Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Monday 31 December 2012

New Year's Eve (Παραμονή Πρωτοχρονιάς)

I suppose I could do a million things on New Year's Eve, like book a table at a restaurant (too expensive), go to a party (I haven't been invited), stage a party (everyone's going to other parties), or go to the town centre (and stand in the cold and rainy weather outside the Agora till the New Year rings in), but I prefer to spend it at my comfortable warm home, in my peace and quiet, being silly with my family. It's what comes from having a small family with few relatives at the same stage in life as we are in. Nearly all our friends keep things in the family, as do most people living in Crete, once they settle down with families of their own.

Card-playing is common on this night as a Greek New Year's Eve tradition, as we wait for St Basil to come tomorrow, some time after we go to sleep, hopefully carrying some presents. I've got a lunch party planned at my place tomorrow, so I will find myself pre-occupied preparing food until then. And when the New Year comes, I'll probably find myself looking at the fireworks from the panoramic view my balcony affords me, as my husband shoots blanks in the air.

Here are a few jokes to add a bit of silliness to your evening wherever you are - they all come from the old-fashioned (but much-loved by the Greek diaspora) iconic Greek page-a-day calendar, which is found at all stationery-cum-bookshop stores all over Greece. You won't find it at the 'purely-for-book-lovers' bookshops in Athens, though; it's one of those things that separates the urbanite from the rural at heart, The page-a-day calendar was a recipe-based one, which included some food jokes.

Enjoy... and Happy New Year.

Someone is passing outside Dimitraki's house, holding a large sack on his shoulder.
“What are you carrying there?” asked Dimitraki.
“Manure, to put on my strawberries,” the passerby tells him.
“Hmm,” says Dimitraki, “I put sugar on my mine!”

“Dimitraki,” the chemistry teacher says, “Tell us what sulphuric acid is.”
“Er, yes,” mumbled Dimitraki, “it’s… it’s… it’s on the tip of my tongue—“
“Spit it out quickly, boy! It’s poisonous!”

Dimitraki’s dad sent him to the mini-market to buy some coca-cola. Dimitrakis entered the butcher’s by mistake. Not having realize where he was, he asked the butcher for some coca-cola. The butcher tells him that he doesn’t have anym and Dimitraki leaves. He goes home and tells his dad that the shop doesn’t have any coca-cola. His dad tells him to go again, so Dimitraki goes to the same shop and again asks for coca-cola. The butcher was angry and told him not to ask him the same question again, otherwise he’ll hang Dimitraki upside down. Dimitraki sees a sheep hanging upside down; on hearing that he will be hung upside down, he asks it: “Did you ask for coca-cola, too?”

“Dimitraki, do you say your prayers before you sit down for a meal?”
“No,” says Dimitraki, “I don’t need to, because my mum is a really good cook!”

Dimitraki isn’t very good with sums, so his mum tries to help him.
“Let’s say that you are a greengrocer and I am your customer. I buy 1kg potatoes that cost 100 drachmas a kilo, and 1kg tomatoes that cost 200 drachmas a kilo. How much money must I give you?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Dimitraki answered. “You can pay me tomorrow.”

Dimitraki’s teacher asks him:
“Why is your essay on the topic of ‘milk’ so short? Did you run out of things to write about?”
“No,” Dimitraki answers, “but I wanted to write about the condensed version.”

Dimitraki was going for a walk with his dad. Before they set off, his dad told him to shine his shoes.
“They’ll just get dirty again, dad,” Dimitraki said.
After they came back home from the walk, Dimitraki told his dad that he was hungry.
“Well, Dimitraki, there’s no need to eat now, since you’re just going to get hungry again later!”

Dimitraki’s mother is giving her son some advice. “Dimitraki, to succeed in life, you must have patience, like that fisherman there, for example, who is sitting so patiently, and fishing for hours, to make his daily bread.” “Really mummy,” Dimitraki was amazed. “Since when did the sea start producing bread?”

Καλή Χρονιά!
Happy New Year!.

©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 30 December 2012

Culture clash

Summer clothes? What was I thinking?!
The last time I was in New Zealand, I realised how much I had gotten un-used to Kiwiland. We had arrived in mid-December, the start of a Kiwi summer. I recall feeling very cold in the first few days as I had forgotten what a Kiwi summer was like, and had bought Greek summer clothes with me (what on earth was I thinking!). Thankfully, it was sunny the moment we arrived in Wellington, and I recall that the first thing I wanted to do as soon as I stepped foot in the city of my birth was to take a walk in the town centre.

A deja vu moment: Cuba Mall bucket fountain
I left my aunt's house and walked along the neighbourhood where I had grown up. Not much had changed in my absence, and most of it was familiar to me. After a trot starting from Courtenay Place through Manners Mall, and then down Willis St moving onto Lambton Quay (and back again), I felt a bit jaded, like an experience of deja vu,as if I were awake in my dreams. For some reason, the walk was over too quickly. But I distinctly remembered it as a longer route when I was living here. What's more, it did not give me that feeling of 'Wow, man, I'm home again!!!!!!!!' I felt more like a guest than a local.

As we were in New Zealand during the New Year period (2003, moving on to 2004), it was a chance for my husband (first time in NZ) to experience this period away from Greece. His first reaction was 'Don't they sing the carols here?' As far as I could remember, they don't, but we did, the Greek comunit members, among themselves. And in the evening, we'd all meet up again at the New Years Ball. We never mingled with non-Greeks. My husband thought he was going to be introduced to some Kiwi New Year customs. I found myself in a difficult position; I explained to him that I never did any really Kiwi things on New Year's Eve when I used to live in New Zealand. Every year, we would attend the annual Greek New Year's Eve ball, and celebrate the coming of the New Year among other Greeks.

During my visit to NZ, I noticed how Lord of the Rings dominated NZ culture - it was everywhere: at the airport...
At the time, we had been married for less than five years, and we were still at the discovery stage of our relationship, where a trivial incident, something as innocent as a stroll along the road, could be a precursor to uncover an important personality trait about each other, not such a trite detail given that we came from vastly different continents. Despite our overwhelmingly similar origins (we were both descendants of Cretans), there were still many things that we did not know about each other.

... at the cinema where LOTR premiered...
But what happens on the street, in the town, outdoors, when the clocks strike midnight? he wondered. In all honestly, I didn't know. What I did know was that I did not fancy turning up to a Greek New Year's Eve ball in New Zealand, because I felt unprepared for it. It had been a long time since I had worn formal evening clothes, pairing shoes with bags, and sitting by a table full of buffet-style food listening to bouzouki music all evening, while watching people dancing the Kalamatiano. Another deja vu moment. Had I really come such a long way just to do what I had been doing all those years ago? I wasn't ready to get back into that routine, and besides, I was on holiday. I decided to discover, together with my husband, what Kiwis (as opposed to Greek Kiwis) did on New Year's Eve.

