Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Saturday 31 October 2009

Fruit (Φρούτα)

Fruit is healthy, children should eat fruit, everyone should include five portions of fruit in their daily intake, you've heard it all before. This I bear in mind whenever I go shopping, and I try to buy all the variety and quality that my purse can afford. In this day and age, though, where all innocence is lost concerning the safety of our food due to diseases, climate change and pesticide use, fruit is just not what it used to be. Apart from these basic issues, there's also the philosophical question of choosing local vs. imported and organically vs. conventionally grown. We are often faced with the dilemma of buying local or organic produce, as opposed to food that has travelled long distances or been grown by conventional means. But how often is it possible to buy something that is BOTH local AND organic? Local food does not entail that what you eat will be organic; it simply has to do with where the food was produced or grown. More than likely, it will have been grown conventionally for cost-efficiency purposes.

apple varieties in a fruit bowl
These bananas will have to be made into banana cake muffins; no one will touch them when their skins start to turn splotchy. We recently indulged in some gourmet apple varieties - the locally grown ones were gifts, while the others are all grown somewhere in Central and Northern Greece. Click on the photo to see the notes.

So here I am at the fresh produce counter. It makes little difference whether I am in the supermarket or a greengrocer's when it comes to bananas; the same stuff is being sold at both places at roughly the same price. I always buy one bunch of bananas on a weekly basis - they only go into the kids' lunchboxes. Bananas are easy to peel at school and you can eat them without getting your hands dirty. An apple could do the same job, you say. Sure, as long as the juices don't run down your hand and onto your sleeves. But that's not the real problem; it's the peel. Remember the days when we simply washed an apple and ate it without peeling it? In Crete, that's a definite no-no. Do it in public and watch the stares. Locals peel them out of fear of pesticide use.

fresh produce october hania chania
Most of these products are locally grown, but none are organic.
Click on the photo to see the notes.

Local/Organic: Although bananas are locally grown, they are not widely available. The local bananas are very small and only specialist greengrocers sell them. They taste good, but it's not easy to access them on a regular basis. Imported Chiquita/Dole bananas (among other brand names) are sold all over Greece; despite having travelled hundreds of miles to get to my home, they taste good and are a reasonably priced fruit. To be sure that the kids don't bin the bananas at school during their morning break (a mother never really knows what her kids get up to at school, no matter how much she insists that she can trust them), I have to make sure that the bananas I buy 'look' perfect, which is why I always buy them when the peel is grass green. They seem to turn yellow and soften the minute you pick them up. By the time you get them home, they have already started changing colour, and within two days, they are canary yellow. And they don't stop there, do they? Their skin slowly develops brown-black spots, a sign that the banana is starting to over-ripen. Children are put off easily by the blackened exterior of the banana peel, even though the fruit itself may have remained unblemished and tasty, which often happens with bananas.

As for their organic status, only two or three years ago, when the organic label was being pushed onto consumers, organic Dole bananas suddenly appeared side-by-side with their non-organic counterparts. They were priced slightly higher (only natural). After a few months, they disappeared. Why? They went bad too quickly. Dilemma solved: buy green imported conventionally-grown bananas.

Next up, apples. They always look firm and unblemished on the shelves, but no one really knows what they taste like, or what they look like inside. Crete is not an apple producer (apple tree owners at high altitudes usually grow them for their own use), so nearly all the apples on the Cretan market are imported from the mainland or from abroad. As they travel, they are stored in refrigerators, then put on the shelf. The change in temperature causes the fruit to turn brown and lose its flavour - but the skin may stay unblemished. Either that, or they are not ripe when harvested, and may need to be ripened at room temperature before eating. You never really know what a store- bought apple in Hania will be like until you take a bite. Having said that, the best time to enjoy apples is now since we are in the middle of the apple season.

apple trees central greece apple tree therissos hania chania
Left: an apple orchard in northern Greece; right: an apple tree in Therisso, Crete, fenced off by its owner to keep away passersby

Local/Organic: Very few local apples are available on the market, for the reasons explained above. Gourmet apple varieties are now being grown in Northern Greece; click on the first photo above to see the different varieties we tried recently. The organic label can be found for apples - but they not locally grown: they all come from abroad.

