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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

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Thesis (Διατριβή)

I'm very lucky to be paid to read so much new information from my students' thesis writing, as it puts me a step ahead with the latest developments in various fields, none of which I would read up about if it weren't for my work. As I proofread theses, I realise just how little has changed in the presentation and writing style of a thesis since the time I wrote my own over twenty years ago.

Today I had a meeting with a student who wanted to clarify some issues concerning my proofing of his work. He had written about marketing and management, a common thesis topic these days, as this is seen as the way forward in a world crippled by a global economic crisis. His English proved of a good enough standard, but he had made the usual stylistic mistakes that students often make when writing an internationally acceptable MA thesis. This includes consistency errors (eg both 'UK' and 'GB' appeared throughout the text), 'hanging' headings (ie they were not numbered) and badly phrased references (eg he had mentioned the researcher's name, but not the year of publication). These, in my opinion, are all innocent errors and can easily be rectified in an hour or so, for a 70-80 page text, once they have been pointed out.

ΓΚΡΙΚ 4 ΜΠΙΓΚΙΝΝΕΡΣ
Most students communicate with me by email over their corrections, even when living in another country, so I was surprised that the student actually wanted to see me. I thought maybe that direct contact was easier for him because he would be in the area juggling other jobs. I eventually realised that this wasn't the case: he fitted the 'oral' type, the kind of people who pay for a lot of talk time on their mobile phones because they are better at the spoken rather than the written word.

Together, we went through the notes I made in his thesis, of which the first was that there was no abstract in his work, the little one-page summary that all students are required to write about their (on average) 100-page dissertations. This is a standard procedure all over the academic world.

- But I don't need one, surely, he insisted, because I've written an introduction.

I explained why they did need one, and why it was different from the introduction, but I could tell that the student was rather annoyed. Most students don't actually get annoyed with my comments during hte proofing stage; they realise I'm making their thesis look better than what it would have looked without my corrections. A few old tricks were played (eg my supervisor told me it was OK not to write one), which made me think that he thought his thesis was perfect just as it was. I knew what other comments I had made, and I was already feeling uncomfortable: I would have to be firm, something that diminishes the 'friend and helper' status that I usually try to convey to my students.

Today was spaghetti day at MAICh, but with the amount of fresh salads available, it's easy to make a main meal out of them.
The hanging headings caused a problem for him. I told him that all headings had to be mentioned in the table of contents, but an unnumbered heading cannot be placed appropriately in this list, so they need to number it. He insisted that he had done it on purpose to highlight it, which is actually impossible, since it won't even appear in the chapter and section headings! I also pointed out to him that his headings were not consistent - sometimes they were written in bold test, other times in italics, and other times underlined. Again, this affects the readability of the text - we often know what we want to say, but we have to convey to our readers in such a way that they understand what we meant, and a consistent manner of heading paragraphs helps people to read a text more quickly and efficiently.

He wasn't convinced. He used the 'but my supervisor said it was OK' line again, as if my corrections were ruining his masterpiece. But at MAICh, English correction is obligatory, not optional, and I need to approve the thesis work before it can be submitted. I like to remind students that my word is not final; they are allowed some artistic licence to a certain extent, as to how they present their work, which is why I track my changes on the electronic versions of their thesis. They can accept or reject them, within reason of course: if it's a spelling/grammar error, this obviously needs correction, but if it is a question of layout, this is debatable. I always tell them this, in order to make them understand that they are in control of their work, as well as implying that all potential errors are traceable.

The one thing that really shows how much a student has researched their work is the way they write their references. If you mention the name of a researcher, you much mention the publication (including the year, name of journal/book that the reference came from and page numbers) of the author's work. If you simply write his/her name without the year, it shows that you possibly copied the reference from somewhere, and didn't research it further to get the full reference details. In the world of the internet, this is plain and simply sloth, a sign of laziness.

- Oh, that's how I found the reference written, he said.

- Sure, but you must have found it somewhere in the first place, I pointed out.

- Yes, but it was written like this, he kept insisting, as if he was tired of listening to me, and he had better things to do than argue about insignificant details.

- Where?

- On the internet.

- So where would someone look to find it?

- On the internet. they could look it up.

- How?

- It's on a site.

- Which site? Where's the URL?

- Oh, that!

Yeah, that. It's that simple. At least he wasn't as shameful as another student I had a few years ago who asked me to send him the submission approval before I had even proof-read his work.

*** *** ***


On a different note, I could do a lot of my work from home instead of going into my office environment. I used to insist on working from home when I could in the past, but the economic crisis has changed that, at least in my case. One of the reasons why I come into work every day is to show solidaruty with my colleagues whose positios require them to be at the premises (cooks, cleaners, lab technicians, plumbers, electricians, etc). My petrol costs would be vastly reduced if I didn't come in to work every day, while my colleagues would not have any other choice but to come into work.


But if I didn't come into work, then I wouldn't be spending my time sharing meals with other people, like I did today, sitting outside on a very sunny day, when it suddenly started raining. But the rain was so light, htat we didn't move, and continued eating uncovered. We only went inside, after we had finished our meal, laughing as we carried our plates and trays. There is something magical about sharing meals, and I often get ideas about things I write about later in my blog from those experiences. Even though much of my time spent int he office consists of 'passive face time' (because I get most of my work done elsewhere), I would be missing out on a very important interaction with my colleagues and students.

©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, 27 February 2013

Kitchen towels (Πετσέτες κουζίνας)

Throughout my frugal life, I've learnt not to waste. Even when I don't like something that I own, I still use it and don't replace it until I really really need to. That's why I have a very functional rather than a beautiful home.
I knew they needed to be changed...
I recently noticed how bloody awful my tea towels looked. They were a remnant of my mother's chattels which she had never used. She was a hoarder in a good sense: On emigrating to New Zealand for a better life, she had hoped that one day she would return to her homeland with all the things she had accumulated from her adopted consumeristic lifestyle. Once back home, she would start using the things she had hoarded. For a long time, therefore, she lived with old things (some of which I now have and still use), and the new things she bought remained in the many storage cupboards she had built in our New Zealand home when we got it renovated.

