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Taxi service
TAXI SERVICE, for all your holiday needs while you are travelling in Hania. If you're coming to Hania and you need a taxi, maybe we can help you out. For quotes and prompt service, drop me a line at: mverivaki hotmail com

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Athivoles: Cretan Mezodopoleio in Elefsina (Αθιβολές: Κρητικό Μεζεδοπωλείο στην Eλευσίνα)

This post forms PART 1 of my family's adventures on a mini-break in Athens.

We often learn to love the place where we were born, even if it can't offer us what we want or even what we need. One day we may leave it, but that place will remain in our memory like a timeless snapshot that never changes, a kind of 'vie en rose' which we often refer to subjectively. We never remember the bad times, only the good ones, and wish we had never left, that we could go back and live there, even though we know full well that this is impossible.

Most immigrant Greeks and their children fall into this category. They continue to love and cherish the country of their birth by coming back on holiday every now and then, with some coming on a more regular basis. They are also constantly on the phone with relatives, they have access to Greek satellite TV in their homes, they educate their children in the Greek language and customs, and cook Greek food at home on a regular basis.

Try generalising this way of thinking to a large part of the Greek population who migrated from the 'eparhia' (επαρχία - the countryside) and came to live in the various neighbourhoods that make up the city of Athens. The word 'immigrant' probably sounds a little harsh, especially since we're talking about Greeks moving around in Greece. But there are many people living in Athens who look forward to a day when they won't be living in Athens any longer, and they'll be able to retire to their village homes in the countryside, the place where they were born. It wouldn't occur to many of us that there are so many people living in Athens (which houses about 40% of the population of Greece) without much choice, but the fact remains that many a Greek had to forgo their village homes for a place in the urban rat race that has trapped them, just like the economic migrants of today who are forced to leave their own country and follow their dreams of a more prosperous life in a foreign one.


Elefsina, a coastal area 18 kilometres west of Athens, was once considered the 'perfect' place for those unskilled Greek villagers seeking employment opportunities. Despite its importance in ancient times as the site where the Greek goddess of the Earth, Dimitra, performed her mysteries so well that, to date, no one knows exactly what went on during the rituals performed in her honour, Elefsina (formerly known by the name 'Eleusis') became a deserted ghost town after Christianity became the dominant religion in Greece, and it was only at the end of the 18th century that it began to be repopulated, with great interest shown in its glorious past by the travellers of the time.

elefsina athens elefsina athens
Elefsina still has some empty sections of lands filled with olive trees, pistachio trees (the nut), wild horta and a kind of nettle that I haven't ever seen in Hania.
elesina athens
Elefsina looks like an ordinary town - until you catch sight of the huge unsightly factories built of steel and cement on the outskirts of the residential area. The cement works seen at the end of the road are now defunct, but its existence on the skyline creates an eyesore.

elefsina athens elefsina athens

In its earlier years, Elefsina resembled a green village, its fields filled with olive and pistachio trees. As the town grew into an uncontrolled industrial area, it attracted rural Greeks from the poorest areas of the country (notably Epirus and Crete), who were attracted by the huge cement works, ship yards, petrol refineries, steel factories, munitions works and a whole host of other smaller industries and manufacturers, all of which wreaked dire consequences on the environment, therby becoming the most polluted area of Athens. By this time, Elefsina had become a veritable stinkhole, earning its appropriate reputation as the queen of the most unenticing place in the whole country.

Despite the negative outlook it portrays, I have a very good relationship with Elefsina, where quite a few members of my extended family live. Not many people realise that Elefsina's image has been completely cleaned up in recent times. Factories have moved on or simply died out, while those remaining have had to adhere to strict laws to protect both the environment and the citizens. Elefsina's neighbourly sense of community cannot be matched in most central areas of the capital. Most houses have gardens, apartment blocks are low-rise, while accomodation is spacious; Elefsina doesn't lack space, unlike the centre of Athens and its surrounding suburbs. People who have grown up in the area keep close ties with one another, preferring to remain in the area even after leaving the family home and creating their own.

the holy road or the road to thebes? Where Athens met Thebes
When travelling in Athens, always look at the road signs. They are so full of history, that just reading their names will recall ancient Greek tragedies and bloody battles. Sometimes they are written in both Greek and English. As this part of the city is not touristy, these particular ones (located in Egaleo, a western residential suburb of Athens) are written only in Greek. The Holy Road (Iera Odos) meets up with the road to Thebes (Odos Thivon), which also intersects with Athens Avenue (Leoforos Athinon), a road linking Egaleo with Athens.

