Thursday, 30 September 2010

Charlotte a la grecque (Γλυκό ψυγείου)

Announcing the lucky winner of the Cookware.com giveaway: I included the comments (18 in total) on both the blog and the corresponding Facebook page. The winner of the $35 gift voucher was chosen by a random number generator program: it brought out STAMATIA from Canada! Thanks to all for taking part.

Since the Greek economic crisis came into the global spotlight, Greece has been portrayed as a country that produces nothing. When talking to people who live outside Greece (both Greeks and non-Greeks), once they tell me how corrupt and unfair my country is, they then go on to tell me how unproductive and uncreative it is. These are the same people that look out for imported Dodoni feta cheese and Pelion olives on the shelves of their non-Greek supermarket refrigerators. As my kids say: "Πίου, πίου", whose meaning I don't really know, but which I surmise to mean something like "You don't know what you're talking about", since they always make a rolling motion with one of their fingers near their head when they say this to each other.

It's always a nice surprise to see a much-loved world-renowned Greek product being used in a non-Greek recipe by a non-Greek cook. The first chapter in Elizabeth Bard's Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes contains a recipe using just three easy-to-source ingredients: biscuits, tinned fruit and Greek yoghurt. When Greek yoghurt is called for in a recipe, it always refers to thick yoghurt (thick enough to stand a spoon in it) that isn't runny because it's been strained of most of its liquids. It's no surprise to see that food is what Greece is known for (apart from good summer holiday weather) outside of Greece: Greeks have always been known to share their good food.

mini charlotte
Charlotte made with P'tit Beurre Papadopoulou biscuits

Elizabeth probably used the FAGE yoghurt brand (beware of imitations!) to make the dessert (under the name TOTAL) because this brand of yoghurt is exported to all parts of the world (and is now even being made in a US factory). I've adapted Elizabeth's recipe just slightly (see my previous post), making it in both a medium-sized mould and portion-sized ramekins. I substituted the non-Greek products in her recipe with two well-known Greek ones that are also imported into Western countries: PAPADOPOULOU biscuits and SKO canned fruits. All these products have become popular outside Greece because they are associated with high quality comestibles and transparent food items - none of them contain any E numbers.

student charlotte

Elizabeth's simple dessert recipe (she calls it a 'student charlotte') is a breeze to assemble; even a child can do this (mine did, in fact!), and the impressive outcome makes you look like a French pastry chef. This dessert can be made in ramekins or in a large mould, according to your preference.

You need:
1 500g can of SKO canned fruits (of your choice; peaches are definitely the tastiest)
1 packet of PAPADOPOULOS Miranda or P'tit Beurre biscuits (Miranda are better than P'tit Beurre, because they are smaller and will fit into a small mould without needing to break them, like P'tit Beurre)
1 500g tub of FAGE yoghurt

student charlotte

Method:
Line a large mould or individual ramekins with some saran wrap around the sides. Take some Miranda or P'tit Beurre PAPADOPOULOU biscuits and line them up, side by side, so that they stick to the saran wrap, on the sides of the mould/ramekins. You can dab them with a blot of yoghurt to ensure this. Now place enough biscuits on the bottom of the mould/ramekins to cover it (you may need to break them to make them fit securely). Spoon a layer of FAGE yoghurt over the biscuit layer. Now place some drained SKO fruit chunks on top of the yoghurt. Repeat this process with the PAPADOPOULOS biscuits, FAGE yoghurt and SKO fruit, until no more layers fit. Top with a final layer of PAPADOPOULOS biscuits. Finally, pour some of the syrup from the SKO fruit over the top layer and down the sides of the mould/ramekins. Cover the dessert with a layer of saran wrap. Place the dessert in the fridge and allow to set (for at least 2 hours).

When ready to serve, tip the mould/ramekins onto an appropriate serving dish (a large platter for the mould, or individual plates for the ramekins).

charlotte miranda fage sko fruit charlotte miranda fage sko fruit
Charlotte made with Miranda Papadopoulou biscuits; these go soft more quickly than P'tit Beurre, so add less syrup.

Voila! Or should I say Opa?!

*** *** ***
The next time you go food shopping, take a look round the shelves of Middle Eastern stores, Greek food supplies and even your local supermarket. You're bound to find some Greek food on the shelves; even Christchurch, New Zealand, a city not at all known for its Greek community stocks Greek food on the shelves of its shops. A caveat: Greek food won't necessarily be labelled as a Greek product; you can verify this by checking the labels and fine print on bottles of olive oil that are labelled as 'products of Italy'. Nearly all mass-produced olive oil exported from Italy contains Greek olive oil.

If you've never tried Greek yoghurt before, Fage USA offers a 0.50 cent online coupon that you can print out and use, but only in the US: the Greek site offers competitions with prizes on a seasonal basis.

©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, 25 September 2010

Longevity (Μακροζωία)

A bit of food for thought, before I draw a winner for my previous post for a $35 voucher* from Cookware.com* - don't forget to leave a comment there!

The following text has been taken from Wikipedia: "The word longevity is sometimes used as a synonym for 'life expectancy' in demography, or to connote 'long life'. Reflections on longevity have usually gone beyond acknowledging the brevity of human life and have included thinking about methods to extend life. Longevity has been a topic not only for the scientific community but also for writers of travel, science fiction, and utopian novels.

"A remarkable statement mentioned by Diogenes Laertius (c. 250 AD) is the earliest (or at least one of the earliest) references about plausible centenarian longevity given by a scientist, the astronomer Hipparchus of Nicea (c. 185 – c. 120 BC), who, according to the doxographer, was assured that the philosopher Democritus of Abdera (c. 470/460 – c. 370/360 BC) lived 109 years. All other accounts given by the ancients about the age of Democritus appear, without giving any specific age, to agree that the philosopher lived over 100 years. This possibility is likely, given that many ancient Greek philosophers are thought to have lived over the age of 90 (e.g., Xenophanes of Colophon, c. 570/565 – c. 475/470 BC, Pyrrho of Ellis, c. 360 – c. 270 BC, Eratosthenes of Cirene, c. 285 – c. 190 BC, etc.). The case of Democritus is different from the case of, for example, Epimenides of Crete (7th, 6th centuries BC), who is said to have lived 154, 157 or 290 years, as has been said about countless elders even during the last centuries as well as in the present time. These cases are not verifiable by modern means.

"Various factors contribute to an individual's longevity. Significant factors in life expectancy include gender, genetics, access to health care, hygiene, diet and nutrition, exercise, lifestyle, and crime rates. Men often have a lower life expectancy than women, while some countries fare better than others in longevity rates. Population longevities can be seen as increasing due to increases in life expectancies around the world.

"Recent increases in the rates of lifestyle diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, may drastically slow or reverse this trend toward increasing life expectancy in the developed world. Since 1840, record life expectancy has risen linearly for men and women, albeit more slowly for men. For women the increase has been almost three months per year. In light of steady increase, without any sign of limitation, the suggestion that life expectancy will top out must be treated with caution.

