Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Sunday 28 April 2013

Living below the line

You may have heard about Jack Munroe's story (from the UK) of how she found herself unemployed with a two year old son, with no food in her house. To save herself from losing her rented home, she began to sell everything in her house that she knew she didn't need, she turned off all the electricity that she felt she could do without and she had cold showers. She blogged about her life and her frugal recipes, documenting how she found food on the cheap, using the benefits she was paid until she found herself a job. 

Living do frugally is not easy, but Jack Munroe realised that with a young son to look after, if she did not prioritise and behave morally responsible, she would lose her home and no doubt her son. So she bought the healthiest food she could afford and she prepared home cooked meals for her and her son. Her story was highlighted in the BBC recently, and she has now been given a  £25,000 advance to write a recipe book. 

As I read more about her through her blog, I realised that she was motivated by her will to survive without complaining that she was not being given enough by the government to support herself and her son. I liked that about Jack: she wanted to show everyone that she was capable of standing up on her own two feet. We read a lot about people struggling on benefits, but mainly in the form of a whinge that they are not getting enough. Few people are bold enough to make public that they are trying to cope, even if it means they are going beyond the bearable. 

Jack's biggest problem was of course keeping her son and herself fed healthily on a daily basis. She was very frugal in her shopping purchases and never wasted any food. When her story became public knowledge, apart from the praise she received from some people congratulating her on her effort to make it through despite adversity, she was also castigated for her frugality, accepting a challenge to live off a pound a day on food, because many people believe that this is impossible. Sure it isn't nice, but life isn't always nice. It seems that there are some in society that take a dislike to frugal people because they are pretending to be modern-day martyrs. They even go so far as saying that frugal people who become famous for their modest lifestyle are actual;ly some form of government spy spreading state propaganda. 

When the BBC ran a series of recipes living on just £1 a day for five days, as part of a campaign by the Global Poverty Project, the article was rubbished by commentators who insisted that such a claim is untruthful because you can't compare prices between supermarkets because you won't be able to afford the transportation costs to do so, and you have to buy in bulk to eat so cheaply so you can't have spent only one pound a day but much more, and the food you buy in bulk will go offso you will throw it away, and the cooking costs are not included nor is the washing up, and so on, ad nauseum. These commentators made me realise just how prejudiced people are against frugal living which is simply not fashionable in a market-driven world where money is getting harder to come by. Excuses, excuses, excuses: maybe they don't like to hear about a person's frugal success story because it puts them in a bad light.

But that is the horrible truth about being frugal - you make do with what you have got, and you use things wisely. You don't necessarily buy in bulk and you may just chance on a frugal purchase when you are shopping. Why should food go off in the first place if you are storing it apporpriately? People who do not cook much or who have been taught to always check sell by dates are generally not well versed in home economics.

Don't we buy salt and pepper, sugar and flour, tea and coffee in bulk? Tinned and dry goods last a long time; vegetables last very well when properly stored; cheese can be stored safely too - meat and fish are the main problem, and frugal people avoid them anyway because they are the most expensive food items, or at least they eat them less often. When I'm preparing my own cheap frugal meals, they are virtually 'free' - eg eggs from my relatives, greens from the garden, frozen vegetables from our own harvests. But I appreciate that Jack Munroe (the blog writer in question) cannot do this. If I lived in an urban environment and I had those wacky supermarket offers that they have in the UK (they don't exist here), I would take a different approach to being frugal. My hosts during my recent trip to London created a good feast of a meal with organic chicken, roast potatoes in duck fat and salad for the six of us when we arrived, spending just 3 pounds - they know how to shop in the same way that Jack Monroe does. 

I'm not sure if the recipes that Jack posts on her blog could work out as cheaply for me as they did for her because we simply do not have those super-dooper discounts - but I would still supplement cheap store bought staples with my 'free' food (wild greens, herbs, fruit and veges) and my meals will cost just as little to produce. Last year, I ran a cheap'n'Greek'n'frugal section in my blog, where I proudly presented meals costing me on average 50 eurocents a serving. I was cooking for the whole family, doing just what Jack was doing: using what I had available cheaply to me to the best of my ability. 

Being frugal in this crazy money-driven world is not easy. But it can be done if you want. And if you hear of someone who tells you how they fed themselves on a home-cooked meal that cost them less than a dollar/euro/pound, they are probably not bragging: they are just saying "You can do it if you want".

Time for a blogging break so I can get over a bad case of tonsilitis and have a little rest over the holidays - I should be back by Easter Sunday.

©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 27 April 2013

Lahmacun (Λαχματζούν)

To feed a family frugally with healthy frugal home cooking, you need to keep them excited and surprised by what they see coming out of the oven or the pot. The food has to look enticing and different - it may be made with the same ingredients, but it must look enticing and different.

I had some leftover pizza pastry from our last pizza making session a couple of nights ago where we'd made pizza and peinirli (boat-shaped baked sandwiches), but now it's time to get back to tackling the garden spinach before it starts to warm up. I made some spanakopita filling which I turned into vegetarian peinirli.

The main meal for the next day was makaronada (Greek-style spaghetti bolognaise). This gave me an idea for another pizza-based meal: Turkish lahmacun, the Middle Eastern equivalent of pizza. The chef at MAICh makes this on a rotating basis for the staff and student lunch, with both a vegetarian and meat version offered for students to choose.

Lahmacun is usually made with an egg-based pastry topped with a spicy mince sauce. Our Middle eastern students often roll it up a bit like souvlaki after having stuffed it with some salad and yoghurt sauce. So it's a very versatile kind of pie. I spread some of my home-made tomato sauce on teh pastry before spreading the mince sauce. The topping sticks to the pastry and does not break or roll off the pastry.

