Monica is the Romanian mother I never had. We arrived in Bucharest to a snack that was essentially what you see here - salade russe, roasted red peppers, smoky eggplant and onion, and a selection of cheeses - and that was just to hold us over until our dinner reservation.
Monica cooks the best food I've had in a long, long time. When I asked her, over a vegetable borscht (some kind of fermented base in there that makes it look like minestrone but taste like it could win a revolution against a communist regime...), what was Romanian and what wasn't, she looked at me a little crazy, kind of like - enjoy your food and stop asking questions, when meanwhile, I was scheming to figure out how I do research and make this stuff at home. I just don't have enough Balkanic Food knowledge to know exactly what to do to "put the fish eggs in a bowl, add some oil, and mix ..." (like aioli, but how many eggs?) or "put the mushrooms in a pot and boil.... mix cream and flour ... mix."
It's like saying French baguettes are just some flour, starter, water and let it rise before you bake it.
We went to the market there, and after scoping out piles of fresh horseradish next to pickled, and trios of hot peppers laid out on plywood across milk crates, we stepped into the cheese market: to my untrained eye it looked like 10 kinds of feta in a row sold by men in white coats wearing little felted black hats - but having tried these the day before I knew some where salty, others sweet, some stunk of barnyardy sheep goodness and others a crisp goat tang.
My most favorite was this dish that started with 7 kilos of fresh farm cheese (we went to another part of the city to pick it up from her friend) that Liam's dad whipped with some salt, and we then spread on toast. 120% fat cream cheese au naturel. Incredible.
While I work on Monica to open a restaurant (I thought Paris, New York or Oakland), I am on a search for how to do this at home. It might be dangerous - we eat enough here already!