"Scientists observe that experts who assert that 'life expectancy is approaching a ceiling ... have repeatedly been proven wrong.' It is thought that life expectancy for women has increased more dramatically due to the considerable advances in medicine related to childbirth. Some argue that molecular nanotechnology will greatly extend human life spans. If the rate of increase of life span can be raised with these technologies to a level of twelve months increase per year, this is defined as effective biological immortality and is the goal of radical life extension."

*** *** ***
The average Greek enjoys a long life expectancy, close to 79 years on average. Women are more likely to live longer than men by up to 5 years. This makes our old people highly visible in society. You see old men congregated in kafeneia, just sitting in probably their favorite seat, sipping on a Greek coffee (the cheapest one available in a kafeneio). Banks are another popular hangout for old people (they used to come in from the cold and warm themselves up in the large lobby, until the double doors with security locks put a stop to this practice). Women wearing their traditional black widows' garb, carrying a functional black leatherette handbag, their gray hair cut short or piled high in a bun, wait patiently for their turn to take their pension. Doctors' surgeries (both public and private offices) are often teeming with old people waiting to get a prescription filled or have their blood pressure checked.

How visible are old people where you live?

Their clothes, their voices, their position at the table, their special chair in a living room all point to old people's seniority and their unique position in the family. Our old people often live in the same house as their children, maybe in a small self-contained unit in the same building. Old people's homes are not the norm in Crete; besides, they are too expensive for the average Greek and may require a certain financial commitment before being accepted into one. This is not a sign of an undeveloped nation; Greece shares this situation with very influential ones.

When old people can't be cared for directly by their family (eg they live in a village and prefer not to leave the area where they lived all their lives), they are often looked after by live-in carers who are paid out of the pension of the old person or by the person's family.

The Mediterranean diet, a high reliance on olive oil and a generally more relaxed lifestyle are all said to contribute to the longevity of Cretan people. But new factors, such as a higher incidence of cancer (blamed on pollutants), a rise in coronary disease (blamed on the shift from the traditional diet to globalised food trends) and a more sedentary lifestyle coupled with road traffic accidents is threatening this tradition of longevity.

*Cookware.com ships to the US, Canada, the UK and Germany. International shipping charges may apply.

©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, 20 September 2010

Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard (Γευματίζοντας στο Παρίσι)

Do you, perchance, need any ramekins, or a double boiler, or even a Dutch oven? Cookware.com*  is offering a $35 gift voucher* in this post that you can use to buy one! 

Since I moved to Greece, I lost many of my earliest material memories that I grew up with in New Zealand. Above all, I lamented the loss of my book collection. At first it pained me to recall all those books sitting on the shelves of my bookcase, which I had painted myself in bright colours. They had been bought mainly at second-hand bookshops. I couldn't keep them all, so I decided to give them away. Most ended up being returned to the bookshops that I had brought them from. In essence, I never really got over this loss, until the arrival of the internet, which meant that I could find cheap copies of the same books, as well as add to my collection with well-priced new ones.

What I was mainly left with from New Zealand was my mother's crockery and kitchenware collections. After my mother's death, my grieving father packed up and left NZ, carting everything from his old home to his new one in Greece via container-ship; even the rubbish bin came with him, as he wasn't in a good state of mind to sort things out. He moved out of a 3-bedroom double-lounge kitchen-dining room suburban bungalow into an inner-city apartment with just three (very small) rooms; of course, not everything could be accommodated! I ended up with enough plates and glasses and knives and forks to last me a lifetime. I never really needed to buy anything new for my own kitchen; my mother's kitchenware took up all the available space in my cupboards. This made me look good when I got married; even though my mother had passed away, my acquaintances could see that she had taken care of my προίκα adequately.

new year's lunch crockery
Mother's china, passed on to me; this is some of the stuff that I do actually like and use, perhaps 2-3 times a year.

Some people like to treat such items passed on from one generation to another as family heirlooms; I just called them 'stuff'. My mother suffered from stuffomania. She'd buy crockery and kitchen gadgets on sale, stuff she never used. Some of it was on show in glass cabinets, but most of it was stored away, never to be used or seen, until she died and my dad had to deal with it when he decided to sell the house. Western households have larger storage spaces and 'stuff' accumulation doesn't just become a habit, it becomes a way of life. Kitchen cabinets and wall units are often stocked with items that will be used only once a year (like a Christmas plate), while some are never used at all (like a set of fish knives). With the advances in nanotechnology, kitchen gadgets that once took up a lot of space in a kitchen while only being handy for a very small range of kitchen tasks (the food processor is a classic example) have now been replaced by smaller all-purpose gadgets.

kitchen stuff
If you don't drink coffee all day, and the last time you used a steamer was when you were trying to fit into your wedding dress, and your culinary heritage does not include fondue, and you own a multi-purpose blender/chopper/hand-held mixer, then you probably won't be needing any of these items...

After 11 years of marriage, I decided that if I had used some of this stuff less than one time during that period, then it would probably end up never being used. This past summer has been the most cathartic period in my life. Always with my mother's stuffomania fetish in mind, I got rid of a lot of unused items (including wedding presents) that had been hiding in the darkest parts of my wardrobes, cupboards and drawers. Finally I could find things more easily in my de-cluttered storage spaces. Now my tidy kitchen cupboards have enough room to accommodate a set of items that my mother never owned: ramekins.

ramekins
My new ramekins
Ramekins don't figure in Cretan cuisine, unless you want to make glorified versions of basic Cretan dishes like boureki or hortopites - nice ideas, of course, which I could use in the future when Jamie Oliver or Nigella Lawson come to dine with me on my sunny balcony with a view over my town, but right now, I need them to make a delicious-sounding dessert that Elizabeth Bard, an American living in Paris, describes in her book Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes. Elizabeth's story begins with a hot date at Le Chartier Restaurant - and where did I dine with my family when we visited Paris?!

chartier restaurant paris
Le Bouillon Chartier, Paris

It's rare for a cookbook to interest me much these days, because in my humble opinion, most new cookbooks are more the coffee-table type, with enticing food porn and recipes that require difficult-to-source ingredients (for Crete), special cooking equipment or special skills. Elizabeth Bard's book contains no photos, while the recipes simply sound enticing and guaranteed to make an impression. Even though Elizabeth lived in Paris when she wrote this book and her kitchen and refrigerator were both tiny, she seemed to cook a lot like me: she sought out seasonal ingredients whenever possible, her cooking techniques were simple and she used the freezer to her advantage. She now lives in Provence, so I can imagine her growing, cooking and preserving a lot of food too!

