Taxi service

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

Friday, 31 December 2010

Kambi (Κάμποι)

I recently visited Kambi, the village where my mother was born, for a family reunion; I had last been there before I got married, when I gave away my old fridge to an aunt who needed to replace her broken-down one. At this reunion, I met some of my extended family - and my old fridge was still there.

"We were a very poor family because my father died when I was very young. I only remember him as a shadow; his face never comes to my mind when I think of him. My two older brothers remember him just a little better than me; my younger brother has no recollection whatsoever. My mother had only been married six or seven years by the time my father died. To this day, I’ve never seen her without a τζεμπέρι on her head. She’s been wearing it, along with her black clothes, more than 40 years now. I left the village when I was twelve, after finishing primary school. I moved in with my uncle's family in Hania so that I could go to high school. On the one hand, it was very difficult to leave my mother; on the other hand, I knew - and she knew - that there was no other way. I had to leave, just like my older brothers did, and eventually my younger brother.

cleaning askrolimbi
"I'm too old to be doing this," my aunt told me "but my brother's here, and I have to do something special for him."

"After I came to live in Hania, it was very easy to forget all the past hardships. Food was bought, not foraged or harvested, cooking was done with gas or electricity, not by lighting a wood fire. I didn't need to cart water to our house in λαίνες from the large well near the village square, or boil it to have a bath. There were doctors for every medical problem and a general hospital. In the village, there were no medical services at all. A doctor would come to the village once a week to write prescriptions and see patients. But if you broke your leg or caught fever or had any other problem at any other time, then you had to deal with it there and then using the local medicinal knowledge that was used in times of difficulty.

askrolimbi
 "Your παππου collected these same greens and sold them in Hania," my uncle from the US told me. "He simply removed the woody part from the askrolimbi, which made them lighter to carry; he didn't clean them like we're doing now."
askrolimbi askrolimbi

"I remember once, when I was about eight years old, I had to help my brother carry a sack of olives to the mill. We had all spent the whole day collecting the olives off the ground, including my mother, to fill it up, and it was important to get the sack to the mill before nightfall. It was already beginning to get dark. The sack was lying on the ground next to the outhouse where the rabbit hutches were housed. We each picked up one side of the sack and made our way to the mill. Halfway there, I dropped the sack when sank heavily with a thud onto one of my legs. I was wearing flip-flops. I felt a tinge of pain in my toe, but I was laughing over the incident, while my brother called me butterfingers. Then I just picked up my end of the sack and we got it to the mill, and then went home. I didn't feel any pain until I sat down. While I was having dinner, I started crying because the pain had taken hold then, and by the end of the evening, I was howling in misery. But what could we do about pain then? Nothing seemed to be broken, I simply felt a pain, and the pain will eventually go away. I soaked my toe in tsikoudia but I still didn't sleep all night. The next day, my grandmother placed some crushed onions and garlic onto my toe, and wrapped up my leg in a bandage made of old cloth. Not that it did much, but at least I had the psychological satisfaction that something had been done for me, and I felt better.

herbs kambi
The medicine cabinet in the village.

"I got used to the pain, which reached its climax and slowly diminished. My toenail gradually blackened and fell off, and a new one grew in its place. The incident was forgotten, just like all other incidents of illness. I can't remember any other children my age anyone having any serious trouble recovering from an illness or a fall. We all got sick, we all fell over, we all fell down, but we all got up again. All except one; he had cancer. Now that I have children myself, whenever they come up here to see their grandmother, I remind them that they must be careful what they get up to so as not to have an accident, because of the lack of medical care, something that we're so used to receiving these days for even trivial matters. We've lost the skill of taking care of ourselves in adverse conditions. Even though it was freezing in the village in winter, and we walked on the snow wearing flimsy shoes, our feet never froze. When we got colds and coughs, we'd make up a gargle with lemon juice, salt and rosemary, and tie a handkerchief soaked in tsikoudia (raki) round our neck. We never used pills. We knew how to take care of ourselves then.

parasia
While I was at the village, I had to keep a close eye on my children, who were mesmerised by the open fire of the παρασιά.

"When my son was very young, I'd leave him in the village with my grandmother for a few days in the summer. He liked it up here, because he could play freely, without the fear of traffic, in wide open spaces, surrounded by farm animals in a natural, almost untouched environment. He'd meet up with other children who'd come to the village for the summer, and he'd never get bored. One day while he was here, my mother lit the παρασιά because she wanted to boil some horta, which she had foraged in the area surrounding the grazing grounds. She normally uses the electric range for cooking in the small indoor kitchen, but horta can make a mess in a small area, and they need a lot of water to boil in, so she thought it would be better to boil them outdoors. Like most children, my son was intrigued by the fire, and he liked to watch it as it burned away, the embers changing colour as the flames leapt and crackled. She had warned him not to get too close, but children never listen to good advice! He had taken a stick and was poking the burning coal when a spark flared up and a piece of charred wood flew out of the fire and landed on his shoes. He was wearing open-toed plastic beach slippers. The heat of the coal was so great, that it melted the slipper and it stuck onto his skin. My mother pulled it off, but a clump of skin came off with it. He still has a scar to remind of him of this event. Since that day, he never played with fire again. Had I been there when this happened, I would have bundled him into the car and taken him to a doctor's surgery, where the plastic would have been surgically removed. Nothing really bad had happened to him; in fact, it was only to be expected: if you play with fire, you get burnt. But it does make you think about how easy it is to have an accident, and how difficult it is to deal with things once they get out of hand. You've got to have special skills to live up here, skills that people are forgetting these days, because they live an easier life.

 parasira
"What a funny broom, Mum, does it work like a 'real' broom?" my daughter asked. I told her to try it out and see for herself.

"When I was living in the village, life did in fact seem easy, although this couldn't be further from the truth. It was like playing a real-life game most of the time. I couldn't see the hardships because everyone lived in the same way. We were poorer than the other village children due to my father's death, but it wasn't immediately evident to other people. We all ate the same kind of food, we all had similar clothes, we all had the same schoolbooks, we all went to the same church, we all lived in the same kind of houses.

house kambi
Old village grandeur

"In retrospect, because we had no father, I suppose people felt more sorry for us, so we'd be treated with extra care. We'd be given an extra melomakarono or kourambie at Christmas, and we'd fill up our bottle with olive oil more quickly when we sang the carols, because everyone knew how poor we were. My mother had to do both the man's and the woman's work to make ends meet. She had to cook and clean for all of us, including my grandmother who lived with us, but she also had to warn money so that we could buy the things that weren't grown in the village, like sugar, coffee and rice. We'd all pitch in during our free time to help her. She picked olives to trade for olive oil, she'd forage for snails and horta, which she'd sell to the town dwellers. We'd collect the απομάζουδα (see photo below for an explanation) which is how we earnt our pocket money. With that money, we'd be able to buy a notebook for school or a new pencil from the general store in the village, or some αστακός sweets. Again, there was only one store of this kind, so everyone in the village would be using the same place to buy the same things.

