Archives for the month of: February, 2011

It is really interesting how high school reunions are celebrated in Moldova. The 12th grade class organizes a night full of festivities, food, conversation, and dancing for classes from the past. For example, in Bălăurești all graduating classes in increments of 5 years are invited. So the Classes of 2006, 2001, 1996, 1991, 1986… and so on were invited, all the way until 1961. Other villages may do it differently, for example in 10 or 20 year increments. This year the power had been off all day due to the wind, so instead of starting at 7:00 it started at 9:00. And of course the two Americans were the only two guests who showed up on time.

(I like to talk about Moldovan idiosyncrasies when I’ve observed them at least several times, but it would not be right to say that all Moldovans are this way or that way, so just know that when I say “Moldovans are…”, I am strictly speaking from my experience with the Moldovans I have met from a few villages and from Chișinău. So here we go…) Moldovans are not really planners. We spent two hours in the dark waiting for people to find a generator because they started looking at 7:00 PM. I couldn’t help but think that if we were in the same situation in the states, we would have been looking for a generator throughout the day just in case the electricity didn’t come back in time.

The Seniors preformed skits, songs, and dances. They opened up the floor for alumni to reminisce about funny and embarrassing  moments. And they organized a few little friendly competitions between graduating classes. The party really started after all this though with a masă, drinking and dancing lasting well into the night.

Maria was my host mother when I lived in Ruseștii Noi, and she turned 60 on February 19. Her three children threw her an unbelievable party to show her how much the appreciate her. Maria really is an exceptional woman, and she and Tudor raised some wonderful children. It was fun to be with them all again.

Lilia did a lot of the planning for the party, and she did an excellent job. The party started at 4pm with the MC inviting the guests by name to greet Maria. Then we were all ushered to our tables while Maria cut the ribbon at her table. Tudor and Maria each said a few words, and dinner was served. Servers came around with fire-flaming plates of fish while the men at the table made no hesitations to open the specially labeled cognac. Maria’s four grandchildren each recited a poem, and Flavius and his dance partner even preformed a special dance. Maria and Tudor visited each table, toasting all the guests to health, money, and love. Then it was to the dance floor for Maria’s and Tudor’s first dance. (Moldovans dance… a lot.)

There were several surprises for Maria throughout the night. Special people from Maria’s life came, and even a popular folklore singer performed. After a slideshow illustrating special events in Maria’s life, a second dinner was served. (Moldovans eat… a lot.) More dancing, conversating, eating, and drinking followed. We all went outside on cue to see the fireworks, and came back in to light sparklers and usher in the birthday cake. The party was still going into the AM, but we left just after midnight. The time, money, and effort Maria’s children put into that party was so thoughtful. The Panfil’s are a great family, and I’m lucky to know them.

My sister-in-law, J, sent me some stickers to give to my students a while back. As I was looking through them, I noticed that there were a lot of uncolored stickers of food products. I automatically thought of using them in our lesson about nutrition. Another PC HESC volunteer had the great idea to teach basic food nutrition using a rainbow instead of the food pyramid. The more colorful the meal, the healthier it is for you. So the more Red #40, Blue #1, and Yellow #5 the better, right? Wrong. My students were very disappointed when I told them this rule does not apply to artificial colorings.

We started the lesson by talking about some of our favorite foods like plăcinte, cake, bread, pastries, etc. And we all came to the conclusion that the tastiest treats are white or yellow (or artificially colored). For each meal, the food on our plate should look as close to a rainbow as possible to make sure we are getting all the vitamins and nutrients we should be. The students were divided into groups, given these uncolored stickers, and told that they currently had unhealthy meals because they were all white or uncolored. The were instructed to turn these white meals into colorful meals using as many colors of the rainbow as they could. This activity actually required a lot of creativity on their part. Even though they may have been given a sticker with a cake, they had to decide how to color that cake to make it healthier, thus, the cake becoming a piece of bread with tomatoes, green onions, and cheese on top.

Thanks to J for the stickers and L for the rainbow idea, the lesson turned out really well, and it was great for the students to actually practice coming up with healthier alternatives to eating.