Elizabeth also discusses the love of stuff accumulation that her compatriots have, which did not suit the lifestyle of the Parisian that she eventually became. She touches on other ex-pat dilemmas, similar to what any person making the move from the New World to the Old World goes through, which again endeared me to her novel even more: meeting pompous ex-pats who try to maintain their old life in a new country, constantly comparing lifestyles 'here' and 'there', always complaining about how life is 'not the same' with the mis-notion in their brain of gauging everything that happens in one's life by how 'successful' it makes them. Her compatriots were all living the American Dream back in the home country, and wondering why she didn't care if she was leaving it behind. If you have ever left a materialistically-inclined status-conscious capitalistic country for a more relaxed one where the quality of life plays a greater role in society, then you will understand what Elizabeth is trying to say in her book.

*** *** ***

The seductive recipe I fell in love with from Lunch in Paris was a molten chocolate dessert made in individual servings. Elizabeth is very effective in her multiple uses for various kitchenware, but I felt that I couldn't make these delightful desserts without investing in a set of ramekins.

Pots de chocolat: Elizabeth says "this recipe makes you look a teensy bit like a culinary genius in front of guests." Ideally, they are cooked just until the outer part forms a cakey crust, so that the centre is molten and syrupy. I cooked half the batch in this way, and the other half until they formed a firm cake; both taste great, especially with ice-cream or fresh berry fruit to accompany them. This dessert is not only easy to make, but you can also freeze it to cook when needed. Having tried this, I can tell you it cooks better this way.

But I didn't buy ramekins just to make one recipe, did I? I used them to individualise Elizabeth's charlotte recipe, too, using some well-known high quality Greek export products (the recipe will be posted soon in another post).

I made the charlotte according to the recipe Elizabeth gave in her book, and then modified it to make it just a tad more glamorous, by making it in individual portions with the help of the ramekins. 

I am looking forward to individualising Elizabeth's profiterole recipe too. And what about my kids' favorite - creme caramel, here I come!

The recipes for these delicious desserts can be found in Lunch in Paris. And if you don't own any ramekins (or a double boiler, or even a Dutch oven!), Cookware.com* has given me the chance to give away a $35 gift voucher* through my blog, with which you can order from their site. Just leave a comment on this post, and I will draw the lucky winner in ten days' time!

*Please note that Cookware.com only ships to the US, Canada, the UK and Germany. International shipping charges will apply.

©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, 15 September 2010

Eggplant cheese rolls at Aithrion (Μελιτζανομπουρεκάκια στο Αίθριον)

This year has been annus horribilis for most people right around the world. It is no different for us either. The economic crisis meant we could not stray too far away from our home for a summer holiday break.. I am left with memories of last year's summer holiday, and the wonderful meals we savoured in Northern Greece. 

Summer was never my favorite season. I always liked the rain. Good thing, as I lived in New Zealand for a long time, and had to put up with it on most days. Since living in Greece, I've spent every single summer in Hania, and hardly ever saw a drop of rain throughout the summer months. Last year was the first time I saw a really rainy summer, when I visited Halkidiki. It felt strange walking on the beach in our swimwear, watching the rain falling down. It first started to spit before heavy raindrops began to splatter onto the sand. The beach-goers were all scrambling to get their gear packed and they were gone in seconds.

haystack cassandra halkidiki cassandra halkidiki cassandra halkidiki
rainy day cassandra halkidiki rainy day cassandra halkidiki
We made it back to the car just in time before the rainfall turned into a heavy downpour with thunder and lightning, the likes of which I had never seen. We were driving in the rain in a place unknown to us. We had been harbouring dreams of driving up and down the first two legs of Halkidiki (the third one isn't open to females) to look at the scenery. We were already impressed by the unusual scenery (to us Cretans) that we had come across: mechanically-rolled haystacks, patchwork quilt fields and forest-lined coastlines. Now all we wanted was to find a safe place away from the storm to get some lunch.

 aithrion cassandra halkidiki

On our holiday up to that point, we had been dining out on a lot of barbecued meat, and we were all tired of this, craving, instead, for something cooked in a pot with an oily sauce.We passed quite a few fast food places before we came across Aithrion. Even in the driving rain, it looked very, very pretty - the overgrown greenery made us feel closer to nature.

We parked the car across the road from the restaurant and waited for the rain to retreat a little. It didn't. It just got harder and harder. It's really frightening trying to cross a busy road in the rain with two children in tow!

aithrion cassandra halkidiki

The atmosphere at Aithrion may be described by some people as rather kitsch: old-time trinkets from yesteryear hanging on the walls, traditional handcrafts, odd one-of-a-kind furniture with no set pattern. We liked it a lot. I guess we're a bit old-fashioned! The owner was also a musician (he told us he often came to Hania and played music in the taverna of a friend!), so there were a lot of music memorabilia such as photographs of songers and song verses pasted around the restaurant.

It wasn't just the atmosphere, but the food was also fanstastic: home-made bread, soutzoukakia, makaronada, gigandes, rabbit stifado, and the specialty of the house: deep-fried cheese-filled aubergine rolls. At the end of the meal, we were treated to donuts in chocolate syrup and sweet wine. What a way to finish our stay in Northern Greece.
aithrion cassandra halkidiki dessert aithrion cassandra halkidiki 
aithrion cassandra halkidiki
aithrion cassandra halkidiki aithrion cassandra halkidiki

This year, I decided to try making my own version of melitzanobourekakia at home; here's what I came up with.

You need
1 large eggplant, sliced thinly (I used a white eggplant which yielded 8 large slices - white eggplant is sweeter and is ideal for frying)
creamy soft white curd cheese (I used Cretan mizithra)
some Greek strained yoghurt
a sprig of fresh mint, chopped finely
salt and pepper
thick runny batter made with a simple flour-water mixture
oil for frying

white eggplant white eggplant slices
This eggplant looks shrivelled. It had been lying in the shade for a few days after it was picked. It's actually perfect for frying because it is less juicy. The texture of the uncooked product doesn't affect the taste of the cooked dish. The slices, in retrospect, should have been thinner. To make them more pliable, maybe they need to be boiled slightly, and left to cool before using them.

You may want to prepare the eggplant slices by salting them and letting them run their excess juices out of the flesh. I don't do this because home-grown Cretan garden eggplant is generally very tasty rather than bitter. Season the eggplant slices with salt and pepper. Allow the eggplant to drain away its excess juices. Mix the curd cheese (I used about a fistful of mizithra) with the yoghurt (I used about 100g), and add the salt (if you did not use it in the eggplant preparation), pepper and mint.

filling for melitzanobourekakia melitzanobourekakia
Take a slice of eggplant, and place a tablespoon of mixture at one end. Roll up the eggplant slice, trying to cover the filling as well as possible. Secure it with a toothpick, or a long souvlaki skewer (kebab), which will make frying them easier.

melitzanobourekakia melitzanobourekakia

When you are ready to cook the eggplant rolls, heat a large amount of oil in a small deep saucepan. (A friteusse works even better in this case, as it is less messy, but it uses a lot of oil.) Then dip the roll into the flour-and-water batter, covering all parts well. The batter acts as a seal. Deep fry until the rolls are well browned all over. Remove from the oil and drain on absorbent paper. Take out the toothpick or skewer.

melitzanobourekakia
I couldn't achieve the runny texture of Aithrion's melitzanobourekakia filling; I suspect that if more yoghurt is added, the the filling will be runnier.

