I have never seen Romania so green, so beautiful, but it is a beauty only skin deep. Beneath the surface disasters are happening. We left Yorkshire with an extraordinary summer, weeks of sunshine with little rain, a situation rarely seen before. As we ventured further south east, through Germany and Austria, the heat was still evident but more and more rain, often torrential.

The incredible rain clouds in front of us, as yet in sun, as we reached the outskirts of Iași. The downpour, more violent than any power shower I have met, turned on just as we reached our destination, outside Petronela’s parents’ home.

The incredible rain clouds in front of us, as yet in sun, as we reached the outskirts of Iași. The downpour, more violent than any power shower I have met, turned on just as we reached our destination, outside Petronela’s parents’ home.

We, the human race, are destroying our life as we have known it. Fifty years ago I was writing, as a journalist, about the dangers of ‘global warming’ though few wanted to listen then. Not enough are listening now to those far better qualified than me, especially ignored by the most powerful ‘world leaders’.

Forest destroyed

Swathes of forest have been felled in Romania and it continues so the natural protection against excessive run-off from the mountains has been and continues to be removed. The effects are clear to see: excessively swollen streams and rivers, moving swiftly to sweep away anything in their paths, including bridges and complete houses and causing wide-spread flooding. And for what? Money, of course.

But not money for the general population, money for a few and mostly for foreign investors. Something like 58% of Romanian land, among the most fertile in Europe, has been sold to large foreign corporations from other countries In Europe but also from as far away as the Arab states and China. This is ‘globalisation’ – stealing from the poor to make the rich more obscenely richer. The fat cat politicians pat their back pockets stuffed with Euros, Dollars, Sterling and other currencies, weeping crocodile tears to swell the already swollen rivers.

The immediate effect on our trip

The final good sleep in our tent, at the excellent Warnsborn camp site at Arnhem, Holland.

We have not escaped. Our tent, resistant to 3,000mm water pressure, did not resist the torrential downpours and for the first time ever we have been woken up in the night to find ourselves wet. We ‘escaped’ at 2.30am on two occasions to sleep in the car and on one occasion where it was clearly going to rain we did not bother to erect the tent – with front seat backs fully lowered Dusty provides a reasonable sleeping position but far from ideal, so until we reached my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house near Câmpulung Moldovenesc we had not had a good night’s sleep since leaving Holland.

New tent!

Having had an interrupted night with heavy rain in Atea, close to the Romanian border at Petea (a great ‘camp site’ which I’ll talk about sometime later), we ordered a new tent online from a Romanian supplier to be delivered to Petronela’s parents. We’re now waiting for delivery. It claims to have 5,000mm water pressure resistance so with any luck it will resist whatever the weather throws at us till we return home.

Idiot Romanian politicians

If the destruction of the environment was not enough, watching Romanian tv is equally horrific: a Prime Minister who doesn’t know what capital she is in (when I lived here I could stop any high school student, probably any primary school pupil, and ask for the capital of any country and they would answer correctly). Then we’ve had the Minister of Agriculture publicly comparing the incineration of pigs to Auschwitz! The only conclusion we can come to is that people like this are put into positions of ‘authority’ to be easily manipulated.

Some things good to finish

First, the people! Warm, friendly, amazingly hospitable. How on earth they have ended up with a Goverment made up with many idiots or corrupt politicians is almost incredible. Part of the answer is without doubt that so many of the young well-educated, well qualified of the population have left the country.

Second, the food. Tomatoes, giant tomatoes which taste like nothing found in UK. Not from a supermarket but grown by people in the country. Then there’s fresh sheep’s cheese, caș, again made by the country people not in any factory, and together with something I cannot translate, urdă, made by heating the wey after making caș and skimming the solids which come to the surface. When made well it is wonderfully sweet and creamy. That was my lunch and I could live on these three foods with a little home-baked bread, made with flour again from the country.