She didn't make it back to Greece, nor did she make to old age, so all this stuff was left in the cupboards. On her death, my father made the decision to leave New Zealand forever and come to live in his homeland, my mother's long-term illness being the only thing that had held him back all those years. He was too depressed to sort out what to take and what to leave behind, so the container workers packed everything they found in the house.
... but I also knew that they still looked like the gaudy unused ones that are still lying around in my cupboards.
I ended up with many items from the hoardings of my mother's frugal life (some of which she was probably keeping for her kids' dowries), most of which was all very useful but not really in the style I would have liked to buy, if I were spending my own money buying the same things myself. The kitchen towels look rather gaudy now, a result of their cheap quality origins (PRC). But that's not what I saw when I unpacked them out of the containers. I just saw some useful stuff I could use in my home.

The supermarket special read: €2.99 each - buy 1, get 1 free. 
It wasn't really a frugal decision of mine to buy new tea towels yesterday, since I still had some of my mother's leftovers lurking in my cupboards, but it feels liberating to be free of the same tired old sight. I now notice how very similar to my mother I am in terms of picking home furnishings - she would buy the whole range of colours in the same style of kitchen towel, rather like what I did yesterday. And of course, she always bought cheaply. After all, stuff outlives us all, and it's simply not worth much more than our own lives.

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

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Fresh imported beef mince

The picture below shows perfectly how little Greeks understand or care for the horsemeat scandal:

 "Fresh BEEF MINCE imported breast meat"
"Fresh BEEF MINCE imported breast meat" is on special at the super-duper price of €6.49, reduced from €7.98. As a standard of measure, Greek beef (which is invariably almost always born in France, and begins its Greek life, until the time of slaughter, at the age of 5 months) is sold at prices starting from €10+/kg.

While the rest of Europe is avoiding pre-minced meat products and the horsemeat scandal has become the main topic of discussion among the EU agriculture ministers, as well as the fact that horse-beef products have been confirmed to have been sold in Greece, top-end supermarkets like this one are selling it cheaply - and from what I saw this afternoon, people are buying it, as if the horsemeat scandal could never affect us, nor that we should be worrying about it. After all, it's a European problem, isn't it? And we are what we eat, which is... Greek. 

More on Europe in a later 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.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Cauliflower and chickpeas (Κουνουπίδι και ρεβίθια)

I like to believe that the food I present in my blog is honest, simple, frugal, cheap, tasty, nutritious, sustainable and respectful, food that is within everyone's reach. The simplest meal combinations turn out to be the ones most well remembered by my eaters, who are my family, of course. I don't use any special techniques or ingredients and I try not to waste, especially anything we grow ourselves, to show respect not only to Mother Earth, but also to my husband who spends a good deal of his time in the garden, making it a fertile one all year round.

Here's a dish I recently prepared for our evening meal. Because of the curry flavour, the kids didn't try it, so maybe it's for more mature tastes; as Mediterraneans, they are not quite up to curry flavour. The addition of the chickpeas was last minute - but I thought they paired well with the cauliflower because both these ingredients are curry staples. The addition of a form of bean to a vegetable dish makes it a complete meal that includes protein, carbohydrates and roughage.

The quantities given for the ingredients are vague; it depends on how spicy you want your meal to be, and how many people are eating. You'll notice that i'm using ready-prepared ingredients, which have been prepped myself before I need them, eg boiled soaked chickpeas (so I must be preparing a chickpea stew for these to be hanging around) and finely chopped wild aromatic greens (so I must be preparing a spanakopita at some point soon), and

You need:
some par-boiled cauliflower florets: the amount of time you cook the cauliflower depends on your taste preferences (to be honest, I overcooked mine, which made it mushy)
1 small onion, sliced thinly
a few mixed greens, finely chopped (optional - it lends a nice flavour to the dish)
curry spices: I make my own with crushed garlic, cumin seed, chili pepper, turmeric and freshly grated ginger, something I learnt to do in New Zealand and have not changed my mix since that time
some soaked boiled chickpea
salt and pepper
some olive oil




Heat some olive oil in a low frying pan. Add the curry spices and cook till the garlic is translucent (about 1 minute). Then add the onion and allow it to wilt. Add the cauliflower and allow to heat through. Then add the mixed greens (if using) and chickpeas. Again, allow to heat through before seasoning.



Enjoy the dish with some crusty bread, some cheese and olives and a bit of wine. What could be simpler - as long as you have done your homework, that is!

©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, 24 February 2013

Early spring

Oour blessed early spring carries with it sinister overtones of an early summer. When it is as warm as it is now, the wild-growing horta in the garden grow too quickly to be harvested over the season, thrusting forth their blossoms, a sign that they have lost their tenderness and fine flavour. 


The colours of spring are a display of rebirth, as grasses bloom and spread their seed for the following growing season. But spring also hides a short period of poorer times ahead, the insecurity of watching the winter's supplies run out as we wait for the summer season's harvests to come through. 

©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, 23 February 2013

Packet soups

There were always packet soups in our house when we were growing up. My mother never used them in the way that instructions stated on the back of the packet: she used to add them to her own recipes for extra flavour. In this way, she used a tomato soup sachet to make a thick soup with rice, a chicken noodle sachet for avgolemono, and stock cubes for giving pilafi rice cooked in chicken stock an extra kick. Now that I'm cooking for the family, I can understand why she did this. Had there been paximadi, high quality olive oil and free-range chicken available in New Zealand during our time there (similar foods that she had learnt to prepare food with when she was still in Greece), soup packets would probably have been unnecessary. But soup was still a popular meal in our house, possibly due to the New Zealand climate.

At times, I've bought these sachets myself thinking I would use them when I didn't have time to cook 'properly'. Although there have been many times when I have not been able to do just that (cook properly) for various reasons (lack of time or will), those packet soups have never come out to be used as a meal and they are still lying in my cupboards. There's never really been any reason to add this salt-laden flavouring agent to any of our meals because they already have a high quality taste and flavour without them; I may be cooking similar meals to my mother's but our vegetables usually come from our garden.

