Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Wednesday 30 July 2008

Staycating in Hania (Σπιτοδιακοπές στα Χανιά)

The beach is one of my favorite places to play in, pretending to be a pirate hiding treasure or looking out for other pirates who want to ransack my deserted island. But I don't really care about swimming. Mum says she doesn't want us to miss out on learning to swim like she did, but I think I take after her; it doesn't look like I'll be learning to swim very quickly either. Some people are just not made for water. I hate it when water seeps up my nose. So you can imagine how glad I was when a couple of days ago the weather was so windy that the beach pool was bulging with frothy waves and the lessons were cancelled.

agious apostolous waves beach hania chania

After school broke up for the summer, we've never stayed at home in the afternoon since those swimming lessons started. We were at a loose end that day when it was too cold to go swimming. The sun was shining, but the wind was tipping the chairs over on the balcony and we couldn't sit outside. The house hadn't cooled down enough to sit outdoors.

"What shall we do instead?" she asked us. She's always taken a democratic view in our leisure choices, but always seems to get us to do things she wants us to do anyway. Christine wanted to go horse-riding: 'it's too late in the afternoon"; I wanted to go to the water slide park: 'if it's windy here, they're going through a hurricane".

"How about a trip into Hania to see your favorite paediatrician?" she suggested. That's where she wanted to go, so we agreed with her, otherwise, she might not have taken us anywhere. We knew we were up for our last vaccination, and we wanted to get it over and done with too. I only felt a little sting in the beginning but after that, I didn't feel anything. Christine tried to run away at one point; I wonder what she's going to do when she gets her tuberculosis vaccination at school next year.

"Isn't it too windy to go to Hania, too?" I asked. Dad always checks the weather before we go out. "Wear a jacket," she replied. But no one else was wearing one, so I didn't take one either. She'd make me carry it if I ended up taking it off in town. But when we left the doctor's, the wind was still quite strong. "I'm cold," Christine said, hugging her arms, but she was laughing.

"I love this weather," Mum said. She never wears a jacket, but never complains about the weather. I suppose it felt better than the feeling you get when the sun is too bright and it's burning down on you. As we walked towards the town, I noticed I didn't sweat. I was beginning to see why Mum liked this weather. My body felt much lighter than it did during the day, and I didn't have that sticky feeling on my skin.

"Now that we're in Hania, would you like to have something to eat in town?" I knew she'd take us out for the meal of our choice. That's what I like about Mum: she knows we don't want to eat at a sit-down taverna which serves all those meals she makes at home. Neither does she, in any case. We chose Goody's because with each happy meal they give you a toy.

plateia 1866 hania chania

Mum ordered our happy meals: a hamburger, some chips and a soft drink. "Aren't you having anything for yourself, Mum?" I asked her. "I wish you'd eat everything so that I didn't have to eat your leftovers." We never eat it all, probably because it isn't like the food we eat at home, all home-made. Mum hates throwing away food, so she never orders anything for herself. I got a Ninja turtle figurine in my meal, while Christine got a bracelet with pink light-up hearts.

When we left Goody's, it was already dark, and there was a lot of traffic on the road. I've never seen so many cars on the road before; where were they going with all their lights lit up?

outside goodys at hania chania

"Where are they all going, Mum?" we asked.
"Out for fun," she replied.
"Anywhere, wherever there's something to do."
"Can we go where they're going, too?"
"You're already there," she replied.
Sometimes she likes to be secretive and get us to work out the answer. She says it helps us to become cleverer. I think she just likes to tire us out.

halydon st going to old port hania chania

Summertime. The tourists in their rental cars. The Athenians in their jeeps. The locals jostling for space among the foreigners. Walkers get to their destination faster than drivers. We were standing opposite the taxi stand.
"Shall we check whether Dad's there?" she asked us.
"There he goes!" Christine shouted.
"That's a TOYOTA," I told her. "The SKODA's behind it," I pointed out.
"Is that Dad's taxi?" Christine asked me.
"No," Mum cut in. "Did you notice the licence plate?"
We didn't know it in the first place, so Mum told us to remember to look at it the next time the taxi was parked in the garage.
"Do you know it, Mum?"
"Of course; that's how I recognise Dad's taxis from the others."
She's right again. All the SKODA's looked the same to us too, except that some had more scratches than others.

