Sharing American culture through a unique Central PA food

Peace Corps has three main goals that support their mission to promote world peace and friendship. The second goal is “to promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served”. I had the great opportunity to share some Central PA food culture with some of my co-workers.

This came up from a conversation I recently had with my co-workers over lunch one day when they asked if Americans use as many red beets as Moldovans do. After thinking about it for a moment, it made me think of red beet eggs or as some call them pickled eggs. I tried to explain this type of food both in Romanian and English, in which they questioned me and gave me looks of confusion. Here in Moldova, it is common to pickle and preserve foods such as tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and watermelons, but they never heard of such a combination of red beets and hard boiled eggs.

 

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The result of my first time making pickled eggs ever.
I set out to gather the ingredients to make this Central PA specialty and within a few days, I had the final result to take into the office to share with my colleagues. They had never seen such a kind of food and were intrigued. During lunch, we gathered around the conference room table and they gave them a try.

 


It was a success! They liked them and even tried more than one and asked for the recipe. 🙂 It was a fun way to share a food I had grown up with and to spread some Peace Corps second goal love.

However, when I had asked some of my American friends here in Moldova who are from other parts of the US if they had heard of such a bright combination, in which they were confused and never tried them either. This made me realize how much of a Central PA food item it really was. From what I could find, it comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch or Amish parts in our state. I shared them with some these friends, and they too found them to be delicious. It looks like I’ll be making these again soon.

 

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Nathan trying pickled eggs and red beets for the first time. 
Peace Corps second goal success accomplished!

 

 

Included below are all three goals of the Peace Corps as we promote world peace and friendship: 

  1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
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New Thanksgiving traditions served with a side of deep fried turkey

This has been my third Thanksgiving away from my Central Pennsylvania family and friends at home. This year especially has felt a little different. It’s made me realize how much I appreciate such a random mix of a community that surrounds me here in this moment at this time in my life. 

On thanksgiving day, since most of us had to work as it was a normal business day, a few of us got together and quite possibly started a new tradition in celebrating this holiday from abroad. We gathered together for wine and cheese and great conversation. That time with these ladies was exactly what I needed at the time as we were all missing family and friends from home and could laugh and share stories as our paths intersected here in Moldova.

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Then on Saturday, I spent most of the day prepping food items that I had agreed to make. I spent most of the day in the kitchen as I multi-tasked making two types of sweet potatoes, deviled eggs, and a chocolate peanut butter meltaway cake. 

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I tried making this cake in two layers, which I do not recommend. The chocolate melted right off and down the sides. Hence, why it’s probably called a ‘meltaway’ cake. (no photos of the other foods though)

After prepping the foods, I managed to organize them complexly in a way to transport (walk) them to my friends’ place that is about 10 or so minutes away. I felt like it was a moment worthy of celebration since I successfully was able to get them there without dropping or breaking anything. I wish I had a photo to share, but no such luck. It was no small feat. How else does one walk a two-layer melting cake along with other food items through the city? I think I should have been an engineer… 

The guys were busy preparing the turkey in thefryer when I arrived. They had quite the setup arranged. Not to be taken lightly as we spent the night before watching videos on “how NOT to fry a turkey”. This one is worthy of a share as we watched it multiple times and the song was still in my head the next day (and even now since I’m thinking about it).

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There were between 15-20 people that were present for this thanksgiving feast. Quite the mix of expats and Moldovans. It was a great group to celebrate with and the food was delicious and there was plenty of it left over by the end of the evening.

Although I thought I would be home by this time celebrating Thanksgiving with family and friends, I am so grateful that this is how I was able to celebrate this year.  Being surrounded by this new community of old and new friends as Moldova intersects us together in a common thread.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Going to a Traditional Moldovan Wedding – {part 1}

Upon my return to Moldova, within 3 days I was attending a friends wedding. This was the 2nd time I’ve had the chance to attend a wedding during my time as a volunteer in Moldova. I even had the opportunity to take part in the traditional festivities that happen before the big reception later in the day.

Some fun facts about Moldovan weddings:

  •  Sometimes couples will get married either in the church and/or legally at the mayor’s office and then celebrate with the large reception a year or so later (after saving money to host the party);
  •  It is tradition to have nanasi [nan-ash-i], best described as marriage godparents (or spiritual parents) to help the couple when issues arise in their marriage – the nanasi play a big role during the wedding celebration;
  • There is a wedding “season” in Moldova, typically weddings are not held during post (fasting due to religious holidays) but more so in the fall around wine making season;
  •  When attending a wedding, it is expected to bring flowers (although, a new trend is to bring a book for the couple) along with money and a gift;
  • Moldovan weddings are full of traditions — from the food, to the music, and dancing and beyond..
On the day of the wedding, about mid-day, I made my way to the brides family home where all the ladies were getting their hair and makeup done.
After a few hours, they were ready to go and were waiting on the groom and his friends to arrive. After some honking of horns and yelling, the men had arrived and they had to go through some traditions before finding the bride.
After the groom and his friends completed all the necessary traditional activities the groom was able to see his bride…and we all toasted to the start of the festivities while they took photos.
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Next, all the young people piled into decorated cars to make their way to the nanasi’s home. Once arrived, we made a scene going into their apartment where they hosted us for champagne toasts and treats.
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Next we all piled back into the cars and went to the city center to the casa nunta – wedding house where they signed the papers to make it official by the state that they are married.
After that I went with my friend to the wedding hall where the reception was being held so they could prep for the 100+ people who were coming to the big party.
It was impressive with all the decor, abundance of food, and the fancy setup.
There were many traditions that were new for me so I spent a lot of the time confused throughout the wedding. I’ll share more in the next post on these traditions from the wedding – stay tuned!

