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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

In limbo

One of my facebook fans wrote to me yesterday:
"I want some more photos and posts of Greek village food!"
Hmm, I thought, it's true, I haven't posted many photos lately of village food. But I still cook in the same way that I have always cooked, and we eat pretty much like we always have, from scratch with fresh ingredients, in true Greek village style. Checking through my photos, the last time I took photos of my own Greek village cooking was in... London, where I brought along the (dead) rabbit I had carried in my suitcase and cooked it for my hosts. So why are there so few photos coming onto my blog of my home cooking just lately?
Rabbit stifado and fasolada, cooked in London last month. A reader recently pointed out that while I was posting food photos from London, my photographs looked dull and dark due to the lack of natural sunlight. Now I understand why I never have problems taking food photos in my home kitchen without having to set up any special effects for lighting (that would be overkill).
One explanation for my lack of quintessentially Greek food photography is the time period. The trouble with springtime weather is that our garden is in limbo at the moment. The winter garden is pretty much finished; apart from a few herbs (mint and parsley), some spinach plants and the remains of the rather overgrown chard and celery, most of our food is prepared with what is in our freezer and our pantry staples. The summer garden won't bring forth any harvests until it actually starts growing. I rarely buy fresh produce when I know that I have fresh produce in the garden. Even though I don't have a great variety of fresh garden produce at the moment, I can still cook a wide variety of food, using a creative approach that turns the same ingredients into completely different meals.  

March was a very dry month in Crete, evidenced by the cracks in the winter garden. The Swiss chard and celery plants will soon be uprooted; only the herbs will remain, and even they will have a hard time surviving in the summer. The spinach is doing really well, so well that most of our daily meals now contain spinach: spanakopita, kalitsounia, spanakorizo and salad. The dirt on the leaves below is African dust, what we call the red rain phenomenon.
To do this, we bought some plantlets on Saturday morning: zucchini, courgette and peppers first, with a couple of exotic tomato species thrown in (the zebra tomato is red on the inside but stays green on the outside). We left the tomato plants to buy for later in the month, as they are more prone to variable springtime weather conditions. My husband started planting the garden on Saturday afternoon. After a very busy and productive day, we went to sleep...

Xeroyiannakis nursery, April 2013
... and woke up on Sunday morning to a scene of mass destruction. At about 4am, a very strong wind was blowing over the island, νοτιάς, blowing from the south, hot, strong and full of African dust. It uprooted trees and ripped off the branches of those that managed to survive. Some people lost their chimneys to it. Half the plants my husband had placed in the garden did not survive - their tender stems were broken by this weather phenomenon, a freak windstorm, which occurs once-twice a year but not necessarily as strong as this one was. (Apparently, the overnight ferry boat from Athens to Hania was three hours late in docking at the port - it needed to be brought in by tugs!) I cheered him up by reminding him that he would have felt much more demoralised if he had seen healthy strong-looking plants die in the space of two hours, like a number of our numbers who had planted their gardens two weeks before we started. And the only reason why we didn't plant our garden so much earlier is because we were on holiday in London. I keep thinking thank goodness, because you know how hard it is to try to avoid keeping up with the Joneses... 

Spanakorizo (above); spanakopita and kalitsounia (below), with a batch of cookies.

For reasons of frugality, I cook with whatever we have, and what we have right now, apart from spinach and celery in the garden, is (besides pantry staples like beans) a few remnants from last season's over-abundance: green beans, eggplant slices, prepared tins of boureki and moussaka, as well as some tomato and pepper shells (to be used for stuffed vegetables. I need to get through them all; that freezer needs to be emptied, cleaned and ready for the next season's produce!

One day's meal is another day's leftovers - for lunch we had the last of our frozen summer beans, tomorrow's lunch contains the last frozen summer peppers in the spaghetti mince (both of which contain home-made summer tomato sauce), and the last of our cabbages went into the evening meal's spring rolls. On the one hand, this looks like poor man's food - on the other, living off last season's harvests makes frugal, high quality and filling meals.
The weather has now returned back to normal - cold and wet one day, sunny and dry the next. This means that the outdoor dining area on our balcony cannot yet be prepared for use. Last weekend, I was planning to hose down the dust that had accumulated all over the table and chairs; I felt guilty as I watched my neighbour cleaning up her balcony (another "keeping up with the Joneses" act). I'm glad I didn't do this after all - the windstorm will have made me feel defeated, as it did to my husband's gardening efforts.


My mid-winter London breakfast;
everything's in season there
all year round!
For now, my food photos will remain indoors, while the meals will seem a little on 'cucina povera' side. Life is frugal in my neck of the woods because it has to be. But there is sun, there will be beach, and hopefully, there will be another bountiful harvest that will allow me to feed my family frugally for another year. Many people don't agree with me (according to my facebook discussions) when I say that food is the one most significant expenses in our daily life. At the same time, people are on the lookout for cheap food, which is often hard to find these days at a high quality. If you can sort out that dilemma, most of your daily problems will be solved; and if you can solve your heating problems too, like we did with our free firewood, then there's something left over for a little luxury, even if it means a Ryanair flight, roughing it in a sleeping bag or on the sofa of your friend's house in London and visiting free musuems. The frugal life may look poor on the surface, but it is rich in experience.

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