Elefsina is linked up to Athens via Iera Odos, the Holy Road, the ancient route that linked the the two holiest sites of Ancient Athens: the Acropolis and the Eleusinian mysteries. In ancient times, pilgrimages were made between these two sites, but they didn't have to battle with busy motorways. This is the only disadvantage to Elefsina - 18 kilometres doesn't sound like a long distance to travel, but the narrow roads connecting the town with the centre of Athens are hopelessly congested, making it seem very far away from the centre of Athens. Transport services have improved markedly, but things aren't perfect. A bus trip could take anything from 20 minutes on a Saturday afternoon to 45 minutes on a weekday. Mid-way between Elefsina and Athens is the Egaleo metro station, which will link you up super-fast with all the metro lines in central Athens - if they're working, that is (they weren't when we tried using it), and if the metro official bothers to inform you correctly about connections (I was confounded as to why a subway official would direct me to an underground station that wasn't working that day, while at the other end, another had no idea which bus we could take instead). No wonder Greeks have a love affair with their car ('yiota-he' as it is called in Greece, standing for the Greek initials I.X., meaning 'private use vehicle').

A well-known Greek song by a very famous 1970s singer (Manolis Mitsias) mentions Elefsina (click here to listen to it):

Πήρα τους δρόμους μια βραδιά (I took to the roads one night)
και τους γνωστούς ρωτούσα (and asked all the locals)
για το κορίτσι μου που αγαπούσα (about the girl I loved)
στην Ελευσίνα μια φορά. (one time in Elefsina)

Έριξα πέτρα στο γιαλό (I threw a rock into the sea)
στο πέλαγο λιθάρι (a pebble in the ocean)
για το κορίτσι μου που ήταν καμάρι (for the girl who was my pride and joy)
στην Ελευσίνα μια φορά. (one time in Elefsina)

Elefsina is not without its famous people. A well-known contemporary ballad singer was born here, Stelios Kazantzidis. Before he died of cancer in 2001, his request to be buried in Elefsina, came as a surprise to most Athenians, who like to maintain the elitist belief that important names in Greek history are always buried in what is known as the First Cemetery of Athens.

*** *** ***
Petros Agrimakis (or in Greek, Πέτρος Αγριμάκης) was born in Rethimno, Crete. He left his birth village when he was just a baby, along with his four older siblings and their parents. They settled in Elefsina where jobs were plentiful at the time. It's easy to think that Petros has never known any other place to call home, except for Elefsina; after all, he feels himself to be a true Elefsionioti, as all his family still lives in Elefsina and his friends all derive from the area.

agrimakis athivoles elefsina athens petros agrimakis athivoles elefsina athens
Petros is the youngest child in a family of five; he and his parents still live in the area.

But Petros has never hidden his Cretan roots. He met his wife at a Cretan dance school in Elefsina; her own parents were born in Hania (she herself was born near Elefsina). His sons both attended the same Cretan dance school that their parents attended, and every year, they visit Crete, not just in the summer on vacation, but whenever a visit to Crete is called for: maybe someone's getting married or baptising their child, or there could be a funeral of a distant cousin; then there's the 40-day and 12-month memorial services after someone has passed away.

Greeks usually identify with the place where one (or both) of their parents were born and raised. The move to Athens is seen as an inevitable consequence of modern life, but it does not mean that the former family 'home' is forgotten. Petros is a prime example of someone who has a strong connection with his roots; he has built his whole life on them.

Being a businessman by nature, his many projects have culminated in the opening of a Cretan restaurant in Elefsina.

athivoles elefsina athens
Athivoles Mezedopoleio is housed in the yard (covered and heated in the winter) of a former stately home on the main commercial road in Elefsina. The kitchen and more seating are found indoors on the ground floor.

