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Wednesday, 30 December 2015

I had a dream (Ονειρεύτηκα)

I don't normally remember my dreams. They are forgotten almost as quickly as I wake up and open my eyes. This one contained elements of both my past and present life, and it married them so beautifully, which is perhaps why I can still remember quite a few details of that dream. I just related it to a colleague, and she thought it was quite symbolic of the times we live in, so I decided to write it down, just for the record.

I'm in the Greek Orthodox Church of Wellington. What am I doing here, I ask myself. I try not to make myself look too conspicuous. It's the moment when the δίσκο (THIS-ko - collection tray) is being passed around. 'I don't want to hear any clink-clink', the (now-deceased) Archbishop says (as I recall him saying once when I was still living in Wellington - he preferred to hear a gentle rustle, like leaves falling from the trees to the ground). 

The collection tray passes by me, but I don't add any money to it. I remember thinking that the church doesn't pay property taxes. But the old man passing it round stays rooted to the ground in front of me. So much for not wanting to make myself look conspicuous; I just shrug back at him. He points to the tray with his finger and nods towards me, making it obvious that he won't leave if I don't contribute. 

I take out my purse and open it. Then I turn it upside down over the collection tray. The clink-clink sound can be heard as a few coppers fall onto it. Nothing silver comes out with it. The old man is now both annoyed and embarrassed. "I've just come from Greece," I say, "and we're still under capital controls!"

A lady turns and looks at me very sympathetically. She disappears for a moment behind the μπαγκάρι (ba-GA-ri - candle counter). When she returns, she is holding an EFT-POS machine. 

I don't know what happened next, because at this point I woke up. According to a Kiwi friend, there is indeed an EFT-POS machine now in Wellington's Greek Orthodox church.

Καλή Χρονιά!
Happy New Year!


©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, 26 December 2015

2015: the loss of fear

What a year. What a Greek year. A year of Greece making a daily appearance in the headlines on the front (home) page of international newspapers (websites). It made Greeks wonder: "What did we do now?" A year of the fear of not knowing if we were 'in' or 'out': 'Where do we belong?" A year of social upheaval: "What's going to happen next?" As we wondered what the answers were to these questions, we began to fear our multiple losses: the loss of commonly-held beliefs and comforts.

The international press is now blaring out the main news reviews, the stories of the year that made headlines, like they do at the end of every year: Greece still plays a prominent role in them. Stories about the global economy are rife with references to Greece; the world learnt about OXI thanks to Greece; the refugee crisis played out its beginnings in Greece. As it all unfolded in Greece, the world watched on, fearing their own potential losses.

Πώς μας τη φτιάξαν τη ζωή - How they have shaped our lives
μίση πολέμοι και καπνοί - Hatred, wars and smoke
βρωμίζει ο φασισμός τη γη -  The world stinks of fascism 
σαν κότες σφάζονται οι λαοί - Nations are being slaughtered like chickens
κι εμείς στον ύπνο το βαθύ - While we remain deep in our sleep
Ξυπνήστε (Wake up) by Πάνος Τζαβέλας (Panos Tzavelas), 1975
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aM0tsZYwouU

In a country faced with so much upheaval, anything and everything could have gone wrong. Thankfully, it didn't. It didn't go wrong when the hashtagged OXI morphed in such a way that it looked like it meant YES: that made little difference to the way OXI shaped world thought.

OXI: Paris, Berlin, London. 

It hasn't even gone wrong when a left government changed direction and turned right to find the centre: it still refused to be 'tied' up. Not even when a million people whose names you don't know land in your country and beg for your help: not only do you let them in, but they still keep coming.

Syriza's actions a source of derision: this image sums up my reason for voting OXI in the Greek referendum of July 2015. 

The period leading up to the referendum was confusing to say the least - six months later, we can say that we have refound our centre ground. When you realise that your fear of everything going wrong proved to be nothing less than a fear of fear, you stop fearing. Our greatest fear is the fear of unknown difficulties. But life was never easy for most of us, and it continues this way to the present day.