DSC02251
How many olives do you see in this photo? They would form part of the απομάζουδα that my cousin (my age) collected for her pocket money. It isn't as easy as it sounds: in the not-too-distant past (we're talking about 30 years ago), not a single olive went wasted, unlike nowadays.To fill a bottle with απομάζουδα, my cousin told me that she needed to collect olives for a week after a school; all the schoolchildren in the village were doing the same thing! Apomazouda are still being collected in various parts of Greece; this is no longer done in Hania. The olives in the above photo are what didn't fall on the net after the mechanical harvest; the tree is located near the roadside, which explains the rubbish.

"What we couldn't buy was toys, and there weren't really many people in the village who could actually afford the toys that could be bought in Hania. In any case, all the children of the village would make their own toys, from whatever materials they could find. The boys made slings out of tree branches and an old piece of elastic and shot at birds. The girls made dolls out of walnut heads and a piece of old cloth or a sock. A spinning top made from an acorn would keep us busy for hours, unlike today's children who get bored with their new toys before the day is over. At Christmas, we'd collect acorn branches, pine cones and colouful berries to decorate our house. At Easter, we'd find birds' nests. It's amazing how active we were compared to children nowadays. We didn't have a television; electricity didn't come to the village until 1973. Until I moved to Hania, I never watched television.

acorn acorn
acorn
acorn spinning top acorn spinning top
My US uncle entertained my kids by showing them how to make a spinning top out of an acorn.

"The village population was already decreasing by the time I was born. After the war, people started moving away. At first, people moved to lower ground. My uncle got married to a woman in Souda, so I'd visit him there every now and then. That was my first encounter with some place close to Hania. Another uncle went to Athens, and from there, the United States. People were moving, they weren't staying. So it was only natural for me to move away when my time came. All my brothers left the village in order to be able to attend high school. I did the same. One of them came back to live in the village, another went on to university in Greece, and another went to the US where he was looked after by my American uncle while he studied there.

school kambi school kambi
The school building in Kambi looks very new, but the last time it operated as a school was more than a decade ago.  

"After high school, I got married, and we built a house on my husband's land in Souda, just off the main road leading to Kambi. In this way, the village never really seemed very far away in my mind. The road was steep but the buses served their purpose well. I'd go back to the village every weekend and all the holidays. I'd always be there to help my brothers during the olive harvest. Eventually I learnt to drive and would often visit my mother when my children were young. Now that they're older, they're busier with school activities, so they don't have the time to go up to the village for long. Now that I don't take them up there myself, I don't feel the need to go up there much either. I see my brothers every day in the town. I phone my mother every day to see how she is. She doesn't want to move down with us; she prefers the peace and solitude of the village to the hustle and bustle of the town, not to mention the confined spaces. She's fit and healthy now, but I always worry about what might happen in the future. Life isn't secure for anyone these days."

*** *** ***

Kambi is a valley located 25 minutes away by car from Hania, 500m above sea-level, in the district of Kerameia, named after its links to pottery (κεραμεικό = keramiko = ceramic). The village resembles a large valley (where it gets its name from: κάμποι = kambi = valleys) made up undulating hills, based at the foot of Lefka Ori, the mountain range that dominates the landscape of Hania. The name of the village is first mentioned in the official records of the island of Crete in 1577, at about the time when the Ottoman empire was taking hold in Greece; this suggests that people were leaving the lowlands to escape the repercussions of the Ottoman invasion. Census records mention that there were never any Muslims living in the area, which also provides further evidence for the theory that people left the lowlands to escape invaders. But the area was no doubt inhabited 600 years before that by shepherds from the Monastery of St John of Patmos, where they tended their flocks. There is also enough evidence from archaeological excavations that people lived here even in Minoan times, from the ceramic pieces found in the area.

The highlands of an area often become inhabited in times of difficulty, because the mountain regions are generally inhospitable terrain. Even my cousin, whose mother still lives in Kambi (or Kambous, as it is referred to in the accusative case in Greek), finds the relatively short car trip up the steep mountain road a challenge. At its height, Kambi and the surrounding neighbouring villages that make up the district of Kerameia had over 3600 inhabitants, according to the 1900 census (the previous census in 1881 showed more than 2700), with about 500 living in Kambous. By 1971, that figure had dwindled to 174 permanent residents; now there are no more than 40. My mother's family left the village permanently in the early 1960s. People do not move up to the mountains easily these days; the fear of an invasion has disappeared, and if it were to happen, the mountains won't necessarily keep the enemy at bay.

kafeneio kambi
It feels to eerie to think that I had once sat at this kafeneio.

There is great interest being shown these days by Kambiotes (resident in the village, or not) to revive the area: the (disused) school and church buildings have been restored, and a cultural association has been formed. A restaurant operates year-round in the area. A number of books have been published in recent times concerning the history of the area, and newspaper articles appear every now and then. Many of the house owners have renovated their old homes, but they are still seen as places for a weekend retreat rather than a place to live, as are the newer houses being built on the surrounding ancestral lands.

All census information has been taken from Κάμποι: Η Ρίζα, by Μιχάλη Κατσανεβάκη-Mihalis Katsanevakis (Hania 1998). For another idea about life in Kambi one generation before this woman's, read Niko's story

*** *** ***
 HAPPY NEW YEAR 
to all my readers. Thanks are due to all of you who have carried cans of golden syrup in your suitcases for me, sent me carbon-footprint-laden gingernuts and pineapple lumps for my afternoon cuppa coffee, the novel seeds for our Cretan garden and the lovely food and non-food gifts. I've lost track of all the times I've found presents waiting for me in my mailbox. I hope I can continue to entertain you, even if it won't be as regularly as before; see you in a week or two...
ΚΑΛΗ ΧΡΟΝΙΑ ΣΕ ΟΛΟΥΣ

©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, 24 December 2010

Chestnut truffles (Τρούφες με κάστανα)

It's still chestnut season in Crete. Hania boasts one of the largest chestnut plantations in Greece, in the area of Elos (one of the Nine Villages of Inachorion), so we have a plentiful supply of locally produced chestnuts. Roasted chestnuts, also sold as a street food, are a Greek favorite in the winter. More recently, they have also been used more creatively, ranging from being stewed in a red spicy sauce, to being turned into sweets.

elos valley hania chania chestnut tree elos hania chania
Chestnut trees in Elos valley - the bright green trees are the chestnut, while the silver green ones are olive.
roasted chestnuts roasted chestnuts
To roast chestnuts, slit their shell to stop them from exploding in the oven while they are cooking.

Cretan cuisine does not use chestnuts in a wide range of ways. Apart from roasted chestnuts as an evening snack, we rarely eat them in any other way in our house. I was recently given a very simple but rather exquisite recipe that turned chestnuts into chocolate truffles that had a superior taste to any chocolate truffles I've had before. My good friend, Yianis Apostolakis, the clever creative Cretan chef at MAICh, presented this dessert to the students at the institute. Yiannis' recipes are all based on natural locally available food, with an emphasis on Cretan products and simple techniques. These truffles will surprise even the expert chef with their simplicity and refined taste.