Deciding what to serve at the restaurant was easy: Cretan food. It took him longer to decide the name of the restaurant than it did the menu. The message Petros wanted to get across to his potential clientele, mainly other Elefsinians like himself, was his memories of the place where he was born; the word 'athivoles' is part of the Cretan dialect, meaning 'memories'.

agrimakis athivoles elefsina athens
Some Cretan 'athivoles'

It recalls older times when people were not hurried, and still lived all their life in the place where they were born. Cretan music is played all through the night, while the decor includes significant reminiscences of Cretan life, with olive motifs on the menu card and dried herbs hanging on the wall.

athivoles elefsina athens
If you like Cretan mantinades, you'll love the paper tablecloth design with their poetry.

Athivoles
was the first place we went to when we arrived in Athens on our mini-break. It was a busy night when we visited.

athivoles elefsina athens
Snails form an integral part of the Cretan diet. The creamy dip is tirokafteri, while the little pot of meat is called 'tigania', fried pork cooked with slivers of peppers and melted cheese.

The taverna serves up standard Cretan fare (just like yours truly), including a few regional favorites which have become so well-known right throughout Greece, that they now form a standard part of any Greek taverna menu (except maybe Crete): prasopita (leek pie from Central Greece) and tirokafteri (hot cheese dip from Northern Greece) are just as popular all over the country as Cretan dakos, which is now being served (in modified form - mizithra is not as widely available as it should be) in nearly all Athenian eateries.

where is crete in the photo?
This greengrocer proudly states his origins on his shop sign: he comes from Zakros in Eastern Crete. I snapped this from inside an Athens bus.

If you can't make it to Crete on your next visit to Greece and you're staying in Athens, you can still get an authentic taste of Crete just by asking for directions to the closest Cretan taverna in your neighbourhood. Just look for the shape of the island of Crete on a sign above a shop. If you hear Cretan music playing on the radio or from a CD, you can guarantee that a Cretan is meddling somewhere in there; listen out for a mantinada.

©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, 28 March 2009

The corner shop (Το μπακάλικο)

Corner shops and mini-markets are supposed to be in decline all over the world due to the influence of supermarkets. This is true here in Greece too, but some mini-marts fare better than others for various reasons, mainly to do with location (they may be far away from supermarkets or located in business areas) and variety of produce (shopkeepers who provide fresh produce fare better).

bakaliko the mini-maket in the neighbourhood

Supermarkets have been trying to do away with the little neighbourhood mini-market, but the 'bakaliko' in the photo happens to be located in a densely populated area of the town. The street where it is located is filled with apartment blocks serving both as private homes and offices, including a host of doctor's surgeries.

The road running parallel to the bakaliko is where the Agora is situated, but people still use their corner store here; there were plenty of customers coming in and out when I was in the area. Town people prefer local shops in the city centre than having to move their cars from the little parking space available, or walk too far carrying heavy shopping bags, etc. Local shop owners can nip in to buy some coffee or sugar for the office, some fruit for a healthy lunch choice, and get some shopping done before they go home. This shop sells all the basic supplies, including staple supermarket products, which is a good thing, because people in the middle of town don't often have a supermarket easily accessible to them.

sfakion street hania chania
The area the corner shop serves is filled with apartments, doctor's surgeries, accountants, lawyers, and other offices. All the lower stories at street level are specialised shops of some kind: a bakery, dry-cleaner's, cafe, clothes shops, hairdresser, travel agent, real estate office, among others.

The owner of the store is a cousin of my husband's. He grows and sells his own village produce (olives, oranges, potatoes, among other produce when in season) which urban people seek; they often do not have access to products straight from the villages that surround the town centre of Hania. As you can see, he's doing a roaring trade in greens, too.

Click on the photo to see the notes for more details of the products sold here.

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

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Thanks (Ευχαριστώ)

Dear Friends from all over the world,
Thanks for supporting my blog for so long, especially during my illness, and my recent absence from your own blogs, which are a great source of inspiration for me.
I was in Athens just recently, and I feel as if I have recharged my batteries enough to last me through to the summer.
I'll start writing more very soon, as well as get back to read your own work.
Once again, thanks for showing the interest to get me back to writing.
Here's hoping to keep up your interest!

Panspermia: Pallikaria (Παλλικάρια)

Pulses (beans) are the most ancient food known to the non-nomadic human. By being able to store their food, people then started to live a more stable life. I owe my organised household cooking regime to the ease of cooking pulses on a weekly basis: I can make a double-quantity of bean stew on a Sunday night, get all my errands done on Monday morning, serve the bean soup for lunch that day, and whatever remains (they keep well) is stored in the fridge and used as leftovers, not the next day, but the day after (by that time, everyone will have forgotten that we had already had this meal earlier in the week).

pulses ospria beans
Every week, I choose one of these bags and turn them into a family meal.

