Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Friday 31 July 2009

Lumen accipe et imperti (Λάβετε φως και μοιράσετέ το)

Here's a very summery recipe to use up an over-productive zucchini crop. Zucchini pate is very simple to make and can be used in a variety of ways, as Ruth Pretty notes, whose recipe Michelle led me to.

zucchini paste zucchini paste
Although I enjoyed the zucchini pasta, I loved this pate spread on bread. I could survive on this throughout the summer.
zucchini paste

Lumen accipe et imperti ("receive the light and pass it on") was the school motto for WGC. Ruth, Michelle and I are all "old girls" of this state school in Wellington. All the schools in Wellington had nicknames, used mainly by pupils of other schools. Ours was "Wellington Grills". Most immigrant Greeks sent their children to state schools, but that's not where their grandchildren are being educated nowadays, a sign of upward mobility in the next generation of Wellington Greeks. Most are now attending private schools that their parents probably made fun of when they were young, places like St Farts and Snots Porridge. They have clearly moved up the ladder in Kiwi society, forming the middle classes of Kiwiland. This is not surprising; Greeks are a remarkably progressive race when they get out of their own country, taking up any opportunities given to them to make good, and instilling similar expectations in their children.

An old girl posing with her parents on Prizegiving Day before the end of the school year, November 1981.

Rachel also recommended the same pate recipe to me, spicing it up with onion and garlic, which is how I made it for a bit of added flavour.

You need:
a quantity of grated zucchini to suit your needs (courgettes and marrow may both be used)
a few tablespoons of olive oil (I used more than a few; zucchini absorbs oil very quickly)
a coarsely chopped onion
1-2 finely chopped cloves of garlic
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Cook till the onion has softened. Add the grated zucchini (if the zucchini came with the flower still attached to it, you can also add that chopped in thin strips) and let it stew away until most of the water has evaporated and the mixture looks like a thick paste. Season with salt and pepper, and serve on grilled bruschetta, toast, hot pasta, or even as a dip (alongside tzatziki) with crunchy vegetables.

Michelle tells me that this paste freezes well. All I can say is I'll be glad when I see the end of this year's zucchini crop...

©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 29 July 2009

Roses (Τριαντάφυλλα)

Dear Maria,

While searching for an obscure Greek cooking term, I came across your blog and marvelled at how much you know about Greek cuisine, so I thought to take the liberty and ask if you can tell me anything about how roses are used in Greek cuisine.

Your loyal reader

Rising early to enjoy the morning breeze, before the sun stifles the air and bakes the earth, I sat outdoors on the balcony admiring my mother-in-law's roses, old bushes which she had originally planted in a rented property in the town, before the family home was built, after which she had transplanted them into her new garden. This is the best time to read my e-mail on my laptop, before the children get up and begin to make their demands on my time, before the Athenian vacationing neighbours wake up and switch on the radio full blast in their new Mercedes, so they can listen to it from indoors as they sit in their air-conditioned holiday home, before the cicada choirs starts singing in orchestrated unison, creating an incessant buzz amidst the village foliage.

rose bushes
My mother-in-law's 25-year-old rose bushes

I pondered over my reader's question: do Greeks use roses in their cuisine? Nothing specific came to my mind. I have seen rose jam available in some supermarkets, but it seemed to be sitting on the shelf for ages; it's probably not a commonly used product here in Hania, I thought knowingly. After all, if it were, surely I would know about it, what with all my worldly knowledge of Greek cuisine, as my reader noticed.

anthonero flower petal water
Flower water (ανθόνερο - anthonero) produced in Hania, made with orange blossom; when the petals used come from roses, the flower water is called rodonero (rose-water).

I set about my morning routine. First, I got out some cotton buds and a bottle of rodonero (ροδόνερο - rose-water), which I use instead of those chemically produced bottled lotions as a facial tonic to freshen up and keep my youthly look, the same rodonero my mother used to sprinkle on a freshly baked batch of koulourakia.

coffee varieties
Of the many different scented Greek coffee varieties now readily available in Greece, the rose and ouzo scented ones seem to be the most popular.

Then I made myself a cup of Greek coffee, using a new packet I'd bought during one of my consumeristic moments, coffee scented with a relatively novel aroma (rose), a flavour that has surprisingly made a successful launch on a staunchly traditional Greek market.

loukoumi turkish delight made in hania chania loukoumi turkish delight made in hania chania
Loukoumi (λουκούμι), an old Greek favorite, before the chocolate bar ousted it in popularity; also known as Turkish Delight, this one's made in Hania by the same company that makes vanila. They are usually flavoured with vanilla, rose essence, almond essence and creme de menthe. They may also have various kinds of nuts added to them.

