Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Saturday 31 March 2012

The button (Το κουμπί)

A little while ago, my husband did something, which, up until that moment from the beginning of the year, had been considered completely taboo. He pushed the button. For a long time, the button had been turned to the off position, almost a relic of a life that we could no longer afford.

The pushing of buttons is considered to be one of the reasons why people's health has declined, but just because we no longer pushed that particular button, it didn't really have a more healthy effect on us. Not that the button was to blame for our bad health in the first place: for the last three months, the weather could only have been described as freezing cold or pouring with rain, and that didn't have a really good effect on us either. Pushing the button wouldn't have ensured our better health, but it certainly would have helped.

Every day while it was freezing, we (or should I say mainly he) would trot up and down the uncovered staircase which faces directly north, where we could see (and feel) the snow, carrying logs of wood, twigs and branches, with which to kindle a flame and light a log fire in the wood-fired heater. Every morning, the children would argue over whose turn it was to sweep the ashes down the chute and into the drawer, which they then had to take down to the garden and empty it onto the soil (it makes good fertiliser).


Everyone would blame everyone else when the fire went unchecked, and the embers weren't bright and red, so that the fire would start smoking and come close to going out. That was considered a disaster, because someone (again, usually he or someone else under he's orders) had to go back outside in the freezing cold and pouring rain to find some kindling wood with which to light it.

But this system broke down when he got ill with a severe attack of sinus infection together with the oft-occurring pain in the leg, one of those aches and pains that we all get in a different but regular position in our bodies, the result of putting too much strain on one part of the body, often caused by not taking care of yourself as much as you should. One day, I came home to a warm house - and no fire. It turned out that he had pushed the button.

The button had none of the fuss that lighting a fire has. In better days, it would be turned to the on position every evening and everyone would go about their own business while the house seemed to magically warm up by itself. The pushing of the button caused only one minor inconvenience, and that was an argument between the adults in the house about how long the button should remain in the on position. Once it had been decided mutually that it would be turned to the off position indefinitely, our reasons for arguing over our differing opinions simply disappeared. It almost felt like New Year's resolution being kept: "Thous shalt not argue about how cold it is - you both know it's freezing."

The pushing of the button has so far been kept for emergencies. It's amazing that this winter, despite it being one of the coldest on record in Crete, it was only turned on once. That means that we only had one such emergency. Only my husband took antibiotics this winter. The rest of us simply went through one bad cold and had to stay indoors for a couple of days.

What kept us healthy, generally speaking, could be a number of factors. I can think of three in particular that are often named as factors involved in a healthy life:
  • good nourishment: a lot of our food is carefully selected, especially what we don't produce ourselves;
  • a physically and psychologically safe environment: we generally live peacefully, with only the odd television news report raising our stress level;
  • living in an unpolluted area: apart from the low levels of chemicals in our food supply, we also live in a chemical-free environment. Now that petrol is expensive (it's reached the €1.9/litre mark), even joyriders have reduced their trips, so the neighbourhood (away from the main street) is very quiet;
  • possibly an over-abundance of extra virgin olive oil in our daily diet. Olive oil is associated with longevity and therefore good health, which is why it makes me think that our over-use of the substance has protected us from winter's drawbacks, but at the same time, I am aware that the octogenarians of Okinawa have probably never used olive oil in their food, and they seem to live as long as the Ikarians; it all depends on which viewpoint you take, I suppose.

The truth is that life would be so much easier if we could just push that button whenever we needed to. Thankfully, we've come to the end of winter, and from now on, we won't be bothering ourselves with neither buttons or firewood. The only thing we will miss of the wood-fired heater is the delicious food that was cooked in it.

©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 30 March 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: Pommes frites (Πατάτες τηγανιτές)

Prices are in euro (valid in Hania). All ingredients are Greek or locally sourced; those marked with * are considered frugal here because they are cheap and/or people have their own supplies.  

Potatoes used to cost around 70 cents a kilo. But lately, people have been able to secure them for as little as 25 cents a kilo, straight from the grower, after a movement started by a group of farmers in Nevrokopi, an area well known for potato production. They decided to cut out the middlemen who were buying their produce for a low price and selling on to the retail sector who sold the potato at often three times the original price. Through the internet, they advertised and sold their product. Consumers were able to buy the quantity they wanted, print their receipt of payment, and pick up the potatoes at a scheduled delivery point by showing the receipt.

The potato movement (known as Το Κίνημα της Πατάτας in Greece) also paved the way for other producers to sell their produce directly to the consumer, cutting out the middlemen, who then had to fight for their own place within the system: to this end, they claimed that the products being sold directly through the producers were of low quality, uncertified, and therefore unsafe for human consumption.

When I produce my own olive oil, or I buy it straight from another producer known quite well to me, and I store it fresh in our basement, the last thing I need to worry about is its quality. I don't need to test it for being organic or chemical-free or pollution-free, since I know where it's produced. I know it's the best; the same thing goes for fresh meat from a small-scale local farm, my own home-grown vegetables and anything I forage or am given by friends and relatives.

french fries

The last time I bought potatoes at the supermarket, I found varying prices: potatoes from Nevrokopi were being sold at 35 cents (a direct result from the potato movement), while potatoes form Cyprus (Spounta variety) were as high as 1 euro/kilo. I chose the 70cent/kilo variety; everyone is allowed to choose what they want to buy and eat, according to their pockets and tastes. That's what the free market is all about.

The lower cost of potatoes now makes home-made fried potatoes a very cheap and Greek and frugal meal. Not that it ever wasn't in our house, with our own olive oil supplies. Admittedly, fried potatoes are just a little messy to produce, but the end result is worth it.
fried potatoes

If you really can't be bothered frying anything in a pan, you can oven-fry freshly cut potato sticks, using much less olive oil than you need for frying, and they still taste good too. I sometimes cook them in this way to save on cleaning-up time. But nothing beats home-cooked fried potato chips in olive oil. Serve with a garden-fresh salad, and some home-brewed wine. Cheap, Greek, frugal, vegan - and delicious.

For a round of fries for four people, you need: 
up to a kilo of potatoes, peeled and sliced into chips (~35-70 cents)
enough olive oil to nearly cover the potatoes in the frying pan*

Wash the chips to drain away the amylase from the potato. When the water starts to come out clear, drain the potatoes and pat them dry. Add the salt (unless you prefer to salt them after they are cooked). Heat the olive oil till it is smoky hot, then add the chips and allow to become crispy and golden. They will need to be turned once so as not to stick to each other. Preferably use a gas element; whatever you do, don't cook them in a deep fryer.

For oven fried potatoes, lay the drained dried chips on a large baking pan. Drizzle olive oil (and salt) over them, and then lay them in one layers, taking car that they don't touch each other. Cook on high heat till the potatoes become crispy and golden.
Total cost of meal for 4 people: about 1 euro; that's 0.25 cents per person. 

I've heard that the Belgians invented the pommes frites. Hmm, I wonder if beef fat can beat olive oil...

