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Saturday, 31 May 2008

'Gourmet' zucchini rissoles (Κολοκυθόκεφτέδες του καλοφαγά)

(What I am about to write is in no way meant to be taken literally - it is really a play on words, and is not meant to be a scathing attack on anyone, nor a condemnation of someone's approach to their work. But if anyone is seriously interested in recipe copyright infringement, you light like to check out Alosha' s post to see the point I am making)

In the past, it wasn't easy to plagiarise other people's work simply because printed material was hard to come by, unless you bought it from a bookshop or borrowed it from a library. Now that the internet has allowed people to view someone's writing at the simple click of a button, plagiarism is ingrained in the daily life of Westernised people, whether they live in a modern New World country like Canada, or the backwaters of a Mediterranean island like Hania.

In Greece, plagiarism is the norm. Yes, really, it is. My work involves proof-reading students' English-language theses. In most cases, you can tell when someone has copy-pasted their work. For example, a paragraph is written perfectly without any grammar errors; then suddenly the next paragraph you read is riddled with grammar errors, making it virtually incomprehensible. The two paragraphs could not have been written by the same person. Here's another example of what I call 'vicarious' plagiarism. When a student can't write something himself (or herself - I'm into generic terms), he (which could also mean 'she') gets someone else to write something instead and uses it as their (which of course means 'his' or 'her') own work, without the other person getting any acknowledgement of their endeavours.

Kat had a recent episode of this where an official Greek state body copied her work from her blog without acknowledging it as someone else's work. Well, that stinks, really, which is exactly what Peter thought (the first person to comment on the post), when he read Kat's post: he advises her to "start with the niceties and then increase the pressure... if you can find their ISP, a complaint to them could also throw their site in jeopardy." Dark words, I dare say. At least I can sleep in peace with the thought that such a person will not plagiarise my writing, nor copy my ideas, at least not without acknowledging my own in the first place.

Stealing ideas and intellectual material is also a similar issue with that of plagiarism. On our blogs, we all use little blurbs, graphics and notes to inform our readers that we will not tolerate copy cats. For example, I write: "©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." at the bottom of all my posts, while on the main page, I use a couple of graphics: Creative Commons License and Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
that some nice people created (and have given rights to bloggers to use) to dissuade people from from copying their work. In the world of the internet, where a recent study using Web searches in 75 different languages to sample the Web determined that in 2008 there were at least 45 billion web pages, one can only come to the conclusion that there is a fat chance of ever being caught plagiarising.

The recipe world is one area where direct plagiarism can be softened, covered up or completely hidden - by changing one ingredient, or using a synonym of a word - which basically 'proves' that the author wrote up his (I'm not being generic this time) own work and didn't copy. Just because someone gets an idea for a recipe into his (HIS) head doesn't mean he (HE) copied the idea from someone else. In Crete, people generally eat the same kind of seasonal food no matter where they're from, so they can't be called copycats of each other. That's just part of what the Mediterranean food culture is all about. Instead of making Maria's courgette patties, Gordon Ramsay, upon reading it (I doubt he has had the good fortune to do so), could make (if he so pleased, but as far as I know, has not done so) 'zucchini rissoles' instead. As Pantelis says, "these are also known as fritters." He also said that you can "Call it what you want."

In any case, it just depends on your taste whims, what you cook from one day to the next doesn't it? I guess I just felt like zucchini rissoles (oops, I'm sorry, I meant courgette patties) after seeing the river of zucchini flowing out of the garden and into my refrigerator - an upward stream, like the Nile, the only known river in the world to flow from South to North, from bottom to up. Other cooks might make zucchini rissoles simply because they saw someone else making them, and felt like making them themselves. Or maybe they were passing by the fruit and vege stall after work and saw some zucchini (among the 80% of imported fresh produce their country eats) and decided that this is what they would like to eat tonight.

Mind you, I don't make it difficult for anyone to copy my recipes, what with the step-by-step photos of my meals and the clear explanations of how the ingredients are turned into something edible and delicious. Cretans have this thing about food: you just don't eat without inviting in the passerby. So if you're passing by my blog, you'll know that to make courgette patties (or zucchini rissoles, or kolokithokeftedes, as the Greeks would call them), a variety of different ingredients can be added to them. I didn't tell you in my original post that I've been served them with tomato at a restaurant. Some gourmets add cheese to theirs. I used fennel weed, although the norm is a mixture of mint and parsley (which is just what the gourmet used).

In any case, zucchini patties (now I don't know whose recipe I'm talking about) cannot be worked up in a jiffy: "courgettes have such a high water content that you need to get rid of it to make firm patties." That's the same as saying: "the key to Kolokithokeftedes' success ... relies heavily upon your ability to leech and squeeze out as much liquid from the grated zucchini as possible."

"The second point" that the leecher made was that the "the amount of bread crumb in this recipe is approximate. Again, the amount will depend on how much liquid you squeezed out of your zucchini that will be needed to bind your mixture." That's not at all like my recipe. I mentioned that I do this with flour, not breadcrumbs. In any case, if you stick an egg and some cheese into the patties (as did the "leech and squeeze", rather than the one who "got rid of the excess moisture"), the patties will definitely hold their form better (but they won't be truly vegetarian unless you're an egg-eating vegetarian). Mind you, he's not averse to lenten kolokithokeftedes, as he admits to eating them "with and without cheese."

And isn't it amusing, that all the points mentioned in the squeezer's are in the same order as mine? Maybe it's a case of great minds thinking alike.

So, which came first, the chicken or the egg? In the world of publishing, to prove that you wrote something, you must stick it in a sealed envelope, and send it registered to yourself, so that the date you sent it can be used as proof of when the article originated in its finished form. Blogs are dated, but then I could set the date for any time I like. Despite my claiming to have published the recipe on Tuesday, the 27th of May, 2008 (while the squeegee published his on Wednesday, the 28th of May, 2008, after admitting that he had seen mine by leaving a comment on the post: "AMAN! I'm making kolokithokeftedes tonight!"), I could have written it on Wednesday, and dated it for Tuesday. He even told one of his readers that he "saw Maria's entry on them" and he "left her a note as well."

But I was beaten on one point: we ate our zucchini patties with tzatziki, which the lovely Georgia from Bulgaria (the Queen's live-in) had made for us. I thought it would be cheating if I included it in my post. You see, I didnt' make it myself. I'm not a plagiariser. All my posts are thoroughly web-searched and credit is always given where it's due. The combination of zucchipatties and tzatziki makes it look as though we are both what we eat, and that is we are both Greeks.

I'm not amazed that Peter's courgette patties were a love affair for him - especially after I talked about the connotations of the topic of size and length in Greece. I'm just amazed that he didn't (originally) acknowledge it to me; maybe I had no effect on him in the first place (although he did say he reads through his friends' blogs). In any case, I am not a cook - I've already stated that in my posts - so don't go searching through my recipes for what to eat tonight. Instead, think of me as a famous writer who makes her readers laugh themselves silly with what she writes about.

Thank you Peter, for taking my mind off my domestic mini-crisis, which I promise you all will have a nice ending, because that's the way all good stories should end, shouldn't they?