This is not necessarily a Moldovan recipe, although E does make a variation of this cake from time to time. Curt loves cheesecake, and I’m just so-so about it, which is weird because I absolutely LOVE cheeses. So I’ve been looking a long time for a recipe that would convert me. I came across a recipe and decided I would try it out making some adjustments. First, I love mascrapone cheese. My sister, K, introduced it to me several years ago, and I’ve been grateful ever since. It’s basically an Italian triple cheese cream cheese. Secondly, the brînza de vacă (basically whole ricotta) in Moldova is so fresh and delicious. I decided to make the cake with these two cheeses, and it turned out to be a very good decision. I am now converted to cheesecake.

Brînza de Vacă Mascrapone Cheesecake

Crust Ingredients:

1 cup (150 g) graham crackers or biscuiți cu lapte
2 Tbs (30 g) sugar
1/4 cup (55 g) melted butter

Smash the crackers into little crumbs. Add sugar and butter and mix together. Press to the bottom of your baking dish (they suggested a spring form pan, but I just used a tart dish). Cover and put in refrigerator.

Filling Ingredients:

2 cups (about 500 g) fresh bînza de vacă or ricotta drained.
8 ounces (about 200 g) mascrapone
3/4 cups sugar
1 Tbs cornstarch
4 eggs
zest of one lemon
1 tsp vanilla/ 1 packet of vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C). Place mascrapone in a bowl and beat until free of lumps. (I don’t have a mixer, so you’ll notice lumps in my batter.) Add drained ricotta and sugar and mix together until creamy and smooth. Add cornstarch and mix. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add zest and vanilla and mix. Pour batter onto the crust and place in a roasting pan. Add hot water to the roasting pan to come about halfway up the sides of your cake pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the cake browns on the top and slightly jiggles in the middle. Cool on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature or cooled.

Valentine’s Day is a borrowed holiday that is definitely not celebrated in the village like it is in the states. It fell on a Monday this year, so Curt and I celebrated on the Sunday before so we could cook a nice meal together. Curt made a delicious lasagna and a Greek salad, while I made cheesecake for desert. We decided that we would forgo gift-giving for these two years and, instead, spend the money on traveling. It’s hard for me not to do something, so I cut his piece of lasagna in a heart and pulled out one of my birthday presents that I thought would capture the cheesiness of this holiday to use as decoration.

I feel like the luckiest girl in the world being married to Curt. He’s my best friend, and he means everything to me. Happy Valentine’s Day.

I work each week with two nurses, O and M, in the village’s medical center. Obviously I am not a nurse or a doctor, but part of my duties as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Health Education in Schools and Communities program is to work with the medical center to promote healthy living. We organized a seminar and talked about a major health problem in Moldova (and the US), high blood pressure. We decided to target people who were at risk, thus, taking a prevention approach. And we ended the seminar by measuring the attendees’ blood pressure. I think it was a success, and I look forward to doing more projects with O and M. They’re really great women to work with.

Shout Out… Happy Birthday Meg K!

I’m 99.9% sure I will never make carnați again, but I might as well post about the process just in case.

Clean the small intestines really well of the pig you have just killed. Note: I don’t think the intestines were cleaned as well as they should have been because my hands smelled like treaba mare (#2) the rest of the day. Grind about 4 pounds of beef. Add about 2 Tbs of salt, a couple tsp of pepper, and about 10-12 cloves of pressed garlic. Add 9-10 eggs, and mix well with hand or spoon. Add 1 cup of bread crumbs, and mix well again. Put the intestines on the meet machine with the correct attachment, and start turning.

L and E own the gas station in town. Gas seems to stay around $4 per gallon. Winter is a slower season for business as people are not filling up their tractors for work in the fields.

Snow is like magic to the students in my village. Especially after several days of being too warm for snow, and being too muddy to go anywhere, a fresh snow fall for them is like my mom’s warm pumpkin pie with cream on top for me… divine. The whole mood in the school changes. The students are happier because they’ve just spent their passing period outside sliding down the courtyard and throwing snowballs in each others’ faces. And the teachers are a lot happier too because all the noise is outside rather than inside. It’s a win-win for all. As soon as school is out, the streets are filled with the kids cruising on their sleds.