You need:
500g chestnuts
2 tablespoons of thick orange marmalade, meaning not very runny, not too many liquids - Yiannis makes his own (he gave me a jar full) using 1 glass of orange juice, I glass of sugar and all the peel from the oranges used to make the juice, boiled down to a very thick marmalade
200g of 70% chocolate, preferably dark
a tablespoon of olive oil (Yiannis insists that butter can replaced by olive oil in ALL recipes
a pinch of sea salt

chestnut truffles orange marmalade

Make a slit in each chestnut and boil* the chestnuts in a large pot of boiling water for a few minutes. Then drain them and when they are cool enough to handle, remove their outer shells. Then drop them back in the pot and boil again until they are soft. Drain them again, and when they have cooled down, mash them to fine grounds in a food processor (I use a multi-mouli; in any case, they should be soft and moist enough to mash with a fork or even your fingers). Add the marmalade and mix well. Shape the mixture into little balls the size of a small chestnut and place in the fridge on a plate to firm up.

chestnut truffles chestnut truffles

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and add the oil and salt. Chocolate needs to be tempered, something which I admit I don't have enough patience for, but you need to make sure that the chocolate will set after you dip these chestnuts balls into it. Use a spoon and fork to dip them into the chocolate. Place each finished truffle on a piece of foil for the chocolate to dry**. As soon as they are dry enough to pick up (preferably with a spoon and fork, to avoid leaving fingerprints on the chocolate), place each truffle into a small paper case. Place them in the fridge and let the chocolate set till hard.

chestnut truffles

Serve these truffles with a cup of strong coffee. These truffles can also be made with a mixture of ground chestnuts and walnuts.

Chestnuts are often associated with Christmas, so this makes a very seasonal dessert. And with that, I wish you all:

MERRY CHRISTMAS

See you all in the new year safe and sound!


* They can be roasted if you prefer; boiling them makes them softer and less dry, which is helpful when shaping the truffles.
** I made the mistake of drying them on a plate - don't you do that though; stick to the foil!

©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, 18 December 2010

The flora of century-old olive groves (Η πανίδα των αινόβιων ελαιώνων)

Among my recent readings, I came across Collins Gem Food for Free: A Fantastic Feast of Plants and Folklore. It describes a range of plants that foragers in Britain may discover growing in amongst the 'weeds' and greenery of their gardens and forests, which can be harvested for human consumption. Although a number of the plants listed in the book are common to both Greece and Britain, most are not found in a Cretan garden. This inspired me to look into the range of freebies that we can find on our own soil in Hania. Foraging is a common activity on the island taking place throughout the year, but the benefits derived from such activities are counter-balanced by man-made pollutants like herbicides, pesticides, car exhaust fumes, etc. One of the best places to forage on the island to minimise these nuisances is the olive grove.

olive grove
1. After a dry Cretan summer, the undergrowth in an olive grove starts to resurface with the cooler autumn weather. But there is heavy evidence of human activity - the land has been cleared of unwanted foliage by machine, which means that the natural landscape has been disturbed. New invasive species are also likely to have entered the area, brought in by the machinery, which was probably used on another field with possibly a different floristic synthesis.

Did you know that there are olive groves growing in the Mediterranean region that are hundreds of years old? The olive tree has proved to continue to be productive even at such an old age. Greece and Italy are currently working on a joint project dealing with the protection of their century-old olive groves, some of which are also found in Hania. The history of some of these olive groves dates back to the period when Crete was under Venetian rule. But the oldest olive tree in the world is believed to be located here in my home town: it is purported to be 2000-4000 years old, and it is still producing fruit!

57. A 3000-4000 yr old olive tree at Ano Vouves
2. What is believed to be the oldest olive tree in the world, still producing olives, found in Ano Vouves, Hania.

The range of flora in a century-old olive grove shows a remarkable resemblance to the Mediterranean ecosystem. By studying the micro-climate of a century-old olive grove, it is possible to come nearer to the conditions of nature as they may have once been in past times. This is why it is important to protect these century-old olive groves, especially since human activities have had a serious impact on them.

olive grove fournes hania chania
3a. Our olive grove stands at a height of 250m, and is about 60-65 years old. It is a nature lover's paradise in spring, with flowers and foliage of various kinds adding colour to the field. The trees in this grove were burnt right down to the ground over nearly 20 years ago due to an electrical line fault. Only a few stumps remained. Olive trees have a remarkable root system: the field rejuvenated without any human help (this field has never received any irrigation apart from rain water).  Of the 200 trees that used to be cultivated here, my husband has now cleared 60 which provide us with half our yearly olive oil needs. 

One of these century-old olive groves, in the village of Voukolies, Hania, Crete, has been studied for its species richness, abundance and diversity. The team of experts involved in this project included a local elderly, who has more practical knowledge than young people concerning the identification of edible plant species found in the ancient olive grove. Among the findings of the study, which was conducted relatively recently (in the past 12 months), it was discovered that, of the 98 plant species found in a 25x25cm experimental plot of land on the ancient olive grove (as observed in March-April of 2009 and 2010), many had aromatic or pharmaceutical values, while 27% were edible plant species and are still commonly being used in the local cuisine, a fact that is not surprising, since Cretans are well-known for their foraging skills. The fact that spring was chosen to conduct the study is not surprising either, as this is the time when the land on the island is at its lushest.

burnt stump

3b. The burnt stump in the photo below is of an almond tree. The position of this tree was once used as a marker of the field boundaries of our olive grove. Despite the damage that all the trees suffered in the fire, the olive trees all grew back - but the almond tree didn't, which show the remarkable ability of the olive to grow back after total destruction. 

An interesting fact emerged when the results between Greece and Italy were compared: the level of biodiversity was greater in the Cretan century-old olive grove under study than in the Italian one, while the distribution of each of the plant species (as measured by the Shannon index) found on the sampled land was even greater in Crete.

edible weeds
4. This patch of land comes from our springtime garden. It's been tilled and turned, but edible weeds, which we still use in our kitchen, continue to grow in it. Click on the photograph to see the notes.

The edible plant species are all different kinds of plants commonly regarded as weeds. They are all used in pie mixtures and/or salads, while most are used to provide a distinct flavour or aroma in a dish. But the present-day importance of weeds cannot be underestimated. Weeds are currently being studied by many scientists to discover the properties they possess; in many cases, the compounds derived from them are inexpensive sources of 'added value'; they can be added in other more commonly consumed products to give them greater nutritional/pharmaceutical/health value.

Studies like these show how important the identification of weeds is to foragers and scientists alike. Most weeds are depicted in illustrated guides of plant species in their fully grown form, often shown with the distinctive flower that grows from them. This is a problem for the forager who is trying to identify an edible weed because edible weeds are picked well before the maturity stage, so that the leaves, and in particular the stalks, are young and tender. Not only that, but they are hardly ever in flower at this stage! Once they do flower, they are probably not edible, due to a change in their synthesis (eg nettles), or texture (eg amaranth), making them too fibrous, less tasty, or even more noxious.

spinach and weeds
5. The spinach seeds were sown randomly in our winter garden, making the leafy greens very hard to harvest amongst the weeds. This wasn't necessary after all, since most of the 'weeds' growing among the spinach were actually edible. Instead of spanakopita (spinach pie), I more often made hortopita (wild greens pie)! Click on the photograph to see the notes.