Since I like my coffee without sugar, I find that a small piece of loukoumi in my favorite flavour (rose-scented, of course) pairs well with the strong taste of granular Greek coffee, taking away the bitter after-taste of the grounds.

I thought about the Roses chocolates stacked away in the refrigerator, and thought about having one, but after that loukoumaki, I decided it wasn't necessary. As I drank my coffee in my rose-scented environment, I re-read the email and promptly hit the reply button:

Dear reader,

Thanks for visiting my blog.
As for the culinary use of roses in Greek cuisine, I can't think of anything in particular. Hope that helps.

Your correspondent on the Big Island

P.S.: I finally picked up that legal document I was having prepared by the notary public, and she had a bowl full of my favourite Greek candies on the table close to the magazines:

rose-flavoured loukoumi candies

rose-flavoured loukoumakia. It turns out that roses are all over the place in my life!

©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.

Monday 27 July 2009

To your health! (Στην υγειά σας!)

I've been perfecting my chocolate zucchini cake over the summer with this year's zealous zucchini crop, and I think I've hit the jackpot with this recipe. I've made it a zillion times and no one ever gets tired of it. It is very tasty, extremely easy to make, and contains very healthy ingredients. It might even make the menu of Angelina's Kitchen in Historic Downtown Pittsboro in North Carolina.

chocolate zucchini banana cake

You need:
2 1/2 - 3 cups of all-purpose flour
4 - 6 tablespoons of cocoa (the more cocoa, the less visible the zucchini is)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
some vanilla essence
2/3 cup olive oil
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
2 eggs
1 ripe banana
1 oversized courgette (which will yield about 2 cups of grated unpeeled zucchini when the water is squeezed out of it) or a few small ones

an oversized zucchini courgette marketably sized courgette zucchini
Zucchini can be a nuisance when it becomes extra large. Marketable ones are never large, even though they taste just the same as small ones, but (er-hem) size matters according to the kind of use you want to make of it...

Prepare the zucchini by grating it and adding a heaped teaspoon of salt. Mix this into the zucchini very well. Squeeze the zucchini to start extracting and discarding all its liquid. When it is damp and firm, add the sugars, cocoa, coffee, vanilla, baking soda and baking powder. Mix well to get a uniform mixture.

Then add the eggs, oil and mashed banana, and mix well again. Make sure that the zucchini is all coated in the chocolate mixture and won't be visible when it's cooked (children won't eat green chocolate cake unless they are exceptionally precocious and can estimate the health benefits they will derive from it). Now add the flour cup by cup, beating well after each addition. The batter should be a thick mud consistency.

Pour the batter into a greased baking tin. I had only a small one available, so I also used two ramekins and cooked separate cakes which I gifted to the neighbours. Cook for 40 minutes, or until a knife pierced through the cake comes out clean. The olive oil (which can be substituted with other lipids, like 180g margarine) makes the cake very light in texture, and slightly crumbly; the banana gives it a nice aroma. The cake can easily be eased out of the baking tin once it has cooled down; in any case, it is cut in slices and each slice easily lifts out of the tin.

chocolate zucchini banana cakes
One for us and two to give away

Extremely healthy, extremely moist, extremely delicious. To make it more festive (labeit less healthy), a chocolate syrup (like the one mentioned here, minus the egg yolks) can be poured over it. When the cake has cooled down slightly, cut it into diamonds or squares and pour the hot syrup over it. It will taste just like the kind of chocolate cake served at upmarket dessert cafes in the best parts of town.

©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 25 July 2009

Sfouggato (Σφουγγάτο)

Sfouggato is a simple one-pot summer dish using eggs and garden vegetables. The word 'sfouggato' is derived from the same word for 'sponge'; the dish sometimes turns out like an omelette, while other times it comes out looking like scrambled eggs, depending on the amount of liquid the final dish contains. This dish also goes by other names, like strapatsada (which means something like 'distorted') or kayana, in various parts of Greece. In Hania, courgettes are usually added to it.

sfouggato kayana strapatsada sfouggato kayana strapatsada
This dish requires little cooking time, and it can also be cooked in two installments. Once the zucchini are done, you can turn off the cooker and come back to add the eggs when you are ready to serve the meal, as this dish tastes its best when served freshly made.

