Mellow Yellow

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I’ve just heard it on the news today uttered by a cardiologist in fact, that butter is good for you. Yay! At last is all I can say. For years I have firmly believed that butter, a natural product has got to be better for you than margarine, a mostly synthetic and wholly unnatural product. I haven’t cooked or eaten margarine or any made up spread for nearly 30 years and only use olive oil and butter. I have long been an advocate of a little of what you fancy does you good and I certainly haven’t fancied margarine. The scientists say that even cooking with sunflower oil, an oil I considered healthy, is bad for you as apparently when heated to high temperatures it changes it into something that is not healthy http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33675975. These days trying to navigate your way to eating a healthy diet using the ‘scientific’ evidence is like a minefield and changes all the time. It used to be that butter and all saturated fat was ‘bad’ for you and sent you on a speedy road to a heart attack. Now saturated fat is man’s best friend even cooking with lard, apparently is better than cooking at high temperatures with sunflower oil; well  bring on the beef dripping sandwiches I say.

In the same conversation with the cardiologist, now wait for this bombshell, eating full fat cheese, milk and yoghurt is far better even for slimmers than semi skimmed and low fat.

If you stick to a diet that is a close to nature as possible you can’t go far wrong, that is the less man has had a hand in producing it the better; the more opportunity he has had to tinker with the produce or animal, add or subtract, mix and match the less you know what he has actually done. It seems to me quite often the results of scientific studies lay themselves open to misinterpretation depending on who is wanting the results and for what agenda. As I get older I listen to the latest finding with a good dose of scepticism.

The mediterranean diet as we all know is one of the healthiest, particularly including a great variety of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds into our diets, eat this and you can’t go far wrong.

Cookery Book Heaven

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Needless to say I love cookery books; it would be strange if I didn’t  as I have a large recipe section in my book ‘Androula’s Kitchen’ ( buy your copy on this site). So I was delighted to receive for Christmas ‘Jerusalem ‘by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.I have been a great lover of Ottolenghi recipes ever since my sister introduced me to them. Ottolenghi is an Israeli and Tamimi  a Palestinian  were both born in Jerusalem and now are working partners in London. His recipes have a great deal of depth of flavour as they usually include many herbs and spices.’Jerusalem’ is one of those books I love because it tells stories as well as giving you recipes and all accompanied by a rich array of fascinating photos of periphery subjects as well as mouthwatering food. It is a book born out of a sort of longing  for the food of his early years; most of us, if we are lucky, have fond memories of our mother’s cooking as we were growing up, I certainly do.

Another favourite author of mine is Claudia Roden, a fascinating writer who has a multicultural background, born in Cairo studied in Paris and moved to London.Both write about mediterranean food; Roden covers Egypt, Greece and the Lebanon in her book ‘Mediterranean Cooking’ which accompanied a BBC series many years ago; Ottolenghi and Tamimi mostly the  Lebanon. Many years ago I went to Granada on a dance holiday and part of the memorable experience was the variety of eating places we were taken to. My favourite apart from the vegetarian restaurant; yes they do exist in Spain; was the restaurant in the Arab quarter , the Albaysin, which served delicious Lebanese food.

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I think out of all mediterranean food Lebanese is my favourite, it is of course a mixture of all the cultures that have passed through its regions over centuries much like Cyprus. With Cyprus it shares many dishes and through ‘Jerusalem’ I am learning even more similarities. Kibbeh, houmous, Mahulabieh, bourekia, these I knew  but there are so many other cross-overs it is fascinating. Just before Christmas, I was watching Rick Stein’s latest BBC series ‘Venice to Istanbul’ I was enticed into buying the book after watching Stein cook many of the recipes he picked up in Turkey, especially dishes using pearl barley which intrigued me as my only memory of pearl barley was when my mum cooked neck of lamb stew with dumplings and boy was that good. I was pleased to see in ‘Jerusalem ‘ a recipe for a pearl barley vegetarian risotto. I tried this on Sunday and it was as promised truly scrumptious. So if like me you love mediterranean food these are books I highly recommend and happy eating….I must stop buying books.

