Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Sunday 31 May 2009

Quiz (Kouiz)

Foodies. Apparently, they love food. But do they really know what they're eating, and where their food comes from in the first place? How many foodies can score full marks on this quiz?

1. Here's a really easy one: what colour are these little green blobs going to be in October?
1.CIMG7181 2.CIMG6988
2. This isn't so easy: what are those fresh green pods (and old brown ones) hanging on the branches?

3. These green apple-shaped balls look good enough to eat now, but they won't be ripe enough until late August.
3.P5010034 4.P5010035
4. If you cut and dry these now, they'll make a mild relaxing tea in the winter.

5. What colour are these spiky balls going to be in late September?
5.P5010036 6.P5010037
6. What wild leafy greens grow from the seeds of the plant that gives this bright yellow flower?

7. These beautiful pink flowers bring out one of the sexiest fruits imaginable. What are they?
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8. No, it's not a walking stick. It's edible, but you know it in a much shorter form.

9. What are these white blossoms going to be when they grow up?
9.CIMG6999 10.P5010066
10. What are these furry worms going to turn into when they get older?

11. What can be made from these tiny green blobs?
11.CIMG7230 12.CIMG7232
12. These little buds will grow into a very large crop. What is it?

Leave a comment on this post with the numbered answers and you may win this book,
which is filled with similar recipes that I have already written about. Now you won't have to drag the laptop in the kitchen or print out the recipe when you want to cook Cretan food.

This competition will run for a week. The winner will be announced some time in the following week, where I will also give the answers. If you want to take part, please make sure I can track you down (ie don't leave an anonymous comment). The winner will be picked randomly, even if they don't know all the answers; hey, neither did I until I came to live here!

©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.

Friday 29 May 2009

Za'atar (Ζατάρ)

The students at MAICh are usually young people of Mediterranean origin (with a sprinkling of Northern Europeans). Most nationalities are well-represented numerically, so each country can form a group within the larger context and organise an ethnic night during the year, in which traditional food from their country is served, along with a presentation of their country's customs, music and dance.

Recently, it was Lebanese night at MAICh. The students prepared the meals themselves, with a bit of help from their mothers, who sent them some food parcels. I wasn't able to attend the soiree, but I was lucky to get some of the leftovers.

greek oregano za'atar lebanese spice mix
Left: Greek oregano being grown as a potted plant; right: home-made za'atar
za'atar lebanese spice mix

Zaatar is a spice mixture made with Origanum syriacum, a very fragrant aromatic herb growing wild in Lebanon, similar (but not quite!) to the Greek oregano; it has a different growth structure, and a slightly different aroma. Great importance is attached to it among the local crops in the Lebanese market due to its regular use in daily cooking. It is grown and harvested, then roasted in a special way with some sumac and sesame seeds. The dry mixture keeps a long time in an airtight container. It is combined with oil and spread over Lebanese flatbread, and then eaten as is, or slightly grilled for a nuttier taste. Apparently, everyone in Lebanon has this at some point every day.

This was given to me by one of my students, prepared by her own mother in Lebanon. We tried it with our regular bread from the local baker's. It made an interesting alternative to our psomi me ladi. If you want to make some za'atar yourself, try Laurie's recipe.

©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 27 May 2009

Biodiversity (Βιοποικιλότητα)

I recently saw some very pretty grasses that had flowered growing in the ditch that runs alongside the border of the garden and the cemented pathway next to our house. I had never come across these silvery green sprays with a slight purple tinge to them. Despite their short stature, they stood proudly against the dry brown soil like tiny fir trees; how on earth they managed to escape my husband's notice is a mystery to me, as they had been there for quite some time. He has a knack of meticulously clearing every unwanted scrap of foliage (ie weed) in the garden as he has a great intolerance for anything growing that isn't useful or edible. This is where I differ with my other half in how we view our garden. If he had his own way, he would turn me into a champion weed exterminator; if I had mine, we'd be eating them...

wild grasses wild grasses
The top two grasses are common in our garden...
wild grasses among celery growing in the ditch
... but the silvery green one with the purple tinge (only about four samples are visible in this photo) growing amongst the celery had never been there before. Its progenitors probably arrived with the grass cutter and tilling equipment which we had borrowed from a neighbour to prepare the soil for planting our summer vegetables.