©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, 29 May 2008

The first boureki of the season (Μπουρέκι)

Now that the garden is in full swing, we are eating mainly what we grow, which is highly cost-effective for us: the rising cost of living is burning holes in our pocket. I dare not use the car these days for fear of emptying the gas tank. At the supermarket the other day, a Danish tourist was horrified to realise that what she wanted to buy would cost her more than 20 euro (2 bottles of local wine and some cold cuts were among the few things she had in her basket), which in her country, she explained to me, would have cost half the price.

"Look what I'm buying," I told her, "and see what I'm paying for it" - 3 half kilo loaves of bread, 6 bread rolls, 1 kilo of mizithra and a packet of ladies sanitary towels (the Queen has yet again changed brands): 16 euro and 26 cents.

"Oh my God," she exclaimed, "that's exorbitant."

Having a garden is not cost-free, but it is certainly cheaper than buying everything whenever you need it. We can't eat everything as it grows, so the deep freeze is working over time as of late.

I've already posted about courgette-potato bake, which we call boureki in Crete, but you simply can't post enough about it. I made two on Thursday, neither of which we ate: they both went straight into the deep freeze, in their freshest form possible. Making boureki is simply a question of assembly: it takes about half an hour to prepare it, so you wonder why it needs three hours to cook - and 20 minutes to devour it. It's all to do with chemistry: whether it's the juices from the potatoes and/or the courgettes, or the galactic acids of the mizithra, in combination with the other ingredients, I have no idea, but it's somewhere in there that makes boureki time consuming to cook.

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You need:
5-6 large courgettes, cut into thin slices
5-6 large potatoes, cut into thin slices
750g mizithra
a few sprigs of mint, chopped finely
salt
3 tomatoes, cut into thin rounds
olive oil

Layer half the zucchini slices on the bottom of a deep baking pan. Then do the same with half the potato slices. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the potatoes. Season with salt (we do not add pepper in boureki for inexplicable reasons) and the mint. Now layer the remaining potatoes over the cheese and press them down so that the dish starts to look like a pie. Now add the final layer of courgettes and liberally pour some oil over the boureki. Top all this with the tomato slices, and you are done. Cook in a moderate oven until the potatoes are done (it will take a long time, as I explained above). During the cooking process, you will need to add water as the potato takes in all liquids.

After making my boureki on that hot summer's day) and putting them into the deep freeze, I felt a deep sense of fulfillment, in that way that Michael Pollan described in Omnivore's Dilemma, when he hunted and gathered his own food. In the morning, before my boureki making foray, I was accompanying my husband in the fields of our orange groves, watching him toil away, producing a kilo of sweat, trying to keep uncontrollable weeds at bay.

At 3.30pm I went to school to pick up my children. The happiness, peace, satisfaction, contentment and pride that I had felt in that last hour while I was in my kitchen was shattered once I arrived at school. But that's another story, the last episode of which has not been written yet - it takes place on Monday morning in the headmaster's office.

©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, 27 May 2008

Courgette patties - kolokithokeftedes (Κολοκυθοκεφτέδες)

My husband rushed into the kitchen excitedly: "How dja wannit, honey? Long, short, medium, extra large?"

"I'm only used to one size, darling," I replied, "and I'm quite content with that, thank you."

We picked the first of the crop only last week. But we have an over-abundance of zucchini in the fridge, mainly because my uncles' farm is over-producing. In fact, every day, they gather about 10 courgettes about as long as my (please forgive me) arm, and leave them in a crate under a shady hundred-year-old olive tree. When I visit them, they always ask me if I want to pick some zucchini from the garden.

"We've got courgettes for horta, and you'll find a few to make boureki, too." What they mean is that they are the only two ways that they themselves eat zucchini (they're bachelors and cook only traditional Cretan cuisine). The courgettes for horta are picked before they start getting too big, say about as large as a (please forgive me) carrot, while the ones for boureki are as long as my (you've already forgiven me) arm. Size and length are still taboo subjects for some age-groups and classes in Greece.

"What's wrong with the ones in the crate?" I asked them the last time I visited the farm.

"Oh, I was gonna chop 'em up and give 'em to the chickens," one of them told me. They do that with their excess produce, along with the potato peelings and all their vegetable scraps, as well as all the weeds in the garden.

Courgette patties - kolokithokeftedes - can be made from all sizes (do forgive me) of courgette; if the zucchini gets too (I'm sorry) large, just remove the seeds if they seem tough. They are not something you can whip up in a jiffy: courgettes have such a high water content that you need to get rid of it to make firm patties. Some cooks add tomato, others cheese, yet other eggs; I make mine completely lenten. Cheese and eggs can easily be added to this recipe; the egg helps bind all the ingredients, while cheese makes them more crusty. Tomato pulp needs to be strained before being added to the mixture.

To make 20 medium-sized patties, you need:
1 large courgette (or a few small ones)
1 onion, grated finely (I used green onion tops instead; they exude a lighter aroma)
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped (optional; I like the combination of onion and garlic in my food)
a posy's worth of dill, finely chopped (I used fennel, as it's growing like wildfire here; feel free to substitute dill with your favorite herb - a good alternative is mint, parsley, or a combination of these)
1/2 cup of fine breadcrumbs
1/2 cup of flour
salt and pepper

The first step in making courgette patties is to get rid of all excess water in the zucchini. Grate the courgette into a colander and sprinkle salt liberally all over it. Place the colander into another container and allow it to sweat for at about two hours. Fresh zucchini will easily yield a small glass of water. Don't worry if you haven't got enough time to allow the zucchini to sweat it out on its own; in any case, you will help it along by picking up fistfuls of gratings and squeezing them of all excess liquid. To help all the herbs blend in with the zucchini, I usually mix all the gratings along with the herbs (ie, zucchini, onion, garlic, herbs, pepper) and squeeze them dry altogether.

Once you have strained the vegetable mixture well (you will end up with half the original bulk), add the breadcrumbs to the mixture and mix them in well. Then add the flour, mixxing in enough to make a stiff dough. You may need a little more or a little less, depending on how well you strained the zucchini. Shape the mixture into flat patties and dredge them in flour. Drop them into boiling hot oil and let them cook till they turn golden brown in colour, turning them over to cook on the other side. When they are done, place them on absorbent paper to dry.

Courgette patties make a great alternative to meat patties (my I-never-eat-greens son thought he was eating a hamburger when I stuck one of these in a bun) and can be served with a tomato salad, or any bean dish. This is one of the few dishes I make that doesn't freeze well.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by wanderingchopsticks.

©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, 26 May 2008

Carrot love cake (Kέικ καρότου με αγάπη)

I recently asked a fellow blogger to pass on her favorite recipe for carrot cake. When I made this cake, I couldn't help notice how beautiful the raw ingredients looked before I mixed them into batter. I fell in love with the colours. I'm sure you'll agree with me. And if you think how healthy it is - oil instead of margarine or butter, brown instead of white sugar and flour, carrots instead of chocolate - you have actually put a lot of love into it, especially when you make it for people you love very much. So here it is: carrot love cake, by aforkfulofspaghetti.