©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 29 March 2012

The fish ran away with the spoon (Τρα λα λα)

The children recently told me that their English teacher taught them some English nursery rhymes.

"We learnt Yankee Doodle," my son said.

"We learnt Hey Diddle Diddle," my daughter said.

My children have the same English teacher at school, but they are in different class groups, so the teacher is obviously presenting different material to maintain the distinction in the levels. 

"Great!" I said, full of glee, on hearing that my kids had learnt something I was taught at school, albeit at a younger age. "So who's going to tell me their nursery rhyme first?" My daughter started:
"Hey diddle, diddle,the cat and the fiddle, the girl jumped over the moon..."
Beg your pardon, I thought.
"... the little boy laughed to see such fun, and the fish ran away with the spoon."
"Are you sure it was fish, dear?" I asked, hesitantly, not wanting to offend either her (for not paying attention) or her teacher (for the obvious mistakes). I felt a little like an internet search engine: "Did you mean: the dish ran away with the spoon?"

"No, it's definitely fish, mum," she said confidently. "Dishes don't have legs."

When things don't make so much sense to you, you can give up trying to understand them, or you can try to make some sense out of them: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. At least Yankee Doodle went to town in the same way I knew him: riding on a pony with a feather in his hat; he called it Macaroni.

I cannot help but feel endeared to this new version of 'Hey diddle diddle'; it is just another classic case of Greeks trying to make sense of the chaos that surrounds them, which they seem to have plenty of.

©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 March 2012

The family house (Πατρικό)

The question of allowing children to play outdoors has received heated debate in recent years because of the increasing dangers associated with unsupervised play in modern times. On the one hand, children playing outdoors without supervision fuels their creativity, improves their social skills, and keeps them healthy and energetic by taking them away from sedentary indoor activities like web-surfing and tv-watching, and putting them into an environment where they are constantly moving. Another added bonus in my case is that they will be breathing fresh air in the aromatic Cretan countryside.
In the summer, there are more people living in the area, as the neighbourhood overflows with visiting πρωτευουσιάνοι as we like to call them (Athenians, otherwise known as 'capital city dwellers'), people who come to stay in their summer houses, which are usually old Greek village houses, usually the homes where their parents are living, or where they themselves were born (and/or inherited), which is why these houses are often referred to as πατρικό - the paternal home, ie the family home. Nearly all of these people bring their children/grandchildren with them. In the winter, there are only a few other children in the area, which has its advantages: you generally know where to look for your children if they've wandered off. This is a luxury in modern times; in urban neighbourhoods, this is the main reason why children are not allowed to wander off on their own. The neighbourhood is also blessed with some child-friendly zones, like a children's play area and a mini-soccer pitch, all with close and almost visible range from our house. These facilities are well used throughout the year, especially the latter, which is frequently booked by teams or groups who come to practice their skills. The country paths criss-cross olive groves and grazing pastures, and the traffic is minimal - mainly neighbours' vehicles - making the area quite safe for bike riding and free wandering.

We recently bought the children new bikes and helmets to replace the old gear-less ones that they had used to learn to ride on. These old bikes were too small and hence very uncofortable for them to ride for a long time. We had delayed doing this as much as we reasonably could because we knew that once they got their new bike, there would be less control over there movements.

In the beginning, it was a bit of a chore having to look out for them on the road. In the summer, there are more people around to look out for each other's children, who are often playing together in someone's yard or the park, but in the winter, this is not the case at all. In larger groups, they are easier to control; in smaller groups, they wander off and are difficult to spot because they are much quieter. I often end up taking a little walk myself around the immediate neighbourhood to check out their whereabouts and what they are up to, which turn out to be quite innocent.

One day, after I'd let them loose on their bikes, I found some toys in their bedroom which I knew weren't their own. I asked them where they came from. They gave each other knowing looks.

"We found them in the park," one answered.

"Don't believe you," I replied.

"Alexandra gave them to us," the other added.

"Now I really don't believe you," I said, and told them to take them back to the park where they claimed they found them.

Another day, the same thing happened. This time, I marched them to the park and told them to show me where they found these objects. I knew that they wouldn't tell me the truth there and then, but eventually, given time, the truth surfaces by itself. It turned out that there was an old property behind the park where an old woman lived until she died. Since then, the house stood vacant and lifeless, like so many in the general area. Old houses are rarely demolished to make way for new houses. This is a trademark of Greece which gives its nostalgic look. Few tourists would be endeared to the Cretan countryside if it weren't for these delapidated edifices, looking almost like ancient ruins themselves, and hinting to our not-so-distant past, which on the durface looks so different to the image of modern Greece today.

The house itself was locked up, but the small derelict crumbling storeroom was not. This small dark room was attached to the house, but it was quite separate to it. It might have had a multiple number of uses when it was originally built. It was clearly built for storage purposes. Animals may have been kept in it in its early years. It was possibly used as a kitchen at one point. The items contained in it were worthless: old newspapers, nets for collecting olives, dusty plastic water bottles, broken crates for collecting agricultural produce, among other remnants of a former agricultural household's paraphernalia.

There were also some children's toys in a cardboard box, the only item that looked reasonably new among the other articles. The toys were probably being used by children holidaying in the area in the summer. They are worthless too. But not in the eyes of another child. The same thing applies for the old house. It's worthless and probably needs to be demolished - but a house is a house, property is property, and in Greece, that's a big deal. Especially if it's your πατρικό.

The houses in the photos are not of my own neighbourhood but they are situated relatively close to it and I pass these ghostly images almost daily.

©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 27 March 2012

Feta cheese (Φέτα)

Big slabs of white cheese, preserved in brine, were first seen in Crete in 1494. How strange that feta cheese is not associated with Crete in modern times. Although Cretan cheesemakers are nowadays producing it, feta cheese is not a specialty of Crete, and modern Greeks would never think of Crete as a feta producer, which is why the feta that is produced in Crete usually stays here.

feta from karpenisi
Feta made in Karpenisi
Feta is the national cheese of Greece. When referring to feta (which means 'slice'), Greeks never use the word 'cheese' to go with it, as the word is naturally understood to mean 'cheese'. And in Northern Greece (anything above the Peloponese), the word 'cheese' is synonymous with the word 'feta', since it is the main cheese available in the area. Because feta cheese is a PDO product, not all white sliceable cheese can be labelled feta. So when a Cretan company producing meat products recently diverged into the dairy market, it could not label a white sliceable cheese it was producing as 'feta', even though this is what it looked like. Instead, it called it 'Mesogeiaki', with no mention of the word 'cheese', leaving me a little confused when I saw it being advertised - it did not even mention the word 'cheese' - until I realised it was simply trying to avoid using a PDOlabel. This product is made with 90% sheep and 10% goat's milk, with a final olive oil content of 11% olive oil. Mesogeiaki won the 'Best Launching 2011' award as a new product.

