Archives for the month of: November, 2010

A few weeks ago when the weather was nice we took a walk to the neighboring village, Nemțeni, just down river. In the summer there were several floods that destroyed some of the villages located alongside the Prut. A part of Nemțeni was destroyed along with other villages further down river. The government is in the process of constructing new neighborhood-like homes for the families affected, and a community of these homes is located in Nemțeni. The community reminds me more of a low-end Ivory Home construction project you’d see in the states. It’s not something you would expect to see in Moldova.

And this is the view coming back into our village from the south. These hills are going to be great for sledding in the winter.

Advertisements

The Friday before Teachers’ Day the 12th grade class put on a production for all the teachers. The room was decorated for fall. Leaves covered the floor and autumn flowers adorned the tables alongside baskets of cookies and cups of tea. At the end of the night the mayor thanked each teacher with kind words and an envelope holding 50 lei (about $4.50). I tried to refuse at least three times, but with my limited language and the worry of looking ungrateful, I sided with the idea of taking the money and using it for my students.

I showed up to the school on October 5, Teachers’ Day, and noticed a path of flowers through the gate, up the stairs, and into the school. Once inside I saw “teachers” consulting about lesson plans. This is a day when the 12th grade students give the teachers a break. They are the “teachers” for the day. They teach, discipline, and give homework. The real teachers can either sit in the back of the class and observe or meet up in the teachers’ lounge with other teachers or attend one or all of the many productions put on by different classes throughout the day. Each one of these productions ended with the children giving teachers freshly plucked flowers from all over the village. A masă was served once all the students had left for the day.

At a masă or a gathering, it is customary for someone to carry around a bottle of wine (or some sort of liquor) and one glass. The pourer uses the same glass to serve everybody a drink. After everyone is served, the pourer serves himself and then starts again in the same order. Because I do not drink and often feel like I am not participating fully, I decided to make fresh chocolate chip cookies for the teachers. I followed the „pourer” and served every teacher a chocolate chip cookie. I think it was actually a very good idea, because some of the ladies look like they needed something to help keep down what they just drank.

It was a nice day, and yet another reminder of how different education here is from America. In my opinion, a day like this would not be possible in most high schools in America. (I am not claiming that one system is better than the other.) With all my flowers in arms, I went home feeling happy to be a teacher in Moldova.

The Peace Corps has three goals in its mission. The second goal is to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served. So for the last few days, we have been working on Goal 2. We decided to attempt to make Thanksgiving dinner for our host family, complete with all the traditional fixings. And for the most part, it turned out pretty well. The Thanksgiving spread was not as elaborate as I would have liked, but I guess you do what you can with what you have. I hung some berries from the lights, put some ribbon on the table, and made place cards out of corn (which we have plenty of). It wasn’t anything too fancy, but it did have a nice Thanksgiving feel to it.

We served hors d’ourves at 6 which consisted of black and kalamata olives, baby dill pickles, and crackers with an assortment of cheeses. Dinner was served shortly after which consisted of:

Turkey breast prepared in an overnight brine and baked with a rosemary, thyme, pepper, onions, garlic, and sage rub
Stuffing with finely chopped onions, rosemary, pepper and white wine
Mashed potatoes with lots of butter and milk
Gravy (it was our first time using potato starch… didn’t go over very well)
Homemade rolls (J’s oh so delicious recipe which they absolutely loved)
Greek salad
7-up Salad (a Kemp family tradition, which they also really liked)
Cranberry Orange Sauce (by far the overall hit with expressions like “e foarte gustos”. recipe below)
Carrots sauteed with a honey balsamic glaze

Desert was served last, pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream on top. It wasn’t a traditional pumpkin pie. In fact, I’m not really sure what kind of squash I even used. But it kind of tasted like a pumpkin pie.

I think it was a success overall. We had a good time eating and talking and eating some more. It was nice for us to be serving them for once. And it made me proud of some of our traditions (even though those traditions stem from a part of American history that I’m not so proud of).

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Ingredients:

  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus more if desired
  • Pinch salt
  • One 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries, rinsed

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat 1/2 cup water with the orange zest, orange juice, sugar and salt over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cranberries and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the cranberries burst and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 7 minutes. Sweeten with more sugar, if desired. Let the sauce cool to room temperature before serving.

It’s the middle of November in Moldova, and fall has brought with it its own beauty. The fruits and nuts are all plucked from the trees. The corn and cabbage are harvested from the fields. And the leaves are now decorating the ground instead of the sky. It’s barren, but it doesn’t feel lifeless.

Moldovan birthdays are a little different than what I’m used to. You are expected to invite guests to your home, prepare a big dinner feast, serve lots of alcohol, and send them off with a small parting gift at the end of the night. It’s a lot of work, especially for someone who is not interested in celebrating her birthday.