Ενα το χελιδόνι κι η άνοιξη ακριβή - Only one swallow makes spring expensive
για να γυρίσει ο ήλιος θέλει δουλειά πολλή - A lot of work is needed for the sun to turn
Θέλει νεκροί χιλιάδες να 'ναι στους τροχούς - Thousands of dead are needed to turn the wheels
Θέλει κι οι ζωντανοί να δίνουν το αίμα τους. - While the living have to give up their blood.
Ενα το χελιδόνι  (One swallow) by Οδυσσέας Ελύτης (Odiseas Elitis - lyrics) and Μίκης Θεοδωράκης (Mikis theodorakis - music), 1964
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTReB0eakWQ


For most people, it's hard to see a bright future after six years of economic recession and political stalemate. It's easier to believe that there is no end in sight, that the depression will go on forever. But depressions, recessions and wars do not go on forever. Eventually they stop, and it is necessary to be prepared for their end, otherwise we will be standing among the ruins, not knowing which way to turn. Our main concern during such difficulties is the thought of loss: we count our losses by worrying about the level of impoverishment that we suffer. For Greece, these losses have led to a highly necessary personal and political reappraisal in order to be able to face the hardships to come, which will end the economic and political stagnancy. To see the future more clearly, we need to analyse our losses. 

Most people in Greece will equate the idea of losses with reductions in income. Why did we lose such a great portion of our income? Greed plays a big role in Money's decision to leave Greece. Money stopped coming here, and what little was left of it was taken out of the country. If we want Money to come back, we need to find ways to keep it here, as well as to keep it coming.

Apart from money, we also lost a lot of people. Many people couldn't cope with their losses. Some left for another world, others left for another country. You will often hear people saying: Τί έκανε η χώρα μου για μένα; (What did my country do for me?) Many people think that their country has not done enough to keep them here, that their country has not respected them in some way. Maybe they are asking the wrong question: perhaps they should be asking Τί έκανα εγώ για την χώρα μου; (What did I do for my country?) What do the people themselves do so that their country can keep them here? All wars suffer human losses - the first such losses signal the need for the reappraisal of our values and identity.

 Πάλης ξεκίνημα νέοι αγώνες οδηγοί της ελπίδας οι πρώτοι νεκροί. - The start of a struggle, new battles: the first dead are the leaders of hope 
Όχι άλλα δάκρυα κλείσαν οι τάφοι λευτεριάς λίπασμα οι πρώτοι νεκροί. - No more tears, the tombstones are laid: the first dead become the fertlisers of freedom
Λουλούδι φωτιάς βγαίνει στους τάφους μήνυμα στέλνουν οι πρώτοι νεκροί. - A flower of fire springs forth from their graves: the first dead are sending a message
Απάντηση θα πάρουν ενότητα κι αγώνα για νά `βρουν ανάπαυση οι πρώτοι νεκροί. - For the first dead to rest in peace, they will receive an answer of unity and struggle.
Οι πρώτοι νεκροί (The first dead) by Αλέκος Παναγούλης (Alekos Panagoulis - lyrics) and Μίκης Θεοδωράκης (Mikis theodorakis - music), 1974

This reappraisal of values and identity leads perhaps to the greatest loss that we fear: the loss of dignity. If we can put aside the loss of our personal dignity (for example, buying supermarket own brands instead of branded products), we can look at the higher level of the dignity of our country. The refugee crisis showed Greece to be the most humane country in Europe: having lost everything, the people still found something left to give. 

This is the moment to remember the words of the famous Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis, often remembered for the quote: "I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free." The full quote in context is as follows:

Ξερω τωρα,δεν ελπιζω τιποτα,δε φοβουμαι τιποτα,λυτρωθηκα απο το νου κι απο την καρδια,ανεβηκα πιο πανω,ειμαι λευτερος.Αυτο θελω.Δε θελω τιποτα αλλο.Ζητουσα ελευθερια.
Now I know, I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I was liberated from the mind and the heart, I climbed higher up, I am free. That's what I want. I don't want anything else. I just wanted freedom.
- excerpt from Ascetic, an essay by Nikos Kazantzakis, 1883-1957

What a year it was for Greece. The year Greece stopped fearing. The loss of fear is the highest order of loss. But we have to remember the gains: the Greek Parliament voted in cohabitation agreements for same-sex couples: for a country supposedly ruled by a religious organisation, this kind of move reveals quite the opposite to be true. It can only get better.

©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, 20 December 2015

Melomakarona (Μελομακάρονα)

What kind of Greek food blog is one that does not include a recipe for the traditional Greek Christmas shortbread known as melomakarona? An incomplete one for sure. As my sister is the melomakarona maker in this family, here is her recipe, which I made this year.

This recipe makes a lot of melomakarona - I halved it, and got this plate, as well as another half plate. It is a simple recipe, and an easy one to make in one afternoon. For modern eaters, this recipe is vegan (and can be made gluten-free by adding gluten free all purpose flour).


The olive oil, orange juice, honey and walnuts are all local products, all produced just 10-30 kilometres away from my home. Without being biased, these melomakarona are truly delicious: they taste like a whiff of Crete in every bite.

