Archives for the month of: October, 2010

Ingredients:

13-14 bell peppers, Moldovans use red and light green
1 head of cabbage (better to choose a softer head of cabbage instead of a hard and compact one) or 20 young grape leaves
3 large onions or 5 small to medium-sized onions, chopped.
2 carrots, grated.
2 chicken breasts, thinly sliced and chopped.
¼ cup tomato paste
¾ cups cracked wheat
1 ½ – 2 cups short grain white rice
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp salt
1 Tbs oil
2 bay leaves, broken into several pieces
4 cups water
2 Tbs tomato paste

Bring a pot of water to a boil, and add 20-25 washed cabbage (or grape) leaves. Boil for 2-3 minutes. Do not cook through but the leaves should be somewhat limp. Remove from water immediately and set aside in a separate bowl. De-seed bell peppers by cutting the top out. Keep in mind these peppers will be stuffed, so do not cut along the sides. Add to cabbage bowl.

Heat some oil in a pan and saute onions and carrots for about 3 minutes. Add chicken and saute for another 4 minutes. Add ¼ cup tomato paste and mix well. Saute a couple more minutes. Meanwhile rinse and drain cracked wheat and rice. Remove pan from heat and add wheat and rice. Mix well. Add salt and pepper.

Put bones, chicken fat, or thick branch part of uncooked cabbage leaves in the bottom of a steel pot. If you don’t have the bones or the chicken fat, put the thick branch parts of the uncooked cabbage leaves in the bottom with a little bit of oil. Add the bay leaves.

Stuff the peppers to the top with filling and place in pot. Tear cabbage (or grape) leaves into smaller pieces, about the size of your palm or slightly smaller. Tear around the thick branch part of the cabbage (Save these parts for later.) Put a spoonful of filling in the bottom third of the leaf and wrap up tight like a burrito, so that no filling will leak out. Place on top of peppers and in crevices. When all the filling has been used, cover completely with cabbage (or grape) leaves. Use the thick parts you have been setting aside for this. If you do not have enough leaves, use raw leaves.

In a separate bowl add about 4 cups water and 2 Tbs tomato paste. Mix together and pour over sarmale. Water should be at the same level as the cabbage. Cover with lid and bring to a boil. After boiling for 1-2 minutes, put on low to medium heat for 1 hour.

Serve with sour cream if you prefer, but I prefer without. Serves about 9-10 people.

Pofta Bună.

A little cabbage education:

It is better to use a soft cabbage for sarmale and a hard cabbage for soups. Pictured below is soft cabbage. When you press the outside of it, it makes an indention. A hard cabbage is more compact and doesn’t have any space between the leaves, like you see below.

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I was walking home one day and noticed this massive pile of corn stalks outside our neighbors’ gate. Then the next day I noticed them shucking the corn, so I decided to help. The lady who lives here is a school teacher, and two of her boys are my students, 5th and 6th graders. I helped for about 3 hours and we probably got through 3/4 of the corn. They still have two more loads like this to bring from the field. Of course the corn is used to feed their animals, but once the corn is eaten off the cob, they will put them in their fireplaces (sobă) to heat their homes.

I’m always up for a friendly competition. Plus I thought it would make things a little more fun for the kids, so I decided to offer fresh homemade chocolate chip cookies to the person who could find the tallest, shortest, or most odd looking cob. It took a little prodding, but the kids eventually warmed up to the idea of playing while working. Below were the contenders.

And here were the winners: S won with the “strangest looking”. O won with the “tallest”. And I won with the “shortest”. Isn’t it nice when everybody wins.

Shout Out… Happy 31st Adam B.

Harvesting came late September, early October, and I could tell by my students’ coal black hands. At first I thought they hadn’t washed their hands in at least a month. Then my host family explained that it’s actually the result of harvesting walnuts. Using a knife you stab the green top and twist, cracking down the sides. You’ll then have two pieces, one with the walnut shell and one without, so you twist the knife to get the walnut shell out. All this twisting and rubbing apparently releases the oils from the walnut, turning your palm black.