I begged my host mother to not tell anyone in the village about my birthday, and to my surprise she agreed. Our host sister who lives in the neighboring village came with her husband and their 4 year old kid. We ate potatoes and meet, clătită with apple jam, salad and the most delicious apple and walnut cake. They toasted to my health and happiness, and wished me all the money in the world. They gave me flowers, perfume, and a few figurines. They were very generous to me. And as much as I don’t like birthdays, it was a great day.

My favorite thing is breakfast in bed, so on the morning of my birthday, Curt walked in with a breakfast platter serving a cheese omelet, french toast, juice, and tea.

Because we knew our host family would want to do something on my birthday, we celebrated my birthday the weekend before. Curt made me a delicious pasta (garlic, apple, tomato, basil, and white wine sauce) and a calorie-filled dessert (ice cream over a fudge brownie, topped with hot chocolate sauce and chopped up milky way bars).


We had our first freeze around the end of October. Seems kind of late, right? People around here say there is usually snow on the ground by this time, but today it is 70 degrees outside, and we’re loving it. I mean, how often am I going to be able to brag to people in Phoenix that it’s just as pleasant here in November as it is there? We had a cold spell right at the beginning of October… coats, boots, and even hats for me, but this past week has been gorgeous outside.

I’ve heard winter here is pretty dreary, getting dark at four and staying well below freezing. That wasn’t ever a problem for me in the states because we have reliable heat in our homes, at our jobs, in our cars, and even in the grocery stores. That’s definitely not going to be the case here, so I’ll be enjoying this 70 degree weather while it lasts because I have a feeling it isn’t going to last too much longer.

This recipe is quite different from the plăcinte recipe I posted earlier. My current host mom makes plăcinte this way… it’s much unhealthier but tastes so much better.

Dough Ingredients:
2 eggs
½ tsp salt
¼ cup oil
1 cup warm milk or warm water
3 ½ – 4 cups flour

Filling Ingredients:
Cheese (a white, mild, crumbly cheese)
3 eggs
¼ tsp salt
sugar (optional)
OR
you can use any ingredients you want (vegetables, fruits, jams, etc.)

Beat eggs and salt together rigorously. Stir in oil and ½ cup milk. Add about 3 cups of flour, and mix with your clean hand. Work the rest of the milk and flour together in gradually. When milk is no longer visible, start working the dough by pulling an outer edge into the middle and punching it down. Continue to do this until you get the consistency you desire. When dough is done, your hand should be free of all dough. Dough should not be sticky, but also should not be too hard.

Sprinkle flour on a flat hard surface. Form dough into a log on the table, and cut it into about 8 pieces. Form into balls. Do not roll into balls. Instead, holding the dough in both hands, with your fingers try to move the dough to the bottom and stick it in the middle. Keep rotating the dough in your hands while forming these balls. This creates air pockets in the dough which will make the plăcinte flaky. You should be able to notice tiny air bubbles in the dough. Place on floured surface, cover with a light cloth, and let rest for 15 minutes.

Mix cheese, eggs, and salt together well with a fork.

Roll out dough into a thin circle. Pick it up and stretch the dough with your hands, rotating and stretching, rotating and stretching. When you have it as thin as you want it, put some filling into the center and spread outwards, leaving about 2 inches clean around the edge of the circle. Cut 8 1 to 2 inch slits evenly around the edge. If you want a Susie plăcinte, sprinkle sugar over the filling. Or if you want a Curt plăcinte, just leave it as is.

Starting with one piece of the circle’s edge, stretch the dough out and fold over the top. Do this to the opposite piece as well. Try to make these two pieces touch in the middle. Continue to do this until all pieces are stretched and folded up. Try to have as few layers as possible, meaning, do not make all opposite pieces meet in the middle. If you do this, the layers will not cook through and the plăcinte will likely be doughy.

Heat some oil* in a frying pan until it lightly sizzles. (*some oil = when placed in the pan, the plăcinte should not be submersed in oil.) Place the plăcinte in the pan, folded side up. Fry slowly until lightly brown on the bottom and flip. You want to make sure all the layers cook through, so do not rush it.

Best when served warm, so serve immediately! Makes 8 plăcinte, serving 10-12 people.

Pofta Bună.

Some people have expressed interest in seeing where we live, but first, please hear me out. When I lived in Ruseștii Noi, I had pretty nice living conditions. Other trainees called my house Beverly Hills, and it was, compared to their conditions. So there seems to be some unwritten rule in PC that you don’t brag about where you’re placed. So just know, I am not bragging. I am simply recording and archiving my experience in Moldova. So if you are a Peace Corps volunteer reading this, I only ask that you please not hate me because I basically moved from Beverly Hills to Paris. Thank you.

