Archives for the month of: December, 2010

This last Saturday Susan spent all day baking.  (When I say all day, I mean from 8 am to 8pm – a lot of baking.)  When the day was over she had made candy cane sugar cookies (couldn’t find red food coloring so green had to suffice), decorated sugar cookies, lemon bars, caramel brownies, and macaroons.  Her creations were destined for neighbors, friends and our work partners in order to share a bit of American Christmas tradition, and good old-fashioned holiday cheer.  The thoughtfulness and effort Susan puts into things such as this, are two small reasons why she is an excellent volunteer.

Her efforts were a raging success as we walked around the village on Sunday delivering the treats.  Those that tried the treats seemed to enjoy them.  I sampled them all and can attest to the fact that they were delicious.  As we delivered the treats, our average delivery time per house was well over an hour.  We should have expected as much, due to the generosity of those in the village.  Furthermore, I am certain we ended up eating more at each house than we actually left on the plate of sweets.  Despite considerable effort, we just couldn’t refuse the invitations into the homes.  I will role play a little example of our efforts for you all…

Susan/Curt: Hi.  We just wanted to stop by, say Merry Christmas and leave some treats for you.

Friend or Neighbor: [Gives an inquisitive look…]

Susan/Curt: In America we celebrate on December 25th, and one tradition, of many families, to give homemade treats to friends and neighbors.  So here you are. Have a good day.

Friend/Neighbor: Oh thank you.  Please come in and stay for a while.

Susan/Curt: That’s very nice, but no thank you.

Friend/Neighbor: No really.  Come in.

Susan/Curt: No thanks.  We have others that we need to deliver as well.

Friend/Neighbor: Oh come on. Just for a minute.

Susan/Curt: [starting to back away toward the gate]  You are very gracious, but we don’t want to interrupt your time on a Sunday.

Friend/Neighbor: Don’t be ridiculous.  Get in here.

At this point we either couldn’t refuse any longer, for fear of being rude, or in one case, were physically pushed into the house.  Once inside, we knew we were in for lots of food and conversation.  Moldovans are incredibly hospitable and generous.  In almost every house were served just as much or more than we were attempting to give.  In all we were offered more food and drink than we could have consumed during the day.

I have included some photos below.

Leon, from our host family, claimed that these were cookies made for his political party – represented by the color green.  Really there just wasn’t any red food coloring available in the village.


These are a couple of the neighbors enjoying the treats.

And this is the bottle of some beverage that they broke out to say thanks to Susie.


Zeamă is one of my favorite meals here in Moldova, especially when it is accompanied with mămăligă and brînza de oaie. L makes this soup with homemade noodles (tăieții de casă) and borș de casă. Borș is a sour flavoring added to certain dishes. You can buy packets of borș at the store, but L makes her own at home.

Zeamă Ingredients:
1 whole cut chicken or about 4 chicken breasts cubed
3 small yellow onions or 1 large onion
1 medium carrot
1 cup totato sauce
2-3 potatoes
1 small red or green bell pepper
2 tsp. chicken bouillon or chicken flavoring (optional)
4 tbs. borsi de casă

Tăieții de Casă Ingredients:
1 large egg

Place chicken in a pot of water ¾ full to boil. Finely chop carrots, peppers, and onions. When water is boiling, scoop chicken foam off the top. Add veggies and cover. Bring to a boil again. Peel and cut potatoes. Place them in a bowl of water to rinse, and set them aside.

Crack an egg and add a couple of handfuls of flour to it. Mix it with your hand. You’ll notice it is not very easy to mix it because it is very hard, but make sure it is mixed well and that the dough is very hard. Add more flour if needed. Form it into a somewhat flat ball. Let it rest for 10 minutes.

Add a cup of tomato sauce plus a cup of water to the pot. If you have some sort of chicken flavoring you like to use, go ahead and add a couple of teaspoons. Wait 20 minutes and then add the potatoes.

Flatten dough into a circle. Sprinkle flour on a flat surface, and roll it out as thin as you can. Thin, thin, thin. While you let the dough rest, wash and clean the dill, celery leaves, and parsley. Add flour to the dough and cut it in 1 inch strips. Stack them on top of each other sprinkling flower in between each layer. Cut the stack in half. On a cutting board thinly slice along the 1 inch edge. The dough will be stuck together, so pick up the cut pieces and sprinkle/scatter them so they fall lightly on the counter.

Chop parsley and greens and add them to the soup. Then add borș de casă (about 4 tablespoons). Let it boil for about 5 minutes. Add the noodles. You know it is done when the noodles rise to the top. Do not boil from this point on.

Pofta Bună.

As a volunteer in the Health Education in Schools and Communities program, one of my duties is to run an after school club with a Moldovan partner. My partner and I decided after practice school that we would organize a puppet theater club for 6th and 7th graders. 30 students showed up for our first meeting, including boys. I announced they would be sewing the puppets themselves which resulted in cries of joy from the girls and cries of dread from the boys. Needless to say the boys stopped coming.

My partner and I were trying to think of a way to keep our students interested for a few years, so we decided that if they put a lot of work into them, they might be more inclined to stick with it. I talked to a couple who are humanitarian missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints serving in Chișinău about possible funding for such a project. Our discussion encouraged me write a mini-grant proposal which was approved. The next Saturday I went on an all-day shopping spree with them to buy materials for the puppets and a stage.