The spanalopita peinirli and lahmacun were all cooked together. The lahmacun was brushed with olive oil while the peinirli got an egg wash, a bit like a spanakopita, topped with some seasame seed. To check if they have been cooked, I simply turned the pastry over to see if the bottom of the pies had browned. They don't need a long cooking time - about 25 minutes in a hot oven.

We are eating delicious food made with similar ingredients on a daily basis, but no one seems to notice when you use the same ingredients in a unique way every time.

©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 26 April 2013

Lambada - Easter candle (Λαμπάδα)

It's that time of the year again, when Greek children look forward to a visit from their nona (νονά - godmother). Nona at Easter is a Greek tradition. She is a bit like the Easter version of Santa Claus, except that she is not an imaginary person, and children can usually guarantee that she will have brought them the present they want, because nona usually asks them beforehand. The customary gifts for Easter are new shoes and/or new clothes, a chocolate Easter egg and a lambada (Easter candle) which is lit on the midnight service of Easter Saturday.

How can I come to the house
With my hands empty (a phrase meaning "I didn't buy  a present")
That's why I went to the Jumbos (Jumbo is a toy warehouse, selling very cheap single-use products)
And I emptied out all the shelves.
 This is one of the kitschiest, trashiest crassiest and grossest tv commercials to ever be shown - but  it is highly successfully for all these reasons! Jumbo picks cliche-type tunes for its ads, and this is about as cliche as you can get pre-Easter - it isnt just the song style that was chosen, but the koumbaro  wearing a singlet, the lamb on the spit, the PET wine bottles, the children running to nona to see what she bought them, nona arriving over-dressed - this kind of advertising relies on aspects of Greek identity that we find very hard to part with (just like the Agapoula ads and which have in recent times (ie during the crisis) come under scrutiny due to the difficulty of sustaining them.

I'm not a good example of a Greek nona, as I generally hate shopping. Instead of presents, I've always given my godson money. The whole idea of buying an overpriced candle (which no doubt he had already made at school befreo the term broke up for Easter) sounded like a waste of money to me, so I explained that I wouldn't buy this kind of rubbish which would very quickly be thrown away. I've never been one to burn my momey, and I certainly wasn't going to waste it on others in this way. I give him €30-50, depending on what is in my pocket at the time (sometimes there is more, sometimes less).

This may sound very harsh to the average Greek, as nona's presents are somewhat of a tradition.
A tradition that is fuelled by consumerism. But what happens when you don't have much money? What happens when suddenly what you thought you knew about life is overturned?

My children's godparents (as I have explained before) are at the opposite extremes. I can already guarantee that one of them will not bother coming at all (she's a bit of a scrooge), while the other will phone us up as tradition dictates and demand that we tell her what she should buy my daighter. She does this every eyar, and every year, i tell her that she really doesnt' need to buy anything. For a start, she never buys practical clothes; it's always something expensive that we don't get much wear out of, and it then goes into the charity bag. Then there is the ridiculously kitschy candle with a barbie doll tied round it. Since my daughter gave all her barbies away ages ago, the doll is untied from the candle and given to a neighbour's child, while the candle goes into the cupboard to be used in case of blackouts.

Nona's presents are a complete waste of money. Even when I whined about this with her, practically telling her off that she was wasting her hard-earned cash, she did not listen to me. What I was telling her was going against ingrained traditon. I was expressing the unthinkable: no presents. How can nona come to see her godchild without a Jumbo bag in tow?

This year, again nona phoned us to ask what she should buy her goddaughter. I told her that she truly has whatever she needs and really doesn't need any mroe new clothes (we bought new cheap - and above all wearable and useful - shoes and clothes only last month in London) and my daughter is getting too old for choclate eggs, stuffed toy bunnies and barbie candles. My daughter even told me that she was dreading her nona's presents. "They're never useful, are they, mum?"

"But I've got to buy her something," my civil servant koumbara insisted. She has had so many pay cuts that she has decided it isn't worth working any more. She has filed for retirement (she's 50). For this and many other reasons, she arouses my anger.

"I can't really tell you what to do with your money," I said. "If you've got money to waste, then go ahead and waste it." What I said to her was quite harsh, but she was rather provocative in her blind adherence to tradition, a tradition fulled by consumerism which is no longer sustainable. It may be her money, but I don't really want to be the cause of someone's financial ruin. Her pay has dropped, she spends a lot of money on petrol (she chose to build a villa that she now can't afford to maintain in a remote area), yet she still insists of buying unnecessary things that end up in a rubbish bag.

"But I can't not buy anything," she insisted, with a desperation in her voice that implied that was confused. What is confusing her is my attitude - I'm not playing my part right. I should be telling her to buy buy buy, not save save save.

"Well, how about a lambada then?" she said. "She needs a candle to go to church on Saturday night!" She was in for a greater shock.

"All the lambades you buy us remain unused. Do you really want to buy an overpriced candle so that I can add it to our throwaway collection of useless gifts?"

"But you will go to church, won't you? Everyone goes to the Anastasi on Holy Saturday!"

Some people are too naive, too immature, too stupid, too stuck to tradition to allow themselves to believe that there are people in this world that do not do what everyone else is doing just because everyone esle is doing it. My kids often fall asleep by 11pm; I would never wake them up just to go to church, and Holy Saturday is no exception. It's part of their programme to be active during the day and to go to bed at night. Kids like schedules. When there is no schedule, anarchy reigns. I know how important this is - I am a teacher. The Grek state is often to blame for the lack of a programme in people's daily routine, but since I know this, I usually implement my own. Whatever you do, you mustn't forget to have some kind of routine.