Our neighbors were harvesting one night, so Curt went out to help, and I went out to photograph. Basically they beat the tree with a big stick until all the walnuts come down. Then they are all collected. The outer green layer is cracked, and the walnut and shell is dried for 2-3 weeks.

I was cracking some walnuts with the help of a neighbor boy, and he told me when kids crack walnuts, they try to get a “turkey”. If they get the walnut out without breaking any pieces, they got a “turkey”. Personally I think it looks more like a brain.

Dough Ingredients:
2 eggs
200 grams water
little bit of salt
3-4 cups flour

Filling Ingredients:
2 cups cheese (a crumbly, white, mild cheese)
2 eggs
OR… you can use any filling ingredients you want

Mix dough ingredients together, starting with 3 cups of flour and adding more if necessary. Once worked to a pasta-like consistency, roll into 3 balls. Dough should be more firm than bread dough. Cover with light cloth and let rest 15 minutes.

Prepare filling ingredients. Mix eggs and cheese well.

On a flat, floury surface, roll dough to be thin, thin, thin. Cut into small squares, about 2×2 inches. Add a little filling to each square. Make into a triangle by smashing two opposite corners together. Make sure filling cannot leak out. If it doesn’t want to stick together, you need more flour on your hands. Either cook like that or connect the two points on the fold (hypotenuse) to look like a tied handkerchief.

Salt a pot of water and bring to a boil. Add coltunași and cook on medium for about 10-15 minutes.

Serve with your choice of sauce. Serves 5-6 people.

Pofta Bună.

We are lucky enough to live in a village with a bread bakery, and we are even luckier that our host parents own it. So we get to eat as much fresh bread straight from the oven as often as we like. I’ve made friends with the bakery workers. They work on two different shifts: While one group works for two days, the other group is off. I try to visit my friends at least once a week for tea and talking. We’ve baked together a bit, and now I’m trying to convince them to teach me how to make bread. My idea of them teaching is letting me do it, and their idea is letting me watch. I guess I’m content with just watching and photographing for now.

I definitely think I have turned into a bread snob; I won’t eat any bread if it’s more than a day old. (And here I thought being in Peace Corps would prevent snobbery, not create it.)

We live with a couple in their late 50’s, early 60’s whose daughter lives in the neighboring village with her husband and child. This is an ideal situation for us because sometimes we have a hard time relating to young children. Whenever we walk outside our gate though, there are always plenty of children willing and ready to play with the “Americans”. We played a lot of frisbee when the weather was nicer. We even taught them how to play ultimate frisbee, which they absolutely loved. The kids are very sweet and very patient when correcting our Romanian.

This little boy pictured below to the left learned how to say my name… well kind of. In his very sweet, high-pitched voice, he says, “Suza, Suza, Suza” over and over again anytime he sees me. It seriously makes my heart melt every time I hear it. As you can imagine with Curt’s love for nicknames, he is now calling me “Suzers” in the same tone this little boy uses. And yes, I know it’s really mushy to say, but my heart melts every time I hear it as well.

They call it jam, but I think it’s more like chunky applesauce. Delicious.

Peel and grate all your apples. If, by chance, you happen to have pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, or rabbits, feed them the skins and cores. Dump all the grated apples into a big pot on the stove, and turn on high for an hour, stirring every 10 minutes or so. Add sugar to taste (and cinnamon if you wish) and continue to heat for another two or three hours. When there are no longer any white apple pieces, it’s done. Pour into jars and seal the tops.

Pofta Bună.

Maria Drăgan was a famous singer from Bălăurești who died unexpectedly at the age of 39. Every two years on her birthday the village puts on a singing festival in her memory. People come from all over Moldova and even Romania to watch and participate. Flowers are laid at her graveside to officially start the festival. The singing competition lasts all day. Literally, from noon to about nine. Then dinner is served for guests, judges, singers, and distinguished members of the community.

The women who are employed by the Mayor’s office cooked for two days straight to prepare for the guests. Moldovans treat their guests with the absolute best they have to offer.