For enough to serve two people, you need:
1/2 cup olive oil (don't be sparing here, you will regret it)
400-500g of small zucchini (they are more tender and cook more quickly)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, freshly grated
sea salt, freshly ground pepper and oregano
3-4 eggs, yolks and whites beaten together lightly

Wash the zucchini (to make sure they don't have any grit stuck on them) and chop them into large cubes (or small chunks, if the zucchini have almost turned into marrow). Heat the oil in a wide shallow saucepan and saute the onion and garlic. Add the zucchini and coat them with oil. Turn down the heat, add the tomato and seasonings, cover the saucepan and let the zucchini cook to your liking. (Some people prefer them crunchy and underdone, others like them soft.) When the zucchini are ready, add the beaten eggs, but don't stir. When the egg starts cooking (it will start to set), begin to mix it into the sauce, in light folds so that it doesn't turn into a soup, but comes out looking like scrambled eggs.

sfouggato kayana strapatsada
This dish may look a little messy (in Greek, we say something is 'strapatsariasmeno' when it's been distorted, hence 'strapatsada'), but it is pure ambrosia.

Sfouggato really needs to be made with fresh high-quality ingredients. The eggs really do need to be free-range, otherwise they won't have the right colour, they may smell 'eggy' (ie suplphuric) and all this will contribute to the dish smelling off-putting. The tomatoes can't be underripe or green; they need to exude summer in their appearance and aroma. This dish can also be made with fresh aubergine (before its interior becomes too seedy).

Don't forget to have some sourdough bread handy to mop up the sauce (forget about calories when enjoying this dish) and some wine (in Crete, most people have access to home-brewed rosé wine).

In the winter, the same dish can be made with zucchini-like vegetables that keep their shape, such as asparagus. It can even be made simply with onions, like the dish featured recently on the Hungry Bear.

©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 23 July 2009

Cretan breakfast (Κρητικό πρωινό)

Greece has never really had a breakfast culture. Most people will have a (usually) warm drink in the morning, or nothing at all. The kind of work people did in the past, coupled with the high rate of daily sunshine, must have contributed to this situation - working on a full stomach in a hot environment is never recommended. In recent times, street food has overtaken that sector of the food market.

If I have shopping to do before going to work, I pick up a koulouri to munch on at the office. Coffee is a personal affair for most people - I only like the one I make at home.

Greece was until only relatively recently an agriculturally based country. People got up early in the morning to get their chores done: tending fields and gardens, orchards and olive groves, and finally animals. It was important to get these daily chores done early in the morning, because once the sun rises, so does the temperature. After a late evening meal (common in Greece) and a good night's sleep, a hot cup of milky coffee or sweetened malotira (mountain tea) would suffice in the morning (with maybe a dry rusk or koulouraki for dunking) before starting out on those dusty, dirty, tiring chores. In the summer the day might start off at just after 6am and finish by 11am, as the sun would make it too hot to continue working. The farmer would then come home and have an early lunch (the main meal) around midday, rest and sleep off the siesta, and go back to the fields in the afternoon when the weather was cooler, if there remained any unfinished tasks. It may not sound like a lot of hours of work daily; just remember to calculate the weekly number on a daily basis, with no days off.

breakfast choices
My family's breakfast choices; variety for everyone. Sometimes I get the feeling that my kids are the only ones who eat breakfast, judging by what I've seen other kids bring with them to school. I overheard a mother complaining that her children are going off their morning milk. My helpful nature suggested combining it with some cornflakes. A horrified look came over her face. "You give your children CORNFLAKES for BREAKFAST?" Since then, I've learnt to behave like a fly on the wall more often.

The urban population of Greece has always been used to split-day working hours. Most shop owners in Greece, for instance, still insist on morning-afternoon operating hours, breaking the day at midday: five hours in the morning (9-2), closed during the hottest times of the day (2-6), and another 3 hours in the afternoon (6-9), although there is no afternoon shift on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Doctors' surgeries, lawyers' offices, and all manner of businesses run along these lines, despite a recent change in the law that allows all commercial enterprises the right to operate all day, between 8am-9pm. Greeks are very resistant to change (which probably explains why they continue to smoke in public places, despite the recent law banning it, and still talk on their mobile phones while driving without wearing seatbelts). With the economic crisis, there was a furore over Sunday trading hours during the Christmas period. Many shop owners defied the Sunday trading ban, and the public supported them, even in the driving rain. A few politically-associated protestors tried to close their shops; they are usually supporters of the communist or rainbow party ('nuff said).

Life has changed here in recent times, just as in any western country. People who have managed to survive the worldwide crisis facing the agricultural sector and are primarily still involved in agriculture will continue to get up early, but the changes in farming policies have caught up with Greece, and brought with them the commonly associated problems of the demise of the agricultural society. People are now more likely to work in the service sector, as clerks and other recognised professions, all associated with a specific workplace. There is also an increasing tendency for a more Western-style 9-5 working schedule in many internationally-styled offices and even in the public sector (offices are now open there till 4pm, instead of 2.30pm as in former times), but this isn't easy to apply for shop hours. Only supermarkets and multi-national companies are open all day without a break.

