Ileana and her cinnamon twists.... they were supposed to be long and cutesy braided, but I am a disobedient pastry student, and do as I please. I decided to twist the dough and then wrap it around itself to form something that resembled a cow pattie, flavour extraordinaire.
This amazing woman is a legend. The Toolbelt Diva of Recipezaar, she is just as handy with a hammer as she is with a whisk. There are so many ways you could describe this woman, proud Canadian, survivor, author, Dragonlady of the dragon boats of Toronto, daughter, sister, friend… and yet, she is also entirely indescribable. Don’t even try it, you wouldn’t be able to get it all in during your lifetime.
Mamaliga lover, vintner, the list goes on. I have gotten to know Ileana through her recipes, her emails, her poetry and her jokes. But don’t take my word for it. Come and meet her, in her own words.
Introduce yourself. Who are you, what are you, why are you?
Here I am, call me whatever you like, but I prefer you call me ILEANA, because that is my name. These days I am a writer of sorts. I have written one book, unpublished and not sure if it ever will be; certainly not on a best seller list. Perhaps it will be hung up in the “Johnny On The Spot”, I hope they read it before they use it. I have the gratifying knowledge that I wrote a book and that works for me.
One of these days I will meet a publisher who will want to publish my book. Perhaps not… because I do not like criticism from people I don’t know and have not met.
I don’t want to be nice to people I don’t like, and would prefer not to be in their company. The feeling is mutual, I am sure, but that is fine. Life is too short to love all of my neighbours; besides, if I did that, I would be obliged to accept their invitations to tea and cookies…. not only that, ladies and gents, but I may have to reciprocate by baking chelsea buns and brewing most excellently flavoured coffee. (Tea and cookies not my style). Then they would never leave my kitchen.
“What’s next Ileana?” To continue in the most inimitably polite, politeness, I would brew an additional pot of most excellent coffee. The coffee would not be as excellent as the first pot, mind you – Intentionally, of course, so they would be sure to leave quickly. One batch of chelsea buns is quite enough, I would think. Besides that, too much coffee is not good for one. I am only looking after their health.
Ileana at her Cinny Buns and Twist class
Where do you live, and why?
I live in Canada because I cannot think of anywhere else better. Take a look around you. Where else can a person live free to be, without fear of reprisal? No one bothers me; because I might kick the crap out of them. I was born in Western Canada, live in Central Canada and travel the world on a whim.
My last whim took me on a Caribbean cruise; while overnight in Miami, my credit card was compromised. Didn’t find that out until a statement arrived a few months later to tell me there had been about $600.00 worth of booze purchased in Ft. Lauderdale over three days, some time in February. Laughable isn’t it? I was in Miami overnight only; nowhere near Ft. LahDeeDah… and never in February. The begining of February is Super Bowl time; I go nowhere during Super Bowl because there is always lots and lots of food. Foods to consume, food to prepare.
What is your family like?
My family is like none other you have met….. Both parents are in that great wheat field in the sky… We were six siblings… now five. My brothers each have two sisters and two brothers. My sister and I each have one sister and three brothers. We lost our youngest sister four years ago to dreaded ALS… It was horrible to watch her beautiful body deteriorate while her mind and soul stayed alive, alert and active. What a waste. It makes me sad, not bitter. I do not question God’s plans.
What is your relationship with food? Do you like to cook?
I like it, and it likes me. It is a mutual respect and admiration, to be sure.
I never met a sarmale I did not like. I am not apprehensive around unfamiliar produce and/or meats, including sea-stuff. I want to hard-slap people who sniff produce/product, then turn up their noses. Except fish… you have to shove your face into fish to sniff for freshness. If you can smell the fish, it is not fresh. I was blessed with a “Nose That Knows”.
My motto about food is “It has not killed the population from whence it commeth, it ain’t gonna kill me”. I draw the line at rodents.
I am very fortunate; whatever I attempt to prepare, it seems that food responds to my touch. I take no credit for this genetic ability (weeeellll, maybe a little ). The gene package was handed to me by maternal and paternal predisposition. What’s a gal to do? Run with it, baby! Run With it!
