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Sylvia’s Plăcinte

Mmm… plăcinte.  Having to give these up has been one of the hardest things about going gluten-free in Moldova.  The flaky crust, the warm oozing filling… you just really can’t beat a good plăcintă.  Today, I’d like to share with you the recipe that Sylvia, our school cook, uses and shared with me.

But first, let me pause for a quick Romanian lesson.  Plăcintă is singular for pastry and is pronounced “pluh-chin-tuh.” Plăcinte is plural and is pronounced “pluh-chin-tay.”  Actually, the most common translation of plăcinta is “pie,” but I am here to tell you that plăcinte are NOT pies!  They are pastries!  Let’s see some examples:

This is a pie:

My first (and possibly only) apple pie. Made to impress my starving fiancee.

These are pastries:

Assorted pastries

These are plăcinte:

 

Beautiful plăcinte with sesame seeds.

You tell me which word is the more accurate translation.

Anyway… back to the recipe.  There are probably as many ways to make plăcinte as there are Moldovan gospodinele (housewives), which is why I call these “Sylvia’s Plăcinte,” and not just “Moldovan Plăcinte.”

Ingredients:
1 liter (about 4 ¼ cups) water
25 grams (or one packet) yeast
3 grams (about half a teaspoon) salt
flour*
oil
desired filling (I’ll get to this in a bit)
sugar (granulated or powdered, see step 10)

*Sylvia didn’t tell me exactly how much flour she uses because she doesn’t know.  She just adds flour until it looks right (as described in step 2).  I’ve made these once but didn’t measure my flour either.  Other recipes I’ve seen say 8-12 cups… so… use your best judgment.

Directions:
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2.  Combine all ingredients, adding as much flour as needed until dough feels sticky but not too dry.
3.  Cut dough into baseball-sized pieces (my description, not hers), generously flour your workspace, and roll out pieces very thinly with rolling pin.

Rolling dough for plăcinte

4.  On a different workspace, cover the counter with oil and stretch dough until very, very thin.  It’s okay if it tears a little.
5.  Take ahold of the end of the dough closest to you, and bring it up and away from you to fold it in half.

Iuliana folding the thin plăcintă dough.

6.  Place a generous spoonful of filling on one end.

Folding a plăcintă with brînza filling.

7.  Fold triangularly until it is all folded up into a nice little triangular pocket.

Sweet little raw plăcintă ready to be baked.

8.  Place evenly on greased cookie sheet.
9.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until lightly golden.
10.  Boil sugar and water to make a glaze and brush on top while plăcinte are still warm, or simply sprinkle with powdered sugar.

I can’t believe I’ve never taken a picture of freshly baked plăcintă.  You’ll have to trust me, they are so flaky and golden and amazing!

There are several different kinds of fillings that Moldovans use in plăcinte.  The most common are potato, brînza (a soft, salty homemade cheese), cabbage (which is better than you’d think- it’s Josh’s favorite), fruit butter or jam, and pumpkin.  My favorite would probably either be apple butter or pumpkin.  Below are some instructions for making your own plăcintă fillings, borrowed from a 2005 Moldova Peace Corps cookbook, or you could just use your favorite store-bought fruit butter or jam.

Potato filling: Boil 4 peeled potatoes and 2 chopped onions.  Mash and season with salt and pepper.  Let cool.

Cheese filling: Mix 2 cups cottage or ricotta cheese, 1 egg, chopped dill, salt, and pepper.

Cabbage filling: Sauté 2 cups shredded cabbage and 2 chopped onions in oil until limp.  Season with salt and pepper.  Let cool.

Apple filling: Peel and grate 4 apples.  Sauté over medium heat with ¼ cup sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Let cool.

Cherry filling: Mix 1 pound sour pitted cherries and ¾ cup sugar.

Pumpkin filling: Boil and mash 500 grams (about 4 1/3 cups) of raw pumpkin.  Add 2 tablespoons of butter, spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, ground cloves, and ground ginger… or just pumpkin pie spice) and sugar to taste.

You can find another good plăcintă recipe at the Gourmandine blog (the link is to the google translate version of the website, since it is written in Romanian).  There, she has also posted a lot of step-by-step pictures that are similar to the way Sylvia makes plăcinte, except that she doesn’t stretch her dough out so thin and then fold it in half.  If you want to do it this way, it would be a lot easier, but your final product will just be thicker and not as flaky.

