Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Monday 30 April 2012

The way we are: 10 days in Northern Europe (10 μέρες στην Βόρεια Ευρώπη)

Holidays are not easy for my family to take. For family reasons, we don't like leaving our home at Christmas and Easter. Summer holidays are superfluous - we live near the some of the best beaches in the world, in a place with some of the best weather in the world. If we take a summer holiday, it will be at the end of summer, namely in mainland Greece. The only time left to holiday abroad is in the cooler months. This is how we found ourselves in Northern Europe just a few days ago.

Even though I spent many years living in a country that uses the same 'left' driving system as the UK, I still find it hard to adjust myself to using it when I go to London.
I backpacked through Western Europe twenty years ago on my own. This kind of trip was considered a rite of passage to New Zealanders, usually referred to as the big OE (overseas experience). It was quite an exhilarating experience for me at the time, leaving an isolated sparsely populated bi-cultural but generally monolingual country and coming to an over-populated multi-cultural multi-lingual continent just a little larger than the size of Australia and New Zealand put together, which had embarked on a massive unification project: the Berlin wall had only just come down less than two years before my visit, East and West Europe were blending into each other, and the continent was seeing a move away from the divisions of World War Two, which had kept it divided for so long. I recall a happy smiling hopeful Europe, cherishing her diversity at the same time as thriving on it. Each country was seen as a separate cultural - and more importantly, equal - part of a collective whole.

We couldn't understand why so many store fronts seemed vacant, disused and/or tampered with (eg broken windows, boarded glass) in Brussels - the economic crisis is not limited to Southern Europe.
Twenty years later, Europe finds herself in the midst of an identity crisis. Her members have been divided into the industrious north and the lazy south; where this does not fit in with the data, the labels have simply been reworded as the money-makers and the spenders. Divisive feelings pervade throughout the continent, with her extremities feeling a sense of not being wanted or not being needed, while many simply feel neglected

On a sunny Sunday in Amsterdam, it felt as if there were more bicycles than people on the road. They seemed to get in my way all the time, and I'm pretty sure I got into theirs too.
Without realising it at the time that I was planning the trip (in mid-summer, to ensure the cheapest prices), I was actually about to embark on a similar kind of OE, with a sense of reconnoitring, to gain further insight into the European project (or should I say experiment, as some may believe). This time, I wasn't alone: I was with my family, which includes a range of ages from 10 to 55, and completely different experiences and knowledge of Europe. It's not easy to pretend we are the same when we aren't really. Europe isn't a melting pot. She's full of people who all move in different ways. They can all see their differences, but they can't accept them. No one wants to admit that their way of doing things is not the best one, so they all just continue astutely to move in their own way, the way they've been raised in, trying not to collide with the others.

Europe's history weighs heavily on her present. It can't be ignored. The Berlin Wall sounds like a ridiculous concept now, but it was a daily reality of living terror only two decades ago.
Using our Greek identity cards (the children are still on passports), we started our trip by flying into London where we stayed for three nights at the home of a relative, moving on to a one-day stopover in Brussels, a four-day tour around various parts of the Netherlands where we stayed at a friend's house, and a two-day city break in Berlin, before returning home after ten days of international travel, although it didn't feel like international travel to me: Europe feels more like one country full of people with vastly different mindsets.

Left: My presents to my friends and family (freshly picked oranges, lemons, avocados and herbs not pictured). Right: A suitcase full of new tastes to try when we arrived back home (German sausages, Chinese pork and Dutch cheese not pictured).

My family learnt a lot about each other during those ten days we spent away from home. My husband now understands where his wife gets her law-abiding sense from (after paying for excess weight on the easyJet flight between Amsterdam and Berlin), while I now appreciate my husband's spontaneity when he finds himself in close proximity to winged creatures (he acts like he's carrying a hunter's gun - I know I'll never starve with a man like that by my side). But my children can't understand why their parents were so interested in a wall that no longer exists or why it was there in the first place. Their father's knowledge of history is very good, so he tried to explain it to them with a story about the Americans and the Russians.

"But what does America and Russia have to do with Germany, baba?" they kept asking.

"It shows how the whole world is connected with each other," he cleverly replied to them.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Sunday 29 April 2012

The lever (Ο Μοχλός)

Saturday for most bachelor workaholics in London doesn't start until the afternoon, or at least until after midday. This also applied to Nektarios. But this morning, he was up unusually early because he had decided to take on the duties of a babysitter. In particular, he wanted to ascertain that he really truly didn't want any children himself.