Through this blog, I've showcased the full range of staple bean dishes commonly served in Greek homes on a regular basis all over the country. Paradoxically, they would never be served to a guest, even though they are the healthiest and often the most colourful meals cooked in Greek homes throughout the year. Here's the basic list:
  1. fasolada (white bean soup), the national dish of Greece; my version is currently listed on the first page (!) of any google search using this search word
  2. the second all-time favorite pulse in Greece, fakes, aka as Greek lentil soup, another google first-pager for me, as long as you don't think 'fakes' are phoney, if you get my gist (try 'fakes soup', 'Greek fakes', etc)
  3. another hot favorite, baked Macedonian elephant beans, what we call gigandes (but only this transliteration puts me on the first page: other versions of the word include yigantes, yigandes, gigantes and yigantes),
  4. black-eyed bean soup, or as we say in Greece mavromatika, another of my google first-pagers (with this spelling)
  5. revithia, another Greek favorite using chickpeas cooked as a white or red soup
  6. Greek fava, the least confusing transliteration, probably one of the helathiest dips in the world, made with split yellow peas
  7. koukia, known as broad beans in English, what is commonly known as fava in other Mediterranean countries, eg Egypt.
My fellow food blogger and very good friend Laurie from Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska is hosting the latest round of My Legume Love Affair (MLLA), a blog event created by Susan of the Well Seasoned Cook featuring pulses. I could not possibly miss out on this event, since beans form the basis of the Mediterranean diet which has its origins in my island, Crete. Having already covered the whole range of pulses cooked in the daily Cretan diet, I found it a little difficult to think of an original Cretan way to use pulses from what I have already presented.

I got my inspiration from Ilias Mamalakis, a respected Greek TV chef, who recently presented a bean dish cooked in Northern Greece predominantly by the farming community. It is one of those very special dishes that has almost become forgotten due to the modern lifestyle, which is a terrible shame because it carries a profound significance in the agricultural world.

As stated previously, pulses became the reason why human beings could settle in one place instead of moving around, due to their ability to be stored in dried form. This became a cause for celebration among the earliest farmers in the world: they had finally found what was to become for them a modern convenience. Once a year, in honour of the humble legume that provided stability in their life, a special dish was made using all the varieties of pulses stored in a farmer's house cooked together. In Crete, this mixed legume dish is known as pallikaria or mayeria, a dish I remember trying for the first time at a taverna in Paleohora in Southern Crete. It is a vegan meal suitable for lenten periods. As Nikos and Maria Psilakis write in their book Traditional Cretan Cuisine (I have translated this passage from the original Greek):

"All the pulses were cooked together, an ancient meal strongly reminiscent of the ancient Greek belief in panspermia, as well as the Minoan offerings to the deities. It's possible that this meal was eaten in pre-historic times for which written evidence was not available... It was customary to gather a handful of all the varieties of the newly harvested seeds, boil them together and offer them to the gods as a token of appreciation for the bounty of nature. This dish was placed in a decorous position on the table, and every member of the family had to have their portion of it.

"In Crete, the custom survived for many thousands of years until recent times. In Eastern Crete, it was called 'palliKAria', a word that reminds one of the ancient 'polySPOria' (also known as panspermia; the capitalised letters are where the stress goes in the words), possibly deriving from this word. It is cooked on the 5th of January, the Eve of the Epiphany. All the family ate the same food, including the animals belonging to the family, as they had helped to prepare the earth for the growth of these seeds. Women from the older generation have been known to this day to strew a plate of this food in the yard for the wild birds to eat."


The recipe for pallikaria should not really be called a recipe, as it is simply a variety of boiled beans dressed with the ubiquitous olive oil. I've made up my own version of pallikaria to include tastes that my family associates with their weekly dose of legumes.

pallikaria
Soaking the beans overnight: the lentils can be added the next day, while the broad beans need to have the black strip removed before they are cooked.