New Year's Eve 2003, Pigeon Park, Wellington
I heard on a ZB radio station that somewhere near Pigeon Park, an event - something like a parade - would be staged to welcome the New Year. So we put the kids to bed early, then left them in the care of my aunt (she didn't want to go to the ball either) where we were staying, and walked down to Pigeon Park. Already, many people had gathered, cordoned off on the footpaths by the police, who maintained a strong but not so intense presence. I looked around at the sea of faces, trying to ignore the sight of the beer bottles that many people were carrying in their hands as they drank on the street, straight from the bottle. All my time in NZ, I had avoided this particular element of Kiwi society. But there was a difference between me and my husband in the way we viewed those people carrying the bottles: my husband had never seen this kind of behaviour (it's extremely rare for people to swig alcohol while walking along the street in Crete), so he treated it as a novelty, whereas I was familiar with it, and I knew the consequences.

... in public spaces... 
Even before the parade started, people were throwing bottles onto the road. Every time a bottle was smashed, no more than two minutes would pass before a rubbish truck drove by and swept away the smithereens. An ambulance would drive past every now and then in case of injuries. And of course, the police presence was raised at the point where the bottles were being smashed. I remember the policemen holding their walkie-talkies close to their ears, communicating with other officials every step of the way.

Is this what Kiwis call entertainment? my husband mocked. I didn't really feel comfortable where we were standing. Of course, it all looked safe on the surface, but you never really knew where trouble would break out. While my husband was trying to make sense of what was going on, I was having a panic attack. I didn't want to be where I was. We moved away from the main crowd, towards the quay by the harbour instead. We didn't stay for the parade.

Sign outside bookshop: "8 1/2 hobbits buy their books here!"
The roads got quieter. We caught glimpses of people in drinking holes (pubs? bars? I don't know what they're called in NZ these days), standing up at the counter where the drinks were being served. As we walked, we discusssed what we had just witnessed. It was his first time seeing people consuming alcohol in the street, and more importantly, without any food to accompany the drink. I explained that what he had experienced had nothing to do with my own experiences of life in NZ during the 25 years I spent in the country. It wasn't something Greeks did. It was a kind of behaviour associated with the pakeha majority, and not the minority groups that made up the NZ population. It was also one of the reasons why my parents never integrated into the Kiwi way of life. They could not fit into such a culture.

Sign outside chiropractor's: "Hobbit feet? How about Reflexology?"
It was a beautiful evening, something one cannot take for granted in NZ, even in the summertime. We continued walking along the sea, near Oriental Bay, one of my old haunts, where I used to go jogging. It was a lot quieter here, as it wasn't on the parade itinerary. Suddenly a man appeared out of nowhere. He had jumped onto the road, coming from behind a tree, and he was doing up his trousers. I'm really very sorry, please excuse me, he said to us as he scurried away.

Eventually, we saw fireworks going off, a sign that the clock had struck midnight, and the New Year had arrived. After a kiss as we wished each other a Happy New Year, my husband took out his cellphone and called his mother in Greece to wish her Happy New Year, even though there were still 11 hours to go before she would welcome the New Year in Greece. We walked back home in baffled silence, trying to comprehend what we had just experienced. Our route took us past the Greek community centre, where the annual ball was taking place. Although I was glad I hadn't gone to it, I couldn't help wondering if that was where I was supposed to have been that night.

©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 29 December 2012

Choco and Niouk Yen

My uncles like to plant unusual vegetables, for the pure fun of seeing something sprout out of the earth. They are willing to try planting anything, even if they aren't interested in eating it. The other day when I visited them, I found a choco sitting on the kitchen table. They told me that they grew a choco vine round the chicken coop. Apparently there were quite a few chocos, but when the summer garden was removed to make way for the winter garden, they simply mulched the whole vine down and kept one choco as a souvenir. I took it away with me to see if I could use it.

A bit of reading on the internet tells us that the choco is not the most exciting vegetable around. It's rather common, and there are more preferable vegetables to take its place. You can eat it cooked or raw, peeled or unpeeled, fried or baked, or even grated into a salad. It tastes like a cross between a savoury melon and woody cucumber. Not particularly highly sought after, but I'm a sucker for free fresh food. I felt sorry for the choco, as I worried that it might suffer the same plight as some kumquat a friend of mine recently gave me. Same goes for the arbute berries I found in the village. They're all interesting edibles but not particularly delectable.

In my choco search, I chanced on an excellent blog that showcases the island of Mauritius, where the choco is used in the cuisine of the Chinese people of Mauritius:
Niouk yen” is definitely a candidate for the national dish of Mauritius. More popularly known as “boulette” on the island, this rounded steamed dumpling is primarily made of choko vegetable(chayote) and mince pork. “Niouk yen” is a traditional Hakka food and the recipe has been passed on by Chinese Mauritians for generations. There are many variations of this dish – instead of choko some people use green papaya and the pork can also be substituted with beef.

Making Chinese dumplings is not an easy task; I imagine that it is something a Chinese cook uses the whole day to do, or a few people get together and make them as a group. So much preparation is involved in making them - finely chopping vegetables, cooking meats and finely chopping them too, making the pastry and rolling it out thinly into rounds, filling the dumplings and finaly cooking them - only to see them devoured in seconds!!!

The work I put into this meal was worth every second. Despite the recipe taking a long time to execute, it is not a complicated one. It does not contain many ingredients, or too many strange ones, or new techniques. Substitutions can be made. Since I didn't have much choco at my dispoal, I decided to add some finely grated cabbage for extra colour; I used boiled minced turkey instead of pork; we can't get dried shrimp in Hania, so I used fresh frozen shrimp. The flavour of my dumplings would therefore not be very intense, but this is only a matter of availability.

With the bamboo steamer a friend sent me, I made some delicious dumplings which needed very little to complement them, save a sweet 'n' sour 'n' hot 'n' sticky sauce. I also turned some dumplings into pot stickers by squashing them flat, which I pan-fried in olive oil. The sauce was made with whatever ingredients I had at hand: some hoi sin sauce, my own home-made garden-grown pepper sauce, a little bit of saembal oelek and a sachet of pickled ginger that a freind gave me. This is what that one single choco did - I And some ideas are born out of such simple things, like a choko.

I can't describe how good it feels to be able to eat good Chinese food in my house. If I don't make everything from scratch, I can't enjoy this luxury.