Although all societies have their own way to 'break the fast' every morning, it's most likely the case that breakfast in most traditional societies does not take place before one sets off to work, but most likely after some work has been done. The western fashion of eating a healthy breakfast before setting off to work is an idea that has developed in accordance with the idealised eight consecutive hours in a working day. Greece does not fit into the image of an ideal society, similarly with most traditional cultures steeped in ancient traditions. This won't be changing too quickly either. Breakfast at home still tends to be skipped by most people in such cultures. With the rapid rate of introduction of westernised work routines in such socieites, fast food centres do a roaring trade in coffees and snack food. The pace of life may have changed, but an appropriate change in dietary habits has not followed.

*** *** ***
I usually have a coffee in the morning and not much else before setting about on my daily tasks. the other day, I had some chores to get done in town, namely to buy a new modem for our computer and to see a notary public (συμβολαιογράφος - simvolaiografos) about getting a contract drawn up (lawyers don't do this, they just get you through the court system). I set off at just before 9am, the usual time most businesses open, in the hope of getting things done quickly and getting back home early. But this happens rarely in Greece. When you have face-to-face contact with the service sector, be prepared for long delays, queuing and partial completion of a task during different shifts in the day. Business life in Greece runs in a similar way to an old underground train system; you never know which part of the process will slow you down.

The shop where I bought the modem from opened at 9am sharp, and I could buy the modem instantly, but due to work overload, the assistant couldn't set it up with my internet provider access codes until after midday. The notary public wasn't in her office at 9.30am when I arrived (nor did she have any sign on her door notifying customers of her office hours), and only her office phone number was listed on her name plate. I knew this was going to be a long day.

I could have gone shopping (and emptied my purse). I could have taken a stroll down to the harbour and had a coffee by the lighthouse, while admiring the mesmerising view (been there, done that). I could have gone home (and returned three hours later). I chose instead to have a leisurely sit-down 'breakfast', the kind that cafes serve to tourists. I have always wanted to do this; what stops me is the embarrassment of not being a tourist (these meals aren't cheap, either).

cretan breakfast
A Cretan breakfast is based on the Western idea of eating well in the morning, coupled with the desire for tourists to dine al fresco on something 'traditional'.

There is a small oasis of fresh cool air behind the cathedral of Hania where there are a few cafes based around a pedestrian zone. There were potted plants around the seating area and umbrellas providing extra shade. There was even an outdoor fan to cool down the overly humid but very relaxing atmosphere; it felt like being in the midst of cafe culture in Greenwich Village in New York (someone who's been there can verify this for me). The breakfast menu mentioned "full English" (the one with tinned baked beans), "continental" (the simple one with lots of bread and butter) and "Cretan". I was curious to see what would be brought to me in the latter.

the red bicycle
The Red Bicycle, behind the Trimartiri Cathedral of Hania

The plate I was served reminded me of my favorite breakfast place in Hania: MAICh, which serves this kind of breakfast every morning (along with the westernised cornflakes and milk) to the foreign students studying there (their next meal is at 1.00pm). Remembering that Cretans do not really eat a breakfast of this kind (just like the English, who don't actually eat huge English breakfasts every morning), it's obvious that it was made up of the best that Crete has to offer at this time of year, using the prototype of a typical farmer's mid-morning snack after working in the fields: cheese, a boiled egg, tomato and cucumber slices, olives, rusks and brown toasted bread, yoghurt with honey and raisins (they skimped on the fresh fruit) with coffee (or tea) and a glass of orange juice (probably based on the idea of an English breakfast; it's not a traditional drinks combination in Greece - you usually have one or the other). And if you look around Hania near the more traditional men's coffee shops (kafeneia), you will see them munching on banana peppers, fresh cucumbers and olives while drinking their mid-morning raki (cucumbers are substituted by broad beans in spring).

kafeneio mens cafe
Senior citizens enjoying a sunny day in the shade, close to the old Venetian port of Hania. These male meeting points (kafeneia) are dotted all over the town. They serve the cheapest coffees in town, and are also frequented by females and passersby.

After fortifying myself with this sumptuous buffet (I left the rusks and olives - it was too much to eat at one sitting), I went back to the notary public's office, and after waiting for 45 minutes reading all the magazines on her coffee table and hearing all the details she was including in her present customer's contract (in Greek, the word 'privacy' does not exist), I managed to get my job done (my patience greatly extended by this relaxing meal), picked up my modem and got home drenched in sweat. That breakfast made my day after all. I'm definitely doing this again, hopefully with company next time. And for a more traditional approach to a sit-down breakfast in Hania, don't forget to have a bougatsa if you come here.

