Zambolis apartments

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Monday 25 July 2011

The scent of Greece (Άρωμα Ελλάδας)

taxi strike The image of summertime Greece has been shattered with the developments in my country. The economic crisis has bought on a new shame to my homeland. "The true Greek spirit left Greece many years ago with the diaspora," says a diaspora Greek, reminding us of the old-fashioned notion that diaspora Greeks have of their mother country - that she should not change, that she should be the same country she was when they left (the last large immigration wave - before the present one - was in the 60s-70s), that Greek society's evolution into a more demanding and less ignorant one somehow does not match their image of Greece, that Greece should show a more stoical acceptance of her suffering, and once again become the 'filipina' of the modern world. Worse still, even the ξένοι have realised that Greek people aren't who they used to be: "It’s crazy; Greece is the only country in the world where Greeks don’t behave like Greeks. Their welfare state, financed by Euro-oil, has bred it out of them," says Thomas Friedman. The crisis signals an end to old Greece, and the start of a new one. But where are all the good Greek people? Gone to greener pastures, Paul Whitefield says: "... all the hardworking, frugal, responsible Greeks left and came to America," he tells us. Cry, the beloved country!

Greece has changed - or has she? The following photographs were all taken yesterday or in the previous week.

olive tree trunk discarded pottery
Some things are timeless...
  french window cactus plant

the onion seller mediterranean garden
... because some things can't change.
the mediterranean sea tomatoes and onions drying under the fig and mulberry trees

It's not only Greek Greeks that have changed; the diaspora is different too.  

"My family are all fine, but they're kiwis now," a visiting down-under diaspora Greek friend said to me, just a couple of hours before I published this post.

"That's not a bad thing", I answered. 

taverna meal
Άρωμα Ελλάδας - The scent of Greece
summertime greece

"Yeah, but it leaves me with a lump in my throat," she replied. "Δεν ξέρουν τι σημαίνει 'άρωμα Ελλάδας' ".

©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 18 July 2011

The Cretan diet off the shores of the island (Η Κρητική διατροφή μακριά από το νησί)

The 1st Symposium of Greek Gastronomy took place in the former primary school of the mountain village of Karanou, Hania. The Symposium focussed on Cretan cuisine from a variety of aspects: archaeological evidence, wild foraged greens, the evolution of the Cretan diet, migration and the evolution of Cretan wine. Together with Fusun Ertag and Ozlem Yasayanlar, our presentations involved the Cretan diet off the shores of the island.

It's often believed that Cretan Turks in the population exchange introduced Anatolia to foraged wild greens, but Fusun Ertug produced evidence to the contrary, of Turks living in areas that were not affected by the population exchange, who live inland, quite far away from the Aegean or Mediterranean coastline, who also use foraged greens in their daily diet.

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My contribution then followed, in which I spoke about the importance of food as an element of a person's identity. (Due to technical glitches, my presentation appears in all three video parts of the Symposium that I present in this post).

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Ozlem Yasayanlar who now lives in Izmir (she is also a food blogger: made a particularly moving speech (in Greek) about the search for her Cretan roots, as the descendant of Cretan Turks who left the island, never to return to what they considered their homeland, when she tried to answer the question: 'why can a third-generation Muslim Cretan living in Asia Minor, who has never seen the island, still act and live and eat like a Cretan, even a hundred years after the population exchange?'
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On Saturday evening, the local cooks of Karanou village presented a range of the meals that displayed the variety of dishes used in the daily diet of the village, the one that they raised their families on, and continue to cook on a daily basis. You can see the photos of these meals on my facebook page. But even if you aren't on facebook, if you read this blog regularly, you have probably already seen them...
 The cooks of Karanou stand behind their meals at the buffet table
What particularly aroused my curiosity was how similar the traditional Cretan meals I cook for my own family are to theirs, which shows a continuity over the generations, even in the modern globalised world that we are required to live in, in the food of the island, using all the edible resources, both wild and cultivated, available to us, as Fusun's Turkish anecdote proves:
"If a cow and a Cretan woman come to your garden, just keep the cow, because she will eat what she needs and then stop. Get rid of the Cretan woman, because she will remove everything from the garden."
Cretan cuisine is an inseparable part of the Cretan identity, even when it becomes just a memory in the third-generation members of the Cretan-Greek diaspora. As the saying goes: "The first generation leaves, the second returns, and the third looks for its roots."
©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 15 July 2011

Tselementes (Ο Τσελεμεντές)

Here's a taster of the kinds of issues I will be discussing in my contribution to the First Symposium of Greek Gastronomy on Cretan Cuisine, taking place this weekend in the village of Karanou.

