year-end wrap-up

I guess this has been a pretty good year. It’s had its ups and downs, but for us, I think, there were more ups than downs, so I’m happy with that.

I am pretty sure that I’m going to be more careful scheduling vacations and visits next year with regard to my work schedule, and I definitely don’t plan on any strings of trips to Romania…we should be all set in that department.


There are several different national versions of ‘pilaf,’ a rice dish. This is the Ukrainian version. I first had it at Natasha’s and I wanted the recipe, but she couldn’t give it to me because she didn’t have one – she just sort of threw it together instinctively. Not to be deterred, I searched around for a recipe and I watched her do it again for good measure. Here’s my take on it. Like many of recipes I seem to gravitate to, timing is everything here. And, it really needs to be served with a big salad.

¼ c sunflower seed oil
1 large onion, chopped
1½ lb stew beef (or lamb), cut into bite-sized chunks
15-20 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
1 lb carrots, shredded medium fine
2½ tsp salt (at least – season to taste)
1 tsp ground cumin
1½ c rice, uncooked
1½ c hot water

Do all of your chopping ahead of time so the ingredients are ready to add. In a large pot with with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil (it seems like a lot, but you need it) over medium-high heat. Drop in one piece of onion. When onion is black, remove it with a fork. Your oil is hot enough to cook with now.

Add meat to oil. It will spit, so be careful, but do not reduce heat! Allow meat to brown in oil, stirring frequently, for about 4-5 minutes. Now add garlic cloves* and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Next, add onion and cook for 3 minutes (or until translucent) and, finally, add carrots. Stir mixture frequently.

When carrots just begin to become tender and a little of the color begins to fade, add salt and cumin and stir just to mix in. Next add rice and hot water and turn heat to high. Make sure water completely covers other ingredients, plus about ½ inch extra. Stir just to combine, bring to a boil and cover with vented lid (best is a glass lid). You want to not have to stir the plov (although some stoves make this impossible), but you need to know when all the liquid has cooked off – at high heat, about 10 minutes. When liquid is cooked off, add another 1/2 cup cold water, turn heat to lowest setting, cover with un-vented lid and allow to cook for another 20 minutes.

*It sounds like an awful lot of garlic, I know. But if you add whole cloves – not even cutting off the bottoms – they have a mild, slightly sweet flavor. You can always reduce the amount if you’re really garlic-sensitive, but the flavor is so mild that I don’t think it’s necessary.

Natasha’s Borsch(t)

My friend Natasha is originally from the Ukraine and we confer on cooking quite regularly. She recently showed me how to make borscht (apparently, the t is either silent or non-existent in Russian). I’ll try to recreate what I saw her do, but it looks like one of those recipes that you feel your way through. Read the instructions all the way through (a couple times) before starting as timing is pretty important and you need to be able to do several things at once.

3-4 white potatoes, chopped (bite-size)
1 medium white onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 medium carrots, coarsely shredded
half a small head white cabbage, shredded fine
1 large fresh beet
juice of half lemon
1 cup tomato sauce (with basil, if you can get it)
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
salt or vegetable broth powder to taste
1/3 cup fresh chopped dill

Fill soup pot (at least 5-quart) to half-way with water and put potatoes in water. Add some salt and bring to a boil. At the same time, sauté onion and garlic in a skillet over medium heat with a little olive oil. After a couple of minutes, add carrots to skillet and sauté until tender. After potatoes have been simmering for 5-7 minutes, add cabbage shreds to soup pot. When carrots are done, add skillet mixture to soup pot and stir, keeping at a simmer.

Now things get kind of complex. Peel the beet and shred it coarsely – don’t do it before or the purply-red of the beet will be less intense. Sauté beet shreds in onion pan over medium heat, pouring lemon juice over them to retain deep red color. After 3-4 minutes, add tomato sauce to beet and stir thoroughly. Tomato sauce will take on beet color. When beet shreds are tender, pour them into the soup pot. Add chickpeas to soup pot and simmer for 10 more minutes, tasting frequently and adding salt or broth mix as necessary. When potato is fork-tender (but not mushy), soup is finished.

Remove soup pot from heat, put in dill and cover. Allow to sit for at least an hour before serving. Serve with dark bread.