Cretan breakfast at The Red Bicycle (Το Κόκκινο Ποδήλατο): 7.50 euro per person, with no time limit; try it for brunch.

* privacy - the Google translation tool provides the following translations: ιδιωτική ζωή (personal life), μοναξιά (loneliness), μυστικότητα (secretiveness), ησυχία (peace and quiet), ερημιά (deserted atmosphere). There really is no concept of 'privacy' in Greece in the way that it is understood in the English language.

©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 21 July 2009

Aryiroupoli (Αργυρούπολη)

Deep in the heart of Crete lie mountainous regions which divide the northern part with the southern part. These mountains are the main reason why Crete has remained so undeveloped in the greater part. There are little villages nestled in the folds of these ranges which do not form part of the known tourist routes. Located away from the sea, they are little known and hardly accessible to the tourists, as bus routes do not go there.

View Larger Map
The Argiroupoli Springs are located just beyond the Prefecture of Hania, in the Lappa region of Rethimno.

argiroupoli hania-rethimno argiroupoli hania-rethimno
When the signs on the road begin to welcome you into the Prefecture of Rethimno, turn right at the village of Episkopi, and don't stop till you find the sign for the Argiroupoli Springs. This village doesn't give away.
argiroupoli hania-rethimno

As you drive into the area, you will notice that it is quite arid looking; the roadside is filled with tinder dry grasses. This is surprising given the spring waters which the area contains. Lush vegetation is found where these waters spill over man-made waterfalls, but the fields close by all look as though they need to be irrigated. The residential areas lack a canopy of trees, leaving their rooftops exposed to the harsh summer heat.

argiroupoli hania-rethimnoAlign Centre The dry grasses on the roadside do not point to any water source.

Google 'Aryiroupoli Rethimno' (using various spellings of both words) and you'll find lots of information about the significance of the area - something about an ancient site called Lappa, created by Agamemnon, allies with Knossos, and of special significance in Roman and Byzantine times. Some very important archaeological digs have taken place here, but this is not the crowd puller nowadays: Aryiroupoli is popular with locals and tourists (who hire a car or come on coach trips) for its natural springs. The water has been routed to create mini-waterfalls, around which tavernas have been built, bringing in the crowds right throughout the spring, summer and autumn (in the winter, it is too cool to sit so close to the water). This phenomenon makes Aryiroupoli a cool retreat in contrast to baking under the sun on a hot sandy beach (which is only less than a quarter of an hour away from the village).

antikristo upright bbq and pestrofa trout argiroupoli hania-rethimno pestrofa trout argiroupoli hania-rethimno
All the restaurants in the area use the spring waters to raise trout, which can be ordered freshly cooked on the grill. We managed to secure the best position near the waterfall.
ellanion fos argiroupoli hania-rethimno
On a hot day, you just want to be near the water. The Aryiroupoli springs are an off-the-beaten-track alternative to the sea and sand culture of a Cretan summer holiday.
argiroupoli hania-rethimno CIMG8075,

The tavernas serve mainly local traditional meals. The Rethimno area - and most of Eastern Crete - is known for its use of an upright barbecue grill, known as 'antikristo' in Greek, used to roast lamb and pork (I much prefer the traditional grill myself - the meat needs longer cooking time on the antikristo and the fire creates excess heat in an excessively hot summer atmosphere). Another specialty of the area is freshly grilled trout (the combined smells of meat and fish can be off-putting); the springs run into catchment tanks where trout is bred exclusively for the tavernas.

antikristo upright bbq argiroupoli hania-rethimno
The antikristo barbecue grill isn't commonly seen in Hania; it's a specialty of most other parts of Crete.
ellanion fos argiroupoli hania-rethimno mizithropites kalitsounia ellanion fos argiroupoli hania-rethimno
Kokoretsi (offal wrapped round intestines and grilled on the spit) was on the menu of Ellanion Fos Taverna where we chose to sit, perfectly positioned by the waterfalls. Vlita (amaranth) is the summer horta variety. It's a healthier alternative to the common Greek salad. We chose kalitsounia (those Rethimniotes were trying to pass them off for mizithropites) drizzled with honey for dessert.
kokoretsi ellanion fos argiroupoli hania-rethimno
We also ordered a serving of antikristo lamb (sorry about the photo) and stuffed bifteki.
antikristo bbq lamb ellanion fos argiroupoli hania-rethimno stuffed bifteki ellanion fos argiroupoli hania-rethimno
We were entertained by a Romanian musical troupe who was touring the area, going from one taverna to the other. They must have had insider knowledge of the area (not to mention transport facilities) to know where the crowds were today. They played three songs, then went round the tables collecting donations in the tambourine .