When there isn't enough time to cook, a boiled or fried egg, or maybe some cheese with some bread and a salad will suffice. If they can't find any ham and cheese in the fridge, the children will whip up a dakos; when he's on his own, my son prefers thick slices of sourdough bread drizzled with our own supplies of extra virgin olive oil, lemon from our own trees and oregano presented to us as a gift.  Packet soups and sachet meals are always found at the supermarket, but they are never sold as cheaply as one would expect, for such meals to catch on. Soup in general is seen as a winter food, but soup has never been popular in contemporary Greece in the first place.  


I was doing a pantry clearance the other day when I came across the packet soups. I felt rather guilty about the fact that they've been lying there for over a year and I know I'll never use them. I know I can use them to cook our pets' food (which I am now doing), but even that feels strange: I'm feeding our pets food that I consider inferior for human consumption.  

In the past, it was easy to get bones and offcuts for free from butchers and the meat counters at supermarkets, but these days this is difficult. The last time I asked for them at a top-end supermarket, I was told that anything that isn't sold (including trimmings) is sent back to the main offices of the chain (I wonder what they do with them.) And if you aren't actually buying much meat in the first place, then you have no reason to be at a butcher or meat counter asking for scraps. 

For the next month, our dog cat will be trying a new range of pasta dishes, all cooked with finely chopped garden vegetables, olive oil and sachet flavours: tomato, spring vegetable, carbonara, thai green curry, red curry paste, chicken stock and even vanilla pudding. I started with the tomato soup packet the other day. Usually they scoff down their meal as soon as the food hits their plate. I was a little worried when the dog left hers lying in the old frying pan that serves as her plate. I felt some relief to see the food missing the next morning. Maybe this kind of food is just a little more difficult to digest.

Having been raised in a household where packaged highly  processed food of this kind did have its place, it should come as a surprise to most people that I could live without them. Living in rural Crete, I know why there is no need for such food to exist at all.

©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, 22 February 2013

Boil-up

When there is no time to cook...

Potaotes, eggs and cauliflower florets can all be boiled the night before. 

... finding a simple home-cooked meal is beter than not finding anything.

They won't remember the taste of the vegetables, they will only remember the taste of the olive oil and the fresh lemon that they use to dress their meal

There really is not excuse for eating out of a box when you can cook something as simple as this. 

©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.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Rick Stein's Mediterranean Escapes

I now have the chance to watch UK TV shows which are normally not available to us when we try to view them from Greece, through a website which allows you to view a range of channels from all over the world without paying a subscription fee. Watching UK TV channels from my own home computer is, I must admit, quite an eye-opener. For instance, female chat shows hosts (on BBC and ITV) don't wear slutty dresses or dye their hair peroxide blonde like ours do, and there are no παραθυράκια on the news programmes. I've also got a whiff of "Wanted Down Under Revisited" which deals, somewhat unsurprisingly, with Brits' desire to live in a 'better' place in the world (it should better be called "Moaners and Groaners"). Such shows give you an idea of British identity (they generally love their family, friends and the local pub, but they hate their weather and they wish they could afford to live in bigger houses).  It's also amusing to watch those 'antique' shows where junk is auctioned off for ridiculous prices.

Even though I generally don't watch TV cookery shows, I must admit that I have fallen in love with Rick Stein's Mediterranean Escapes. The best food shows in my opinion are those that present the food of different regions, like Rick's show. It's interesting to see what people eat in different homes. I'm not so interested in restaurant menus - they require ingredients that are not necessarily cheap or easy to source, and the techniques sometimes require specialised equipment that I most likely don't have in my house. But ordinary home cooking with local ingredients always intrigues me and TV shows of this nature give me a chance to see how other people combine many of the same ingredients that I use in my own home to make a fantastic, interesting, tasty and complete meal for a family.

When I caught Rick on the program, he was in Puglia, Italy, eating mainly vegetarian food. He noted how everything was cooked simply and that most food looked as though it came from only 2-3 miles away. He was eating at a local restaurant which didn't deal with many tourists because it was off the beaten track, despite being by the sea. In fact, he commented that the Mediterranean landscape where he was at the time was kind of unimpressive, not at all what a tourist would expect to see when they visit a restaurant that is supposed to be famed for its magnificent food. But that was it really - people do not make demands on the landscape when they go there to eat - they go there because of the food, which they pay great respect to, because they have a relationship with it. He was surprised to see both young and old people enjoying timeless dishes that, in his own admission, a young Brit would not dream of eating - it was a world far away from chips, burgers and curries.

Rick doesn't make an effort to show you just beautiful food - he accentuates the relationship Mediterranean people have with their food. While an Italian woman cooked up a plate of mashed broad beans served with boiled broccoli rabe greens, he asked her where she first learnt to cook this food. The woman answered that she cooks these dishes because she remembers her mother in her kitchen cooking these dishes when she was a young girl, and she knows that her grnadmother cooked these dishes too, so she feels compelled to cook these dishes because she doesn't want to break the chain. She said that it was an integral part of her life to do this, and even though her children grimace when they see what's on the table, they eat it, possibly moaning and groaning at the same time. But I bet they will remember this food in the same way when they are older, or living away from home, when they have children - they will remember their mother, and the memories associated with the extended family that such dishes arouses.

It was also interesting to see the Puglians pouring olive oil into their pots, as if the stuff came from a free-flowing tap, which of course, in places like this, it does, if I compare it to my own situation. There is no scrimping anywhere in cooking of this sort: whole heads of crushed garlic are thrown into the pan, sea urchins are poured into the oil, and in five minutes, a very al dente pasta is cooked for this sauce. In another pasta sauce, truffles are shaved in such quantities as to suggest that they are commonplace - yes, you may need to be a truffle hunter to enjoy such a dish, but it is a habit of such people that goes back centuries. They cook like their mothers did, as their grandmothers did for their mothers, and the chain is not broken.

Truffles and olive oil may sound like luxury items to the Brits, but they are not treated as such by the Puglians. In fact, most Mediterranean cooking involves sparse use of fresh - and few - ingredients. And most of the best dishes started out as poor people's food; parmesan for example was unknown in the Puglia region until it was mass produced: before that, the parmesan of the poor was fried breadcrumbs.