©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 28 December 2012

The carols season (Κάλαντα)

+Gregory Pappas recently wrote: I can't get one thing out of my mind today and have to share it, especially with people who know my commitment to "all things Greek." One of the most profound things I have read this year-- and perhaps ever-- came in Father Alex Karloutsos' annual Christmas message that he sends every year to his friends and family: “Why is it that we insist on giving our children everything our parents could not afford to give us and yet desist from giving them the priceless things of value that our parents did give us – our faith, culture and legacy?” These words inspired me to write this story.

The kids wanted to do the 'kalanta' thing; that is, sing the Christmas carols on the street, as is the tradition in Greece on Christmas and New Year's Eve. They've never done it, and they've heard from their school friends that they make money. My own children sing the carols to their grandmother and a couple of other relatives, and that's it because we don't have a huge circle of friends and family living close by to make this exchange; the scratch-my-back syndrome is now on the wane, at any rate. But clanging on a triangle and traipsing around town (often in the cold) is not my idea of a fun kids' activity. We live in a rural area, so it's not even easy to do this. Letting kids loose on the street in the town in an area we do not live in oursleves does not make me feel safe. The truth is that there is only one reason you do this for: to make money. And in this day and age, it is difficult to gauge who has spare change to give and who doesn't.

Winter life on Crete - damp but green, almost everywhere.

Λένε τα... κάλαντα στον ΠΑΟ για να βάλουν λεφτά στα ταμεία!
Athens 1960
On the morning of Christmas Eve, I woke up late because I was catching up on lost sleep from previous nights. I am on leave and enjoy the luxury of not having to keep checking the alarm clock to see what time it is. In fact, I took it out of the plug on purpose because I was sick of having it stare at me in the face. A call woke me up at 10am, my tenant in the town centre. She had just returned form a trip to her homeland, Albania, and wanted to pay me this month's rent. It doesn't worry me when the rent is paid by Dhanggit. The rent is always 'late', but she never ends up owing me anything. She hates banks, doesn't understand how to use cash machines, and prefers tangible money to plastic money. So she calls me some time in the month and tells me when to come and pick up the rent.

By the time I was ready to leave the house, some carollers had come to our place, a few more than previous years, which is not surprising given the economic climate, but it was a hilly climb to get to our house: they earned their €1 each just by walking up the hill. The change box is always ready at this time of year in our house; €1 per caroller, €1 extra for any gimmicks. Τhe same children come every year, children who we never see at other times during the year. My kids watched the others come and go, and kept pestering when they could do the same. We live in a rural neighbourhood. Houses are furhter apart in the villages. Christmas carolling is done on a more private basis in our area - grandparents listen to grandchildren, while some of the more adventurous trot around in the cold and knock hopefully on doors, to earn a euro a head. It's difficult to make them understand why I didn't want them to do this.

I asked them if they wanted to come with me to see Dhanggit. They like visiting her becuase she has two gorgeous friendly dogs. They came for the ride, and asked me if they could sing the carols to Dhanggit. Again, I couldn't expalin why I would prefer that we did not do this - it would look like I was visiting her to make money. Dhanggit is not rich. She is not even comfortable. But my kids can't see this, possibly because we live very frugally like Dhanggit and her family. But there are major differences between my life and Dhanggit's. I let the kids take their Santa caps and triangles, and decided to see what develops rather than get too bossy.

Πολύ περισσότερα παιδιά είπαν φέτος τα χριστουγεννιάτικα κάλαντα! - Φωτογραφία 1
The Greek Christmas symbol - the boat
When I visit Dhanggit, I always carry some garden vegetables to give her, whatever is in season. Today, it was a broccoli, a cabbage and a cauliflower which I picked from the garden. As we drove towards the town, we noticed a number of children on the road wearing Santa caps and holding triangles, often in pairs or groups of 3-4, but some were alone. Να τα πούμε could be heard everywhere. Some kids were clearly too young to be crossing the very busy road on their own. Others were looking around at the houses, wondering which door to knock. Some were knocking on doors that wouldn't open (not everyone opens their doors to carollers). Some had gimmicks - a Santa suit or a musical instrument were the most common items. One little group of girls was wheeling a disabled child on a street that lacked a firm footpath.

Athens 1950
Wouldn't you be scared if you were on your own carrying money in the street? I asked my kids. Everyone knows your pockets and bags would be full. How would you feel? They showed signs of the message sinking in: carolling is not a picnic, after all. It's all a question of risk, I suppose, and also need. Some people may feel that they need to do this. Others, like me, prefer to keep things in the family.

κάλαντα.jpgSinging the Chrsitmas carols door to door has never been easy in Greece, despite the fact that it is seen as a tradition and a rite of passage in some way, because everyone sings the carols in some form, and for the same purpose in mind at some point in their life. According to the folklorist Dimitris Loukatos (in his book Χριστουγεννιάτικα και των γιορτών, 1984), the carols season is a time when children go to places that are forbidden to them at other times, when they would normally be chased away by the caretakers or owners. The first child to knock on the door of a house (whether shyly or courageously) is usually the luckiest because it is treated as a charity act. Carol singing was a trend of smaller villages, brought down to the city as people became richer and could afford to give more. It was done on the evening of Christmas Eve, but with the knowledge of making a profit, the singing started even earlier during the day, to give children more time to reap the benefits.

Children in Athens have always had it tough:
"Apartment blocks are like fortified castles with their caretakers. They require energy to conquer. The large shops are better. The storekeepers are more freindly, traditional, nostalgic, they would not turn down a child, at least the first few chidlren, they will allow them to sing thier blessings and take the lucky tip. They will enter teh buses too, a new form of greek traditional life, a confined space and time to make contact with people. The conductor, a child of the nation himself, will welcome them with a laugh, if he rememebers that he too used to sing the carols when he was young... But no one will turn a blind eye to the abuser, which has invaded this cutsom in the last few years. The indirect goal of begging, omnipresent in all peoples and periods, has now become a direct goal. The tradition has entered the service of profit. Trends in miniatrue, which not even formal tourism cannot avoid. near the children have sprouted, with persistent competition, the adults, associations, brotherhoods, groups of misfortunate. The picturesque children ... are now concealed by robotic gramophones and their noisy orchestras..."
We arrived at Dhanggit's, where I lay down my bags of vegetables in her cosy kitchen, which had once been my own kitchen. She welcomed us from the back door (our secret signal that we are not strangers knocking on her inner city house). The kids looked around for her dogs, which came yapping into the kitchen on the sound of strangers' voices. Since she settled in Crete with her husband and two sons, Dhanggit hasn't been anywhere further than the town centre. She had not been back to her homeland since that rainy day when she crossed the mountains separating Greece from Albania 13 years ago, holding a baby wrapped in a blanket and a very young son trailing her.