Well, I hope this is enough to get you going on some authentic Moldovan plăcinte!  If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or email me.

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Foxes Have Holes…

October 20th (I know, I’m a little behind in posting this) officially marked a milestone in Jude’s life.  It was the longest that he has ever lived in one house without moving.

For those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with our lives, we decided before Jude was born that we were going to follow God’s call to serve in the country of Moldova for two years following Josh’s graduation from Bible college.  Jude was born in February 2009, and four months later we moved to live back and forth between our parents’ houses for three months before leaving for Moldova in September.

Because of Moldova’s visa requirements, before we got our green cards, we were only allowed to stay in the country for three months, and then we had to be out of the country for three months.  So in December, we packed up and moved back to our parents’ houses for three months.   Back to Moldova in March, we lived for three more months in our tiny apartment on the camp property where the school is.  Then, on May 20th, we moved down the road into our current residence where we are house and dog-sitting for an American family we work with who are back in America on furlough for eight months.  We have now lived here for five months.

Whew!  That made me tired just typing all of that, much less living it.

So why have we put our son (and ourselves) through so much moving and instability?  Because Josh and I resolved a long time ago to follow God’s call no matter what, and we know that this is what he has called us to do.  Throughout it all, we have clung to Matthew 8:20- “And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’”  When we follow Christ, he doesn’t promise us a life of ease and stability.  What he does promise us is that, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

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The Easiest From-Scratch Dinner Ever

Okay, maybe not EVER, but it is pretty easy.  When we arrived in Moldova, I had never been a “real” housewife before.  I worked full-time up until I had Jude, and during that time we would eat easy meals like spaghetti with sauce from a jar or frozen dinners like Skillet Sensations.  After Jude was born, I had a long and difficult recovery, and only started to feel better about the time we moved to live with our parents for 3 months in preparation for moving here.  Suffice it to say that I had no idea how to cook.  So being here has been my initiation into housewifery.  And what an initiation it has been!

This is not like living in the States, where if I’m feeling lazy I can order Chinese or run to Kroger for a pre-cooked chicken.  I even have to cook my “lazy day” meals here, or else we don’t eat.  And now I present to you my favorite “lazy day” meal: roasted chicken.

Soon after moving here, Stephanie came over and gave me a tutorial on how to roast a chicken, and, although it defies every instruction I’ve read in cookbooks, it makes delicious roasted chicken, so I’m sticking with it.  I’ve added my own touches along the way, and here is what is currently my favorite way to do it:

Roasted Chicken

Ingredients:
1 broiler chicken (the ones I get are about 1.5 kilos, or 3 pounds)

1 red apple

1 medium onion

1 clove garlic

lemon juice, or an actual lemon, I suppose

spices (usually basil, thyme, and sweet paprika)

salt & pepper

water

1.  Preheat your oven to about 375 degrees F.  Cut up the apple, onion and clove of garlic (I usually do a large clove in 3 pieces).

2.  Wash off the chicken and cut off the fat around the butt.  Make sure all of the feathers are taken care of; you don’t want any of those getting in your teeth.

3.  Put the chicken in a roasting pan and cover it all over, inside and out, with salt, pepper, and spices.  Then squirt lemon juice all over it.  If you’re using a real lemon, you could just include it with step 4.

4.  Stuff the inside with the apple, onion, and garlic.  Leave remaining apple and onion pieces in the pan around the chicken.

5.  This is apparently upside down, but I like to roast my chicken breast-side-down because it makes the breast meat a lot juicier and more flavorful.  Now pour lots of water into the pan, but not directly onto the chicken or you’ll wash off all of your spices.  I usually fill mine between 1/3 and 1/2 full of water.  That way, you have no worries of your chicken drying out, and you have some really yummy broth left over.  (Though if you notice, the chicken in the picture above is neither upside-down nor swimming in lots of broth; it was the first chicken I ever roasted, and I have tweaked my techniques a few times since then.)  You can strain the broth afterward and save it for making soups, rice, casseroles, or whatever suits your fancy.