When Rick leaves Puglia, he goes to the Greek island of Kerkira, otherwise known to Brits as Corfu, popularised in the novel "My Family and other Animals" by Gerald Durrell who lived there as a child when his mother took him along with his brothers and sisters to the island for a change in lifestyle back in the 1930s. I was all excited when Rick said he was going to Greece, but I did feel a little disappointed when he said he couldn't wait to sip ouzo and eat stuffed tomateos with rice - oh my God, I thought, is he still there?

But I shouldn't be too hasty in jusging him. I think I know where he is coming from. Ask the average British tourist in Kerkira (where's that? you ask - sorry, it's Corfu to you) what s/he thinks of the food in the popular Mediterranean resorts, and they will tell you about the best fish and chip shops and where they had a good burger. As a restaurant owner on the island told Rick, as he was dining on artichokes and peas in dill and lemon sauce cooked by the man's mother, tourists don't like this kind of food, they don't know what it is, they can't imagine what they may get when they ask for it, even if it is written in English, so they just order a pizza or a steak. They can't appreciate this kind of food because they are unwilling to try it. The restaurant was located in a tourist area but the customers were mainly Greek. Brits don't generally go to the Mediterranean for the food - they go for the sun, the sea and the cold beer. It's moments like these when we have to admit that the food is simply not that important, and the Greek tourism sector is going to have to get to grips with this if it wants to secure a good market share. Making the food the centrepiece is simply not going to work at times. As an example, take the Greek hotel breakfast. That's a global concept, and for that reason, globally recognisable breakfast food is served there - bring out a rusk with grated tomato and freshly crumbled goat's cheese, and you've lost the package tourist...

Rick made a very wise observation about Greek vegetarian food: he said that the dishes weren't really made for vegetarians - they were simply delicious dishes that don't contain any meat. That sums up my vegetarian cooking. The dishes I cook are usually vegetarian, and often vegan at that, but not on purpose: meat and other forms of protein, notably cheese, accompanies my dishes in small quantities. The protein is a supplement rather the main part of the meal. Take today's meal of chickpeas and rice: the kids practically fell into the pot when they saw what was for lunch. They didn't even ask for any cheese! They just wanted to savour a dish that they associate with "good food". They didn't notice it didn't contain protein. And if it did, they would have complained: "That's not revithia, mum! Next time, make it in the real way."

*** *** ***

I keep UK TV on in the background as I work on my computer. My family are amused as I shout out to them: "Quick! get a look at this!" each time I find something worth sharing with them. On another note, I was also quite shocked to find out that Britain has many beneficiary claimants who are defrauding the system: as the host of  "Saints and Scroungers" points out, wherever money is being given away, there are always corrupt people, cheats, liars, "single" parents, families with more children than they can afford to raise, and a host of other lazy sods trying to cheat the system to get their hands on it. (It makes Greeks look tame when you see benefit fraudsters loading up their garden shed with caskets of wine and champagne, and building summer homes in Spain, all on UK taxpayers' money.)

The order of the news items give you a clue as to what is important to Brits: the Pistorius case is getting a lot of (ie too much) attention at the moment, seconding the Birmingham terrorists' story (men with Asian origins who were born and brought up in the UK but hated the country and went to Pakistan to train to be suicide bombers). There's also lot of ado about Adele's success in the US (another sign of British identity - always wanting to please their cross-Atlantic neighbours). The economic crisis seems to have caught up quite quickly with the UK with the crash of the 4G sale (implying that 3G seems good enough for the time being). And did you know that railway tracks fetch high prices in the UK? (Just like they do here - it ain't much different).

Watching other countries' television programs makes me feel a little smug about where I find myself. But I know how the BBC feels about non-UK residents seeing their programs without paying the exorbitant subscription fees demanded for cable TV (personally, I think €15-20 per month is far too much). It's been only a few days since I discovered this little gem of a website. Before anyone blows the whistle on filmon, and the BBC blocks my access to its vertitable little empire, I will continue to savour Rick's Mediterranean escapes and maybe chuckle a little as I hear the weather forecast announcer when he s/he tells us how frosty, cold and rather miserable the weather is at the moment; it's 16 degreees Celsius here in the middle of the Mediterranean, and for the last three nights, we haven't lit a fire (OK, maybe I am getting a little too smug).

Thanks to my potentially short glimpse into UK life, I had a chance to enjoy Rick's down-to-earth honest approach to the food he tries in the Meditrerraenan. He is not pretentious. And above all, he treats my Mediterranean food with respect. And if Rick chances to read this, I invite him to my Mediterranean table too.

(BTW, the Brits really do have a weight problem, judging from the many overweight people that fare quite prominently on the various shows I am watching; it's definitely got something to do with the food...)

©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, 20 February 2013

Keik (Κέικ)

For Patricia, who asked me for my recipe for keik - I recall I had my mother's set of those shiny orange tea cups that we also used to measure the rice for the pilafi, but I have a nasty feeling I gave them away because I didn't like them. Reading your message, I wish I'd kept at least one...

Greeks like to have a home-made sweet to serve to an unplanned guest, as well as to have something to eat with their coffee, and the most classic baked good of this kind the 'keik'. The name of the item does of course come from the English word for 'cake', but it must sound somewhat weird to the uninitiated to call a cake 'keik' when Greeks have many sweets of their own. The answer to that lies - possibly - in the difference in sweetness: γλυκό (gli-KO) is a sweet in the very sweet Greek style of syrup-drenched cakes, where κέικ (KE-ik, or CHE-ik in the Cretan dialect) is a cake that isn't very sweet, and not syrup-drenched (ie something like a UK or US sponge). To call a keik 'gliko' would be to abuse the true meaning of 'gliko'.

Most Greeks remember very well the scene where the Greek in-laws meet the non-Greek in-laws for the first time (on the Greeks' territory) in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. It basically sums up the meaning of 'keik' (it's definitely not a 'gliko'). It also tells us a little about Greek identity. 