There was music coming from the park next to the taxi rank. People who looked very different from us were wearing feathers in their long black hair, singing and dancing. We thought they were Indians. Mum told us they were from South America. We watched them perform some songs and dances, then Mum gave us money to throw into their collection box. "Time to go," she told us, which was a pity, because we were quite comfortable sitting on the ground with all the other people who also looked very different from us - they had blonde hair, pale faces and very red skin from sitting in the sun too long.

plateia 1866 south americans hania chania

We walked on to the corner. Now the road was crowded with people and lights from the shops.
"Where are we going, Mum?" Silly question, she wasn't going to tell us. But I thought I recognised the street. Could this be...? I still wasn't sure which road it was. Suitcases. Swimsuits. People. Towels. Glasses. So many people. Cats. Glass cats in all colours. Could this be a toy shop?

glass cats halydon st hania chania

"Shall we go inside and have a look, Mum?"
"Don't touch anything!" is all she said, diverting us to the opposite side of the street.
Gold. Silver. Pretty rings. Hats. Horses. Carriages. More people.
"Can we ride on one of those one day?"

horses halydon st hania chania

Mum smiled at us. I knew what she was thinking: we don't need to take a horse and carriage, because we have a car and a taxi. That's why we don't use public transport, either. But I'd like to ride on a bus one day. I asked Mum if we could take a bus into town one day. She told me that even if we did catch a bus from the main road into town, we'd have to walk up the hill when we returned home. I agreed with her that it wouldn't be a good idea to take the bus. Who wants to walk up the hill under the hot sun breaking out in sweat?

fountain lighthouse hania chania

Sweets. Bottles. People wearing shorts and sandals. They looked like they had just come from the beach. Chairs. Music. People sitting at cafes. People walking. A fountain!
"What's behind the fountain?" Mum asked us.
What was behind the fountain? There were too many people to see anything distinctive. A light. The lighthouse. The lighthouse!
"O faros!" Christine and I shouted out the answer together. We knew that's what Mum wanted us to say. We were at the old port.

old mosque port hania chania

"Are we going to sit down?" Everyone else seemed to be sitting down or looking for a seat.
"Let's take a walk ...," Mum insisted, while we moaned.
"... and then we'll have---"
"ICE CREAM!" Christine and I shouted together.


So we walked around the harbour a little while to make Mum happy until we got tired and Mum thought we were going to fall into in the water. We turned back up Halydon St and she bought us our ice-cream. We were very tired by the end of the night, but the whole adventure had been a wonderful staycation. I wish we could take a bus back to the car. Or at least see Dad at the taxi stand so he could drive us back.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Devilishly Delicious BBQ Chicken Marinade (Μαρινάδα με μουστάρδα)

BBQ is pretty much standard Sunday fare during the warm season in most Greek households (It would be standard fare all year round in my house if we had a decent BBQ): pork steaks, lamb chops, sausages, chicken meat, all cooked on hot charcoal, leaving behind no mess in or smells in the kitchen.

The standard Greek marinade consists of salt, pepper and oregano sprinkled on the meat, which is usually left to rest in lemon juice. During cooking time, more seasonings are sprinkled on after the meat is brushed with oil to stop it from drying out too quickly while it is cooking. After it's cooked, lemon juice is once again squeezed over the meat.

chicken marinade

Today, I tried a chicken marinade using mustard and Worcestershire sauce, found on a website whose host claims to be a BBQ expert. It's quite unlike any marinade I've ever tried before in the sense that the sauce was quite thick and stayed pretty much glued onto the chicken. What's done is done, I thought, as I applied it on both sides of some flattened chicken pieces. For this reason, I didn't brush all the chicken with the mixture, which is a shame, because the marinated chicken turned out moist and delicious, making the Greek version of chicken BBQ taste drier and blander.

BBQ chicken

The chicken was accompanied by a large garden-fresh Greek salad, and some grilled bread, all washed down with cold beer. We enjoyed it so much that it has inspired us to invest in a better BBQ so that the cook doesn't moan so much. There wasn't any room left for the lovely pepper tart I prepared according to Laurie's recipe, using up all our garden peppers; it will make a perfect evening meal to be enjoyed in the cool night-time breeze on the balcony.