The olive oil content is the 'value-added' part to the product, which is a common theme in the modern marketing world. Labeling anything as containing olive oil is a clever marketing ploy because of the well-known health properties of olive oil. The company in question has actually added olive oil to many of its meat products too, like salami, compressed ham and mortadella: they have experimented with removing the natural animal fat found in meat, replacing it with olive oil. Testing conducted on the final products has shown that the products containing olive oil are in fact healthier than the original products that contained the natural animal fat (MAICh thesis study from the Natural Products Department).

The move to add olive oil to products that usually contain animal fat is well accepted by consumers. People prefer these products over others, for obvious reasons, and many say that those products' taste is not compromised.

Which feta cheese you prefer is a matter of individual taste. I don't think I will ever change my preference for the feta that I have been buying for the last 15 years, since I discovered it. Feta Plataion is a firm feta, not very salty, with a mild taste. You can buy it pre-cut and packaged, but it is also sold in bulk (which is cheaper, naturally). It's widely available in national-chain supermarkets all over Crete, although this is probably not the case in mainland Greece, because feta cheese is produced to extremely high quality in various parts of the country and each feta-producing area claims its own fame for its own version of Greece's national cheese.

In the summer, we buy less feta cheese, preferring the local soft white Cretan cheese, called mizithra, served in the same way as feta. Hence, I was a little puzzled as to why feta cheese had to have olive oil added to it. Adding olive oil to feta cheese is completely unnecessary if you eat feta cheese the traditional way: drizzled with olive oil and some oregano. It usually goes into a Greek tomato salad, so again it will be served with olive oil. I'm sticking to my traditional feta - some things were made the way they were meant to be. 

©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 March 2012

Safe Sex (1999)

Have you read any news about Greece as of late? Of course you have. For a start, you can't miss it. Greece is on the front page headlines of most mass-media press sites. It's the European country where HIV/Aids is on the increase, malaria has resurfaced, tuberculosis is running rampant, newborn testing is under threat, food is being distributed among the poor, homelessness has risen exponentially, potatoes, lamb and olive oil are being sold in bulk on the streets, illegal migration continues unhindered, state employees rob the state coffers, potential tourists have cancelled their holidays, strikes are a regular part of the country's schedule, ministry officials accept bribes to hand out state-approved loans, medical supplies are stored without ever being used - the list is endless. it gives a picture of a country having nothing to do with Europe, but more like something 'Out of Africa'. It reminds me of a Greek joke (invented by Greeks themselves).

Greece had so much catching up to do once she got into the European Union. In essence, that was both her comeuppance and her downfall. It was a time of 'out-with-the-old' and 'in-with-the-new'. It all came too easy: both the state and the people were being handed out the money to modernise, but not the advice on how to go about it.

The catching up process culminated to its peak in Athens, a city populated by provincials living under the shadow of Pericles. Modern technology - and of course money - began changing Athens' shabby look. The veneer was so well applied that Athens had begun to look like any other European capital: chic, sexy, raunchy, cultural, civil, and above all, modern. If it weren't for the Acropolis perched on a hill high above the urban sprawl, Athens would have been dismissed as just another European capital.

I remember walking home in the centre of Athens at seven o'clock on a Saturday morning after a night out on the town (my one-and-only all-nighter - I really am are a morning person). Even though I was alone, I never felt scared, threatened or uncomfortable. During the week, when I'd be returning home late in the evening (I finished work at 10.20pm), there were children walking home too, often with their parents, sometimes alone, after they'd finished their private lessons from the para-education system. There was no fear of being robbed or mugged.

Let's take a moment to remember when Athens was a respected modern European capital, at least in appearance. The film Safe Sex epitomises this time with its urban-anywhere images depicting the modern lives of a range of not-all-so-modern characters, often small-town/village people who came to Athens to live the dream of the modern Greek, a life away from provicialdom. The characters all come from different walks of life, but what is most important is that they are all tied by a common denominator, which is not that they are merely Greek, but that they are all embracing the new Greek identity that was in some way being forced on them at the time. There is the havoc of the tiny Athenian apartment where full Greek meals were being cooked, the transplanted village housewives whose lives were enriched by the daily soaps, the desire of the modern young Greek to be 'liked' and 'likeable', and above all, the concept of attaining what was once an inaccessible lifestyle for Greeks, now all within easy reach.

Safe Sex is one of my favorite films. It reminds me of the people I was (and sometimes still am) surrounded by. It also reminds me of people I've come across while living in Greece, and why I never regretted moving away from Athens. The film screened for the first time four years after I moved permanently to Hania, in the year I got married. It is available with Italian, but sadly not English, sub-titles. It is a very 'Greek' film, but despite its huge success when it first screened, it was not popular among all Greeks; perhaps the people complaining about it being mediocre, unoriginal and full of bad jokes were not looking in the mirror, but out of the window instead. It's not about laughing AT others, it's about laughing WITH them, and ultimately with ourselves.
Food-wise, Safe Sex illustrates some remarkably unique Greek phenomena, precisely delineating where Athens found herself in 1999, which shows where she came from in the first place, and where she was trying to head to. Here's a partial analysis of the culinary parts of first 35 minutes of the film: 
  1. Coffee: always served with a glass of water - everywhere (with cigarettes, usually) - 0:02:47 
  2. Peeling vegetables: provincial Greeks often use a knife rather than a vegetable peeler - 0:03:27 (Kastanis' role is a provincial housewife living in a central Athens suburb in a modern apartment) 
  3. Breakfast: that is a concept that rarely exists in Greece, yet we see two homosexuals enjoying a modern looking breakfast, complete with English-style teapot. Supposedly Greece was heading in this direction, but never quite got there... - 0:08:05 
  4. Lunch in the private clinic's staff cafeteria looks like a three-course meal - and so it should be, since the Greek midday meal is still considered the main meal of the day. Note that the main course consists of something that looks like pasta and mince (for both actors), a modern-shaped bread bun, with a side dish of salad and another of fresh fruit. The traditional wine is swapped for a modern fizzy drink (due to sponsor advertising, no doubt). It is often claimed that the traditional Mediterranean diet is not being followed by Greeks in modern times, but this clip shows quite the opposite - Greeks are more likely to eat their traditional meals together with a side order of junk food - 0:12:17
  5. A modern (unmarried) Greek couple is carrying a boxed store-bought torte to take to a friend they are about to visit. Store-bought sweets as presents have been de rigeur for a long time in Greece, especially among provincial Greeks - 0:14:15 (you can see them eating it at 0:15:27, after they've been drinking beer straight from the bottle - at the time, a very modern trend moang modern people, like the homosexual couple)
  6. A modern Greek dining scene - note the crockery. The guests are all upper-middle class professionals. Smoking was still tolerated at this time, hence the abundance of smoke and cigarette packets in full view - 0:18:15
  7. A very modern Greek kitchen: most kitchens in Greek homes, both in the countryside and the city, are still modelled on the fitted-cupboards style. Among the Greeks, there is no desire for retaining anything that looks old, so don't expect to see an Aga oven and cottage kitchen when a house is being renovated, not even in the countryside - 0:24:10 (a similar, yet very much lower-class kitchen is also seen at 0:33:56)
  8. The taxi driver comes home for his midday meal - virtually a copy of the clinic's staff lunch meal, minus the fruit, reflecting the global trend that the lower classes consistently show signs of worse nourishment than the upper classes - 0:30:14 (note his evening meal at 34:01 - it's very similar to his lunch meal)
  9. A typical in-office Greek meal: tiropita and a fizzy drink (HBH is obviously one of the sponsors of the film - a frappe would probably be the norm here). It's not much too different from an office meal in any Western country, with a slight Greek slant - 0:34:50
  10. The provincial urban housewife is making home-made filo pastry for a pie - 0:35:08
Just 35 minutes in a 95-minute film, and we already have 13 scenes where food plays a reasonably prominent role. That's one food scene for every three minutes. You can check out more food scenes for yourself (there's a good one of a modern restaurant, quite unlike what you would expect to find at a vilage taverna - more on the urban/rural divide).