Serve these rolls as an appetiser, or as a main meal with a green salad. They are very filling!

new use for a plastic lined tablecloth

It was still raining when we left the restaurant. The staff taught us a new use for the traditional Greek plastic-lined paper tablecloth: it could also become a raincoat! The rain did not stop us from venturing further into Halkidiki, where Cheryl warmed us up with coffee, cake and chocolate chip biscuits.

If you are in the area of Halkidiki, you might like to try Aithrion on the Cassandra leg; the total cost of our meal (including drinks) was 43 euro (at last year's prices).

©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, 10 September 2010

Wood (Ξύλο)

Not pee see at all; you have been warned. 

"Don't do it, because if you do, θα σε κάνω τόπι στο ξύλο," my mother often told me. I must have done whatever she told me not to do very often, because I remember eating a lot of wood when I was young. It always came in the form of footwear. I can still picture my mother taking off her slipper - the open kind, the fashion we call 'mules' these days, in a powdery blue colour, with a rounded toe and synthetic fur round the edge - and directing it onto my legs. If I remember correctly, it would leave a red imprint on my skin for at least two days.

Eating wood was once very widespread in Greece; most kids ate it at some point in their life. Although it wasn't the norm to feed Kiwi school pupils wood, in 1970s Wellington, quite a few kids knew what it tasted like. Take Mrs Fa'alofa* at my old primary school: she didn't like it when kids swore. She probably meant it when she told her class that if she heard them use bad words again, she'd wash their mouth with soap and water. This applied to everyone, except the Fijians. You see, Mrs Fa'alofa, being Fijian herself, knew that a serving of wood could also be applied - but only to her own kind, of course.

The school rules also changed after half-past three, when the Greek after-school language program began, in the same building as the one the children of Greek immigrants attended during the day, where they did their lessons during regular school hours in the New Zealand state school system. At half-past three, the Greek school teacher would come along, and when the children did not perform well in reading and writing Greek, or when they were naughty, rude or disobedient, the teacher would resort to the same system used in Greece to bring order back to the classroom: s/he would bring out the βέργα. In Greece, this was usually a long slender cane cut from the branch of an olive tree, denuded of fruit and leaves. The teacher would ask the child to stretch out its hand, and the βέργα would make a whipping sound as it came down onto the child's palm. In New Zealand Greek school, there were no olive branches at the teacher's disposal, so a ruler was used instead. It was just as effective. And no one ever complained or thought it inappropriate; they were probably used to it at home anyway.

olive tree fournes hania chania

But unlike in Greece, the tide was turning against wood eating, not just in public places, but even in private homes. One day, Rallou came home from school and told her father that, from now on, if the Greek school teacher forced a meal of wood on her, she would tell her English school teacher, and the Greek school teacher would go to jail. Not that Rallou had ever been given wood to eat from any teacher; she was a very good student with nice manners. Her dad, like most Greek dads, didn't do the cooking in the house; Rallou's mother did, and when she saw fit, she whipped up a batch of wood for any of her children whenever necesary.

Stelios enjoyed having his children tell him how they spent their day at school. He liked to ask them about what they learnt, so that he could learn about those things too, because he did not have the opportunity to learn a lot in his school days, as they were cut short by the war. But this was not the kind of thing he had expected his children to be taught at school. "Come again?" asked her father. "Why are you telling me this?"

Rallou explained to him that in today's lessons, the teacher told all the pupils in the class that no one in the world is allowed to hit anyone else, and if anyone hits her, and the teacher meant anyone at all, even her own parents, then she has to tell her teacher, and the teacher will tell the headmaster, and the headmaster will tell the police, and the police will come and take the person who hit her to jail, and they wouldn't be allowed to hit her ever again.

Rallou's dad was a very easy-going chap. Stelios never gave anyone any trouble. He smiled and laughed a lot, especially when he arrived in New Zealand, because he could tell, immediately on landing in this new world, that it was nothing like his old world, and that in his new free life, everything was going to be good (except maybe the weather), a fact that alleviated the wounds that his old life had left him: faint scars from the time when he was being chased by the Nazis because he had stolen their telegraph equipment and given it to the Cretan resistance fighters, and the Nazis came to his house looking for him and his father, who had dressed him up in his sister's clothes, and put a pail in his hand and told him to pretend that he was going to the chicken coop to find some eggs,while his father escaped - in his grandmother's clothes - through a window. When Stelios came back two days later, he found only the stone work of the house upright, guarding the smoldering remains of the rest of the house which had been set fire to. His mother and siblings had taken shelter in the neighbour's stables; his father was never seen alive again.

vathi hania chania
These houses (Vathi, Hania, Crete) were abandoned after they were set fire to during WW2.

The story his daughter told him made him raise his eyebrows. He could not believe what he was hearing. Since he did not tell anyone what to do in their house, he expected this respect to be returned by people when they were in his house. Although the teacher was not in his house at this very moment telling him what to do and what not to do, his daughter's announcement struck him as an invasion of privacy. He did not like to have the finger pointed at him, like a suspect in a criminal offence, when he had never even committed the crime in question in the first place.

So he took a piece of crayon from his children's stash of colours, moved the table and chairs to the wall, and drew a map of Crete on the wooden floor of their kitchen. He called Rallou, who was in the living room watching Sesame Street with her brother Kosta.

"Can't it wait, Dad?" Both Kosta and Rallou liked Sesame Street (they had grown out of Play School).

"Come her right now, both of you," her father shouted, something he did not do much at all in the house. The children subconsciously knew this quite well, because it was the tone in his voice that aroused them from their semi-drugged state of mind as they were watching the box. This tone sounded rather frightening. They rushed into the kitchen to see what was happening, where they found the furniture rearranged and the drawing on the floor. Indeed, something serious was taking place.

"Come on in, both of you." Stelios spoke firmly. "Step inside," he said, pointing to the map he had drawn on the floor. "There's room for all of us in here." He placed his feet within the borders of the map.

"Have I ever told you what to do?" The children did not initially respond. They stared at the fatehr with confused looks on their faces.


"Have I ever hit you?" he asked them both.

"No," the children answered almost simultaneously. They knew the answer to that one, and did not need to confer with each other to agree on the correct response here.

"Το ξέρετε ότι το ξύλο βγήκε από το παράδεισo?" Stelios asked them.

The children probably didn't know this, but they would never have suspected that the words 'wood' and 'paradise' could be collocated anyway.