6.  Now put the lid on, put it in the oven, and forget about it for about 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes.  The longer it cooks, the more tender and juicy it will be.

That’s it!  If you want a really easy side for this, poke holes in some potatoes, roll them in salt, wrap them in foil, and stick them in the oven around the roasting pan.  They will be ready at the same time as the chicken.  Also with this meal, I will often steam some carrots and then drizzle honey over them.

So there you have it.  That is my “easy” meal in Moldova.  Maybe someday I’ll tell you about what all goes into making more time-consuming meals like sweet-n-sour chicken or lasagna from scratch.

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Clothespin Apron

Electric clothes dryers here (in Moldova) are almost unheard of.  They are very hard to find, and very expensive.  So we figured that we would live like Moldovans and hang our clothes to dry on a line just like everyone else.  It only took me a day or two of doing that to realize that a clothespin apron is a very handy thing to have.  So I made one:

The orange part and pink fringe are from an old tablecloth, and the patterned part is an old pillowcase (we have a big supply of scrap material here at camp).  I didn’t use a pattern, I just looked at pictures of clothespin aprons online and sketched mine out similarly.  I really love it and it makes doing laundry so much easier and more fun!

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Is It Really Almost Thanksgiving??

Wow, the weeks just FLY by here!  We leave for America in just 11 short days and it is crazy to think that we have already been here almost three months.  In many ways, it feels like it has been just three weeks.

We are preparing to spend Thanksgiving next Thursday with two other American families: Eric and Stephanie, and Keith, Marla, and their 5 children.  Even though we will miss spending the holiday with our own families, we are so thankful to have these two wonderful families here to celebrate with.  I think we are eating at lunchtime, which means that we will have already polished off the pumpkin pies (and Josh is making a chocolate chess pie, Janice!) before most people in the States are even out of bed.

Josh and I were talking the other day about how it is difficult to communicate how excited we are about coming home.  We are just beside ourselves with anticipation over seeing our families and friends again, but not because we don’t like it here.  We do.  We really love it here, actually.  We felt the same way when we lived in Louisville.  We loved living in Louisville, but we still missed seeing the people we love.

In other news, we have gas!  Haha, no we didn’t have beans for dinner last night (although, as we learn Romanian, Josh has entertained the students with profound statements like, “fasole face gaz,” or, “beans make gas”), the gas company turned on our natural gas!  Now the radiator company is scheduled to come today and inspect our radiators and, if all goes well, we should hopefully have heat by tonight!

I don’t think we have adequately explained how much more uncertain this whole process has been than it would be in America.  They were originally supposed to have gas by this past spring (these are brand new lines, there has never been gas in our village before).  Then they have been saying it would be on in two weeks ever since.  Two different gas companies (the big company out of the capital, Chișinău, that is in charge of all of the gas, and the local company out of Orhei that is over our area) have been out here numerous times doing work and inspections.  There has never been a list of, “this is what we need you to do to pass inspection,” rather, every time someone came, there was a new list of things that needed to be done, sometimes even contradicting things that had been done before.  Bribes are common here, and we have suspected that they may have been dragging their feet hoping we would give them some bribe money, but of course we weren’t going to do that.

In Jude news, I don’t know that he will be walking by the time we get home, as many predicted, but he can stand by himself now.  He doesn’t like it though, I think because the floor here is hard tile and he knows how bad it hurts to fall and hit his head, and he is scared.  So whenever he feels me trying to wiggle my fingers out of his hands, he just sits down!  He does walks all over the place holding onto furniture, though, and is so much happier now that he can do that and crawl.

I guess that’s about it… we can’t wait to see everybody when we get home!

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2/3 of the Way Through our First Term!

Sorry, I’ve been so bad at blogging since we moved!  In my defense, it is hard to find time to blog when your internet time is so slow most of the time, and the one day a week that we go to use fast internet, it is very brief.

During the week, we can get online via dial-up internet in Josh’s office.  It usually connects at around 30 megabytes per second,  which is sloooooowwwwwwww.  On Fridays, we go to another missionary family’s house in Orhei to use their fast internet.  We Skype with our parents, upload pictures and videos, download a few American news podcasts, manage some online finances, and maybe one or two other things.  Just to do those few things, we are usually there about three hours.  We take turns entertaining Jude while the other does what we need to online.

