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Thursday, 5 June 2008

Courgettes a la Bulgaria (Κολοκυθάκια α λα Βουλγαρία)

Aristotle wasn't feeling well one night, complaining of tummy ache. I usually ask my children to go to the toilet in such cases. This time, though, the tummy ache didn't go away, and it was still there the next morning, so I decided not to send him to school. We would visit the doctor and to kill two birds with one stone, Christine, who's starting primary school in September, could get the necessary verifications as to her state of health by a registered paediatrician, ophthalmologist and dentist, as Greek law states. Being the good Greek wife that I am, I had enough time to boil up the horta I had washed the previous day. All that was needed to complete the meal were some grilled meat patties to go with the greens; this could be done after returning home from the doctor's.

On the way to the doctor's, Aristotle said he felt fine and his stomach didn't hurt any longer. As we had set out to get other jobs done, I decided that we would treat the day as an outing. In any case, we had not seen Dr M, our lovely friend, in a while. She has never viewed us as paying customers, nor does she rush us out of her office, even though her waiting room is always packed. When I pay her, she insists that if I can't afford it, she'll take less from me. The care she offers and the advice she proffers is worth more than what I pay her. I say this, because this is the reason that I don't often go to her surgery. She's more than willing to help me out over the phone. After examining my children, she decided that they were healthy and Aristotle's tummy ache would probably not return, but as a precautionary measure, I could get free blood and urine tests done. Because Aristotle was born with a blood disorder which eventually cleared up on its own (after a year of having bi-monthly blood transfusions - no laughing matter), I decided to take her up on this. As she also had some business to attend to at the health centre where these tests are done (for non-Greek readers, this is the infamous IKA, which might be called the NHS in Britain, with similar connotations), she asked us to pick her up from her surgery after our little stroll in the laiki - the paediatrician's surgery is located on the same street that Wednesday's open-air market takes place - so we could drive out there altogether.

The laiki is filled with wonderful sights: the brightest coloured vegetables, the most delectable smells and aromas, as well as the cheapest T-shirts and kinkiest string underwear. With summer coming on, I decided to buy the children some summer shorts. A stall run by a friendly-looking Pontiac (I mean a Russian migrant with Greek origins from the Pontus region) was selling children's summer clothes. I picked up a pair of shorts for Aristotle. "This one, please," I said to the stall owner.

"No, mum, I want this one," said Aristotle. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my children have developed their own taste in clothes! Even the stall owner found them difficult to satisfy, as he had shown them almost all the available prints and styles before they finally came out with their own choice of a T-shirt and capri pants.

It was time to pick up the doctor. As we walked out to the car, Dr M pointed out the linden tree (we call it by its Latin name, 'tilio') whose spring blossoms were highly aromatic. She even managed to procure a bag of dried tilio for me from one of the locals - everyone knows and loves Dr M, which is completely understandable - ready to be made into a relaxing evening tea. The only problem is the location of the tree: it's on a main road with heavy traffic, which does defeat the purpose of imbibing a natural product. I'd like to believe that the leaves and blossoms were collected from the part of the tree facing the houses rather than the road, and that the car emissions rise to the higher parts of the tree, but this is also wishful thinking, isn't it?

tilio treetilio tree tilio tea

The Greek national health system works very well when you have insider information. You can get this by having a friend or relative 'inside' the system, or by the goodwill of an 'insider', which I had today. The doctor spoke to a specialist in child surgery, who got the blood and urine tests sorted out, as well as the dentist and opthalmologist, who were both quite non-plussed by the paediatrician's request that we be seen to without an appointment, which is a holy prerequisite in places like IKA. All this took a long time, which of course meant that we came home late, and there was no time to defrost and cook biftekia. It was probably one of those days when I would have preferred to call it a day and take a rest. A sandwich (something like the ones Val made recently) and a glass of water would have sufficed. No such luck for the Cretan wife - her man expects a cooked lunch, even if it's a light one. And I, the tired Greek wife, dream of finding a ready cooked meal on the table waiting for us.

bulgarian savoury dish

We both found what we were looking for from Georgia, the wonderful smiling Georgia, who waters our garden, digs up weeds, washed my carpets, sewed me a pair of shorts - she's a seamstress by profession - as well as a looking after my mother-in-law. On that day, she had cooked a dish that she often made in Bulgaria, which she says is quite popular in her country, as is the use of yoghurt in cooking, more so than in Greece where it is more often eaten as a side dish. As much as I insisted that I could not eat the food she had prepared for herself to eat, she insisted even more that I take it; being very hungry, I did. And here it is: fried zucchini slices dipped in a batter made with flour, eggs, water and salt, allowed to strain a little, and layered with tzatziki dip, which had been given a slight overdose of garlic. If I had to give it a name, I'd say it was another regional version of the famous borek.

It was delicious, I would definitely have it again, and I would serve it with biftekia, or another kind of simple grilled meat, something like lambchops. It's especially nice on a hot day, as the yoghurt is refereshing, and it is of ocurse served cold or at room temperature.

This post is dedicated to Georgia.

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