This fruit was freshly peeled and sliced; on closer inspection (enlarge the photo for detail): the apple wasn't ripe (it was too sour); even though the peach was firm, the fruit was ruined by over-browning. The kiwifruit was perfect but it had travelled well over 24 flight hours to get to my house, and so was the locally-grown seasonal pomegranate.

During my recent fruit-shopping trip, I added another political dimension to my spending policy by buying some of the last of this season's fresh peaches, in order to support the Northern Greek peach and nectarine farmers who claim they aren't getting a fair deal from government subsidies, taking to the streets and binning their fruit in public squares around the country. A recent national television advertising campaign tried to bring home the message that peaches are good for you, and a canned peach is just as healthy as a fresh one. Peaches are an extremely sensitive fruit: they have a low shelf-life and are highly susceptible to fruit diseases due to moisture content. The fruits on display looked firm and inviting (if a little on the over-furry side), but their interior was brown and spoiled. They tasted like paper.

Local/Organic: Peaches are grown in Northern Greece, with similar storage and transport problems as apples. They are very sensitive fruits. I have never seen organic peaches, and I doubt they keep well, which is why they probably do not sell well in Hania.

The kiwifruit took my fancy because of my bias for buying New Zealand products whenever I can, simply for their nostalgic novelty value. Kiwifruit stores very well. It ripens slowly, even off the vine, making it suitable to be able to be harvested early and exported. The kiwifruit I bought was perfect in appearance and taste.

Local/Organic: Kiwifruit is grown in Crete and Northern Greece, but not organically. New Zealand produces organically grown kiwifruit, but it's not available in Greece.

rodi rogdi pomegranate
A locally grown juicy pomegranate; we recently planted a pomegranate tree in our garden, of a different (and I suspect more globalised) variety than what we usually find available.
pomegranate tree

Finally, the pomegranate season has arrived. I bought some of the first to arrive in the shops; it is one of my favorite autumn fruits and can be added to both sweet and savoury dishes. Imported pomegranate can be found in Greece all year round, of the crimson red variety, grown in India. But they aren't as tasty as the local variety, which has a yellow outer skin and pink seeds. They grow literally everywhere in Hania.

Local/Organic: A lot of people in Hania have a pomegranate tree growing in their garden at home. Their fruit is highly decorative, and reminiscent of Christmas and the New Year: the pomegranate symbolises the cold season, when Persephone leaves her mother Demeter and joins her cold dark husband Hades in the underworld. Most of the time, these fruit trees are organic de facto, rather than anything to do with the way they are cared for in the field. They are a safe bet when your aim is to buy local, seasonal, organic produce in Crete.

The seedless grapes that are available in the stores at the moment are also brilliant. The grape season did not go well in our case this year (last year was a bumper crop). Both the red and green varieties that I bought were both excellent in taste and appearance.

grapevine in the rain grapes
Maybe next year will be a good one for our grapevines (these photos are last year's harvest); this year, ours (and those of our friends and relatives) did not do well for some reason. Some people blame it on the weather, others on swine flu...

Local/Organic: Iraklio, an eastern prefecture of Crete, has a high profile in quality grape cultivation, both for the table and wine-making. They have never been sold under an organic label in the supermarket, as they are also very sensitive cultivations, judging by what happened to our crop this year.

*** *** ***

There is a lot of emphasis placed on people these days to buy organic/local food products, but it's rare to see these two factors combined. Most organic food has made greater mileage than one would even consider doing when they go on holiday. In our house, you will probably find more local food available than organic products, simply because they taste better. Fruit and vegetables grown in Crete have a superlative taste than their foreign-grown counterparts, something to do with the climate and soil, among other factors. Come and taste them for yourself.