You need:
6 oz carrots
2 eggs
4 oz raw brown sugar
3 fl. oz vegetable oil
4 oz wholemeal flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
2 oz dessicated coconut
2 oz raisins (optional; don't include them if you have fussy eaters in your household)

1. Grease and line an 7 inch square cake tin. Heat oven to gas mark 5.
2. Finely grate the carrots.
3. Whisk eggs and sugar in bowl (over a large bowl of hot water) until thick and creamy.
4. Whisk in the oil slowly, and then add the remaining ingredients. Mix to combine evenly.
5. Spoon the mixture into the tin, level the surface, and bake for 20-25 mins.
6. Cool on a wire rack.

This cake is usually iced with cream cheese (and maybe some orange juice and/or zest mixed in). Definitely not a Greek combination, savoury cheese with cake. We just ate it as it was.

©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, 25 May 2008

The annual Wellington Cretans Association picnic (Το ετήσιο πικνίκ της Αδελφότητας Κρητών του Ουέλλιγκτον)

My idea of the perfect picnic was one where the picnic site was covered in green grass, the picnic was placed on a blue-and-white gingham tablecloth, the plates and cutlery were all contained in a picnic basket, and the food did not resemble the kind of food we ate on a daily basis at home. I imagined pies, muffins, prepared juices, and all kinds of food you could pick with your fingers without getting dirty. Our family picnics never turned out that way, or at least the one and only picnic we went to every year. It was never a gingham-tablecloth affair. Instead, it was a hullabaloo of expatriates from the Mediterranean island of Crete, playing Cretan music from ghetto blasters hooked up to car batteries, breaking out into Cretan jigs and eating barbecued New Zealand lamb - the annual Cretans' Association of Wellington summer picnic.

On the eve of the picnic, the preparations would start, headed, as always, by my mother. Out would come the blue and yellow tumblers bought from a school fundraising venture - they were stored near the untouched packets of Girl Guides biscuits, also bought from another fundraising event. Naturally, we took those along with us, as it would be a good way to get rid of them (we preferred Super Wine at home) This was the one time we used plastic plates and cutlery, stocking up more than we needed, 'just in case; and don't forget to pack a sharp knife'. Boiled potatos and eggs would go in one large tupper bowl, while cucumbers, tomatoes and onions would go into another to make a salad. A recycled Coke bottle was filled with our salad dressing. The lamb chops would be marinated overnight in lemon juice, oregano and salt. A loaf of bread was also thrown into the crate, recycled from the fish and chip shop my parents owned, from where we also picked up a few bottles of Coca-cola and Leed lemonade. All the men drank beer; no one got drunk.

Thermos flasks would be filled with Greek coffee for 'afters', which were always accompanied by koulourakia and kalitsounia. My mother never waited for Easter to make those; they were a staple part of our regular diet. Whereas the meat and salad was more for our own family, the Cretan dishes were always shared out among other picnickers, who would do the same with their hampers. "Have a koulouraki with your coffee, Athina", "Try my kalitsounia Ioanna, I made the mizithra myself."

On the morning of the picnic - always, ALWAYS on a Sunday, because, back then, it was still a regarded as a weekend - we would skip church, the only time we were legitimately excused from the Sunday liturgy. A group of related families would set up a meeting point close to the highway, where their cars would form a convoy going from the Ngauranga Gorge to Upper Hutt, where Maidstone Park was located. Even though this was an annual picnic, whose site rarely changed from one year to the other, people still got worried that they would get lost and take a wrong turn, even though all the drivers - men of course - had been going to the nearby Trentham Race Course regularly enough, betting on the gee-gees; the picnic site was only a few kilometres away.

It wasn't as if the picnickers did not see each other regularly during the week to warrant such an ado about attendance at the annual Wellington Cretans' Association picnic. During the week, they would meet each other at the fish markets or the potato wholesalers. At weekends, invariably, someone was celebrating their nameday. Or there would be a Greek dance at the hall, maybe even a baptism or a wedding; a young person might be celebrating their 21st birthday party. On Sundays the women sit next to each other on the right wing of the Greek Orthodox Church, which was actually the left-hand side viewed from the altar (but no one complained about women's rights in the Greek Orthodox church). The men would gather at their own ekklisia, the Panhellenic Association of Wellington, for a round of poker. The annual Wellington Cretans Association picnic was an extension of the community, q wider form of networking, a kind of outdoor church service, where one could do what they did at church anyway, make polite conversation, catch up with gossip and find out what was happening int he general community, the main difference being that dress was informal. The Cretans moved about in their social circles as if they were still living in Crete. Contact with non-Greeks was minimal - they didn't know their neighbour's names, nor did they ever try to learn it.

The picnic was always scheduled on the last weekend of January before the summer holidays were over - unless it was postponed to the first Sunday of February. Wellington is well known for its extremely stable climatic conditions; you could always count on WWW: Windy Wet Weather. Summer was summer for about 20 fine days (if you were lucky) in the three months that typically formed the season. We never knew what kind of weather we would find at the other end of our two-hour trip. The journey would start in Mt Victoria with windy sunny conditions, and end up with a windless downpour in Upper Hutt, in which the Hutt river would be ready to burst its banks. I always felt that I had let down my parents when they had driven so many miles only to come back home drenched. As my father drove on, I kept my fingers crossed that the rain would stop. If I told them to turn back, I might have sounded like a spoilsport, especially if they heard from the other picnickers that they had had a good time. If I told them to continue, I sounded like a whinging nagging child. It was a no-win dilemma. Sometimes the rain stopped; other times it didn't. We'd see the weather turning bad all of a sudden on the motorway, but there was no turning back; mobile phones didn't exist. You could not check with the rest of the party whether it was worth continuing, so you just carried on driving. And hoped for the best.

The last time I went to the annual Wellington Cretans' Association picnic, the sun was shining in all its glory in Wellington, despite the wind, which was part and parcel of living in this city. I hadn't wanted to go, but I knew I would sound stingy, as if I didn't want to pay the $20 fee per person. Or maybe I would sound like a snob, that I didn't want to meet up with others my own sort; maybe people would think I thought of myself as superior to them. I could never get away from the fact that I was born a Cretan; even if my passport didn't make it clear, my name, my olive skin, my dark features all gave it away. My parents started off in the same way that these expatriates did, the only difference being that they (the ex-pats) did not return to the mother country for simple reasons: their children had married in New Zealand, their own parents had died, their next-of-kin had grown too old to be interested in their relatives living in the xeniteia, leaving them with no real reason to visit Crete other than nostalgia. They were always one foot in the door, so to speak; their feet were firmly planted on Wellington soil, but their hearts were set in Crete. I imagined myself having stayed on in Wellington, and shuddered.

I couldn't put it in words why I would have preferred not to attend the picnic, but I understood why when I got there: nothing had changed. The picnickers were the same, only older, and fewer. Even the tartan blankets and thermos flasks looked over-used. I felt as if I had travelled back in time, back to the days when the Cretan community was still organising weddings and baptisms instead of funerals and mnimosina. The Wellington Cretans had remained the same, as if they had never moved away from their villages, and had simply built a new one at the other end of the world to accomodate them.