I thought about photographing this pretty spray that nature bestowed on us; sooner or later, it would dry up and I wouldn't see it again till next year. I also began noticing many other short flowering grasses growing in clumps here and there in different parts of the garden: in the cracks of the cement pathway, in amongst the artichoke bushes where they are safely guarded by this plant's thorny leaves, and lots of different ones in the ditch where wastewater catches. They all looked common, but every single one was different; no two were even barely alike. There were single ear husks, fern-like sprays, frilly clumps, stalky reeds, bushy tresses, and a myriad other kinds of grasses. None stood out so much as the one that caught my eye in the first place. If they were collected and artistically arranged into a bouquet, they would have made a marvellous backdrop to the most brilliant coloured roses.

wild grasses
I saved a few of my favorite grasses and put them in a wine pitcher, along with the pretty purple flowers of the maroulides horta.

Alas, I put off photographing them until it was too late, and his roving eyes did eventually catch sight of them. The last time I saw them, they were lying in a heap of unwanted grasses and weeds waiting to be discarded. Into the compost heap, I hear you say, but no, they weren't even given this dignity. "We don't want them seeding next year, too, do we?" was his response.

*** *** ***
Biodiversity is being compromised in the case of some species of grasses and wildflowers, especially the ones that do not have a culinary or medicinal reputation. Their past uses are becoming more and more obscure with the advent of modern technology in both fields, even though nearly all species have some kind of interesting folkloric history.

false dittany hiliomoudou hania chania
Kalokoimite in Kiriakoselia found growing in a rubbish heap.

This soft furry plant is known as καλοκοιμιτέ (kalokimoite; Ballota pseudodictamus). It is easily confused with malotira, an endemic Cretan mountain tea. It's a rare plant that is on the list of endangered species. It has little use in modern times, which is probably why it is endangered, but in the past, it served two purposes: its flowers were sought out by honey bees, and shepherds used these bushes as mattresses, to sleep on when they were spending a day in the field looking after grazing sheep. Kalokimite is a smooth furry-leaved plant with no thorns, making it a perfect bush to lie on and catch forty winks, without worrying that you'll wake up with back ache. Nowadays, 'shepherds' use their 4x4 pick-up trucks with reclining seats for this purpose.

Hikers and nature lovers may still find some use for it if they know how to recognise it. Just don't pull it out of the ground - find a shady spot where it is growing, leave it where it is, and lie on it. When you get up, the soft supple stalks will regain their original form, and their flowers and seeds will be able to reproduce in the next season.

agarathia hiliomoudou hania chania
Agarathia in Kiriakoselia

Agarathia (Phlomis fruticosa) is beautiful to look at and soft to touch. It has a woody base, and was often used in the past as a fire starter. It looks like sage - it is also known as Jerusalem sage - but it isn't used for any culinary purposes. Its downy thornless leaves look as though the plant could serve as a soft mattress, just like kalokoimite; if you do just that, you're bound to wake up after your snooze under the warm Mediterranean sky with an eye infection. For this reason, it was regarded as an undignified plant, and was often uprooted when it grew among other more highly regarded ornamental plants such as jasmine, as this old Cretan adage tells us:
Κρίμα σ'εσένα γιασεμί, κρίμα σε σένα ρόδο (Pity on you, jasmine, pity on you rose)
να βάλεις στην αγκάλη σου, τσ'αγκαραθιάς τον κλώνο. (to be found hugging a branch of agarathia)

This is also the reason why it has become an endangered species; it is one of the first shrubs to go when land is being cleared for more purposeful uses. Its brilliant yellow flowers could easily win a flora beauty contest, but another Cretan saying tells us that beauty is only skin deep:
"Μη μου ψηλοπετάς ετσά αγκαραθιάς το κλώνο, (Don't make airs at me, you branch of agarathia)
και βασιλιάς δεν γίνεται αυτός που θα σε πάρει." (the one who marries you doesn't become a king)