The 1990s were a decade of glossy facade, but they were also a time when people felt very secure. Even though the system (ie the way things ran in Greece) was just as unfair then and it still is now, people weren't reacting to it in those days, possibly because nearly everyone had found a place in it. Some had a better place in it than others, but everyone did actually have a place somewhere, unlike now, where there is a greater divide between the rich and the poor, and the middle class has practically disappeared.

Athens is often taken for granted as the representative of the whole country. But Athens is nothing like the επαρχία, and certainly nothing like Crete: in fact, Hania and Athens are like two different planets. You'd have to look hard to find HIV/Aids, malaria, tuberculosis, food distribution and homelessness (although you will see illegal immigrants) here. Crete has never resembled Athens in the first place - but it's the same kind of people populating both places. One group moved north, while the other stayed put.

Safe Sex was, in my opinion, one of the best films ever made in Greece. It showed the development of contemporary Greece from many facets. It's painful to watch it, because it reminds me of Greece's history. One group built, another destroyed; all those facets of life depicted in Safe Sex are no longer with us, since Athens - and indeed the whole of Greece - was smashed to smithereens once again by a new enemy, economics, a word she invented for the whole world.  

©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 25 March 2012

Greece is that thing (Η Ελλάδα είναι αυτό το πράγμα)

Today is a significant celebration in Greece: since 1821, independence from the Ottoman yoke is celebrated on the day of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. Because it's a Sunday, Greeks miss out on this public holiday (as they did last Christmas and New Year's Days) because such feast days are known as immovable feasts (unlike Easter-related feasts, which are moveable). NB: Greek holidays are NEVER moved to a more convenient date.  

On a recent Friday evening when most of the family was down with a cold or getting over one, we all sat together in the living room and turned on the TV. Most nights, I'm chasing after kids and their after-school activities, so I'm not in at the time the news programmes are being broadcast. Catching up with what has been and gone seems pointless to me. At any rate, most of the news I hear about on Greek TV is obtainable through website reporting. For this reason, it's not really necessary to watch the TV news; the pictures simply add another dimension to the stories.

We tuned in to the ALPHA news broadcast, which had just begun after a short commercial break: "Coming up: professional Greeks choose to stay in Greece". This sounded like a heroic act, coming at a time when the foreign press is bombarding the global news sites with propaganda of Greek tragedies, such as: "The best will emigrate, as they are doing already. The signs are everywhere of poverty, social break down, and homelessness."

ALPHA channel, 9pm news, 9/3/2011

Two Greek doctors with internationally recognised distinctions for their research work on resuscitation explained why they decided not to emigrate, turning down offers for university positions in eminent institutions abroad with salaries four times as much as what they are getting now. "I'm too Greek to do that," said Theodore Xanthos, "I believe that at this difficult time for Greece, everyone has to contribute to help the country get out of the abyss... I want my Greek research to come out of Greece, not another country." Xanthos also tells us that at the moment, Greece represents 8% of the research in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, while his colleague Athanasios Chalkias states that due to their work, the international community now understands how life continues to operate immediately after a heart attack.

It felt comforting to listen to my compatriots telling their own people that life is not just about money, fame or glory, it is not about living in ease and comfort, it is about living as a Greek with the spirit of a Greek. This is the reason why a Greek friend of mine (who wants to remain anonymous), born and raised in Canada, is working in a research institute in Athens. In his words: "it is much more interesting living in Greece than in boring and secure Vancouver." There are more people like him in Greece, but these are not the people that reporters seek when covering news: they don't provide the sensationalism that raises ratings and stirs the emotions of the international audience.

ODISEAS ELYTIS (Nobel Peace Prize in Literature, 1979): To be Greek is to feel the same way whether you are standing next to the Parthenon or next to a λυχνάρι (oil-lit lamp). 

Right after the doctors' story, a similar report followed (the newsreader explained that the doctors' story was the reason for the next news spot), where well-known Greek artists explained how they felt about the Greek identity, and what it means for them to be Greek. In the context of the crisis, the "more positive and enlightening side of Greece" is often forgotten, as is "the Greece of light and strength", which gives us hope for a much better future.

The reporter asked people in the Acropolis area what they thought of the concept of Greece: "Greece is in the coffee cups, the sun that blinds us, the blue and white flag that waves to us on the balconies. You live Greece with all your senses."

Both the scientists and the artists expressed my own desire to live and work in my own country, without feeling the pressure to run away to another one. I don't live in the oppressed times of my parents' youth, where there was no transparency and democracy was overshadowed by the need to survive. Migration is now a choice, not a necessity; we are a different generation all together from the Greeks that left Greece in the '60's or '70's.  We have a comfort cushion created by our parents' generation so that we can afford - not just in money terms - to stay in Greece through rough times. In their time, there was a need for foreign populations to increase the workforce in other countries. This is not quite the case any longer: the developed world has enough people populating it, but it does not have enough of the kind that are willing to do the hard/dirty work which the locals don't want to do, leaving them to other less fortunate souls, otherwise known as immigrants. "It is a sad feeling to be afraid of one's own native country," as the African-American slave Harriet Ann Jacobs wrote.
CALLIOPE KARVOUNIS: "Greece is inside us, Greece is nostalgia, culture, heritage, history, knowledge, light. On the other hand, Greece is darkness, sadness, pain, all that together. Greece is a big sun, she has enlightened all of humanity. But at this time, we tramp on her, and we have become ridiculous, mindless trivial people... We have forgotten where we have come from."

It was the photographer Calliope Karvounis' last words ("we have forgotten where we have come from") that made the greatest impact on me. In my opinion, to forget one's origins is the greatest crime against one's identity that a person can commit. If you don't know where you come from, you cannot know where you can go, what heights you can reach, and who you have to thank for this. We don't all come into this world equally, but we can all dream and hope, and most Greeks will at one point admit that they made their own choices in life, which is why they are where they are today.
DIMITRIS MITARAS: "If Greece were a painting, she would be an ancient statue, standing in front of a deep background. We have an enormous, vast culture backing us, a terrifying past, and we have become somewhat remote from it."