In order to identify edible weeds, the amateur forager needs to know what these weeds look like before they bloom. Furthermore, it must be noted that different weeds are in season at different times of the year; therefore, the range of edible weeds will differ across the seasons. Another problem in the identification of edible weeds is their names, which change according to the region where they are found: the same weed can have as many names as there are Greek villages!

vikos vicia sativa fournes hania chania
6. Our olive grove is located at one of the highest points in the village of Fournes, Hania, after which the land is cultivated for anything, and is used mainly as grazing land. Therefore, the land is remotely accessible, and the level of human activity is lower here than in lower lying areas. This photo clearly shows the biodiversity of this rejuvenated field: click on the photograph to see the notes.

This is why it's hard to draw up a definitive list of edible weeds. It involves painstaking research, photography skills, seasonal visits to foraging areas, expert advice and scientific classification, to mention but a few of the factors involved in flora taxonomy. A number of projects are currently being conducted to name and describe the wild herbs of Crete. Hopefully, the results will be published soon: no doubt, they will be very popular, as there is a regenerated interest in this area, not just to save money, but to improve the quality of one's diet. In the meantime, here are a number of links I've found very useful in identifying wild greens in Crete. You will notice that some links aren't Cretan-based: this is because many of the same greens are found elsewhere in both Greece and other parts of the world.
  1. Kiki lives on the Greek island of Zakinthos, and she has many photos on her blog showing local wild herbs and greens, many of which are similar to those found on Crete - just remember that names change! She also made the effort to show these greens in their non-flower (ie edible) form (in Greek).
  2. Hanfranke lives on the Greek island of Aegina, and has compiled a list of commonly used wild herbs that grow on the island, all of which are also found on the island of Crete.
  3. Alexandros, who lives in Heraklion, Crete, showcases some of the local herbs, and mentions the Greek names in the recipe he gives for the pastries (in Greek).
  4. Dr. Kosta Oikonomakis lists the scientific names and uses of many wild greens used in the Cretan diet.
  5. The cyclamen website links up to photographs of the Cretan countryside, showing the foliage covering different areas, with the scientific names of the species found in each area.
  6. This plant index links up to photographs of plant species found in Crete, with their Cretan/Greek and scientific names.
  7. The School of Horticulture at the Technical Institute in Hania, Crete, has compiled a very good list of Greek weeds (no photos) with their scientific and Greek names.
  8. If you have access to scientific journals from ScienceDirect, you will find a list of common Cretan herbs in this link, with their scientific and Greek names (no photos).
  9. If I weren't lucky enough to live in Crete, I would like to be able to live in Pelion, the mountain range close to the Greek town of Volos in Central Greece. This site showcases pharmaceutical herbs growing in the Pelion area (in Greek), most of which also grow in Crete.
  10. Artemis Simopoulos discusses the benefits of wild Cretan herbs (no photos), with lists of scientific names and the uses made of each plant.
Although the Isle of Skye is very far away from Crete, I include this link also, because it contains so many beautiful photos of the plant species (both edible and inedible) found on the island, and this is what I would like to see done one day for Crete too, a comprehensive list of all our edible plant species, both online and in book form, so that everyone can recognise them and remember to use these herbs in their cooking. Foraging skills are slowly being lost as the older generation passes away, but this doesn't mean that the younger generation's knowledge of edible wild plant species must die away too!

One important discovery of the study of the century-old olive groves was how widespread some invasive species are, particularly:

Oxalis pes-carpae L. (the most common plant family in the world)...
Oxalis covers our fields right throughout the cooler months (this photo was taken in our orange orchard). This plant provides a comfortable soft green coverage in the cooler seasons, but it also invades the habitat of other plant species, suffocating their root systems and depleting their supply. Tamus creticus, a highly prized wild Cretan green (the spindly plant being held in the photograph), is difficult to forage when its existence is threatened by invasive species like oxalis.

... and Galactites tomentosa Moench (the common thistle).
galactites tomentosa thistle
These plants (photo taken in our olive grove) are a nuisance because they grow prolifically and are hard to eradicate: see how sturdy the leaves of these dried dead plant stand - and they really are uncomfortable to the touch!

They are considered invasive species and tend to overtake areas where other plants had their natural habitat until the arrival of these 'outsiders'. In order to protect the biodiversity of the area, special consideration needs to be given to implement appropriate agricultural practices so that these species do not cause any further damage to the area by eradicating the weaker species.

It's just too easy these days to buy some herbicide and spray an area to kill the unwanted weeds, but that has produced another more sinister problem: Weeds are adapting to herbicide use and continue to survive and re-grow, despite being sprayed with herbicide. In another study conducted at MAICh (which hasn't been published yet), it was found that weeds of the Conyza species, in particular horseweed, have reduced susceptibility (while some are resistant) to the normal concentration of application of glyphosate*, a substance found in the globally over-used herbicide Roundup (a product of Monsanto, the world's leading producer of genetically engineered seeds). In other words, the amount of herbicide that used to be enough to kill weeds is now not killing them, and greater concentrations of herbicide are needed.

Glyphosate resistance (ie when weeds continue to survive and don't respond to repeated use of herbicide) is now becoming a widespread global problem because the herbicide concentration required to kill them continually needs to be increased, and eventually it stops working altogether; more and more countries are being added to the list of places around the world which show suspected resistance to glyphosate.


The next step would logically be that weeds (which have often proved to be useful nutritional elements in the diet) become completely resistant to herbicide applications: that's something to think about when we wonder what kind of world we are leaving behind to the next generation.

*In 1972, scientists discovered that application of glyphosate resulted in the inhibition of aromatic amino acid biosynthesis in plants; now you know why your (grand)parents keep saying that fruit and vegetables don't smell/taste the same as in the past.

©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, 12 December 2010

Filled meat patties (Μπιφτέκια γεμιστά)

What Greeks call 'bifteki' looks on first sight to be what Americans would call a hamburger. The difference between them is enormous. A bifteki is an aromatic meat pattie, which can be pan-fried, cooked on the grill or even roasted in the oven in a baking tin with potatoes. It's a popular children's choice in tavernas, where it's often served with fried potatoes. I make them in bulk on a monthly basis, store them in the deep freeze, and cook them once a week for lunch, served with a salad. It's a staple in most Greek homes, and an integrated part of modern Cretan cuisine.

filled bifteki

A delicious variant of bifteki is the filled version, μπιφτέκι γεμιστό (bifteki yemisto), 'filled/stuffed meat pattie', what could be called the adult version of the basic dish. Again it is a taverna favorite. I make it only on the day when I am making a large batch of biftekia for the deep freeze. they are the ones we'll eat for lunch, while the other plainer ones are for our regular weekday meals.

Filled bifteki is very easy to make. You'll probably enjoy making and serving them, as they are like little meat packages with a surprise waiting inside them.