Our village is about 90 kilometers west of Chișinău, nestled in the Prut River Valley. This is a beautiful part of Moldova with rolling hills, fertile farmland, river access, and a clear view of Romania. Officially there are 2,500 residents, but many people are abroad working. We have been here around 2 months now, and already it feels like a lot has changed since when we first arrived. The first set of photos was taken right when we first arrived, and the second set was taken just a couple days ago.


It has already gotten cold here. Starting October first, it was definitely coat weather, even for Curt. The past three days have been very pleasant though, more like how I think autumn should feel, so we walked down to the river and took some pictures. It is a big harvesting time right now. Farmers are collecting all the last of their crop and preparing for winter.

Some of you that know my brothers and me know that we are convinced of our invincibility.  (I know that sounds terribly arrogant, but those of you who know me know that I am joking… kind of.)  Well, I think it is more just Matt and I that are convinced of this fact.  Kyle is a bit smarter that us.  Anyway, I had an experience during my first week here in our village that made me question my invincibility, if only for a moment.

Let me start with Friday, August 6th. I got to our village late in the afternoon.  That night our host family invited me to a wedding and I of course accepted, wanting to have as many cultural experiences as possible.  Please note that Susan had not yet arrived in the village; she had 10 weeks of training as opposed to my 8.  Saturday at 4 PM we left for a wedding that lasted until about 7 AM on Sunday morning.  I left that party early, 5 AM.  Unfortunately I did not take my camera to the wedding, but Moldovan weddings contain more food, drink (not water) and dancing than I could have imagined.  It is also customary to give rather large sums of money to the happy couple.  I took the cheap route and played the ignorant foreigner card; they received 300 lei (~25 USD) from me while the normal minimum is 500 lei (~41 USD).

On Sunday it was more wedding festivities.  There was a masa (dinner party) at the brides home that lasted well into Monday morning.  I left that one at about 11:30 in the PM.

Monday I was invited, by my host family, to a birthday party in the capital city Chișinau.  Thanks to my inability to speak and understand Romanian, or my cultural ignorance, I missed that fact the “birthday party” was to be an all day event.  We left the village at 10 AM and did not return until 10 PM.  Two hours of that time were actually spent at the birthday party; the remainder of the time was spent waiting in my host family’s car while they did “stuff.”  I will spare you all a rant, and simply understate the fact that I was frustrated with a wasted day.

Now the good stuff…  At about 7 PM on Monday, August 9th, while I was sitting in the car waiting, I began to feel an itch on my right leg.  I thought it was a mosquito bite or some other bug bite.  By 8:30 PM my entire right leg was itching like crazy and I developed an even worse temperament than I already had from wasting a day in the car.  By 10 PM when we got home this itch had spread to both legs, my arms, my chest and my back.  Upon arriving home I ran in the house to see what could possibly be causing me this much pain.  In the bathroom, I was quite surprised to see that I may actually have a problem, and thus may not be invincible.  I snapped a few photos and have included those below for your viewing pleasure or displeasure as the case may be.

After surveying the damage I took a cold shower and followed that up with a call to Susan.  I am sure she loved hearing me complain. Susan encouraged me to call the Peace Corps Medical Officer, but I insisted that hope was not yet lost for my invincibility. Given the heat and my new friend, Mr. Itch, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to sleep, but I managed to.

Before going to bed I told myself that if I was worse in the morning, I would call the PC Medical Officer.  I woke up with the “rash” having spread all over my body including my lower arms, face and head.  Finally at noon I decided I should cry for help.  I did and was on an afternoon bus to Chisinau to see the doctor.  The gist of that conversation was, …blah, blah, blah – its good you came when you did …blah, blah, blah – close to anaphylactic shock …blah, blah, blah you’re not invincible.  She also gave me some drugs, which I did not do a very good job of taking (because I don’t do drugs), but after a good talking to by the doctor, I conceded and took them. I ended up staying in the capital until the following Monday when my skin was back to normal.  Mrs. Doctor insisted that I stay and see her each day as things improved.