romanian musical troupe argiroupoli hania-rethimno
Take a look at the burly black-shirted chap (the taverna owner) in the foreground. He has the typical Cretan looks: height and bulk, dark facial features with piercing blue eyes, premature grey hair. Compare him with a couple of other typical looking Cretans: my dad and Alex.
argiroupoli hania-rethimno

Be sure to get to the area early for prompt service without too many hassles, as most Greeks like to arrive at the same time just after 1pm, slowing down service considerably after that point. We beat the rush and ate our lunch leisurely over two hours, leaving just after two o'clock, the time when the hordes of Athenian travellers who had just begun their summer holidays were arriving (as well as two double-storeyed coaches), creating a traffic jam in the narrow windy streets of the village. We had parked at the entrance to the village, knowing well what we would find if we tried to park right outside the taverna, a common Greek trait (to secure a parking spot right outside the place you want to go, especially since Greeks have a love affair with their four wheeled possessions). No one could move forward or back at that point, bringing a bit of chaos to the place, but we wouldn't be Greeks if we didn't live up to the meaning of the word; after all, we invented it, didn't we?

For the four of us, we ordered a serving each (for two) of antikristo lamb and kokoretsi, stuffed bifteki, two servings of fried potatoes, vlita salad, fried cheese pies (mizithropites) with honey, 2 tap beers (plus 2 more) and 2 lemonades. Cost - 48 euro (we couldn't eat it all in one go, so we took the leftovers home).

©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 19 July 2009

Submarine (Υποβρύχιο)

Supermarkets are clever at manipulating their customers' preferences. Products that are popular (usually through advertising) are placed on the shelves where the customer's eyes usually fall first, ensuring their continued popularity. The less accessible shelves are for products that aren't frequently in demand (eg tinned baked beans in Greece)...

baked beans
It was much easier for me to take this photograph than it was to take down a can; note that the cheapest tin of baked beans (the Greek canning company's) was practically inaccessible to height-deprived people like myself. Baked beans are only bought by tourists in Greece.

...while the lower shelves are often used for products that are still in demand, but people are being swayed to buy an alternative item (eg bars of soap, slowly becoming obsolete due to the rise in popularity of liquid soap).

cakes of soap vs liquid soap
The shelves are filled with liquid soap products, while there was only one - yes, just one - with the traditional cakes of soap, which were all placed by my feet, below the liquid soap for hands (not the shower) and the toothpastes.

The demise of bars of soap in favour of the trendier liquid soap is only to be expected. Such evidence should be viewed as an inevitable consequence of progress. And so it is with foodstuff relegated to the bottom shelf; this could be viewed as a sign that they are bordering the obsolete.

This idea for the following discussion came to me after Allison received her book prize from my quiz. She thanked me for the book, as well as for the stamps that were placed by the post office clerk on the envelope, which included one depicting a dessert glass filled with water, with a teaspoon of a white gluey mixture dunked in it. This white blob is eaten like a popsicle, licked off the spoon and continually dunked into the ice-cold water. This is what is referred to in Greece as a 'submarine', although back in the good old days, we used to call it 'vanila' because of the flavouring we preferred: the creamy white paste is made with sugar and flavoured with vanilla or mastic. I've also seen pink and green vanilas floating around over the years (presumably flavoured with cherry and pistachio, respectively).

greek stamp featuring submarine sweet and b&w film star
I still collect stamps, although they're much harder to come by these days. The stamp on the right depicts a mastic-flavoured submarine. The stamp on the right shows Dino Iliopoulos, a famous Greek comedian from the black and white era.

Growing up in New Zealand, we had this sweet regularly. It was one of the things Greeks often brought back with them (along with vlita seeds and Parthenon souvenirs) in their suitcases after a visit to the homeland, to give away as presents to other ex-patriot Greek immigrants. But my children still haven't even tried it, and they were born and live in Greece! This should not sound too surprising: sugary desserts are no longer fashionable among the health conscious food world, and there are so many other sweets and desserts cheaply available nowadays in Greece (including ice-cream which was once considered a luxury), so that the submarine is becoming almost obsolete. I would never ask for it now myself, as I am well-informed about obesity, dental problems and hyperactivity; what a shame, because now I know too much and cannot enjoy what I once did (although I must also admit that I find it too sweet for my liking in my older age).

mastic vanilla spoon sweet
I finally found old-fashioned vanila on the bottom shelf, below the tinned fruit and other Greek spoon sweets, near the pasteli and loukoumi.

