December 30, 2014

25 years of remembrance

On November 9, 2014 the world celebrated 25 years since the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall.  Romania, though, had to wait for another month and a half to properly rejoice in the prospects of a future filled with freedom and democracy.  The Romanian Revolution of December ’89 occurred 25 years ago, yet I remember it as if it was yesterday.  I was only four years old; but the memories of those bloody events and gory week in late Dec. ‘89 are some of the most vivid memories of my life and I truly believe they will accompany me forever.  It’s funny how a child’s brain works – just like a sponge – it absorbs anything and everything whether it’s a foreign language or graphic, gruesome events and images.  Sometimes, I feel that my memory came to life during that week.  I don’t have any specific recollections before Dec. ‘89; everything was a mere blur, but after that things and life came into focus. 

My hometown, Arad, was one of the pivotal cities of the revolution.  Situated only thirty miles north of Timișoara, the birth city of the Romanian Revolution, it didn’t take long for my hometown to join the manifestations against the communist regime.  Unfortunately, the many victims were a bitter aftermath. For me, the days back then all blended together in a cacophony of rich memories.  As it turns out, what I remember the most were events that actually transpired during the bloodiest night my hometown experienced during the revolution.  

It was the night of Saturday, Dec. 23 through Sunday, Dec. 24.  I was at my nanny’s place across the street from my grandparents’ house.  Her grandson, Alex, was there too.  I recall it was a fairly mild winter; there was no snow on the ground just yet.  That specific evening, strange, repetitive firearm sounds came from outside, which prompted our curiosity to rush to the window and investigate.  The sounds were coming from the river bank.  So, Alex and I, two four-year olds, perched on the window, craned our necks and were met by a blazing spectacle of red and green colors displayed above the river.  They were fairly loud and colorful but they were not fireworks.  I was smiling in awe until my nanny stormed through the bedroom door and yanked us down from the window before securely closing it.  My grandpa showed up a few minutes later to take me home.  

While crossing the thirty yards from my nanny’s house to my grandparents’, I glanced over my shoulder to steal another peek of the back and forth display of colorful lights clearly visible above the river as my grandpa was purposefully dragging me home.  That night, I slept on the floor of my room with my grandparents.  My parents were not with us and it was only later that I discovered where they spent that dreadful night.   The next day, on a very sunny and clear Christmas Eve, I wasn’t looking for Christmas gifts from Santa under the tree; I was scavenging for bullets on the street outside the house.  Luckily, my grandparents’ house was untouched, but we still found a handful of bullets on the street.  Not to mention the bullet surprise in my very own bedroom at my parents’ apartment. 

The night before Christmas Eve, while I was at my grandparents’, my dad was at home in our flat on the sixth floor of a ten story apartment building located on one of the most assaulted streets during that frightening night.  Our neighbors from across the hallway found refuge in our bathroom, the only room in the apartment with no windows, since their apartment was shattered to pieces.  That same night, a bullet was shot through my bedroom window.  The bullet went through the balcony window, the bedroom window and the curtains before hitting the wall above my bed, recoiling back underneath the window and eventually melting on the hardwood floor.  

Fortunately, I was not sleeping in my bed that night, but my dad was lounging on the couch in the next room over. After a few hours in the bathroom, he decided that he would not spend the entire night hiding there and grabbed a bottle of wine and sprawled on the couch in the living room.  In his own words, ‘if I were to die tonight, at least I would do it with my stomach full.’  A few years ago, my mom finally replaced the old curtains that bared the black rimmed hole of the bullet and held intact the memories of that horrific night, yet the melted mark of the bullet still mars the hardwood floor of my bedroom to this day.     

While my dad was in our apartment my mom was stuck at work and couldn’t come home due to the slaughter throughout town.  She only returned home in the awfully sunny morning covering the five long miles from the factory to the apartment on foot through the blinding layers of freshly laid snow that was barely coating the bloody and bullet scattered grounds.

The horrendous events of those days escalated with the speedy trial and execution of our former dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and his wife Elena on Christmas Day.  I was sitting in my own little chair next to my family gaping at the incredible events unfolding on TV.  It was like watching live reality TV but with people being shot with real bullets, laying in puddles of blood and never getting up again.  And yes, I witnessed it all.

My parents were exactly the age I am right now when the revolution took place.  Would I be as brave as they were, gathering during tumultuous times in the town hall square and protesting against an oppressing regime while handing out holiday candy to the armed soldiers?  I don’t know… I don’t believe so… But they did and so did many other Romanians who experienced the revolution and lived to tell about it. 

Aside from my personal story and because we’re still in the midst of cookie season, I also want to share with you my grandma’s recipe for one of my family’s favorite holiday cookies: Sugar Snails.  These adorable concoctions are always present on our Christmas table.  It’s rather easy to guess why – you get a heap of servings, they’re great with coffee or tea, cute, a little crunchy, a lot nutty and good, really good.  And as my mom likes to say – ‘anything with walnuts is a winner.’  I absolutely agree with that.  Enjoy this sweet treat and Happy New Year everyone!    

Sugar Snails
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Makes: 55+ servings


For the Dough:

·         250 grams (1 stick plus 2 Tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
·         300 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more to roll out the dough
·         1 teaspoon fast rise dry yeast
·         2 Tablespoons sour cream
·         4 large eggs, at room temperature
·         ¼ teaspoon salt
·         Up to ¼ cup milk, if necessary

For the Sauce:

·         280 grams (10 oz) walnuts, ground
·         280 grams (2 ¼ cups) Confectioners’ sugar
·         1 teaspoon vanilla extract
·         Lemon zest from 1 lemon

Instructions for the Dough:

Separate the egg whites and egg yolks.  Set the egg whites aside. 

In a large bowl, combine the butter, flour, yeast, salt, sour cream and egg yolks until the dough gathers into a ball.  If the dough is too dry, add a bit of milk to the mixture (a couple of Tablespoons).  The dough should be neither too dry nor too soft.  Gather into a ball and divide in four pieces.  Sprinkle some flour on top of the dough and put it in the fridge for 1 hour.

Instructions for the Sauce:

In a medium bowl, combine the ground walnuts with the confectioners’ sugar and lemon zest.  Set aside.  Using an electric hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the vanilla extract until firm peaks form.  Using a spatula, gently mix in the walnuts and sugar mixture.  

Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Line four baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Transfer the dough to a working surface.  Flour the rolling pin and working surface and roll out the dough into a ¼-inch thick rectangular sheet (work with one ball of dough at a time).  Spread a fourth of the walnut sauce all over the rolled out dough leaving a 1-inch margin.  Gently roll up the sheet into a log and cut (flour the knife so that the dough does not stick to the knife) as many 1-inch pieces as possible placing them on one of the baking sheets.  Bake the snails for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.  Repeat with the rest of the dough.  

Once out of the oven, allow the snails to cool on a cooling rack before dusting them with more confectioners’ sugar.      

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)