The Joint

Sos. Bucium (langa statia Petrom)
Phone: +40 232 21.87.01

NeluBar none, this was my favorite dining experience in Iasi. Nelu kindly took me on a night-time driving tour of the town, which ended here. I’d been looking for an authentic Romanian restaurant to try ever since I arrived on my first trip to Iasi back in November 2006. I am so glad he showed me this restaurant.

Nelu told me that Romanians like their food sour, and he was not kidding. We had crusty, crunchy bread on which we spread olive paste and red pepper paste, and an appetizer of dill pickles dusted with paprika. I tried a Romanian beer brewed in Iasi that is quickly getting famous. It was very good.

Mutton with polenta and sheep's cheeseFor the main course, I had mutton with polenta and sheep’s cheese. It was excellent. The sheep’s cheese adds a great tangy flavor to the polenta and also compliments the flavors of the mutton.

I recommend this place to anyone visiting Iasi looking for authentic Romanian cuisine. It’s so hard to find traditional places like these among all the pizza/Italian restaurants!

got my stuff back!

Big ups to the Hotel Unirea for offering to call — and keep calling — Austrian Airlines to inquire about my lost bag for me while I was at work today. Big boos to Austrian Airlines having lost it in the first place, and making me wear the same clothes three days in a row, and not having the decency to deliver my lost bag to my hotel. They made me come pick it up!

This morning (It’s about 6:30 now) I will do a full shave (I didn’t trust the flimsy disposable one in my Star Alliance overnight bag to do anything more than my neckline) and wear clean, non-jean, non-t-shirt clothes for the first time since Sunday morning at 4:00 Central European Time. I’m really looking forward to it.

I tend to ride to and from the office in a taxi while it’s dark when I’m here visiting. Various members of the hotel staff have been calling at all hours of the day/night to the Austrian Airlines department at the Iasi Airport and reporting back to me. I found out yesterday at 1pm that I’d have a two-hour window to pick up my stuff, starting at 12pm (so much for the two hours). I was prepared to take a taxi out to the airport and back, but Vlad suggested he drive me in the company car. Vlad has been very, very helpful in lots of office-related ways. He sacrificed his lunch hour and I am grateful for that. We got stuck in traffic, further shortening my 2-hour window to arrive at the airport. The image at left actually does not show one of the reasons we got stuck in traffic. Those horses were moving along at a good clip.

After work last night, I grabbed my camera and tripod (thanks Sarah) and tried to capture the city in a more festive light:

Day 3 — still not stinky (I hope)

I fear I might not even notice my stench in these clothes at this point. I must praise the staff of the Hotel Unirea, because Virgil and Alina on staff there are repeatedly calling Austrian Airlines to check on the status of my suitcase. For the latest report, I am supposed to check back with them today after 10:00 to see what Austrian Airlines knows.

One small complaint:

I know that all Enrique needs is the rhythm divine, but the Unirea needs to expand its music selection at the breakfast bar. If they manage to get my bag back before I leave on Friday though, I’ll happily sing (if you can call it that) along with them and the Progeny of Iglesias.

third time’s a charm, right?

…an EVIL charm maybe.

On this, my third and definitely final trip to Iaşi this year, I had high hopes that all my travel ducks would be in a row. Previous trips have gone off without a hitch — airport pick-ups and drop-offs, customs, luggage, hotels, and taxi transportation have all been no problem in the past.

But this time, something’s different. I flew Austrian Airlines instead of Carpatair, transferring in Vienna instead of Timişoara and decided to check my bag at the ticket window in Munich early Monday morning.

Well, right after that, I forgot that I still had my little Leatherman Squirt pocketknife attached to my keychain. I realized it before going through the metal detectors toward the gate, but my baggage (just one small suitcase) was already being checked onto the plane, so I couldn’t stash it in there. I went back to the Lufthansa (they do the check-in for Austrian…I guess the Anschluss lives on in some ways), and the ladies there were very nice, offering to walk me down to the Service Center where I could do short or long term storage of luggage and other items. I ended up paying €2,50 to store my entire keychain for up to three months (I plan to return on Friday afternoon). And with that, my first problem was solved. I thought to myself, “See? No sweat.”

I got to the gate still in plenty of time and waited and waited and waited. Finally they let us board the plane…and then we waited another 30 minutes. This was only supposed to be a 40 minute flight, and I had something like only 35 minutes between landing and take-off of the next flight in Vienna. I got picked up outside the plane on the tarmac in Vienna where I was rushed to customs, re-scanned for metal, and then rushed back out to the tarmac for boarding on my flight to Iaşi. I was the last person on the plane, and my ticket was for a seat in the last row, so I got the stinkeye from everyone on board, who probably assumed that I was responsible for my own lateness. Right after I buckled myself in, it struck me that there was very little chance of my luggage arriving with me.

