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Jboy13, the eldest son

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Brasov, Romania

“What’ve you learnt over this past year?” I asked last week.
Jboy13 managed to reply, “How to empty a portapotti.”

Left alone for a few minutes, he then produced another answer (although I must say I remain grateful that he was such a competent loo-emptier, and saved me from ever having to complete the task).
”I now have a better understanding of money.”

Maybe it started here:

On a train in China, a man boarded with this little clipboard, and proceeded to give a long spiel about counterfeit money. Unfortunately for Joe Chinaman, it is impossible to tell whether a note is counterfeit or not – he even had samples for you to check. But fortunately for the passengers on the train, he also had a special little UV torch, which, if purchased on the spot, could be used to show you the authenticity of your notes. Another gadget is not what we needed, so we made a point of only using authorised money-changers and not using enormous denominations.
Jboy13, meanwhile, enjoyed inspecting the samples!

A few weeks later he was up near the top of Hong Kong’s tallest building, this time inspecting a display of the counterfeit measures taken in Hong Kong to protect their monetary system. Actually, make that systems plural – three different banks and the government all produce money there, each designing their own notes.

Added to these experiences, was the opportunity to *use* money. At home I don’t even carry five cents on me; I use a card for all purchases and so the children had rarely seen real money being used. Some smaller ones even thought if you produced your card you could buy whatever you wanted.
One of the things we wanted to do on the trip was to allow the kids to make money-decisions with us. And using *actual* money has made this very easy. Flashing a few baht in front of them in Thailand and asking them to decide whether it should be spent on a truck ride home or that we walk the three kilometres and buy ice-creams on the way started the process.
Comparing prices in different countries for the same products – a loaf of bread, a kilo of rice or the cheapest local fruit – enhanced their money-savviness, not to mention improved their mental arithmetic!
Today the older kids were sent out to do the day’s food shopping. They were given the freedom to walk further to a particular supermarket to buy the pasta at well under half the cost of getting it at the market and also buy themselves something with a portion of the savings – or to just get everything at the market and a closer supermarket. They came home with chocolate! WIN-WIN Actually, they really won; the man, who they bought a cauliflower from, would not accept any payment at all!!!
They have also had money of their own to spend. The six-year-old has struggled most with this; he could determine to save it all and precisely twenty-seven seconds later be tempted to the point of wanting to spend by a bag of lollies. More Than Once. Jboy13 limited his purchases to significant items: a watch, an electronic game and a crossbow. He still has money in the bank too. And now understands better what the numbers stand for (the children had always had virtual bank accounts kept in a notebook at home, and Jboy’s in particular had seen a lot of activity with his flower press business – but now it means so much more).

Being a boy, who pays an inordinate amount of attention to detail, he has noticed a lot more about money than any of the rest of us. In fact, it sparked an interest to compile a bunch of pictures of coins and notes every country we have visited for more than a day.….which then grew into a mind-numbing comprehensive array of details about other aspects of those countries, too – flag, capital city, official languages, population, average rainfall and temperature, and time zones (Russia is fascinating!)
Having produced this *stuff*, we thought it might as well have a broader purpose and should be displayed on the blog….if you would like to have a squiz, you can go to the pretty interesting stuff page. Sadly, to our DetailsMan, the computer will not support the non-latin scripts he so painstakingly gathered – each country written in its local script….so you’ll just have to imagine squiggles and dots and dashes and all sorts of interesting writing!

when everything goes wrong in the kitchen…

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Brasov, Romania

…you end up with a lot of corn. A LOT!

Perhaps it all started last night.
Someone burnt the rice, but salvaged a fair portion of it.
En route to the table he dropped it.
Someone else put the oats on to soak for porridge in the morning. Being very chunky oats, they need to be soaked overnight – I don’t think even a whole day of boiling would soften them. That someone did not add enough milk or water and all was absorbed far too quickly, leaving over half the potful dry and tough.
So the mother decided to cook up the cornmeal she had bought. You see, she had noticed a phenomenal amount of the stuff at the market and in all the little supermarkets, and what’s more, people were buying it, so she assumed it was probably Very Romanian, and bought some herself. Besides, it was cheap! Mr Google confirmed her suspicion, provided some recipes and away she went. Only she misread the recipe and it did not occur to her until she was pouring in the two cups of cornmeal/cornflour (depending on where you live, you can choose which word to use – in any case, it’s the yellow gritty stuff) that six litres of boiling water was A LOT.
And two cups of ground corn did little to change the consistency of the water, let alone turn it into a thick bread-like substance. A quick re-search of yesterday’s computer pages revealed the magic water quantity to be six CUPS. Mother poured off three quarters of the water and added the rest of the packet of cornmeal, stirred like crazy, but not crazy enough and produced a barely palatable very bland lumpy porridge. Pouring over kefir and dolloping on jam improved the situation only slightly.
But we ate it. There’s a saying here about this dish (Mămăligă), which has long been considered the poor man’s dish:

He doesn’t even have a mămăliga on the table.

