I am so in love with foodie penpals – I’ve been sent some amazing treats from around the UK and Europe, and also had the chance to send some (hopefully) delicious goodies to random penpals across the UK (and one to Norway, in which Copenhagen is not!). The scheme takes a break for Christmas (quite rightly – I am not sure the pressure of buying foodie penpals gifts alongside the usual pressies for the family would have been joyful), so November was the last penpal exchange of 2013.
I was paired up with dairy-intolerant Tracey from Essex (to whom I had to send a parcel), and Oana from Romania (who sent me a parcel). I was so excited to get another non-UK pairing, as I love trying food from different countries and cultures. So when Oana got in touch I requested anything traditionally Romanian as long as it didn’t include mushrooms or marzipan. Having looked at Oana’s blog, which you can find here (impressively written in both Romanian AND English – I have no idea where she finds the time!), I felt pretty confident that I was in for a treat.
And in for a treat I most certainly was. Oana’s faith in the Romanian postal system was justified when I received my parcel on Thursday, and it contained some wonderful treats.
Firstly two bars of Heidi chocolate – one florentine flavour (I am glad it’s not available in the UK because I have a very strong feeling it is going to become a favourite of mine) and one white chocolate bar with orange and seeds (I am really intrigued to try this because it’s such a beautiful bar with an unusual combination of flavours). She also sent me two chocolate bars which first became favourites during the Communist era, when chocolate was not so readily available. The packaging does have a slightly Communist feel to it, but I am pretty sure it will be tasty.
Continuing the chocolate theme (it’s like she read my mind) I received a packet of salami. Luckily Oana explained that this is in fact chocolate salami as opposed to real meat salami – and she first made it in second grade at school because it’s one of the first things kids in Romania are taught to make in their DIY classes! So Nigella made it famous in her recent book, but the Romanians were doing it many years ago!
I also got a pack of apple cookies – basically like little fig roll biscuits but with sweet apple inside instead of fig. I could not resist opening these to sample, so I could at least say I had tried something from her goodie bag, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I had to lock them away in an airtight tin pretty quickly because they are incredibly more-ish – not too sweet or crunchy – just perfect.
Oana also sent a package of her favourite gingerbread biscuits – and because she said they are her favourite I also felt obliged to try them immediately (er, when I got back from the pub after two extremely large glasses of red wine). Wow – she’s right about a subtle taste of ginger – the biscuits are melt in the mouth and almost caramel flavoured. They are going to be perfect to eat at Christmas.
Lastly, I received a jar of something which first I thought was olives, and then I thought it was rotten olives. This mystery jar’s contents looked (sorry Oana) pretty disgusting, and I was already thinking about how I was going to thank her for a jar of nastiness without being rude and ungrateful. However, Oana explained that this was the famous green walnut jam – very sweet, although not to everyone’s taste, and she hoped I would enjoy it. You can apparently add them to chocolate brownies instead of normal nuts.
I open my parcel at work (so I don’t have to wait for the next weekend to pick it up from the post office) and it’s got to be quite an event, with my colleagues looking to see what treats I receive. None of us were convinced by the tastiness (or freshness!) of the green walnut jam (seriously, look at the picture!), but Estelle bravely agreed to try one with me (she is French and has lived in many countries, and with an Eastern European mother she is probably the best person around to be adventurous with Romanian food!). And actually, they taste really nice. They are steeped in a thick sugar syrup and have an unusual softness to them which is not hard enough to be a nut, but not soft enough to be a fruit. You just have to ignore the fact that they look like there is something very wrong with them!
So I can’t thank Oana enough for my wonderful parcel – she fulfilled my brief perfectly with traditional Romanian goodies and introduced me to some new ingredients as well. I can imagine the green walnut jam spooned onto some greek yoghurt would be delicious … hmmm, might have to try that now! I hope Oana also receives her parcel because she has been really unlucky and not received one for the last couple of months – that happened to me for my first month and it is so disappointing, so if you do get Oana, please send her something wonderful.
Tracey was a challenge to buy for (and she also hasn’t received parcels from other penpals, which is such a shame) as I have no food intolerances except a violent dislike of mushrooms and marzipan, so I really wanted to buy her something interesting and that she would actually be able to take pleasure in eating. I popped out of the office at lunchtime to browse around the shops, and saw a dairy free chocolate advent calendar in Holland and Barrett, and decided to give her parcel a Christmas theme. So this is what I bought her:
- Dairy free chocolate advent calendar (I hope she didn’t get one from everyone she knows!)
- Make your own gingerbread Christmas tree (no dairy – oil instead of butter in the ingredients!)
- My favourite jelly babies, because you need sweeties at Christmas
- Another favourite of mine – sweet and salty popcorn which is addictive but not too unhealthy
- My most favourite thing: gin and tonic, because you need a little drink at Christmas!
- And a Christmas card – the first I have sent this year (and possibly the only one as I am so lazy that I usually don’t bother).
Tracey said she loved the parcel, especially the G&T which had come at the perfect time to de-stress after a hectic day (I didn’t check, but I guess that means it didn’t arrive with the first post!).
If you want to take part in the wonderful Foodie Penpals in 2014 (please do – and make sure you send your parcels!) then find out more at This is Rock Salt. Thanks as always to Carol-Ann for doing such a great job of keeping us all organised. Merry Christmas to all the foodie penpals!