Notice the plastic and metal canisters - in Crete's recent past, children were given olive oil (not money!) to sing the carols, and cakes.

I expected that she would have a lot to tell me. But the news was not good. She described a kind of misery that she encoutered in her homeland that is difficult to describe. I found it hard to believe this, as Albania is a neighbouring country to Greece and very close to Italy, which is supposedly the world's 8th largest economy. When global leaders talk about the crisis in Europe, Albania never gets a mention. All this talk of European development is clearly elitist. Some European countries will never be given a chance to develop.

We also hear stories from the media (both foreign and national) about Albanians leaving Greece during the crisis to go back home, which don't quite fit with the stories I was now hearing from Dhanggit. To cut a long story short, she spoke of extreme hardship which are not comparable to what the Greeks are complaining about. It's difficult to put it all into words; I'm good at recording details, but this story got the better of me. All this while, my kids listened in fascination. I watched their wide eyes and speechless mouths as they listened attentively to Dhanggit's recounting her experiences in the homeland. It's the first time they heard someone other than tbeir grandmother relating stories of poverty and hardship.

The most poignant story we heard about concerned food. It's just not as free and easy in Albania to feed yourself, even in self-sufficiency style, as we do in Crete. Here, you will never go hungry, Maria, Dhanggit insisted. People give you food all the time, they leave things on my door. Sometimes I don't even know who left it. Your former neighbours are always dropping by to give me something. This could never happen in Albania. Everything is expensive to buy and difficult to cultivate without machinery or money for petrol, if we had the machines to do it. I feel rich living in Crete. Your house is now my only home. I have no other.

Christmas in Athens, when kourambiedes were being sold for 80 drachmas per oka
- they now cost €8-10 per kilo! The photo below shows Christmas in Athens, 1960. Both photos can be bought from the Benaki Museum.

The children did not make any move to sing the carols, even though they were carrying their triangles. I feel that this was the best Christmas lesson they had had so far in their lives. It helped that it was told by someone other than their parents. We don't want to listen to our parents, because they sometimes sound harsh. But when we hear it from a stranger, we know they are not lying.

When we left Dhanggit's house, my children asked me how Dhanggit pays the rent if she is very poor. I told them I couldn't answer that, because I don't really know what money the family makes. It's obvious though that they are poor people. I reminded them that there was a time in the recent past when they didn't always have money to pay the rent since the economic crisis broke out. If worse comes to worst, they would simply live in the house rent-free, and we will wait for better times.

A custom of Hania on Christmas Eve is to have a seafood meal in the Agora, which was set up specifically for this event once the commercial shopping hours closed. The scene here (taken from this year's get-together) does not look Christmassy - only one tiny tree hints at the season. Instead, it shows happy people celebrating in the usual way they do every year at this time. Christmas is not so commercial in our town.

As we left Dhanggit's, I noticed a cabbage in a supermarket bag lying in the corner of her kitchen. It had the price tag on it - €0.89. I joked with Dhanggit that she needn't have bought it, had she known I would bring her one. Oh, I didn't buy that, Dhanggit said. Kiria Irene from across the road bought it for me. She said she missed us while we were away, and she didn't have anyhting to give me right now, so she just gave me whatever she had lying in her house at that moment.

The children didn't seem to notice the remaining carol singers on the road after we left Dhanggit's. When we got home, they seemed content to be back to their cosy warm house. They related the stories they heard to their father round the table at lunchtime. I don't know how long the message they got will be remembered, but they may need a new lesson every now and then in a different form to jog their memories. Let's hope they remember on New Year's Eve when the next round of 'kalanta' comes up.

©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 27 December 2012

Braised celery in tomato sauce

Our Christmas was a family affair this year, and our meal was a traditional seasonal favorite: pork and celery stew in an egg and lemon sauce. Here, pork is still the cheapest meat after chicken, and during the festive season, Greek pork was being sold on special (imported pork, once hardly ever seen in supermarkets, is now more commonly sold). My husband likes to get invovled in the preparation of this dish. I cook the meat, he prepares the celery.

greek celery

Greek celery (σέλινο - SE-li-no) is different from the light green head of celery usually sold in supermarkets. It is dark green and has tough stalks, which grow out of something similar to a celeriac root (although it is not always tender enough to eat). This year, I was given a huge bush full of celery from my uncles' farm. When my husband saw it, he told me it would probably be too much for the meat that we were going to cook. I knew this, but still managed to convince him that we would need all of it. One of my uncles told me about a tasty recipe that he often cooks using celery in tomato as a side dish to fish, which I wanted to try.

After boiling the celery (which takes a long time, due to the toughness of the stalks - generally speaking, Greeks do not like chewy vegetables), I removed two large portions of celery and used it in the following dish.

You need:
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, minced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 large tomatoes, peeled and grated
250g boiled greek celery (stalks and leaves), cut in chunks
home-made apricot chutney (optional)
salt and pepper
Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil till the onion wilts. Add the celery and mix well. Then add the tomato and seasonings, and mix again. At this point, I added my home-made apricot chutney, but you can probably use any other chutney, added for some extra flavour)., and mine got a little oomph here, as it took away the bitterness of the celery taste.

As the celery is already cooked, allow the sauce to bind (about 30 minutes). If preferred, raw celery can be added and allowed to simmer in the tomato sauce with 1-2 cups of water (depending on how tender you want your celery). This makes a delicious vegetarian dish, served with bread and feta cheese. I also paired it with a Malagouzia wine, which I found was a perfect pairing for the light sauce of the meal.

A nice addition to this recipe would be some leeks, to vary the recipe a little. The pork and celery recipe can also be adapted to be cooked in tomato sauce instead of egg and lemon. It's all a question of taste.

©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 26 December 2012

Boxing Day

I still associate the 26th of December with Boxing Day, as I remember it in New Zealand. Of course it was just a holiday there, and it had nothing to do with the origins of the holiday. I was reminded of it the other day, as I was talking with an English friend who lives near me about my birth country. She asked me what I missed most about it. The question surprised me; I have never really thought about what I miss from my previous homeland, even though I was born, raised and educated there. I don't seem to miss much.

There must be something you miss, she insisted. Family? I have family in New Zealand, but not the mother-father-sister-brother type (whereas my English friend has all of them in England). Aunts and cousins, once or twice removed, means that our bonds are now diluted, as we have all moved in different directions.

- Friends? Friends... that's a tricky one. I left at a time when all my friends and acquaintances were in life-changing modes - most were settling into careers, some were getting hitched, while others began travelling, like me, although very few ended up living in another country. We all moved on in some way; hence, my friends feel more like acquaintances now, while my acquaintances feel like passersby on the street. Few of us will remember each other, and in those moments that we do, we will probably say something like "I had a friend once who..."