Stelios continued. "Maybe you just don't know how good your life is, then!" And with that, he grabbed each child from the one arm, and whacked their bum with his hand.

The children began crying, which was only natural. When their mum fed them wood, they usually knew why they were being served it. Today, they couldn't make sense of the situation.

"But what did we do?" they pleaded.

Their father was not listening to them. "Now, Rallou, you go ahead and tell your teacher. And don't forget to tell her that you were standing in Crete when this happened!" And that was the first and last time Stelios ever gave his children wood to eat.

*** *** ***
Nowadays most of us prefer to discipline our children by other means, eg taking away their internet rights and/or gameboys, grounding them, not allowing to have friends over or to visit them, etc. A good one in the hot weather is 'no ice-cream'. These are all forms of synthetic wood, and they feel a bit like a substitute for the real thing.

game boy
I resisted investing in these until only just recently. When I let them play with them, I get the feeling that the children aren't in the house at all.

Sometimes these substitutes have the same value as junk food: the effects of bad nutrition are similar to the effects of ineffective punishment. They are wholly inappropriate under certain circumstances, like when a child rummages through the drawers in his parents' bedroom and finds a small sharp blade that he places under his bum to hide it as he's sitting on a chair, just as his mum serves him lambchops for lunch. When he squeezes some lemon over his meat, and the juice splatters into his eyes, he cries out in pain and rushes to the bathroom to wash his face. The parent (the one who stayed at the table while the other accompanied the child to the bathroom) who discovers the blade lying innocently on the chair will probably have a heart attack before he manages to reach the bathroom to check if the child's affliction really was caused by the lemon juice, or if it was something else. The child's next meal will probably contain a good solid serving of wood, no artificial flavourings or colours added.

Just like Rallou's dad, my dad never EVER ever gave me wood to eat, but I do remember once (I was a pre-schooler) when he gave me a plate similar to what the waiter gave this little boy (mine contained soup, not makaronada). Wood was also being served at this restaurant - you can see the waiter eating quite a bit. 

Bear in mind that under current laws, feeding wood to your kids is actually prohibited by law in Greece just like it is in New Zealand, as is speaking on a cellphone while driving, not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle and not smoking in public places, but it is controversially contested as a law, both in New Zealand, and in Greece, whereas the other infractions of the law are not. Fake servings of wood can also become contentious issues, especially when unknown customs are brought into play. But there were also times when eating wood became a form of survival.

*not her real name
Thanks to Nikos and Alekos for some of the ideas that I wove into this story.

©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, 5 September 2010

Cook the Books: Pomodoro! by David Gentilcore (Μαγειρεύοντας τα Βιβλία: Πομοντόρο!))

When I recently smashed the very last jar of last year's home-made tomato sauce as I was moving something in the fridge, I was devastated. This year's tomato crop did not get off to a good start, and I didn't end up making enough of my home-made tomato sauce to last me through to the next season, which is why the sudden and undignified loss of that final jar made from last season's harvest caused the same effect as it would to a wine connoisseur who lost his grip of a bottle housing an old and rare bottle of wine. The importance of tomato in Southern European Mediterranean cuisine cannot be underestimated. It is a ubiquitous crop in the typical Greek summer garden. It is also one of the most revered tastes in a Mediterranean kitchen: it's hard to imagine what Italian/Greek food would look like if the vibrant red of a Mediterranean-grown tomato was missing.  

Pomodoro! by David Gentilcore (Columbia University, NY, 2010) is a tribute to the importance of this special crop, which plays a prominent role in the Southern European kitchen. Given its importance, it is hard to believe that the tomato is such a recent addition to  my own country's cuisine. Aglaia Kremezi notes that the tomato came into the Greek kitchen in the 19th century; before that, the tomato was seen as a poisonous but beautiful species of flower!


The history of the tomato could be described as saucy, just like its use. We learn from Pomodoro! that it started off being considered a poisonous plant, related to two other equally unpopular plants in antiquity: the tomato, the eggplant and deadly nightshade are all part of the Solanum family of plants. Eggplant and tomato are now eaten all over the world, as is the potato (another relative to the tomato), but deadly nightshade (Solanum nigrum) is known to very few, mainly Cretans like myself (we call it stifno), and people living on the Mediterranean coastline of Southern Turkey.

eggplants at dusk in mid november hania chania stifno solanum nigrum deadly nightshade
The tomato (below left) is closely related to the eggplant (above left), deadly nightshade (called stifno in Crete; above right), and - of all things - the potato (below right). One look at their leaves and the resemblance becomes more apparent!
tomato plants december hania chania potato patch

Some trivia from Gentilcore's book: Tomato was regarded as poor man's food, not just because it couldn't provide nourishment in the way other crops like wheat did, but because tomato was a low-lying crop; the closer to the ground a crop lay,  the more lowly its status! The book covers the tomato's career as it became an object of scientific interest, eventually being regarded as an exotic garden species by the rich, before gaining its reputation as the most important global non-grain crop, with Italy being "Europe's premier tomato nation". The book also contains some of the earliest known Italian tomato recipes, which unsurprisingly are still being used in slight variations following the technological innovations of modern times (eg the grater, the food processor, a greater range of spices available almost everywhere, etc). Some sad truths about tomato production are touched on in the epilogue, from the import of tomatos from China to Italy while local tomatos were left rotting in the Italian countryside, to the attempts to genetically modify tomato, which "turned out to be a dud".  

*** *** ***
The tomato season in Crete is longer than other Greek regions, given the extended sunny period that Crete enjoys. We can enjoy the taste of garden fresh tomato grown in the open field for at least six months.  It is most unusual for me to cook something without the use of tomato in some way. Tomato doesn't usually play a prominent role in our meal; it is nearly always a highly essential ingredient in my cooking, playing a background role. It is rarely referred to in the name of the dishes I cook, but its absence would be blatantly obvious. Because tomato is such an important ingredient in my family's food, just like David Gentilcore's mother, I make a lot of home-made tomato sauce for use in the winter; tomato is a staple in the Cretan kitchen 

Here's a slightly sharp-tasting sauce that combines tomato and olive oil with some herbs and spices, to make a great dip for thickly sliced sourdough bread. It can be used for a topping on rusk or toast. This kind of dip is commonly eaten in Crete right throughout the open-air growing season for tomato. A freshly grated tomato over a slice of bread or rusk was a popular snack (until globalisation got its way and changed people's dietary habits).

tomato dip
You need:
1 large tomato, grated
1-2 cloves of garlic, according to taste
olive oil
salt and oregano for seasoning

Drain the grated tomato of its excess liquids. Add the salt to the grated tomato, and let stand in a fine sieve until more liquids drain away. Chop the garlic finely and add this with the oregano to the strained tomato in a small wide bowl. Drizzle some olive oil over the tomato. Use this dip with slices of fresh sourdough bread (optionally toasted), as a snack or a light meal, accompanied by some cheese.