Kalavassos and Lefkara

I made my first trip to Kalavassos last Saturday 27th June. I had booked myself into a village guesthouse part of agrotourism, called The Art Deco house. Parts of this house date back 350 years and it has remained in the same family all that time which is quite impressive in itself. It is tucked away in the sleepy back streets and the only part visible from the road is the beautiful  blue hue walls and large wooden double doors which open onto an inner courtyard which surprisingly houses a jacuzzi for the guests use. I was on the first floor in the Superior suite accessed by stone steps from the courtyard which took me up onto a delightful terrace with wicker chairs under a shady vine. My little abode for four nights was a whole self – contained unit of large bedroom come sitting room small kitchen and bathroom, all furnished beautifully with many personal pictures and ornaments making it feel very much like you are staying in someone’s home. All is immaculately clean and well maintained. Fruit and wine are left as a welcome with some home-made desserts in the fridge. Breakfast which is included in the price, was plentiful and varied and in fact more than I could usually eat so part of it I kept for later in the day.The hosts George and Eleni were helpful, welcoming and truly hospitable in the very Cypriot way and yet left you to your privacy without intrusion.

The village itself I found one of the prettiest I have seen in Cyprus with all the streets paved with stone, most narrow but passable by car. The square like many at the moment was undergoing some improvement. Many narrow and steep side streets with some unusual details that I hadn’t seen before, all the houses are made from limestone. Kalavassos although easily accessible from the main Limassol /Larnaka /Nicosia road is slightly elevated at the height of about 80 metres and is not greatly developed with new housing although there is a good sized population. It has a rich history with an important Neolithic site being excavated nearby called The Tenta as it has an enormous wig – wam like construction protecting the site, this can be seen clearly from the main highway. There were five mines in the region but they are now abandoned although in their lifetimes they were  rich providers of copper and pyrite. Evidence of mining in this area dates back to Phoenician and Roman times. The Romans mined extensively on the island and their skill was remarkable as even now with modern techniques the mining companies cannot access or replicate the tunnelling techniques of the Romans who managed to reach very deep levels.

Tenta Kalavassos

On my first day I took a leisurely drive around the area and at George’s suggestion I visited the Ayios Minas  convent a very peaceful and pretty place to spend awhile with plenty of their own products on sale, then on to Lefkara village by the old road. I have visited Lefkara on many occasions but on this visit I took several hours to explore its side streets and visit the church. I stopped to have some lunch at Tasties which I had seen on Facebook and was not disappointed. Although busy I was lucky to get a space and sat to cool down with a beer while waiting for my order of oven cooked calamari. It was plentiful and well cooked but I would have preferred a little more seasoning. I was full but knew their cakes were good so ordered a slice of carrot and walnut cake for later and this was scrumptious. The decor is worth a visit by itself as it is a beautifully restored traditional house built around 1850, all the work was done by the owners Marie Cousins and her husband who were antique dealers in London in a former life which shows in the eclectic mix of furniture and knick knacks which fills the place. The atmosphere is a mixture of London town house and Victorian conservatory with a very welcoming Maria who bade me farewell like a long lost friend with ‘Yasou Agapi mou” goodbye my love and a kiss – that’s a first from a cafe owner!!!

Replenished and rested I carried on my exploration and being one for looking down side streets I saw a sign for the Alley Shop so pottered along to find the walls and exteriors of neighbouring houses adorned with pieces of embroidery and crochet along with tablecloths and  clothing but there was no visible shop. I knocked on the door of a house and asked if I could buy a couple of pieces I had seen which were a very cheap price as they had been reduced by 50% but this was a neighbour only and she kindly offered to telephone the owner who was having her midday siesta very sensibly. A few minutes later Mrs Christala appeared and opened up her shop for me. She spoke very good English and we had a lovely chat where I learned a few things about Lefkara lace I didn’t know as well as some of the technical names of the techniques used. Sadly as she explained the young people don’t want to spend hours sitting doing needlework for peanuts when they can go out into the cities and earn better money. This of course is entirely understandable but does pose the question of what will happen to the tradition of making lace in Lefkara? I hope to visit Mrs Christala again someday as we past a very pleasant half hour chatting. There was a sign close by which was for the embroidery museum and Mrs Christal recommended a visit, this took me up some very pretty side streets that were full of flowers and plants and nooks and crannies ( this has to be a Scottish word surely? ). I eventually came to the museum which was open but in true Cypriot style I was told I was not able to see anything as the electricity was off due to repairs which begs the question of why it said it was open!!! Nevertheless I saw some lovely back streets which I might not have otherwise explored.