Allison's message prompted me to go and look for some vanila, which I remember was always packed in a glass with a lid sealed by a piece of sellotape printed with the advertiser's name. It took me a while to find it, mainly because I couldn't categorise it according to the product allocation of the supermarket shelves. It wasn't a breakfast cereal or a biscuit, nor was it a kind of spread or syrup. After a lengthy search I found it on the bottom shelf, below the preserved cherries in syrup and other classic Greek spoon sweets, along with other less popular (but once highly revered) traditional Greek sweets: loukoumi, also known as Turkish delight (superseded by chocolates) and pastelli (now replaced by Mars Bars and other wafer biscuit bars covered in chocolate).

mastic vanilla spoon sweet
I chose to buy this jar of vanila (1.70 euro for 400g) because of its classic packaging: a (plastic) glass, sellotape seal over its lid advertising the manufacturer, and very old-fashioned labelling; not even the telephone number of the (local) manufacturer has been updated! Vanila is also sold in more modern packaging, but nothing beats this one for nostalgia.

Reviving the submarine tradition in my house creates a dilemma. There is no shortage of sweets in my kitchen at the moment, what with ice-cream, zucchini chocolate cake and watermelon (the best summer 'sweet' of all) at the height of its season. I felt as if I were behaving unnecessarily old-fashioned, acting in an obsolete manner, about something that is itself becoming obsolete. But I was deeply mistaken in my belief that it couldn't become a favorite hot weather treat, even in our own 'organically cooked' household. Both the children enjoyed their submarine, and my husband recounted his memories of this treat: it was the first thing he and his hunting friends asked for in the cafe at Lakkous after they had spent three days and two nights hunting in the Omalos plateau - their tired bodies were in need of sugar to regain their strength.

submarine ipvrihio vanila
Submarine - Υποβρύχιο (ipovrihio)

Allison's message revived a memory from my youth that had been stored away in the attic of my mind, a memory I had never bothered to access for a long long time. It was in the same drawer (or was it a floppy disk?) where I kept my memories of old black and white Greek films and images of my grandparents. This prompts me to wonder what culinary memories my own children will lock away in their own minds when they are my age, and whether I'll be around to prompt their nostalgia for them.

©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 17 July 2009

The best malaka in the country (Mαλάκα XL)

And now, the news. An organised crime syndicate carrying out contract killings was recently busted in Greece. To the shame of the Cretan people, all fingers pointed to their compatriots. The outbreak of malaka that ensued could only be described in epidemic proportions on a regional scale, as it resonated across the island...

"All Cretans are liars," Epimenides of Knossos, a Cretan himself, once said (well, actually, he said "Κρῆτες ἀεὶ ψεῦσται "), creating the Epimenides paradox, a logic problem that arises in the case of a self-referential statement. Epimenides was himself a Cretan; his fellow compatriots may have thought he was a bit of a malaka because he didn't realise he was including himself in the statement. Perhaps Epimenides did realise the conunudrum, in which case he was purposely excluding himself, while assuming that all his compatriots were malakes instead.

The recent turn of events in the Greek news may actually lead one to think that Epimenides was wrong: all Cretans are not liars, they are all some kind of malaka instead. An organised crime syndicate was broken up by the police, in which the main links involved were of Cretan origin, the very fact which gave them away. The shipping magnate Pericles Panagopoulos who was kidnapped last January recalled that one of his kidnappers sounded Cretan: instead of saying 'ti', the standard modern Greek word for 'what', that feckin eejit kept using the Cretan phrase 'ida'. The whole country knows that only a Cretan would use that word, and he'd have to have been born and bred in Crete to make it come out naturally. What a malaka; it's a bit like Bugs Bunny wearing the full hijab using the phrase "What's up, Doc?" in his characteristic twang.

To make matters worse, Mr Panagopoulos' wife was told over the phone by a muffled voice that if she didn't pay the 100 million euro ransom (which was eventually bargained down to 30 million), she'd find her husband 'apothameno'. That (same) malaka didn't think to hide his tracks and just use the standard modern Greek word 'pethameno' (which means 'dead'), and usually in a well-known Cretan expletive: "διάλε τσ' αποθαμένους σου" ("may the devil take your deceased"). Instead, he used the Cretan dialectal equivalent; sounds like a case of malaka extra-large.

The biggest malaka would have to be the head of the crime syndicate, Panayiotis Vlastos, a prisoner serving a life sentence in a high security prison in Greece. Although not a Cretan himself, he inadvertently chose highly accented Cretans to help him execute the contract killings that he was organising - straight from his prison cell. The Greek public was treated to all the malakies he said during his tapped phone conversations, which he made from his mobile phone, which he was supplied with by some other Cretan malaka crony of his who was working as a prison warden.

