bit as some seem no longer to be blogging.

Reblogs

I rarely read reblogs and even more rarely reblog. If I want to promote a post I will usually have something to say about it and urge my readers to have a look at it, giving a link to the blog. Reblogging seems to me a bit lazy.

Blog ‘chats’ rather than ‘comments’

An additional factor is that I enjoy having a ‘chat’ with the other blogger, when I have something to say. If not I might just put a ‘like’ on the post. Occasionally I may add a one word comment. However the ‘chats’ can sometimes develop into a series of ‘comments’ and ‘replies’. From time to time the exchanges can become too personal, in my view, to be public so may transfer to email. All this means that following a large number of bloggers is not possible, for me.

SEO? Mine may not be as good as they could be but are good enough for me.

It’s always exciting to get a new follower, not because it adds one to the total (I’m not really interested in increasing the number as such) but because I always go to look at their blog and from time to time find new, interesting blogger friends, sometimes from a ‘new’ country. In the past few months I’ve added Slovenia and Latvia to the list.

View from our bedroom window this morning; it looks over the Wharfe valley

View from our bedroom window this morning

The most recent new follower is Lisa Lennon, who says she’s a professional blogger. As regular readers of grumptyke know, for me blogging is just a hobby and that would change only if I created a business in the future. It could happen but if so it would have a different website/blog.

When I went to Lisa’s blog to see what it was about I saw a recent post on happiness. I won’t quote from it here; if you’re interested her blog is at

https://lisalennonofficialblog.wordpress.com/

Happiness is …?

However, it set me thinking about happiness for me. I’m lucky, in general I have it. Look at the view from my bedroom window above, over the Wharfe valley in Yorkshire (it’s the same view from the kitchen window) so there’s a good chance of feeling happy each morning, whether getting out of bed or making the morning tea/coffee. We’re lucky enough to wake to birdsong too early in the morning, mostly bluetits, blackbirds and goldfinches. How can that not make you happy?

Picture of busker singing in Briggate, Leeds, todayToday I went to my local city, Leeds. Again as regular readers will know I do not in general like cities, I’m definitely a country person, but Leeds makes me happy. Perhaps it’s the young people – it’s an important university city so it’s full of them. Perhaps it’s the buskers on the street, there’s always at least one, ranging from potential rock celebrities to young classical violinists, from young aspiring operatic sopranos to today’s offering, a not so young singer, far, far superior to Classic FM’s Alexandra Armstrong. Not quite Pavarotti but a good voice who treated us to a variety from Nessun Dorma to Sweet Caroline, which again was not quite Neil Diamond but excellent nevertheless. He made me happy, as did a group of three young women sitting on the street eating some wrap or other they had just bought interspersed with hilarious laughter. I couldn’t help but laugh with them.

Music

Then there’s music. I couldn’t possibly list all the music which instantly makes me feel happy so I’ll mention just two pieces. The first is Schubert’s ‘Trout’ quintet; depending on my mood I’ll sit quietly basking in it, or dance around the room singing the melody lines. The second can be guaranteed to make me feel happy no matter what catastrophe has befallen me: Beethoven’s ninth symphony, as I hang on every note waiting finally to drown in the ‘Ode to joy’.

Possessions

I’ve been trying to think of possessions which make me happy. That’s difficult. Certainly there are many things which I’m glad to have but I cannot say they make me happy, though what they allow me to do does, like reading and writing blog posts. In that sense my 10 year old Macbook and my rather younger iPad make me happy. And of course the radio bought for 50p on which I usually listen to music; I have more sophisticated equipment to play my LPs, which include the complete works of Beethoven, many operas and all sorts of other music. That equipment is probably 30 or 40 years old.

I’m rambling, which is anyway how this blog was conceived. So, sitting writing it, I’m happy.

Picture of the set of 'toiuri' with the flask. They are decorated with a oicture of a couple in national costume.

Țoiuri and flaska

I’ve almost never bought ‘souvenirs of’ places I visited, either for myself or as gifts for others, but I’m quite pleased with something I brought back from Romania this time. I always bring some ‘palinka’ – the very alcoholic drink made from plums – not that found in commerce but that distilled by friends, or friends of friends. It always comes in a plastic bottle previously holding mineral water – so not very impressive, even if it’s held my favourite, Borsec, when serving to friends back in UK.

The drink, and the slightly less alcoholic version usually referred to as ‘țuică’, was traditionally served in a tiny ‘tankard’ called a țoi (pronounced ‘tsoy’) and served from a small flask so I wanted to find a set of ‘țoiuri’ (plural – ‘tsoy-oorr’). I really wanted a set in glass, or rustic pottery, but I didn’t find either so settled for a ‘tourist’ set in porcelain. At least it’s made in Romania, from one of the two factories in Alba Iulia, not from China as so much ‘traditional’ ware now is.

Bilberries – afine

Having missed the bilberry season in UK, we brought back the Romanian version, afine, in the largest glass jar we could find. We didn’t collect them but bought them in the market, 2.5kg for honorary grandmother, 2.5kg for mother in law and 2.5kg for us. You can buy them, apparently cheaper, by the roadside, but the weighing scale can have been doctored and they can have been diluted with something similar in appearance like elderberries so at about £4/kilo it’s better in the market.

2.5kg of afine, less those already eaten for breakfast, behind the set of țoiuri

2.5kg of afine, less those already eaten for breakfast, behind the set of țoiuri

Afine are the same as the British bilberry but tend to be just a little smaller and more intense in taste. Either are far superior to the cultivated American ‘blueberry’ found in supermarkets here, usually imported from South America but can be from, eg, Spain.

To preserve them all you do is pour sugar on top, which eventually forms a fine syrup. I put them on my usual breakfast of raw oats and milk. They can be used to make ‘afinată’ by letting the sugared berries soak in țuica, but I prefer them just as they are. Having had them for breakfast every day since returning home I’d soon finish them if I continued so starting this morning with grapes I’ll now add other fruit most days and give myself a treat on just one or two days a week.

Raw oats and milk with afine

Breakfast

Other culinary items brought back were ‘zarzavat’, finely chopped herbs and vegetables (preserved with salt), a better addition than the vegetable stock cube resorted to here, ‘ardei iute’ – hot peppers usually accompanying borsch (not for me) and tomato juice made from the intensely tasting tomatoes grown in the countryside, not those from the glasshouses which have little more taste than those sold in UK. All of these prepared by mother in law. Also brought were 5 litres of ‘salcăm’ (acacia) honey from a local beekeeper; we were lucky, the bees didn’t make much of this, my favourite, this year and most available was polyflora. Several bottles were added: a few of one of our favourite reds, from the Murfatlar region – Trei Hectare; newly appeared in Romania, cider, for Petronela; and a couple of the renowned sweet whites from the Cotnar region of north Moldova – Grasă de Cotnar – for friends ; neither P nor I like sweet wines.

That completed the haul; the long drive back, very hot for the first days, made bringing other ‘fresh’ foods back impossible so there’ll be an early visit to Marinela’s Romanian shop in Harehills, Leeds.

At one time posts about food and cooking formed a substantial proportion of my posts on this blog but there are now so many I usually settle for reading some of, to me, the more interesting food blogs or the posts about food from bloggers I follow more generally. I almost never follow recipes anyway except for classic French cooking though I often get inspiration from them.