You need:
a handful of all the pulses commonly used in Greek cuisine (yellow split peas and elephant beans were not commonly grown in Crete, which is why I've omitted them from my version)
a handful of bulgur wheat (I didn't have any handy so I omitted it)
a handful of corn (optional; if using the dry form, treat it like the beans)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
the juice of a lemon
fresh dill and/or parsley (I only had some spring onion handy today)
olive oil
salt and pepper

Soak all the beans (except the lentils), (dry) corn and wheat overnight. The next day, boil all the beans and wheat for ten minutes to remove possible legume toxins. The broad beans need to have their 'black eye' removed before they are cooked. The lentils only need to be washed clean; they soften more easily during the cooking process than the other harder beans. Now boil the beans and wheat together until they are softened (about 45-60 minutes). The beans are now ready for use.

Heat some olive oil in a large saucepan, and saute the onion and garlic. Add all the legumes and grains, and mix well. Add enough water for the beans to cook as a stew rather than a soup; do a taste test of each variety to check for doneness after 45 minutes. When they are ready (they should all be soft), add the lemon juice, stirring it around. Add salt and pepper at this point, and let the beans cook for a few more minutes. The meal will have thickened naturally from the broad beans (fava), which have a tendency to mash when cooked.

pallikaria

When serving, sprinkle each bowl of pallikaria with some freshly finely cut herbs, and extra lemon juice and/or olive oil. This dish is best enjoyed on its own as part of a frugal meal. We had it with avocado dip, olives, cheese and bread, a combination which worked surprisingly well. Don't eat it with meat - protein combined with protein will ruin its soothing qualities. Don't be put off by its simplicity - it is delicious.

In Northern Greece, this bean dish is cooked in red wine, without olive oil or any other seasonings. However you cook it, don't forget to serve it to all the members of the family, including pets, and sprinkle a little in your garden or a maybe a flower pot, giving back to the earth what it gave to you, for the sake of tradition in honour of the humble but meaningful legume.

And if your name is Evangelos, Evagelia, Angelos, Angela, Eva and some other transliterated version of these names, Happy Nameday to you today.

©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, 22 March 2009

Other people's foods: Delicious snacks (Μικροφαγητά)

I was making my regular once-a-week pizza installment which inspired me to make a delicious snack with some of the leftover dough. This moreish finger food can also be tailor-made for everyone's tastes. I found the basic recipe from Maya who lives in the beautiful Ljubljana of Slovenia. She cooks like a pro and is very creative food-wise. Her recipes look mouth-watering: check them out for yourself.

mini pizza snacks

Align Centre
Maya uses a bread dough to make these 'bocconcini', as Maya calls them. I used Laurie's basic ladenia pizza dough and filled the cookie-size rounds with:
  1. spinach kalitsounia mixture
  2. Alaskan salmon using Maya's basic recipe (replacing sour cream with Greek strained yoghurt)
  3. cheese and salami
I lost count of how many I ate, just like when I eat crisps. They went like hotcakes.

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

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Fish (Ψάρι)

Whenever I had errands to run in town, I park my car on the outskirts of the city centre and make my way into the town. The first shops I come across are the fishmongers. I can never pass a fishmonger's without stopping to take a look. I probably owe this fascination of mine to the fact that my parents owned a fish and chip shop in New Zealand; we didn't sell fresh fish, but my father would often bring home fresh seafood when he ordered or picked up supplies for the shop

fishmongers hania
(the big white sign says: 'Ahini from Hania')

The prices are forbidding, even at the best of times, which should be now during an economic recession; no chance of a cheap find here, unless you don't mind buying some pickarel at 6 euro a kilo. I chose European hake (hidden from view by the man's hand on the right), called 'bakaliaraki' in Greece (but probably not related to the codfish, as the word 'bakaliaros' suggests); 16 euro a kilo: 7 medium sized fish for 22 euros. I also wanted some of the contents of the little white pots and glasses in the centre of the display, but at 15 euro a punnet, sea urchins (ahini) are not cheap.

We had fried fish for lunch today, to go with leftover fasolada.

©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.

Bagels (Κουλούρια)

(Here's a discussion I overheard this morning at a popular bakery mid-town while I was buying koulouria: the speaker is the shop owner.)

koulouria from the bakers

"... we shouldn't be a part of the rest, we don't owe them, they owe us, now that water has become a precious resource and we've got plenty of it and don't even use it all for ourselves, water's going to become the resource, pretty soon it'll be more expensive than petrol. The rest of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean are already turning into desert, and here we are living in an undiscovered paradise. And what are we doing about it? Are we acting on our independent status? No! We're just playing the pawn of the big shots up north, that's what we're doing! And what are we gaining by serving the rest of the country instead of looking after ourselves? I'm telling you, Crete shouldn't be a part of the rest, it should be a Malta, that's what i think..."