Even the most useless cook can make a keik, which has been popularised mainly by the Yiotis flour company. The recipe for keik is included on the back of every 500g packet of their self-raising flour. Even though the name of the sweet (well, cake, really) denotes that it isn't a truly Greek cake, it is still considered a classic Greek sweet (ie cake). It is highly sought after by the diaspora, because whenever they visit their relatives in Greece and they are served keik, it always tastes so different to any cake they make back home, most likely because they skimp on the sugar, they don't use fresh orange juice and they can't be bothered to grate ALL the zest from the WHOLE orange.

If they ate keik in a rural area, they will remember the brilliant yeloow colour of the keik, almost as bright as the sun. This is most likkely because free-range organic eggs were used to make it. And if they ate keik in Crete, they won't forget the strong orange scent emanating from the keik as their yiayia or mama or thia cut it into slices.

I've been making keik for years (it was one of the first recipes I ever wrote up on the blog), especially right throughout the school year, because it goes into my kids' lunchboxes. For this reason, they aren't allowed to eat it for breakfast because they eat it during the break at school, and because I can't keep up with demand, I try to get them to take it easy with keik after school (otherwise it would disappear almost as soon as I made it) by providing them with other healthy and not-so-sweet or sugary alternatives.

My own keik is always made with olive oil (if you have been reading this blog long enough, you will know why: it's cheap and abundant in our house). Couple with our orchards' oranges and my regular gifts of free-range eggs, I can truly say that i can have my keik and eat it too.
The teacup and teaspoon I used to make my keik
Diaspora Greeks worry very much about the measurements used in making a cake. To be honest, I stopped using measuring implements many years ago and I get by not just on my estimations, but on the feel of the cake. In this post, I will show you exactly how I made it today. For this reason, I have carefully measured the ingredients of the keik, and I also present the measuring equipment I use, just in case there is any doubt in your minds when you try to reproduce the recipe at home.

Just like Yiotis says, you need:
4 eggs
1 1/2 teacups regular white granulated sugar (don't use any other sugar for this cake - the colour of the cake batter will be affected, which will not make it a keik)
1 teacup margarine (according to Yiotis - I never buy margarine these days; instead, I use 1 cup minus 0.5cm below the rim of olive oil)
1 teaspoon of vanilla-flavoured sugar (Greek home-cooks - this does not include food bloggers or gourmet cooks - tend to buy their vanilla flavouring in tiny plastic vials which are enough for one cake; some people use up to 2 vials of this kind in a standard keik: although I no longer buy vanilla sugar vials, I have used it in thie recipe because this is what most Greek cooks do in fact use)
EITHER: 1/2 teacup milk (Yiotis gives you a choice - and of course, I do not use milk because I have...)
OR: 1/2 teacup freshly squeezed orange juice (never ever ever from a juice box or bottle); you will need a medium-sized orange
the grated zest of one whole medium-sixed orange (you will need to use an orange even if you decided on using milk, so why not use the juice too - hence, grate it BEFORE you juice it)
4 airy teacups self-purpose flour (ie don't pack the flour in the teacup; measure it by pouring the flour from the paper bag into the teacup)
1 HEAPED teaspoon of baking powder (Yiotis tells you that you should use self-rising flour, but I have stopped using it because it seems to contain a lot of rising agent and I basically don't like it; hence the addition of the baking powder)
a bundt tin - this is absolutely vital as Greek keik is always made in this way



In a mixing bowl, place the eggs (both yolks and whites), sugar, olive oil, vanilla sugar, baking powder, orange zest and orange juice. Beat well with a wooden spoon (I never use an electric mixer - I don't even have one) until everything looks well mixed (since I use olive oil, I ensure that the olive oil emulsifies well with the other liquids). Add the flour gradually, cup by cup, and mix well after each addition. You will know that you have added the right amount of flour when the wooden spoon you mix the batter with stands up straight in the bowl and needs about 2-3 seconds to lose its balance before it falls on the side of the bowl.

Grease the bottom and sides of a bundt tin with olive oil. (I always use olive oil; I never line my baking tins with paper - EVER - but you may not feel so confident as I do.) Pour the batter into the tin, scraping off the batter in the bowl with a spatula. Place the tin in the middle of the oven and bake at moderate heat (175C) for 45-55 minutes. If you use a fan oven, the cake will take less time to cook.

To test if the cake is done, push a knife through it to see if the blade comes out clean (as an experienced keik maker, I can tell when the cake is done just by the weight of the tin - it feels airy). Even if it isn't cooked right through, the keik will probably cook right through if you simply switch off the oven and let the cake continue cooking the oven's warmth for the next half hour. I usually take my cake out when I know it's done, because I love the final stage of keik-making: holding it upside down over a large platter, tapping it heavily on the platter and watching the keik come out perfectly. A Greek keik is always served UPSIDE DOWN, you see, so even if it cracks unattractively on the top as it cooks, who cares, since no one will see the top: they will only see the bottom.

So there you have it, the perfect keik. As a friend pointed out to me this morning, I never realised that keik-making could get so technical. But the truth is that cake-making does require a degree of exactitude that a savoury main-meal dish does not. But then again, my ingredients are generally farm-fresh and local. Everyone's oven is also unique and they don't all cook in the same way. And remember, keik has a hole in the middle, and it's not a gliko - it's a keik.

PS: there is a variation of this cake with chocolate - I'll present it to you next week when I make another keik.

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Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Picture perfect

When the scenery looks picture perfect,



and spring feels so close,



when I know I still have the freedom to walk past a field and pick the wild grasses that grow there,



when I cook meals you can never even dream of buying because they simply do not exist on the market,



I almost feel like I'm a tax evader, because I am avoiding some life's realities. In a sense, I AM a tax evader - I'm not using an electric oven, I'm not using liquid fuel, I'm not even buying half the food I use to cook with. So in a way, I am avoiding paying a lot of taxes, all in an above board and legal way, of course.

Most people will say I'm lucky to live where I live and to have such fresh produce available so cheaply to me and to know how to cook so well. Only I know how little to do with luck, and how much to do with hard work it all is, and how many compromises and sacrifices I have had to make.

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Monday, 18 February 2013

Goody's is good

Remember the Goody's epsiode? (Click on the link if you don't.)