You need:
a batch of my basic bifteki mixture - the recipe is reprinted here for convenience:
500g or pork or beef, ground (I always use a mixture of the two meats)
1 cup stale bread crumbs soaked in water, then strained by hand
1 large onion, minced
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 sprig of mint, finely chopped
1 sprig of parsley, finely chopped
salt, pepper, oregano or cumin

For the filling:
some think slices of yellow cheese like Gouda, Edam or Emmenthal (I use Cretan graviera; you can use grated cheese if you prefer)
some tomato, thinly sliced
some slivers of green bell pepper (I used banana peppers from our garden)

filled bifteki

Mix the bifteki as given in the recipe for biftekia. Shape the mince mixture into a large flat pattie. Lay the filling ingredients on it. Now curl up the sides of the pattie, and bring the mince mixture towards the centre from all sides. Then flatten it out as much as possible without breaking it open (which won't affect the taste of the cooking procedure anyway, especially if cooked in the oven). Some people roll out another pattie on top of the filling ingredients, but I prefer not to do this, as it makes the pattie rather thick and it won't cook homogeneously.


filled bifteki filled bifteki

There are three different bifteki in the baking vessel; the two largest are filled bifteki, while the others are plain bifteki. The green one is kolokithoketes (zucchini pattie). When they are cooked, they do not look too different from each other.


The patties are now ready to be cooked in the oven, on the grill or in a pan. If you cook them in the oven, you can add some par-boiled potatoes to roast together, with a little oil and water placed in the pan so that they don't burn. If you cook them in the pan, be sure to let them cook well enough for the filling to blend with the pattie. Beware of the browning on one side - that's not a sign that the pattie has cooked through. I always cook them in the oven, because it's easier for me to prepare a salad while they are cooking. No need to double on my efforts!

©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, 6 December 2010

The Group by Mary McCarthy (Η Ομάδα)

My earliest experiences of my Greek heritage came from my upbringing in New Zealand: as a young child, I lived and breathed a Greek life, surrounded by my Greek immigrant parents' compatriots, all of whom had similar rural origins.

Computers are used these days to detect your interests and feelings. On my 'Recommended reading' list in my Amazon account, I came across a book called The Group by Mary McCarthy. The included extract from the book sounded intriguing: set in 1930s New York, eight young women, all graduates of an elite college, begin their new life in the Big Apple, career-wise and sexually. They are all looking for success in some way, something to write home about, but they find that, as women, they must make choices based on relationships, marriage, childbirth and inevitably, always taking into account a man's point of view.

This book is set in a time period that most people reading this post would not recall well, although it was written in the 1960s when women's liberation and sexual freedom was at the fore, and remained at the top of the bestseller list for two years. I'm glad I took up Amazon's recommendation when I ordered the book. After reading it, I realised that it is a book which every modern woman should read. It offers a witty, satirical, often comic description of the female role in society, which has changed very little over time, despite the fact that society and technology have progressed immensely since it was written.

The book has its inherent difficulties: There were too many main characters to remember from one reading period to the other, both the sentences and paragraphs were exhaustingly long, and the detailed political events described in it seem to bear little significance in our own time. But every woman will relate to at least one of those eight women, who all have a flawed personality, as Candace Bushnell states, in the introduction to the latest edition. Many of the characters of my own stories are also flawed; it's easy to love them or hate them, but the truth is that we all have our flaws, because none of us are perfect, are we?

The Group paints a depressing picture of the life of women, even those that are generally considered to have had a better start in life than others. Being a college graduate, having rich parents, climbing the ladder in a successful career do not guarantee any success. The book unleashes a truth many people today would not care to admit to: success is only relative.

The book reminded me of a few moments in my life when I felt my femininity was being severely challenged. These incidents show a comic side to my dual identity. How one culture views a woman's role often differs radically from the way another culture will view it, and we all probably have instances from our travels when we have felt these clashes. For me, the stark contrast was made explicit on my return trip to New Zealand seven years ago. My father had died only a few months before, I was a mother of very young children (they were both under three), and many of my mainly Greek New Zealand friends and relatives were meeting my Greek (and very Cretan) husband for the first time. Their memory of myself had stayed at the early 1990s version of what I used to be: a young single well-educated Greek woman, a recent university graduate with a high profile in the GOCW.

On the first day of my arrival back home (which is of course a misnomer, for anyone that knows me well, which I believe my readers do), a number of my mother's Greek friends, immigrants to New Zealand like herself, now grandmothers (a fortune that my late mother did not share), came to see me at my loving aunt's house, where I would stay throughout my two-month visit to the 'home' country. Despina* was accompanied by her married daughter, Lina, who ferried her everywhere, because Despina had never learnt to drive, just like all those friends of my mother's, but completely unlike my own mother, who had learnt to drive. I remember Lina as a teenager - she was only a couple of years younger than myself; whose limited interests never endeared her to me, even while we attended the same schools, after which point our lives vastly diverged, and I lost touch (willingly) with her, until this moment of my seeing her for the first time again after many years, as a married woman with a young son. After the routine greetings and introductions, Despina asked me about my life now that I was married and had children. Because I have known Despina all my life, I knew she was not being catty or nosy - her whole life had revolved around ordinariness, with her daily routine changing as much as her age and the passing of time. She had accepted her fate as if it were the same one everyone was destined to go through: birth, childhood, maturity, marriage, childbirth, child rearing, becoming a grandparent, death (she had passed all the stages except the final one). She was just asking these seemingly personal questions because she knew very little else to ask or talk about.

"Does your husband help you around the home, Maria?" she shot blankly at one point. These kinds of questions are common among Despina's παρέα; they fit into the same paradigm as questions about how much money you make in your job, if you own your own home, and what side of the bed you sleep on. They're not just for 'small talk' purposes; they are the only talk that people like Despina make. "Lina's husband helps her a lot,' she continued, "doesn't he, Lina?" she said, turning to her daughter, who was one of those girls who had nearly always lived at home, even when she got married; what started out as a decision based on financial reasons had become a habit for the sake of convenience.

I was a little taken aback by this question, because I know that Despina's husband (a demure man in nature, shorter than his wife, who never raised his voice) never helped her around the home, not because he was some kind of oaf, but simply because that's the way Despina and her husband had been accustomed to living; the roles of man and woman were clearly differentiated into their traditional Greek ones. I immediately put myself on the alert - my working mother role had never really been challenged all the while that I had been living in Greece, so why was this woman interested in whether my husband donned on an apron?

"My husband and I have shared the house duties," said Lina proudly. "We don't live like Mum and Dad did in the past, like your parents, Maria," she reminded me. "When we both come home from work, I lay the table and serve the meal, and when we finish eating, my husband does the dishes."

"Don't you have a dishwasher?" I enquired innocently; I thought Greece was behind the times, not the New Zealand that had at the time of my visit been revelling in its Lord-of-the-Rings fame.

"Oh, we're going to get one installed when we move into our own home, but I don't think that's going to happen soon," Lina replied, chuckling, as if to show that she had already thought of the idea that her husband's duties might become obsolete due to technology, and she'd have to reassign his household chores, lest he became redundant.