The ostentatious nona is simply following the leader. She is blind to alternatives. When she is given another option, she doesn't know what to do with it. It's like a fear of the unknown. She is afraid. Most people like her in Greece splurge their money unnecessarily to make themselves look and feel good and possibly to show off to other narrow- and like-minded folks in their little microcosmos. It's a vicious circle that they don;t know how to break because if the circle breaks, instead of the feeling of freedom that one would think would ensue in such circumstances, they feel trapped - they don't know what to do with a new opportunity. 

I have the feeling that our nona, who truly does have all the necessary comforts to lead a happy life, is probably feeling envious of my independence and the way I make my choices without blindly going along with the majority. Greeks are generally followers, not leaders, but I've always felt that I have been able to live the way that I wanted to in Greece without following the latest trends. It took a crisis for people to break their consumeristic traditions, but it's gooing to take at least 3-4 generations for the effects to be long-lasting.

In the end, we settled on nona giving my daughter money. I tried to make her understand that this is what I do with my godson, and it gives him the freedom to spend it in any way he likes, without the hassle of returning something to a shop. I also set her a limit: €20-30 is more than enough. It's the thought that counts, not the value in euro. But this is a concept that the average Greek is only now learning.

"But... no present?" Nona insisted. "I can't come with my hands empty!" Poor nona. She can't cope with the changes created by the crisis. I feel sorry for her chidlren most of all - she can't direct them appropriately. That's why a few generations are going to be needed before people start getting used to the new Greece.

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Thursday 25 April 2013

Koulourakia (Κουλουράκια)

In my youth, I remember my mum making tubfuls of koulourakia before Easter. They would last for a long time in airtight containers, and when they ran out, we'd make some more. The most important implement in making koulourakia was koulourakia maker.

My mother never shaped her koulourakia by hand, like I do. The koulourakia maker was very important in our home, as it was in other Greek homes, both in Greece and abroad. It remains a popular tool in the homes of older cooks.

Another thing my mother also used a lot was baking parchment, again something I hardly ever use (olive oil does an excellent cheap and very clean job).

Making koulourakia in large batches is still done these days, but because of a greater emphasis on health and more women working, the idea of many women coming together to produce koulourakia is usually relegated to women's cooperatives and charity organisations. It remains a way for women to connect, both in urban and rural contexts, by being involved in activities that women generally like doing. Cooking, baking, and providing hospitality for others is not necessarily a woman's domain, but it is still something women do more successfully than men.

Koulourakia making can also be a way to show off your artistic talent. Shaping koulourakia is a favorite pasttime of children of all ages. Shaping cookies is popular all over the world among children but making traditional Greek Easter koulourakia has one advantage over making Western-style cookies: koulourakia are a completely natural product that do not need artificial flavourings or colours.

You can find the basic recipe for koulourakia here, which happens to be one of the most popular recipes on my blog. It's easy to produce in a small batch, and you can multiply the recipe as you see fit.

These koulourakia were made for the Special High School of Hania (Ειδικό Γυμνάσιο Χανίων) for children with special needs in the suburb of Mournies, along with Easter candles (lambada) which were also being made here.
The women who made the koulourakia are those being cared for at an old person's home (who have not lost their mobility), together with their daughters and the caregivers at the home (which is called ΚΗΦΗ - Κέντρο Ημερίσιας Φροτίδας Ηλικιωμένων - Centre for the Daily Care of the Elderly). This centre belongs to the local council of Eleftherios Venizelou in Mournies (Δημοτική Ενότητα Ελευθερίου Βενιζέλου), run by ΚΕΠΠΕΔΗΧ-ΚΑΜ (ΚΟΙΝΩΦΕΛΗΣ ΕΠΙΧΕΙΡΗΣΗ ΠΟΛΙΤΙΣΜΟΥ - ΠΕΡΙΒΑΛΛΟΝΤΟΣ ΔΗΜΟΥ ΧΑΝΙΩΝ - ΚΕΝΤΡΟ ΑΡΧΙΤΕΚΤΟΝΙΚΗΣ ΤΗΣ ΜΕΣΟΓΕΙΟΥ). These ladies are all experienced koulourakia makers, as they have all grown up with the tradition in their own home, in the same way as myself. The koulourakia were distributed to the children just before schools break up for Greek Orthodox Easter.

Thanks again to Eirini for supplying me with the photos.

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Tuesday 23 April 2013

Broad Beans (Κουκιά)

Since I can't cook easily in my own home due to renovations, this is a chance for me to showcase some of my friends' cooking, especially since it's unlikely that I'm going to cook these special dishes myself.

As much as I want to grow as many plant varieties in my garden as possible, it is often the case that we get a lot of vegetables leftover, and there are so many left over, to the point that we find it difficult to eat it all ourselves. We preserve what we can, we give as much as possible away, but we still get left with a lot of fresh produce that we can't always get through. So I was kind of glad this year that we didn't plant spring crops like broad beans - I've still got a few summer beans in the deep freeze!

My friend Eirini is a big fan of broad beans, something she gets to eat when she spends time with her parents at their village in Hania. They are given to her by various people who are also growing a lot of crops in their small but bountiful gardens, which goes to show how easy it is to get things to grow in Crete. It's difficult not to get something edible to grow here.

Broad beans are enjoyed completely fresh, like a snack. You just peel the skin off and eat them as they are. When we cook them, they are usually boiled, with the top part (the black vein) removed. Boiled broad beans are eaten with boiled greens, and dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and salt.

Ascrolimbi and broad beans
A favorite of Eirini's is fresh immature broad bean pods, fried in olive oil after being dusted with flour. With a pinch of sea salt, they are like eating bean chips. It's a treat to enjoy such a dish and it isn't commonly known or eaten these days - you really need to be a grower to have it, as immature bean pods are rarely sold.

Fried immature broad bean pods
But the king of broad bean dishes in Crete is when they are cooked with artichokes. The sauce they are stewed in can be lemon-based or tomato-based - in fact, many Greek dishes are basically based on either lemon or tomato (which are usually not combined), and nearly all dishes have both a lemon and tomato variant.