What is your first food-related memory?
Picture this….10 yr. old tomboy dirty face, running home to get a drink of water…”Wow, what’s that delicious smell?” Feet, do your stuff!
“What are you doing Mama?” “Making peach jam and canning peaches.”
“Can I help?” My Mamma knew some of the peaches would never find their way into the jars.
In spite of that knowledge, Mamma said “Yes, you can help, but don’t eat more than I put in the jars.” (WHO MEEEE?) So I helped by peeling the scalded peaches, cutting them open and discarding the pit. I enjoyed that – still do. Such an easy job.
I lerrrve peach jam. A large scoop into a bowl, thick slices of home-made bread, slathered with Mamma’s peach jam. Back in the day, life was good, some time. Mamma made the best peach jam in North America… Eat it on bread, include it slathered over large baked apple tart, coat a leg of lamb prior to barbeque, scoop it on vanilla ice cream, or freeze it and eat it like a creamcicle.
Life is still good.
How would you describe yourself in the kitchen? As a host/hostess?
I am perfectly comfortable in any kitchen; been told am a capable hostess; guests like to come to my home for meals, or snackies…. I find it difficult to do just snackies, and would rather cook big. Dinner for four means cook for six or eight. If there are no leftovers, I did not cook enough. “Having Dinner for Four? Plan for More.” That is infinitely more fun, and easier. Take all the snackies, put them in a casserole and make pot-poursnackee.
Lately, I have been baking, big time. Practicing for the Canadian Thanksgiving Dragon Boat Bake Sale…. Love it, Love it, Love it. Canadian Thanksgiving is the second Monday in October. The Bake Sale is on Sunday; a Dragon Boat Team initiative to raise money for ongoing Dragon Boat stuff. This year my plan is to provide pumpkin pies, apple pies, cherry pies, cakes, muffins and cup cakes. You might think this is an ambitious undertaking, but if nothing else, I fancy myself an organized cook/baker.
What is your favorite comfort food and why?
Home made bread, slathered with unsalted butter. It fills the hole in my belly, and tastes like something indescribable. My eyes are watering at the thought….. Salivating here. It takes me back to helping Mamma in her hot hot kitchen so many years ago.
Ileana's Romanian Cozonac or Colac (a Christmas bread) -- see the recipe by clicking on the photo
Desert island picks, name three foods you could not live without:
Peaches, tomatoes, garlic.
There are sufficient natural products to be able to live, grind seeds between two rocks for flour…. sea water to boil fish….Eggs from birds….if one needed eggs. I was never a girl scout, but I can reason well. I could live on food from the sea… (even kelp).
Is there any food you hate? Why?
The only food I don’t like is SEA URCHIN. WHY????? Have you ever seen sea urchin? I mean REEAALLYY seen it? Even sharks will not stalk a sea urchin. First you have to get through the spiny, razor sharp, barbed outer shell; then scoop out the ugly yellow (is it flesh or just goopy gob?) This answer sort of belies my motto, doesn’t it? I know that sea urchins have killed people from time to time… Not from eating it, but rather from stepping on it. The barbs are released into your foot…etc.etc.
Do you have a food-related story you would like to share?
We were frequently 19 for Christmas Dinner. Helping my mother with Christmas Dinner one year… She cooked a humungous turkey…an equally huge ham, (apologies to my kosher friends) a ton of potatoes, several tons green vegetables…a cauldron of sarmale (cabbage rolls) about a dozen fruit pies, never mince pie… I cannot think of anything more hideous than mince pies…. The smell of mince pie baking hurts my brain. There were several pies with meringue. She did that “in case someone else comes over”. I learned from the best.
That was the year that was. Everything was ready to rock and roll… Open the oven door, Slide out the rack on which the turkey was roasting… take the turkey out of the roaster….BOOM! right onto the floor…..Lift it quickly…. back into the roasting pan…. “Stop laughing Mamma others will want to know what is so funny”….
“Here ILEANA, have some turkey.”… “No thanks, I am vegetarian this week, pass the carrots.”
Thank you Mirj for sharing your family with the world and thank you for allowing the world to come into your home to share a little of themselves.