If you don't want to go through so much processing, why not just enjoy tomato straight off the plant, just like my daughter!
christine's tomato salad christine's tomato salad christine's tomato salad christine's tomato salad christine's tomato salad christine's tomato salad

Thanks to Rachel, the Crispy Cook, for the chance to review Pomodoro!: A History of the Tomato in Italy (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) by David Gentilcore (Columbia University, NY, 2010).

©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, 1 September 2010

Fast food is good food (Το γρήγορο φαγητό είναι καλό φαγητό)

My husband and I were recently talking about moving house and building a new one a few kilometres away from where we currently live now, in a countryside setting.

the ferry boat in port at souda bay skidia fournes hania chania
Left: The view we have now. Right: The view we want in the future.

It may sound like we have suddenly come into a windfall. Fortunately or unfortunately - depending on the way one views the saying 'money can't buy happiness' - this isn't the case. One day, we'd like to be able to move house for a change of lifestyle: we'd like to live on a large tract of (family-owned) land, closer to our orange orchards and olive grove, giving us more flexibility to grow more of our own produce, including the possibility of raising animals (something we aren't doing now) for our own use.

olive grove fournes hania chania
Our closest neighbours at the moment near the olive grove live 1.5 kilometres away - they are retired Germans! We often see them foraging along the road heading towards our grove. Living in the countryside is not as difficult as it seems in modern times, since the roads are now tarmacked, and basic services (water, phone, electricity) are more readily available.

Keeping animals carries with it a huge responsibility - it means that you can't leave your home without making arrangements for someone else to carry on your work while you are away. (This way of life is not much different from how we live now - living with an elderly person who has lost her mobility means we still do pretty much the same thing.) Since we'd both be closer to retirement, we would have more time on our hands to do this. And as I look out from the window of our new house that looks down onto our olive trees and up to the Lefka Ori, I would then be inspired to type up that novel that I've been writing in my head for the last year or so...

lefka ori covered in snow fournes hania chania
Another view of Lefka Ori from the olive grove

But it seems that I am coming in too late to the game. Food from the earth is old hat; according to Rachel Laudan, I'm a Culinary Luddite!
The article presented in the above reader was written almost a decade ago, and was recently revised for publication in the Utne Reader, which provides a number of links to other food-related debates. It received some attention in the NY times blog; the comments there share similarities in their misunderstanding about modern food with some of Rachel's ideas about slow food. In essence, one could say that humans now all eat processed food, whether they like it or not, but the notion of 'processed (ie fast) food' needs to be distinguished among categories of food and not confused with 'junk food'.

One of the recurrent themes in the article is that "Eating fresh, natural food was regarded with suspicion verging on horror, something to which only the uncivilised, the poor, and the starving resorted."* If this has some measure of truth, it is only because refrigeration wasn't invented until relatively recently, and even then, most people (in the case of Greece, as recently as less than 40 years) wouldn't have had a refrigerator in their house, so they would have spent a lot of time foraging fresh ingredients and eating what they could there and then before finding other ways to preserve or store it before that fresh food - both raw and cooked - went bad.

 
It is difficult to understand the feeling of euphoria that a farmer has when he plants a successful garden...

The availability of refrigeration ("egalitarian, available more or less equally to all, without demanding disproportionate amount of resources of time and money") has obliterated any revulsion against eating fresh food; it's helped many of the still "uncivilised" and "poor" to be able to preserve their own fresh produce easily and make it available to them in less abundant times - so long as there is regular power supply in their area. We don't usually starve in this day and age due to lack of food; it's usually war, politics and mismanagement that keep food away from the needy. How many times have we heard about supermarkets and the ordinary public that throw away edible food?

The evolution of mankind has constantly improved living conditions for people and animals, and even for plants. Through evolution, we went from milk to yoghurt, from dry crackers to soft raised bread, from freshly caught fish to salted cod. Through evolution, we went from being primitive nomads foraging their food daily to civilised settlers with "a securely-locked storehouse jammed with preserved, processed foods."

food storage
Some people buy their processed food; some others process their own produce. We generally live in abundant times, with the luxury to do both at whatever cost we can afford.

But these ample supplies of preserved food were not actually enough. As Rachel admits: "the rich, in search of a varied diet, bought, stole, wheedled, robbed, taxed, and ran off with appealing plants and animals, foodstuffs, and culinary techniques from wherever they could find them." In other words, fresh food really was the key to the tastiest meal for both the rich and the poor, but for the former, it put them out of their routine in their quest to procure it, while for the latter, it was all they had. Food rationing during WW2 in Britain put the lack of fresh food (with a heavy reliance on preserved imported food) in the spotlight:
We all think and talk about food eternally, not because we are hungry but because our meals are boring and expensive and difficult to come by... what I wouldn't give for orange juice or steak and onions or chocolate or apples or cream. (1941 diary extract, quote from the Ministry of Food exhibition)
Boring. That's how they regarded the "modern, fast, homogeneous and international" food that was being imported into the country during the period the UK was subjected to food rationing.

I spend a lot of my time preserving fresh produce, especially in the summer. Two of the most important products in our Cretan kitchen are tomatoes and olives.
tomato paste for the winter tsakistes olives for the winter

"Traditional societies," Rachel reminds us, "were aristocratic, made up of the many who toiled to produce, process, preserve and prepare food, and the few who, supported by the limited surplus, could do other things." Throughout the world, there was, is, and always will be, a divide between the rich and the poor. The world survives on this kind of separation of the people. The rich will always have access to better quality food in a greater variety than the poor, while the poor will constantly be working to provide food and other services for the rich. Some people will continue to "get on with their lives", while others will continue to provide the basic services the former group needs to continue with their lives.

Despised products like corn syrup and GMOs will continue to be hated while, at the same time, be considered more acceptable elements of the food chain for certain elements of society (the poor is an obvious one), besides bringing in great profits for their makers. Discount supermarkets will probably always sell the cheapest canned tomatoes, while placing an organic label on the packaging will always give added value; you buy the quality that you pay for. The range in prices for food is there to remind us that we all have different pockets and different priorities. No matter how the world changes, people will always need to be fed, and the food people generally want to eat still comes from freshly grown produce that is processed, preserved and prepared into an edible form, not from chemicals or glass tubes. Fresh food will continue to form the basis of fast food.

DSC01459
We were recently invited to dinner at the country house of some friends who spend their summers on the island. When it was time to serve the meal, the first thing the hostess did was to tell us what each dish was, and the origins of the ingredients: "The chicken is from the village, the rabbit is from my mother's farm, and the artichokes (in the tart) were freshly picked and refrigerated by my mother in the spring." None of the food was processed by the hosts, and some of meal wasn't what I'd call traditional Greek cuisine, but they took pride in knowing the origin of the fresh ingredients.   