Rania was both surprised and happy that Nektarios wanted to babysit. It would be a chance for her and Timoleon to do something on their own in London without two toddlers trailing them. The previous day's scenes in Lillywhite's left much to be desired. As their parents were trying to choose some clothes from among the stacks of shelves and rows of aisles stuffed to bursting, the children were playing hide 'n' seek, shouting Boo! to each other at the most inpportune moments: they could be heard throughout the shop.
Nektarios liked living on his own. He liked the freedom that it offered, and he did not feel selfish about having so much of it. You only get one chance to live your life, his parents kept telling him, and he couldn't agree more. He wondered how his cousins coped with having two tiny tots to look after. "What do you do when you want to go to see a film at the cinema?" he asked her. "We wait for the DVD to come out," she replied.

Rania and Timoleon got up that morning looking quite refreshed, and he was pleased about this. "Are you quite sure about this, Nekta?" Rania asked him for the umpteenth time, just after they'd all had breakfast and she and her husband were heading out the door.

"All set," he replied.  "Just as long as I don't have to clean them up after they go to the toilet."

Rania laughed and assured him that there was no need to to worry about this. "We'll be back in three hours at the most." They had planned to have a meal out together in the Easte End.

Nektarios did not enter into the agreement unprepared. After work on Friday, he bought two notepads containing white sheets and a packet of felt tip pens. As soon as their parents were out the door, Viktoras and Veta started fighting over who got to use the blue pen first.

"OK, let's have a toss-up over this," he said, in an attempt to calm them down. This kept them quiet for a few seconds until the results of the toss-up were announced: heads, Veta won.Viktoras started howling.
"Hang on, Viktora, what we did was fair, wasn't it?" Nektarios spoke authoritatively.


"No, it wasn't!" he screamed, "because I didn't win!" Veta didn't utter a word. She simply picked up the blue pen and began drawing what looked like a sky scene at the top of the page. Suddenly Viktoras grabbed the pen off her. It was her turn to howl. Nektarios couldn't believe how quickly this had all taken place. Risk assessment banking was much more methodical and less random than looking after two under-sixes.
"OK, Viktoras!" he boomed, "go sit in the naughty step!"

Viktoras turned to look at him. "What's that?"

Nektarios pointed to the top of the staircase. "Sit there," he directed him.

"And what I am going to do here?" Viktoras asked.

"Nothing," said Nektarios.

"Nothing?" Vikotras asked him, as if verifying what he had just heard.

"Yep, nothing, for ten minutes."

"Why ten minutes?"

Nektarios approached him and expalined in a calm manner, as if talking to a junior employee. "By then, you'll have understood why you shouldn't take pens out of other people's hands." Viktoras looked him squarely in the eyes.

"Can I do my drawing from here?" he asked. Nektarios thought about it quickly and decided that it was a better idea to let them work separately rather than putting them back together at the coffee table.


"OK," he said with a hint of approval in his voice. Viktoras came back to the table and took his drawing. He also took all the pens that were still in the packet. Veta began howling again.

"I want that colour!"

Nektarios had by now realised that there was no way he was going to read the latest copy of Granta that he had also picked upat the bookseller's. These children were a clear case of 24/7. 

Rania and Timoleon came home laden with shopping bags at 1pm, just like they'd promised, to find the children eating biscuits and crisps.  

"How did it go?" Rania asked her cousin, as she looked over the children's drawings on the table. "Did you two have fun?" she asked them.

"Yes, this is much better than walking in the cold," Veta told her. "I want to stay here all day."

"And you don't want to go to the park?" Rania asked her. Not that it was on the plans: it was simply a way to entice them out of the comfort zone that had just been created. 

"Does it have swings?" By now, Veta realised that the word 'park' in London could mean a large empty green space.


"You look tired," Timoleon said to Nektarios. "They must have worn you out, right?"

"No, not at all," Nektarios answered matter-of-factly. They weren't too much trouble really. I just look tired because I normally sleep until noon on Saturdays." Timoleon raised his eyebrows and laughed. "It's to make up for the lack of sleep during the week!" Nektarios added.

After quickly refreshing themselves, they set off altogether, heading to Liverpool St station. Trains and stations always  maintained the children's attention. There was so much for the eyes and ears to take in every second they spent in them. They eventually emerged in the Spitalfields area. Rania was disappointed to find that the market was about to close. Timoleon was glad. "You would have got lost in there, and would have just wasted more money on bric-a-brac."


The tall buildings of the City stood out against the white cloudy sky. But the area had a neighbourhood feel to it. The roads looked tired and dirty, rather old and unkempt. Eventually they came to a pedestrian zone on Commercial St, where the shops began to take on an enhnic look. They found themselves at another entrance to the same market.

"Do you know the history of that pub?" Nektarios asked them. Its name was not clearly visible from their standing point. "Maybe you know it from the church next to it?" Rania and Timoleon were still stumped.
"You don't know your history very well then, do you?" Nektarios tut-tutted. "It's The Ten Bells, Jack the Ripper's haunt." He had been living in London for nearly a decade, and he felt that he knew more about her history than he did of his own hometown. Wellington's history seemed too short compared to the knowledge that he had acquired about his new home.

