Monday Meal Review: Romania


THE SCENE

Pleasure is spread throughout the earth in stray gifts to be claimed by whoever shall find. (William Wordsworth)

I spend hours daydreaming about other countries – about how beautiful they are, about the incredible food they eat. Every week I take my family to one of these countries via stovetop travel and we imagine the joy we’d have living life in those countries. But I’m increasingly uneasy with this set up.

I’ve had trouble pinpointing my discomfort, until the other day when my issue hit me like a ton of bricks.

Part of loving the world we are in… well… it’s loving the world right where we are, right now. To quote a lobster I know:

The seaweed is always greener, in somebody else’s lake.
You dream about going up there, but that is a big mistake.
Just look at the world around you, right here on the ocean floor.
Such wonderful things surround you, what more are you looking for?

(“The Little Mermaid”)

Truth is, I’m a lot like Ariel, more focused on what’s outside of my neighborhood and family – eyeing what everyone else has instead of celebrating what I have. The more time I spend studying and eating the world, the sadder I am that I don’t know my neighbors very well. Or even parts of our family who we are so disconnected from, that we feel like strangers whenever we do get together.

As you know, the last couple of months I’ve made an effort to get out there and enjoy our little corner of the world more – but because of my shy nature, change doesn’t happen quickly. Sure, we’ve taken our Global Table out to the park and the fair and the Frisbee golf course… and we’ve had the joy of sharing it with family like baby Kaiden and his mama this week.

These experiences have opened my eyes to the fun of Tulsa and those we are fortunate enough to spend time with, but it still seems like we’re swimming in circles, just barely scratching the surface. I feel like we need to love what we have more… especially in the face of Hurricane Sandy… yeesh. Talk about a reality check (my heart is with all those in the path of this storm, including my family and friends, as well as you and yours).

So, friends, I could use your help. What advice do you have – what things have you’ve done to get to know your neighbors, to enjoy your city, to love where you are … right now? How do you deepen the relationships you already have? The awkward, geeky girl inside of me thanks you in advance.

P.S. I will say this: I’m up to the ears with Romanian bread. The guys next door, and the nice couple a few houses down benefited. But it was scary. And I’m shy.

THE FOOD:

Romanian Stuffed Cabbage Leaves (Sarmale) [Recipe]

What I loved most about this dish:

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to love these stuffed cabbages. It just sounded so meaty and threatened to be a whole lot of work. Friends, this was fantastic  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The work went really quickly once I got the hang of how to make the little belly button to hold the roll together.

Also, I really loved how it cooked for 4 hours (creating the most melt-in-my-mouth experience of late), leaving me to tidy the house and be completely relaxed come dinner time. As a bonus, Keith and Ava  gobbled this one up, too…. as did grandbaby Kaiden and his Mama. Cheers to that!

What I loved least about this dish:

I struggled rolling the cabbage at first, but I quickly realized this was becuase I was using a very small cabbage. I should have bought the largest I could find. Once you get into the interior, the leaves are not as supple or big – making them hard to stuff.

Transylvanian Cauliflower Casserole with Cheese [Recipe]

What I loved most about this dish:

This casserole was warm, comforting, and full of cheese and bacon. I loved everything about it, especially the fact that it was made healthy with cauliflower. It’s a favorite!

What I loved least about this dish:

The casserole does not really reheat well, as the egg that binds the sour cream gets a little too tough. When I served it for dinner it was reheated which caused the rest of the family to be neutral to negative about it. I’m definitely making it again to try and win them back over.

Romanian Easter Bread | Pasca [Recipe]

What I loved most about this dish:

If you have to make something eight times, it better be good. This was better than good. It was fantastic! I’m so glad I learned how to make pasca and hope that all my tweaks will make it easy for you to have great results every time. I got Ava to try this bread by calling it “pudding bread” and this might be the first dish with cream cheese that Keith has ever enjoyed.

What I loved least about this dish:

Nothing now, although last week I had a lot of trouble getting the bread to bake at the right temperature so the filling wouldn’t go crazy and crack. Even if it does, no worries. It’s delicious!

GIVEAWAY WINNER

Congratulations to Melissa, who says:

I would use them to send fan mail to Elizabeth Kostova, the author of the book “The Historian.” it’s in my top 5 fave books of all time and some of the (swashbuckling!) action takes place in Romania. I’m quite taken with Central and Eastern European food, so I’m super excited about your Romanian recipes.