"City dwellers, above all, relied on fast food." No surprise, and they still do, since they are the ones most likely to live in small dwellings with tiny kitchens and no gardens; they are also the ones who are most likely to work not just outside the home, but for long hours away from home and quite a distance from home, so they need to have easy-to-store (or -buy) food that can be cooked or reheated quickly. There are times when these townies differ little from mountain dwellers who need to have a bit of salt cod in their pantries (or frozen fish in their deep freeze) if they want a taste of fish every now and then without putting themselves to the trouble of procuring it the day they want to cook it. That's what evolution has given us: time-saving technology and the ability to store safely preserved fresh food that doesn't go off quickly.

boureki
Boureki in 15 minutes, with the help of a mandolin slicer, then into the freezer it goes, with a note attached: "Just add oil"; 'fast food' that my grandmother would have recognised. The aspect of "servitude" is now performed by technology.

That's why I can send my kids away to study without worrying what they'll be eating**, because no matter how 'bad' the food is wherever they are, no matter how much of that notorious 'bad food' they pour into their bodies, food safety can generally be relied upon by keeping in mind a few general rules. And that's the idea that I have about that village house: while my kids are away eating 'bad food', I'll be growing fresh produce and turning it into 'good food' (just like I do now), so that when my brood comes home for the holidays and we want to spend quality time together as a family, I won't need to slave away in the kitchen preparing their favorite pastitsio or boureki or order take-out food because I had gotten used to having more me-time and don't want to give it up. I'll just pop a tin of freshly preserved food out of the fridge and get on with life, and my kids won't even know it wasn't prepared on the same day - they are eating the same food cooked in the same way now.

kitchen
Apart from the refrigerator and deep freeze, my right-hand man in the kitchen when I preserve/prepare fresh produce is my instant mixer/cutter - can you see it? It's a tireless servant, cheap to buy and lasts for ages. 

I take exception to the idea that slow food is just a notion of bygone times: "... it is easy to wax nostalgic about a time when families and friends met to relax over delicious food, and to forget that, far from being an invention of the late twentieth century, fast food has become a mainstay of every society." My experience of eating in Crete goes wildly against this: people take great pride in the food they grow, cook and eat, and they always share it among family and friends. It is unthinkable to do otherwise. It is also difficult to believe (for a Greek islander like myself) that most people do not partake of a delicious meal in a relaxing environment with their family; they are missing out on one of the greatest moments in life. A common prejudice is that people who are very involved in food production live a simple isolated life and do not have a good grasp of modern life; in short, they show signs of a lack of progress. How far away from the truth that is in Crete.  

village people village fare
Vegetarians aside, I pity those who cannot savour the taste from the tapsi in the photograph below. Everything (literally, including the salt) was harvested/raised/produced by the man (he's my age) in the top left photo, while his wife (sitting next to him, 10 years younger) cooked everything shown on the table in the top right photograph. You might be wondering if they live a peasant lifestyle: he's a carpenter, she's a school cleaner, and they live in the town in a semi-detached suburban house. Their land and their food is very important to them. Their 3 children go to school in the town, and take part in urban activities. They are no different to the teacher and the taxi driver who visited them.
tapsi roasting pan

The idea that home-cooked food is 'slow' will never have occurred to some Cretans, since they often assume that this is the only kind of food that can be called 'φαγητό'. When they eat 'fast food' (don't confuse this term with its modern meaning of 'junk food'), they'll tell you that they didn't cook any 'φαγητό' (food) today, because they didn't have time, eg during the olive harvest, but even though it wouldn't be as appetising or appealing as their slow food, it would still have been somewhat tasty and delicious, maybe a boiled farm-fresh egg and a potato, served with whatever fresh seasonable salad vegetables are on hand, all doused with olive oil, and a few slices of bakery bread, with maybe some tinned tuna or luncheon meat for extra protein.

cretan breakfast
This kind of meal is touted as Cretan breakfast - it is what tourists look out for on a tourist menu. Most of the food in the photo involves requires a minimal amount of processing; it can also be said to be 'fast food' as it is very quick to prepare.

This kind of meal is called 'πρόχειρο φαγητο' (Google translates this phrase as 'snack'), nearly always made with slow food, not a supermarket TV dinner or a can of baked beans. Fast food to those people is a boiled potato without the horta, a salad without the roast meat, the ubiquitous slice of bread and hunk of cheese that children carried to school with them for 'κολατσιό' reminiscent of the post-WW2 era when Greece was rebuilding herself from the ravages of war.

DSC01474 DSC01471 DSC01476 DSC01475 DSC01478 
As I was writing this post, I went about on my normal daily food-preparation duties: cooking the Sunday roast (using granny's recipe), watering the garden, and harvesting fresh produce. My daughter made me a (classy) glass of orange juice using oranges from our own trees, and at the end of the day, I ate some of my home-prepared 'fast food' on a slice of bakery bread and thought about the different ways I was going to prepare/preserve my produce (the eggplants were turned into moussaka (frozen in portions), while the zucchini were made into boureki for the next day's meal.

One thing I particularly like about the food customs in Crete is that they haven't quite yet reached the completely globalised point as they have in other cultures. Nearly all global foods are available on the island, but you will have to visit  the high-end supermarkets to find (to put it more politely) acquired tastes. For instance, don't look too hard to find chili-flavoured strawberry jam in Crete. Not that people shouldn't eat chili-flavoured strawberry jam, but here, they don't need to, nor do they demand it, and if it were available, given that people's tastebuds are culturally attuned, it probably wouldn't be popular. Again, only the high-end supermarkets make the effort to sell outlandish food, eg, of all things, Mexican blackberries! Of course, outlandish food calls for outlandish prices: imported Dutch strawberries (off-season) are now available for over 11 euro a kilo!

imported products in hania chania supermarket
Peruvian asparagus spears are available in the local supermarket (at absurd prices), but it's highly unlikely a local will buy them. This kind of food is generally bought by tourist residents, ie Northern Europeans who have retired here. 

In Crete, people can still find a great variety of good quality affordable locally produced food. In the prefecture of Hania alone, I counted at least 15 varieties of locally produced cheeses (the French would relish in the sight!), each made in a different village of Western Crete, less than 100 kilometres from the main town, ranging from 10 to 18 euro a kilo, in the local supermarket. This range does not include the imported cheeses which are also available, eg Edam, Cheddar and Gouda, to name a few of the well-known mass-produced global cheeses. Local, national and imported cheeses are eaten with a different purpose in mind; convenience and choice are available for all.