Before regretfully leaving Kalavassos for Nicosia,  I wanted to pay a visit to an artist I had been told of by a friend, called Michael Mozaras. He is also a friend of George and Eleni so she kindly telephoned him to see if he was at home in his workshop. Unfortunately I had timed it badly as he was in Limassol that day but told Eleni she could take me to his garden where he has his workshop so that I could take photos. Michael Mozaras is a musician as well as an artist and is well-known in the area, he writes and performs his own songs and Eleni tells me his voice has a soporific effect. He has also opened a small gallery in the village square with some of his work for sale but the garden was far more interesting to me as  it was full of stones he has collected from the beach over time. Some he sculpts and creates pieces of art many into angel sculptures and is known locally as the Stone angel man. Many were just laid out into probably future creations and some were already constructed, it was a fascinating visit, I will obviously have to return at a later date to meet and talk with the man himself and hopefully hear him sing.

 

 

Cultural Delights of Larnaca

I’m on my travels and Monday I paid a visit to Larnaca. One of the many places I had wanted to see was the Hala Sultan Tekke a famous and important pilgrimage sight for Muslims. It is said that it was built over the tomb of Mohammed’s foster mother. I had seen it many times from afar across the salt lakes coming from the airport, it is one of the iconic scenes of Cyprus. On Monday I got up close and personal. The surrounding area looks very lush with Palm trees and greenery and looks very much like an oasis set as it is in the flat landscape with salt lakes around. There isn’t much to see inside as with most mosques it is very plain with no decorative adornment, there were however a few bids flying around the ceiling, swallows and pigeons and an immaculate fitted carpet throughout.The scenery around the mosque is unique  and spectacular set as it is amongst water with the crusty salt deposits gathering on the shores where the water laps into the grasses.

From there I continued on into Larnaca town where I was to meet up with my sister-in-law for lunch, as she had just popped over from the UK for a brief visit. After a leisurely and delicious lunch at Militzis looking out to the sea, we sauntered along the sea front in search of the Municipal Art Gallery. This we found near  Finikoudes opposite the wooden pier, A group of old warehouses built in the time of British rule have been turned into a very contemporary space and serving as Larnaca’s cultural centre. There is a very interesting ceramics exhibition showing until the end of July with 22 Cypriot ceramicist’s work on display which intrigued and delighted us in turn. We also had the extra entertainment of the attendant as he kept popping in and out with remarks and comments on the exhibits. He was clearly delighted with them and finds inspiring the artist’s excursions into fantasy . These cultural gems which I am often delighted by are not very well advertised or shouted about enough in my opinion. George Georghiadhes of Lemba pottery  told me  that he was exhibiting here and that is how I knew of it.The gallery is not well signposted and there were no posters nearby that I saw telling you of this exhibition. It must cost money to put on so why not spend a little more for a few posters or a little effort to put a list of events online? I couldn’t find any exhibitions listed on any site mentioning the gallery only where it was why is this?   In a conversation with a friend who lives in the Paphos area he remarked that a leaflet is regularly produced with the list of events for the month but that half the month is gone before the list gets circulated. Clearly there is a detrimental time lapse which means that those who want to know and possibly attend events are getting missed. There are few enough cultural events in the area so those that take place should be better organised with their networking which in turn will make them more profitable.On looking through the photos I took it appears I didn’t take many of the exhibits which is a shame as they were varied and unusual it seems I was enjoying myself so much I forgot.

Coffee Cake and Cattle

Tuesday 28th April

Today saw the arrival of Summer after April teased us with showery days followed by sunny ones and temperatures rising and falling, today it reached 28 degrees. Gone are the gentler cooler days with fluffy white clouds, socks and vest were discarded in favour of sandals and short sleeved tops. I had a very relaxed afternoon, my morning’s work completed I headed into Polis and Tina’s Art cafe for a frappé and a piece of her delicious strawberry yoghurt cake. Tina is German and a wizard with cakes, I go there when in need and she never disappoints. It is a very pleasant shady corner to pass the time and chill, newspapers and magazines at hand to catch up on the local news. Lots of plants and trees and a picturesque ruin next door as a backdrop to some metal art work. Tina and I it turned out are vaguely related we discovered a while ago; now you have to pay attention here as it gets complicated; her husband is a cousin to my cousin’s wife. This is how it goes in Cyprus with large families.

Feeling nicely chilled I then headed out to a little village called Giolou close by, to wander around and take some photos and after I headed on up another hill in the golden light of the afternoon to Lasa. The air is thick with the scent or orange blossom and Jasmine now as the heat intensifies all the aromas, flowers are blooming everywhere creating a vibrant contrast of purples,scarlets, pinks and reds. I passed through Drymou and stopped as the scene was like paradise unfolding. The rich landscape of trees and fields stretching out before me on the hillside; harvesting has begun leaving a patchwork of golden yellow and green, the early Spring grasses gradually turning pale although the poppies and yellow daisies are still everywhere.