So that's a slice of life this morning in the little resort town of Hania that is slowly waking up from its hibernation, getting ready for the tourist season, which is going to start later this year due to the economic crisis; it's believed that Hania will suffer the least from the recession than other parts of Crete.

©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, 17 March 2009

Koutroulis (Ο Κουτρούλης)

On the Ides of March, we went out for a taverna meal at Omalos, the first time we went out for the year. It had been just after Christmas when we last went out for a meal as a family, again in the vicinity of Omalos. Taverna options are more limited in winter. It's so much easier to stay at home and cook, rather than brave the cold. It may have been a bad day for Caesar, but it turned out very well for us.

koutroulis omalos koutroulis omalos
The mountains are still snow-capped, but the spring flowers are blooming; crocus flowers.


The air in the Omalos valley was very crisp and the snow still very visible, but there were definite signs of spring coming. Had I not been through a bout of pneumonia, I would have liked to take a wander around the valley, because it seemed eerily quiet when we were there; very few people seemed to be up in the valley on that day. The eateries of the area - all known by the name of their respective owners - are usually very busy on a Sunday afternoon, but not today. The days of a full house and the Greek tendency to over-order may become a thing of the past now that the economic crisis is being boomed down on us during every news report on every channel. It could be that we have been brainwashed into believing that things are not going well and we should be more careful with our spending. Then again, some people might be feeling the pinch for real. If it weren't for a large party of guests who had come on the occassion of some mutual celebration, the place would have been pretty much empty, as most of the other tavernas in the area, judging from the number of cars in the parking lots.

We chose to sit at Koutroulis taverna, a favorite haunt of the hunting fraternity in Hania. The tavernas in the Omalos valley were all established to serve the purposes of tourism, the oldest one in the area being formally built in 1954. Omalos was never a traditional settlement; hunters and nature lovers shared its few facilities which all serve up very traditional fare with meat being in the spotlight, as well as wild greens and local delicacies, the kind of food traditionally eaten in villages and cooked these days by grandmamas. Don't come to Omalos and ask for fish or seafood; such an uninformed request is about as culturally inappropriate as expecting silver service and crystal glasses in a place like this. The emphasis is on the freshness of ingredients, traditional cooking techniques and well cooked food.

To get an idea of the place, think of animal hides, pre-industrial ploughing implements, a warm fireplace, old-fashioned shepherds' knapsacks and loom-woven rugs. Items fitting this description were displayed around the cosy dining room, lending a general remoteness to the ambience, strengthened by the view of the cloudy mountains from the windows.

koutroulis omalos koutroulis omalos
The fur is from a hare, the head is from a zourida (the local variety of ferret).
koutroulis omalos koutroulis omalos
The display may be an eyesore, but the owners are probably very proud of their kerata.

We chose tsigariasto goat, locally made spicy sausages, pork steak (not pictured), staka dip and boiled mustard greens, washed down with locally made wine (and a locally produced lemonade for the children). Main meals are usually pretty hefty, which is why we ordered only three, to share among the four of us.

koutroulis omalos koutroulis omalos
koutroulis omalos koutroulis omalos

Dessert is always on the house: fried kalitsounia smothered in honey.

koutroulis omalos koutroulis omalos
Στην υγειά σας, everyone!

koutroulis omalos

Koutroulis taverna; Omalos valley. Total cost of meal: 35 euro.

©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, 15 March 2009

Sunday roast (Ψητό στο φούρνο)

My uncles live in a village close to my home. A little while ago, they invited us (that's a lie: I invited myself) to have traditional Greek Sunday roast with them.

wood fired stove cum oven

Here's how they heat themselves in the winter: a wood fire range which doubles up as a stove and oven. The top left compartment is where all the wood goes, which is then lit with a piece of newspaper or other natural fire lighter (eg twigs). To disperse the wood evenly so that the fire doesn't go out, you can lift the top element with a special rod and stoke it from there.