Here is what Eirini says about this dish: "Snails, artichokes and immature broad beans in the pod - we call it derbiyie (derbiyedaki as my dad says it). Snail lovers will adore it from the first bite! This recipe was given to me last night when we went for a short walk with my father and a friend we met gave it to me. My father got the beans from the farmers' market. We had to search around a lot as the season for the baby broad beans is over. I was lucky and he found some for me. Broad beans were a favourite bean in my father's family when he was young. The best time to collect the baby broad beans is in early April. When they grow a bit you can make them 'derbiyie' (with lemon and flour). A very good match is artichokes - here, the snails are added too and make the dish a speciality. When the broad beans grow more you can have them bolied and eaten either with boiled artichokes or greens (horta)."
Broad beans and artichokes make a superb meal in combination, but when combined with one more particularly Cretan ingredient - the snail - they show how truly creative, local ans seasonal Cretan cuisine is. You cannot make this dish whenever you like - it has to be spring.

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It's kind of like spring cleaning time in my house at the moment - I had anticipated this to happen throughout the year, as we talked about it in winter (a very short and not so cold one), so I didn't do any dusting at all in the house. I knew it would become a bombsite in just one hour.

The best time get rid of mouldy walls is spring. Once you renovate them, they can be given time to dry out over the summer, before being painted. The stucco has to come down, which means a good deal of dust being created.

It's not much fun living in the house while it's being renovated, but most Greeks don't have much choice about this. It's also the cheaper way to get the job done. You usually ask a friend to help you knock the stucco off your walls, you clear the mess up yourself, and you also help in putting the concrete back up.

It's a nightmare working in a kitchen like this, but I'm grateful that at least we will have a clean (but unpainted) kitchen in time for Easter.

Cooking continues: a made a spanakopita last night. The worst part was trying to work out where the least dusty site in the kitchen was. This scene is tiring me out. I'm already waiting for the weekend. And perhaps an outdoor, al fresco kitchen to avoid messing up the only kitchen we have.

©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 21 April 2013

Suvir Saran's samosa recipe

It's amazing who you can meet on facebook. I recently met... (deep breath)...:
"Top Chef Master, Suvir Saran, the author of three widely acclaimed cookbooks; Masala Farm: Stories and Recipes from an Uncommon Life in the Country (2012), American Masala: 125 New Classics From My Home Kitchen (2007) and Indian Home Cooking (2004). Saran established new standards for Indian food in America when he teamed up with tandoor master Hemant Mathur in 2004 to create the authentic flavors of Indian home cooking at the 75-seat restaurant Dévi in Manhattan, which received a one-star rating in the Michelin Guide New York City two years in a row."
Suvir's heritage and identity dominate his cooking style. They form the basis of how he approaches food. I could relate to his insistence to remain true to the Indian food he grew up with, as I have my similarly strong feelings about the main culinary influences in my life. I have been following Suvir's culinary expertise though his online photo albums, since I've always liked to cook Asian cooking in my home.

He recently posted a series of samosa photos, and I expressed an interest in making them, as I hadn't made samosa for more than two years now. The photos reminded me of the truly creative vegetarian (and often practically vegan) international cuisine that I miss. The way I cook at home would be even more monocultural if my family hadn't travelled to more international places. I told Suvir that I had decided to make samosa that evening. He was happy to hear this and asked me if I make my own pastry, which of course, I do, which he was pleased about. I nearly always have my home-made filo pastry dough sitting in the fridge, to be used for various purposes throughout the week. It's very versatile.

On his own initiative, Suvir sent me his recipe for a samosa filling, which comes from his latest book, Masala World:

2 lbs/910 g (about 6) red potatoes
1/2 cup/8 g finely chopped fresh cilantro/fresh coriander leaves
3 tbsp neutral-flavored oil (like canola or grapeseed)
2 dried red chiles, coarsely ground in a mortar and pestle
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
1/8 tsp asafetida
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground amchur (green mango powder)
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup/100 g frozen peas

This recipe contains ingredients that I cannot easily get here. Red potatoes for a start: in Hania, a potato is a potato. It's always earth brown on the outside and creamy-white on the inside. We do not have red potatoes on the market. I have seen them in London (where I also learnt what plaintains and yams were), and really wanted to try them; but potatoes in my suitcase... oh well, maybe next time. Cilantro is not popular in Crete, although some organic shops are now selling it, and the chef at my workplace also uses it in salads, which is how I have become accustomed to its taste. But the night I was making samosa, it was out of my reach. I once grew it and no one appreciated its taste in our food... It's an acquired one, I guess; parsley will have to do instead. Canola oil and grapeseed oil do not figure in my household for obvious reasons: we grow olives, we produce olive oil, it's all extra virgin. Other oils could add another dimension to my food, but right now, I have EVOO by the barrel-full in our basement. It will have to do.

The good news is that fresh chili peppers are now becoming almost as widely available as fresh ginger, which is now a standard supermarket product. I place both in the freezer to ensure I don't run out. Chilis can be sliced and ginger grated straight from their frozen state. But certain spices, like green mango powder and asafetida, are simply not available in our little corner of the world. Through my interest in Indian cuisine, I knew that mango powder is sour and could be replaced by lemon, while asafetida gives a taste similar to onions.

I told Suvir that I will use onion in the filling instead of asafetida; on learning this, he warned me to use only a tiny bit of onion, and very very very finely minced at that.  Suvir believes that onions don't work everywhere, and in some recipes, they should only provide a hint of flavour that does not overpower the eater. In some cases - and particularly samosa, as he explained - the eater should not even taste the onion in the dish, which is why he suggested that the onion is very finely minced. On the other hand, I use onions and garlic in most of my dishes. We go through about 50kg of onions a year in our household.