As I parked the car below the church to take some photos I saw what looked like a wild man disappearing around the corner with very long hair and unruly beard, stopping briefly to see who the stranger was that had parked probably outside his house. As I gazed at the scene and drank it in I noticed some cows grazing just below, a rare sight in Cyprus and to me they looked like Jersey cows with that lovely soft caramel colour hide, most cows are kept under cover as there is not enough fresh pasture for them to feed on.  As I was taking the photo I heard someone approach and guessed it was the ‘wild man’. He greeted me in Greek and we chatted, it turned out the cows were his but they weren’t Jersey cows but an old village breed, probably oxen, as he said they were used in the fields to work. After he had ascertained I was alone had no family, meaning husband and children in Greek speak, he invited me for coffee but I declined. In Cyprus it is common hospitality to invite strangers for coffee,but call me suspicious, that line of conversation always makes me nervous. A single woman travelling alone I sadly sometimes miss the opportunity to talk to strangers, well men anyway, as coming from London originally I have an in built caution. Under all the hair he was a relatively young man, relative to me that is, and pleasant enough but my Greek is limited and conversation can get difficult. It was time to make my exit.     

Travels Around the Island

It has been a busy and mixed time since my last post. My Uncle died very sadly on Good Friday eve and because it was Easter the funeral didn’t take place until the following Tuesday in Lefkosia. It made the Easter celebrations bitter sweet but in a strange way very apt as it’s a time of death and rebirth. Nearly all the family were at the funeral some  relatives I hadn’t seen for many years. There is a tradition of inviting the mourners to take some bread, olives, cheese and wine at the cemetery. There is a  special area set aside for the relatives to cater for this in the cemetery where my Uncle was buried but my Father was buried in a small village cemetery and we had to make do as best we could. Also food is provided for those mourners who wish to go back to the house.

When my Father died he was buried the next day which is the custom in Cyprus, being a hot country there is sense in expediency. We went to my Dad’s garden to collect flowers and leaves from his bushes to put in the coffin with him which I thought was a very nice idea, much more personal than buying them and he did love gardening.

I stayed with a cousin in Lefkosia for a few days and took the opportunity to visit a shop called Faneromeni 70 near Agia Faneromeni church in the centre. A friend had told me about this shop which features solely works by Cypriot artists or artists connected to Cyprus in some way. It is a non profit organisation run by a group of professionals among them anthropologists and geologists, and the money from the sales goes to help the unemployed. A fascinating shop full of quirky things.The shop is surrounded by cafes and as the sun was out and the weather warming up these cafes were full of young people as there are also several small colleges and universities close by. At night I can imagine that this area is very popular as a meeting place for young people to sit and chat over coffee.

I went straight from Lefkosia to visit my cousin Androula and spend some time with her in Tries Elies. People come here to walk, rest, enjoy the countryside as it is so tranquil, surrounded as it is by a variety of blossoming trees and at this time of year wild flowers, some very rare, with a river running through by the footpaths and trails all year round. Being such a tiny village in the Troodos mountains you would imagine that there is not a lot going on here. I have to tell you that the few days I spent here were some of the busiest so far in my stay, with people from many different parts of Europe crossing my path. On arrival an old friend had arrived for lunch with her partner from Greece. Then some guests arrived the following evening from Switzerland. On the Monday a Frenchman stopped by to meet the Swiss couple. Next door to Androula now live three young people, an Hungarian, a Belgian and a half Cypriot, half Irish young man; more of these and an exciting eco venture in another blog. On past visits I have met a Japanese couple, British, Russian, Turkish and American. All with interesting stories to tell.

The Frenchman’s name is Dominique Micheletto he is a master beekeeper, he has many hives all over Cyprus and spends his time tending to them and giving talks on bees and honey, which was why the Swiss couple had come to Cyprus to meet him and learn about the bees. He won two gold medals in the Apimondia International Federation of Beekeeper’s competition in September 2009. I had wanted to meet him after reading about him in the book ‘Cyprus – a culinary journey’ and here he was without any effort on my part. The conversation between us all was in French, Greek and English, Dominique can speak all three fluently.

During my stay with Androula we also visited a friend who lives close by in Pedhoulas and she and her husband are from Israel so yet another nationality to add to the mix.