That is not to say I do not enjoy anything else; I could fill many posts of 1,000-2,000 words just to list the dishes I most enjoy – ciorbe (sour soups), plateau țarănesc (a pile of pork, beef, chicken, lamb from the gratar – grill, which we ate with my former student, Anca, yesterday (see below) and of course, borș (borsch – not the Russian borsch known in UK made with beetroot) made by ‘mama’, which greeted us when we arrived yesterday evening.

Anca

Me with Anca at the

With Anca. Petronela took the photo. Plateau țărănesc (or what remains) in front of us.

One of the highlights of my visit will be the meeting yesterday with my former student Anca, who I have not seen since she was a young teenager. A wonderful four hours with a youngster who has grown to be a successful lawyer and a beautiful woman. I wrote in the past about her finding me through Facebook and our meeting yesterday was everything I expected other than it was too short.

Through her initiative I have contact with other former students from the same class and I intend to meet with as many of them as possible, those who have remained in the country, despite the weather as it is which might limit access to some parts of the country.

Rest after 2,700 km drive

Today I am resting – sleeping, eating and writing this post – after driving about 2,700km (1,800 miles).

Later, I will attempt to write a haibun for each day since leaving UK; at the moment they exist as only rough notes scribbled among the ‘adventures’, mostly down to the weather.


PS. We have today, having access to television news, been following the situation in Athens. I am without words, remaining only with tears.

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Halloween borsch? With witches’ noses

I abandoned Keighley library yesterday, visiting my friend Lou who lives with her family in a lovely old farmhouse overlooking the moors close to the Brontë village of Haworth. Her home is not in what you’d call a village, a hamlet would be more correct; there are no street names, the houses just have a number then hamlet name, like many small villages in Romania. I haven’t seen Lou for quite a while for one reason or another so three hours drinking ‘a brew’ (Yorkshire for a pot of tea!) and chatting in her farmhouse kitchen passed very quickly. Husband Stephen, a busy man – farmer, builder and heaven knows what else – popped in for a minute.

Lou runs her graphic design and small printing business from home. I love the fact that at the time her 10 year old daughter Kate is picked up from school business stops for the day. I saw Kate’s first watercolour yesterday, following a school trip to the English Lake District; she’s clearly taking after her mother. Unfortunately I couldn’t wait to say hello to her after school as I had to pick up Petronela.

Keighley railway station

 

On the way to Lou’s I stopped at Keighley railway station, one terminus of the Worth Valley steam railway, and took a couple of pictures to fulfil a promise. No steam engines there at the time so I stopped briefly in Haworth when I saw two engines in steam.

Borș, beetroot-coloured but without beetroot

I had a brief discussion about borș (Romanian spelling) a couple of days ago on the blog of one of my favourite food bloggers, Gabi in Gură Humorului, România. She’s a superb food photographer too. Part of the discussion was about how borș, the sour liquid added to a ‘soup’ to make it ‘borș’, should be made.

Seeing for the first time ‘purple’ carrots in a supermarket (Sainsbury’s – being sold as ‘witch’s noses’ as it’s close to Halloween – aaagh!), I decided to make a borș using the carrots.

 

I don’t make the borș (the sour liquid – confusing isn’t it?), I buy it (as Gabi said she does) but mine from Marinela’s Romanian shop in Leeds. As I said, it’s made by fermenting wheat bran.

My ‘borsch’ looks more like a witches’ brew than any borș I’ve seen gracing a Romanian table, but tastes pretty good. Apart from the purple carrots, which have a slightly peppery taste when raw, it has a chicken stock base with proper borș added ‘to taste’ (I like it fairly sour) but what in Moldova at least is considered an essential ingredient – leuștan, ‘lovage’ – potato, some left-over pork sliced into thin strips and, finally, added at the table, sour cream.

Purple is, of course, an original colour of wild carrots, the ‘eastern’ variety originating in Afghanistan. Those I bought yesterday were grown in Scotland, by James Rearie in Fife. I’d never seen one before. There’s a lot more information about them on the web page of the Carrot Museum; yes, there is such a thing.