I wrote a semi-formal email to the headmaster ("I've been doing this job for 28 years," he told me), where I raised my concerns about taking children to a fast-food chain for lunch during an educational trip (it translates quite well on google):

Είμαι η μητέρα του ΥΥΥ και της ΖΖΖ.
Ευχαριστώ για τον χρόνο σας σημερα το πρωι.

Θα ήθελα να σας ρωτησω αν εχετε ριξει μια ματια στου Μουσείου τη σελίδα που περιγραφει το καφε-εστιατοριο: http://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/el/content/kafe-estiatorio
Γραφει οτι: "Ο χώρος προσφέρεται, επίσης, για ένα σύντομο και οικονομικό γεύμα για τα σχολεία που επισκέπτονται το Μουσείο". Σιγουρα θα εχει ISO πιστοποιηση. Επισης, πολλα εχουν ειπωθει για την καλη ποιοτητα των φαγητων που προσφερει, την Ελληνικη τους ταυτοτητα, και τις καλες του τιμες.

Οπως συζητήσατε, μπορούμε να επιλέξουμε να πάμε οπου θελουμε για φαγητό, αλλα μου φαινεται οτι τουτη η λυση θα εξοικονομησει και χρονο και χρηματα. Θα ηθελα να το σκεφτείτε, αφου υπαρχει αντιδραση οχι μονο απο εμενα αλλα και απο την αλλη μητερα που μιλησε ενατιον την επιλογη του GOODY's. Να μην ξεχασουμε οτι τα παιδια της Κρητης λεγεται οτι ειναι τα πιο παχυσαρκα της Ελλαδας, και αυτο ισως οφειλεται στην πιο ανετη ζωη που εχουμε εδω (δηλαδη εχουμε περισσοτερα χρηματα απο αλλα παιδια στην υπολοιπη Ελλαδα, ωστε να μπορουμε να αγοραζουμε ετοιμες τροφες η να βγαινουμε έξω για φαγητό).

Πρεπει να εχετε ακουσει ηδη για το θεμα του αλογισιου κρεατος, και οτι η Ελλαδα μαλλον ειναι και αυτη μπλεγμενη με τα εισαγωμενα ετοιμα φαγητα που περιεχουν αλεσμενα κρεατα (ειτε απο σουπερμαρκετ, ειτε απο φαστφουνταδικο), και τους κινδυνους που κρυβει: http://www.tanea.gr/news/greece/article/5001101/o-efet-elegxei-olh-thn-ellada-gia-proionta-me-kreas-alogoy/ Οποτε το θεμα, για μενα προσωπικα, ειναι επειγον. Πως δεν το ξερουν οι αλλοι γονεις (η απλα το αγνοουν) δεν νομιζω να καθιστει λογος να το αγνοησει το σχολειο, αφου τον περασμενο χρονο ειχαμε συμμετασχει στην ερευνα παχυσαρκιας.

Ζητω συγνωμη αν ακουγομαι υπερβολικη, αλλα εχω κανει μεγαλη προσπαθεια να μαθω στα παιδια μου καποια πραγματα, και θεωρω οτι καποιες αξιες δικες μου θα πρεπει να ειναι κοινες.
Ενα σχολειο, που στα σημερινα μας χρονια επισκεπτεται φαστφουνταδικο - ειτε Ελληνικο, ειτε ξενο - απλα δειχνει οτι εγκρινει αυτο τον τροπο ζωης.

To avoid publishing the headmaster's reply directly, I will provide the googled translation as it was given online: 

"I listened carefully to your views and discussion and to e-mail you sent me.

Bravo for the care and attention you give to your infant. On the other hand, the role of the school is to ad
vise on matters of life and attitudes rather bossy. For this reason our school, leaves absolutely free parents in choosing the place where you eat, but to patronize their food choices are varied, as you know. It has the ability, if someone wants to dine with something handmade that will bring the house so that it is 100% sure of what you eat.

But I share your concerns. I will not repeat the reasons why we chose Goody's. We remind you, however, that fastfount (fast food in Greek), offers fast food does not necessarily mean that it is not qualitative. There are plenty of meal in this not only from meat. I wonder why the ISO certification is valid for your restaurant Acropolis but invalid in the Greek Goody's. Also, I can not arbitrarily without incriminating evidence (or even rumors) a chain store that gives meat from horses! From what I've researched, everyday laboratory tests carried out at all stages of production, ensure excellent quality and safety of meals they offer. To make sure you enter the Goody's website and read the «goody's news» and «Nutritional information;; materials goody's ». Also some testimonials complain about the time serving in the restaurant of the Acropolis.

I respect your opinion and thank you for your concerns. But let's not be cause to worry a meal without good reason. A meal does not determine the overall attitude of anyone, nor throughout the trip. The primary purpose of each trip is to move everyone, combining education with entertainment."

Let's not forget that only two parents (me and one other mother) raised any objection about the fast-food restaurant chain being used as the official lunch setting. Therefore, we are a MINORITY. And like most minorities in Greece, our views must be compromised for the sake of the majority. Let's not rock the boat: I 'must' be wrong on this one, because the majority does not agree with meSo it's an open-and-shut case: Goody's has now been enshrined as the appropriate place for taking children on a school trip. Goody's is good, and other places are not necessarily better.
(Four legs good, two legs bad.)

Club sandwiches at Goody's (above) and the Remezzo cafe by the Venetian harbour (below). There is little to choose between them? One must always bear in mind that if kids are given a choice about what they can eat, this is basically what they'd choose. The difference is in how the issue is regarded by the state: if a UK school were to take a bunch of kids to McDonalds, the Guardian would be treating the issue as a first-page headline if it caught wind of it.

By the way, did you see today's headlines on the BBC and the Guardian?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21478314
http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/feb/18/doctors-soft-drinks-tax-obesity
(Four legs good, two legs better.)
We have to remember that we live in Greece, not the UK, and that's UK, not Greek news.