You can see the logs on the left hand side in a cardboard box. The wood comes from the prunings of their olive and orange trees.

wood fired stove cum oven
This photograph has notes on it - click to enlarge it and see the notes.

The lower left drawer is where the ash collects, which needs to be emptied regularly when the range is in use. The top element is used to boil garden vegetables, make bean soups, cook stews, among other functions. This element is always very hot when the oven is in use, while the smaller one next to it is simply warm, which is why they often keep a pot of water on it to use for cleaning the dishes. The right hand side is the oven. A baking tin can be placed here. It's very useful for keeping food warm. It can also cook a roast, but it will take longer than a conventional oven.

The only disadvantage with this oven is that every single part of it is scalding hot, so it's not child-friendly. These ranges are slowly going out of fashion because of the way new houses are being built and the demand for convenience rather than tradition. They need to be cleaned out in a similar way to fireplaces, so you have to put up with a lot of smut, ash and soot.

Here's what my uncles cooked for us on the day we visited (but not in the wood fire - they preferred to use their gas oven that day): roast lamb and potatoes with tomato and olive oil. Every single ingredient was cultivated or collected by them on their land.

roast at galatas hania chania

Of all their nephews and nieces, I am the only one living in Crete, while the others are dispersed among Athens, London and Wellington. This makes me a little special around them. They have also taught me many kitchen tricks which I've shared with you in my recipes.

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Saturday, 14 March 2009

10 things you'd never guess about me (10 πράγματα για μένα)

Rachel loves to come and visit my blog just to see my garden. She knows what a mixed blessing having a garden is: hard work to create appropriate microclimates, more hard work to maintain it, and just as much effort to save the excess produce for less bountiful times. For all my regular readers, you will know that my family's garden is an indispensable part of our daily life, as it is for most of our neighbours, given the rural setting we dwell in.

Rachel's recent focus on home gardens has inspired me to reveal a few things about myself that will put a lot of the things I write about in my posts in perspective.
  1. My husband is an avid gardener, orchardist and hunter. If I were in charge of running the garden, I'd have planted flowers (like I did when I was living alone). Of course, I respect his efforts and put everything he plants and grows into full use. But the fact remains: he does all the heavy-duty work. I am merely his whinging assistant.
  2. When I'm at work, I'm known as "the English professor". You will probably have guessed (correctly) that I don't like to make a great deal of fuss over such a daunting title, but the fact still remains, I teach in an academic environment.
  3. For 20 hours a week (of which 3 are spent teaching, while the rest are spent proof-reading, translating, marking student work and preparing class work), I am remunerated (with 17 years of teaching experience in Greece behind me, not including 3 years of teaching similar students in New Zealand) with the princely sum of 653 euros (nett, inclusive of family benefits as a mother of two young children - I told you Greek salaries are very low), despite the fact that ...
  4. ... I'm one of a very small number of highly qualified English teachers in the whole of Hania, even though there are about 70 private English language schools operating in the area. I'm extremely good at my job, something that gives me great confidence, a most enviable quality in the present unstable economic climate. This is not taken into account in the salary I am paid, but I've never tried using this asset to my advantage.
  5. The tips of my fingers and the outer rims of my fingernails are usually a shade of brown, in contrast to my pale olive skin. This is usually from digging up weeds in the garden, harvesting crops, cleaning greens meticulously, and chopping greens to make green pies. No matter how much you scrub, the stains will remain unless you wear gloves, and I can't stand the feel of plastic on my hands. It may sound unseemly to be unmanicured given my academic background, but I remember my academic years in New Zealand in similar vein - some of my professors wore flip flops when they came to lecture us on topics ranging from the morphology of the English language to syntax and semantics (and some of them did not have smooth heels). One came barefoot in the summer, and wore flip flops in the winter. (The only time I can keep my fingers clean are in the summer when they spend a lot of time in seawater; in the winter, I need to be bedridden.)
  6. My children's clothes are mainly second-hand. They have been given to us by extended family members who like to buy their children new clothes in the latest fashion every season. The average number of previous wearers of my children's clothes is 2 (before they start wearing them).
  7. I hoard jars. If I didn't hoard jars, I wouldn't be able to make my six-month supply's worth of tomato sauce, preserved olives, jams and fruit preserves. Like Rachel mentioned, if I find that, on opening a preserve, mold has formed on the top, I simply scrape it off. The rest of the preserve is used. If I didn't bother to take the time to preserve/freeze/use whatever we grow,..
  8. ... we would be spending another 50 euro extra a week on food shopping. Green 'smashed' olives in brine cost at least 5-6 euro a kilo (that will last a week in this house), stamangathi wild greens also cost 5-6 euro a kilo (we have substituted this with our own brocoli and cauliflower this year), and I have already used half the jars of preserved tomato that I made in the summer (that works out to about about 2 euro a week on tinned tomatoes). This doesn't include the frozen meals I prepare for when I'm too busy to cook a meal for the next day: I simply throw a tin of boureki, or moussaka, or pastitsio, or papoutsakia, or dolmadakia, or spinach pie from the freezer into the oven, let it cook, and try my best to remember to turn off the oven before I go to bed. This would add at least another 5 euro a week to my savings. (Because I save so much money on grocery bills, I never skimp on books and DVDs from Amazon; I feel I deserve it.)
  9. I do not recycle tetrapaks, plastic bottles and other recyclable household refuse, because my local council has not endeavoured to provide a recycling bin in my neighbourhood (even though there are such bins available in similar neighbourhoods. I feel I am justified in putting the blame on them. I do not feel that it is my duty to fill the car with recyclable trash (risking milk carton spills, tuna can smells, etc) to cart them off to another bin elsewhere. Most people in Hania are able to walk from their home to a nearby collection point to chuck out their recyclable trash. I do not feel obliged to drive my garbage to a bin; it defeats the purpose of a cleaner environment. I do recycle paper (I never buy my kids drawing pads), and I never, ever throw out my kids' unwanted toys or (second-hand) clothes: I take them to a church collection point or give them away. My cleaning lady (I couldn't write if I didn't have one of those coming in every two weeks) told me how grateful she was for the two huge bags I gave her which she took with her to Moldova when she recently visited her family.
  10. I never wear make-up.
Now that you know me a little better, you won't be too disappointed when I tell you that I have decided to take a break from blogging, after nearly 650 posts (320 on Organically Cooked, and 325 on One Day in Hania). From time to time, I'll be doing surprise updates on the blog, just to keep you on your toes. I'm tired, and I want to work on something different. I also want to do more reading (and writing; the blogs won't stop!) Feel free to keep in touch: mverivaki at hotmail com. To all my Greek readers, have a good Sarakosti.