Please email me by November 5, 2012 to claim your prizes. :)

Hello postcards on Bavarian beer paper - set of 12

 

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Comments

  1. Sasha,

    I was born and raised in Romania, so these dishes are very dear to me. I stumbled upon your blog precisely during your “Romania” week (the hand of fate, eh?) and I was so impressed that you actually took the time to make Sarmale and Pasca! I have to say, only my grandmothers still have the patience and know-how to make those things. Personally, I usually limit myself to simple Romanian foods like borscht soups (“ciorba”), roasted eggplant salad or smothered cabbage with bacon. It’s mostly because I’m always short on time, but partly I think that my generation (I’m in my mid-20s now) has lost some of that serenity that goes with cooking traditional things, and the enthusiasm for creating elaborate, beautiful dishes in the kitchen. We tend to leave the stuff that’s a lot of work for our elders. And that’s a shame.

    Last night I made your borscht soup with beets and potatoes from Belarus (incidentally it’s one of the favorite dishes in my family) and it was excellent – just the way my grandmother makes it. I don’t do very well with cow’s milk, so I topped the soup with a bit of soft Chevre goat’s cheese, and it went very well.

    I’m really curious, how do you get your recipes for all this foreign food? Do you find them in the original language and then translate them with Google Translate? Or do you have friends all over the world who tell you what’s good to eat in their country and how to make it? :)

    In any case, I admire your curiosity for global flavors and your patience to make all this complicated food. You have certainly inspired me to prepare more of our national dishes, and I have a feeling that your recipe for Pasca will be next.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      Serendipity, that you found us right when we got to your country – how fun :) I’m glad you enjoyed the borscht and am always game for goat’s cheese – yum. As for how i find recipes, I do have some people write in with suggestions (that’s the case with te stuffed cabbage leaf recipe). I also scour my international cookbook collection for recipe ideas, as well as some reputable web sites… although I am more careful with these. I then adapt the recipes to be something that works for my family (so they are all original). There’s more information here: http://globaltableadventure.com/f-a-q/

  2. I’m glad you’re striving to widen out and meet people! I have had difficulty with that- I feel like I make a terrible first impression and then it gets all awkward and I want to crawl into my shell and not come out for a while.

    Two pieces of advice that I found helpful:

    1- Don’t overthink it! People aren’t silently judging you and wishing you would go away, even when your brain tells you that they are.

    2- Have a wingman! Take a buddy with you when you want to meet new people or interact with strangers. Having a friend at your side takes some of the pressure off.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      I’m so, so guilty of #1… it’s the worst! Because then it affects how I talk and I end up being weird. haha.

  3. I struggle with that too! Tim makes friends with our neighbors then I just walk into their conversations and wave often. I am also really bad with names, which doesn’t help.

    • Sasha Martin says:

      I constantly joke that I could never be a teacher but I secretly mean it – it takes me about 25 times before I remember someone’s name. I feel you on that one!

  4. Food is such a great way to make and develop relationships! Meeting people can be hard and sometimes awkward, and yet it can be so so rewarding.

    My personal opinion is that you should give away “two seats at your dinner table”. You know, have a contest where the winners are invited to come over for dinner! I’m pretty certain my motives are selfish and I’m not sure how you’d avoid inviting someone crazy… But it would be a great way to meet some fellow tulsans and give your readers a chance to eat something tasty. Win win? Again, I selfishly say yes. And cross my fingers that should you ever do something like this that I’d win.

  5. the easter bread looks so interesting! agreed wiht the above comment asw well. food is definitely a great way to make new relationships x

  6. Christine Costa says:

    It’s surprising to me that Keith doesn’t like cream cheese…it seems like it would be in his wheelhouse given the sweet tooth!

    I was very, very shy as a young child (hiding behind my parents even in front of family that I hadn’t seen in a few months). I did come around a bit, but sometime in middle school/early high school I just decided that I was not shy anymore and forced myself to get out there more. It feels much more awkward to you than other people (for the most part, they don’t notice). If you’re afraid of heights, jump off the high dive!

  7. And here I’ve imagined you the total social pro all this time! I always envy how you have so many different dinner guests! I also have a lot of trouble meeting people. Must house is situated in a way that makes it very difficult to meet my neighbors by chance. I would have to go over there and introduce myself, and I’ve never been able to do that. I hear about other people who bring over food to their neighbors, even ones they don’t know, and I’ve seen it done, but I have a hard time doing it. The really silly thing is that I love to bake and I live alone, so it just makes sense that I would donate my goods to others! (I can eat only so much myself.) But it’s very scary. I’m afraid they won’t like it, or they’ll think it’s weird… And how can I bring over PART of something? That seems REALLY weird! And then recently I read a blog by a baker who did just that: she would try a recipe, sample part, and bring the rest to a neighbor. She would do that repeatedly until she got the recipe just right, so lots of people were getting partial portions. Really, I need to get over this hangup.

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