Returning to Keighley

It looks as though I’ll be returning to Keighley the week after next, after school half-term break, as it seems Petronela will probably will continue teaching there. I’ll likely continue my Keighley sagas now and then.

 

 

Petronela at the barbecue with ‘mici’ cookingAnother lovely autumn day. We have been lucky as one day is really awful, another beautiful, and they seem to be falling just right. Today was our friend Janet’s birthday and she planned a barbecue. Yesterday you would not have thought it possible. Today was perfect.

Romanian ‘mici’ are alway demanded for such occasions. For non-Romanian readers, these are small skinless ‘sausages’ with a special taste due to the unusual mix of spices. ‘Mici’ translated literally is ‘littles’. They should really be made with minced lamb but as Petronela won’t eat that she makes them with 50/50 beef/pork. Little they may be but big on taste; we’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love them (except, of course the vegetarians), especially the youngsters.

Barbecued mici on the table in the garden

Ready on the table in Janets and Mick’s garden

They were especially good today. The only improvement would have been if they were cooked on a wood fire, not a gas barbecue.

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.

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

'Romanian hamburger' with baked potato and asparagus on a plate, before 'saucing'

‘Romanian hamburger’ with baked potato and asparagus, before ‘saucing’

Recently I haven’t posted much about cooking, once a mainstay of this blog. Resisting the temptation to comment on recent horrific events and the sad world we live in (later), I’ve decided to tell you about my ‘Romanian hamburgers’.

I don’t really do ‘recipes’ – there are few things for which I use exact quantities (English dumplings, some cakes and bread being examples). I just use recipes as a guide. My favourite cooking is just throwing something together with whatever is in the home at the time (see ‘Fast food’ under the Food menu above).

Romanian hamburgers are an invention of mine, you’ll find hamburgers in Romania are just like here, in McDonalds and the like. When I make ‘hamburgers’ I usually make ‘Biftek haché à la Lyonnaise’, roughly following Julia Child’s recipe in ‘Mastering the art of French cooking’, volume 1 my cooking bible since the mid-1960s (first published in 1961) and joined by volume 2 when it was published in 1970. I’ve mentioned it several times in the past, a couple of times under the Food menu above.

Romanian hamburgers

Two 'Romanian hamburgers' before cooking.

Two ‘Romanian hamburgers’ before cooking.

As suggested by the name the meat in Julia Child’s recipe is beef and the principal ‘flavouring’ is thyme (and butter?). My ‘Romanian’ version substitutes pork for beef (Romanian pork is superb, beef not good), dill (mărar), one of the most encountered herbs in Romania, for thyme and smoked pork back fat (slănină afumată) for most of the butter in the ‘French’ recipe. In the UK you will find slănină afumată in a Romanian shop, perhaps in other east European shops.

For two of us I use about 300g of minced pork that has little fat.

Sweat a finely chopped onion and two chopped garlic cloves in a little butter till translucent. Tip it into a bowl containing the mince. Add finely chopped fresh dill – a lot! – and finely diced smoked fat (a bit like the fat in black pudding). You can use dried dill but if so leave the mixture for a few hours before cooking for the flavour to develop. Add salt and black pepper. Add a large free range egg and thoroughly mix (hand is best). Leave in the fridge for a while then form into into two fairly thick patties. Sear in a frying pan with a little butter (it’s hot enough when the foam subsides) then  lower the heat and fry till cooked through, turning when half done. Deglaze the pan with a little red wine opened to drink with the meal (I prefer Trei Hectare from the Murfatlar region of Romania but it’s not available in the UK; a good reason to drive to Romania – fill the boot!), and pour over the hamburgers. We like with chunky chips and a salad but a baked potato (or boiled Jersey Royal potatoes) and asparagus, as here, at this time of year is another good accompaniment), as is mashed potato.