"What kinds of meals do you cook?" I asked, again innocently. Till that moment of my return to New Zealand, I thought all modern women did everything themselves (just like I did) and hired paid help when they couldn't manage (just like I did). In fact, I was very interested to hear about what Lina cooked, because I was hoping she might share a tasty easy-to-cook recipe that my husband might also like, which might simplify my workload from the usual slow-cook traditional Greek food that my husband insisted on eating (up until the time he visited another continent, that is).

At this point, Lina's face soured a little. She turned to her mother, who caught on to her tension. They both laughed, admitting that Despina cooks all the meals in the house, while Lina will make a sweet every now and then. In retrospect, I wondered if Lina would have admitted to me that she did not cook the main meals at home, had her mother not been present at that moment. Lina forgot to mention that she did not cook family meals, because - I suppose - her mother took it for granted that she would continue to do this for all five members of her present household (Despina, her husband, Lina, her Greek-Kiwi husband, and their primary school son - Despina's other daughter had become a famous model and was now across the ditch).

"You probably don't do much cooking now with the children, do you Maria?" Despina asked me, looking at my very demanding children, who were fighting over the one toy that my aunt had found in the house, a remnant of her own children's toy collection; she herself was about to become a grandmother for the first time in a few months.

"Are they always this loud?" Despina asked me, almost simultaneously. I thought all kids were loud at this growth stage; maybe Despina's noise tolerance was limited because Despina wasn't used to having more than one child in the same house at the same time (except when she was raising her own two children, which, of course, was almost a zillion years ago in her mind).

I returned to Lina's question, describing the meals that I cooked at home, which were pretty much the same kinds of meals that my mother cooked in New Zealand, good solid Greek food which the whole family would be able to enjoy. I was just about to tell her how much I regretted that my children were not being introduced to a variety of international tastes and flavours like I was when I was growing up in New Zealand, when Despina interrupted me with a question.

"But doesn't your mother-in-law live in the same house as you?" she asked me.

"Not in the same house," I replied. I knew what she was getting at. Many Greek women rely on their mothers/mothers-in-law to cook for them. This has very little to do with the family-centred image that is often assumed of Greek people; to have someone cooking a meal for you while you are away from home is simply a modern day convenience, popularised from the time when women entered the workforce en masse in the 1980s with low salaries. Greek women were generally homemakers before that time, so it's highly unlikely that they would have needed someone to cook for them once they set up their own home. Families often live close to each other, even in urban centres, so it seemed convenient for one woman to cook while the other was out. The truth is that the women cooking for others are now demanding their own freedom away from this constraint, but it's very hard to teach old dogs new tricks, especially when the master let it play old ones for a long time. They now realise that they have been playing the drudge while others are liberated from their own responsibilities. It's also a question of give and take: can the 'takers' also become the 'givers' when their turn comes round?**

"She lives in the apartment downstairs," I explained, "but her house is separate from ours."

"Yes, but doesn't she cook a meal for you when you're at work?" Lina asked as she looked at me incredulously. In deference to her mother's age and status, I put some water in my wine; instead of telling her that, yes, I do cook all my family's meals, and no, I don't think it's wrong of my husband not to help me in the kitchen (the equality of the sexes in Crete has less to do with the sharing of household duties, and more to do with the understanding that one partner has for the other), I hedged my bets a little.

goat roast cooked by 85-year-old yiayia  youvarlakia cooked in tomato
When Yiayia cooks something special, she always shares it with us. She still cooks now, even at nearly 87 years of age. I have helped to immortalise her cooking with my photos; the first Google image of youvarlakia (right) that you see is hers. (Interestingly enough, it is the only one made with red sauce -  all the other photos of youvarlakia use white sauce). Yiayia also cooks old-fashioned, almost forgotten traditional Cretan food, teaching me special recipes that I'd otherwise not have access to.
tsigariasta horta broad bean stew

"Well, my mother-in-law cooks all her own meals, and when she cooks something special, she always shares it with us." I paused for a spontaneous moment, thinking about how we share food in our own home. It is a question of give and take: whoever is doing the cooking never does it specifically with their own self in mind. I turned my face specifically towards Lina. "You know something," I began, with a smile on my face, to tone down the weight of my next statement, "I feel a bit embarrassed asking her to cook a whole meal for my family; after all, she's 80 years old, and I just don't feel it's right for me to ask her to take on these duties, because she might feel it to be an imposition, and at her age, I can't blame her."

Despina had taken early retirement (just when her daughter moved back into her parents' house), and she looked considerably youthful. She had been born in a Cretan village, and had picked olives for a living before migrating to the New World on the same journey that my mother took. They had been companions since arriving in New Zealand, where their first job was as cleaning ladies at a boarding school in the countryside before they both moved down to the capital. Despina had never worked again in the fields. She was also was much younger than my mother, but unlike my mother, Despina had never run her own business, and most importantly, she had always enjoyed full health. Often when I look at my mother-in-law, despite our mutual differences, I see in her the mother that I might still have had, had things turned out differently, an overworked woman who might have been hoping to find a bit of peace and quiet in her retirement, which she never saw, surrounded by her children.

"Yes, yes," sighed Despina, suddenly showing her age. "You were always a good girl to your mama, Maria." I fought back the tears; Despina remembers my mother's last few years as a very sick woman. She began to view my predicament more sympathetically. Not so Lina.

Mr Organically cooks Mr Organically cooks
Mr Organically cooked, giving a helping hand in the kitchen; here he is mixing kalitsounia filling.

"But if you're doing all the cooking," she said in a heavy Kiwi twang, "can't your husband help you with the cleaning at least? I work just as many hours as Peter, and it's not fair for me to do everything alone at home and look after our son." I was just about to agree with her that, indeed, marriage is a partnership and both parties should do their fair share to make it succeed when Lina revealed another astonishing feat accomplished by her husband.

"When our son was born," she began her narrative with a firm tone of voice, "I stayed home and looked after him but PE-ter went to work, and EV-ree DAY, I was left a-LONE at home with a FU-ssy BA-by..." She enunciated each syllable as if it were a separate word. "... which meant he couldn't bond PROP-ly with the baby coz he was out of the house all the time. So I used to express a bottle of milk a day so that HE could feed the BA-by when it woke up in the middle of the night, and I could get some rest."  I began to feel sorry for Peter. He was beginning to sound like a variety of Cretan cheese that was probably being made at the Archakis dairy station.

But I also had to feel sorry for poor Lina. Or should I say rich Lina? She had no idea what it was like living, working and being married in Crete, even though both her parents were from the island. Admittedly it had been a while since she and her mother had last visited the island. Lina and her husband both worked office-hour jobs in a New World capital city, they both went to work and came home at the same time, they both had their weekends free, and when they arrived back home at the end of a busy day at work, they would always find a freshly cooked meal on the table, a clean house, and more importantly, a ready-to-be-tucked-into-bed child that the grandparents were looking after during the day, picking him up after school, feeding him and keeping him entertained until his parents took over later in the day.