Laurie's pepper tart

Friday 25 July 2008

Pesto (Πέστο)

Our house in New Zealand was filled with pot plants. The living room, the TV room, the dining room, as well as the kitchen, they were all filled with all sorts of flowering plants - I remember mainly begonias - while aromatic basil was one of the most popular that my mother grew on the windowsills. Weather conditions in the land of the long white cloud meant that not everything could grow in the garden of our Wellington home, which is why the house was forced to become a greenhouse for the greater part of the year.

basil plants mt victoria wellington

Basil is the most important aromatic plant in the Greek Orthodox church. When the priest blesses holy water, he does so with a cross and a large bunch of basil. When the believers file past solemnly to be blessed by the priest, he douses the basil in the holy water, pats it on the congregation's head and gives everyone the cross to kiss. On Good Friday, basil adorns the Epitaph (the tomb of Christ), being one of the main aromatic plants. No village porch or back yard is amiss of basil, which grows in various shapes and sizes, from tiny bead-like droplets to leaves large enough to be made into dolmadakia, from bushy pot plants to large outdoor shrubs, in various shades of the colour green.

basil plants

I like to brush my clothes and hands past basil as I walk alongside a bush or pot plant. It leaves behind the most alluring aroma, a short-lived whiff of expensive perfume, like a highly scented rose. I'm sure most Greeks will agree that a house without basil is like a house that never sees the sun. The aroma of basil is so strong, that if you touch even one leaf, your fingers will be scented for a good few minutes.

The culinary world knows basil well. Italian cooking uses it wherever the Greek recipes call for oregano. The Venetians left behind a legacy during the time they ruled over Crete, but it seems that their culinary practices did not catch on (which doesn't surprise me as the local people of Crete did not see eye to eye with the Venetians, as is my understanding from the literature). Given its abundance in Greece, why is it that the traditional Cretan cook does not use it more often in the preparation of meals? My Psilakis (6th edition) cookbook makes no mention of its use in any recipe. We'll go to great lengths to source Tamus creticus and Solanum nigrum (both considered poisonous to a certain extent), but we won't snip off a bit of basil from our own garden to add to our dolmades mixture, even if we're out of parsley, mint, dill or fennel, the main fresh herbs used in Crete (dried herbs are usually limited to thyme, oregano and bay leaves).

pesta pasta

Recently, a friend of mine well versed in the culinary practices of old-time Crete served me a pesto sauce using basil that she had growing in her garden, together with a good dose of garlic and olive oil. The ground almonds made it a filling protein-filled sauce for thick tubular macaroni, as well as being an appropriately scented summer meal. As this is a no-cook sauce, the ingredients have to be as pure as possible; pesticide residues and other sources of contamination that taint the aromas of the fresh ingredients will affect this meal immensely.

Despite thoroughly enjoying the pesto meal, when wanting to copy the recipe in my own home, I still couldn't bring myself to harvest garden fresh basil for my sauce. It is used in Greece by some cooks, especially in combination with tomato and capers, for spaghetti and pizza bases. Pesto is definitely not a traditional pasta sauce in Greece, but it's becoming more popular in the context of a growing interest in international cuisine. Its colour may be off-putting to the average Greek eater; green sauces are a rarity in Greek cuisine. But it is truly delicious and light, perfect as an apres-swimming meal, especially since it can be made in literally just a few minutes while the pasta's boiling.

purslane glistrida watercress

My pesto contains my favorite summer herb, purslane, known in Crete as 'glistrida', with widespread use in salads. It is literally rampant in our garden, growing wherever there is a plant being irrigated and in all the run-off channels. Purslane has a sweet taste perfect for salad, so for a sharper spicy taste, I also added a few rocket (arugula) leaves (known as 'roka' in Greek). My only regret about purslane is that it doesn't grow in winter; as invasive as it is in summer, so are nettles in colder weather.

purslane rocket pesto

I was inspired to make this after seeing the Weekend Herb Blogging round-up hosted by Briciole, which included a variety of pestos all made with different greens: asparagus, purslane, and various basil varieties.

You need:
3-5 cloves of garlic, according to taste, minced finely
a wineglass of ground almonds (they are more impressive without their skin)
a small glass of olive oil
at least a cup of fresh pesticide-free purslane and rocket leaves
a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
salt (pepper is optional; the rocket is spicy enough)

Whizzed everything together in a mini food processor, the well known multi-mouli, the time-saving arthritis-delaying kitchen gadget no cook can be without: voila, there's your sauce. Serve over tubular macaroni with or without grated parmesan. This meal needs very little else, apart from a good chilled white wine.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Thursday 24 July 2008

Fresh from the farm (Ολόφρεσκα)

The little laughing olive tree
had a small request for me:
"I notice you have grown in excess -
could you send it over ex-press?"

fresh garden summer produce

I picked it in the afternoon
and piled it in a crate
with two layers of oranges
to add a bit of weight.