©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 28 October 2009

On foraging (Μαζώχτρα)

When the weather isn't too hot, nor too cold (but not today, because it's raining here), and it's a public holiday (like today, when we commemorate NO day), it's the perfect time for this...

My mother had been a forager all her life. As a young girl in Crete, she foraged for snails and wild greens near the environs of her mountain village home. She did not forage for pleasure; she foraged for survival. When she moved to New Zealand, after the novelty of the New World had worn off with its mod cons and all manner of conveniences, she left her contract employment in Fielding and moved to Wellington (close to where most of the other Greeks lived in New Zealand). She continued to forage for snails and wild greens in the parks and green belts of the capital city, not for her family's survival this time, but because she longed for the taste of home, and it seemed a good way to pass the time on a sunny Sunday afternoon, a day which could be spent with the whole family, as hardly anyone except for the emergency services went to work on that day in 1970s New Zealand. She could never quite get that Mediterranean sun-kissed flavour in her Kiwi foraged food, but it came as close as she would ever get to it.

wellington new zealand
My mother had picked a lot of horta in her lifetime from these parks in Wellington; from top-left clockwise: the Botanical Gardens, Mount Victoria (does it remind you of Lord of the Rings?), Pirie St Park, Marjoribanks Park.

I always harboured a fancy to go back to Wellington and walk in my mother's footsteps, rummaging amongst the undergrowth for leafy greens, in what I believed was the clean and green environment in which I was brought up, 100% Pure New Zealand*, now the country with the world's largest usage of the poison 1080 (ten-eighty). So much for worrying about whether a dog has done its business in your foraging spot; you might, instead, like to watch out for green carrots and helicopters raining Class A poisons over what was once considered virgin territory. And that's not the only problem** in "clean green" New Zealand these days; the natural environment is being spoiled by the monstrosities that have been built** in coastal, mountainous areas, constituting eyesores for the intrepid nature wanderer. Sometimes, it seems the country is going to the dogs, especially when you read news like this*...

*** *** ***
Thankfully my experiences of foraging in Crete are not as scary as what nature-loving Kiwis have to agonise over when they find themselves amidst nature; having said that, my experiences are still, generally speaking, unpleasant. Foraging is dirty and very tiring: harvesting snails gives your fingers a slimy feel, digging up wild greens blackens your hands, picking blackberries and cactus figs can be itchy. Most of all, it is very tiring, as most of the time, your back is arched and you are stooping low over the earth, looking for one particular species among a host of others. For each serving of wild greens, think of at least an hour spent picking, sorting, cleaning, washing and cooking it; for a family of four, that's four hours of back-breaking work. The only positive side to foraging is that it takes place in amongst nature, in its wildest form: it transports you to the most basic form of life, your hands get stuck in the muck, and while you are engaged in this mindless activity (once you become an expert in what you are looking for and can spot it easily), you can meditate, sorting out your thoughts and clearing the clutter in your mind, which I suppose my mother must have done often while she foraged; perhaps she made up her mind to emigrate during one of these moments.

The local people of Crete really love their locally foraged products: look at the prices (all in euro per kilo) they are prepared to pay for them - 5.50 for wild greens (which are now being cultivated, if that makes any sense to you), 4.50 for cactus figs (prickly pears), 5.99 for cured green olives, 5.60 for snails, among others. Then there's the locally produced food (which isn't foraged): 20-25 euro for a free-range chicken, 7-9 for goat meat (considered superior to lamb), 14-18 for graviera (yellow aged cheese), 6-7 for mizithra (curd cheese). Local food has never been cheap, whether it is foraged and/or produced in the same region (we're talking about less than 100 kilometres) of where it is sold. Foraged food does not constitute a treat for Cretans; the food on their daily plate practically always includes a foraged product. It may take the form of something that may not easily be bought (wild-growing greens are slowly being replaced by mass-produced cultivated greens) or something that comes from their own fields (like olives).