It wasn't that my mother didn't know how to cook. She knew how to make a meal tasty, she knew how to adapt a meal when it wasn't up to par, she could cook from pretty much anything. I remember my mother's cooking as very good work, and she was a dab hand at handling a stove full of pots cooking away on all four elements with a roast in the oven and a couple of salads under way. To think, she had never learnt to cook on a gas/electric range in Crete, but that never stopped her from recreating Cretan dishes. And she never used a cookbook, mainly because in her early years in New Zealand, she never had one. Cookbooks were unknown to her until she migrated.

Suddenly it seemed that a cookbook was indispensable. It was as necessary as, as, as sandblasted ballerinas on concertina glass-panelled doors separating the lounge from the dining room, china figurines on the mantelpiece, antimacassar crochet doilies on the armchair head and armrests. It was what everyone seemed to be buying at the time, and she wanted to add such a book to her collection of things that made her feel like the urban woman that she had become, from the rural girl that she once was. She felt the need to own a cookbook, because it represented progress.

Her husband never complained about her food, but he would often ask her to cook things that she didn't actually know how to cook. Like Haniotiki kreatotourta. It was something she never made in her own family home up in the mountains. She had heard about it from some other Cretan women in the low-lying village that her family moved to after their father decided to sell all the family property in the mountains. But it wasn't part of her own family's cuilinary tradition.

My mother's cooking notes

When she moved to New Zealand, she took with her a notebook where she had started to record ingredients and recipes from about the time just before she left Crete. To these notes, she added bits and pieces she had picked up form the other immigrant  Greek women she met up with in her new homeland: paximathakia, melomakarona, halvas, recipes she had probably never tried up in the mountains. Her knowledge of Greek food, up until that time, consisted mainly of standard daily Greek lunchtime fare, eg fasolada, makaronada, yemista, as well as some Cretan favorites like kalitsounia. She wanted her knowledge of urban Greek cuisine to be more complete. So on her first visit back home, she went to a bookshop in Hania and bought herself a Tselementes, which she put into her suitcase, ready to be used in her modern New Zealand kitchen. 


After the trip back home, after she had gotten over jetlag and packed away all her things, including the mementoes and souvenirs she had brought back with her, she took out her new cookbook and began poring over its contents. To her dismay, it contained many words and concepts that she did not understand, had never heard of and couldn't pronounce: jellied ham, cold poached eggs, Mont Blanc dessert, millefeuille, among others; What on earth were these foods?!

The Tselementes was put on a bookshelf, and never used. My mother continued to cook the food she identified with, which was daily Greek fare, and festive Cretan dishes. My mother was simply expressing her identity with the food she cooked. Tselementes was trying to divert her attention away from her identity. It didn't work.

©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 8 July 2011

Our apricot tree (Η βερυκοκιά μας)

While I'm preparing my contribution for the First Symposium of Greek Gastronomy on Cretan Cuisine, here's an idea of what I have also been preparing food-wise at home.

apricot treeapricot treeOver the years, we've had many fruit trees in our garden. We used to have peach and nectarine, which both did well, but attracted too many pests, orange (we got tired of it, since we also own orange orchards), loquat (which didn't really do well) and plum, which dried up and died after serving us well for a number of years. Now we have a young lemon, a budding pomegranate and a shrubby lychee tree, while in the same position as the plum tree, there is now an apricot tree.

Most years, the apricot tree produced a very abundant crop, but about a third of the fruit was often lost to infestations of various pests, mainly little white worms. This year's crop - magically - managed to avoid such infestations, so the crop from that one tree was enormous.

 apricot harvest
This represents about a third of this year's harvest, from just one tree...