Our living conditions are not that different from the US. We live very comfortably here, especially for being Peace Corps volunteers and especially for living in a Moldovan village. We have running water and gas, an indoor shower and toilet, a clean and newly refinished kitchen, a TV, a fridge and a freezer. These are commodities rare in a village and especially rare to the majority of Peace Corps volunteers serving worldwide. When I signed up for the PC, I was definitely not expecting that my shower would give me the option of listening to the radio, talking on the phone, turning the lights on, and selecting from four different showering methods, one of which would be shooting water out from the side like jets in a hot tub.

To the left is where our host parents live. They call it the “casa mică” or small house. There are six rooms, plus the summer kitchen. They built this house in the late 80’s and have been living in it since the 90’s. You’ll notice the stairs on the right go up to the “casa mare” or big house. This is where we live.

Moldovan tradition says if a bird nests above your door, it means you’re a good person.

We live in the casa mare. It basically has 6 rooms, two of which we use (the kitchen and the bedroom).

It wouldn’t be our kitchen without white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and the boxes of Barilla pasta in the cupboards, all of which can be purchased in Chișinău.

Shout out… Happy birthday Mark A. and Marissa H.

Starting in October we started to notice little rivers of wine making their way down the streets. This meant the time for cleaning wine barrels, harvesting grapes, and making wine was approaching. By mid October our host parents started making their house wine. They made the red wine first, and then about a week or so later, they made the white wine.

Basically the processes seems to be as follows:

First, clean all the barrels to prepare for the new wine, and harvest all the grapes. Then dump the grapes into a grape press to squeeze out all the juice. Once all the grapes are pressed, let the wine sit for several days to ferment. Depending on the temperature outside and the varietal, this could take anywhere from five days to two weeks. When it is no longer sweet, the wine is pumped into buckets and transported into the barrels in the wine cellar. There it will continue to ferment for up to several months until finally it becomes the finished product.

They did something interesting with the white wine after it was pumped and transported to the wine cellar. It seems like it’s cheating to me, but we’re no wine experts to really know. When all the wine was pumped out of the barrel, they added a bunch of sugar and water to the grape peels. They stirred it several times a day until it fermented like wine. They say it tastes like wine, but it’s not technically wine.

It is probably important to talk about a certain aspect of the alcohol culture here in Moldova. Some Moldovans give a little wine to children because they believe it helps them grow and prevents disease. I’ve (Susan) heard this thinking is the same in most parts of Europe as well. This is not something I understand. In fact all the research I have read on the subject is conclusive that alcohol negatively affects an undeveloped brain, so it has been hard for me to watch children being served alcohol.

I had a discussion one night with my host parents about it. While in the end we agreed to disagree, I am at least glad I was able to share with them my opinion and the research supporting it.

Alcohol is a huge part of Moldovan culture and hospitality. They take great pride in their wine, so it is expected that wine is offered to and accepted by guests. Just about every house has a barrel or two of its own house wine in its cellar. 9 out of 10 people we meet in the street offers us a glass of wine, and refusing it can be tricky (but not impossible). Curt met a man on his way to work  the other day, and regardless of the fact that it was 9:00 am, he was still offered wine. Noroc!

Hram is a celebration honoring a particular saint. Each village has it’s own Hram celebration. For example, Bălăurești honors Saint Nicolai in May. The best comparison in the states would be state and city fairs. Apparently schools honor saints as well. My knowledge of this came about while meeting with our Romanian tutor. After telling me about the activities to expect for Hram, he asked me if American schools celebrate Hram. I responded by explaining that in the US we do not have religion in public schools. And his response was kind of along the lines of… duh, we don’t either.

Sometimes I wonder what religion in schools would look like to Moldovans. From a foreigner’s perspective religion is most definitely tapped into public education here. Orthodox Christianity is an optional subject, with a substantial push to make it required. Most classrooms are home to a crucifix, or some other religions icon, hung  front and center. Spiritual health is taught by encouraging church attendance. And each year, the Priest  kicks off Hram by blessing the school through a sermon on school grounds. But considering Molodva is about 98% Christian Orthodox, I think it would be hard to completely free the school system of religion. Plus I think so much of a person’s religious practices become ingrained in her culture that she does not realize that what she considers her culture is considered her religion in the eyes of an outsider. And are the two ever really separable anyway?

The school’s Hram was on September 21st this year. The Priest came to officially open the celebrations, and then professors and leaders of the village were served food and wine while the students went home to eat and change into play clothes. There were several competitions held. The boys wrestled while the girls jumped rope. There were soccer games and volleyball games. The teachers played volleyball against the 11th grade and won, but then tragically lost to the seniors. And the day ended with a dance that went well into the night.