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Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Roasted chestnuts (Κάστανα)

Roasted chestnuts are a Greek favorite in the winter. Hania boasts one of the largest chestnut plantations in the area of Elos, so we have a plentiful supply of them.

elos valley hania chania
Elos valley - the bright green trees are the chestnut, while the silver green ones are olive.
These photos were taken as we were driving to Elafonisi last summer in July 2008.


chestnut tree elos hania chania
Chestnut tree in Elos

roasted chestnuts
Roasted chestnuts

roasted chestnuts
You can see the knife slit I made in this one

To roast chestnuts, you simply need to take whole chestnuts, make a slit in their skin to stop them from exploding in the heat (see how Nihal does a more aesthetic cut than mine) and place them on a baking tray (no oiling is required) in a hot oven. They need no more than 20 minutes to become tender. Once they are done, the skin cracks away easily, revealing the delicious soft nut.

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Sunday, 8 March 2009

Under my thumb: fried rabbit stew (Τηγανιτό κουνέλι)

First she had me making kalitsounia...

Mr Organically cooks

... and now I'm in the kitchen...

Mr Organically cooks

... frying rabbit.

Mr Organically cooks rabbit
All the rabbit is used in this dish, including the head - it's in the plate.

Better write down the recipe if this happens again, knock on wood.

Mr Organically cooks

And he thought I spent all my time on the computer. Everything else got done as I waved my magic wand and screeched "Abraca-frigging-dabra" at the top of my voice.

Welcome to the real world, honey.

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Saturday, 7 March 2009

The hidden talents of Mr Organically Cooked (Μυστικά ταλέντα)

He always said he can't cook. I always said he didn't have to cook if he didn't want to.

Mr Organically cooks
Mr Organically Cooked preparing the mixture for kalitsounia with spinach from the garden

When his wife developed pneumonia (the yo-yo broke), he discovered his hidden talents. He even does the dishes.