The art of slow living has not been lost high up in the Carpathian Mountains.
Here are my thoughts on my Transylvanian holiday.
As I was born and lived in Romania until the age of 12, every year for the summer holidays I make the pilgrimage back to my motherland to visit family and friends and to live slowly and connect with nature. It’s so easy to do there as we stay in a small house in the Transylvanian countryside where you’re woken up by the cockerels and can tell the time of day by the church bells. Things move slowly, and so do we.
I’ve always lived in towns or cities and I do love where I live, but since my kids were born I strongly felt that I wanted them to know and experience a different kind of life other than the fast-paced technology-heavy one they are subjected to in the UK. Every year we spend two weeks (and would love to spend more..) in a small village in Transylvania where they can see and experience a completely different lifestyle with outside compost toilets, water collected from a well and seeing how people live off the land. Over the years, they’ve experienced sheep being slaughtered, people picking berries and mushrooms in the mountains to sell by the side of the road, and kids being very involved and helpful in the running of smallholdings.
We were invited to visit our neighbour’s shepherd station high up in the Carpathian Mountains with breathtaking views, hundreds of sheep and goats, horses and cows, 15 ferocious sheepdogs and very hard-working people. They graze the 400+ sheep up high on the mountain for 10 months of the year while living in a couple of wooden shacks, keeping the wolves and bears at bay with an army of sheep dogs. We got to see how they milk the animals and immediately started the cheese-making process. As we left, we were given a large piece of ‘Branza’, which is a bit like feta, a strong-tasting crumbly sheep and goat milk cheese, and this is the lunch I cooked with it.
I care a great deal about where my food comes from more than the idea of strictly sticking to any one standard and common dietary model. Instead, I try my best to eat food that I feel has been grown or made with love and care. Here in the mountains of Transylvania, you can see with your own eyes where it comes from, the care and love that goes into the land and the care of the animals. Coming from a world where it’s hard to know where our food has come from, how it’s been grown or treated, it’s such a pleasure and a joy to spend two weeks every year in this unspoilt part of the world where food is grown on small holdings and animals graze on clean wild meadows high up in the mountains.
Dairy doesn’t feature in my diet on a daily basis, but this kind of cheese made from a blend of goat and sheep milk from animals that have grazed on wild meadows is not to be missed!
Polenta is a big staple in the Romanian diet, traditionally served with ‘Branza’ and soured cream and commonly eaten for breakfast. I got hold of some locally milled polenta, which is super tasty and creamy and so nice to be able to see the big fields of corn where it came from right on our doorstep. It is hearty and filling, and you can see why the people who work the land would eat this kind of food, especially for breakfast, to keep them going all day.
In our village, the Market day is on a Thursday when all the local people come and set up stands on the concrete market tables selling their homegrown produce and homemade jams, cakes and chutneys. It’s all so incredibly cheap; I filled up two carrier bags with beautiful fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, aubergines, peppers and onions for less than 10 lei, which is under £2!!
Cooking lunch was a group effort with my son making the fire, my daughter stirring the polenta, and Mr E grilling the veg. Oh yeah, and me taking photos…
Polenta with grilled vegetables, ‘Branza’ and soured cream.
Ingredients (serves 4)
250g polenta 3 cups water pinch of salt to taste 1 large aubergine 2 bell peppers 2 large ripe tomatoes 1 red onion 5-6 mushrooms Crumbly sheep+goat cheese – feta is a good substitute for the Romanian ‘Branza’ (omit for vegan option) Goat milk soured cream (omit and replace with Garlic Tahini dressing for a vegan option)
To make the polenta, bring the water to a boil and add the polenta, stirring vigorously. Keep stirring so it doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan. Turn the heat down to a simmer and continue stirring. Cook for 10-15 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Add a pinch of salt to taste.
Meanwhile, slice the aubergine into 1cm slices, half the pepper, tomatoes and mushrooms. Rub a small amount of olive oil on the veg and BBQ outdoors or roast in the oven.
Plate up the polenta and veg and serve with crumbly cheese and soured cream or for a vegan option with a Garlic Tahini Dressing.
If there’s any polenta left over, you can put it in a small tin loaf pan and keep it in the fridge for a couple of days. Once it’s been in the fridge, you can slice it and grill it or lightly fry it in some coconut oil and serve with some veg or salad.
My personal photography project, ‘Escape East‘, shows some of the images taken in Transylvania in previous years.