I placed a bag of vlita greens
on top of all the crop
so no one will confuse it with
salata zonianon.

vlita amaranth

The little laughing olive tree
is not that keen on horta;
I hope she has the decency
to give it all to Thia.

If you can come to pick it up,
it's not a lot of tarry;
all you have to do, you see,
is take it from the ferry.

the ferry boat

The supermarket and laiki
all sell goods labelled "Made in Crete";
the little laughing olive tree
will get them all pesticide-free.

Should there be spots on the bell peppers,
it's not a bad thing, please;
we sprayed them with UHT milk
to get rid of disease.

Aubergines and zucchini
have also filled the coffer;
the little laughing olive tree
may wonder "Why no t'maters?"

I don't mind giving away veg
for there are plenty of them,
but as for those excess tomatos
I make a good job of them...

storable tomato sauce

An excess bunch of juicy grapes
is also not included;
they're not ripe just at this moment -
but you'll eat them in August.


And don't forget about the crate;
you know we want it back,
for how do you think I'll send off
the next excess we have?

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Roasted peppers (Ψητές πιπεριές)

Just when I thought I had emptied the fridge of fresh produce - some got cooked and eaten, others were canned or frozen, and a few others were given away to a good home - another vegetable glut comes in:
  • 43 tomatoes
  • 27 aubergine
  • 4 green bell peppers
  • 7 long red peppers
  • 22 banana green peppers (not the hot variety),
  • 5 cucumbers
  • 13 zucchini
Not to mention a bag full of plums from a neighbour and a bunch of amaranth that I had already started preparing for the midday meal. This does not include the purslane-rocket pesto and puttanesca sauces I made for the evening meal when the children come home after their swimming lessons.

red peppers florinis

I used to worry that I wouldn't be able to deal with it; I've heard many of my friends complain to me that they can't eat vegetables every day. Thankfully we can, and so today, I had a vegetable preparation marathon. The fridge is now looking like a tapas bar. Lunch is going to include a whole lot of meze meals: aubergine dip, tzatziki, cucumber strips, kalitsounia with vlita, zucchini patties, and finally, the pride of place going to roasted peppers.

We grow three varieties of pepper in our garden:
  • green bell peppers for Greek salad, yemista, and anywhere that capsicum is used
  • small long green peppers that look like hot chili peppers (but they aren't hot at all) which we use mainly in salads
  • long red peppers (known in Greece as Florinis, due to the place which became famous for growing them) which are delicious in salads, used with aubergine in imam baldi or roasted in the oven
roasted peppers

Red Florinis peppers (I have also used green bell peppers for added colour) are roasted till their skin is charred (the brown vegetables are aubergines - I roasted them at the same time to make melitzanosalata), after which it is peeled off. It's best to do this when they are hot from the oven, otherwise the skin does not peel off easily. I find that the best way is to peel it off while holding them under a tap of cold running water. The peppers are then de-seeded (both the skins and seeds are unpalatable), and arranged on a plate. Minced garlic, vinegar and olive oil are poured over them - they are not salted. I like to mince the garlic with the vinegar in a mouli; the vinegar takes on the aroma of the garlic, and the oil makes the peppers glisten. They store well in the fridge in a covered container; they do not need to be eaten all at once.

Roasted peppers can be added to salads, simple pasta dishes, pesto sauces, a few among many other meals that these peppers are used in. They are a fantastic side dish for any grilled meat or fish, as well as all soupy bean dishes. But on their own, they cannot be beaten: try them with some good cheese and a slice of bread. Bring out a hearty Greek salad and a glass of chilled white wine: ambrosia!

roasted peppers

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Saturday 19 July 2008

Tomato sauce for the winter (Ντοματάδα για τον χειμώνα)