- But there must be something you remember in New Zealand! she gasped diebelievelingly. You lived there long enough! What about the food? That's a funny one. In my days, Kiwi food consisted of cooked-from-scratch food, fresh ingredients (some garden-grown vegetables), meat from lambs the size of pigs, a few international dishes when I ate out, and some store-bought Kiwi desserts. Our mother cooked Greek dishes, which I continue to cook, not for any other reason than that I live in Greece, and cook according to tradition, because it makes sense and resources are cheap and easy to access.

I used to make the occassional Kiwi sweet treat... but I notice that my kids really don't prefer them these days, so I don't actually make them much now, apart from banana cake  muffins from time to time. At any rate, I eat most of the gingernut flavoured sweets myself, which is why I purposely avoid making them. I used to tell people I missed pineapple lumps, but when friends bring them to me from New Zealand, I find them too sweet for my tastebuds. I've now grown out of them. In fact, I have even developed likings for European Christmas treats. Thanks to LIDL, I've developed a taste for stollen and lebkuchen at this time.

Marzipan-filled stollen and chocolate-coated lebkuchen - Italian panettone is also widely available in Crete, and popular as an alternative to Greek Christmas treats. 

I don't miss anything from New Zealand any more. I suppose I could say that I am now more Cretan than I am Kiwi, which I don't think I ever was to be honest, or even Greek, which is misunderstood these days, both by Greeks and and non-Greeks. Possession of a passport does not necessarily make you something. There has to be a certain feeling associated with it, which I seem to lack in terms of my Kiwi status. My not feeling proud to be a Kiwi should not be taken as meaning that I am proud to be Greek instead; I'm against nationalistic hang-ups. My parents instilled in me the idea of being proud of earning something with your own sweat, rather than of being proud of something you were simply born with. 

The embroilment of Greece in the crisis, taking centre stage in it, coupled with the stigma that has been attached to being Greek, have all heightened my awareness of what I am. If there is anything I am proud of, it's the fact that I was born and raised a Greek among strangers.

Getting back to my friend's question about what I miss from New Zealand, perhaps, if I were pressed to find something, I'd say it was a Christmas cracker. I haven't seen one of those in ages. I did once make my own (in the classic DIY way, by collecting toilet rolls), but snaps aren't available in Crete, and there's no fun in a Christmas cracker if there's no snap. Come to think of it, it would be nice to see a Christmas cracker at this time too. Perhaps that's one thing I do miss.

©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 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas! (Καλά Χριστούγεννα!)

"Νομίζεις ότι είναι κάποια πόλη του εξωτερικού. Μετά βλέπεις το ΜΠΑΡΜΠΟΠΟΥΛΟΣ στο βάθος και καταλαβαίνεις ότι είναι τα Χανιά μας." 
You may think you are seeing some non-descript town in a Western country. But when you look more closely, you see the BARBOPOULOS sign, and you know that this isn't any old town. It's our town, Hania.
More than 1,500 people took part in this year's Santa Run, with all proceeds going to charity.
The photograph has been taken on the newly pedestrianised road known as Katola or Keradika.


©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 24 December 2012

Basil, not Nicholas

This year's Christmas in Greece could be said to be a frightfully difficult one for most people. It's not the Christmas presents that they can't afford or the lack of a good bite to eat that has made Christmas difficult for most of us; it's the way we have been treated by politicians and financial institutions, the way they have excised their pound of flesh from all of us and destroyed every layer of our lives. We've been made to feel that we don't deserve a Christmas this year.

Kipper Williams Christmas card - Athens
Kipper Williams, The Guardian
It will not worry me if Santa Claus decides to snub Greece this year because she has fallen below his expectations. St Nicholas probably knows that Greeks never wait for Santa Claus to come with presents anyway. In Greece, we know there is no such thing as Santa Claus.

Last night's Νοιάζομαι, Μοιράζομαι (I care, I share) event at Syntagma Square called pn peopel to donate whatever they had to spare in their home to the needy. The Athens municipality collected more than 70 truckloads of goods, including 2 triaxial trucks, and had to find more storage areas than anticipated due to the underestimated turnout. The event will continue on Christmas Eve, and a great effort will be made to distribute all the goods to those in need before New Year's Eve. More photos of the event avialable here.

In this little corner of Europe, we all know it's Ayios Vasilis that brings the presents. That's St Basil, of course, and he's due here sometime on New Year's Eve. By the 1st of January, there will be many happy Greek people enjoying his generosity.

©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 23 December 2012

Spaghetti with pesto and calamari

I've taken the remaining days of my annual leave at this period, which has given me the chance to cook more creative dishes than the usual rotating menu in our household (which is something like bean stew, spaghetti bolognaise, pita, freezer dish and leftovers). I had bought some calamari when it was on sale at the supermarket and finally got round to cooking it the way I had wanted to for a long time now. My creation involved getting quite a few pots and pans dirty, so it definitely isn't the kind of dish you want to make when you are feeling tired or you don't have much time to cook.

Cooking makes your kitchen dirty and intidy - mine is always a very busy-looking station. 

For this dish, you need a lot of olive oil. You can make it with much less if you really want to. But I find it difficult to admit how much olive oil I actually used, but I could see the oil disappearing from the litre-capacity bottle and I refilled it at least once. I live in Crete, where we use the most olive oil per capita in the whole world; we only use extra virgin olive oil, and this year's bounty from our own fields brought in 250 litres. We had about 50 litres remaining from the last time we bought olivesome olive oil (olive trees produce enough fruit to produce olive oil every second year and our trees did not produce enough oil in the previous season), which means that we have about 300 litres of olive oil to last us for the next two years. Considering that Cretans consume 30 litres of olive oil per year per person, that's just enough to last us until the next harvest. We're rich.

Green gold - we bring the oil rom the press in the press's plastic containers and pour them into our own terracotta barrels (mimicking the clay urns of our ancestors).

The 250 litres we produced this year cost us €270 to produce, as we hired an Albanian immigrant living here in Crete for many years with his family. He harvests 1300 trees per year and gets to keep some of the oil that is produced from them. But we decided not to give him the oil, and paid in cash instead. Either way, he would have sold the oil (as he gets a lot of oil in this way form the trees he tends on behalf of others). We preferred to keep this 100% organic EVOO for ourselves, knowing that this quality (0.7% acidity) and quantity will keep us well fed until harvest time in two years. 

