Sunday, 6 January 2013

Afghan pastitsakia

From a sun-filled Christmas, we went to a rain-filled New Year, and Epiphany saw our first real storm for this winter, making all other bouts of bad weather this winter look tame. The priest was very brave to some out in this weather. After the church service, the priest passed through our neighbourhood and sprinkled holy water in our house, even as the rain bet down onto our roofs diagonally, so that as we opened the door, the rain doused us before the wet sprig of basil in his hands. The last Christmas holy day turned out to be a day spent indoors; in this weather, with the whole day's temperatures being in the single figures, there was not much left to do except stay warm and dry, and cook and eat.

We had a big dinner at a friend's place the previous evening consisting of bbq pork steaks and chicken in their fireplace. Their home felt like a cold stone house. It is nothing less than a villa in magnitude - but it was freezing. The radiators were not working due to the cost of heating fuel, and the only thing we had to keep us warm in this gigantic open-plan house by the sea was an ornamental fireplace. Heating a home with wood will cost half the price of heating it with liquid fuel - but all it heats is the corner of the room where the fireplace is located. If your back isn't covered by an armchair, you end up feeling very chilled. Fireplaces look good in a villa, but they don't so much for keeping you warm in one. I had to borrow a jacket at one point.

Heating is the main issue of this Greek winter. Just when smog-choked Athens had stabilised to decent levels in urban pollution, the city is now being reported as being smoke-clogged, with people gasping for breath outdoors, and a yellow toxic cloud hanging over the city. Although winter was much colder last year, people's supplies of heating fuel lasted them through that particular winter before they began feeling the pinch in their purse. The government didn't expect that the consumption of liquid heating fuel in Crete (for example) would drop by 85%. Liquid fuel for heating has risen to the same level as running a diesel car - only 2-3 years ago, it was priced at half the cost.

This is a major embarassment for the government who thought that Greeks would simply continue to keep paying the steep tax-filled prices for heating fuel that the government imposed, at a time when Greeks have also seen their savings completely milked away from them. The state thought that the newly introduced taxes for heating fuel would fill its treasury coffers, but it clearly seriously misjudged the average Greek citizen. Not enough money for heating fuel? No problem: just chop down a few trees and use another form of heating. The same thing happened with the 2013 road tax fees. Not enough money for the high road tax imposed on luxury cars? No problem: just turn in the licence plates and you won't have to pay any road tax at all. The state's plans did not show any foresight, and worst of all, they didn't take into account the Greek identity trait of lateral thinking and an adamance not to let the state take away funds without a struggle.

Since there was no cooking needed to be done on Sunday due to last night's hefty meal, this gave me a chance to do some creative baking. Use of the oven serves a dual purpose these days: it provides us with food and it heats up the kitchen. I make sure to use the oven when I need both food and heat, otherwise it seems a waste to use so much energy.


It's been a while since I made my mother's pastitsakia, something I call a biscuit cupcake. The dough is baked in a cupcake case but it comes out firm like a biscuit, not soft like a cake. This year's pastitsakia were made with olive oil instead of butter, with the addition of some grated orange zest to flavour the dough. After baking 30 on one tray, I decided to add some cocoa powder and some crushed cornflakes to the remaining dough. This turned the biscuits into a cross between pastitsakia and afghans, which I filled in the centre in the same way as the pastitsakia with almond meringue (afghans are normally topped with chocolate icing).

Life in Greece is all a question of home economics these days. To keep your house and family in order, you need to keep in mind some basic issues of domestic science, in order to cope not just with the financial hardships you will have to face, but also the social problems that will arise in the family unit due to the money issues. If anything is keeping me sane at the moment, it's my will to view life in very basic terms.

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