My parents bought our first (and only) family home in Wellington when I was seven, where we lived altogether for nearly twenty years. It was full of different rooms for different purposes: a spacious living room (crammed with settees, glass cabinets and a stereo with a record player), a dining room (with a heavy unmoveable table), a TV room (the biggest PYE screen we could find, with ornate cabinet doors to protect the screenn against dust), a separate kitchen, a separate bathroom, a separate toilet, a separate laundry room, a small lawn with flower beds, a huge rambling garden, a basement and even a three-bedroom flat to rent out, all located within easy walking distance of the CBD (central business district), rendering even public transport unnecessary. The view from our house in Mt Victoria reached right out to Victoria University in Kelburn; I knew when the library was open for longer hours than usual just by looking from the kitchen window at the end of a 25-metre hallway. The quarter-acre bungalow dwelling was the NZ norm in the late 20th century, and when you have never lived differently, you think everyone lives like this, or at least strives towards this lifestyle.


When I came to Greece, I was mortified to discover that this was clearly not the case, especially if your home is in the middle of an urban sprawl like Athens. If you're lucky enough to afford a two-bedroom apartment with even a small lounge and a functional kitchen and bathroom, you will consider yourself very lucky, especially if you live and work in the same area. A house with its own four walls and a patch of garden is clearly a luxury.

I'll never forget my first rented flat in a central Athenian suburb, even smaller than what was described above. It was very cheap, which is why I lived there: 30,000 drachmas a month (less than 100 euro, utilities included) for a large bedroom, small windowless hallway which acted as a living room, a tiny but fully functional kitchen, and a bathroom, the only room which I had to share with a tenant who boarded with the landlady, an eccentric, microscopic woman in her mid-40s, who smoked a pipe and liked to walk in and out of my apartment naked, which was easy to do because she had made a small aperture in the dividing wall separating the two apartments. Her dog always seemed to make a point of shitting in my part of the property; she was more than happy to come and clean it up (after she put on some clothes). As you can see from the photo, I was making apple cake even then...


The other tenant shared her own kitchen, where she prepared miso soup and seaweed pasta, regularly inviting me to partake of such meals, accompanied by tea made from strained horta water. She clearly hated cleaning up; all her crockery was stained - nothing was ever scrubbed. She claimed to be a nature lover. She had what looked like a million pot plants strewn all over the adjoining balconies, located on the second floor of a corner apartment block, all set up with an automatic irrigation system. She never spilled a drop of water on the balcony tiles, not even to clean them.

The only good thing about the apartment was its location. The view from my two-by-five metre balcony was still more apartment balconies, but much further away from mine, due to a supermarket building across the road from the block. It had been purposely built and was only two stories high, which meant that I didn't have to stare into another person's home, or watch someone walking around naked. Summer evenings were stiflingly hot; if you opened the windows for air, the noise from the traffic - the apartment block was on a main road - was deafening. The only reassuring noise was the sound of a trolley bus passing by at regular intervals; you could rest assured the means of transport weren't on strike. It made me realise how miserably people force themselves to live, all for the sake of a 'good' job (you work long hours in a big city), going to shows like concerts, theater and film premieres (when you've been working all day, it's an effort to go) or maybe just to feel more refined (hence the rise of urban peasants who buy their apples from a supermarket, yet have never seen an apple tree).

I came to detest boxes for houses, but found that it was the only solution I could afford for a long time. I also realised I didn't want to live in the big smoke. I had no idea what the landscape of the area looked like, having gotten used to the view of one apartment block after another for miles around. One time, I went up to the top floor and was amazed to see that I lived near mountains! I had never put it in my head that I would ever live in (let alone own) a detached house whose walls I didn't have to share with anyone, but I still bought house and garden magazines and home improvement books: Terence Conran's House Book, Laura Ashley's Decorating with Fabric, The Complete Book of Country Living. I was living in the hope that one day I might make my dream come true. And for the most part, the dream of living in a large airy house away from the buzz of city traffic did come true: the four walls of our house are ours and ours alone; I just have to share the floor (it becomes someone else's ceiling after a certain point).

I still have those books I bought many moons ago when I was still dreaming of the life I'm living now, and one of them (The Complete Book of Country Living) contains a recipe I've been using for over a decade to use up a midsummer tomato glut and turn it into tomato sauce for winter use when only tasteless hothouse tomatos are available at the fresh produce section. I use it as a pasta sauce, a soup base for all types of beans, and a spread for pizza bases. (Another way I preserve fresh tomato is to puree it and place in plastic bags, or even stick whole tomatos in the freezer as is, but tomatos preserved in jars don't take up freezer space (there's no more room at the inn). You just have to be sure about the bottling process you use to guard against contamination.