It's true that olive oil is best kept for no longer than 18 months, according to experts who believe that the quality deteriorates after that. But that is not the way Cretans think of their olive oil - they know it's good for as long as you need it, as long as it's stored appropriately. And if you think about the cost of this olive oil for us, here's a small breakdown: 250 litres @  €270 for 5 people for 2 years - that's less than €0.07 per day. 

The Albanian worker (he's been living here with his family for nearly as long as I have) who harvested the olives for us was also paid very well. He gets a share of the oil - 50% of the oil produced, for the work that he did. Since we're not giving him the oil, we pay him for the value of the oil; right at this moment, fresdhly produced olive oil is being paid at 2.16 by the olive press (125 litres at €2.16 = €270). He and his wife worked two full days harvesting our trees. From the money they receive from this work, they will also pay their taxes and health insurance (altogether, about €1 per day per person). If we had been more scrupulous, we could have hired him (and his wife) at labourer's wages for €35 a day (each). He gave us the choice - we chose the more expensive option; we appreciate the work he puts into our fields every year, because we're working people and we don't have the time to do it ourselves (the last time my husband harvested his own crop was just before the trees were burnt to the ground, about 20 years ago). 

For all the above reasons, I don't skimp on olive oil - or fresh vegetables, because we have a plethora of those too. With some bread and cheese or a small piece of low-cost meat, we can keep ourselves fed very well during these difficult financial times. The added bonus: this kind of eating keeps us healthy, which means more savings - it may help on reducing doctors' bills.

You need:
some cleaned calamari, chopped into chunks (I needed about 800g for 4 generous servings)
a bunch of fresh parsley (Greeks rarely use basil in their cooking - I used parsley for my pesto)
3 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
spaghetti (I used about 400g for the 4 of us)
flour for dusting
as much or as little olive oil as you can afford

Mince the garlic. Place some olive oil (I used about half a cup) in a frying pan and saute the garlic without cooking it too much. Chop the parsley super finely (I place it in a bag in the freezer, and then crush it so it becomes as fine as dust). Add it to the garlic, salt and pepper mix well and add some more olvie oil (another half a cup should be good). 

Drain the calamari in a colander. Dust each chunk with flour (I placed half a cup of flour in a plastic bag and then added the calamari and shook it, to coat all the pieces evenly). Fry the calamari in very hot oil on high heat, for about 8-10 minutes. (If the calamari is already prepared and was bought frozen, you won't need much more cooking time, and it will tender when cooked.) Remove the calamari with a slotted spoon and place it in the pot with the parsley/garlic pesto. Allow the pesto and calamari to blend well and heat through (about 5 minutes). 

In the meantime, boil the spaghetti al dente. Drain it while hot and place a serving of pasta on a plate. Scoop up a portion of pesto/calamari and pour over the plate. Sprinkle (if liked) with grated parmesan (my chidlren loved it like this - I preferred it plain). Eat while steaming hot. And don't forget some good white wine to go with 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.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Cold (Κρύο)

As I was cooking this morning, the house felt warm. Perhaps it's because I was moving around. But when I sat down with the whole family at lunchtime to eat, I felt cold - so cold that I ate quickly in the hope that this act would warm me up. That didn't happen, so after I gulped down all my food, I moved into the bedroom where I keep my computer. Right now as I write, I'm freezing in my own home. But as I think and type, I don't feel the cold. Keeping yourself occupied stops you from pre-occupying your mind with how cold it is. I could take a blanket and cover my legs (they seem to be the coldest part of my body), but you can't move around easily when you are huddled up in a blanket. I move around a lot: I forget my camera in another room, I want to find a book, I need to check a pot or pan, I nibble on a piece of bread or cheese, inter alia.

We don't use the central heating in our house even though our boiler has heating oil. That's for yiayia; she doesn't have a wood fire like us, and she has to use something to keep her warm. She heats her house in complete oblivion to our situation. What do you tell an 88-year-old who lived through the war and saw her father and brother shot dead by the Nazis? Nothing. We light the wood fire at night when we know everyone will be at home - right now, some of us are in, others are out, and those that come in will leave after having their lunch, so we won't be back home together until late. There's no point in lighting the fire for one person, or even two people. We need to be alotgether, so we can get our money's worth.

The kids don't complain about the cold at all. They don't even think about it. At their tender ages, they are used to it. It's cold, as it always has been. What's new? When I ask them if they're cold, they say they aren't. But I feel cold, I tell them. But I don't feel cold, they tell me. I wonder if they are pretending. Maybe I'm just spoilt, because I remember a time when we never needed to be cold. We just pressed the button and the house warmed up in less than a quarter of an hour. Now the house never really warms up. Only half of it. The living room is warm, but the rest is just OK. Except the bathroom. That's freezing. Must be all the tiles.

My son finished his Christmas homework this afternoon, which consisted of writing a summary of one of his favorite books. He chose a Julia Donaldson title: Charlie Cook's Favorite Book. He wanted me to help him, so I told him to come into the room where I was working. Without a second word, he slipped under the blankets on my side of the bed and began writing. (He doesn't really need any help from his mother for his homework, but he always says he does because he knows I'll give him a kick-start.) He's already sorted out a mechanism to protect himself against the cold, since that's what he's used to, I suppose, when there is no heating working in the house. That's maybe why he doesn't  feel the cold in the first place.

My husband came into the room. Shall I light the fire? he asked me. But we'll all be in and out for the next two hours, I reminded him. He looked at his son, huddled under the blankets, knees bent to support his books as he did homework, and then he asked me again: Shall I light the fire? Before I said anything, my son said YES! Well, I guess it's really cold then, if he says so.

Of course, it's not really THAT cold where we are: it's about 10 degrees Celsius outdoors at the moment. I don't know what the temperature is indoors: when you feel cold, you don't need to consult a gadget to tell you if it's cold. But it's much much colder in other parts of Greece; in the north, the temperatures go into the minuses. Cretan winters are relatively mild. But they are still cold. Just not that cold. And the cold doesn't last as long as it does in other parts of the world. What''s more, at least I can be absolutely positive that when the weather does warm up again, it's gonna stay that way.

©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 21 December 2012

Chocolate truffles (Τρούφες σοκολάτας)

At Greek schools, there are no restrictions on mothers bringing a home-made sweet for a celebration. So I make all the treats that my children carry to school with them for their birthdays and school functions. Although I rarely make spectacular cakes in my own home (you would have seen them on the blog if I did), I have apparently gained quite a reputation among my children's school friends and their teachers as a maker of very good cakes.

Working with chocolate ganache can be messy - I prefer to use two spoons to scoop it out once it's set. Then I press it in the tin to give it a round shape, before rolling it in coconut or sugar hail. Using your hands to make perfect round balls means you'll end up licking them a lot. 