"When I first heard about this pub, I didn't know anything about its hostory either," he admitted. "My English friends all thought I had been living in a cave. They'd ask me how many houses I can buy back home with my salary." Rania laughed; Timoleon needed to have the joke explained.

"Do you think we'll be allowed to have a peek into the pub?" Rania asked. 


"Not if you're dragging those two behind you," Nektarios said, pointing to the children. "They're not considered child-friendly." Rania dropped the subject. Nektarios thought back to the morning's babysitting stint. His belief was re-affirmed: children would tie him down, they would place restrictions on his movements, he would not be able to enjoy the life he had learnt to love from the day he arrived in London. When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, as the saying goes, and if he is tired of life, he won't be in need of children. 

The streets were starting to smell of India. Curry wafted in the air. Sari shops had sprouted up. Signs weren't posted in English. "Nektarios remarked that he had been to a friend's wedding here. It went on all day long, and people were coming and going as they pleased with no set time or formality for the event. Posters were advertising Bollywood films. Brick Lane. Banglatown. Who said Brits were rascist? 


A short walk along the road, and Nektarios spotted the restaurant he wanted to go to. A short skinny waiter dressed in black greeted them at the door. There weren’t many customers at that time, but the restaurant didn't close in the afternoon. It was open all afternoon, and well intot he evening, until people stopped coming in. Rania and Timoleon left the ordering to Nektarios. The meal was supmtuous, a feast of colours, aromas and tastes. It felt like they were back home with their  respective mothers, who would be serving up plate after plate of delicious home-cooked food. There was no question of keeping to portions. The meals here did not have that full feel, where you felt as though you were abotu to burst. Most of them contained vegetables, even the rich meat stews in their thick sauces.

Timoleon was in seventh heaven - he loved good food, and had acquired a taste for South Asian cuisine from the few times that his wife cooked it, but Rania had stopped doing this as the children got older. They did not like the heat sensation, and they had already acquired a culturally-inclined seense of cuisine: "People here don;t eat that, do they Mum?" Viktoras had once quipped when she served a lentil dhal. "Got any normal φακές?" he asked her, quite unaware of the significance of what he had just blurted out. Today, both of them had stuck to white rice. The waiter was kind enough to supply some runny yoghurt, which again they treated suspiciously, as they were used to strained eating Greek-style yoghurt, while the puri and chapatti were passable.


The time that the chldren had spent out of the house seemed to have passed much more quietly. Nektarios was beginning to have doubts about his previous experiences, as he watched them sitting placidly at the table, entertained by pouring salt and pepper into their glass, mixing it up with water, and pretending to cook.  Their parents were at least able to have a meal out in the company of friends, without too many problems, even though the spicy food was not quite their cup of tea. He noticed that they were better behaved when there was nothing to share, and everything was deemed as everyone's property. They hadn’t been too physically active for mos tof the day, nor did they spend too much time out in the cold, as they probably would have done with their parents in the preceding days. Treat them fairly, and they will respect you, he thought, remembering the words from one of the trainers in a management coaching session that he recently attended. 

With their stomachs full, they came out of the restaurant better prepared to brace the cold once again. They continued strolling around the area, where they spotted, to Rania's delight, a shop selling Indian sweets.
"Look at that one," she beckoned to both Nektarios and Timoleon, pointing to a pile of fried pastry swirls in the display. "What does it remind you of?" she asked them. 

"You're just trying to entice me into the shop," Timoleon jibed, taking Rania's query as a hint that she wanted to eat some more. 


"Take a good look at that. It almost looks just like what your mum makes. Your mum makes them too, Nektarios." The men studied the swirls, all the while trying to think of a Greek food item that resembled them, but nothing came to mind. "Still stumped?" she asked them, as she turned around to see the children. They were making their way into the shop. Rania followed them, having decided to go in herself and buy some.

"We're not hungry, Rania," her husband moaned. Timoleon was never hungry because everything looked foreign to him. When they were strolling around the station areas, Rania would be pointing out the various food items that she had grown up with in Wellington with Nektarios, but Timoleondid not show the slightest interest in them: Roses chocolate, liquorice allsorts, Cadbury chocolate bars, Cornish pasties, soft-baked cookies, and all manner of sweets. Newsagents held a special place in her heart; even though she now found boiled sweets too sweet for her taste, she liked to look at the colourful array of ‘lollies’ on display, as well as the newspaper headlines: the medicine trials were receiving a lot of coverage at the time. Even Wendy’s didn’t stir any interest in him. At one point, while the children were playing in the toy cars outside the burger joint, supervised by Timoleon, she secretly sneaked in and bought some chips. Timoleon found them very moreish. 