This communication exchange tells us a lot about the Greek identity. As a nation, we are completely lacking in passion to change anything in our life because we are very used to our ways, and even if we know that our ways are not very good ways, it just seems too much of a bother to change. Better the devil you know, on every count. Apart from fighting for the right to keep a public sector job, a high salary and early retirement, we do not get moved as a nation about anything much, except perhaps for free rights to squat in state-owned property surrounded by molotov-cocktail-making equipment. I can't remember when the last gay-marriage and animal-welfare marches took place on a nation-wide scale; at any rate, it's gay animal marriage where I draw the line. Where would we get our eggs and cheese from?

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Curried cauliflower (Κουνουπίδι με κάρυ)

When you grow your own vegetables, there will be many times when you realise you cannot keep up with the growth rate of your own garden. Even if you live in a country where the cool climate isn't conducive to gardening, what you plant will often ripen at the same time, so that for a long time you will have nothing to harvest, and suddenly you find yourself giving it away.

When you allow ripened/mature crops to keep growing in your garden, you are allowing the soil to keep feeding them, which isn't good for the soil. It works in a similar way to obesity: the soil's nutrients are sucked up by the overgrown crops, so that the plants start to spoil in some way, and the soil becomes poorer. The best thing to do is to harvest crops when they are ready and store them appropriately.

Photo: only the head of the broccoli is harvested - i watched this field full of brocs in the past 2-3 weeks forming florets (like ours have done) and just flowering away (unlike ours because we pick them) because no one here understands the value of these delicious morsels
Only the broccoli head is harvested. I watched this field  (and at least two more) full of broccoli over the past 2-3 weeks forming new broccoli heads, similar to the sprouting broccoli variety, but they were never harvested because few people here attach value to these delicious morsels.

We plant too many broccoli and cauliflower to eat them all ourselves, so I often give away or swap produce with friends (one gives me freshly laid eggs from her chickens). But the plants still grow too quickly to be used at their prime. This is especially noticeable with the cauliflower and broccoli plants: the heads are now blossoming. This doesn't render them inedible - they just become more fibrous and less tasty.

At any rate, growing plants in your garden is different from growing plants for the market. In your own garden, you won't use the same kinds of chemicals that are used for market-grown produce. Overgrown market-grown produce doesn't sell, but garden-grown produce is still useable. It may simply need a longer cooking time than what you would normally cook it for if it hadn't been allowed to overgrow.

Our cauliflower is looking a bit like this at the moment:

Very pretty, still tasty, but not what you'd expect a grower to be selling you! The long flower-like stems are not the tastiest specimens, but they can still be used for cooking, although they will need a longer cooking time. They are too fibrous to eat raw.

About a week ago, I picked one that hadn't quite got to the blossom stage:

From this photo, you can see that it was ready to get to the flowering (and seeding) stage. I simply chopped off all the small sprouting parts and left the head as it is. In today's meal - a curry, to use the imported canned coconut milk I bought a while ago to try - I have used only the little sprouts. The remaining cauliflower is still waiting for its time to be used in some way.


I based my curried cauliflower dish on a recipe I found on the internet, which uses whole spices rather than curry powder. I could only get runny coconut milk, and I didn't use a whole garlic head, as stated in the recipe. The cumin seeds lent a nutty flavour to the dish (nicer than cumin powder). To thicken the stew, I mixed in a little bit of flour at the end of the cooking time. Coconut milk is a great addition to stew, lending today's meal a very foreign aroma.

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Sunday, 17 February 2013

Economiyaki (Oικονομιγιάκι)

Japanese cuisine for me till now was all about sushi and wasabi paste, until a friend introduced me to the okonomiyaki. The word sounds very Greek and very Cretan at the same time: '-okonomi' reads like 'economy', while the '-yaki' part sounds like the suffix attached to many Greek nouns and adjectives, to change their meaning into 'small'. So a Greek could easily confuse 'okonomiyaki' as 'economiyaki', with the thought running around in their head of a 'small economy'.


Tasty looking street food: we need one of these in Hania to compete with souvlaki.

The okonomiyaki resembles my own little economy. The ingredients and flavours used in the dish could easily be adapted for Mediterranean kitchens. Some ingredients are standard in both cuisines, eg spring onions, cabbage, octopus, shrimp and eggs. The highly specific Japanese mountain yam, tempura batter and dried shrimp can be replaced by local available items or omitted altogether.   

Hence, I present you with my own version of a Mediterranean-based economiyaki, based on the Japanese-style filled pancake, made with cheap easily sourced ingredients, and a basic pancake batter. The chopping and preparation will take some time for the novice; in our house, that's a routine associated with growing your own produce. This meal uses a lot more ingredients than I would normally use in my cooking - that's probably why it is so so so tasty.

For three filling economaki, you need:
a pancake batter (I used the one suggested in this video, without the dashi soup and grated yam)
three small cups of shredded cabbage
some leek, finely sliced
some ginger, finely grated
1 carrot, finely grated
1/2 cup frozen mixed seafood, boiled five minutes and chopped small (a cheap packet of frozen mixed seafood costs €3.50 for 350g; a little goes a long way and you can keep the rest in the freezer for later use - this is cheaper than buying octopus and shrimp/squid separately)
a handful of rice noodles, pan-fried for 1-2 minutes (this replaces the deep-fried tempura batter)
3 eggs
3 thin strips of bacon or prosciutto, sut into large pieces
some finely sliced spring onion tops
HP sauce (this replaces the okonomiyaki sauce that we can't get here: a mixture of ketchup, barbecue and worcestershire sauce also works, apparently)
mayonnaise
olive oil


Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and water in a bowl to make a runny batter. Pile the cabbage, leek, carrot, ginger, seafood and noodles onto the batter without mixing. Now break the eggs on top of this. Mix everything very lightly, so that some of the batter remains at the bottom of the bowl. Heat some olive oil to a very high heat in a frying pan. Then pile a third of the mixture onto it, patting it down as the bottom layer begins to cook and the cabbage wilts.

Place 1/3 of the prosciutto slices on top of the pancake, continuing to cook it. With a spoon, pour some batter over the prosciutto strips. With a spatula, turn the pancake over carefully, to break it as little as possible. Then pat it down so that any uncooked batter seeps out over the top. Allow the economiyaki to cook 2-3 minutes before turning over again; repeat this once more. Make two more economiyaki in the same way.