1 litre olive oil
1 ¾ kilos all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup orange juice, freshly squeezed (not from a packet/carton - the final product won't taste right)
some ground cinnamon  and cloves
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons semolina
Mix everything together, leaving the flour till last.

Bake at 180C till golden brown, about 30-40 minutes. When cool, dip lightly in syrup (recipe below):
1 cup honey
2 cups sugar
3 cups water
Boil everything together, till the syrup sets slightly (about 20 minutes on a rolling boil).

Either the biscuits must be hot and the syrup cold, or the biscuits must be cold and the syrup hot (I do the latter - it's easier to warm up the syrup after making the biscuits).

Dip the biscuits in the syrup and allow them to soak in the syrup for up to a minute, turning them over once. As you pull them out of the syrup, coat them in ground walnuts.

©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, 5 December 2015

Kiwi rack of lamb (Αρνάκι Νέα Ζηλανδίας)

A kiwi rack of lamb, bought on 50% discount at the Marinopoulos supermarket, originally priced at 22 euro. A long long time had passed since I had last bought a kiwi rack of lamb. At this price, it seemed the right time to do so now.



Cretan lamb is much much smaller, somewhat scrawnier than kiwi lamb. A Cretan lamb chop always feels like I'm eating a lollipop meatball. We don't often eat lamb because we prefer beef and pork. So when I saw it on special, I thought it would be a meal I would enjoy cooking and eating, to remember (much) older times.

I'm now very used to Cretan lamb, which is smaller than Greek lamb raised in the mainland. Although we also buy French and Dutch meat (where our main meat imports - beef, pork and chicken - come from), we buy only Greek lamb. So this kiwi meat smelt very different in my kitchen. I remembered the first time I smelt Greek lamb cooking in the oven of a small Greek home kitchen. At the time, for me, it stunk. Nowadays, it smells quite neutral to me. I am more likely to detect the scent of the wine it's soaked in, and the herbs and spices used to cook it, than the meat itself.

I tried to recall the smells in our NZ house when we cooked kiwi lamb, but I couldn't remember them. I couldn't even remember the smell of kiwi meat as my mother cooked it before we went to church, so that our Sunday roast could be ready when we returned home. I remembered nothing. Nothing! Like I had never even been there.

The smell of the rack of lamb in my kitchen smelt wrong. The smell was pretty strong. No doubt, someone would notice soon. So I soaked the lamb in wine, doused it in spices and cooked it for ages, hoping that the smell would somehow go away (or at least, stay hidden). But that smell didn't go away. Even though it was somehow veiled by the seasonings, it had now permeated the kitchen on this rather cold Saturday.

"What's that smell, Mum?" my son asked me, making me feel rather nervous.

"That looks so good!" my daughter said, comforting me somewhat as she saw me taking out the roast from the oven.

"Is it cooked through?" my husband asked, which is usually his main concern with meat. I could see it falling off the bone. My husband then noted that his father had once bought kiwi lamb when he was young and his mother cooked it, but the smell put them off, and it was left uneaten.

Oh, shit, I thought. But times have changed: "Whoever isn't hungry isn't obliged to eat," I reminded everyone. We all sat down for dinner.

The rack of lamb looked huge as it sat in the roasting pan. I'd had to cut it in half to make it fit. I wondered if we would get through it, especially if mutiny was declared (over the smell, which was faint, but still quite discernible). Things turned out well. The lamb was really quite OK. Some comments were made about the differences noted when compared to the lamb we usually cook at home. The smell was apparent to all (I knew it!), so I was ready with my wine-and-spices story. I remembered the price of that rack of lamb (information that I kept to myself), and I praised myself for landing such a bargain. Should I have bought two pieces at that price, I wondered. The supermarket freezer had quite a few of them in stock (all bearing the 50% discount sticker).

I took a bite, concealing my own hesitation. Any second thoughts I had about this rack of lamb had to remain in my head. Poor thing, I thought, it's like it had landed in a house full of loud opinionated (ie obnoxious) people, an invited guest who was regarded as a freak. Make yourself at home, they all said to it as they poked it prodded it, exposing its foreigness in all the ways possible. I felt embarrassed, almost ready to apologise to the visitor for any offence we may have caused.

Perhaps these awkward feelings might not have arisen, had the company been different. But it's much easier for me to change the meat than it is the company. Greek lamb or kiwi lamb, it will make little difference to me. The sooner I don't have to cook, the more quickly I will enjoy my food, Όπου γη και πατρίς - the origin of the lamb will make no difference.

(Note to myself: Next lamb dish - Greek-style fricassee, with lettuce from our garden. Do not use kiwi meat. Wrong smell.)

©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.