The recipe I use to make 'fancy tomato ketchup' (as it's labelled in the book) has been copied directly from the book (Mallard Press, 1992) with my variations in italics. I've also used it for many other recipes to preserve various fruits and vegetables, but this is the recipe that beats them all.

tomato glut

You need:
25-30 medium sized fresh soft tomatos, without being squidgy
4 apples (I use only 3 of the large red starkin variety)
1 large onion (I use at least 2)
1 cup cider vinegar (red wine village vinegar, of course!)
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 teaspoon of oregano
1/2 teaspoon of chili pepper (I use a tablespoon of strong black freshly ground pepper)
3 whole bay leaves (or half a dozen, if you have them growing fresh in the village)
Peel (not necessarily!) and core the tomatoes. Puree in a processor and pour into a stainless steel saucepan. Peel and core the apples. Put them in a pan with a cup of water, cover, cook till soft and puree them (or just puree them raw, like I do) and add them to the tomatos. Add all the other ingreidents and cook on low heat, stirring often, for at least two hours, or until all the liquid has evaporated and you are left with just tomato (it will start sticking to the pan at this point, which is how you can recognise that all the water has gone); it will have drastically reduced in bulk. The tomato sauce is cooked in an uncovered saucepan; the kitchen will be smelling heavenly at this point.

tomato sauce

Ladle the hot ketchup into hot sterilised jars (all mine are recycled from honey, coffee and other comestibles). Clean the rims of the jars (the capacity of mine never exceeds 750g, as this is the amount of fresh tomato I would use for the average meal) and seal them (I let the sauce cool down only slightly and seal them with a piece of saran wrap, before fixing on the lid).

tomato ketchup

The last part of the process involves placing them in a water bath canner for 45 minutes for 1/2-pint or pint jars, something which I never do. From my reading, I worked out a substitute method to get the same effect as the water bath canner (unfortunately, I can't remember my sources now. My tomato sauce keeps without going bad for just over eight months. When I open the jar, I hear that popping sound that a seal makes when it has been done properly; if it doesn't make that sound, then I worry. I make at least two lots of this sauce per season (I know I'm just showing off...)

storable tomato sauce

The tomato season is only just starting. Up until the end of June, garden tomatos were few and far between. Even at the supermarket, the tomatos being sold were still hothouse tomatos. Apart form beef tomatos, we also produce vine tomatos which have a slight pear shape, rather than the regular round variety. When there's a zucchini glut in America, I've been told that you have to lock up even your letterbox because you never know who's going to deposit their excess crop in there. But don't expect to find any tomatos hiding in amongst the zucchini in your letterbox because there can never be a tomato glut, ever; you can never ever have enough tomato. It is always the most important crop we grow; it ripens later than any of the other summer garden vegetables, but what can you do with most Greek-style vegetable dishes if you don't have tomatos? Tomato is also the most sensitive crop we grow; it is more vulnerable than other garden veges to rot, disease and calcium deficiency.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Archana from Archana's Kitchen.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Thursday 17 July 2008

No more room at the inn (Είμαστε πλήρης)

(poem dedicated to all my regular readers - you know who you are, and I'm humbled to be meeting up with so many)

I woke up this morning
and what did I see?
Some garden-fresh vegetables
looking at me.

fresh garden summer produce

How did they come in?
I heard them not knock.
They came univited,
it was such a great shock.

Alas, I can't bear it
no longer herein,
for, as you can see,
there's no room at the inn.

no more room at the inn

No more room at the inn
and it's only July,
we still have two more
summer months to fly by.

farmer jim

No more room at the inn,
I beg you to come;
I'll cook up a treat
you'll enjoy in the sun.

Boureki, moussaka,
imam baldi,
tzatziki, hohlious,
and horiatiki.

I'm waiting to see you,
I'll greet you in Greek:
Kalos orisate!
Kali orexi!

