Posts Tagged With: Aschileu

A big, hairy tale of survival.

The original WB.

Water buffalo aren’t the only species struggling to make a comeback in the beautiful rolling hills of Aschileu, Transylvania. The 1,841 poor farmers who live in these five verdant villages and were shoved off their lands under Communist rule are also fighting to regain a foothold in the local economy. Now thanks to Heifer’s first water buffalo project in Romania, the two may well help each other over the hump.

At 78, Anna remembers feeding the Germans, then the Russians, then the Communists, then losing her land and all her animals. But now she’s got a new water buffalo to call her own…

Water buffalo have been raised in this area since they were first introduced by the Turks during the Ottoman invasion in the 15th century. Called the “poor man’s cow,” a water buffalo thrives on even poor fodder, rarely gets sick, makes a terrific draft animal, and will produce 5-10 liters/day of very rich, healthy milk that can be made into delicious cheese, sour cream and yogurt. (And Romanians are nuts about dairy.)

However, after the fall of Communism in 1989, farmers were encouraged to raise cows and the numbers of water buffalo dropped perilously by 80%, threatening the breed’s survival. To promote biodiversity, income generation and better nutrition; offer an alternative to strict EU standards that limit the sale of cow’s milk; and encourage peace & understanding between neighbors in the Hungarian Mera village and Romanian Aschileu village, Heifer started the Revitalization of Water Buffalo project last year, giving 36 water buffalo and trainings to needy Romanian families (who will Pass on the Gift to another 36 Hungarian families in Mera).

About half of Ion & Felicia’s children/grandchildren.

One of the first recipients of a water buffalo was Ion, Felicia and their nine children. Ion is one of 10 orphans whose mother died and were then abandoned by their father and left to raise each other in the village. Today, those 10 brothers are mostly illiterate and work as laboring farmers and shepherds, but each has managed to build a home, establish loving families, and amass a brood of livestock. Their self-sufficiency and dignity were palpable, despite how thin and wan Felicia looked ( and raising 9 children and 3 grandchildren, who wouldn’t be?)

Ion & Felicia

As we climbed into the hills in a horse-drawn cart to visit the goats, cows and water buffalo herds that Ion tends on communal pastures, the views became more and more stunning and I felt more and more like I was in some modern version of The Sound of Music.

Lordana, Ion’s daughter, kept turning around to grin at me, her fingers tucked into her father’s thickly-tooled shepherd’s belt as we lurched across stream beds, and I kept thinking “What a hard life. What a beautiful life.”

With village milk collection centers and cooling tanks in place, and an ever-increasing demand for high-butterfat, high-protein, low- cholesterol buffalo milk, hopefully life here will become a lot less hard and a lot more healthy.

The lovely Miss Lordana.

And the hills will be alive with the (very loud) sound of water buffalo… once more.

Categories: Animals, Farming, Heifer International, Photography, Poverty, Romania, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

What I ate in Romania.

What didn’t I eat in Romania is more to the point.

Boletus mushrooms, fresh from the forest.

Romanians love nothing more than to feed you. And because they are really, truly hurt if you refuse to partake (and will serve you a robust helping anyhow)…

Homemade polenta… really low-cal!

I stepped up to the plate and ended up eating my weight in potatoes, sheep cheese, goat cheese, salt cheese…

Sheep cheese — very salty & yummy!

onions, cucumbers…

tomatoes, salad…

Greek(ish) salad, served at every meal.

bread, toast, bruschetta…

Almost every restaurant has homemade delicious bread.

…cake, dumplings, strudel…

Chifle – a beautiful little walnut pastry I got to know well.

croissants, donuts…

honey, more cheese, more potatoes, sour cherry jam… ..and lots of plum brandy in various strengths and portions.

Weak or wake-up-the-dead strong, homemade plum brandy (Palinca) was ubiquitously delish!

Oink!

Sarmale (cabbage rolls) with pork…. (mine were with fresh mushrooms)

The only thing I didn’t eat much of was meat because I’m a pretend vegetarian…

Beef (I think) and homemade sausages

..but that was kind of stupid because Romanian meat is exceptionally fresh and free-range as all get out.

Cliftele (meat balls of beef, pork, onion, garlic and rice)

I’m also lactose intolerant (for real) so you would think that would have put a slight damper in my epic caloric intake.

Au contraire –the only thing that meant was no ice cream (to which Romanians are addicted) and no gigantic wollops (the dollop’s overweight cousin) of sour cream, to which Romanians are also exceptionally partial.

Somlói galuska – yes, it’s Hungarian but the Romanians love it anyhow.

With all this glorious food, you would think that Romanians would be huge but they’re not (although milk-fed babies in the rural villages were kind of scary large). The women have the classic Slavic beauty, the men do a lot of physical exercise, and the people love to be outside—walking, picnicking, farming, gardening, and strolling around village squares.

Weekend evening in beautiful Brasov square.

It was a delicious experience eating Romanian and being treated to mad generous hospitality in every household…

My pal and fellow traveler Laura Voisinet & Maria who made us a beautiful lunch in Aschileu.

(and the Ursus beer wasn’t too shabby, either!)

Noroc!! (And I am so hungry now, I can’t even tell you… this post should have come with a warning!)

Categories: Food, Heifer International, Photography, Romania, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 67 Comments

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