I make (apparently, as rumour spreads) the best chocolate cake, the most amazing cupcakes, incredible muffins and the tastiest home-made birthday torte that my kids' schoolfriends have ever tried. My cakes and sweets rarely have a spectacular appearance, but they are all made with few ingredients and hardly any special techniques or tools; all the recipes can be found online.

I rolled the truffles in chocolate hail, grated coconut or coloured sugar hail, at the request of my daughter who thinks this will be the most popular truffle. The ganache was made using this recipe. I added crushed semi-sweet biscuits to the mixture before it set in the fridge to make the recipe go a bit further (I got 44 truffles; without the biscuits, I would probably have only 25-30). 

Most parents in Crete would be very surprised to hear that home-made sweets are banned in many schools in places like the US. They would also be horrified to know that one of the reasons for this is due (apart from allergy problems) to the fear of low hygiene standards (don't all kitchens getmessy when we cook from scratch, whether they are home kitchens or industrial ones?) and the fear of children being potentially targeted or inadvertedly affected by via food poisoning. There is still some innocence left in us here.

For a Cretan twist to chocolate truffles - click here for a recipe for chestnut truffles.

©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 20 December 2012

Eating out, vegetarianism and Cretans

Half the PTE examination topics in English as a Second Language which took place in Crete last weekend contained discussions about food. The interlocutor (interviewer) always takes the opposing view of the test takers, in order to test their ability to maintain their point of view in a discussion. One group level was asked:
If you have a special occasion, like a birthday,  is it better to eat at home or in a restaurant? What do you think?
So if they say they prefer to eat at restaurant, we interrupt them and mention that it's much cheaper and more convenient to stay at home, restaurants can be noisy and expensive, you know what you are eating, and you feel more relaxed at home. But if they say they prefer to stay at home, we cut in and tell them that a restaurant makes the celebration more special, the food is more interesting, and it's more relaxing to have someone cook and clean up for you.

No need to ask what nearly all students chose - people now stay at home for dinner, even on special occasions; it's too expensive to go out.

Another group was asked:
Is eating a vegetarian diet healthier for us? What do you think?
If they say that vegetarian diets are healthier for us, we tell them that it's natural to eat meat, meat contains protein, it's not unhealthy when eaten in moderation, and vegetarians generally object to the moral reasons of eating meat, not the health aspects. But it was hardly necessary to be given these arguments in the test script, since this is the view that most Greeks take: despite the fact that meat contains unhealthy fats, vegetarian food keeps you slim, and you can get vitamins and protein from food other than meat, meat was regarded by all the students asked as a necessary food item.

Although Greeks do like to fast for religious reasons, certain "meat" products (like shellfish) are permissible when fasting. So the concept of vegetarianism is not really being embraced in crisis-hit Greece, despite high prices being demanded for meat. A meatless diet is still not part of the Greek culinary identity.

©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 19 December 2012

Pensioner count (Απογραφή)

I recently helped out two Greek pensioners: one wanted to get his pension reinstated, while the other one wanted to continue being paid her pension. The people involved are ordinary Greek folk who didn't understand what they had to do in order to maintain their pension payments, as this is the first time they have been confronted with proving their existence to the state. They didn't know who they had to speak to, what they had to say, or even where to go to ask for help about their pensions.

A friend's NZ pension (which is paid to him in Greece, where he lives) stopped in 2008. He didn't realise that he had to return a signed document called a Life Certificate to the NZ offices, ascertaining that he is alive. Not having anyone close to him to ask about this issue, he simply left it at that, thinking that the state had forgotten him. NZ has had this system in place for a number of years (proving your existence if you are a state beneficiary), to avoid benefit fraud. Once I helped him out with the paperwork (prompted by a visit from a Greek-Kiwi who realised that his brother hadn't returned his life certificate), all was well and he began once again to receive his pension.

Greece never had such a system in place, therefore in her recent past, Greece had a lot of unnecessary benefit fraud. Dead people's pensions continued to be paid and were being cashed by family members, able-bodied people were picking up disability pensions (notably, 'blind' people were caught driving cars) and people whose life circumstances had changed (eg their marital status/occupation etc changed) were continuing to pick up pensions and benefits they were not entitled to. It could be said to be a case of which came first: the fraudulent people, or the careless state. It takes two to tango.

This is the first time my 88-year-old mother-in-law has singed a document proving to the state that she is still alive and is entitled to continue receiving her pension.

The system in Greece is now catching up with the rest of the modern world. Pensioners and beneficiaries have to prove their status (ie "I am still alive", or "I really am disabled"). Somehow, with the help of someone, that have to prove their existence in order to continue to be paid state money, despite their disabilities or other health problems. This is no big deal in countries which already have such a system in place, and many things are done online too, as in the Greek-Kiwi's case; in my mother-in-law's case, though, it involved her leaving a familiar environment, which induced great fear in her mind, as if it were something that she could not do (she has mobility problems and walks with various aids).

But she is not the only one, as I have noticed in the last few weeks: old people are aided by various others to present themselves at the various authorities, and it is a very touching moment to watch the son or daughter help their mother or father into a bank or post office, sometimes with the help of a grandchild. It is also very moving to see how various officers help the helpless in any way they can, as in our case, where a bank officer printed all the documents and went out to the car, where we had parked in front of the bank, so that my mother-in-law didn't need to come out in the cold or climb stairs or get stuck with her walking frame in one of the safety cubicles at the bank entrance.

If ever there was a time when I could point to a moment when Greeks (in the most general sense) ruined Greece themselves, and their habits (as a whole) were unsustainable, and they needed a bout of austerity (if they weren't already living austerely) to get things under control again, this would be it. It is also a sign that the end of the old and decrepit is over and a new beginning is already in bud.

©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 18 December 2012

Unregistered immigrants (Λαθρομετανάστες) struck the Aegean a few days ago when 20 dead people were found on the northern shores of the island of Mytilene as they were trying to enter Greece by sea. Seven people remain unaccounted for (presumed drowned) while the sole survivor states that he is from Burma. He claims to have entered Greek waters through Turkey, after paying 2,500 dollars (or euro, I can't remember what I heard on the TV news) and he said his destination was 'Europe'. Although he would not have been carrying any documents to prove his identity, this would have been arranged easily for him (for a fee).

We will probably never know the names of the dead, or how to contact their family in order to notify them that their loved ones will never call them to tell them which country they landed in and where they started a new life with new hopes. As Constantine Cavafy notes in his century-old poems with the theme of people (in this case, Greeks) being lost at sea in foreign lands, perhaps this is a good thing:

The sea engulfed a sailor in its depths.
Unaware, his mother goes and lights
a tall candle before the ikon of our Lady,
praying for him to come back quickly, for the weather to be good—
her ear cocked always to the wind.
While she prays and supplicates,
the ikon listens, solemn, sad,
knowing the son she waits for never will come back. 