Such products have high demand, which supplies cannot always handle, especially in the summer months and festive seasons, when Athenian ex-local residents come to the island and purchase local produce in bulk. They do not pay these high prices for the 'snob' value of the product concerned, nor for the nostalgia it may invoke; they buy these products because this is the food they believe they should be eating, the same food they were raised on when they were living on the island before they moved away to larger urban centres. The same can be said for the local residents: they are proud to eat their local products, and will pay the going rate to have it, even if it is expensive, or forage/grow/raise it for themselves (CSA boxes are as yet unknown here).

*** *** ***

We were recently in the village to check on our orange trees. Next to our (unfenced) field is an (equally unfenced) olive grove whose owner lives in Australia. The Greek caretaker of the olive grove decided to move on, so the owner, who for some reason is now in need of cash, upgraded the field (he cleared it of all undergrowth) and put a price tag on it a few months ago. As property neighbours, it was only fair to ask us first if we were interested in buying this land. At 180,000 euro (for 6 stremmata), we knew we'd have to win a lottery ticket to be able to afford it (he's now dropped it to 130,000; no sellers as yet - I wonder why).

olive grove
The olive grove next to out orange field (on the left; the change in foliage is barely discernible).

To recap: no caretaker, no owner, no landlord. The big fat drupes were hanging off the tree, just ripe for picking and turning into table olives. But there's no one to do the job. There weren't even any nets laid below the trees to catch the falling olives which would then be turned into olive oil. Many olives had already started to fall off the tree and rot away in the earth. They would never be picked, they would never be processed, they would never be eaten.

olives olives
lemon olives

Oh, what a waste, I thought when I saw them, with a feeling of disgust, because I hate seeing good quality food going to waste; moreover, I could be eating them myself. I went to the car and bought out a plastic supermarket carrier bag (I never leave home without half a dozen in the storage pocket of the driver's door, along with a trusty knife in the glove compartment). I picked just enough to fill a couple of large jars of cured olives, which would probably last about two weeks in my house. I thought of all the ethical reasons that should stop me from taking these olives off the trees; it is akin to stealing, isn't it? But if I didn't 'steal' them, then they would have become fertiliser, and that, to me, constituted a greater moral crime than did the breaking of the commandment "Thou Shalt Not Steal".

capers capers
Caper bushes, found in abundance, bordering fields; uncured caper berries, freshly picked.
puttanesca sauce capers
Once cured, capers are really delicious in a puttanesca pasta sauce.

As I carried my prize back to the car, I noticed the caper bushes growing wild at the borders of the field on the main road. They would never be picked either, especially since they are considered weeds by most of the locals. Poor weeds, I thought, as I placed the bag of olives in the car. I know just how to take care of them next June when they will be just ripe for picking.

wild blackberry bushes wild blackberries
Just enough to maintain our energy when we visit out fields...

Then I noticed the bramble bushes, growing wildly, completely out of control, sometimes acting as hedgerows, other times strangling orange and olive trees, but mainly causing a nuisance to trespassers. I remained unperturbed; there wouldn't be many blackberries to pick (blackberries in Crete tend to dry up very quickly due to the sunny weather), but they would be full of flavour, having grown under the glorious Cretan sun.

pumpkin flowers prepared pumpkin flowers
Pumpkin flowers - filled with traditional rice stuffing for dolmades or yemista, they freeze well. Just remember not to defrost them before cooking: simply pour some olive oil/water over them, and place the pan into the oven straight from the freezer.
stuffed pumpkin flowers

But my absolutely favorite 'free food' would have to be the one located on the school run: a rampant pumpkin patch that no one bothers to collect the flowers from. It's been growing on the same spot for two years, like a hedgerow in front of an olive grove in a mainly rural area just out of the new housing settlement of the village, which is constantly expanding. I pass this pumpkin vine every day, and every day, the roadside is filled with orange blooms that wilt away by the next day, when new ones come out.