We did, and we will for a few more days yet! Leftovers from breakfast were turned into what is also apparently another Romanian dish – we took balls of the now cool mixture, stuffed them with cheese and baked in the oven. Crunchy on the outside and a bit like mashed potato on the inside, they were decidedly more of a hit than the breakfast gruel. They still lacked in flavour, but were promising enough that we decided Next Time (yes, there will be a next time!) we would fry up some onion, garlic, cumin and coriander, and mix that through before baking. A spicy tomato sauce on the side should do very well too! Here’s a pic, pre-baking:


But before we get to the next batch of corn-mush, we’ve got this lot to contend with. Upon our return from an afternoon stroll, we set to dealing with the remaining watery substance saved from the morning’s disaster. Waste not, want not.
Having learnt the lesson about adding the corn slowly, we added our newly-purchased bagful Very Slowly Indeed. I stirred, Jgirl15 sprinkled it over, one teaspoonful at a time. Painful, but effective – there was not one lump to be seen. And we also got it past the gruel stage, to a thick cake-like consistency. It was impossible to stir, but looked just like the pictures on our computer screen (which is not saying a lot – it really does appear none-too-appetising, but it’s cheap remember!) In fact, you can have a look if you like:

Now we need to decide what to do with it. Authentic local options include crumbling it into a bowlful of hot milk (we don’t have enough milk for that)….slicing and eating as is (we’d need at least butter and jam on top!)….eating with sour cream and cheese….slicing and frying with eggs and sausage. Ah yes, and we’ll drown it all in spicy chilli sauce. That sounds more like us.

But tomorrow morning we’ll be eating oat porridge – and it’s already nice-n-soft.

By the way, in the middle of tonight’s stirring, Mboy6 pleaded with us to look out the window. In spite of potentially condemning the corn to a final unceremonious death, and potentially more tragically, ruining our pot if it were to stick and burn, we took leave to follow the enthusiasm at the balcony window. And we grabbed the camera.

We have added a bunch of photos to this post. Feel free to click and look.


Monday, November 16th, 2009
Brasov, Romania New apartment. New neighbourhood. New market. New prices (surprisingly more like Germany than Poland) Leo and Lili organised an apartment for us to rent for our month here. We said we only needed a small one, but this was an impossibility. No-one ... [Continue reading this entry]

to (another) market (again)

Saturday, October 24th, 2009
Krakow, Poland Apologies about the recurring WhenWeUsedToLiveHere theme, but here goes the next edition…..

The first year we lived here (we arrived in 1990) we did not see ANY Western products at all. The choice ... [Continue reading this entry]

bulgaria begs…..those unasked questions

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009
Biser, Bulgaria We have heard murmurings of questions people want to ask, but can’t bring themselves to. So we thought we’d just tell you. If we miss anything, do feel free to ask us outright – we are very hard ... [Continue reading this entry]

gourmet greek

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Meteora, Greece


Being on a limited budget with lots of mouths to feed means eating out in Europe is a rare occurrence for us (or it means you buy one tiny cheesecake and each enjoy ... [Continue reading this entry]

tolls, tunnels and tzatziki

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009
Corinth, Greece Well you couldn’t come to Greece and not buy tzatziki, could you? So we did. We also did tunnels – six of them in a row through one stretch of hillside (and then back again a few days later), ... [Continue reading this entry]

he lingers

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009
Capitolo, Italy We cut the breakfast rockmelon into eleven slices. Rob ate two, as Grandpa was out of reach, somewhere over the Indian Ocean. He joined us for lunch though – we discovered two emails from Dubai in the inbox just as ... [Continue reading this entry]

soul food

Friday, August 28th, 2009
somewhere near Altamura on the SouthEast Coast, Italy We woke in mozarella di buffala country…..from Naples onwards we had seen billboards and shops advertising the cheese the region is famous for and we had resolved to try it. Surely one ... [Continue reading this entry]


Saturday, July 25th, 2009
by Rach Quend-Plage-les-Pins, France “I wouldn’t bother travelling to Europe; it’s too similar to home.” How many times have we heard that? Often it is said by people who, by virtue of the proximity of their home town to The Continent, have the ... [Continue reading this entry]