This reminds me of a very funny story. The only other good cook who I know that does not like to use onion except in very small amounts is my mother-in-law. I had once bought some onions, which she noticed were all rather on the big side. She asked me what I would do if I needed only a small onion in a recipe; I told her that there would never be a time that I would need only a small amount onion! Then she asked me what I would do if the recipe required just half an onion; I said that the recipe was probably written incorrectly! Twelve years later, I have met my match!

Shaping samosa requires technique. I knew I could not master that in one evening, straight after work! Mine look quite flat compared to the samosa that I saw in Suvir's photo sets. It seemed that I had cut the pastry a little too small. While they are not perfectly shaped, I know that they were very tasty because they were made from scratch and I took great care to follow Suvir's recipe as closely as possible.

Cooking takes time and practice. It is not something everyone enjoys doing, but everyone has to eat. What we eat is not always an independent choice; sometimes we have to make do with what we've got. We've come to a point where the Western world thinks it can eat what it likes when it likes, but we also know how much we have been fooled by agribusiness, so that we are not necessarily eating what we think we are eating. Maybe the world has evolved to such an extent that we might have gone the full circle, and are now turning back to our past for more answers. All I know is that right now, if I want to eat samosa, I have to make it myself. And if I couldn't cook, then I'd have no samosa.

©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 20 April 2013

My son's first roast

My kids are starting to take an interest in cooking meals. My daughter has always been a good eater so this is no surprise for me, but my son, who is a picky eater, is now also showing signs of wanting cook his main meals. I think he likes this because he knows that if he shows willingness to cook, I am willing to allow him to cook what he chooses. He won't cook beans or greens (neither are particularly popular with most kids). So to get them interested in cooking, you have to allow kids to cook healthy things they like.

I bought some chicken pieces to let him cook his first roast. Roast chicken and potatoes sounds so simple:
"Place chicken in a baking dish, chop potatoes and place around chicken, season with salt, pepper and oregano, pour some olive oil, lemon juice and water into the pan and place in the oven. Allow to cook, covered, in a moderate oven for two hours. Remove the cover, turn the heat up high and allow the food to turn golden and crusty on the top."
For a child, more instrcutions are needed for all those things we adults take for granted:
- Wash the chicken pieces by rubbing them with your hand under a running tap to get rid of bones, blood and other impurities.
 - To peel a potato, hold the potato in one hand and the peeler in the other. Then place your thumb (from the hand with the potato peeler) at the bottom of the potato and the peeler at the top, and firmly run the peelr down the potato to remove the skin.
- When seasoning food, you have to mix things with your hands to coat the ingredients well, otherwise the seaosnings will stay in one place.
- Good food needs time to cook. If you don't prepare things early, you won't have your dinner on time.

I got a lot of satisfaction when I saw his smile after we took the chicken out of the oven to see how it was cooking. "This looks good," he said. I feel sure that this is a sign that he will want to repeat the experience.

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Friday 19 April 2013

From Athens to Papakura by Nikos Petousis

There was a documentary recently broadcast on Greek TV, which presented a snapshot of the Greeks currently residing in NZ. I hesitate to say that it presented the Greek communities of NZ, because it was a rather disjointed programme. All in all, very interesting, as I saw some familiar faces, and heard some stories from the newcomers of Greek immigrants to NZ. It's not easy to go to NZ as a Greek, as some desperate people believe - you need to know the criteria very well for entry.

Because the programme did not present the Greek community as I knew it, I did not feel much nostalgia as I watched it (so far, it has been broadcast in two parts: you can see them here (for Part 1) and here (for Part 2) even though I had been born, raised and educated among this community. Only towards the end of the second part of the documentary was I moved in any way by the feelings expressed in the show, when Mr Nikos Petousis was interviewed.

Born in 1936 (only 1-3 years younger than my parents), he came to NZ in 1956. Greek immigrants at this time were often poorly educated, unskilled and often from rural backgrounds, making Mr Petousis an oddity for his time (the 1950s), as he explained in the documentary:
"I had just obtained my engineer's licence... I was ready to embrace the earth, the world, a 19-year old youth, with a diploma which I regarded as having a very important value, and my good luck finally brought me here, finally I had left Greece. And that is the thing: with a passion and the utter need to leave Athens, where would you go? No one really knew, a young person doesn't know where he's going to go, all the world feels like it belongs to him..."
Mr Petousis had expressed a higher need in Maslow's hierarchy of needs that he was looking to fulfil in his desire to leave Greece. This is not the same need that my parents had felt when they decided to migrate. My parents came to NZ to work in the jobs that New Zealanders didn't want to do (cleaning, factory work, cooking), whereas Mr Petousis was a trained professional looking to work in his field. It is this factor that differentiates Mr Petousis from most other migrants: he sought a new place to build a new life as a professional away from the grinding poverty of an urban warzone, whereas my parents left a rural environment as unskilled labourers to seek paid urban employment opportunities.

A quick internet search revealed that Mr Petousis had recently published his memoirs. I decided to read his story (it is available as an e-book - it's cheaper on than on You never know what you will read in a memoir: perhaps a glorified account of a simple life, a pompous narration of ordinary events told by someone with an inflated ego. My verdict is that Mr Petousis' story is so unique and his descriptions of grinding poverty and hunger so gut-wrenching and nothing like the way poverty and hunger is perceived in crisis-ridden Greece today, that everyone should read it this book to put a few things into perspective. Above all, it is the story of a man with a very strong Greek identity, who did not want to live in Greece, and he had decided this from a very early stage in his life. A Greek man who did not fit into Greek society, a Greek soul and spirit who knew he had no place in the land of his ancestors; I recall the words of Harriet Ann Jacobs: "It is a sad feeling to be afraid of one's native country."