One of my days spent in this beautiful area I visited Platres which is about 20 minutes away by car, it is the largest resort of Troodos and although its origins are very old it became popular as a summer retreat away from the heat, when the British took control of the island in 1858 and quickly a network of bars and hotels to cater for their needs were established.  Here is a long established chocolate workshop. The owner John Adams, is English married to a Cypriot lady Praxi, they have lived in Platres since the early 1980s. John trained as a chocolatier in both France and Venezuela many years previously and when he moved to Cyprus found an outlet for his love of chocolate by developing unique recipes combining the flavours of Cyprus. With pure dark chocolate, very little sugar, no dairy and a little vanilla and Cyprus Royal Jelly, these chocolates not only are delicious and unique but healthy as well. The chocolates  flavours are  based around the tastes of Cyprus varying  according to season and John is always coming up with new combinations. Comanderia, kitrilomilo glyko, brandy sour, zivania these are the flavours many know as Cyprus. John together with his assistant Rocky, have come up with yet another unique range based around the herbs of Cyprus such as Lavender and lemon geranium and I can tell you that they are superb. These bespoke hand made chocolates are different , as well as unique and delicious. www.cypruschocolate.com 

On my way back from the mountains I visited the very picturesque Lofou  village on the way down to Limassol. This village must have once been quite a large and wealthy one, as there are many good size stone houses and the streets well ordered, many now deserted but being restored. All on a hilly slope, with little streets branching off it is a lovely place to explore with great views of surrounding countryside all around.  Ancient Amathus was my next stop, the archaeological site spreads over an extensive area. Amathus is one of the most significant ancient city kingdoms which dates back to1100 BC. Similar to Kouklia this site saw the important cult of Aphrodite – Astarte flourish here. This is why Cyprus is known as the island of Love.

Since I’ve been back in Prodromi I, along with many of her friends, went to cheer on my friend Elena Savvides of Orexi Cyprus fame, last night as she took on the daunting task of giving an hour long talk at Droushia Heights hotel. She was amazing and the story she told was not only full of interesting detail and mouthwatering photos of some of the food she has cooked for events and suppers but was exceptionally touching and had a few of her friends a little bit choked, with emotion I might add not the food. Elena had also prepared some delicious bits to eat so it was a very satisfying evening on all levels.

Down but Still Out

Even though I have been stricken down with a nasty sore throat and cough for the last week and moved down from Pano Arodhes, where I have been staying, to Prodromi a bit prematurely, I have still managed to fit in several events and all with their own spectacular views and settings.The weather is still very changeable and my last day in Pano Arodhes saw more hail stone showers and the temperature dropping which is what finally decided me, especially as I was feeling unwell, to move down to Prodromi which is several degrees warmer. Obviously as the weather warms up it is an advantage to be that much cooler in the foothills, by then ‘though I would have been moving on anyway so there was no advantage in me waiting. I am now staying in a tiny house which belongs to the family nearer the sea and with lovely views from the balcony of both sea and hills. During my stay here I am taking the opportunity to do a bit of decorating.

I attended a birthday bash in Paphos last week which was held at the Muse cafe/restaurant, a very contemporary building perched right on the edge of a promontory looking right over Paphos and out towards the sea. Apparently at night it is a favourite hang out of the young and trendy whereas at lunchtimes there is a completely different mix of people, many business lunches were going on I could see. There was a wide variety of people attending the bash made up of several different nationalities. This is a lovely spot to hang out and have a drink with friends.

The following day after a brief visit to Fyti to say hello to both Mr and Mrs Mavrelis at the museum and then Irinou at the Voufa co-operative I made my way down to Lasa to meet a friend and see her beautifully restored house which she told me had been a ruin when they bought it, now a cosy home full of interesting art work. She took me for a short walk nearby down an old donkey track to see what remains of an ancient oak woodland. These are Syrian oaks ”Quercus infectoria” to give them their Latin name, with a more delicate look to them than our English oak, the leaves being much smaller, these are indigenous to Cyprus, Turkey and eastward to Iran. They were much more abundant in days gone by, the forests in Cyprus were full of them but when the Venetians ruled Cyprus they cut many trees down to build their ships, decimating the forests and quickly the faster growing pines took their place. The scenery here was again breath-taking in the soft light of this Spring afternoon and the oaks gave it a whole different feel. The scenery is very picturesque with many ruined walls of houses now  overgrown and evidence of a long past farmed land.