By way of contrast to those seeking a job - and therefore a conforming position - in a developed country, artists are non-conformists. They do not become famous by following regularised lines of mainstream thought. They break out of the shell that we are all born into, diverging and releasing themselves through their talent, which is often unique. They remind us that life is not just about conquering the world in monetary and status terms; it is also about the pleasure of existing peacefully yet vivaciously within our surroundings. 

YIANNIS MARKOPOULOS: "Our homeland is salty... We must all now realise that we have an immense responsibility to undertake, which is to transform all the nations of Europe...", "Greeks want a computer by their side for their daily needs, but at the same time, they want to plough their land. It's time for professionals and labourers to work together, to become friends and brothers."

I posted a copy of the TV news report on my facebook page. I received one comment, from a Greek born and living abroad who has no intention to visit Greece in the near future: "What's with all the patriotism?" he wrote. "Is this just an attempt to brainwash people and stop a civil war?" I was truly devastated. I deleted the comment, and then deleted the whole post, as I realised that there were many more people like this person, who could not understand what the Greek scientists or artists had to say about their identity. To reach the heights of a scientist or an artist, one must have a truly liberal mind, to be living quite out of this world, two things most of us do not have and do not do. Just like scientific theories need quite a developed and knowledgeable mind to be understood, so do artists' philosophies. They are not within easy reach of most mere mortals. Perhaps the topic was beyond the commentator's understanding: I had set my readers a task that was far off the scale of the average level of social media interaction.
ALEKOS FASIANOS: Greece is a concept that few people can understand - "Greece is a concept that we carry inside us, and that concept is constantly changing, it can't remain the same. We now wear jackets and trousers, but ancient Greeks wore tunics, but we continue to be Greeks. It's the environment ... that makes you Greek. Greece is that thing... Maybe if I hadn't been born in Greece and I wasn't here, I wouldn't draw like I do, I would be doing it differently if I were elsewhere."

It wasn't the commentator's fault for viewing Greekness in modern times to be some kind of curse, and not a blessing. Such people have never lived in Greece (they only come here for a holiday), nor have they felt the effect of those scientists' and artists' works on much more than a personal level, if at all - Greek immigrants' offspring usually knows little about the achievements of modern Greece, and more about the myths and legends of ancient Greece. They are simply left with a Greek name, and maybe some recipes from their mothers and grandmothers. They have no concept of modern Greece, nor do they fit in the modern Greek spectrum, and yet they are Greeks; they do not realise that they are hiding from themselves. Worst of all, they have not understood where they came from, hence they are on the verge of losing an integral part of their identity. When you lose any sense of your past, you are locked in the present, and when that crumbles, you have nowhere to turn.   

*** *** ***

I wonder what my commentator is up to today, on the 25th of March. No doubt, he will go to the Greek church in his region, after his first-generation relatives remind him of the importance of the day. He may even remember to say "Hronia Polla" to any Vagelis or Vagelia he meets up with (once again, after being reminded by an earlier generation that it is the done thing). But I doubt he'll be eating salt cod with beets and skorthalia for lunch. Fish is smelly, frying is unhealthy, beets stain your hands and clothes, and garlic dip causes stinky breath. These Greek culinary concepts were never a part of his identity in the first place but I forgive him for this: they could very well have not ended up being part of mine, either, which is the reason why it's hard for these kind of Greeks to be unable to recognise what Greece has actually given to the world - they can only see what she is not giving in the present time.

"Greece on a plate", by Demetra Lambros, a musically, artistically talented food lover

Spare a thought for the modern Greek artist, for s/he does not have it so easy these days. Artists usually thrive in large urban centres and capital cities. But the present state of the capital city of Greece, Athens, suffocates them. They have so far staunchly persisted to remain, but for how long will they be able to do so in a city that breeds prostitution, drug abuse, illegal immigration and crime?
©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 March 2012

'Ω Ελλάς, ηρώων χώρα (O Greece, a hero's country)

"Greeks just want money, not investments," I recently wrote in my facebook page in reference to an article about protests and clashes over a goldmine."Are you for real?" a (former) reader reprimanded me. "Honestly, these generalisations are truly offensive. Next time, please speak for yourself." That's what I usually do - this is a personal blog! At any rate, Greek identity issues now make top discussion, especially in the current climate, as the preparations for the commemoration are well under way. The streets of central Athens have already been cleared of all the bitter oranges left hanging on the trees that line many of the main streets, as a way of removing the temptation of turning them into cheap ammunition.

25 March, 2009, Athens
Τomorrow is a major Greek festival and public holiday in Greece (Independence from the Turks). It coincides with the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, which is why it receives such prominence, as it is regarded with dual significance. The day is accompanied by what looks like an outdated military street parade with government officials watching from an official marquee, while the public follows the parades, clapping and cheering as the paraders walk by them. Well, that's what used to happen. In the last two years, all military parades have been accompanied by egg/yoghurt/tomato-throwing, booing, and the paraders' turning their head away from the officials who they are supposed to be saluting, all of which recently led to the raising of the issue concerning whether the parades should be cancelled, as they no longer serve the purpose that they were originally designed for (ie to bask in our glory).

hania st wellington new zealand
Hania St, Wellington, New Zealand
The government has decided against this, and I can't blame them. For a start, how can Greece cancel such an institution when it has been copied for many years among the Greek diaspora far away from Greece's shores? It would make Greeks in Greece look like asses. But the truth is that the Greek community in the US will be parading on New York's 5th Avenue to mark this event, in recognition of Greece's glorious moment of independence. This could not happen alongside a Greece where Greeks will be sipping their frappe, quite unruffled by anything. Were such an action to occur, this will lead to the superiority complex among the diaspora Greeks who think that they are more Greek than the Greeks who live in Greece, while the Greeks in Greece will be protesting against their inferior status in global terms and who drove them to this humiliating point. Over the years, I have gotten used to hearing how un-Greek the Greek Greeks are, but this is nothing new: it reminds me of what a Chinese friend recently told me: people of Chinese origin who have been born and raised in a Western country are often referred to as bananas (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). Given that I myself used to live among the diaspora community, what worries me about this kind of thinking is that for a while, even I believed it.

Now that I live in Greece, I realise just how sick this private joke of ours is. Such a generalisation fails to take account of how diverse Greek people are. But it does take account of an inherent trait in Greek identity: divisiveness. Once again, the tale of two cities comes into play: Greece is a country divided into two virtually equal factions. There are the tax evaders vs the payers, the public vs the private sector, the party politickers vs the independent thinkers, the urban versus the rural dwellers, the mainlanders versus the islanders, the 'Greece-for-Greeks' versus the EU-Greece sides, the traditionalists versus the modernists, the loafers versus the workers, they cheats versus the honest Greeks, and the list goes on. Given more time, it is quite easy to think of a host of other opposing facets of society that often become the topic of heated discussion, all of which show a crucial division of opinion among the Greeks. Dichotomous issues such as these, which in essence all rest on false dilemmas, plague Greece's development, and have been doing so since time immemorial.