The park was the only thing that had changed; it had been slightly refurbished, with the addition of a new roller-blader's paradise, probably attracting more street kid culture than was desirable. The mini-railroad and swimming pools had been removed, instead of being upgraded and made safer. The family element of the park I remembered eluded me at that moment. I hadn't realised how large the park was until that last trip. The tall trees bordered the gently undulating hills surrounding the picnic site. There were paths leading away from the main picnic area into denser forest. Somehow, they represented what New Zealand had always been for me: a safety net, as long as you didn't stray away from the main road. The paths led to the side of New Zealand that I had only heard about from the news, but never seen: Friday night binge drinking, teenage pregnancies, glue sniffing.

This time, I had no father to drive me to the picnic site; I sat in the driver's seat. At one point, my mobile phone rang. It was my cousin, complaining that I was driving too slowly and could be reprimanded by a traffic officer for causing a traffic accident. I was driving 70km per hour, my regular Hania speed. I asked my taxi-driver husband if he would like to take the wheel. He cracked up laughing. "I've never driven an automatic before, I've only ever driven on the right-hand side and I don't even know where I'm going!" So I continued driving, and tried to drive as fast as I would allow myself before freaking out when I saw the speedometer.

We arrived at the park and found a place to park. The barbecue had been set up and the first lamb chops were coming off the grill. Things had become a little less BYO, perhaps in an attempt to lure more people to the event. The open green fields of the park were a haven for the children. Aristotle was running haphazardly, arms spread out feeling the wind against them, like a dog let off its leash and chasing its tail.

Everyone wanted to meet my husband, who epitomised the macho species of the Cretan role model, the real McCoy complete with Cretan dialect. Were we to have overstayed our sojourn in Wellington, his presence would have been the new blood that was so needed in a community facing extinction. But they were dismayed to find that he was too pale-looking, like a blond, blue-eyed Scandinavian tourist, to be Cretan. Where was the twirling moustache, the woven headscarf, the black shirt? He never took off his jacket the whole time we were at the park, complaining that the breeze was too strong for his liking, even though Wellington had put on a fantastic display of its finest sunniest weather for the annual Cretans Association of Wellington picnic that year.

My attention was constantly being demanded by my the other picnicker: "Oh my God, Maria, it's you!" "Welcome back!", "Are these your children?" People who hadn't seen me 15 years suddenly wanted to learn everything that had happened in my life since I left. They always asked me if I missed New Zealand. I didn't really like enjoy answering this one.

"Well, there's always something you miss when you're away," I lied; I didn't finish off by saying from home. We were due to leave in a few days; I looked forward to returning to my Cretan house on the top of a hill with its panoramic vista looking out towards Souda and the ferry boat.

It was during one of those conversations - someone wanted to know if we still threw our used toilet paper in a pedal-lid rubbish bin next to the porcelain instead of flushing it in the toilet - that I lost sight of the children. I had bought along a pram for Christine to nap in. But Aristotle treated it like a toy. "Pao volta," he would say, and start pushing it while she sat in it. I was constantly looking left, right and behind of me as I was talking, keeping an eye on them. But that park was enormous; and they say it only takes a second to lose a child running on limitless energy.

"Aristotle? Christine?" It was useless to call their father to help me. I didn't know where he was either. I Looked around, but I didn't know where to start looking; the park was like a giant unfenced field. They could be anywhere. I looked around to find the other children that they were playing with. I suddenly realised that not only the Cretans' Association of Wellington were staging their annual picnic; there was a huge crowd of Indians - or were they Pakistanis? And another group of Chinese - or were they Taiwanese, or Chinese Malaysians? At that moment, it was insignificant what they were; they were not one of us.

I looked around randomly, heart beating, panic coming over me, just like any person in the world would feel when they lose their child - in my case, all my children - in a large drove of strange faces, trying to remember where I last saw them, what they were wearing, what they were playing with. This is how I found Christine; she was sitting in her pram, parked under a tree. Aristotle must have been distracted by something and let go of the pram.

Christine was too young to be able to tell me which direction he had disappeared into. I grabbed the pram and began stroller-jogging, calling out his name, starting among the Greek families and the myriads of foreign faces of the Indo-Chinese picnickers, who were greater in number than the Cretans. They were clearly more established in New Zealand, a settled minority whose cultural links were strengthened by recent migration; they were not planning to leave the country and return to their homelands like the Cretans, many of whom were happily picking up their New Zealand pensions in the mother country.

I can' t remember how much time I spent looking and screaming panic-stricken. I eventually saw Aristotle being led by the hand by a Chinese woman who was also pushing a pram, a larger one in brighter colours, with a little umbrella on the side to shade the baby.

"Aristotle!" I shouted. He looked very happy. He looked up and ran to me.

"Is this your son?" she asked me in a New Zealand accent, with a slightly perplexed look on her face. I suppose she thought I was a bad mother, leaving my child unattended. She wouldn't have believed me if I told that this was the first time it had ever happened to me. The woman stared at Christine - or was she looking at the pram? I think she was thinking the same thing that I was. I didn't ask her where she found my son; it was easy to guess what had happened. Aristotle must have taken off with the other pram while the mother was sitting on a picnic blanket next to it. She probably jumped up alarmed and stopped him. He was clearly not part of her clan. She might have asked him where his mummy was, and he would've answered: "Ekei pera" (= over there). I wonder if she tried to recognise the language; it would have all sounded Greek to her.

I don't know if I will get a chance to attend another of the Wellington Cretans' Association picnics in my lifetime. The numbers of the members have dwindled down to only a trickle. The brotherhood is in danger of extinction, and the ex-patriates have started calling themselves Mediterranean kiwis; perhaps they might take up flying lessons some 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, 23 May 2008

Food for thought (Φαγητό για τον εγκέφαλο)

They just arrived in the mail:

When I finish reading them, I'll tell you how the Cretan cuisine relates to them.
After all, we are what we eat.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Green onion spiral pie (Στριφτόπιτα με φρέσκα κρεμμύδια)


"Welcome ladies and gentlemen," announced Delilah Rawson to the cameramen, "to the DDG's Cook Your Own," all smiles as she spoke, even though just a few minutes earlier she had been screaming down the telephone at her partner - whom she preferred to call husband, but was worried that her lesbian producer would find out and regard her as old-fashioned - about not flushing the toilet after he does his business.

She picked up a zucchini flower. "We all love flowers, don't we?" Rhetorical questions were the norm in her regurgitated dialogues. "But which one of you would consider eating them?" She didn't intend to do this, either; the spiral pie that she was about to concoct was to be dished out amongst the camera crew, most of whom were flatting and willing to eat foliage of any sort. Ten years ago, Delilah had been experimenting with foliage rolled up in cigarette paper. This was still somewhat in vogue amongst her colleagues, but vegetarianism had caught on to the point that it was overtaking the former fad. Besides, if she ate whatever she cooked, she'd do more damage than good to her reputation as a dietary expert, and then she'd be out of a job; she couldn't think of any celebrity cook who weighed more than 65 kilos tops. She had brought along a packet of low-salt low-fat cream crackers for when she felt peckish. She never cooked at home either - her mother lived next door and always had a freshly cooked pot of food ready for her husband and daughter. No one complained.