Mr Petousis' harrowing experiences as a young child caught up in the Nazi crossfire of Athens (and the subsequent Greek civil war with its devastating consequences in Athens and Northern/Mainland Greece) do not make light reading. But he has a way of downplaying the severity of the conditions under which he grew up: he tells his story as one of survival, as someone who was determined to come through this destruction alive. No matter how much I would like to think of my parents' life as difficult when they were young children in Crete during WW2, I cannot equate the fear of losing one's life with a subsistence lifestyle. My father never had to sell cigarettes at brothels, while my mother never ate filthy orange peels lying in the gutter to stave off hunger. While Mr Petousis was sailing to NZ, he abhorred queuing for his self-service economy class meals: it reminded him too much of the last time he queued for food - in some cases, the food would run out and he wouldn't get any.

Despite his origins, Mr Petousis had a taste for finer things in life. He knew they existed because he had viewed them from up close in Athens - but he never experienced them. Take ice-cream for example. As an engineering graduate, he came across some American soldiers guarding a building. Although he didn't know English, with the help of some imaginative gestures, he understood that they wanted him to go buy them a couple of ice-creams. They gave him the money, and he brought them the cones, as well as the change. They began to lick their ice-creams as he watched them, but they never gave him any, nor did they give him a tip. At that moment, Mr Petousis battled with his conscience - wouldn't it have been just as righteous to take the money and never return to those soldiers? This dilemma plagued him for many years after the incident occurred.

On arriving to the town where he would be hosted by a New Zealand WW2 veteran, he came off the train, where he saw a sign on what looked like a chicken coop, stating that he had arrived in a place called Papakura. His image of Papakura was not the one he was now looking at. He thought he was coming to the land of his dreams, but on seeing where he arrived, he realised that he was not the country of his dreams: eventually, he came to understand that he had arrived in a country where he could build the life of his dreams, if only he wanted to.

Mr Petousis was an avid fan of classical music, and he came to love theatre and opera, hardly a pasttime of the average Greek migrant of the time. He knew the history of his country very well, and made a concerted effort to connect his modern life with the ancient world of his ancestors, despite the glaring differences between the two societies. He kept clear of any religious groups, as he had seen the destructive power that the church had over his own family. Despite acting as honorary consul for Greece in the Auckland region, he purposely kept himself away from any kind of Greek migrant community as he felt that he had nothing in common with them. They had come to NZ to continue living like Greeks, never fully grasping the opportunities that lay before them in a country that could let them be who they wanted to be.

As he later states in the documentary, gone are the days when an unskilled migrant can pack up and leave with just the clothes on his back, to work in manual labour in another country; the world economy has little need for them in our days All Greeks migrating now are highly educated, with skills and qualifications obtained not just in Greek universities but also in foreign countries. He has this to say about them:
"Inside me, I grieve for these people, they were the ones living a wonderful life in Greece, and now they have felt the need to leave, to go - go where? To New Zealand! If you go a little further than that, you fall into the ocean, the Antartctic, it's so far away, we are at the end of the world."
In a sense, this illustrates the desperation felt among Greeks as they leave their country. The difficulties are not immediately apparent to them; this knowledge sinks in much later. It is not easy to return home, even for a short period, a brief holiday, even in modern times. In a sense, the journey is a one-way trip.

I never met Mr Petousis during my years in NZ, so I am honoured to have met him so many years later, electronically through his book. Unlike him, however, I have chosen to live in Greece, but I am lucky in one major respect. I have come to a country that has been completely reshaped since the crisis. Forget the post-war period, forget EU entry - the crisis is the defining moment that Greece had to change.

We generally cannot go back to the past: only last night, the Greek PM Andonis Samaras said that "Yesterday doesn't fit in our tomorrow". Greek people need to be constantly reminded of the truth in this statement. I feel that these days, with the internet and so much more global connection, we can be who we want to be. Even in crisis-ridden Greece, we really can do this. Imagine a Greek telling the world publicly over the WWW not to buy Greek strawberries like I did in yesterday's post. I fear to think what would have happened in the cushy state-imposed past when a person spoke her mind.

We don't have to accept anything; we can express our anger in a way that we never could, and more importantly, we have support for this, whereas we never did before. I truly believe that the future holds good promise for Greece, because Greece has no other choice but to move forward. It is hard for most people to see this now. But Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will Athens be.

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Thursday 18 April 2013

Blood strawberries

It's trending fast: #bloodstrawberries is the latest food scandal. The first Greek strawberries to hit the market come from the area of Manolada in the Peloponese. Today, they were produced not just by the sweat of migrant workers (mainly Bangladeshi), but also with their blood.

The latest Greek joke: what's Ancient Greece got to do with Modern Greece? Slavery.

Yes, the government condemns the attack, yes, arrests have been made concerning the shootings, yes, Greece is in the news again for the wrong reasons. But this is not the first time that the same area has been in the public eye for similar reasons. Is this the face of a country in a serious economic crisis?

Greek strawberries are exported to Northern Europe. Do me a favour: please don't buy Manolada strawberries from the region of Ileias in the Peloponese. Beware also of the relabelling of goods, and I don't mean horse for beef: remember what happened during the time that Israeli military forces gunned down a ship carrying aid to Gaza and killed Turkish citizens? Israeli produce was relabelled as Dutch produce here in Crete. Don't ask me the exact reason why Crete, which can produce nearly everything, imports fresh produce from Israel: that's a political issue. Just beware that you are not duped into buying what you didn't expect to get.