Apart from Greek heritage, and possibly Greek citizenship and Greek language, I doubt that I can find a common denominator that truly unites Greeks. Even Greek food widely differs as little as 100 kilometres apart. I'm now living in an 'us-or-them' country. I console myself by the thought that modern Greece has always been like this, since her inception, meaning 'indecisive', 'chaotic', 'lacking unity'. To make an identity statement about Greek people is impossible. Greeks themselves cannot concur about what it is that makes them Greek.

Since the economic crisis began, the century-old writings of the satirist George Souris, a newspaper editor who lived on the island of Syros, have been given due prominence, given their pertinence in Greece's present situation:
"Ποιος είδε κράτος λιγοστό σ' όλη τη γη μοναδικό, Who ever saw such a small country, so unique in the whole wide world
εκατό να εξοδεύει και πενήντα να μαζεύει; that can afford to spend 100, while collecting only 50?
Να τρέφει όλους τους αργούς, να’ χει επτά πρωθυπουργούς, It nurtures all the idlers, and has seven Prime Ministers
ταμείο δίχως χρήματα και δόξης τόσα μνήματα; with a bankrupt treasury, but a country full of glorious monuments
Να' χει κλητήρες για φρουρά και να σε κλέβουν φανερά, It has bailiffs for guards, who rob you in broad daylight
κι ενώ αυτοί σε κλέβουνε τον κλέφτη να γυρεύουνε; at the same time that they rob you, they are searching for the robbers
Σπαθί αντίληψη, μυαλό ξεφτέρι, κάτι μισόμαθε κι όλα τα ξέρει Quick to respond, with a mind as sharp as a razor, he half-learnt something but he knows everything
Κι από προσπάππου κι από παππού, συγχρόνως μπούφος και αλεπού From great-grandfather to grandfather, simultaneously a buffoon and a fox

Θέλει ακόμα -κι αυτό είναι ωραίο- να παριστάνει τον Ευρωπαίο, He still wants - and this is the good part - to pretend that he is a European
στα δυο φορώντας τα πόδια που’ χει, στο' να λουστρίνι στ' άλλο τσαρούχι so he wears different two shoes: one is made of shiny patent leather, while the other is a tsarouhi
Δυστυχία σου Ελλάς, με τα τεκνά που γεννάς! O Greece, a hero's country!
'Ω Ελλάς, ηρώων χώρα, τι γαϊδάρους βγάζεις τώρα;!!" Now all you bear is donkeys!!
(The complete poem is available here).
Greeks are now both blessed and cursed to be hearing this 100-year-old rhyming poem in a song that is being played regularly on Greek radio at the moment. In line with the inherent divisive indecisiveness that plagues them, Greeks can choose which version they prefer: Zouganelis' lamenting tone, hinting at the sad demise of his glorious race, or Papakonstantinou's aggressive crowd-pleasing rage in a heart-wrenching reprimanding rock rhythm. Personally, I prefer the latter.

The lyrics may sound like sweeping generalisations that are too offensive to be uttered in public. They ridicule and decry the Greeks without any positive motive. But the century (or should I say centuries) old question of the two-sided Greek identity has been the subject of many theses over the years. It was also the subject of a complete book by Nikos Dimou, a modern-day Greek satirist, under the title of "The misery of being Greek", originally published in 1975, only a year after the restoration of democracy after the junta regime, and just half a dozen years before Greece's entry to the EU. The book was actually written in 1972, but due to the heavy censorship of the press at the time, it was not published until after the dictatorship. The book was recently translated into German, providing more impetus to credit Germany for taking a hard stance on Greece.

Here are some translated excerpts from the book, reprinted from Nikos Dimou's website
Υπάρχουν Έλληνες που προβληματίζονται με τους εαυτούς των και Έλληνες που δεν προβληματίζονται. Οι σκέψεις αυτές αφορούν περισσότερο τους δεύτερους. Είναι όμως αφιερωμένες στους πρώτους. There are Greeks who are troubled by themselves and Greeks who are not troubled. These considerations relate more to the latter. But they are dedicated to the former.
Ο Έλληνας ζει κυκλοθυμικά σε μόνιμη έξαρση ή ύφεση. Μία συνέπεια: απόλυτη αδυναμία αυτοκριτικής και αυτογνωσίας. The Greek lives temperamentally in a state of permanent remission or exacerbation. A consequence: the absolute impossibility of self-criticism and self-awareness.
Ο Έλληνας, όταν βλέπει τον εαυτό του στον καθρέπτη, αντικρίζει είτε τον Μεγαλέξανδρο είτε τον Κολοκοτρώνη, είτε τουλάχιστον τον Ωνάση. Ποτέ τον Καραγκιόζη. When a Greek sees himself in the mirror, he sees either Alexander the Great or Kolokotronis, or at the very least Onassis. Never Karaghiozis.
Κι όμως στην πραγματικότητα είναι ο Καραγκιόζης, που ονειρεύεται τον εαυτό του σαν Μεγαλέξανδρο. Ο Καραγκιόζης με τα πολλά επαγγέλματα, τα πολλά πρόσωπα, την μόνιμη πείνα και την μία τέχνη: της ηθοποιίας. Yet the reality is Karagiozis, who dreams of himself as Alexander the Great; Karagiozis with his many professions, multiple identities, permanent hunger and an art: acting.
Πόσοι είναι οι Έλληνες, εκτός από τον Εμμανουήλ Ροΐδη, που έχουν δει το πρόσωπό τους στον καθρέφτη; How many Greeks, apart from Emmanuel Roidis, have seen their faces in the mirror?

Βασικά ο Έλληνας αγνοεί την πραγματικότητα. Ζει δύο φορές πάνω από τα οικονομικά του μέσα. Υπόσχεται τα τριπλά από αυτά που μπορεί να κάνει. Γνωρίζει τα τετραπλάσια από αυτά που πραγματικά έμαθε. Αισθάνεται (και συναισθάνεται) τα πενταπλάσια από όσα πραγματικά νοιώθει. The Greek basically ignores reality. He lives two times above his financial capabilities. He promises himself triple of what he can actually do. He knows four times what he has actually learned. He feels (and is aware of) five times what he can actually feel.
Η υπερβολή δεν είναι μόνο εθνικό ελάττωμα. Είναι τρόπος ζωής των Ελλήνων. Είναι η συνισταμένη του εθνικού τους χαρακτήρα. Είναι η βασική αιτία της δυστυχίας τους αλλά και η μεγάλη τους δόξα. Γιατί στο αυτο-συναίσθημα, η υπερβολή λέγεται λεβεντιά. Excess is not just a national defect. It is a way of life for the Greeks. It is the result of their national character. It is the main cause of their misery as well as their vast glory. For in the self-conscious, excess is called bravery.
Η ευτυχία της δυστυχίας του Νεοέλληνα εκφράζεται τέλεια στην ελληνική γκρίνια. The joy of the misery of the modern Greek is expressed perfectly in the Greek nagging syndrome.

