Monday, 26 November 2012


We have set about creating the perfect English Christmas for ourselves.
Living in Romania, it isn't always easy to find those 'little' things that you can miss when you are having a special occasion like Christmas lunch.
There is actually very little that we really do miss from the UK on a day to day basis, but definitely good tea bags top that list! (see for my ravings on that subject!).
We did look online at some online Expat supermarkets, but by the time everything is shipped to us it works out to be so expensive! Certainly more than we can afford at the moment.
However, Christmas is a special time and we are all used to the way we have celebrated it for so many years with our families back in the UK, and naturally, we would like to do our best to create it.
Last year, without even really trying, we did a pretty good job of it, even if it was only by buying the very last and tiniest Turkey you have ever seen from our local supermarket, because our kitten ate the big one we bought!
So, this year we have decided to prepare for it.
In my family, Christmas dinner consists of turkey, roast potatoes, brussels sprouts, chipolata sausages for pigs in blankets, cabbage or peas, Yorkshire pudding, gravy, sage and onion stuffing, chestnut stuffing, and Cranberry sauce.....I think that's it!
Turkey, we have arranged to buy one freshly killed from a neighbour, but this is Romania, and it may not arrive two days before Christmas as has been arranged, so we have bought a 4kg frozen one, just in case! Not enormous I know, but it's enough for us, and will give us some left overs for the dogs, who we mustn't forget! After all it is their Christmas too!
That's tucked away sleeping in in the freezer in readiness to come out and defrost a couple of days before the big day. If the fresh one does arrive, that will be plucked, cleaned, trimmed and frozen to wait for Easter.
Potatoes, obviously no problem, but substitute pig fat instead of duck or goose fat which we can't get.
Brussels Sprouts, peas, them or can get them when we need them.
Yorkshire pudding...the other 'alf makes a beautiful light Yorkshire pudding from scratch so no problem.
We also have a safe brand new jar of Cranberry sauce which we saved from last year, still 'in date' and stored in a nice cool place in readiness.
That leaves chipolatas (English style mini sausages) for the pigs in blankets. Bacon we can get, even if it is a bit thin (so two rashers around each to make sure), but the sausages, ah now there is another problem. Last year we used Bavarian Beer sausages. They are very nice eaten cold with a beer or three, but they aren't quite English Christmas lunch fare. So, this year we have the meat grinder, sausage attachment, pork shoulder, sage and onion, as well as Leek for a little variety, to make the perfect 'English' sausages.
Sage and onion and chestnut stuffing is also not a problem. We made stuffing last year but without a mincer it was a little coarse. This year though we have the right tools for the job so I am confident that we will make an even better job of our stuffings this time.
We even have a Christmas pudding in the pantry which was a 'spare' from last year. We can also make a really good custard from scratch if we want to, but also by buying a local pudding mix and making it a little thinner than instructed. I know it sounds odd, but it works well.
Cream, we can't get, but we won't miss it, and as for brandy butter, well I've never really been a fan anyway.
So that's Christmas Day sorted out without too much hassle (as long as I can actually make the sausages that is! I will report back later on that endeavour)
So, now for Boxing Day. The Boxing Day meal has always been my favourite Christmas meal, since I was a child. In  my family it means the cold turkey left over from the day before, with some slices of good ham, served with mashed potatoes and cold pickles with bread and butter.
Meat, potatoes, bread, butter........all no problem, but pickles, ah pickles, there is another question.
I know that in so many parts of the world 'pickles' just means large green pickled Dills , but English pickles come in so many varieties and with so many different subtle flavours. These are the highlight of the proper English Boxing Day meal, and we can't buy them here in Romania. So? We're going to make them! From scratch!
We have already made some very good chutneys, which are just waiting in their jars to be opened when we need them, but we still need pickled onions, and of course Picalilli!
No Boxing Day meal is complete without the colour, flavour and crispiness of a good Picalilli!
For the uninitiated reader, Picalilli is a preserve with a variety of almost raw fresh vegetables pickled in a mixture of mustard and vinegar.
May not sound good, but believe me it tastes delicious!
So that has been today's task. Making Picalilli so that it has exactly four weeks to mature in the jars before we open at Christmas, and have some for afterwards too.
First, find your recipe.