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Wednesday 17 April 2013

Penirli (Πενερλί)

Cold colours (no flash)
Hot colours (with flash)
Last weekend, we took a stroll around the Venetian harbour. Strolling as a family is something we won't be doing for a long time in the future. The kids are getting older and they won't want to be strolling with their parents for long. The Venetian port is an amazing place to stroll, and you can also have a cheap drink or a bite to eat if you know where to go, or even just by studying the menu cards outside the many eateries that line the promenade. Ideally, you don't need to eat or drink anything; the scenery is more than enough to keep your senses satiated. But we have kids, and kids need to be entertained, which comes at a cost, so that they can remember some good times with their parents.
Pikilia is like eating souvlaki on a platter instead of a sandwich. With drinks, this came to €20 shared out among the four of us.
The original plan was to promenade around the old town, then go and have a cheap souvlaki  at a stand-up souvlatzidiko in the new town. We kept bumping into my husband's old friends and chums - at 57 years of age, having lived here all his life and working as a taxi driver, it is understandable that he will know a lot of people in the area. He says he is really tired of coming across the same people all the time, and he wishes that he could escape with me to New Zealand so he can live somewhere new for a change. I'm so glad he's 57; it's my excuse for not leaving.

All this stopping here and there worked up his rather young offspring's appetite. Rather reluctantly, their dad allowed them to stop off at a souvlatzidiko close to the entrance of the old port (what is sometimes called the 'alisithes', meaning the chains because the area is sometimes chained off so that traffic can't pass through the square), across from the fountain (known as the 'santrivani' - a fountain had always been there from former times). We knew it would be more expensive here at this sit-down place than the stand-up place - and why pay more when you can pay less for the same thing?

Menu cards were brought to us, although, as frugal folks that we are, we knew what we were going to order. But looking at a menu card is fun, except of course that it gives you other ideas about what you might like to eat. My son noticed that pizza was on the menu, so he asked for that, to which he got a flat negative response from his dad. He was very upset as he hadn't had pizza in ages. This is my fault, I suppose. I have made a lot of spinach pies in the last month, because we have a lot of spinach in the garden; if we grew ham and cheese, I'm sure I'd be making pizza instead.

My pizza dough: mix 2/3 cup water, 3 tbsp olive oil, a 6-7g sachet of yeast and a pinch of salt. Add about 500g flour to make a pliable dough. Knead it just enough to blend everything together and leave it to rise, preferably overnight, before using the next day. 
I decided to make up for this to him, by telling him that he could make pizza during the week. On one condition: he would have to get involved in making it. He has perfected his carbonara-making skills to a high degree, so much to the point that he now does not need a recipe. But for young children, pizza making poses a small problem - unlike carbonara, it needs preparation in advance. If you don't make your own pizza dough, then you may as well buy a ready-made pizza - the secret to pizza is in the dough, not the toppings. He agreed to this condition, so last night, I showed him how to make a simple yeast-based pizza dough. I told him that we would leave it covered with a tea towel in a ceramic bowl so it can rise overnight and we can use it the next day when we came back home from school and work.

The next morning, he took a peek at the dough. "Don't beat it down!" I warned him as I noticed that he was ready to poke his finger into it. From his face, I could tell that he was in awe of the chemical process that had taken palce effortlessly. When we were all home, he oculdn't wait to get stuck into a pizza making session.

I gave him a ball of dough and he began to flatten it (a bit too much, in my opinion). His sister came to join him, and she did the same thing. I still use my mother's old pizza tins with holes at the bottom, for the dough to cook to a crispy texture. (Glad I have two of them - they will inherit one each). They each topped them with their favorite flavours: my son likes tomato (home made sauce), ham and cheese; my daughter adds onions and peppers.
Kids' food
In the meantime, I had some dough left over. I really did not want to make another pizza. I had the urge to do something more creative. I decided to make a peinirli assortment. Peinirli is something like a cross between a baked sandwich and a boat-shaped pizza. You can read about its origins here (apparently, peinirli needs a lot of butter, but Iam making them according to own whims). I managed to sneak them into the oven before the pizzas and they were ready in very little time: about 25 minutes in a moderate oven.

After shaping the dough into ovals, I then filled them in different ways. To make the boat shape, fold each long side over the filling, leaving it open in the centre. Then twist the ends. Only the egg was broken into the pastry cavity last of all. All the other fillings were placed before folding the pastry.  
Peinirli flavours: Bacon and egg, Greek salad, Ham and Cheese.
I think I'll do a souvlaki flavoured one next time.
During this time, the kids had finished creating their pizzas. I took out the peinirli and broke off bits of the crust to let them try it. Again, it pays to watch their faces when their taste sensations begin to take effect. "Mmmm, that is the best pizza I've ever tried!" They were both amazed by the superior taste of the pizza crust. I put their pizzas in to cook. They kept checking them and wondered imaptiently when they would be ready.
A close up of my Greek salad peinirli; home made tomato sauce, peppers, onions, feta cheese and olives. These were baked on an oiled baking tray.
"And it really didn't take long to make, did it?" I reminded them.

Now, they have to make pizza often enough to get the hang of it, and learn to make it without using a recipe. That's the only way to learn how to cook: to get stuck into it, and to develop some idea about how to cook. Recipes won't ever provide the perfect meal: you need to learn how to cook, not just follow a recipe.

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Tuesday 16 April 2013

Hot dates and hot chicks

A freind of mine recently told me that I should monetize my blog. In other words, I should make my blog make money, all the while that I am doing nothing more than I am doing now, uploading photos, sitting at my desk and writing. I'm not sure thought - I think I have too much integrity to do that.

I once read a book awritten by a bicultural author, which was based on some kind of bicultural charcater who had a mental breakdown. When I pick titles to read, I don't base my choices on the author's biography as it feels too subjective. But once I read the book (which wasn't very well written - it was just an OK story for me), I looked up her biography on the web and read to my astonishment that she liked tostay at home in her pyjamas all day and write stories. She was a little too smug for my liking. I despise the western culture that conjures up the mistaken belief that you can make money being a writer without leaving your house and just 'writing'. These days, anyone can write something and publish it, even if it is bad. It just gives you a bad name as a writer - and tehre may be a hint of truth that some people don't know how to pick a good writer.