One man's rubbish is another's treasure. Foraging sometimes feels a bit like breaking and entering when it involves crossing fields, but in my case, I didn't even need to trespass into the neighbour's property. The branches of the olive trees were hanging over the border between our fields, the caper bushes were next to the road where I parked my car, and so were the pumpkin flowers. Foraging of this sort sometimes feels like winning the top prize: you can procure some high quality free food, while at the same time acquaint yourself with the earth, which is becoming all the more an uncommon activity in an increasingly more urbanised world.

* These sites have been filtered and blocked by Google; thanks to Artanis** for bringing them to my attention.
** You will need a translator tool for these links if you don't read Greek.

©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 26 October 2009

Thessaloniki (Θεσσαλονίκη)

It had always been a dream of mine to visit Thessaloniki, and after 19 years (to the day) of permanent residence in Greece (I'm well on my way to marking half my life here), I finally got to the north of the country.

Selanik, Solun, Salonicco, Salonicha, Salonique, Salonica, Sãrunã, Salonika, Saloniki, Saruna, Thess, Thessalonika. Despite having its name truncated and changed to suit the dominant cultural norms that prevailed at various points in its long history, Thessaloniki has always been Hellenic since its birth, and has always been called Thessaloniki by the Greeks. It was founded and named by King Cassander in 315 BC, Thessaloniki being the name of his wife, a half-sister of Alexander the Great (he was Greek too). Its importance stems from this time, as it became an important centre of trade with Rome, which deemed the need for an expeditious route to the city. The Ignatius Way (Via Egnatia) was created to connect Italy (where Via Appia ended) with Byzantium: it started from present-day Albania, running through the length of Modern Greece, crossing over Thessaloniki, before ending up at Constantinople in modern-day Turkey. Both Thessaloniki and Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) have always had a close connection with the Byzantine Empire, despite the fact that each city now belongs to a different country with a different religion.

sign in thessaloniki
Memories of former times: this sign shows the strategic importance of a city which once served at the crossroads in the link between East and West.

Thessaloniki was occupied by the Turks in 1430, who in effect ruled the city for nearly five centuries. This 'curse' gave Thessaloniki a multi-cultural advantage which it still maintains today: Thessaloniki is one of the most important cities among the Balkan states, and hosts an internationally renowned trade fair every year in September which many Eastern European countries take part in. During Turkish rule, Thessaloniki was inhabited by people who called themselves Albanians, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Romans and Greeks, whose religious affiliations ranged from Jews and Muslims to Catholics and Christian Orthodox. The Greek Army returned the city to the Hellenic state in 1912, and it's been Greek ever since. The ravages of war had a detrimental effect on its historically pluralistic nature: in the aftermath of WWII, despite being the largest Jewish city in the world for more than two centuries, there are now no more than 1,200 Jews remaining in the city, while the non-Greeks who live there are mainly migrants rather than people with any historical family links with the city.

view from white tower thessalonikiview from white tower thessaloniki
Thessaloniki as viewed from its landmark, the White Tower: top left- looking westwards; top right- looking north; bottom- looking south into the Thermaic Gulf leaading into the Aegean.
thermaic gulf thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is a beautiful city, but sadly very little of the original ancient city remains; it was either destroyed by passing invaders, or burnt down in destructive fires. Nearly the whole city is relatively new, with its most important aspect being the Thermaic Gulf. The water's edge runs along the length of the city, giving it an advantage in the wider region: Thessaloniki is recognised as the capital city of the Balkan states. The multi-lingual signs in the languages of the adjacent countries attest clearly to this fact.

russian food market in thessalonikileu in st dimitrios church thessaloniki
Immigrants form a significant part of the population of Thessaloniki. The supermarket offers come from the store window of a Russian supplier of non-Greek food products, while none of the coins and notes found in a shrine in the crypt of St Demetrius' church* (the patron saint of the city) are of Greek (euro) currency - they are all Romanian leu.