"How do you cope with all that work, Maria?" Lina asked my wide-eyed self, clearly irritated that I hadn't supported the classic feminist image that I had grown up with in New Zealand, the one that was instilled in both of us outside the home. "It must terrible if your husband doesn't help you out," she added, just to rub it in.

"Hey, I just hire a cleaner if it all gets on top of me!" I replied spontaneously, feeling equally vexed by her assumptions.

Lina looked very pleased with my answer. "Oh, you're so lucky to be able to afford one! You must be doing well!" It relieved her to hear that I wasn't perfect, which no one is, anyway.

I have to forgive Lina for her naivety, because she doesn't know a lot of things. She didn't know (nor did she ask to find out) that when my husband comes home from work (where he sits on his bum all day in a taxi, rain or shine), it may be in the middle of the night, in the early hours of the morning, or in the hottest hour of the day at noon. She didn't know that he may work 10-12 hours at a stretch, and that he often does two jobs in one day. When he puts on his farmer's clothes, he drives out to his ancestral fields to see: if the trees need to be irrigated or if they need to be trimmed of unnecessary branches; if the fruit is ready for harvesting of the fruits (oranges in the summer, olives in the winter); if the ground needs to be cleared of weeds or firewood. Throughout these tasks, his family might also accompany him when time permits, not to perform any of the laborious tasks, but simply to provide some moral support. I wonder if Lina's husband likes gardening; Lina's father is probably taking care of that, too.

Sometimes, it's very hard to convince the children to come to the fields with us, because we usually go on the weekend when they want to watch cartoons. Once there, however, they forget about the cartoons and have an enjoyable carefree runaround.

I knew it was pointless to explain all this to Lina, because Lina was a little bit thick; there's only so much that a pea-sized brain can imbibe. She was the next generation in that small group of well-meaning but tiresome friends of my parents who did not thrive under intellectually stimulating conditions. It would be too much of a challenge to get her to talk about some things that were on my mind while we were sitting together in my aunt's living room. For instance, I was curious to know how enjoyable her sex life was these days. She had moved back into the family home just after she got pregnant and was now sleeping in her parents' former bedroom, while her parents had moved into one of their children's former bedrooms (next door to Lina's present bedroom). I might pluck up the courage to ask her about this the next time I visit New Zealand.

Έρωτας: Romeo and Juliet α λα Ελληνικά. Skip to 9:45 to watch him paying for it.

*** *** ***
Sex plays an important role in The Group. The sexual act and all that it implies (experience, relationships, romances, affairs, contraception, childbirth, marriage, infidelity and homosexuality) are widely discussed in this book, which is recognised as the prototype of the chick-lit novel, even though it is not written in the style of the modern chick-lit genre. The story covers many aspects of the modern woman's world, including a very detailed account (a standard mark of Mary McCarthy's work), albeit a short one, of what kind of food was being cooked in at least one of the households of the eight protagonists. Given the time period, it was interesting to discover that both Kay (who had a job at Macy's) and her husband Harald (a stage director), newlyweds, were involved in the cooking, but they showed marked differences in the way they viewed food. Harald liked the new convenience food that had hit the growing American consumer market, whereas Kay liked to cook using creative recipes that she found in magazines and newspapers:
"... Kay was glad when Harald tooled home (that was one of his favorite expressions) for dinner, instead of eating with the others in that speak-easy. Once he had brought one of the authors, and Kay had made salmon loaf with cream pickle sauce. That would have to be the night they broke for dinner early, and there was quite a wait ('Bake 1 hour', the recipe went, and Kay usually added fifteen minutes to what the cookbook said), which they had to gloss over with cocktails. Harald did not realize what a rush it was for her, every day now, coming home from work at Mr Macy's and having to stop at Gristede's for the groceries; Harald never had time any more to do the marketing in the morning. And, strange to say, ever since she had started doing it, it had been a bone of contention between them. He liked the A&P because it was cheaper, and she liked Gristede's because they delivered and had fancy vegetables - the Sutton Place trade, Harald called it. Then Harald liked to cook the same old stand-bys (like his spaghetti with dried mushrooms and tomato paste), and she liked to read the cookbook and the food columns and always be trying recipes with her glasses on and measuring the seasonings and timing everything; cooking was a lively art and she made it academic and lifeless. It was funny, the little differences that had developed between them, in the course of three months; at first, she had just been Harald's echo. But now, if he said why not be sensible and open a can (this was another night when dinner was not ready), she would scream that she could not do that, it might be all right for him, but she could not live that way, week in, week out, eating like an animal, just to keep alive. Afterward, when he had left, she was sorry, and made a resolution to be a better planner and budget her preparation time, the way the food columns said. But when she did manage to have dinner waiting in the oven, having fixed a casserole the night before, he would get irritated if she tried to hurry him to the table by reminding him what time it was. 'Less wifely concern, please,' he would say, waving his forefinger at her in the owly way he had, and deliberately shake up another cocktail before he would consent to eat."

Harald was a lover of convenience foods and set meals, not the fancy creative stuff that the modern woman of the time was discovering. He wanted Kay to learn how to cook like him, but she had different ideas. Mary McCarthy cleverly includes whole recipes written in prose style (measurements excluded) that give us a taste of what an American meal might have been like in the 1930s:
"... Harald was teaching her to cook. His specialties were Italian spaghetti, which  any beginner could learn, and those minced sea clams - terribly good - they had the other night, and meat balls cooked in salt in a hot skillet (no fat), and a quick-and-easy meat loaf his mother had taught him: one part beef, one part pork, one part veal; add sliced onions, pour over it a can of Campbell's tomato soup and bake in the oven. Then there was his chile con carne, made with canned kidney beans and tomato soup again and onions and half a pound of hamburger; you served it over rice, and it stretched for six people. That was his mother's too. Kay, not to be outdone - she said, laughing - had written her mother for some of the family recipes, the cheaper ones: veal kidneys done with cooking sherry and mushrooms, and a marvellous jellied salad called Green Goddess, made with lime gelatin, shrimps, mayonnaise, and alligator pear, which could be fixed the night before in ramekins and then unmolded on lettuce cups. Kay had found a new cookbook that had a whole section on casserole dishes and another on foreign recipes - so much more adventurous than Fannie Farmer and that old Boston Cooking School. On Sundays, they planned to entertain, either at a late breakfast of chipped beef or corned-beef hash or at a casserole supper. The trouble with American cooking, Harald said, was the dearth of imagination in it and the terrible fear of innards and garlic. He put garlic in everything and was accounted quite a cook. What made a dish, Kay said, was the seasonings. 'Listen to how Harald fixes a chipped beef. He puts in mustard and Worcestershire sauce and grated cheese - is that right? - and green pepper and an egg; you'd never think it bore any relation to that old milky chipped beef we got at college.'"
Harald sounds like a meat-and-tomato-sauce kind of man, the kind I know well. But he also likes to cook. We understand him to be a rather miserly person, but his recipes, occasionally sounding rather sublime, reflect good home economics:
"'How lucky you are, Kay,' Dottie said warmly, 'to have found a husband who's interested in cooking and who's not afraid of experiment. Most men, you know, have awfully set tastes. Like Daddy, who won't hear of 'made' dishes, except the good old beans on Saturday.' There was a twinkle in her eye, but she really did mean it that Kay was awfully lucky. Kay leaned forward. 'You ought to get your cook to try the new way of fixing canned beans. You just add catsup and mustard and Worcestershire sauce and sprinkle them with plenty of brown sugar, cover them with bacon, and put them in the oven in a Pyrex dish.' 'It sounds terribly good,' said Dottie, 'but Daddy would die.' Harald nodded. He began to talk, very learnedly, about the prejudice that existed in conservative circles against canned goods; it went back, he said, to an old fear of poisoning that derived from home canning, where spoilage was common. Modern machinery and factory processes, of course, had eliminated all danger of bacteria, and yet the prejudice lingered, which was a pity since many canned products, like vegetables packed at their peak and some of the Campbell soups, were better than anything the home cook could achieve. 'Have you tasted the new Corn Niblets?' asked Kay. Dottie shook her head. 'You ought to tell your mother about them. It's the whole-kernel corn. Delicious. Almost like corn on the cob. Harald discovered them.'"
Lina would have been enamoured by Harald's domesticity, don't you think? Maybe her marriage might take a similar turn to Kay and Harald's (you can read the book to find that one out). For those like Kay still prejudiced against canned convenience foods, there were also new discoveries to be made in the 1930s in terms of fresh food, which traditional people were also against because they sounded too new-fangled, and went against what they already knew and trusted:
"'Does your mother know about iceberg lettuce? It's a new variety, very crisp, with wonderful keeping powers. After you've tried it, you'll never want to see the old Boston lettuce again. Simpson lettuce, they call it,' Dottie sighed. Did Kay realize, she wondered, that she had just passed the death sentence on Boston lettuce, Boston baked beans, and the Boston School Cookbook?"
I've always found it difficult to prepare the family meal for my family, even when I wasn't working so many hours. The problem is to prepare something that everyone wants to eat, and to make it tasty even when it may be cooked from the night before. One-pot saucy meals do well in this respect. As the children keep growing, leftovers are also harder to come by, which means a lot more food is needed! All this has meant a sudden replanning of my weekly cooking schedule; I say 'sudden' because my landing a full-time job came about when the colleague I shared office duties with suddenly absconded.

