Hello and welcome.
The art of improvisation is for explorers who want to really know food - preparing it, tasting it, and understanding the culinary sensibilities, histories and essential elements behind some of our favourite flavours.
A famous adage says 'the map is not the territory’, and so it goes with recipes too. Recipes are starting points to discovery and adventure. They connect us to specific times and places. But when you prepare food with the knowledge that the map is not the territory, it opens a world of learning, discovery, experimentation, and innovation.
Dishes like this one have taken a circuitous journey around the world, picking up different influences each of which leaves a mark on it from a specific time and place. The bread, the meatballs, the garnish, and the overall composition reflect how the meatball hoagie or meatball sub has become what it is today. Italian American Meatball Hoagies
With every ingredients and step there is an opportunity to go in a different direction or to pause and ask why, where, how, when.
Why do we use this ingredient and can we use others?
Where did this recipe come from and how did it come to be?
Is this the traditional way to prepare this?
Is this 'the most authentic' way to prepare this?
And likewise, every ingredient and process tells a story.
The basic flavours are peas in a tomato base with a lot of fresh dill and sometimes some bacon or other smoked meat for flavour. Besides being the taste of my childhood, what makes this dish extra special to me is that it also embodies the spirit that runs through traditional Romanian cooking and cucina povera – that of making do with what’s available. Mancare de mazare | Romanian green pea stew
In asking these questions and looking for the underlying stories, it turns food and cooking into an exploration of food history, preparation methods, and culinary sensibilities from different ages and places. It brings us closer to one another. It challenges our notions of authenticity, evokes our connection to memory and nostalgia, and connects us deeply to the often forgotten past and the often unseen present.
I don’t know if macaroni emerged spontaneously, the creative ambition of a bored Italian housewife somewhere, or if it came about with the invention of industrial extruders. Whatever the case, making macaroni by hand feels very old world and very traditional. Handmade macaroni from scratch
A good recipe is a great starting place to prepare food the way our grandmothers always have - with deft hands, determination, and a little bit of this little bit of that. That's the start of all great recipes the world over and that’s the start of all of the recipes on this blog, which I hope can in turn be good starting points for your own off-road explorations.
There are a ton of ways to prepare and enjoy sweet pasta. The recipe I’ve shared here is a classic taste of Romanian childhood. Cinnamon & Brown Sugar Dessert Pasta
If you like what you see here, connect with me in the comments or on Instagram @ms.cristina.
April 2020, Amsterdam
I'm Cristina, a home cook and baker, culinary (and life) explorer, traveller, dog mom, houseplant enthusiast, and third culture kid.
I was born in Romania on the Black Sea coast, just before the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.
I moved to Toronto with my parents when I was young but spent the summers of my formative years at my grandparents' homestead in a very rural village in Romania.
When I was growing up there was no indoor plumbing, we used well water for everything, an outhouse for everything else, and had one phone in the whole village. I remember it ringing out in the night from the post office, my mother calling to check in from Canada.
My grandparents were farmers, and they produced or traded with other farmers for virtually all of the food we ate.
Now over 20 years years later it feels as though those days are distant memories of another world. Sometimes it feels as it I've traversed a hundred years of history in my lifetime - from outhouses to 5G.
Yet I remember the food we ate so clearly. The blocks of briny homemade sheep's milk feta that were a permanent fixture on our table. Fat tomatoes and cucumbers still warm from the summer sun. Eggs that I happily fetched from the coop every morning, fried in sunflower oil with crispy edges and liquid yolks. Sunflowers the size of dinner plates. Picked from the field, dried in the sun, cooked on a grill, salted and eaten out of rolled newspaper sitting on the wooden bench in front of the gate, giving our 'good days'...buna ziua....to passers-by.
My grandmother Marioara's savoury pull apart buns and hand-rolled phyllo stuffed with feta and dill. Lamb shanks roasted in cast iron over an open flame. Huge plates of hot fries sprinkled with salt and paper thin slices of raw garlic. Sour cherries and dark purple Italian plums picked straight from the tree with sticky stained fingers (usually while perched up on a branch). Chicken soup with the tender unlaid eggs poached in the broth...the eggs were always a special treat for kids.
I also remember the incomparable experience of being totally enveloped by the perfumed aroma of late summer cantaloupe, left to chill in the larder and eaten cool in the torrid languor of the afternoon under a canopy of grape vines and the melancholic coo of a mourning dove. Kicking up dust as I shuffled down the dirt road from the bakery, carrying home hot crackly loaves in my spindly child's arms. Walking hand-in-hand with my late grandfather Dumitru to the dairy farm up the road and coming home with our large aluminium canisters filled with warm milk.
Those summers spent in rural Romania as a child form a core part of my identity and my relationship with food. I remember those tastes and a flood of other memories come back. It’s that deep memory and nostalgia that drives my culinary explorations to this day - to connect more deeply not only with my own roots and authentic experiences but also with those of others.
These days I live in beautiful Amsterdam with my husband and dog. I have a BA in international development studies, a law degree, and a day job working in communications at an international non-profit. When I'm not in the kitchen you can usually find me puttering about - bit of home improvement, a bit of reading, some travel, and a lot of biking around the city.