"Isn't it lovely?" she held the flower up to the camera for the cameraman to zoom in on it. "We're going to add it to a pot ..." - her mind flashed back to the days when she grew her own pot - "... full of fresh steaming garden greens which are going to be turned into a pie filling ..." When she first started out as a TV cook, she embraced her job with all the energy needed to become a successful celebrity. Ten years on, staying a celebrity was hard work. For a start, she was getting old, and her body was starting to show it: sagging tits, grey hair, laugh lines. Ten years of fine dining and experimental kitchens had also taken their toll on her waistline; it ws getting harder not to gain weight. She had hardly had enough time to apply her TV makeup this morning, what with the maid doing a runner on her (the Polish girl she employed had decided to elope with the neighbour's gardener), having to drive her daughter to school because the taxi she ordered broke down on the way, and jogging five rounds of the stadium before she came into work. After her run, she came back home to change into her TV clothes; upon entering the bathroom, her olfactory senses confronted the mess created by her artist husband and that was enough to bring her to tears.

She had been intending to cook Greek dolmadakia with the zucchini flowers on this week's show - which was always pre-recorded, as it was feared her surprise tantrums would upset some members in a live audience - but somehow the rice she had ordered in the food box for this week's show - she never shopped herself for any ingredients, although this was kept secret from the public lest her image as a successful wife, mother and cook become tarnished - never turned up. Instead there was a carton of eggs. She had arrived late for this morning's recording, and the studio was miles aways from humanity.

The show must go on, no matter what; she had promised her viewers from the previous week that she would be using zucchini flowers in this week's show, and she had to think up of something fast. She had checked out the contents of the box and was surprised to find a huge amount of the leafy green tops of onion plants - but no onions. Somebody thinks they're being very funny, she thought. She wondered whether she was being sabotaged by one of her rivals, maybe Oliver James, a past boyfriend who she had smoked that pot with. Lately he had criticised her for her overuse of garden greens in her recipes, saying she was only doing it for sensationalism, a pretentious aspiration to be in with the latest fashion which was now eco-awareness and environmental friendliness. He had wanted to co-host the show with Delilah, but had been rejected for the position, as DDG relegated him to hosting a culinary roadshow, which meant travelling for six months of the year, causing his relationship to break up.

So what was she going to do with fresh onion tops and zucchini flowers for today's show? She checked the contents of the fridge: some filo pastry from the last recording session, and a pot of unopened cottage cheese. It will have to do.

"... onion pie with fresh garden herbs," she continued, "just another way to cook your own."

*** *** ***

To make onion bulbs grow larger, the fresh leafy green tops can be cut away form the bulbs and used instead of regular onions. The only problem with them is that they are tougher to chew than regular onions, and for this reason they need to be stewed in some oil before being made into a pie. Most greens go well with some herbs. Use one or two of whatever you have handy: I prefer mint and parsley. Fennel is similar to dill, and there is an abundant supply of this growing all over Hania at the moment. Courgette flowers are a way to add colour to an otherwise very emerald mixture; they add their own taste to any meal.

Onion pies (I googled the first 20 sites I came across) contain about 75% onion (or leek, or spring onion, or a mixture of all), some herbs (one wacky cook even dared to use dorito chips in his!!!) some kind of soft mizithra-like cheese, eggs (most likely to bind the ingredients) and for those who can't do without a dose of meat in their diet, some streaky bacon. Onion pies are usually open-faced, so they should really be called onion tarts. My favorite kind of pie is the Greek-inspired spiral type, which is what I've decided to make today. Here's a most original mixture for a very alternative onion pie, the kind that Delilah had to create to save her public face.

You need:
1/4 cup olive oil
the green tops of fresh onions (the more tender, the better)
a small bunch of fennel (or dill, or mint, or a small amount of your favorite herbs)
a clove of garlic (optional; I used about 15 of the tiniest cloves that had come away from the heads of the garlic I had just dug up from the garden and tired into bunches)
a few courgette flowers (optional: I added these to make the pie more colourful)
2 eggs
200g soft white curd cheese (I used the famous Cretan mizithra of course)
salt and pepper
fresh paper-thin pastry (5-6 sheets for a round 8" tin)

Stew the chopped onion tops with the salt and pepper for about 20-30 minutes (depending on how tender they are) in the oil, adding the finely chopped herbs, minced garlic and chopped courgette flowers half-way during cooking time. Let the mixture cool, and then add the eggs and cheese. Mix thoroughly.

Lay a sheet of pastry on your worktop and place some filling on one side, leaving a small margin at the ends of the pastry sheet. Roll it up, and place it in a round baking tin. Repeat the process until all the mixture is used up and the baking tin is filled. If there is not enough mixture, fill up some pastry sheets in the same way with soft curd cheese. This way, the pie will be compact, and everyone can have whichever flavour pleases them. Brush the top of the pie with copious amounts of olive oil. Cook it in a moderate oven, until it is golden brown on top (about 30-40 minutes). Don't cut it until it has slightly cooled, otherwise it may lose its shape.

This is my entry to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Sweetnicks.

MORE PIES:
Kalitsounia fried
Kalitsounia in the oven
Marathopites
Hortopita (spanakopita)
Tiropitakia
Filo-pastry making
Sfakianes pites
Summer kalitsounia
Easter kalitsounia

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

The supermarket (Το σουπερμάρκετ)

Last Thursday, I didn't want to take my son to school. He had been coughing and sneezing since coming home from school on Wednesday. So I kept him at home the next day. Nothing remarkable about that. But there is something remarkable about a child causing trouble at school when it is absent. On Thursday morning - it wasn't even 9 o'clock - while I was at home nursing my sick child, the headmaster called me on my mobile phone. I recognised his voice instantly. Why did he sound so grave?

Not knowing what to think, apart from wondering if I should have called the school earlier to report my son's absence, I waited expectantly, receiver stuck to my ear. I usually phone the school to inform the teacher that my child is ill, but on that particular morning, I got caught up in other jobs, such as trying to work out how I was going to procure our daily bread requirement, sick child in tow, among other things. No one plans on staying home to look after a sick child; you wake up in the morning and realise that your day's schedule will have to be shelved and the only outing you'll make is to take the kitchen waste to the local collection bin, and maybe pick zucchini flowers from the garden.

"And Aristotle...?" Aristotle what? His sentence sounded unfinished. Surely, the correct question is: How is Aristotle? "He's ill today, that's why he's not at school."

The headmaster's voice continued in its serious tone. "Yes, well, you really must inform us... it's all been a misunderstanding... some children said they saw him..." For the first hour that morning, the whole school had been desperately seeking Aristotle.

I was amazed that another child's word could be taken so seriously. Did they check to find Aristotle's schoolbag? Did they ask the children who 'saw' him what clothes Aristotle was wearing that day? What really disturbed me was that everyone who sees my son coming to school every single morning would know that his mother takes him right into his classroom, not just to the school gate. This is why I didn't ever want to send him back to school - unless his father went to see the headmaster to explain how his wife felt about the whole situation (being bullied in one's absence), which is why my husband ended up driving to school the next day with me on Friday morning.