Apart from eating the fruit just as it was or giving it away, I found (through readers' suggestions on my facebook page) a range of delicious transformations for it. Some of the recipes are for eating right away, while other were for preserving; what's more, they don't need refrigeration, which means I'm saving on energy too.


apricot jam
Apricot jam: Fruit jam, made when the fruit is ripe and full of seasonal flavour, never fails to remind you of summer and the more bountiful seasons.

apricot upside down cake
Apricot cake: I love fruit-filled desserts, and they go very well with ice-cream in the summer season. This upside-down apricot cake can also be made with fresh pears (which will be in season soon after the apricot season ends). Apricot crumble also comes to mind, as I remember making with plums, as does apricot clafoutis.

drying apricots drying apricots
Dried apricots: Drying fruit and vegetables was once very common in rural Crete. It's still popular for tomatoes, figs and raisins. This is going to make a nice addition to breakfast cereal. I dipped these apricot halves in orange juice, then let them dry partially in the oven and in the sun. These didn't last till winter - they were too tasty: 'Mmmm, they taste like jelly fruit, don't they Mum?!'

apricot ice cream sorbet
Apricot ice-cream sorbet: This idea was born from a series of kitchen mistakes that came about from my kids: my daughter wanted to make a creme caramel dessert, but when I poured the hot caramel onto a beautiful ceramic dish - the only one in my house that wasn't chipped - it cracked!; I had already made the custard, so I made another batch of caramel and poured it onto another tin with a removable base (but the mixture leaked out of the dish!; then I decided to make a pavlova with the egg whites that had remained from the custard making (but the day was hot and the pavlova meringue fell flat!; I had bought some cream to whip up and give the pavlova more body (but the cream, being 'lite', didn't whip thick enough! Having been instructed on making ice-cream by another blog reader, I had some idea of how to make ice-cream!

apricot chutney apricot chutney
Apricot chutney: Chutney is like a sweet-and-sour jam, something that comes between making marmalade and tomato sauce. the original recipe used peaches; I also changed some of the spices to suit Cretan tastes (I added some dried bay leaves). Chutney is generally not well-known in Cretan cooking - and I don't really know how it's going to be received when I begin to serve it; I'm looking forward to having it with pork steak and roast chicken.

'canned' apricots
And last, but not least, my daughter's invention, fruit salad: Apricots, like peaches, are often sold canned in syrup. This is the beast way to preserve peaches, because peach is bruise-prone and highly susceptible to post-harvest damage. After trying some peaches in syrup as a store-bought treat, my daughter 'recreated' the recipe at home, using apricots (which she thought looked like peaches), chopped and placed in a cup of orange juice. Processed food makes a great impression on all of us, because it's often very tasty!


Some of these recipes are very new for my family, and it will no doubt take a little while to get used to eating in new ways. But I look forward to eating the preserves during the less fruitful colder months to come, when the garden won't be so productive, and Greece will find herself in the midst of a difficult period of austerity. The preserving looks like a lot of work, but don't be afraid of it. You just need to plan ahead; I prepared all this food in the space of one week, while I was taking part of my annual leave from work, necessitated partly by Greek unionised state sector strike action, and partly by the very long school Greek summer holiday period, primary schools close in mid-June and re-open in mid-September, which simply creates havoc for most working mothers.

©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 1 July 2011

My food, my identity (Το φαγητό μου, η ταυτότητά μου)

My food is closely tied to my identity. This is something I have known all my life. I had a very conscious idea about it since I was old enough to realise that I was not just a member of my family, but the society I lived in, and most of the time during my formative years, these did not often coincide. My family's food and the society's food were quite different, distinguishable according to the senses of sight, smell, touch and taste; if food could speak, then my family's food would probably have differed markedly from my society's food in that aspect, too.

By writing this blog, without actually realising it at the time, I was basically trying to put together the pieces of my own identity. So I view it as a privilege to have been asked to speak about the relationship of food and identity at the First Symposium of Greek Gastronomy on Cretan Cuisine, which will be taking place in mid-July, in the village of Akaranou, Hania, Crete.

How is food related to identity? I would like to talk about the relationship I have found in food and identity, using thoughts and discussions from writing this food blog and interacting with readers (yes, that's you), using the following ideas as my guide:
  • our mothers' food
  • the food of the society we live in
  • migration patterns
  • the food we associate with festivals
  • the role of education in our perception of food
  • the memories we associate with food
  • commerce and trade
I've set myself a huge task, one that needs the skills of a historian, anthropologist, sociologist, political scientist, psychologist and educator (among others), most of whose specialities I have only a rudimentary knowledge of. So I will not attempt to give a definitive answer to this question: my views on food are too limited. Instead, I will summarise what I have learnt about my food identity over the last four years that I have been blogging about it - and that's all thanks to you.

staycation balcony lunch vamvakopoulo hania chania

See you in a couple or so weeks!

©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.