Anyway… I cannot believe that we have already been here two months and only have less than a month before our 3 month “forced furlough” (as I’ve been calling it in my mind).  We wouldn’t have planned it that way, but there is a 3 months in, 3 months out rule until we get our living permits (which, Lord willing, will happen next spring).  It is a blessing though, because we are eager to see our family and friends again, and we need that time to raise some more monthly support.

I am particularly excited about the two weeks that we will be spending in Louisville for Josh to take some J-term classes at the seminary.  Jude and I will have all day each day to visit friends and places that we have missed since we left in May.  Josh and I are already planning out the different restaurants we want to eat at—Moe’s, Mark’s Feed Store, Great Wall, Thai Smile… yum!

Life here has been going really well, and going really quickly!  It seems like the weeks just fly by, honestly.  We are very blessed to have such an active little man, and he keeps us busy busy busy every minute of the day.  I was actually bored for a couple of minutes the other day (the house was clean, Jude was asleep, and I don’t have a current knitting project) and it felt so strange because I’m pretty sure it was the first time I’d slowed down long enough to be bored since we got here!

I don’t know if I’ve said this in a blog yet or not, but I have been quite the chef lately, and I really enjoy it.  I’ve made (completely from scratch, of course) pizza, sweet-n-sour chicken, roasted broiler chickens, meatloaf, soft tortilla shells, doughnuts, snickerdoodles, chocolate chunk cookies, chicken fettuccini alfredo, spaghetti with meat sauce, and more.  It is so fun!

I’d better wrap this up.  Please continue to pray for us and for what God is doing here.  There is much, much, much kingdom work to be done in Moldova, and these students will hopefully be just a small part of that work.  Also, please pray specifically for our church in Vatici, that we would be obedient to the Lord in all we do, and that we would actively engage the people in the village with the Gospel, and that the Lord would change people’s lives for his glory.

On a practical level, please pray that our natural gas will get turned on soon!  It is very cold now, dipping below freezing most nights.  The students are crammed into just a few rooms with electric heaters, and we have one small electric heater in our apartment as well.  We are not freezing, but we are not exceptionally warm either (especially when the hot water heater stops working… which is pretty frequently).   The gas heat will also be more cost-efficient for the camp than running the electric heaters.  They are saying it should be on in two weeks, but they have been telling us two weeks since we moved here two months ago!

Thanks to everyone for reading and praying!

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Moldovan Culture and Health

Moldovans have some ideas about health that seem, to Americans, to be very outdated.

One of the most amusing things we have encountered is that the Moldovans are afraid of wind getting in their ears because that is, of course, how a person gets sick.  They would rather sweat to death in a hot car, house, or classroom than open a window.  Many women wear scarves over their heads not out of religious modesty convictions, but because they tie the scarf over their ears and it keeps the wind out.  And what happens if you do get wind in your ear?  You draw it out by putting the mouth end of a lit cigarette in your ear… of course.

It was actually a team from our home church who rode, in the blazing July heat, in a van with no air conditioning from our northern camp to our central camp.  The Moldovan who rode with them, knowing that the Americans would want the windows down, sat in the backseat with a winter coat and toboggan on, afraid of getting sick from the wind.

Moldovans also do not generally eat or drink cold things, and especially don’t give them to children, because they believe it will make them sick.  If they get some juice out of the fridge for a child, they will warm it up in the microwave.  At camp, there is a night where they give out ice cream, and we are told that one mother asked her kids to be sure and let it warm up before they ate it.

Children here are generally dressed very warmly.  The first few times we took Jude to the market, it was very hot and we had him in his usual t-shirt, shorts, and no shoes.  It seemed like half of the people there stopped us and would talk to us in Romanian, motioning toward Jude.  I don’t know what they were saying, but I’m pretty sure it was something along the lines of, “Your kid is going to die because you don’t have enough clothes on him.”  Similarly, Josh has been chastised twice already in grocery stores for getting Jude too close to the refrigerator section.   Josh summed it up well when I mentioned needing to get Jude some warm winter clothes and he said, “I don’t think there is much of a difference between warm winter clothes and warm summer clothes for babies here.”

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