DSC01484
Cretans generally demand a high degree of traceability in their food. Origin and degree of processing are just as important as price and taste in their decision to buy fresh produce. The range of graviera cheeses (starting from the white block where the woman is standing, right up to the green round on the other side) available at the local supermarket shows just how much variety there is in a small town like Hania - these cheeses are all made in villages within less than 100 kilometres of the main town; they all have their own distinct taste and cannot be confused with each other. These cheeses are rarely available outside Hania, and each region in Crete has its own local cheesemakers. In the summer, Athenians holidaying in Crete buy cheese rounds in their hordes, as variety in Cretan cheese isn't easily available there - transport costs make it unfeasible to send such products even to the mainland...

The food industry is a profitable one in Crete; people still look for quality and ask about origin. Does this make us culinary Luddites? Are we eating in an unsustainable or old-fashioned manner that does not bode well for our future progress? Is it just a waste of time to teach the next generation about this old-fashioned food chain, because in the hi-tech, wireless world that they'll be living in, they won't have the time to cook and eat in this way? I really don't think so. From my own family's experience, where I try to ply them with non-Greek favorites, I have come to the conclusion that people will continue to eat the way their culture has brought them up to eat:
An American needs food but wants a hamburger, French fries, and a soft drink. A person in Mauritius needs food but wants a mango, rice, lentils, and beans. Clearly, wants are shaped by one’s society. (A Framework for Marketing Management, by Philip Kotler, 2001).
*** *** ***
Just like the average Greek, fast food (of the type referred to in the article) is everywhere in my own life - but not necessarily in the form that we normally associate with fast food. Fast food allows me, the person who cooks for the whole family, to get on with my own life: I usually buy our daily bread from the bakery; I buy fresh meat ready chopped in the way I want it to cook a meal; I keep a small piece of ham to slice for sandwiches; I buy fruit and vegetables that I don't grow from the supermarket; we always buy our cheese. They are my fast foods - but they were prepared/grown/raised in appropriate facilities with the latest technology that the producer can afford (this is especially the case with bread), using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. When we process our own food, this shows 'choice', not a lack of progress. But there is also a lot of fast food in my house that I have prepared myself. For a start, there are tins of boureki, pastitsio, moussaka, papoutsakia, home-made pizza and spinach pasties in my deep freeze throughout the year, made with the fresh produce from our garden, which I processed, prepared and preserved. That's how I can have a 'fresh' meal on the table every day even though I didn't have time to cook.

DSC01485
Aubergine cubes, bell pepper shells, tins of prepared Greek meals (the one you can see is moussaka), all waiting in my deep freeze for their turn to be eaten in less abundant (and busier) times.

A (foreign) friend of mine once asked me if I had a once-a-week takeaways night in our house. I admitted that I didn't. This is not because we don't like takeout pizzas or souvlaki - they are both regarded as treats, not 'πρόχειρο φαγητο'. I can produce my own version of fast food in the same time that it takes to order it over the phone and wait for it to arrive to my house: a slice of bread or some bakery rusks, topped with a piece of cheese, cured olives from our fields, a piece of roasted pepper preserved in its own marinade, a freshly marinated anchovy, et voilά, I've got myself a pizza (albeit in deconstructed form). When we eat food that wasn't prepared by ourselves, it usually feels like our own because there is traceability in the ingredients used. Having access to a variety of nutritious safe fast food shows 'progress'. It isn't necessary to resort to the masses of verified junk loaded with sugar or fat. 

kalofagas meal
When I met up with Kalofagas recently on his first visit to Hania, we (his friends in the area) decided that the best meal Peter could eat was a home-cooked one, because that is what truly represents the taste of Crete, not a standard uniformly Greek tourist restaurant meal. My "ethnic" dishes of "peasant origin" may have been "invented" for the "urban aristocrats" but they probably never tasted as good as when they were cooked in a farm kitchen!
The menu was as follows: ορεκτικά - marinated sardines, roasted peppers, eggplant dip; κύρια πιάτα - pilafi, boureki, eggplant imam, yiahni green beans, pork steaks; επιδόρπια - orange pie, kalitsounia with honey. 

A question often asked of school pupils to discuss in the classroom is what technological innovations they would like to see in the future that haven't yet been invented. When they've all finished telling me about aeroplane cars and cleaner-robots, I then tell them what I'd like to see invented some time: an oven which will automatically prepare my choice of meal where my only input is the provision of the raw ingredients. Now that's what I call tasty freshly prepared fast food, made with as much fuss as the way the dishwasher gets my plates spanking clean.

*** *** ***

Rachel insists that, as a historian, she can't accept the sharp divide between good and bad food, in the way that the Culinary Luddites claim. She makes a plea instead for Culinary Modernism:
"We need to know how to prepare good food, and we need a culinary ethos, As far as good food goes, they [the Culinary Luddites] have done us all a service by teaching us how to use the bounty of delivered to us (ironically) by the global economy. Their culinary ethos, though, is another matter. Were we able to turn back the clock, as they urge, most of us would be toiling all day in the fields or the kitchen; many of us would be starving. Nostalgia is not what we need. What we need is an ethos that comes to terms with contemporary, industrialised food, not one that dismissed it, an ethos that opens choices for everyone, not one that closes them for many so that a few may enjoy their labour, and an ethos that does not prejudge, but decides case by case when natural is preferable to processed, fresh to preserved, old to new, slow to fast, artisanal to industrial. Such an ethos, and not a timorous Luddism, is what will impel us to create the matchless modern cuisines appropriate to our time."
In other words, food in this day and age has to come fast, otherwise we won't be able to cope with the other demands made on us by modern life. There is an assumption in the article that most people are (or should be) living urban lives, even though some of us have made a conscious choice not to be urban. It all depends on priorities. For rural people however, it is anathema to suggest that the emphasis on fresh food produced on a small scale is a misconceived notion; it can be equated with removing the very means that allow them to survive. In order to use 'fast food' instead of producing/preparing their own 'slow food', not only will they have to buy their food, but they'll have to be in paid employment to achieve this, and that's just not going to happen for at least 12% of the Greek population in the coming winter; Fraser and Rimas are probably correct to a certain extent when they advocate that we learn to store surplus food, live locally, farm organically and diversify our crops.

As a linguist, I'd argue that Rachel didn't really mean we should be eating modern fast food at all - just faster (and safer) food than what it was in the past.

*The inverted commas " have been used to denote quotes (in bold) from the article.
**Some Greek mothers never stop worrying about what their kids are eating when they are studying as far away as the UK. They will send them food parcels to their children, containing meals they cooked at home the previous day, froze solid, then sent to the UK by courier! (But that story is for another post.)

©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.


LABELS: CARBON FOOTPRINTS, cost of living, CRETE, current affairs, economic crisis, family, FREEZER, GARDEN, GREEK CUISINE, history, JUNK FOOD, KITCHEN, LARDER, LOCAL FOOD, MEDITERRANEAN, POVERTY, SUMMER, there's no such thing as a free lunch, TRADITIONAL, WINTER, urban life, cooking can sometimes be mundane, ORGANIC, REVIEW, SUPERMARKET, what's in a name?