What do 30 days of special leave look like? 

Earlier this summer I had shared about 30 things I wanted to do while at home during my special home leave with Peace Corps in August. I spent a good amount of my time going through that list while trying to connect with family and friends. I pretty much was able to get through most if not all of the things my list! I hadn’t been home at all during my 2 years of service with Peace Corps so this was a sweet time that I had anxiously been waiting for.

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I had enjoyed it so much that I hadn’t taken as many photos as I possibly could have, and I’m ok with that. It means I was in the moment enjoying the food, surroundings, and people around me.

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I loved seeing so many friends and family I hadn’t seen in over 2 years! Being back home in the State College  area was comforting, refreshing, and rejuvenating.  I answered a variety of questions from “what is your favorite food in Moldova?” to “how is your heart?”
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… I enjoyed foods I’ve missed…
…I got to hold little ones who were not around when I left 2 years ago…
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…I soaked in the beautiful nature as I walked through parks and around the Penn State campus…
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…I enjoyed learning how to play Pokemon Go thanks to some enthusiastic friends…
30 days of special leave looks like random adventures… reconnecting with people…
sharing stories… laughing… reminiscing… and embracing all the hugs as humanly possible! Now onward to year 3 with Peace Corps in Moldova! I’m looking forward to the year ahead!

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Celebrating PaČ™ti in Moldova

“Paste Ferecit” (Happy Easter!) from Moldova! We celebrated Orthodox Easter today in Moldova. This is my 2nd Easter here and continues to be my most favorite holiday celebrated in Moldova.

Leading up to Easter Sunday, people spend the week preparing food and cleaning their homes. I was able to help my host mom a little bit with some of the food preparations and learned a few new things as well.

On Saturday I went out on an adventure to the city center piata to find and purchase “pasca”,  a special Easter bread sold at this time of year. I quickly learned there are various types, sizes, and flavors of pasca, making my seemingly easy task a little more challenging. Plus, the vendors I tried to talk with only spoke Russian and we played a great game of charades between Romanian and Russian so I could successfully come home with some pasca bread.

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Special pasca Easter bread sold outside by a vendor in the city center.

Then, Easter morning my host dad and I woke up at 5:00 AM to make our way to the Orthodox church in the city center.

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St. Nicholai church in the city center, about a 15 minute walk from our home.

We got in line with everyone else and my host dad arranged the basket of food on the ground so that the priest would come by and bless it. While he did that, I made my way into the church to place a candle in the church and to return with a lit candle. The fire from the candles originated from Jerusalem, which we later carried home with us to keep it going in the apartment.

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After the basket of food was displayed with the lit candles, we waited for the priest to come and bless it.

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We waited along with everyone else in the quietness of the morning as the sun was bursting through the sky to start the day.

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Then, shortly after that, the priest came by and doused us and the display of food with holy water. Before doing so, money is placed in the bag that the first guy is holding while the second guy holds the bucket of holy water for the priest as he blesses each person in line with a generous amount of holy water.

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He caught me by surprise and even “blessed” my cell phone in the process. My host dad and I had a good laugh about it all.

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My host dad after being blessed by the priest.

After that, we packed up our basket of food and returned home to have the first meal of the day. But we couldn’t eat until we took part in the annual Easter cultural traditions. First stepping on the knife in the doorway before entering the rest of the way into the home. Next, we each washed our hands in the basin then rubbed a red egg on our cheeks followed by some coins which we rubbed on our foreheads. Then we each put the coins into our pockets for good luck and lots of money for the year ahead.

Then we sat down around 6:00 AM to have our fist meal of the day starting off with traditional red hard boiled eggs. We each took turns initially cracking each other’s egg to see which one would not crack in the end. The person’s egg whose doesn’t crack is the “winner” – my host mom won this year.

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We sat down to first eat the foods that had been blessed at the church along with some of the food that had been prepared the day before. We also started drinking cognac and wine in celebration of the Easter holiday.  So. much. food.

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Just some of the food from our Easter breakfast.

After eating, we all went back to bed to wake up to repeat the eating, drinking, and sleeping at least 2 more times.

The celebrations will continue into tomorrow as most people have the day off work and into the weekend following celebrating memorial Easter.

 

{Photo Friday}: Let’s Eat Mamaliga

It’s time to share about this popular traditional dish: Mamaliga! The yellow sticky porridge-like-bread is made from yellow cornmeal and served with meat (we usually eat it with pork), scrambled eggs, sour cream, and brinza (homemade cheese).

As noted by Wikipedia, it is a traditional dish found in Romania, Moldova, and Western Ukraine. “Historically a peasant food, it was often used as a substitute for bread or even as a staple food in the poor rural areas. However, in the last decades it has emerged as an upscale dish available in the finest restaurants.”

I have been told many times by my host family that it is often eaten with your hands, as I try to use a fork to mix it all up and properly distribute the mamaliga with the other ingredients.

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My host mom prepared mamaliga to eat this past week — so good!

{Photo Friday}: Turkish Coffee

Have you ever tried Turkish coffee? Not only is it served in a tiny beautiful ceramic teacup it brings a delicious flavorful coffee taste. I just returned from a quick 4 day trip in Istanbul, Turkey where I met a dear friend and her family for a quick visit. Such a fun-filled time visiting, sight-seeing, and trying new foods!

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Tell me, where have you tasted the best coffee during your travels? Do you have a favorite?