I love the worldwide's the recipe, thank you to The Cottage Smallholder

OK so that's it is it? You find a recipe, follow it, and tell us how wonderful you are? 
Well yes, I am wonderful, and I also know that my best feature is my modesty, but it is never just a simple matter of 'following the recipe' here in Romania. You have to adapt to use the ingredients that you can get instead of the ones that you can't.

Recipe ingredients;

50g of calabrese florets (broccoli)
250g of green tomatoes (or hard red ones) chopped
300g of cucumbers sliced lengthwise and then sliced into half centimetre half moons
250g of French beans topped and tailed and chopped in half (if you are making this in summer – use your own fresh runner beans)
225g of courgettes chopped
1500g of cauliflower florets
320g of carrots chopped

1 head of celery (destring and slice)
2 red Romano peppers (deseed and chop into 3 cm lengths)
300g of small pickling or baby onions or shallots (skinned and cut in half if they are chunky
100g of salt

Of these we had to use slightly soft large red tomatoes, so they weren't blanched, only chopped and added to the final hot mixture before bottling.
No courgettes either so we used a 'local' alternative called 'Dovleci', (but they are still small white marrows)
The vegetables, all chopped, and soaked in salt water
No fresh Runner Beans, so we added in frozen Green Beans.
The vegetables were all chopped, (which only took and hour and a half, this is not a 'quick' job!) and then left overnight in salted water.

This morning the real task started. 
Those same vegetables after blanching for two minutes
and draining
The vegetables had to be drained and rinsed and then blanched for two minutes in boiling water, before being immediately rinsed in cold water to stop them going soft. As I had to do this in very small batches in a sieve it seemed to take ages but when I had finished, all of the fresh vegetables in the strainer looked delicious.

Next the pickling mixture. The recipe asks for;

375g of light soft brown sugar
1.5 litres of cider vinegar
80g of mustard powder
1 tsp of celery salt
2 teaspoons of mustard seeds
3 tablespoons of turmeric powder

120g of plain flour

The initial 'dry' paste mix

We had the forethought to bring many Indian spices with us when we moved here from England, as we do love our Curries made from scratch, so Turmeric we have.
Last year, all we could get was mustard powder, this year we couldn't see any! So, thinks, what can we use?
The final 'smooth' paste mix before adding to the
vinegar and sugar mix
There, amongst, the many different mustards they had on the shelves was a special offer on French Whole Grain Mustard in jars, as well as a special offer on good old fashioned strong English Mustard during a special 'English Food' promotion at another supermarket. That'll do! We decided and bought two jars of each (We like English Mustard anyway in ham sandwiches)
Celery salt? Huh! Ask a Romanian shopkeeper if they have Celery Salt....
"You mean salt?......made from celery?.......Mad English people.....go away!!!) 
OK, we can do without, we decided retreating sheepishly.

Starting to add the vegetables to the
pickling mixture

So here we go with the pickling mixture.
In went the flour, mustard seeds, turmeric, a teaspoon of ordinary salt, followed by the contents of one jar of whole-grain mustard. The mustard that comes in the jars is already a paste so it was easy to start mixing the ingredients in to a dry paste, by adding the second jar this became a nice smooth paste and two dinner spoons full of English mustard finished it perfectly, as well as adding a little 'tartness' to the flavour, without the need for adding vinegar. 

The finished mix of all of the vegetables and the pickling
mixture, hot and ready for bottling

When  I gradually mixed it with the hot vinegar and sugar mixture, it went in so smoothly, no lumps at all, a bit of a dream for an amateur like me.
I then had a wonderfully smooth pickling mixture to add the vegetables to, and as I did so, Picalilli appeared, almost as if it was by magic.
The jars and lids went into the dishwasher for that last clean and final sterilisation and then we spooned the hot mixture into the jars, but not before tasting it!
We have it!
Great Picalilli!

 I know that it will be perfect in four weeks and will be just right with our cold meats, mash and pickles.
We finished by sitting all of the the jars in our jam maker/preserver in a bath of hot water to give them that final finish and also to ensure that the lids seal as they cool slowly.
As you can see from the variety of shapes and sizes we also believe in recycling!
Can't wait to open the first one on Boxing Day.

If I can make Picalilli.....anyone can!

Now for pickled onions!!!