"You will regret it if you don't try them," she warned him, reminding him of their Wendy’s experience.
The shop owners' dark skin was probably what was confusing her menfolk. Rania could see that the Asian sweet shop was filled with fried sweets and syrupy halva-like desserts. They had not asked for a dessert at the restaurant, as they were not used to doing this at tavernas, but if they had, then everyone might have seen the remsemblance between Greek and South Asian cuisine, if they hadn't already noticed it in the raita which tasted like tzatziki, or the chicken stew which tasted like a spicy krasato. The term 'Indo-European' was not solely limited to linguistic studies. Rania felt a lot closer to these people than those whose origins were not discernible. It is doubtful whether the shop owners realised that she was in their league: skin colour confuses people's judgment. She asked for a selection of the sweets closest to Greek halva and Cretan xerotigana, adding a few puffy pastry balls that looked like loukoumades, while the men watched her in amazement, as she ordered like a pro. Viktoras begged her to buy them a packaged chocolate-filled croissant. Veta asked for a chocolate muffin. Kids, thought Nektarios.


"How did you know which ones to choose, Rania?" Nektarios asked her. His memory was now filled with images of his mother making loukoumades, dipping them in syrup and rolling them in sesame seed. "They taste very similar to Mum's." 

"There's something you didn't know, and you've been living here for so long!" she teased him, as they set off for the train station. They entered an empty carriage, and took out the box of sweets after taking their seats. Rania was dishing out paper hankies to everyone. Other people were now entering the carriage, 
 "Come over here, Vik," she called out to her son, who was sitting all by himself on the opposite seat facing them. They were all so busy indulging in the sweet treats that they did not realise the train was taking a while to take off. While Rania was licking her fingers clean, a guard came by and asked them if there was a problem in the carriage. They all looked at each other. Nothing seemed to be wrong, with them, or with any one else in the carriage. The guard did a double check of the whole carriage, which wasn't very full, as it was a weekend.

"Someone has pulled the emergency handle," the guard informed them, as he looked at Viktoras, who had returned to the empty seat opposite the one where his parents were sitting. He was sitting by himself, while his sister was playing "Paper, scissors, stone" with Nektarios. Viktoras had been the first to enter the carriage, as he usually pounced on the best seat available, the one that offered him the most amusement, to get it before his sister did. 


The emergency handle was located at the height of the door handle. While the guard used his keys to turn the emergency handle back up, ready for use in a real emergency, Timoleon looked at his son. Without turning his head, he stated loudly:  The guard was also staring at Viktoras from the corner of his eye. Viktoras stared intently back at him too, but not his face: he was watching the guard's hands, as he performed his duties, until he heard his name mentioned. 

 "Ο Βίκτορας τό 'κανε," said his father.

 Thank God it's not a weekday, Nektarios was thinking. 

“Scissors!” Veta cried, slamming a hand over Nektarios’ which was in the shape of a piece of crumpled paper. 

Rania knew what everyone in the carriage had on their mind: ‘spoilt brat, negligent parents’. She had to find a way to save face. Quickly. "Did you pull that lever, Viktoras?" she asked him. When he didn't answer immediately, she turned to the guard: "I think my son pulled that lever while we weren't watching," she said meekly. The guard said nothing. He left as soon as he had finished his work. 

Viktoras looked up at his parents. He knew it was a bad moment when his mother used his full name.
“Did you touch that lever, Viktora?” his mother asked him once again. He started at her, then at his father, then back to his mother. 

Άσε με,”  he said, continuing to look straight ahead of him, without catching anyone’s eye contact. Rania went to sit next to him in order to give him a good scolding. Nektarios watched her. 


“You’re not thinking of giving him wood, are you?” he asked her.

Now it was Rania’s turn to stare at someone. “No,” she said slowly, and turned back to Viktora. 

The train began to move, departing for Victoria Station. At that point, Timoleon couldn’t help himself. He cracked up laughing, leaving his wife in the middle of dealing with a cross-cultural crisis. But she too could also see the fun in it. From the corner of her eye, she tried to catch a glimpse of a smile – or a frown – on other passengers’ faces. There were none. Not a soul in the carriage spoke a word. She wondered what would have happened in the same situation if it had been played out in the Athens metro. 

Nektarios wasn’t sure what to think. Something had happened which could have been avoided, had Viktoras been instructed before getting on the trains not to touch anything. But this child had never been on a train before this trip. He probably hadn’t even travelled on a bus before. 

“Has Viktoras ever opened the car door while you’re driving?” he asked Timoleon.

“He can’t,” Timoleon assured him. “We’ve got child locks.” 

That explained a lot. Nektarios was now quite convinced that he was making the right decision. 

Although they don't pull levers on trains any more, they do do other things instead. For those still in doubt, I can safely say that it does actually get better. But no, Nektarios still hasn’t got any of his own. The photos included in the post (except for the drawing) are all holiday shots form our first family trip to London.