My mom made some fabulous hand puppets when I was younger that I wanted to use, so she took one apart to make a pattern and then emailed it to me. I decided to cut all the pieces myself to save some time, so we started right away with sewing.

I was talking to another volunteer about how long it was taking us to finish the puppets, and he said, “So basically it has been an art club so far.” His comments were not meant to by snide in any way, he was more empathizing with me.  I have been thinking about it though, and I think the girls have learned some valuable lessons.

  • If you’re going to do something, you’re going to do it right. There were so many times, too many to name, when the girls wanted to do something half way. We encouraged them to do it the right way, but ultimately said it was their choice. Even with the encouragement, some girls still decided to do it the easy way. In each of these cases, the girls found out several steps later and about an hour of sewing later, that they should have done it the right way initially. Each one of them had to start again from that step.
  • Creativity. Because none of the girls were given instructions about the physical appearance of their puppet, they were able to foster their own creativity. I have to admit, sometimes I completely questioned their outfit choices, but they showed complete confidence in their puppets. And I think there is something to be said about making something yourself and coming up with something that is completely one of a kind.
  • Team Work. On several occasions when one girl needed help, several would stop working on their own puppets to discuss and help if asked. They supported each other and helped when one girl was lagging a little. It was times like these that really helped create the positive atmosphere that is so conducive to creativity.
  • Even though I just said I can’t do it, I know I really can. Especially towards the last few weeks of making the puppets, we started hearing very whiny voices say expressions like, “Dar Doamna Susan, nu pot.” (“But Mrs. Susan, I can’t.”). Initially I was really annoyed by the whiny voices, but then after talking with my partner about it who agreed it was a problem, we decided to be more encouraging. And yes, encouragement is the way to go. When we finished, the girls were so happy that they made these puppets all by themselves.

These girls have come each week for an hour and a half to work on their puppets. They were not given any specific direction about how their puppet was to look or to be dressed other than the pattern instructions. They came up with some pretty creative ideas, and I am glad the puppets all look pretty unique.

My partner is pictured above with the 2 puppets I made. The girl is named Sophie (after a cute little girl I know), and Curt named the boy Dyshawn.

Ok, so we aren’t really sure what to classify rachiu as, so we’ll just call it homemade booze. Other volunteers say it’s whiskey, but it isn’t made with a grain. We figured it was cognac because it is distilled using wine, but our host family said it wasn’t cognac. Whatever kind of alcohol it is, we’ve heard that the strength varies depending on who makes it and how.

When making new wine this year, Leon decided to set aside some of the old red wine to make rachiu. The barrel occupied the driveway for about a month, and then one day we came home from work and saw a friend of Leon’s setting up this distillery in the front garden. It took him 3 days to make 45 liters of 80 proof rachiu.

From our understanding, which might not be much considering the language barrier, the wine and old grape skins are dumped into the big steel barrel. The fire below causes the alcohol to evaporate and condense on the tubes at the top. The alcohol runs down the tubes through a trough of cool water and drips down the threads into the bucket. Leon stores it in bottles with crushed walnut shells on the bottom, turning it a light brown color over time. Noroc!

The day after Thanksgiving we had our first snow. It only lasted for about 10 minutes and melted about an hour later. But then overnight it snowed some more, maybe about an inch, and that lasted all day.

Winter Preparations continued…

I had read about pickled watermelon before coming to Moldova, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when our host family announced we would soon be preparing it for winter. Moldovans love their pickled foods. They pickle carrots, cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, squash, cucumbers, beets, and I’m sure many more things.

Basically we put a bunch of tomatoes and watermelons in different containers. We added several cloves of garlic, lots of dried dill, parsley, and celery leaves. They put 3-4 tablets of aspirin in each container, depending on the size. Then we filled buckets of water with about 3-5 cups of salt each and filled up the containers. They sit like that for several weeks and months. Our host father usually gets out about 5 or 6 tomatoes for dinner each night. I’m not a fan, but Curt is. And a couple of nights ago, they pulled out the watermelon for the first time. Curt tried it and said it was ok… I’m not sure that’s a convincing enough response for me to try it though.

Winter Preparations continued…

There are so many fruit trees around here that you could never eat all the fruit, so Moldovans use a lot of it to make compot. It’s a year-round drink that they prepare when the fruit is in season, and then can it for later consumption. Basically you wash and cut the fruits you want to use. Add it to a pot of water and bring it to a boil. Add sugar to taste. It is done when you can easily poke through the fruit with a knife. Some fruits obviously take less time, like apricots and grapes, while others take more time, like apples. The combinations are endless. Some of my favorites have been apricot and cherry, pear and grape, and just grape by itself. You can either serve the fruit with the juice or just serve the juice by itself.

Winter Preparations continued…

Moldovan food is not spicy, at least not the food I have tasted. But on the table it is not uncommon to see in the salt bowl, half of a hot pepper. Our host family dips a pepper in their soup to give it a little kick. Or sometimes they’ll take a little bite to accompany other food.

Fresh fruits and vegetables are only available in the summer and early fall unless exported from other countries and sold at a much higher price, so these past few months have been  dedicated to canning and preparing food for winter. We preserved tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, apples, grapes, pears, watermelons, cucumbers, and so on. Each house has a cellar (= beci) built up underneath their homes that acts as a refrigerator. These cellars are kind of a big deal. I’ve heard men characterize other men by the size and quality of their cellar. So once food has been canned or prepared for pickeling, it is added to all the other jars in the cellar.

The next few posts will highlight more winter preparations.