When we landed in Iasi, I was pretty much the last person off the plane. There was only one person working the Austrian Airlines desk in Iaşi, and he spent like 20 minutes each on the first two people whose luggage also got lost. An older Romanian man pushed me out of the way when it was my turn to present my baggage claim ticket, which made me mad. A Belgian lady and an English lady behind me in line grumbled in what they probably thought was support, but it just made things worse — the Austrian Airlines baggage claim guy yelled at her when she asked if he was the only one working.

End result: I get to go to work and train my new guy at 8:00 am on Monday wearing the same clothes — my “plane clothes,” as it were — I put on an 4:00 am on Sunday. Yuck. And I was sleepy after my travels today, so I napped and now I’m up at 4:30 in the morning on Monday, waiting for the hotel’s restaurant to open for breakfast at 7:00.

But the good news is: I got a chance to walk around town in daylight for the first time and snap some pictures.

Shalom, Chanukkah! Care for some pudding?

Hi all,

I guess we’ve been subliminally building up our appetites for Chanukkah for a couple days now — even without our knowledge. It all started off while we were thinking about a planning a trip to England.

I was wondering what ‘shire (though I was pretty sure it wasn’t The Shire) Cambridge would be found in, since that’s where our pal Ian lives now). We decided it must be Cambridgeshire. That made me think of Yorkshire.

Broccoli, Cheese,
Potatoes, and Eggs

So from there, it was an easy jump to Yorkshire Pudding, the Pudding That’s Not™. And that made us think about all the different kinds of pudding. There are a lot of them. Looking through the list, we decided we wanted to have one of the savory puddings. Most of them sounded repulsive, but we had a hunch we could do OK with a potato kugel. And we were right. It was OK. Kind of bland, as the ingredients might suggest. But not bad. Seasoned salt helps a lot.

The next stop on our Puddingquest was the Bread Pudding of Joy. There are no pictures of this one folks, because, well, it just didn’t last long enough. It was wonderful. We used Challa (thus, the Jewish cuisine thing continues). Seriously, make this.

And finally, to mark the first night of Channukah, we went straight-up traditional on this one: Potato Latkes. These were amazing. Hot, crispy, squishy, tatery, yummy, and made from scratch with our own blender with nothing more than potatoes, onions, flour, seasonings, shortening, and eggs. I’ve had these in different parts of Germany (usually at outdoor vendors at markets or fairs, etc.) and we recently tried to get some from the Weihnachtsmarkt here in Regensburg. Those were a big disappointment, but also the inspiration for making our own. And I’m sure glad we did. We’ve got lots of the batter left over, so I’m hearing a potato pancake breakfast in my future as well. 'Boker tov' means 'Good Morning' in Hebrew.'

Potato Latkes

Gentiles: these are something you should really experience, if you never have. You may know them as “potato pancakes,” if you’re not familiar with them from an Eastern European/Jewish cuisine background. Potato pancakes are kind of seasonal fare here in Germany, often sold by street vendors fresh out of the fryer with apple sauce to sweeten them up and cool them down somewhat. We had some at the Weihnachtsmarkt out on the square, but they paled in comparison to the ones I had in Cologne. So Sarah found a recipe, and we made them, and they are just awesome. We were inspired by this recipe.

6 large potatoes, peeled
1 large onion
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon baking powder
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
1 pinch sugar
flour (enough to hold ingredients together, you’ll be able to tell when you’ve added enough)
shortening (we used butter-flavored shortening)

Cut peeled potatoes into chunks or spears and shred in food processor. Cut onions into chunks and shred in food processor.Mix potatoes and onions together in a colander over a large bowl. Allow to drain.

Pour mixture into a large bowl and add beaten eggs, salt, pepper, baking powder, sugar, and a tablespoon of flour at-a-time until mixture holds together. Mix well.

Latkes In a fry pan, melt shortening. You’ll need about 1/8″. Spoon heaping tablespoons of the mixture into the oil. Flatten each spoonful with the back of the spoon to make thin latkes. Fry until the edges turn a dark brown. Flip over to fry the other side.

Drain on a paper towel. Serve with apple sauce and/or sour cream.