©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 28 April 2012

Awake in my dreams (Δεν κοιμόμουνα στα όνειρά μου)

«I hope it was a dream where I was awake», Marie Dumont wrote, as the introductory sentence in her essay on her experiences taking part in a student exchange programme when she left her native France and came to MAICh, Crete, Greece, to continue her studies through the ERASMUS Programme. Marie asked me to edit her work, as this essay was entered into a competition where the winner will be announced in May at the ERASMUS graduation ceremony in Athens, for the students who took part in the programme in Greece last year.

Although Marie's essay wasn't chosen, I was touched by her description of the time she spent in Crete during the cold winter, especially when I saw her return to Crete with some more French students the following year, because they had missed the island so much. Marie's narrative is a love story between her and the island. I reprint here for you to read, with her blessing. The photos are mine, from the last internal MAICh graduation ceremony.

"I’m not sure I’ll be able to find the appropriate words to describe this five-month adventure, but I’m going to try. Let me carry you into my memories about my unforgettable exchange period through the Erasmus programme…

"Follow me in Crete, in the lovely area of Chania, in its countryside where is hidden the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh). From outside, it seems to be a very quiet place, made in an ancient style…but come closer and you’ll meet students from all around the Mediterranean, living together as a family.

"I was welcomed by a Lebanese girl, Souad, who explained to me about how life is organized at MAICh, and she introduced me to my future lab colleagues in the Horticultural Genetics and Biotechnology Department. “This is Marie, from France, and she is going to stay with us for the next five months.” After lunch, Alaä, took over from her. Alaä was like a mum for everyone at MAICh. “Since you are the youngest,” she told me, “MAICh is your new family… welcome!” I didn’t get at this moment the meaning of these words but after a few weeks, I realized how much it was true. I’ll never forget this first day.

"Then, I met the other students, “my new family”, such a warm welcome, everyone was curious and also proud to represent their country: Greece (of course), Tunisia, Algeria, Germany, Italy, FYR Macedonia, France, Georgia, Armenia, Lebanon, Italy… a real melting pot! Of course, you can notice the cultural differences but everyone is living together without any prejudices.

"Through traditional nights, we could learn more about the other countries. We had a Maghrebine night, for which the students from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco cooked all day long traditional meals for the entire institute and decorated the restaurant with flags, flowers and pictures. After the dinner they presented, one by one, the three countries that constitute the Maghreb, with pastries and mint tea. We carried on by dancing to oriental music… it was an unforgettable night!

"Another amazing evening was the Palestinian one, a highly emotional one, as we could feel their need to tell us more about their history and the daily persecution, but to show us also the richness of the Palestinian people and culture.

"Actually, I enjoyed every day spent there and I cannot focus on one only… I’m sure you understand that MAICh is a special place, so no one can forget his stay there.

"I’m a rich girl now, my mind is full of memories, rich because I’ve learnt a lot about our differences, I’ve discovered a wonderful island with its culture and I’ve met precious friends… yes… I cannot omit to speak about five special people, the five main characters in this story, who changed me, who made this period of my life probably the best I’ve ever had: Coraline, Marianna, Nizar, Bastien and Limon, with whom I shared all my laughs and memories. I can never thank them enough. I had the time of my life. Every day I still wake up and wonder if it was true or just a dream.

"Everyone thinks that to leave to an unknown country is the hardest part in the Erasmus experience, and, indeed, it really hurts to say goodbye, and I really hope this is just a goodbye! Αγαπώ τους φίλους μου!

"Epilogue: And so it was! I had the chance to meet them again one week at MAICh, one year later, just to get together one more time... to remind us of the good times we had spent together, which lent a new lease of life to our friendship! This is proof that they are true friends. You changed my life, guys! I wish for all students to take this chance and live the same Erasmus experience as I did!"

It is not my style to instruct my readers to visit Crete or come to Greece for their summer holidays, because I think that people make up their minds about where to take their holidays in different ways; I certainly don't need anyone to direct me in my choice of holiday. But after I read Marie's story, it made me realise that maybe we all need to come to Crete at one point in our lives.

©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 27 April 2012

Cheap 'n' Greek 'n' frugal: Kalitsounia

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.  

Summer's bountiful harvests last you through the winter, but when spring comes, you find your coffers are close to empty empty. Spring is a funny time of year for fresh produce: there's not much around, except for leafy greens and herbs, which makes it a good time to make kalitsounia. It's much cheaper, if somewhat time-consuming, to make your own kalitsounia from scratch, and spring is the best time to make them, because of the abundance of wild aromatic greens found all over the countryside at this time of year.

Kalitsounia, little pies filled with cheese and/or greens, are a Cretan delicacy, found in different forms and with a variety of fillings throughout the island, but they are also found in other Greek islands, notably those where there was a heavy Venetian influence. I recall a beautiful 3-day holiday spent in Kithira last year at this time, where kalitsounia were also being served in the taverna we frequented every night.