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Aleko's tzatziki (Τζατζίκι του Αλέκου)

Although the Greco-Creto cuisine sometimes tires me (as this is all I cook, and what we all eat at home), there are some foods in the Greek culinary repertoire that you can never tire of, having acquired the status of becoming staples in the processed food industry. Tzatziki is one of these foods. I was very proud to see it - even in its packaged form - in the supermarkets I visited in London, as well as in New Zealand when I was there last.

tzatziki with carrot

Here's my favorite version of tzatziki, learnt from Alekos in Elafonisi. He always makes it himself, which is probably why it tastes so good. We are going to enjoy this lovely dip with a whole host of leftovers today: greens beans, chicken stew, zucchini patties, yemista and roasted aubergine (which is extremely easy to make: just roast the prepared aubergine slices for a longer amount of time than you would when making imam baldi).


You need:
a pot of yoghurt, Greek-style (which means that it's strained of excess liquids, and not runny)
3-6 cloves of crushed garlic (depending on how strong you want it)
a cup of grated cucumber, strained of its juices (do the same to it as for zucchini when making courgette fritters)
a tablespoon of vinegar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
pepper - Alekos insists that this is the secret ingredient!
grated carrot and/or purslane leaves (these are my additions when making it at home; they are not traditional, but they make for an extra filling dip)

Use a pestle and mortar to grind the garlic with the salt. Then place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix everything together. Leave the mixture in the fridge for an hour for the flavours to blend well. (And if you don't use a pestle and mortar - I never do - it tastes just as delicious.) And if you like tzatziki that much, you might like to try purslane salad.

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Monday 14 July 2008

Lunch at Elafonisi (Τραπέζι στο Ελαφονήσι)


Every year, Aleko comes to Crete to spend the summer in a run-down house built by grandfather in a small village close to one of the most impressive nature spots on the south-western coast of Hania, Elafonisi, which also sports probably the most aesthetically alluring beach in the region of Hania: crystal clear water, whose rippling ground-level waves roll onto coral-pink sand, tucked away in a remote area of the province which was once extremely difficult to access. The wind always blows hard here, making the water icy cold, even in the middle of summer; maybe it's done on purpose, to keep too much development away from the area, on which point of course it has succeeded.

walnut tree topolia hania chania

To get to Aleko's house, we drive off the main highway onto very narrow country roads, passing a few sleepy villages, like Topolia, which is famous for the freshness of its water. It is located on a rise, so that the melting snow from the mountains surrounding it passes the area before it gets to the town of Hania itself. We sat under a walnut tree in the central square and cooled ourselves off with some of that refreshing water, with which people fill up plastic containers and take home with them (it's legal).

The plaque at the square reads as a mantinada, a form of Cretan poetry:
Drink water from Topoliana,
which Nature freely gives,
the whole of our community
welcomes you to our village.


From this point on, the road narrows to a single lane, as it passes through the Gorge of Topolia (not the famous Samaria Gorge, but a narrow chasm nevertheless. A tunnel was built through the mountain. The traffic lights indicate which direction of the traffic has the right of way: only one car fits its width.

tunnel before ayia sophia cave hania chania

The tunnel leads directly to a hillside containing a cave of archaeological importance, turned into a shrine dedicated to St Sophia. Church services, even wedding ceremonies and baptisms, are held here, especially when the family concerned has been ''promised' to the saint (another meaning of dedicated: 'ταμένος').

ayia sophia cave hania chania

The road then passes through the village of Elos, which gets its name from 'swamp'. It used to be a breeding ground for malaria, but is now one of the most verdant villages in Hania, home to the oldest vineyard in Crete, and an environmentally important eco-system with native flora and fauna. Water runs freely in this area, the tall trees and dense foliage being living proof of this.

elos valley hania chania

The region also has one of the biggest chestnuts plantations in all of Greece.


Whenever we visit him at his house, he and his wife always make us feel very welcome: traditional Cretan festive fare is the norm - kalitsounia with mizithra, kalitsounia with vlita, summer salad, boiled chicken with pilafi, pork steaks and potato chips, all followed by a juicy watermelon. he was only sorry that we oculdn't sit outside because the wind was roaring upwards of 7 on the Beaufort scale today (the plastic chairs were flying off the verandah).


On the way to Elafonisi from Aleko's house, the road takes you past the monastery of Hrisoskalitissa (meaning 'the Virgin of the golden steps') built on the rocks above the roughest coast of the western shoreline of Hania; it stands like a sparkling gem, glistening under the glorious sun. There is a port close by to Hrisoskalitissa monastery; the area once played host to a large customs office, due to the area's inaccessibility to Hania. These times are now long gone, with the coming of extensive road networks.