I did use GoogleAds in the past, but I was bitterly disapoointed. It took me two years to collect something like 10 euros on my account, and Google wouldn't pay (in those days anyway) until you collected 70 euros! Worse still, the ads that kept coming up on my screen were to the likes of 'hot chicks' and 'hot dates' (have you seen many recipes on my blog with dates and chicken??!). I felt degraded - and I asked myself: what do my readers think about this?

I don't believe for a moment that people are seriously interested in clicking the ads on my blog. Most of my readers are regular readers, so they are here to 'see' me. So if I were to monetize the blog, it would have to have a completely different focus. For my blog to make money, I'd need to change it in a major way. It would need a huge makeover, something I can't do on my own. I'm a rather busy person; apart from the daily routine chores, I also have a paying day job, I cook something from scratch almost every day (good thing I remembered the fasolada at this moment!), I take my young kids to their activities, and at the weekends, if I don't join my husband in the garden, I am often working on work-related reading and writing, even after work hours. The last thing I want to do is write only 'nice' things to make people happy, which do not reveal my true feelings; people come here to hear the views of a Greek person, they like to see what a Greek person is cooking, they want to see Greek scenery as it is the moment I snapped the photo, without photoshopping it. That's what they come on for, so that's what I give them. They don't come for the ads.

I sometimes wish that I could make money from my blog, but more than that, I wish I could write the kind of things I want to write and make money by doing that. But I lead a privileged life already and I don't think I will get that lucky too soon. By privileged, I mean that I don't have debts, I have a healthy family, I don't have psychological problems, and I am happy living in the place where I am living. Maybe my life is not luxurious, I know that, but most people I know don't have all four of the above-mentioned.

You can't make money if you don't project a certain image, and the right person working behind your blog to maintain that image. And I don't want to tarnish my image by using ads that degrade me. GoogleAds did just that. Serisouly, do people really click on 'hot dates' ads??? And more importantly, how did hot dates become synonymous with my blog?!

Maybe Google has matured since those days. Maybe things have changed. But one thing hasn't and that is that huge businesses use insignificant blogs like my own to make money for other people. This is my silent protest against those monsters: to run a blog on my own lines, without succumbing to advertising pressures and disclaimers. If I decide to monetize my blog, then I will have to accept that I will lose a part of myself. I won't be free to write what I want and I will be under greater scrutiny.

It is pertinent to quote the famous Cretan writer, Nikos Kazantzakis, writer of Zorba the Greek:
Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβούμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λεύτερος.
I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.

I am not as free as the quote suggests, as I have undertaken obligaitons and responsibilities, as a wife, mother and worker. But as I am now, I am my own person as much as I can be.

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

Monday 15 April 2013

Apple orange pudding (Πουτίγκα με μήλο και πoρτοκάλι)

At the moment, eggs are plentiful becuase they are in season. Go on, laugh all you like - during winter, hens don't lay so many, but as soon as the weather warms up, they do, and when it gets too hot, they stop again till it cools down, and they stop in winter. Last year, in one of Crete's coldest winters, I didn't get given many eggs. This year, in one of Crete's shortest winters (that wood fire stopped working at the beginning of March), I am constantly given eggs by friends and relatives, which means more omelettes and more desserts.  When you know the taste of real free-range eggs, you won't be able to go back to store-bought eggs in an omelette.

Although oranges are a year-round commodity, we notice that the summer variety (Valencia) is starting to ripen a little too quickly, again due to the good weather. So that's another seasonal commodity that needs to be used up creatively. Apart from fresh orange juice, orange can also be used a flavouring agent in sweets and savouries. 
We also had a lot of apples at home, due to the chidlren being given boxes of fruit at school under the asupices of the EU. They each brought home a box of fruit containing oranges, pears and apples. Unfortunately, the apples and pears were not in the best condition; they were OK under their mottly skin, but kids only notice the mottley skin. They went uneaten all through the week. 

In keeping with my frugal regime of using fresh produce creatively to ensure the family doesn't get bored with eating the same thing, I used our seasonal and abundant fresh produce and gifts, together with our own olive oil, to make a delicious dessert, based on a traditional recipe for English apple pudding.  
I recreated it in my Cretan kitchen, replacing (like I usually do) ingredients which I don't normally use (eg butter) with local produce (eg olive oil) in the batter (although I kept the butter in the syrup to make sure it congealed). Instead of milk, I decided to use freshly squeezed orange juice in both the cake and the syrup. The result was a heavily scented orange pudding, reminscent of the Greek portokalopita, a refreshing pie made with oranges which uses torn up sheets of filo pastry.
The syrup was poured out spoon by spoon over the pudding. What strayed to the bottom of the baking pan was eventually soaked up by the next day. 

This pudding made a fantastic breakfast to go with my sugarless morning coffee. All in all, it cost me a mere €1 to make. In this modern world, where we want to have more than we can afford but don't know how to do it without begging, stealing or borrowing, my thriftiness makes me feel that I can conquer the difficult financial hurdles that have been imposed on us. Since Thatcher's death, we are constantly reminded that the economy of a country cannot be run like a household:
Despite my dislike of Thatcher's policies, I could not help but have a regard for her commonsense attitude to good housekeeping, her wartime spirit of keeping the larder full of baked beans and dried goods just in case. Many economists despised this spirit, and warned her you couldn't run the country as you ran a household budget... (Guardian, 13/4/2013)
but at least I'm not trying to make my household go down the drain together with the country. And the country can be assured that I won't become Prime Minister.

 ©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.