Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Snacks from New Zealand and Crete (Μικροφαγητά)

There are a couple of days in the week, when I am away from home all day. It's important on these days for everyone to find something to eat when they get home. You might say that cooking is not necessarily a woman's job alone. Given the forthcoming global Woman's Day (March 8), I may agree with you, but only for argument's sake. Ask a man to work all day, pick up the children from school, help them with their homework, and cook a meal on top of that; he'll probably cook eggs and chips or plain pasta with grated cheese on a daily basis. There are very few kalofagas types in Crete in the true sense; those who have found one should be very grateful, for they are few and far between. Women's rights activists may not like what I'm saying, but hearing the truth about an issue isn't always easy to digest. I don't actually work many hours outside the home, so it's only natural that the family expects me to provide the meals. I don't mind being expected to do this, I love working with food.

But today is going to be a rather difficult one. After dropping off the children at school, I have to run a couple of errands in town, which is close to my first teaching hour for the day (which starts at 11.30am): a private English lesson at a student's home. He is studying at university, and didn't manage to obtain an English proficiency certificate while he was a school student, so now, in his free time, he is preparing to take an English proficiency test, which he will use in conjunction with his computer engineering degree to make him more marketable for future employment. After that, I have a couple of hours to kill, before my next lesson is due: a three-hour advanced English skills class, with Masters' students from all over the Mediterranean at a European-funded research institute in Hania. These classes are held once or twice a week as a method to improve the students' writing skills, as they must write their Masters' thesis in English at the end of their studies. There will be hour to kill before the final pitstop: another three hours of English proficiency test preparation to high school students at a private language institute for children of all ages. Learning English is compulsory formt he third year of primary school in Greece. Only the basics are taught through the state system, and most children attend a private language institute to gain greater proficiency in the language. Fortunately, in Hania, English is regarded as a vital skill, due to tourism playing a central role in the survival of the island's economy. Without knowledge of a second (and all too often nowadays), third language, one's employment opportunities are greatly reduced.

Luckily, each lesson is located within 5-10 driving minutes away from the previous one, so I don't have to worry about road rage. I suppose you've been counting the number of hours I'll be working, and how many I'll be killing on the road or in an office waiting for my next lesson: I come home at 10.15pm.

In any case, my freezer is always well-stocked for these difficult days, but there are also some other alternatives to deal with this mini-crisis:
  1. Cook a meal on the previous night (which I have no recollection of; either I was too tired, or I was blogging...),
  2. Give them leftovers (the leftover pastitsio went into the children's school lunch; I doubt they would want to eat a third serving of pastitsio over a period of three days this week),
  3. Warn everyone that they have to provide their own meals today, and get them to promise to clean up afterwards (which of course will induce them to order home-delivered pizza or take-out souvlaki).
Neither one of these options suits me today; if anyone would like to enjoy some junk food, I should be entitled to enjoy it with them. Which leads me to the last option:
  • Prepare some healthy snacks for them to peck on all day.
I like this one best because I love snacks myself. Snack food is often associated with bad eating habits, hardly surprising since most snack food these days is bought, mass-produced, fatty, high-calorie junk food. On Monday night (my other long working day), in relation to an article on obesity, I held a discussion with the school students about their eating habits, and here's what I discovered about the group of ten children in the class:
  • only 1 eats crunchy raw vegetables,
  • only 1 student's parents refuse to provide other food if some members of the family are fussy eaters and refuse to eat the main meal provided,
  • 1 child sneaks out to the mini-market in his area to buy chips and chocolates when his parents are having a midday snooze,
  • 1 prefers to eat meat on a daily basis if she can get it,
  • most children said that they never ate fish or beans,
  • a few children refuse to eat any vegetables whatsoever.
On the day I conducted this little survey, not one of the the children in the evening classes had beans for lunch. A few had salads with mainly a spaghetti meal; only one ate green vegetables for lunch. There was a major football match on television that night; most said that they would be eating pizza, souvlaki or pasta for dinner. It is said that Crete is where the Mediterranean diet originated from, but it's obvious that it won't be survived by the Cretans themselves at this rate. It will have the same fate as the Olympic Games; they started and ended in Greece, whereas it took a foreigner's foresight to revive them outside of Greece.

Even though I make a conscious effort to practice what I preach, this is not to say that junk food does not come into our house at all: we keep a few cans of soft drink in the house for visitors (we usually use them past their sell-by date); there are also a couple of packets of potato chips in the pantry (I notice that I bring them out when I'm experiencing a psychological 'downer'; crisps really do make you feel better); we do have chocolate in the house (which I keep away from the sight range of the children, in the highest drawer of the fridge - chocolate melts easily in a sunny Cretan kitchen). When I go to the organic food shop in Hania (GAIA), as I pass the counter to pay for my purchases, I must necessarily pass the chocolate bars, muesli bars, biscuits, cakes, etc by the cash register. If the children are shopping with me, they always ask me if they are allowed to take one. Most times, I let them because they don't get this 'junk' (no matter how organic it may be, it is still junk food).

Today's' snacks are the traditional Cretan dakos salad and a New Zealand teatime favorite: corn fritters. They represent my ambivalent feelings towards cooking and providing meals for the family, a mix of traditional and liberal attitudes prevailing in this household concerning food and lifestyle. These snacks were prepared in a very quick amount of time. They may be kept at room temperature if they are going to be eaten on the same day. They'll be left out on the kitchen benchtop with a cloth covering to keep away UFO's, both animate and inanimate. The benchtop is the most obvious place for snacks, especially the area close to the biscuit tin. Next to the fresh cooked snacks, I will also leave a couple of apples and bananas, a bag of oranges from our trees in the village, and some dried fruits (raisins, almonds and banana chips). That's plenty for everyone to snack on throughout the afternoon. They may not even remember to ask for a glass of warm milk before bedtime, which they like to dunk semi-sweet cheap shop-bought biscuits. The children will be sleeping by the time I come home. If I'm lucky, there'll be some snacks left over for me to eat while I watch the third series of Desperate Housewives...

(9 hours later - 10.15pm)
When I arrive back home, I find that all the fruit has been remained untouched, exactly where I had left it. Next to it, there's an open packet of crisps, and I find another (empty) one in the rubbish bin, along with the packaging from a chocolate bar. A couple of paximadia and corn fritters are missing from the trays; there are also two shot glasses in the sink.
"Where did the chips come from?" I asked my husband.
"Nikos came round to prune the grapevines," he replied.
Oh well, more leftovers.

And if you can't get hold of Cretan rusk to make dakos, here's another healthy alternative: the good old cheese (Cretan gruyere - graviera) and crackers, a favorite of Wallace and Gromit, who we watch a lot of in my house; had we not encountered them on DVD, we wouldn't have given a toss for this old favorite. Now my children love them, too.

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Banana cake muffins
Banana lassi
Apple cake
Carrot cake muffins
Chocolate walnut pancakes
Ladenia pizza
Fruit crumble
Sfakianes pites