First step towards our perfect expat Christmas!


Thursday, 15 November 2012


I have a real task on my hands at the moment, and it's one that I took on willingly and enthusiastically.
I'm really enjoying it, because it's something a little different from my normal days of working on the house or chopping wood and keeping us warm, or even just blogging and tweeting to get the word out there about our work with the children..
I am helping a good friend, John Pirva, to translate his book into English.
As well as being an author, John is also an artist, photographer, film maker, and also just happens to be the owner of our favourite bar in Deva.
It's a fascinating book about his young life as a student in Romania during communist times, and his personal drive to escape, however he could, at great personal risk to himself from the Militia and Secret Police.
It gives a genuine first-hand insight into what life was really like for a spirited young man in an oppressive communist state in  the late 1970's and early 1980's.

The book was first published last year, in Romanian as 'The Memoirs of a Frontiersman'
Now, please understand, that I am not actually translating it, my Romanian is still virtually non-existent, I am ashamed to say, and John speaks English extremely well, so he is doing the 'base' translation for himself.
My task is to take John's own translation and correct the grammar and also the 'flow' of the words so that the story is easily read and easily understood. Occasionally, I also make suggestions to John about adding in little things so that international readers who have no experience of Romania have more of an insight into the country, as it was then.
It's not an entirely simple task, but it's one that I am really getting in to, and when I start a session of reading the manuscript to begin to correct it, I really do have trouble putting it down again.
I find the story so fascinating. 
When I was young I heard so many stories about what life was like behind the 'Iron Curtain'. The propaganda I heard informed me that behind it there were millions of oppressed people whose governments wanted nothing more than to destroy our Western way of life. In some ways John's story confirms a few of the things that I heard, particularly how he was treated by the authorities, but it also tells another story of people who were just going about their daily lives as well as they could. Those people were doing nothing more than trying to do the best they could for themselves and their families, just as we were doing in the West (albeit with far greater restrictions placed upon them). The last thing on those individuals minds on a day to day basis was any hatred for 'The West' or what western ideals were, as opposed to their own governments ideals.
A number of them actually admired the perceived freedom and 'magic' of the  the West, and like John, they wanted nothing more than to escape to it.
It really is a fascinating insight into the truth of the matter for someone who was bought up in a forces family during the Cold War.
John's spoken English is perfect, he and I have many conversations, sometimes about nothing in particular, but he is great to talk to.
His writing style is simple and relaxed, and his book reads as if he is actually sitting next to me telling me the story over a beer. I am very aware of how relaxed his manner is in the book and I am trying to do everything I can in helping with the grammar to maintain that style and the easy flow of the words.
John perfected his English whilst living in America, so there are times when I come up against 'American' rather than 'English'. I say 'come up against', because I am quite passionate about English as I know it and how I have grown with it. It is, or rather, it can be, a beautiful language, full of subtle nuance and with so much variation. That is, apparently, what makes it such a  difficult language to learn, but it can also be spoiled by the use of 'movie' words as if they are correct grammar, which very often they're not.
I want to help John's book to be read and understood wherever the English language is spoken, in all it's various forms and dialects, and in my view, the best way to do that is to try my best to make sure that the grammar is correct, and English.
It is also giving me an insight into Romanian, which is helping me a great deal on my journey to discover the language better.
Romanian is a common sense language where the prime object of a phrase comes first, with anything that is descriptive following. So, for example, where we say 'red car', in English, in  Romanian you would say 'car red'.
In reading John's own translation, before I do my best to correct it, I have found this type of phraseology in his script. Often it comes over a little like 'Yoda speak' from Star Wars, but it has helped my understanding of how Romanian is structured.
So, as well as being fascinating, giving me an insight into life in Romania in communist times and telling me more about a good friends life as a young man, the task has also been educational for me, no wonder I have been enjoying it so much.

Lets hope that one day I can help him to get his book published in English, so  that you can see for yourselves what I mean. If that happens I will shout out about it!


Monday, 5 November 2012


A simple drink.
A drink so close to every Englishman's heart.
Tea, a drink ingrained into the history of 'Britishness'.

Tea, the thing that most Britons who live abroad miss most.......good English tea.

Of course, we Brits also love our coffee, which I have written about before, (here is the link for those that missed it, but tea is in our hearts, tea is part of Britain's culture and history. Tea is quintessentially 'British'.