There are many sights to see in Thessaloniki, but our stay was too short to make it feasible to spend too much time at any one place. The most well-known monument in the area is the White Tower, which now functions as a historical museum of the City.

white tower thessalonikiinside white tower thessaloniki
The White Tower is located by the seafront of Thesaloniki. It is now used a museum chronicling the history of the city. The top floor of the museum is not a cafe, as it may look; the coffee table tops are screens which present the visitor with a culinary journey celebrating the food of Thessaloniki, with presentations of different dishes mainly from the 'politiki kouzina' and how to prepare them.
white tower top floor thessaloniki

Given our brief stay in this beautiful city, I can only give you my general impression: I have never been to a more polite part of Greece. The people are generally more soft-spoken, better dressed and more law-abiding than the South. Above all, they are very polite. When we got, let's just say, lost while driving in the city centre and ended up on the wrong side of a one-way street (which just happened to be one of the main avenues in the city centre), the man across the street who had just seen us called out: "Hey, anomale!" (The English language uses a similar word.)

"Sorry, we're not from here, see?" My husband tried to excuse himself by pointing to the licence plate of our trusty decade-old Hyundai, which clearly denotes that we are from Hania, Crete.

"Well," replied the man hopelessly, with his hands in the air. "What does it say? Did you write 'Anomale' on it?" Anywhere else I've been to in Greece, they would have called us 'malaka.'

The multi-cultural aspect of the city has also given her an advantage in the food sector: the smells and tastes of Northern Greece are richer than any other part of the country. Many of her culinary traditions are derived straight from the 'Poli' (the "City"), meaning Constantinople, and to this day, recipes originating from modern day Istanbul are referred to as 'politiki kouzina' (the cuisine of the City). Athens may be the capital of Greece, but Thessaloniki deserves the title of the food capital of the country.

koulouri thessalonikidoner kebab thessaloniki
The Greek version of bagel, 'koulouri', originates in Thessaloniki, while souvlaki yiro is served in a variety of forms, representing northern Greek traditions, as well as 'politiki kouzina'. For me, the different versions of pastries, more commonly known as 'bougatsa' in Thessaloniki, will remain stamped in my mind; I could never get enough of those. If I could have things my way, bougatsa would constitute my daily morning, lunch and evening meals. You can just discern the assistant cutting one with a 'bal-de' knife, something resembling a pizza cutter .
bougatsa thessaloniki

Our dining experiences in Thessaloniki never let us down. After a short rest at the hotel on our arrival, we ate in the Ladadika area at the Pans and Grills (Τηγανιές και Σχάρες)...

pans and grills ladadika thessaloniki htipiti dolmadakia ladokollapans and grills grilled veges ladadika thessaloniki
Meat medley cooked in parchment paper, dolmadakia, hot cheese dip, roast vegetables, ...
pans and grills ladadika thessaloniki
... kebab Thessalonikis, and loukoumades for dessert on the house...
pans and grills kebab ladadika thessalonikiloukoumades thessaloniki
washed down with two beers and sodas - LESS THAN 40 euro!

The next day, we decided to have a light lunch at Xatzis patisserie in the city centre...

politiko pastry shop XATZHS thessaloniki
I can't rave enough about this place, which is why I have included a large photo. Xatzis cooks up politiki kouzina creations - nearly all their recipes come from the Constantinople of former times, which is why the names of the specialites advertised on his billboards outside the shop sound very Turkish. They serve the full gamma of bougatsa, pites and Greek specialty cakes, including a dessert called Trigona Panoramatos, triangle-shaped pastries first made in the Thessaloniki suburb of Panorama by Asia Minor refugees who flooded into the city after the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1922. The waitress was extremely knowledgeable, and explained a host of things to us about politiki kouzina.
politiko pastry shop XATZHS thessalonikitrigonaki panoramatos politiko pastry shop XATZHS thessaloniki

... followed in the evening with a seafood dinner by the sea, in Kalamaria, an eastern suburb of Thessaloniki, which was the most expensive meal we had during the whole trip (52 euro)
dining by water's edge kalamaRIA thessaloniki
At this position, the White Tower was visible on the far side of the Thermaic Gulf - but the lights you can see on the opposite side of the harbour are the city of Katerini. The fish taverna itself was very quaint, with its family-based set-up, wooden straw mat chairs and fishing boats next to our table. We even watched a fisherman catch (and then lose) a large fish!