A young man, twenty eight years old, on a vessel from Tenos,
Emes arrived at this Syrian harbor
with the intention of learning the perfume trade.
But during the voyage he was taken ill. And as soon
as he disembarked, he died. His burial, the poorest,
took place here. A few hours before he died,
he whispered something about "home," about "very old parents."
But who these were nobody knew,
nor which his homeland in the vast panhellenic world.
Better so. For thus, although
he lies dead in this harbor,
his parents will always hope he is alive.

This tragedy would probably not have happened had it not been for the 10.5 km fence which was recently completed at the Turkish border with Greece, to prevent unregistered immigrants from coming into the country. Instead of using the sea, they would have tried to enter Greece via land. Damned if you do, damned if you do not.

©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 17 December 2012

Despite embracing modernity, some Greek icons cannot be replaced.

Junior high school classroom in mid-town Iraklio

As Yannis Markopoulos once said: "Greeks want a computer by their side for their daily needs, but at the same time, they want to be in the field, ploughing their land."

©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 16 December 2012

Ένα πιάτο φαγητό (A plate of food)

Ένα πιάτο φαγητό (a plate of food) - it's no big deal in Crete, because there is plenty of it. 

The students and professors dine in the same area, but generally speaking they do not mix. The students speak English amongst themselves unless they are in same-country groups, in which case they speak their own language. The professors are all Greek, and as they sit alone or with other Greek-speaking professors, they are generally heard to be speaking only Greek.  

The woman moved from one table to another in quick succession. She was carrying a small backpack over her shoulder, as she passed by the students' tables. They would stop their friendly happy banter, put  their forks down onto their plate,  and look up from their trays. But they showed little comprehension as to what she was saying to them, and so she left, looking slightly bewildered that she could not make herself understood, and they continued with their lunch as she left.

She did not linger very long at the students' table; there was no common language among them. She wondered if anyone spoke Greek here. She moved quickly from one table to the other, finally halting at the table of a sole diner, a visiting professor, where she placed her bag on the floor.  He listened attentively to her, showing great understanding as she spoke to him. Then she opened her bag and pulled out a few packaged objects: a can opener, a torch, keyrings, and other trinkets. He fumbled in his pockets for a few moments, as she waited hopefully, before he shook his head apologetically. She then placed all the objects back in her bag, and moved on to another table.

Dionisia did not normally sit alone at lunch. Dionisia had called Katerina through the intranet before she went to the restaurant, but she did not answer it. Katerina's son was not well enough to go to school, which menat that she had to bring him in to work with her, so Dionissia expected to see the two of them at lunch. As they did not come, she found herself dining alone, which she hated. Eating alone felt so immoral to her, as if she was too selfish to share her lunch, which was free at work at any rate, but it still felt strange. If her family had already eaten the dinner she had prepared for them the night before she went to work, she would not bother eating any of it herself, preferring a piece of bread and some cheese to go with it instead. There did not seem any point in sitting down to eat at the table on her own.

The woman approached Dionissia in the same way that she had approached everyone else in the restaurant. The woman's face, her pleading eyes, her imloring voice, they all sounded familiar to Dionissia. But this woman was out of place here. For a start, she was quite obviously pregnant, and was wearing baggy denim overalls. The roots of her dyed-blonde hear were growing out and she had a few fashionable piercings on her face. She did not resemble the typical Roma woman. And where had she come from in the first place. The students' restaurant, and indeed the whole campus, was tucked away in a forest that was not very visible from the road. It was virtually impossible to be wandering off the street and come across it.

- I'm sorry, but I really don't have any money, Dionissia told her, quickly enough so that the woman did not take the time to go through the motions of having to open her bag and take things out of it, only to find that she would have to put everything back into it, without making any sale. The woman left her, moving slowly and quietly.

Dionissia continued eating her lunch, when suddenly she thought of Katerina and her son. Katerina was probably in the lab in the middle of working on an experiment. This was probably why she wasn't answering the phone - she wasn't in the office, and had probably left her son there, playing computer games, and not answering the phone, on his mother's orders. She now began to worry. Was Simonas on his own? Would he know not to let anyone into the office? Katerina would have left her handbag there with him. And then she wondered where else the woman had been before coming to the office. Kiriakos had had his scholarship money stolen just days before Christmas, just before he was due to depart for a post-doc abroad. The cameras had detected the stranger, but the stranger was only caught the second time he tried to do something like that. This woman's bag looked small, but that wasn't the point.

She did not hurry through lunch, because she knew it would give her indisgestion and today she could not afford to feel sick. She would have preferred not to have eaten now that Katerina had not come to the restaurant. Had she known, she would not have come at all. But she had a lesson in the afternoon, and a seminar after that, which meant that she would have been on an empty stomach for too many hours at a stretch. If she had not come into the restaurant, she would not have seen the woman. Now that she had, she felt it was her responsibility to warn others not to leave valuables unattended. As she swallowed her food, she felt it sticking to her throat, even though she had chewed it well.

When she had finished her lunch, she took her plates to the kitchen. As she passed the door to go to the place where each diner (except the visiting professors) stacked them, she saw the woman on the other side with a tray in her hand, pouring some sauce over a plate of spaghetti.

Ένα πιάτο φαγητό, Dionissia thought to herself, on seeing that the woman was still in the restaurant, and relieved at the same time that she had lined up with the students for a plate of food. She scraped the sauce from her plate into the bins (they would be used as animal feed), and went off to find Katerina. But neither Katerina nor her son were anywhere to be seen; she suspected that Katerina had taken him to the doctor at the IKA offices down the road.

As she entered the office, she passed by Bilio's desk.

- I don't want to tell you this because I feel like I'm being horrible, she said. At this, Bilio's face took on a worried look?

- Dionissia, sweetheart, what's happened?

- There's a pregnant gypsy girl in the restaurant.

Bilio nodded knowingly without speaking. Dionissia went to her desk. Bilio dialed a number.

- Stefane, just to let you know, there's a gypsy wandering on the campus... She was in the restaurant... No, I don't know if she's still there... Food?... Well, Dionissia said she was at the self-service bar... Well, I don't know who told her to go there! That's not the point! It's just a plate of food!...

Bilio now sounded flustered; she was speaking the same language with Stefanos, but she had not made herself understood to her colleague. And now he was worried about a plate of food.

Spaghetti with a variety of sauces is served for lunch once  a week on a rotating menu at MAICh.

©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.