Kalitsounia cooked in the wood-fired oven

These little pies are about the size of your hand, made with not-so-thick, not-so-thin filo pastry. My mother used to make them in New Zealand for all our feasts and parties, and I now make them in regular batches, freezing them too, because it's not easy to make them on a regular basis. In all honesty, they are a little fiddly to make, because of the pastry, but you can buy this if you can't be bothered rolling out your own; you can also buy ready-to-cook kalitsounia from the supermarket and ready-to-eat kalitsounia from snack bars, but these options are not at all very frugal these days.

Making kalitsounia can be a random and somewhat spontaneous activity. It often involves using whatever ingredients you have at hand, which is why I can't give exact ingredients. Unlike with a pie, where you can roll out the pastry as thickly as you want, and you can fill it as much as you like, with kalitsounia you may find that you end up with extra pastry or extra filling left over; I prefer the former, because I don't like to make the latter, and I can always find something to fill extra pastry with.

Baked kalitsounia
Fried kalitsounia
Kalitsounia can be fried or baked. It all depends on personal preference. To cook them as cheaply as possible, I bake them in a wood-fired oven in the winter, or I fry them (which means not heating up the oven and using too much power) in warmer weather. Kalitsounia are a perfect snack meal. These little pasties form my family's morning, afternoon and/or evening snacks, and I often put them in the kids' lunch boxes for their school meals.

To make kalitsounia, you need:
some pastry (half a kilo of flour makes about 20 medium-sized kalitsounia: ~50 cents)
some fresh leafy greens (spinach, sorrel, swiss chard, even cabbage and leeks - including the green tops - will do: half a kilo of greens is enough for pastry made with half a kilo of flour - ~50 cents)
some aromatic herbs*
an onion*
a little bit of semolina* (for half a kilo of flour, about 3-4 tablespoons will be enough)
salt and pepper
some mizithra or other soft creamy cheese (~€1 - optional: kalitsounia can be vegan, and therefore even more frugal)
some olive oil* (about 4-5 tablespoons)
an egg for brushing over the pastry* (only if you bake them)

I don't use much bench space when rolling out pastry - that way, I make less mess, too.
Wash your greens, and dry them as much as you can (this is important). Chop them finely and mix them together, with the onion and seasonings. Heat the oil in a small pan and add the greens mixture. Cook the greens until they wilt (about 5 minutes). Set aside, and allow the greens to cool. Drain off any excess liquid. Mix in the semolina (and the cheese, if you are using any).

Make some pastry. Roll it out not too thinly, and not too thickly. Using a small saucer as a guide, cut it in rounds (if frying) or squares (for either frying or baking). Place a tablespoon of filling on one half of the round pastry (or in the middle of the square) and fold it up over the sides, sealing the pastry with some water.

To stop the pastry from sticking, I use some plastic sheeting in between the rounds.

If you are baking them, place them on a well-oiled baking tray, and brush them with beaten egg. Bake for 30 minutes in a moderate oven, preferably on the lowest rack. If you are frying them, heat some olive oil in a frying pan, and fry them until the pastry is cooked, turning once to cook both sides.

This is a wholly Cretan delicacy, and one that people never ever tire of eating.

You will get about 20 kalitsounia using half a kilo of flour - 20 vegan kalitsounia cost less than €2; 20 vegetarian kalitsounia cost about €3. 

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Thursday 26 April 2012

Pretty in pink (Poζ)

Sometimes a colour makes an unexpected impact in our food. Bright pinks and purples are subdued against a green background.

Calamari with garden greens

Beetroot leaves with spring onion

Beetroot tzatziki served with a green salad

Souvlaki before it's grilled

The onion seller comes by every summer

In Greece, beets are always served with their pink and green tops

The different shades of pink in this food need a green background to calm them down

Edible flowers in a green salad

Barbounofasola - they lose all traces of their pink colour when cooked

Freshly picked radishes

Kidney beans and peas

Pomegranate amidst salad greens

An open fig among the fig tree's foliage

Salami sitting in the shade of an olive grove

Pink and green - spring in all its glory

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Wednesday 25 April 2012

The Greeks: The Land and People Since the War by James Pettifer

Before October 2009, Greece was a small and insignificant country; since then, she has managed to destabilise the Eurozone, distract the attendees of the Cannes G20 2011 summit meeting and throw the global economy into complete disarray.  So just who are 'those Greeks', and what is that country they call Ελλάδα all about?

That's a difficult, not to say a dangerous topic to get into. It's a controversial action to lump a group of people together and speak of them as of the same ilk, without taking into account their individuality. On the surface though, the Greeks seem like a homogeneous group, with their common language and religion, as well as a recognisable cuisine, all of which are shared among the Greeks living in Greece as well as the diaspora Greeks around the world. Throughout my blog writings, I've painted quite a different picture of 'the Greeks': a people divided between two camps, living under one roof, nudging each other for space. 