Thessaloniki boasts good shopping bargains (the prices here are lower in the non-brand name stores), and the people are very friendly - so we need to come back to this place, as we simply did not do it justice this time round. For more information about Thessaloniki and her food traditions, visit Peter's blog.

* St Demetrius is comemorated today - Happy Nameday to all my friends who have a Dimitri or Dimitra in their family, and most of all, to my husband!

©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 24 October 2009

Chocolate chip cookies revisited (Και πάλι κούκιζ)

The last of the chocolate chip cookie dough that I had made recently was frozen in little balls, ready to be cooked, after thawing a little (I simply defrosted them without allowing them to thaw completely). I thought I would be glad to see the last of them, after all that strife they caused me when I first made them. Even if our dog were to enjoy most of them this time round, at least the freezer would be cleared and I would have more space for more 'useful' things.

"These ones are better, Mum."

This did not happen, after all. This time, I followed the advice of all the people who commented, and made a crispier version of these cookies (as opposed to biscuits!), the more preferable cookie/biscuit texture for the Greek palate. (Mine burnt around the outer rim, but we simply chopped off the slightly blackened bits. If I had watched over them more carefully, I could have avoided this.) And yes, success! They were good - perhaps, a little too big, but delicious all the same (Greek cookies are smaller, just big enough to dunk in milk or coffee, enjoying two or three in one sitting.)

Chocolate chip cookies can also be bought very cheaply at the supermarket (the red packet was on a buy-one-get-one-free special at 0.69 cents). They are completely different in taste to the home-made version of this American favorite, made for the Greek palate.

These cookies are a wonderful alternative to our normal breakfast, preferably on a cold Saturday morning, when they can be served warm. The dough can be frozen, ready to cook whenever you want, and chocolate chip cookies do not need a long cooking time, even if you prefer them crispy. The recipe does not need to be changed; the cooking method needs to be altered to suit the culinary customs of the eaters.

Thanks to everyone who commented and helped me to enjoy the globalised chocolate chip cookie in its freshest form.

©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 22 October 2009

Chocolate chip cookies (Μπισκότα με σταγόνες σοκολάτας)

A while back, I saw some large chocolate chip cookies prominently displayed in a bakery in the town centre. They were about the size of a desert plate. I decided to snack on one as I was doing my jobs around he town.

"Would you like me to heat it up for you?" asked the shop assistant. What's she talking about? I wondered. It had never occurred to me that a biscuit could be warmed up before it was eaten.

"No thanks, I'll have it as it is."

She carefully picked it up with a pair of tongs and put it into a paper bag.

"Be careful, it's soft," she warned me. That got me a little worried: a hot crumbly biscuit wasn't what I was expecting to be eating. I had visions of dropping crumbs on the front of my blouse, and in the middle of a town like Hania, that would make me look like a monkey that had escaped from its cage.

trendy cafe bar hania chania
Make or break: new casual eateries are opening and closing all the time; this one seems to be doing quite well - it's all about location.

After a brief discussion with the shop owner, it transpired that the shop assistant had been trained to tell customers these things. He explained that the biscuits were made using a prepared dough sold by (if I remember correctly) Pillsbury, who had given him instructions on how to prepare, cook and serve these chocolate chip cookies, a novelty for Cretan tastes. The store where I bought this rather large biscuit was also selling other international forms of pastries that have become part of the global cuisine: American-style donuts, filled sandwich rolls made with ready-to-cook pre-risen bread dough, and muffins, among others. These places never last long enough in our town, unless they offer something 'trendy' and 'different'; this store probably didn't manage to get the message across very well, because, after changing ownership, it eventually changed product line and began to sell more conventional (for Greek standards) snack food.