The sandy dirt road leading to the beach has been widened since the first time I came to Elafonisi, but nature is still in its rawest form here. The hills rise high and dry above Elafonisi, while the coast is bordered by low dense shrubs resulting from the high winds which do not allow trees to gain any height. The trees have taken the shape of an upside down witches broom, being swept to one side as the wind blows hard against them. The water is shallow for a long way out, and you can walk all the way to an islet in the middle of the sea, from which the area takes its name, the 'nisi' in 'ealfonisi' means 'island', while 'elafo' comes from the word 'elafi', meaning 'deer': I didn't see any!

Life in the main centers of Crete do not have that air of island life that many of the smaller islands in the Aegean Sea do: fantastic beaches, seaside cafes, peace and quiet. Like many other south-west coastal towns of Crete, Elafonisi reminds you that Crete is in fact an island, even if you do have to drive a long way out to prove it.

elafonisi hania chania

Aleko was born in the inter-war period and raised in the village of Vathi. In his youth, there were 120 children living there; now, there are about forty permanent residents in the whole area, and they're not at all young. The houses are all still standing, but the owners have moved away to Hania, or they have immigrated to the New World, for obvious reasons: the industrial boom, better working conditions away from the fields, a higher standard of living, better chances of education for the young.

During the war, he witnessed many atrocities, not just against the people of the village, but also against what they held dear to them. Hrisoskalitssa monastery became the Nazi headquarters in the area, where supplies of weapons were also kept: guns, bullets, bombs, grenades, mines. One day, a group of Cretan resistance fighters attacked some Nazi soldiers and one of them was killed. In revenge, the enemy began to raze the village, and started rounding up the men. Aleko's house was not in the village centre, but his family could see the Nazis coming down the hill. It was mid-August in 1943, and their helmets shone like light bulbs in the sun. The family left the house and hid in the fields.


Aleko's father wasn't with his family at that moment; he'd been visiting someone in another area. He managed to get away just in time and reach his house. He found it empty and suspected what had happened. He dressed up in his mother's clothes and made his way to the fields. The Nazis paid no attention to him as they passed him on the road. When the family finally made their way back to the house, they found it burnt down, the rocks and stones in the walls in ruins. They salvaged what they could and moved their belongings into the barn where they kept their animals. Above the barn was another room, the 'onta' (a word of Turkish origin, used to denote a room above the ground floor), where the family remained until the mid-60s.


At about this time, everyone had gotten tired of living like paupers. The end of the war saw peace, but it also saw great hardship and poverty. One by one, the members of the family started moving away. Aleko's sister went to Athens, where she married and had a family. His brother went to New Zealand, and did likewise. The simple room of the house is filled with photographs of relatives abroad.

Aleko was interested in astrology, watching the moon travel from one side of the sky to the other, observing the patterns the stars make, looking out for lights in the sky that move like a comet and whizz across the darkness. His liking for star-gazing is perfectly understandable; after dusk, there was no light int he village, as it was not electrified until the mid-70s. The stars and the moon in the sky always led the way. It was only in his village that he could see the stars; wherever else he lived and worked, there were too many artificial lights obscuring the view of the clear night sky.

But there was no call for paid work of this kind in the village, so he too had to leave and get a job, like everyone else who left the area. His first job was in construction in Hania. He hated it. He grabbed the first opportunity to get on board a ship bound for New Zealand where his brother lived, leaving behind his blind and widowed mother, who eventually moved into a retirement home in Hania.

During his time in New Zealand, he wondered who would look after his trees: apart from the ubiquitous Cretan olive trees, there were fig trees,


almond trees,


and cactus figs in his back yard.

cactus fig

Aleko moved back to Greece with his family in the late 70s after working for a few years in New Zealand, with the intention to restore the family home in Crete and live there. Are you crazy? said his sister. What are you going to do for a living? Pick olives? Against his wishes, he stayed in Athens and found work in the ship building yards, earning just enough to make ends meet. But he never forgot his parents' house. Every year he came down to see his mother in the old people's home, and stayed at his 'patriko', restoring a wall here or a window there, adding a few bits of furniture where necessary. Now that he's retired, he can enjoy the whole Greek summer in the house where he was born. And we are very lucky that we can spend a part of our summer where nothing can be heard except the wind and cicadas.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.