The Greeks: A Land and People Since the WarThe topic of 'the Greeks' is quite a hot one at the moment: books written on 'them' in the past, which until recently were out of print, have suddenly resurfaced and are now being prepared for publications as e-books. The topic of Greek identity is also a very complex one, which can be seen from the many different topics that various authors select to write about it. Even books written in Greek about 'them' are now being translated into English and German (some as old as 40 years), which shows a clear interest in things Greek by the non-Greek world. I recently dug up one of those out-of-print books from my own library. The Greeks: The Land and People Since the War by James Pettifer was published in 1993 by Penguin. It has been sitting on my bookshelves since it first came out, one of the few books I bought in Greece, before I realised that I was paying far too much for a book of the kind that I'd borrow instead from a library in New Zealand. Having fanatically embraced the rise of e-books, I searched the title and found, not at all to my surprise, that this book is being made ready for e-publishing next month. As the book was published nearly 20 years ago, and great changes have taken place in Greece since then, how true the new revised version will remain to the original will be interesting to see.

The title of Pettifer's book hints at a separation of the country from the inhabitants, which is a very wise idea; it reminds me of something I have often heard said by many of my compatriots: "I have no problem with Greece, it's the Greeks that annoy me."Although a university professor, Pettifer does not use footnotes or other common forms of academic annotation to provide evidence for anything he writes in his 239-page book; he seems to be writing in a descriptive manner, almost like a travelogue form the golden age of the Grand Tour days, using his experiences and opinions to base his writings. An outsider, Pettifer manages to hold his own in this respect, showing a deep personal interest in his subject, backed by verifiable historical references. Despite the lack of a bibliography, which I personally found disconcerting given the writer's academic background, this glaring omission is made up for by the inclusion of maps, quotes from other sources, photographs and a very thorough index, covering topics such as 'Elgin', 'Macedonia', 'bank accounts for the rich', 'yoghurt', corruption', among others, which all remain quite topical in the present time.

ακούει κανείς;
FYR Macedonia has been wrongly labelled in this translated children's book.

When I arrived in Greece, I knew very little about the country of Greece, despite being of Greek origin, a Greek speaker, a regular follower of the Greek church and eating mainly Greek food. Pettifer's book helped me to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge. He writes about timeless issues of Greek identity and heritage which still hold true, although a shift may have taken place over time; but the actual topics he discusses are still important ones today, despite the change they have undergone. What is even more revealing are the predictions he makes at the end of each chapter, giving an idea of which direction these topics were heading towards in the mid-90s, which shows that the Greek identity is/was in a constant state of transition. Pettifer was writing what he saw and understood at the time: "Any volume of this kind is bound to be out of date as soon as it is written" he states in the introduction. But his predictions have a ring of truth about them two decades on, despite the economic crisis causing fundamental changes which have shaken the whole system and overturned many previous tenets. Throughout the book, Pettifer makes references to an economic crisis in the country; hence, the present economic crisis should come as absolutely no surprise.

The book is divided into three parts: From Civil War to Democracy, Contemporary Perceptions, and Neighbours and Minorities, each one containing some of the 19 chapters of the book, not including the introduction. One of those chapters is devoted to Food, Drink and Material Life, where he mentions that:
"The gap between the world of the Mountain and the City can be seen clearly here."
 An apartment dweller will not have easy access to fresh food; the supermarket culture makes everything seasonal now. 
The urban/rural divide is very noticeable in many aspects of daily life, and food is no exception. Although nearly everything is widely available at the supermarkets in almost all parts of Greece, the rural dweller is far more likely to stick predominantly to a more traditional diet, even nowadays:
"... the Greek peasant's diet has changed little from antiquity, with its staples of beans, lentils and maize bread, cheese as the main protein source, plenty of fruit and vegetables in season, fish for coast and island-dwellers, and meat for special occasions, usually festivals in the Orthodox Church calendar."
Note his use of the word 'peasant': I do not understand it condescendingly; rather, he is simply trying to describe the rural Greek of the time. (It is perhaps true that there are fewer peasants now in Greece than there were in the early '90s - there are now more 'provincials'.) Although he diesn't specifically mention this, I find that his references to 'the Greeks' describe those of us with regional loyalties, where the present urban lifestyle has not globalised our thinking very much:
"Economics matter a good deal. Greeks love to eat out and do so more often than most Europeans... But to afford to do so, a certain amount of simplicity is important, for the labour involved in some French cuisine would make prices prohibitive... Although Greeks know about haute cuisine, there is an inborn tendency to prepare their food in a few straightforward, well-known ways. Greeks understand that there are no short cuts with food, especially as far as freshness is concerned. This means that there is an enormous emphasis on food being eaten in season. This can involve a degree of monotony as those who have tired of Greek salad in the summer months well appreciate. But it does mean that the cuisine of the winter is quite different from that of summer."
a simple greek meal of tomato salad, tzatziki and bread - all you need to complement the scene is a green mountain or mediterranean blue seashore
 Eating a simple meal like this one at a taverna was very affordable only a year ago. In September 2011, extra tax was levied on all prepared food sold at cafes and tavernas, bringing about a serious crisis in the dining-out industry and culture.