So much so that sometimes it is easy to imagine that the British have tea in their veins, instead of blood.

Actually though,as we all know, tea isn't a 'British' drink at all. It exists all over the world and is served in a variety of ways. Black Tea, Green Tea, White Tea, China Tea, Indian Tea, Ceylon Tea, etc. The tea plant can't even be grown in Britain! 

Tea has historically been so important to the British that we even built fleets of special ships to bring it home to us. The evidence is there for all to see, berthed permanently in  concrete in Greenwich. The 'Cutty Sark' is a monument to the British love of tea, it is a beautiful, sleek three-masted Clipper, built for speed in the late 1800's. She was the last in a long line of these rapid sailing ships that were built for only one thing, to bring tea to Britain. She was fastest of all, for whoever could get the tea leaves back to Britain most quickly, could also obtain the best price for it. 
Sadly, The Cutty Sark had a short career in her intended trade, because by the time she was built, the Suez canal was finished, so steam ships could get the tea back far more efficiently than the fair-wind reliant Clippers.

'Tea' is here in Romania too.
'Ceai' (pronounced 'Chi') 
Traditionally it would be made from leaves, flowers and fruits, picked from the forest and then dried. Once they are ready they are infused with boiling water and then served with sugar or honey. It is a delicious, drink, warming in winter, and refreshing in summer. 
These days of course it can be provided much more easily, simply buy a box of 'Fruits of the Forest' tea bags, place one bag in a cup, add hot water, and it is ready. There is no need to go to the forest, the forest has been bought to the supermarkets, in convenient ready-to-use packaging.
The supermarket shelves here are full of teas, just as they are everywhere else in the world. Herbal teas, medicinal teas, teas for relaxation, teas for invigoration, teas to ease rheumatism and teas to aid the digestion, etc, etc. They are all here and they are extremely popular.

These teas though, can never replace 'English' tea in the British heart, and most of the teas sold abroad labelled as 'English' tea are a sad representation of the truth of a good 'English' tea. They are weak, without real flavour, and without colour.
'English' tea, as the vast majority of Britons know it,  is drunk with milk, but the milk doesn't overpower the taste or the colour of the tea as it does with the inadequate facsimiles of the real thing that are available in most other parts of the world.
(Please, please don't read this and put milk in Earl Gray, it's disgusting, stick to lemon with that one!)
The British can even recognise when tea is made with water from another region! Tea is never the same as the tea you can make for yourself at home, with the water you are used to.
All Brits have their own favourite brand of tea, and are brand loyal for years and years. Songs have been written about tea, and some of the most popular advertising campaigns in Britain have been about tea. They have used Chimpanzees having imaginary tea party's 'talking' just like humans. 

"Do you ride tandem" (Sorry, you have to be British to understand that one!)

More recently they have used Monkeys too, albeit knitted woollen ones.
Tea advertising slogans have become embedded in English culture;

"Everything stops for tea!"
"Tetley make tea bags make tea!"
"You only get an 'oo' with Typhoo!"
"Typhoo puts the 'T' in Britain"
"Tea. The most refreshing drink of the day!"

Any British person will know and recognise all of these slogans, as well as many, many more. I remember as a teenager hearing the songs that went with tea advertising. At about 9 p.m every evening a short advertisement would appear on TV and I would hear;

"I like a nice cup of tea in the morning,
I like a nice cup of tea with my tea,
And about this time of night,
What goes down a treat alriiiight,
Is a nice cup of teeeeeea!!!"

The power stations used to report a peak in power demand at that same time every evening. That one  advertisement would prompt the almost the entire TV audience to get up and put their kettles on, all at the same time, most, probably not even using the brand mentioned in the advert.
The fact that I actually remember the words to the song that went with the advert is testament to how important I, and the vast majority of Brits find tea!

Some British tea brands even re-invented the shape of the tea bag it generally now comes in (Although the tea bag was actually only originally introduced to allow the dustier, more inferior teas to be used than could be sold as tea-leaves). The humble square tea bag became a loose 'pyramid' shape, because it allowed room for the tea to 'brew' more quickly.