breakfast at makrinitsa pelion breakfast in paris
Our travels have helped shape our breakfasts. Every morning, we eat breakfast as if we were on holiday...

Our breakfasts are standard affairs, usually requiring a number of store-bought convenience foods that are cooked/prepared very quickly, eg coffee, milk, semi-sweet biscuits and toast. They don't require any special cooking time or technique. This meal never varies except at weekends when the children treat themselves to cocopops. In the afternoon, I always present the fruit bowl to the children at the table while they're doing homework. A friend recently admired it, saying it looked very attractive, almost tempting him into wanting to eat fruit. It generally works.

tiropita mass produced mezedes
Fast food or convenience food is not the same around the world - each culture has its own specialties. In Greece, a cheese pie (left) is a popular fast food, while in Crete, if someone doesn't have time to make their own kalitsounia (a local pasty specialty), they can buy them ready to cook from the supermarket (right).

Our evening snack usually consists of some kind of more carbohydrates, which may involve store-bought convenience food or my own 'fast foods' (items prepared from fresh ingredients that I've prepared in bulk and frozen): pancakes, dakos, kalitsounia, pizza or a pie . Then there are the children's school lunches to prepare, which again involve some standard meals: I like to choose among five different meals, namely potato salad, pasta salad, a rice dish, a piece of pie, or a sandwich. Again, these can all be prepared even when my mind is working on automaton.

boureki
School lunches and main meals are often made from home-made 'fast food' in our house - I keep a lot of homemade foods in the freezer (in the cooking vessel I will use to cook them in when I choose to use them up) that don't require great effort to prepare on the day I need them.

The most important meal of the day in Greece is the one we still refer to as the midday meal, even though the current working hours of the average Greek mean working until well into the afternoon. That's the meal that I have to prepare for the next day - variety, taste, flavour and each family member's idiosyncrasies have to be taken into account. Convenience foods do not usually work here; my husband has similar ideas to Kay concerning the use of canned food or ready store-bought meals as a main meal. Thank goodness for the deep freeze and the hard work I put into preparing food from our summer garden, ready for immediate cooking. I generally stick to a regular weekly schedule, but life isn't perfect, so it's reassuring to know that supermarkets and souvlaki shops are open most hours in the day!

lunch at maich lunch at maich dessert
I can't go hungry at work - breakfast, lunch and dessert are served every day!
maich breakfast

Here's the funny part of my meal planning. I always taste the food I cook for my family, whether it's when I'm cooking it, or I'm cooking the next day's meal. I don't actually eat a whole plate of my nourishing food, because I'm not always at home when everyone else is having lunch. But every day, I always eat a well-cooked Cretan lunch, even though I am not actually the one that cooks it; my work provides this for me free of charge, cooked by one of the best chefs on the island. Since I know I have this luxury at my disposal, it spurs me on to provide a decent meal for my family. Thank goodness for weekends. Christmas is around the corner too. I'm starting to count down the days until my annual leave...

*** *** ***
Finally, I present to you a recipe that Harald would have been pleased to have his wife make. Here's my favorite quick'n'easy convenience food meal that my kids, but not my husband. Apart from the fact that it tastes rather bland compared to what he is used to eating, it also contains an ingredient which, in Crete, is known as 'chicken feed': corn is eaten roasted or boiled on the cob, but it rarely makes its way into any other traditional food on the island.

corn and tuna pasta

For 2 servings of quick'n'easy corn and tuna pasta, you need:
a small can of corn niblets, drained of the liquid (Green Giant is also sold in Greece)
a small can of tuna, drained of the liquid (unless you use tuna with oil added - in that case you won't need to use the extra oil mentioned below)
a small onion, minced
a fat clove of garlic, minced
some olive oil (Harald might have gone without, or used lard or butter instead)
salt and pepper (ground and ready to use; Harald probably didn't bother with mills)
150g of spaghetti or macaroni (the choice of pasta  shapes available in our time is wider than in Harald's time)
a few sprigs of parsley or rocket, shopped finely (Harald probably wouldn't've bothered with, as it is mainly for garnish; I add it especially for my son who has recently taken a liking to this kind of use of green things in pasta)
grated cheese (the kids like to add this, but I think fishy pasta sauce doesn't really need it)

Boil the pasta. While it is cooking, place the oil in a small saucepan and add the onion, garlic, tuna and corn. Season with salt and pepper. Let the ingredients blend together over low heat for about 10 minutes. Both pots will be ready at the same time. Drain the pasta, add the parsley or arugula garnish to the pasta (it sticks to it more easily while it is hot), and pour the tuna sauce over it. Sprinkle some grated cheese over the pasta, if desired. This dish can be served hot or cold.

*We all know the rules of the game - all names and details changed, but the facts remain. 
** This question can also be viewed within the context of the present economic crisis; Greek people's lives have been based on infeasibility to the maximum extent. 

©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.