Agarathia is regarded as a symbol of hopelessness:
"Έθησαν, άνθισαν οι αγκαραθιές (The agarathies came, they bloomed)
κι'έκανα κολοκύθια." (and they produced zucchinis)

Poor agarathia, the locals have really got it in for them!

aspalarthos hiliomoudou hania chania
Aspalathos in Kiriakoselia

Ασπάλαθος (aspalathos, Calicotome vilosa) is a thorny plant native to Crete. Once all the leaves and flowers dried up and fell off the branches, the locals would collect the thorny remains and turn them into a broom to sweep their yards and floors with; the thorns are tied up in bunches onto a long wooden stick. This plant would also be used as a cover on olive and wine urns (similar to the thorny remains of stamnagathi), to stop insects and other small fauna from crawling into them. In the past when people didn't wear shoes all the time (saving their only pair for special ocassions), the soles of their feet were so hard that it was said they couldn't feel the thorns of the aspalathos even if they were walking on it.

good for hemorrhoids

This shrub has one of the most putrid smells a small tree can have; when the leaves are rubbed between the fingers, it stinks like burning rubber. But it was known to the locals for one thing: the effusion from boiling its leaves can make a soothing remedy for hemorrhoids. This may have been a more common ailment associated with diet in the past. This plant may be one of the herbal remedies listed on this page, but then again it may be something completely different.

arapis drakontia hania chania
Drakontia, also known as arapis ('the Arab', meaning 'black'), in my neighbourhood

When I first came to Hania, I came across this lily, and fell in love with it immediately. With its deep purple colour and impressively patterned leaves, I thought it would make a beautiful centrepiece. My aunt took one look at it and screamed in horror: "Get it out of here!" I quickly discovered that, despite its unique appearance, drankontia (the dragon flower) is so stinky and toxic that not even animals will touch it, which shows how much cleverer they are than the uninitiated human being. Flies are its pollinators: the flower traps them overnight so that they can perform this job; maybe they serve as temporary fly traps in orchards, allowing the trees to maintain their health.

wildflowers fournes hania chania wildflowers fournes hania chania wildflowers fournes hania chania wildflowers fournes hania chania wildflowers fournes hania chania
It's amazing what will grow back on its own in one patch of soil...
olive grove fournes hania chania
... even after it was totally destroyed by fire.
wildflowers fournes hania chania wildflowers fournes hania crete wildflowers fournes hania crete wildflowers fournes hania crete wildflowers from maroulides horta hania crete

... which brings me to my final point about biodiversity: just leave everything where you find it, as everything has its own place in the order of things. The humble blade of grass is not as simple as it looks: after thousands of years of evolution, it evolved into ears of corn and husks of wheat.

grassy weed
A common grassy weed: an ancient ancestor of corn and wheat

With the passage of time and the rapid rate of technological innovation, biodiversity is being lost due to the lesser perceived usefulness of certain species, which, in fact, given time, might even evolve into something more useful.

vikos vicia sativa fournes hania chania vikos vicia sativa fournes hania chania
The vikos (Vicia sativa; above) is used as animal feed, but is directly related to the pea (Pisum sativa; below) that we eat; they are both members of the Vicieae (vetch) tribe in the plant kingdom, resulting from the subtle evolutionary differences that distinguish them from one another. The vikos (vetchweed) was found in our field; peas are becoming more and more popular as a simple crop to grow in the garden.

peas vikos pisum sativum galatas hania chania peas vikos pisum sativum galatas hania chania

Human beings use only 20 plant species to provide 90% of their food needs, which is a tiny fraction of the edible plants in the world (Plants for a future, Ken Fern, 2000). In the future world where plants will be grown not only for food but also for fuel, biodiversity may be the key to abundance.

Thanks to the Herbarium at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania whose staff assisted me by providing me with advice and pointing me in the right direction of reading material, which I've shared with you in this post.