My favourite brand? 
PG Tips. It has been for years, and will be for more years to come, although, sadly we can't get it here in Romania. 
This isn't an advertising campaign for that brand, I don't work for the company, it is just the brand that I personally prefer, (but if anyone is ever visiting us from Britain, they are always made slightly more welcome if they bring some of that particular brand of tea with them.......hint........hint!).
The advertising campaign that was used to promote PG Tips used a knitted woollen monkey, and as part of that campaign they gave copies of the monkey, and mugs with the monkey's picture on them away with large boxes of their tea bags.
Making 'Monkee Angels' in Borowetz, Bulgaria
Making friends with a waiter in Tallin, Estonia

We have one of those monkeys and one of those mugs.
The monkey is part of our family and he has travelled everywhere with us as well as with sisters and mothers.
He is a constant reminder to us of 'Good English Tea' 
He is possible the most widely travelled and most photographed little knitted woollen monkey in the world.
He even has his own name.....'Monkee'.

Now for a lesson in English pronunciation;
For the 'Mon', think 'Mun' with a shortened upward 'u' more like a short 'oo', then add the 'kee' just as it is written, or just like the 'key' for a door but accentuate the 'k' sound. There you have it, how to say 'Monkey' in a perfect Bolton accent.
I don't speak with a Bolton accent, I speak proper English, as I come form the South of England, (Go on then Northener's.....bring it on!!!)
but it was Ali's family, some of whom do hail from that part of England who started our family tradition of taking 'Monkee' everywhere with us. So, he has a Northern accentuation to his name.
Our little monkey has been the prompt for many a conversation wherever we have been, when he has been placed on a table beside us;

"What is that?"

We have heard it so many times, asked with a French accent, a Spanish accent, a German accent, an Estonian accent, a Bulgarian accent. The list goes on and on, but everywhere we have taken him he has become the prompt for many a conversation with local people, and a lot of laughter too.
He even has badges on his hoodie to show some of the places he has been.
So what is our answer when asked that question?;

'Plat du Jour',  Sacre  Couer , Paris
"It's Monkee..........of course!"

He even has his own Facebook page so that we can share photographs of him amongst the family, and so many people in the countries we visit want their photographs to be taken with him!
Of course, they could just be humoring these 'Mad English' who carry him everywhere with them, but the smiles on those faces are genuine, and almost always lead to real laughs, and real friendship.

I am not even going to try to explain here actually why the British love their tea so much, or why as a nation we are so loyal to it as a drink. I don't think there is another nation in the world that has such a simple, single thing entirely associated with them. Tea is simply 'English' the world over.
All I will say is that for a Brit, 'English' tea is the most satisfying, reviving, relaxing, refreshing, invigorating drink there is, at any time, day, or night.

And the lyrics of this song, which featured in a 1935 comedy film called 'Come Out of the Pantry' probably say it all anyway. Ironically though, it's written by three American based writers Goodheart, Hoffman, and Sigler, and now I know that they were American, I can recognise a little ironic sarcasm in the lyrics that I hadn't seen before!

(Thanks for the reminder of all of the words)

Every nation in creation has its favourite drink
France is famous for its wine, it's beer in Germany
Turkey has its coffee and they serve it blacker than ink
Russians go for vodka and England loves its tea

Oh, the factories may be roaring
With a boom-a-lacka, zoom-a-lacka, wee
But there isn't any roar when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea

Oh, a lawyer in the courtroom
In the middle of an alimony plea
Has to stop and help 'em pour when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea

It's a very good English custom
Though the weather be cold or hot
When you need a little pick-up, you'll find a little tea cup
Will always hit the spot

You remember Cleopatra
Had a date to meet Mark Anthony at three
When he came an hour late she said "You'll have to wait"
For everything stops for tea

Oh, they may be playing football
And the crowd is yelling "Kill the referee!"
But no matter what the score, when the clock strikes four
Everything stops for tea

Oh, the golfer may be golfing
And is just about to make a hole-in-three
But it always gets them sore when the clock yells "four!"
Everything stops for tea

It's a very good English custom
And a stimulant for the brain
When you feel a little weary, a cup'll make you cheery
And it's cheaper than champagne

Now I know just why Franz Schubert
Didn't finish his unfinished symphony
He might have written more but the clock struck four
And everything stops for tea

So! PG Tips rule!!.......................................OK?