The headmaster looked positively mortified at my reaction, and promised to make sure that this fiasco will never be repeated at my child's expense (he was very apologetic that this incident should have caused such a commotion in our house) as well as ensuring that the children in question will never again pretend to have seen my son in the football pitch (which is forbidden to first-year pupils anyway) carrying his bag (boy, do they have a wild imagination), and be severely reprimanded for telling lies and causing a disturbance of the peace, we left the school at about 9 o'clock. I felt time was already running out as I started to think of the errands that needed to be run before picking up the children from school; my husband had sensed the emotional upheaval I had just been through and offered to help me by driving me right up to the door of where I wanted to go (like a personal chauffeur) while I dashed in and out of various places. He doesn't provide his chauffeur skills to his family on a regular basis, so I felt this was my lucky day, and wondered how I could manage to pull off another such stunt at a later date.

I wanted to buy some mizithra from my favorite cheese maker at the Agora. Cheese can be bought at the supermarket, but it's a completely different experience buying it freshly made by the shop owner. But it's also a nightmare finding a place to park in the town centre, so this was a good opportunity to dash from one side of town to the other, without wasting time. My husband's a dab hand at double parking the car: had I tried to do this, I would have been tooted and honked at. What is it that men have that allows them to get away with non-road code driving tactics?

"If we're going to the Agora, how about buying some more of that fresh locally-raised chicken from the Akrotiri poultry farm?" he suggested. I have no idea how people can put it into their head that fresh meat bought from one particular place will be raised in exactly the same way, cook in exactly the same way, and taste exactly the same every time it is bought from that same place. Am I missing a point here? In any case, I buy meat from a butcher who recognises me as a regular customer. Isn't that the reason why he always gives me good meat - to make sure I go back to him? Or is it the chicken?

I was greeted in the usual friendly way shop owners treat their regulars. "One Papadakis chicken please." As I waited for it to be cut up and wrapped, a group of English tourists passed by the butcher's, beer bellies flopping over their low-waist bermuda shorts, skinny white legs in full view; I silently thanked God for being born Greek.

My husband had parked the car in the shade in front of some other cars in a parking meter zone. The minaret from Agios Nikolaos was staring down at us. I suddenly remembered that I had a bag full of old children's clothes in the boot of the car that I wanted to get rid of, so we made a stop at the church's charity office. When I opened the boot, I found Georgia's parcel which had been crashing from one side to the other all the time we had been driving. My mother-in-law's live-in Bulgarian nurse wanted to send her son, who was living in England, a hand-held foam mixer, the kind used to mix frappe coffee. Her son insisted that such an item did not exist in the whole of Bristol where he lived; since he flatted with other Bulgarians, I suppose I had to believe that not one of them had ever some across a hand-held battery operated milkshake mixer before in the land they had migrated to. He was distraught that he could not have his favorite coffee (despite its low-grade qualities), and his mother was distraught that he was not happy. I tried to explain to her to tell her son that he had to ask for an electric shaker, and surely he would be able to buy it from where he was living, but to no avail; she would not rest until she heard that the parcel had been sent, which meant another mad dash across town to the post office, and embarrassed looks as the staff asked me what the packet contained, and where it was going.

"Do you mind stopping off at the supermarket? I only need a few things." I hardly ever shop with husband or children (the dangers are obvious), and never without a shopping list: today's had milk, bananas, apples, yoghurt, bread, rolls, butter, potatoes, tomatoes and incontinence pads (the Queen uses them). Friday is better than Saturday for supermarket shopping, when it's less crowded. Saturday is couples' excursion day, and the largest supermarket in Hania is regarded as an entertainment centre. I hate going shopping on Saturdays for this reason: everyone (except myself) is with their spouse, comparing products and prices (don't buy this one; the other one's 2 for the price of 1), filling their trolley with things they've never bought before (wonder what this is? shall we try it?) and giving each other secret smiles when they see what others are putting into their trolleys. It's not enough that they've jammed the aisles with two people per trolley, they even wear their 'good' clothes.

As we entered the INKA supermarket near Agious Apostolous beach, I didn't realise that today I was going to have a Saturday morning shopping experience like the one my fellow Haniotes have. This is what happens when you shop with your spouse. Our first stop was the aisles at the entrance, stacked with women's hygiene products. List in hand, I searched for you-know-who's preferred brand of incontinence pad (no changing that one - the Queen knows what's best for her); my husband's eyes scanned the shelves.

"Do we need any toilet paper?" he asked me. If something's not on my meticulously planned list, I can safely assume that we probably have enough of it or never use it, in accordance with the various shopping strategies consumer societies proffer to help people budget correctly. However, in today's foray in the world of consumer expenditure, we probably broke quite a few of those golden rules:

- always carry a list
x - bring just enough money to buy what is on your list
x - avoid buying sale items unless you can compare the sale price with the original price
√ -
think about how much time you have to cook what you buy
x -
never shop on an empty stomach
x - stick to a shopping routine in order to keep the trip short and effective
x - make sure you sort through coupons, keeping only those for products you actually need
x - avoid convenience items which you can prepare yourself
√ - make sure you understand the wording on the packaging and labels
x - buy generic brands, especially for staple items
x - keep your receipts to track prices in the future and to check for mistakes
x - try to shop when you are happy (everyone has their off days; it was husband's turn)
- avoid bringing your children (but if you have to, they tell you to turn shopping into an educational experience, trip)

On that last note, the word 'spouse' can be substituted for children:
x - avoid bringing your spouse along if you are the chief budgeter and shopper in the household.

"Wow, look at the range of baharia!" To get to the refrigerated goods, we passed an aisle whose shelves were stacked with baking goods and various spices. He was mesmerised - and who wouldn't be? - with the variety of colours and textures in the contents of the attractive jars.

"Do we need any bay leaves?" he enquired, completely forgetting that we have a laurel tree in the village providing us with years' worth of supplies of bay leaves. His visit to the supermarket was more of a virtual reality tour of the consumer society; his browsing through the shelves reminded me of a young boy whose Christmasses had all come at once. He had no idea what we needed, what we didn't need, what supermarket traps to avoid. Neither did he realise that the shopping trolley was filling up so quickly that we were fast becoming bankrupt.

If I'd simply stuck to the original list - milk, bananas, apples, yoghurt, bread, rolls, butter, potatoes, tomatoes and sanitary napkins - I would have walked out of the supermarket in 20 minutes, with a charge of €50 to my credit card: an economy pack of sanitary towels, potatoes (for two households: they looked really fresh, blemish-free and healthy, so I bought a larger amount than usual), 3 kilos of tomatoes, 2 kilos of bananas, 7 litres of milk (all for two households), 6 pots of yoghurt, a stick of butter, 2 loaves of bread and four fresh burger buns (for the children's school lunches). After an hour-long cruise through the aisles of the supermarket, we came out having spent €141 and 37 euro-cents. We shopped like Americans facing the omnivore's dilemma.