Ο ελληνικός νόμος του Parkinson: Δύο Έλληνες κάνουν σε δύο ώρες (λόγω διαφωνίας) ό,τι ένας Έλληνας κάνει σε μία ώρα. Parkinson's law in Greek: Two Greeks do in two hours (due to conflicts of opinion) what one Greek does in one hour.
Η σχέση μας με τους αρχαίους είναι μία πηγή του εθνικού πλέγματος κατωτερότητας. Η άλλη είναι η σύγκριση στο χώρο και όχι στο χρόνο. Με τους σύγχρονους «ανεπτυγμένους». Με την «Ευρώπη». Our relationship with our ancient race is a source of the national web of inferiority, as is the comparison of place and not of time. With the modern "developed" people. With "Europe."
Όταν ένας Έλληνας μιλάει για την Ευρώπη, αποκλείει αυτόματα την Ελλάδα. Όταν ένας ξένος μιλάει για την Ευρώπη, δεν διανοούμαστε ότι μπορεί να μη περιλαμβάνει και την Ελλάδα. When a Greek talks of Europe, he automatically excludes Greece. When a foreigner talks about Europe, we cannot put it into our head that he does not include Greece in it. 
Γεγονός είναι πως - ό,τι και αν λέμε - δεν νιώθουμε Ευρωπαίοι. Νιώθουμε απ' έξω. Και το χειρότερο είναι, που τόσο μας νοιάζει και μας καίει, όταν μας το λένε... It is a fact that, whatever we may believe, we do not feel European. We feel like outsiders. And the worst part is that it grieves us to no end when we are told this...
Although Dimou writes about things in the way that people like to hear or read, using his wit to gain an audience, his success rests on making sweeping generalisations, while focussing on stereotypes and bordering on the highly opinionated. Who said 'all Greeks' are like this? But Dimou acknowledges that not all Greeks are the same at all. He divides them into three groups:
Στο θέμα της κληρονομιάς τους, θα χώριζα τους Έλληνες σε τρεις κατηγορίες - τους συνειδητούς, τους ημι-συνειδητούς και τους μη-συνειδητούς. On the issue of their heritage, I would divide the Greeks into three categories - the conscious, the semi-conscious and the non-conscious.
Οι πρώτοι (λίγοι) ξέρουν. Έχουν νοιώσει το τρομερό βάρος της κληρονομιάς. Έχουν καταλάβει το απάνθρωπο επίπεδο τελειότητας του λόγου ή της μορφής των παλιότερων. Και τούτο τους συντρίβει. The first (few) "know". They feel the terrible burden of their inheritance. They have understood the inhuman level of perfection in the speech or form of their predecessors. And it crushes them.
Οι δεύτεροι (και οι περισσότεροι) δεν ξέρουν άμεσα. Έχουν όμως «ακουστά». Είναι σαν τους γιους του διάσημου φιλόσοφου, που δεν μπορούν να καταλάβουν τα έργα του, βλέπουν όμως πως όσοι ξέρουν, τα τιμούν και τα βραβεύουν. Τους ενοχλεί αλλά και τους κολακεύει η φήμη. Επαίρονται πάντα όταν μιλούν σε τρίτους. The second (and largest group) does not know directly. But they have "heard" about it. It's something like the sons of the famous philosopher, who cannot understand his works, but they realise that those who do understand them honor and reward them. They are at the same time annoyed and flattered by this reputation. They always boast about it when speaking to others.
Η τρίτη κατηγορία-οι μη συνειδητοί- είναι οι παρθένοι και αγνοί (γράφε ασπούδαχτοι: Μακρυγιάννης, Θεόφιλος). Έχουν ακούσει για τους παλιούς σε μύθους και θρύλους, που τους έχουν αφομοιώσει σαν λαϊκά παραμύθια. Αυτοί οι αγνοί δημιούργησαν την λαϊκή παράδοση και τέχνη. The third category - the non-conscious - are like chaste virgins (read 'self-learned': Makriyannis, Theophilus). They have heard about the ancient people in myths and legends, which they have assimilated as folk tales. These pure people created our popular traditions and art.
Ωστόσο η συντριπτική πλειοψηφία των ημιμαθών με το μόνιμο κρυφό πλέγμα κατωτερότητας απέναντι στους αρχαίους, καθορίζει τη στάση και το ύφος του συνόλου. However the vast majority of the semi-educated live in a permanent web of an inferiority complex towards the ancient people, which designates the stance and style of the general whole.
(More excerpts can be found on Nikos Dimou's website.)
The ideas expressed in Dimou's work do not differ greatly from Souris' writing; they are related, and show a natural follow-up of the same subject. The interest that they generate today is a sign that they are viewed as timeless and highly relevant. As Dimou explains: "The fact that it [ie his book] became diachronic is evidence that the subject is discusses is deeply rooted inside us." There is still that 'us-versus-them' factor shining through all such works on the Greek identity. I myself write about 'them', while simultaneously counting myself as one of 'them' too. While this leaves little hope for a united and progressive Greece in the future, it is a sure sign that Greeks know themselves well, following Apollo's words: Γνῶθι σαυτόν (Know thyself). Such discussions are not of a racial character: they are simply a form of identity analysis, a kind of self-contemplation, if you wish. At any rate, the Misery of being Greek is a much more popular topic than the Joy of being Greek (the book with that title stopped being many printed years ago). Such works are also a sure sign of democracy: where else in the world can you blast your compatriots in this way, and still be respected by them?

*** *** ***

A word on generalisations: you shouldn't make them because you know it's wrong. By way of example, what is expressed in this post cannot apply to all Greeks, wherever they may be. We are not all one and the same. As Benjamin Broome who wrote Exploring the Greek Mosaic: A Guide to Intercultural Communication in Greece explains: "Making generalisations is not an easy task. I am sure that many Greeks will disagree about the statements I have made about their culture. The difficulty of describing cultural patterns in a manner that does not distort reality is one that challenges any writer who dares to enter a world that is not his or her own."

HA! Gotcha! I am describing my own world! Therefore, I am exempt from the rule! As the Greeks say: "όλοι εκτός παρόντες." 

UPDATE: After making personal contact with the author, I learnt that an English translation of Nikos Dimou's book will soon be available, published through John Hunt by Zero Books. I will give him the last word: Dimou believes that in order to survive in this modern world, Greeks need to reinvent themselves. As if they haven't got enough difficulties...

©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 23 March 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: pork rolls (Μίνι ρολά)

Prices are in euro (valid in Hania). All ingredients are Greek or locally sourced; those marked with * are considered frugal here because they are cheap and/or people have their own supplies.  