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Sunday 24 May 2009

Spring picnic (Ανοιξιάτικο πικ-νικ)

Spring spreads a little colour among the evergreen foliage that covers Crete year-round. The wildflowers spray all the colours of the rainbow on the verdant carpet of the fields, even if only temporarily; when the temperatures begin soaring, everything dries up and only the brown stalks will remain. To enjoy the biodiversity of spring time in Crete, you need to seize the moment; what better way than to take your lunch to a field on a sunny day.

wildflowers fournes hania chania wildflowers fournes hania chania wildflowers fournes hania chania wildflowers fournes hania chania wildflowers fournes hania chania
Wildflowers in Fournes village
wildflowers fournes hania chania wildflowers fournes hania crete wildflowers fournes hania crete wildflowers fournes hania crete wildflowers fournes hania crete

Picnicking in Greece isn't common. In fact, I've never seen anyone lying on the grass, except for foreign migrant workers, who don't have anywhere else to sit and have their coffee when they're doing roadworks or working in fields. And if we didn't have olive groves and orange orchards of our own, we would probably also never go on picnics.

olive grove fournes hania chania
Our picnic spot was our own olive grove with a panoramic view of the village of Fournes, but this was no picnic...

My husband owns an olive grove in the village of Fournes. During spring, he leaves the house early on a Saturday morning to burn off the massive amounts of tree prunings that collect over the year and can't be used as firewood - small branches, twigs, dry leaves and other matter - that are blocking up the pathways leading to the olive trees. These trees were planted on a steep incline at the turn of last century by his great grandparents' family, but were burnt to the ground in a massive fire about 20 years ago. Once the fire broke out, it did not take long for the trees to become completely destroyed; due to its oil content, olive burns rapidly once ignited. Even though the fire was contained quickly, the damage was extensive. The properties that were destroyed were all owned by members of the same extended family.

Amidst his misfortune in suffering a massive drop (at the time) in his annual income from the sale of the olive oil produced from these trees - the field contained 200 productive trees and produced 3 tonnes of olive oil annually - it was also a matter of luck that the fire was NOT caused accidentally by another farmer burning tree cuttings. During a heatwave, a short circuit occurred in the regional electrical grid in the area, causing a fire to break out in some olive groves in the village of Fournes, Hania. This was proven by a long-winding court case, which eventually compensated each owner (ten years later) for the destroyed olive fields, the amount designated by taking into account the value of the field, each tree on the field (my husband had to dig up each and every root to prove that there really was a tree growing there, using even the remnants of black plastic mesh that had somehow escaped the fire's heat) and the amount of annual income losses from the oil produced.

The trees eventually grew back, albeit with one major drawback: their stems were producing wild olives (unift for human consumption). They needed to be pruned back and cleared of all the other foliage, weeds and shrubs that were growing around their roots before they would start producing olives for eating and producing oil. With a heavy heart, my husband began clearing, one-by-one, as many trees as were needed to provide his family with their yearly olive oil needs. Needless to say, this was a monumental task, taking at least ten years to complete; only about a third of the field has been rejuvenated, but that's how much we need to maintain our provisions. It was and still is a traumatic experience whenever he goes to this field; even the mention of this dark period still brings back vivid memories in his mind of the phone call from his cousins ("The village is on fire"), the sight of the hill burning as he approached the village, and the devastating consequences he had to face in the aftermath, as well as the personal grief it caused his family.

clearing the olive grove of dead wood fournes hania chania picnic fournes hania chania
After burning the tree prunings, we used the ashes as a makeshift barbecue.
bbq picnic fournes hania chania

Olive groves need a massive amount of maintenance, something very difficult to do if the owner is employed in another sector outside agriculture. The trees need to be pruned, the paths need to be cleared of excess cuttings, and the waste wood that cannot be turned into firewood (we give to relatives who have fireplaces) needs to be burned off. Once the wood has become ashes, it's a pity to waste the perfect setting for a barbecue, even if the ground is covered with thorny plants and sharp rocks. At least the children have finally learnt to walk up and down these hills and have also stopped crying every time they are stung by a thistle...

©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.