The rising cost of living is an issue constantly under discussion in the Greek media. But the way people choose to shop is never discussed. There are many informed shoppers, but on the whole, people generally have little idea about what they are buying. They rarely compare prices, generic brands are shunned for their alternative more powerfully advertised products, there is an increased desire to 'try' things out at great expense to one's pocket, and people with children prefer to reward them with artificially coloured, high-carbohydrate, high-fat highly processed food treats. One only needs to go to the dairy products section of the average supermarket to see what is on offer: brightly coloured dairy dessert (often labelled 'yoghurt') with chocolate covered cereal balls, chocolate flavoured sugar-added milk, sugar-added juices, processed cheese segments cut into attractive shapes. The breakfast cereal shelves are often in the same aisle as the dairy products, and most (if not all) have added sugar. Plain cornflakes are placed on the top shelf, in favour of the customer having eye-to-eye contact with the latest breakfast cereal craze: processed mixed-cereal coloured rings (you can't distinguish the cereal from the foam), thin squares of cereal with drawings of favorite cartoon characters, a conventional cereal containing a 'free' toy.

It can't be said that people don't watch their pockets these days with sky-rocketing petrol prices, the main link between products and prices. Discount supermarkets abound in Hania, and do a roaring trade. Those who do shop cheaply seem to buy bulk quantities of whatever they shop for. Does it get eaten? Is it stored for a long time? What kind of quality is being bought?

You can't teach an old dog new tricks. This is so patently obvious when you see British tourist residents shopping. Their trolleys invariably always contain processed foods and items with a huge carbon imprint: imported, over-packaged, out-of season. They pass the fresh produce section, ripe seasonal fruit staring at them in the face, and head for the shelves with the tinned peaches. They buy so little in the way of 'raw material' goods that they don't can't possibly be cooking, apart from boiling, frying or heating up. This explains the the predominance in their trolleys of prepared petfood; not even their cats and dogs avoid carbon-imprinted food. It's easy to guess who was buying (eating and preparing) the fresh produce I saw on the shelves of the ASDA supermarket in Clapham Junction and a grocery store in Finchley Road in London: most likely immigrants to the UK - people who had not yet acquired the local habit of eating ready-made heat-and-eat foods, people who still found it expensive to eat out, immigrants who were still conjuring up images of cauldrons of hot, spicy, tasty food made according to age-old traditional recipes of their country.

My husband has always been interested in product labelling: he reads everything thoroughly, taking his time to fully understand the meaning of each E-number. But he tends to believe what he reads, whereas I never do, given my knowledge and experience of food shopping. So when we passed the organic section of the supermarket, he looked for the little labels on the products - and then he looked at the prices. The cost of organic items was indeed much higher, but that is only to be expected, since we have been led to believe by the media that organic products are always more expensive. This is simply not always true.

Take bananas from Ecuador. They were being sold at the supermarket in three different sections of the fresh produce department. One of those sections was labelled organic produce. The bananas looked no different from the non-organic bananas, and they were from the same country. I discovered a while back that the Ecuadorian bananas sold in the supermarket were the same as those being sold in GAIA (same labelling, same boxes), Hania's most trusted source of organic products. In the supermarket, they were never labelled 'organic'. GAIA stocked them after having done a quality check on them. In other words, the bananas in the supermarket were as organic as the ones in GAIA, but weren't advertised as such. Suddenly, today we were confronted with probably the same bananas, but with an organic label, which, coincidentally, did NOT have the symbol of a state-approved body which does quality control checks on organic produce. So what's in a label then? Very little, as far as I'm concerned, if the shopper is not correctly informed. Buying organic at the supermarket (or any place for that matter) is like buying a well-advertised brand of washing-up liquid without comparing it to other washing-up liquids; the word 'organic' sells in any way it is proffered.

My husband had no idea what state-recognised bodies do such quality checks; thankfully, I did, which proved very helpful when he started to browse through the shelves with products marked 'organic'; a considerable number did NOT have stacked the symbols which show which body performed the quality control of the product, in order for it to be labelled 'organic'. He felt as if he had been under an illusion that had just been shattered in the cruelest way, cheated by money-spinner businesses.

Price comparisons are often reported on Greek television, usually without any explanation given about where prices were collected, or what brands were chosen to represent each product. And they always seem to talk about rising prices when the national inflation index remains stable. This is why I personally find them misleading. The reported Athenian prices are much higher than what I (a discerning shopper, I believe) pay for them here in Crete. I can understand this happening with the prices for fresh produce; that's something I can't check, since I mainly cook fresh produce we grow ourselves or have been given. But I find it unbelievable that prices are forever rising for generic brand paper goods, household cleansers and beans, rice and pasta. It is not possible to claim that the cost of living is too high if you insist on buying only the ost expensive brand or shopping from the more expensive stores. My own spending power has decreased because I am working less (and therefore earning less money than I used to), and also because I use the car more often to ferry children to school and extra-curricular activities (the more petrol I use, the less money I have to spend). The only way to check prices is by tracking them over a period of time, and using the same brands, same products and same supermarket chain (or whichever store you shop from regularly). Here's what we paid when we shopped at the INKA supermarket chain of Western Crete, and the reasons why these items wormed their way into our trolley.

BRAND PRODUCT QUANTITY COST in € ON SALE? No. items on list? Reason for buying




16-May-08



LATZIMA olive oil
1 litre 5.55
1 bottle
husband wanted to try
MALEME loaf of granary bread 350g 1.07
1 loaf staple
MALEME granary bread bun 80g 0.37
2 bus grandma's choice
MALEME mini burger buns 4-pack 0.74
1 packet school meals
GAIA barley rusks 1kg 3.82
1 packet
staple - stock up
local product potatoes
0.89/kg 12.51
14kg staple
NOUNOU fortified fresh light milk 1.5 litres 3.05
1 carton staple
KALIMANIS frozen calamari 1kg pack 5.95 20% off 1 packet
needed for main meal
BARILLA cheese tortellini 2x250g 2.23 1 + 1 free 1 2-pack
needed for main meal
XIOTAKIS frozen kalitsounia 500g pack 3.93
1 box
husband wanted to try
MIO cheese clazone n/a 3.71 1 + 1 free 2 boxes
husband wanted to try
MIO pepperoni calzone n/a 3.71 1 + 1 free 2 boxes
husband wanted to try
VERGINA beer
6x500g 6.24 1 + 1 free 2 6-packs staple stock up
local product crushed green olives 2.99/kg 2.95
1kg
husband wanted to try
local product whole green olives 5.99/kg 5.95
1kg
needed for main meal
FLOKOS tinned calamari 400g 2.25
3 tins
needed for main meal
KYKNOS tinned crushed tomatoes 3x400g 1.46 2 + 1 free 2 3-packs staple - stock up
DELTA fresh whole milk 1.5 litres 1.93 200ml free 2 bottles staple
COMPLET 10% fat yoghurt 4x200g 1.93 2 + 2 free 1 4-pack staple
TOTAL 2% fat yoghurt 3x200g 2.22 2 + 1 free 1 3-pack staple
BAZELLA bananas
1.29/kg 0.9
700g
grandma's choice
DOLE bananas
1.39/kg 1.6
1.2kg staple
STARKIN apples
1.29/kg 2.58
2kg staple
RIO MARE canned tuna 3x160g 6.2 2 + 1 free 1 3-pack
staple - stock up
BARBASTATHIS frozen barbouna beans 450g 2.54
1 packet
needed for main meal
BARBASTATHIS frozen string beans 450g 2.27
1 packet
needed for main meal
BARBASTATHIS frozen okra 1kg 4.92
1 packet
needed for main meal
FAGE frozen dessert profiterol 2x90g 2.52
1 2-pack
husband wanted to try
FAGE frozen dessert chocolate cream 2x150g 1.96
1 2-pack
husband wanted to try
DANONITO kiddies' chocolate dessert 4x90g 1.82
1 4-pack
chldren's treat
LAYS low salt olive oil potato chips 3x120g 2.84 2 + 1 free 1 3-pack
husband wanted to try
local product greenhouse tomatoes 1.39/kg 3.84
3kg staple
SAVOY butter
250g 3.05
1 stick staple
PAPAGALOS Greek coffee 100g 0.97
3 sachets staple - stock up
PAPADAKIS fresh meat patties 6 patties 5.2
1 6-pack
husband wanted to try
TENA incontinence pads 30-pack 13.3 € 2 off 1 30-pack grandma's choice