While at the supermarket buying mince to make biftekia (meat patties which I freeze for later use in a quick meal), I noticed something that looked cheap and tasty and easy to prepare. On the fresh meat counter there was a packet of four mini pork-rolls wrapped in butcher's string. It was mid-week, I had a sick child at home, I'd just left work, we were expecting an electrician to finish off a wiring job that was still remaining from the time we installed the wood fired oven, and I needed to find a quick way to prepare the next day's lunch which would allow me to concentrate on other more urgent tasks.

Pork is often the cheapest meat on the Greek market (apart from frozen chicken), and is readily available in many different forms for quick cooking. Top-end supermarkets in Crete now also offer different vacuum-packed cuts of meat. Despite the crisis, the signs of the recession are not apparent in the food supply.

This meal was cooked in the wood-fired oven for energy efficiency. 

The meal I cooked with the pork rolls uses up a lot of preserved summer produce, believe it or not, which makes it quite a cheap meal. The onions I added to the roast were bought in July, last summer, from a grower-seller who travelled from one village to another, selling his wares. The dried mushrooms were a present from a friend, and were reconstituted with wine from our supplies. My home-made tomato sauce was used to baste the pork, as was our olive oil. This is a truly rich meal made from the various preserved staples found in many rural Greek homes at this time of year.

 When the meal was ready, I transferred everything to a more appealing serving dish which could be heated in the microwave the next day for the family to serve themselves.

You need:
4 mini pork-rolls (these came ready, in packs of 4, at the fresh meat counter of a supermarket: ~3.79)
10 small onions*
a packet of dried mushrooms (~2.50; this is quite expensive, but any mushrooms can be used)
1 glass of wine*
4 tablespoons of thick tomato sauce*
a few glugs of olive oil*
salt and pepper*

 This photo was taken on the balcony in natural light.

Reconstitute the mushrooms in the wine. When they are ready (about 15 minutes), drain them (do not keep the wine). Place all the other ingredients in a baking tin, adding a large glass of water. Cover with a piece of foil and place in a moderate oven. Allow to cook till the pork is tender (about an hour), until the sauce has reduced. Serve with a leafy green salad and some plain rice.

Total cost of meal: 7 euro (~1.80 per person).

©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 March 2012

Sweet preserves (Γλυκά του κουταλιού)

My collection of home-made sweet preserves makes me feel like a farmer's wife. It is one of the more creative and ornamental aspects of cooking in a Cretan kitchen. Spoon sweets (γλυκά του κουταλιού as they are know in Greek) are made not just to cater for the family's sweet tooth, but also to share among guests.

Fruit preserves: clockwise, starting from the large jar: bitter orange curls, bergamot (pergamonto) strips, apricot jam, green tomato jam, quince strips (under a cloudy sky with the apricot tree in bloom).

The contents of my jars display a plethora of wealth with their range of colours, as diverse as those found in a cornucopia, signalling abundance and nourishment. My work towards this aim is unpaid in monetary terms, but it does not go without reward. Those who eat from their contents thank the maker with their satisfied smiles as they lick the syrup away from their lips.

On the one hand, the jars conceal any sign of the impoverishment that has been forced on society as a whole; on the other, they are a symbol of hard work and perseverance, a persistent desire to remain standing, unconquered and astute.         

©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 21 March 2012

Spring (Άνοιξη)

Spring has sprung
The sun is warm
Makes the winter
Look quite gone

That's what the first day of spring felt like yesterday.


Charles Dickens put it much better:
"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade." (Great Expectations)

(Thanks to Cheryl for the quote)

©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 20 March 2012

Horta (Χόρτα)

Wild leafy greens are eaten throughout the year in Greece. They are very popular during fasting periods. Here's an article I originally published through Suite101.

horta karanou cooksHorta have always been a significant part of Greek cuisine and continue to be a popular choice for a meal both in the Greek taverna and with the home cook. Amongst the wide range of vegetarian dishes in Greek cuisine, there is a particular group known as 'horta', from the Greek word χoρτα, meaning 'grass'. Both wild and domesticated leafy greens form an integral part of a Greek island taverna meal, found under the 'salads' label on the menu card. Horta were one of the staple survival foods in many parts of Greece in the years of famine during the Nazi occupation of the country in WW2.

stella's hot saladsHorta constitute both a side dish and a main meal Horta have always formed an integral part of the range of traditional Greek foods, and are fundamental to the Mediterranean diet whose origin lies in Crete. When a Greek cook prepares a meal of horta at home, they actually form the main part of a meal, not just an accompaniment to a meal, unlike when eating out at a Greek taverna, when horta will more likely be a side dish to other main course.

How are horta served at the Greek table?

cretan appetisers and saladsWhen the home cook prepares horta for the main meal of the day, they will be boiled and served together with maybe some beans or zucchini, according to the season, all dressed in olive oil and lemon juice. Carbohydrates in the form of boiled potatoes accompany these leafy vegetables as a side dish, along with some cheese, a boiled egg, or maybe some small fish like sardines for protein.

Bread is essential with horta to mop up the remaining olive oil on the plate. Taken altogether, this combination of very simple foods forms a very balanced diet, which makes it easier to understand how the Greek people survived during harsher times when food was scarce.

askrolimbiDifferent varieties of horta for different seasons The temperate Greek climate allows horta to grow abundantly all over Greece. Apart from being grown in cultivated fields, they are also foraged in wild pasture lands. They are sold at street markets, in greengrocers, and in the supermarket. The variety of Greek horta differs according to the season, because different horta are available at different times of the year. A variety of amaranth, called vlita in Greek, grows from late spring to late summer.

In Cretan cuisine, a highly prized variety of horta of the Chicorium species, stamnagathi, used to be foraged only in the wild in the cooler seasons, but is now being cultivated successfully throughout the year. Although most leafy greens have now been domesticated, there are still some that are only found in the wild, like the ascrolimbus plant used in Cretan cuisine, with its thorny leaves and edible roots. Radiki (from both Taraxacum and Chicorium species) is also very popular. An added bonus of horta is that when they are foraged in the wild, they're often organic. They are harvested by rural experts who are able to distinguish between the varieties and know which ones are edible or not.

Preparation of horta

tsigariasta horta
Because horta come straight from the ground, and often sit on the soil, they need meticulous cleaning. If foraged from the wild, they will also need sorting because different grasses grow together among the different species of horta. It's understandable why horta foraged in the wild fetch higher prices than cultivated varieties. Once they are cleaned, they are then boiled till the leaves have softened. The more tender the leaves, the less cooking time is needed. A change of water is while they are being cooked is recommended to remove any bitterness. When done, they are drained and served doused in olive oil, a sprinkling of lemon juice and salt to taste.

Funnily enough, in Greek cuisine, spinach isn't considered amongst the leafy greens that are served as salads in the same way as horta, even though it grows in plentiful supplies. Modern food trends show that spinach is now being used raw in salads, but it's traditionally turned into spanakopita and other filo pastry parcels. The horta species mentioned are hardly ever used in pies; there are other wild aromatic horta varieties that are used in this way in Greek cuisine.

©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.