Nowadays, of course, this has changed with the convenience food culture that Greece has embraced, but the economic crisis again makes Greeks turn back to old habits, for economic reasons. I would argue that rural Greeks ate and still eat in the way that Pettifer described in 1993. Between then and now, they were living in a fantasy world - the economic crisis has directed them back to their original sense. 

Towards the end of the chapter, he makes two predictions:
"What will not change is the Greek sense of food and drink as part of their sacred process of hospitality, ultimately a religious obligation, and the charm and dignity of that ritual."
Despite the crisis, the television news reports that come out before a feast day always mention what is happening at the food markets; this is just as much true now as it was two decades ago. Greek food has always had a special place in Greek society, and this will probably continue. But it is doubtful, in the present harsh economic times, if:
"... [in] every Greek home today... on Easter Sunday, when the Orthodox believers break the Lenten fast, it is with mayeiritsa, made with the intestines of the milk-fed lamb that the family will roast the following morning."
A few corners were cut last Easter. That doesn't mean that those Greeks who were used to eating mayeiritsa at midnight on Easter Sunday will now refrain from this custom (it's not actually a Cretan one): they're simply biding their time until things get better and they can afford their mayeiritsa once again.

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Tuesday 24 April 2012

Frugal frying (Οικονομικό τηγάνισμα)

I never deep fry anything. Although Greeks do often own a 'friteza' (friteuse - domestic deep fryer with wire basket), I don't bother with such devices, because of the waste involved. Too much olive oil will remain in the fryer, which inevitably means that you will be re-using the same oil that has already been heated on previous occasions (it may contain odors from different foods), or you will throw it out.

We use only olive oil in all our cooking, and it is never thrown out. So when I need to fry something, I prefer to shallow fry only. I use a small frying pan, which means that you won't use a lot of olive oil, even when I need to fry a lot of something, like fish. Everything is fried in small batches, which means a lot more work in the kitchen, but there is little waste. This is especially good with fish, because the oil that remains after frying fish can't be re-used due to the heavy smell it's acquired. The remnants of my frying oil are used to coat bread or pasta for the dog's food. So in effect, nothing is thrown away.

The other good thing with frying in small batches is that the food fries more quickly and more evenly: when frying, it is always important to remember that adding too many items to be fried at once into the hot oil cools it down, so the food intended for frying ends up soaking a lot of olive oil and 'boiling' in it, rather than frying quickly. As the oil runs out in the pan, you simply top it up and wait until it has become smoking hot - it doesn't take long, as the oil that remained in the pan was already hot. 

I recently made a very frugal batter for frying fish (bakaliaro - salt cod), using a simple beer and flour recipe with a little salt. I was cooking partly from memory, as I remembered how my parents used to fry fish in their fish and chip shop in New Zealand. My father would make a large batch of batter (using water and baking powder instead of beer) in a tall deep plastic bucket. My mother would fry hundreds of fish fillets every day which my father had sliced into small pieces from a large filleted piece of fish with the bone still intact.

The consistency of the batter was thin and runny. When my mother dipped the floured pieces of fish into it, she'd then wipe them down the sides of the bowl to get rid of the excess, and then dip the fish into a deep vat full of hot beef dripping. This was all done very quickly, so that about 40 pieces of fish were frying at the same time in the vat. Everything ended up being fried twice: once to pre-cook, and another time when the customer ordered it. It sounds unhealthy, but it was very tasty, and most customers would come only once a week for fish and chips, so they weren't really eating it that often.

To  make a light runny batter for frying fish (or other vegetables), use 1 cup of beer to 1 cup of flour, and add desired seasonings. Mix the batter quickly until it contains no lumps (you can use a mixer for this if you want). If it feels thick, add water and keep stirring. The batter will be ready to use after a quarter of an hour. 

To cook chips in the oven, cut chips into an even size. Place the chips in a bowl with some salt and as much olive oil as you prefer. Mix everything very well using your hands. Then transfer the chips onto a baking tray, sitting them side by side, preferably without touching each other. Pour any excess oil remaining in the bowl over the chips. Cook in a moderate oven for 20 minutes, then use a sturdy pancake turner to turn the potatoes over and cook on the other side. It needs to be metallic because the potatoes may stick to the baking tray and will need to be scraped off, so a floppy silicone one will not work.

My fish and chip meal tasted quite different to what I remember of fish and chips, because of the olive oil I used for frying both the fish and the potatoes. I didn't have enough time to fry both the potatoes and the fish at the same time, so the potatoes were oven-fried, which uses much less oil and doesn't involve any fuss and bother, especially with cleaning up afterwards.

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