TOTAL COST



€ 141.37

€ 51.61

The supermarket provided my husband with an antidote to his melancholic mood - retail therapy at its best, cheaper than a shrink. I should have guessed that this would happen; the other day, he asked me to buy orange juice, another taboo grocery in our household. We own 500 orange trees - admittedly our oranges are not juicy enough to pick even for juicing at the moment, but still, his request was unusual. Today, he completely forgot that we had a fridge full of kalitsounia, a bag full of home-made biftekia and a fresh pavlova waiting to be eaten in the fridge.

His ego shattered, he drove the trolley towards the checkout. Our trolley was flowing over the brim. The olive oil shelves caught his eye. Being a lover of local products, he was intrigued by the labelling of a certain PDO brand of organic olive oil; whereas, I must admit, I liked the shape of the bottle, and would happily have bought it just to store the olive oil we buy straight from the producer in Fournes, Hania, Crete.

"We never buy olive oil from the supermarket. What makes you so interested in buying it now?"My worry was that he was getting carried away like a shopaholic. He explained that today was a chance for him to see what variety of products was available in a mega-store, something which he rarely gets a chance to do. The olive oil caught his attention because, recently, a friend of ours had given us a bottle of fresh olive oil (produced from lianes - koroneiki - olives) which was very light and runny in texture, and had a more delicate taste in salads. Apparently, this quality of oil is never used for cooking, because it 'disappears': it evaporates to the point that the food tastes watery, rather than stewed. Olive oil such as this can be used for salads, but not for cooking until 2-3 months pass. People who cooked with fresh olive oil were once regarded as 'poor': they did not produce enough olive oil of their own to last them over to the next season, and had to use their freshly produced oil, so their food was always too soupy for the average Cretan's liking. However, the same 'low' quality oil offers a more refined taste to horta or raw tomatoes, making it 'high' quality salad oil.

Apart from age, what mainly plays a role int he different qualities of olive oil produced in Crete is the variety of olive it is produced from. Lianes olives, more widely known as 'koroneiki' with spelling variants, while having a stronger stem and not likely to be influenced by adverse weather conditions and the dackos fly which creates havoc in olive groves right throughout the country, produce oil that does not keep its qualities after two years. They are too small to make good table olives (although I have used them as such; despite their size, they are incredibly tasty). Tsounates olives are larger (and hence meatier) , but are prone to windfall and premature dropping; nevertheless, they produce high quality olive oil, as well as being very good table olives after being treated in various traditional ways. Olive oil made form tsounates never loses its qualities, from colour to flavour. Due to its disadvantags, however, it is being replaced by the sturdier lianes variety. These types of olive varieties are specific to Crete; other areas of Greece have completely different varieties; without wishing to sound partial, it is without doubt that Crete - one of the largest olive oil producing regions in Greece - produces some of the highest quality olive oil in the country.

Cold-pressed olive oil is almost a thing of the past. Once the olive fruit is separated from the pip, it almost always undergoes some kind of heat treatment, despite the fact that olive oil is the only oil that can be pressed without any heat treatment applied to the fruit. The reason why olive fruit is pressed nowadays is basically due to economics: more oil is procured through heat application, hence the decrease in the traditional practice of cold-pressing olives for oil. But here, in the supermarket shelves, a place for shoppers of all classes, were bottle of olive oil labelled cold-pressed.

What attracted me most in the olive oil section were the myriads of bottles, tins and plastic containers containing our most well-known local product in all manner of shapes and sizes - and prices. What's more, apart from the big-enterprise olive oil brands, such as MINERVA and ELAIS (which collect olives from all over the country and whose headquarters are based on the mainland), the INKA supermarket - a Western Crete chain store - stocked olive oil produced mainly in Crete, a fact that illustrates the pride taken in displaying and selling local products. This is a highly significant fact, as the supermarket is located in a primarily tourist region of the town (Aious Apostolous). My husband decided that today was the day that he would search for a good salad oil. The origin of one particular variety caused a bit of a stir: Milopotamos. This area of Crete includes the notorious village of Zoniana, now well-known all over Greece for its high incidence of illegal marijuana plantations and drug lords (just think what σαλάτα Ζωνιανών - Zoniana salad - could be interpreted to mean). After scrutinizing the labels of all the different bottles of the PDO (protected designation of origin) LATZIMAS cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, we compared the prices of three different bottles, and were surprised and confused by our findings. The only difference between the labels was the organic wording, the English or Greek labels and the shape of the bottles. The more elegant-looking round bottles (purely my subjective opinion) were used to bottle the organic olive oil, while the 1000ml bottles did not have English labelling:
  • round bottle - extra virgin - organic - 750ml: €5.94
  • square bottle - extra virgin - not organic - 750ml: €6.49
  • square bottle - extra virgin - not organic - 1000ml: €5.55
The cheapest bottle gave us the most olive oil, but it was not organic. I did make a point of checking the price of all the bottles at the cashier, as we were surprised to find that it was cheaper to buy a litre of olive oil than 750ml of the same product: the prices as shown on the shelves were correct. We chose the 1-litre bottle.

After checking out our trolley - Dimitris had to hold down the bags so that nothing tipped out as we went to the car - we arrived home at midday, in very hot sultry weather. This morning's breakfast remains were still on the table; the cornflakes jar was empty. How I missed noting it on my list on a big shop day beats me; already, I was making a new shopping list for my next visit to the supermarket.

Lunch consisted of boiled potatoes and salad. I got out the Latzimas olive oil.

"Hold on!" cried Dimitris. "We'll open that when our own tomatoes are ready." He is a true gourmet; the pure taste of cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil would have been lost on greenhouse (or were they simply chemically grown) tomatoes. While we had our lunch, an advertisement for a bathroom cleanser came on, promising clean pipes and an aromatic bathroom after its use.

"Write that one down on your list for when you're next at the supermarket," Dimitris reminded me. "The bathroom in the master bedroom's starting to get smelly again."

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