Vlastos must have eaten a lot of this cheese in his lifetime.

Probably the biggest malakia Vlastos uttered was to his wife (also a member of the crime ring):

Vlastos: Do you know how many murders, how many kidnappings, how many robberies I've had to commit to give you a good life?
Wife: Mmm, I know, I know how hard you work.
Vlastos: I mean, take that car I bought you for instance, you know what it took to buy it for you, the murders, the kidnappings, the robberies...
Wife: Yes, yes, you're right.
Vlastos: Tell me babe, have you ever murdered, have you ever kidnapped, have you ever robbed? You haven't, have you?
Wife: Yes, you're right, I haven't.
Vlastos: You don't know what I go through for you.

Malaka big-time rings right through his dealings. His wife, herself some kind of malakismeni, knew all about the good life, as we know it down here in Crete.

Vlastos' wife must have had a taste for these kalitsounia made with malaka, which probably determined her locational preference.

She was infatuated by the place, as another tapped conversation attests:

Vlastos: When I get out of here, where would you like to live?
Wife: Crete, Crete, yes, Crete's the best place to live in the whole of Greece.
Vlastos: And what are you going to do there? Sunbathe all day?
Wife: Can you open up a spa for me?
Vlastos: A spa? A spa! That's it! A spa! We'll open the best spa in the area, it'll have manicure, pedicure, jacuzzi, everything. There won't be another one like it in the area. Find out which part of Crete doesn't have a spa yet...

easter meat pie from crete
Vlastos and his wife would probably love my kreatopita made with malaka.

Vlastos needed to get to Crete for this reason (to satisfy his wife's demands), so he started using his connections, and began arranging for a transfer from the high security prison in Trikala (where he was incarcerated), to the maximum security prison in Alikarnassos in Iraklio, Crete:

Wife: Good news!
Vlastos: What?
Wife: Your transfer's been arranged!
Vlastos: It has? How?
Wife: That nice one, you know, the good one...
Vlastos: Yeah? Him?
Wife: You'll be down there in a week.
Vlastos: In just one week? That was quick.
Wife: You need to thank that nice guy.
Vlastos: Yeah, we'll think of something...

The media is still trying to work out who that particularly nice malaka was: maybe it's someone in the government, maybe it's a Cretan, maybe it's both...

The chief prison officer in Iraklio wasn't quite convinced that Vlastos needed to come down to Crete to serve his sentence; what a shame he didn't stick to his guns instead of listening to another chief prison officer, this time from the low-security agricultural prison of Ayia in Hania, Crete. The head officer (now disqualified from duty until further notice) of this insignificant prison (prisoners are allowed to wander within the picket fence confines of the prison, they perform agricultural duties in the fields, and one prison day counts as two sentence days) showed 'special interest in the transfer of Vlastos to Crete', convincing the Alikarnassos head officer that Vlastos really did need to come down to Crete to serve his sentence (this latter decision heralded his own demise, suffering the same fate as his counterpart in Hania). The actions of one malaka after another created a domino effect, whose ripples were felt like a tsunami over the whole island (the whole fiasco was discovered just a few days before the transfer was to be made).

*** *** ***

Triple-A quality malaka (μαλάκα) from the Hondrakis (Χονδράκης) dairy station: 'hondromalaka' (χοντρομαλάκα) in its abbreviated form.

Just what makes a good malaka, then? A rudimentary knowledge of Greek grammar (you might like to try Babiniotis) will clarify a number of issues concerning the meaning of the word:

Ολα τα ονόματα σε -ακας δουλεύουν
επί 8ώρου βάσεως:
(All nouns ending in -akas work on an 8-hour basis:)
π.χ. δασοφύλ-ακας, χωροφύλ-ακας, κτλ.
(eg forestry worker, guard, etc.)
Eξαιρείται ο μαλ-άκας ο οποίος δουλεύει επί 24ώρου βάσεως.
(An exception is 'malakas', who works on a 24-hour basis.)

Panayiotis Vlastos and his cronies are excellent examples of the 24-hour variety of malaka. Being the head of the crime syndicate indicates that Vlastos probably buys his malaka from the Archakis dairy farm, making him an 'archimalaka', while his cronies probably buy the more common variety of malaka available all over Hania, made by the Hondrakis cheese factory; that's why they're all hondromalakes.

The conversations included in this post are based on the real ones, as related to the Greek public through the television news reports. Nothing like a bit of malarkey for a laugh, is there?

©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.