Lift the cooked economiyaki onto individual plates. Spread some HP sauce over it, with a sprinkling of spring onion and a squirt of mayonnaise. Enjoy it warm.


Food allows you to travel to places you never thought you could see. My economiyaki looks at home in both Japan and Greece. What a fantastic way to hide vegetables in a pancake! In case you didn't know this, Okinawa in Japan and Ikaria in Greece share the highest longevity rates in the world. This is despite their cuisines being quite differently, both visually and taste-wise from each other. I doubt Okinawans use as much olive oil as Ikarians do. There must be something else connecting them.

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Saturday, 16 February 2013

Hamburger

A picture post today, which says it all.

From the freezer... 
... to the oven...
... to the burger bun, and all very well cooked, not a 7-minute job on a fast-food restaurant grill.
First, there was meat, and then there was mince. 
People made burgers until machines made them and people laughed at those who still made them (or simply looked down on them). Soon they'll be walking on four legs. 

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Friday, 15 February 2013

School trip


I attended a school meeting yesterday to discuss an upcoming school trip to Athens, where we were told about the itinerary, which is as follows:


- overnight ferry boat to Athens,
- guided tour of the archaeological site of Acropolis
- guided tour of the Acropolis Museum
- lunch at Goody's
- guided tour of the Greek Parliament
- trip to Attica Park (a zoo)
- overnight ferry boat back to Hania.

Lunch at Goody's?! On a Greek educational school trip?! I made my objection known to the headmaster. He challenged me by saying that places like Goody's have ISO certification. He also added:

"I could have chosen McDonalds because it's across the road from Parliament, but I preferred Goody's because it's Greek."

Not a single mention was made about the quality of the food, the edcuational aspect of the trip, the cultural or the moral aspects of taking kids to a fast food restaurant when there are campaigns these days to make people aware of the nutritional content of their meals, and never mind the statistics which state that the fattest Greek kids are the Cretan ones.

I told him that this is not really trustworthy in light of the recent horse meat scandals. And he said:

"Horse meat scandals? Pardon me, but I don't know what you're talking about."

He had no idea about the horse meat scandals (yes, really truly - there are many people in the world who do not give a fuckadoodle about first-world-problems!), but this is not solely his fault. There is a journalists' strike in Greece at the moment; but even the journos who aren't striking do not mention this subject at all in the Greek papers/channels I read/hear (we clearly have far more serious concerns to discuss in this country). In fact, I was astounded that no one in the room (15 mums and 2 dads) showed any sign of recognition of the issue. (And one person simpy chided me: "Have you been to a souvlatzidiko lately?") In my opinion, this shows how much rural and socially isolated Greeks know or are interested in 'foreign matters', and maybe just how detached they are also becoming from their own food chain at a time when others elsewhere are questioning it.

There is nothing wrong with a Goody's meal. A junk food treat every now and then is a great way to boost morale in a very depressed restrictive environment like ours can be at times (it's not all sun, sea and sand in Crete, especially in winter). It is fun to eat such a meal every now and then, adhering to the principle of  'everything in moderation', as my ancestors used to preach. My objections are NOT based on the fact that this is a Greek educational school trip which combines elements of Greek society that are internationally renowned, which stand as a testament to Greece's contribution to the world's heritage. My objections derive from the great effort I have made to teach my children good eating habits. (This was thankfully voiced by one - only one - other mother in the room.) At any rate, we have a Goody's in Hania. Why do we need to go to Goody's in Athens, when there are plenty of other different places in the same central area that we can choose from?

As an aside, the headmaster did explain to the parents that they are welcome to go to any other place they want, but the unaccompanied ones will go to Goody's - because it's ISO certified, and if you don't know anything about horse meat in burger mince, then it isn't an issue is it? Ignorance is bliss.

As I mull over today's events and I prepare myself for tomorrow's showdown (where I believe that the person backing down will not be me), I bake a lot - it is a solitary activity which allows me to talk to myself as I prepare my case.

My problems could have stopped at the Goody's episode, if I were simply a complacent person. I was saddened by the parents' response to the itinerary: "The children will get so tired of listening to tour guides!", "Why so many archaeological visits?", "Are we obliged to enter the Acropolis with the kids?", and a whole host of other mutterings that will highlight mainly the low level of social education that exists in my society. The mothers actually had the audacity to ask the headmaster to tell the tour guide in the Acropolis museum to keep details to the lowest level and to get the tour over and done with quickly (!!). And the headmaster agreed with them (!!!!!!!!).

I was particularly distressed when I heard that it was likely that only the children would be allowed to enter Parliament (due to the current Greek political scene), while the parents had to wait outside the meeting chambers. I had wanted to accompany my children on the school visit for this sole reason. You see, I never learnt about modern Greek history when I was at school, only the very rudimentary elements of ancient Greek history commonly taught in Western societies. If I can't enter Parliament with them, then what I would be doing accompanying them on this not-so-cheap trip? At ~€100 per child, and €125 per adult (including ferryboat tickets, but not all meals, but we pay entrance fees at archaeological sites, whereas the kids don't)? If it's for the hedonistic value of having an expensive coffee under the shadow of the Acropolis, then I can find a cheaper way to do this.

In the afternoon, I called the teacher and told her that I have decided to send the kids unaccompanied, as  a few (a grand minority, compared to the accompanied children - υπάρχουν λεφτά!) other parents are doing.

"But we've already stated the numbers in the tender" she said, meaning that they are advertising the trip in the state gazettes. "This is putting us in a difficult situation (naughty Mrs Verivaki, it's all your fault), and besides I don't really want to take the responsibility for two extra children (what about the other five unaccompanied kids, who will be accompanied by THREE teachers!), and we've already sorted out the accomodation in the ferry boat cabins..."

You've got to be kidding me! The trip isn't until MAY of this year and that's three months away! So what is she suggesting? That I send one child and not the other? That I send them both and accompany them? I'm in for more hammering tomorrow when I see the headmaster to explain to him why I will NOT come on the trip, and I don't think it's going to be me backing down.

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