American-style chocolate chip cookies are also sold in convenience stores, mini-markets and kiosks around the town, found in the same place as the XL chocolate-filled croissants, fake apple pies, and packets of potato crisps; in other words, the junk food counter. The kind of people likely to buy them are the ones who also buy their frappe coffee from a kiosk; definitely not cookie connoisseurs.

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My daughter recently found a chocolate chip cookie recipe in one of her little-girl magazines and asked me to help her make them. After checking out the recipe, I decided that it wouldn't work (it contained yeast and what looked like disproportionate amounts of butter and flour). She pleaded with me to make them, but I couldn't bear the thought of wasted ingredients and effort, so I got out my trusty recipe book (my laptop with its wireless internet connection) and found Ioanna's recent post for chocolate chip cookies. There are some cooks and recipe sources you trust, and there are others that you don't trust, and I've used quite a few of Ioanna's recipes.

chocolate chip cookies
Yeast, 50g flour and 80g butter? Try asking the gremlins for an explanation...

So I gathered the required ingredients and Christine offered to mix them. The children were more interested in the chocolate drops than anything else: chocolate in any form always has that kind of effect on people. We mixed everything together and left the dough in the fridge (this recipe requires making a dough which should be refrigerated for one day). The next day, we cooked a batch of chocolate chip cookies. When they were ready, I wrapped a cookie in a paper towel for each child.

chocolate chip cookies
Mama's little helper

"How's the cookie?" I asked my son.
"Tastes like popcorn," he replied.
"How about you?" I asked my daughter.
"Why are they soft?" she asked back.
"And why are they hot?" asked my son.

The children thought these cookies were rather 'different'. They did not 'smell' like a Greek biscuit (a koulouraki usually smells of orange essence or cinammon).

chocolate chip cookies
Making the cookies
chocolate chip cookies

In general, I can't complain: my children take an interest in what they eat. But they have been indoctrinated into the Mediterranean taste regime, not just through their mother's cooking, but from the society they live in: their school lunches are similar to their schoolmates', party food has a well-known form wherever they may find it, even the smells of other people's cooking in the neighbourhood are familiar to them. Their taste spectrum may sound limited, but it is historically and culturally linked to their home. Their idea of what constitutes 'good food' was formed from a very early age, influenced by the culturally-based diet they've been raised on.

This will change as they get older. Crete's dietary patterns are also changing for both the better and the worse; more foreign food is making it onto people's plates on the island these days due to the island's large non-Greek resident population, more foreign dishes are being introduced in restaurants and other food establishments BUT: children are eating less healthy food, more junk, and more no-cooking required ready-to-eat mass-produced snack food. Crete's food is altering in line with the trends of global cuisine.

We cooked up another batch of chocolate chip cookies with the dough the next day (this dough can be kept refrigerated for up to three days). This time, we let the cookies bake until they were much more crispy. Then we let them cool down completely before we had them with warm milk and tea, making them much more palatable in the Greek sense. But the damage had already been done: first impressions count tremendously in kidzone. Eventually I'll remake them, but I might call them something else (or at least find a way to tweak the recipe).

chocolate chip cookies
Eating warm soft chocolate chip cookies for the first time can be quite challenging...

If you follow the directions of the original recipe to the letter, you will make 18 overly large biscuits from this dough (I followed Ioanna's instructions and made smaller cookies: we got 28 biscuits). By the time we got down to the last few balls of dough, we had tired of the chocolate chop cookie idea, but I can guarantee that the dough balls freeze well and can be cooked afer being slightly thawed out of the freezer when required.

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