At the weekend I attended a Craft Fair at the Paradisos Hills hotel, another place perched right up high in Lysos overlooking a beautiful valley with the sea beyond. Even though the weather has been changeable these events all were held on beautiful sunny days. I took part in the fair and had my book displayed on a table ready for me to sign for the willing purchaser. It was pretty slow going but the time passed and I was pleased to take a well earned small Keo and sit outside on the terrace to take in the view when it was over.

The third event was a visit to Koula’s farm near to Droushia which I have visited a few times before however I still managed to get lost, I went down every track with no luck but with the help of a very lucky meeting with a stranger when I was just about to give up being literally a minute from the farm, I met up with my friend Elena who was taking a small party of people to visit and see how the cheese is made. Koula produces her cheese, both halloumi and anari in the same way her mother and grandmother before had made it. Her equipment is more modern; a stainless steel cauldron heated electrically instead of a copper one heated by a wood burning fire, plastic baskets to strain the cheese instead of the traditional ones made of rushes and grasses, talaria, but the techniques are time-honoured. Koula runs a relatively small operation and wants to keep her methods traditional. The farm is set in some more of that spectacular scenery so prolific in Cyprus with views of fields and hills on all sides.

En route back to Elena’s for one of her delicious lunches we stopped at a small disused monastery set in the midst of olive and carob trees with the wild iris and marigolds speckled throughout the grass and further up the road a whole host of poppies were scattered in the field, it was pretty as a picture. Everywhere now the wild giant fennel is in full bright yellow bloom.

These days are the best for travelling around Cyprus as they are cool and mostly sunny. This is why I am busy doing my networking now as in not many weeks time it will be more uncomfortable to travel unless early in the morning or late afternoon. The now lush green landscape will soon become parched and brown and will have more the feel of a lunar landscape.  Then will be the time for me to relax. Back to the decorating for now.    

Sunny Side Up

It’s a beautiful day in uptown Arodhes if a tad windy…a great day for drying the washing. I have been here three weeks and in that time I have been in turn: pleasantly warm in the February sun, rained on non-stop for a week, snowed in, iced out, and hailed on, freezing cold and now back as you were, pleasantly warm in the February sunshine. Such is the roller-coaster ride of early Spring weather in Cyprus. I have been told though that this winter has been exceptionally harsh and prolonged.

Yesterday I had a day planned to go to Limassol and the day was perfect, clear blue sky and the temperature hovering around 20 degrees. My first port of call… pardon the pun, was to visit a young pioneering couple, Maria and Peter in Polemidia on the outskirts of Limassol and fast becoming swallowed up in the ever-spreading town’s suburbia.They arrived in Cyprus just a year ago with a vision of setting up an organic farm on Maria’s father’s land in Polemidia. Peter is American from Long Island originally and set out to study art but somehow got side- tracked into farming after doing an internship on an organic farm in Kentucky. To quote from their website Parhelia : “He completed apprenticeships through ATTRA on organic farms in three different states in the U.S., where he learned how to grow vegetables organically, save seeds, raise healthy animals and generally live off the land in sustainable ways. His favourite Cypriot foods are and tahinopita.”

Maria also studied art in the States after gaining a Fulbright scholarship which stipulates she must return to Cyprus after her studies for a set length of time to work in her chosen field of study.”She is a visual artist, educator and food lover. She has worked in an art museum, a university, an organic dairy farm and a farm-to-table restaurant, among other places. Having grown up in Cyprus, she recalls summers eating under the grapevine, chickens, and other living things her grandfather used to tend to.” So between them they worked out a plan for the future to combine both their loves of food and the land and have after a lot of hard work established the beginning of their dream. Such a project will take time to establish and develop into a thriving business of course but the enthusiasm and perseverance are there. It will take time to get to know both literally and metaphorically, how the land lies, what crops work best which crops take too much labour and which just grow themselves. Already they have discovered that the climate and soil of Cyprus enables most crops to grow vigorously and well, a walk around the plot showed evidence of this with some huge cabbages and cauliflowers that would do well in any garden produce show in the UK.

The land is divided up into two sections one where the crops are grown and one that is ear-marked to be more of an orchard. At the moment it has olive trees and some young fruit trees with many roaming chickens and a few clutches of young chicks. A magnificent white cockerel was showing whose boss and strutting his stuff. Amongst the many crops grown and planned to be grown, the crops available to harvest at the moment are :- cabbages, cauliflowers, chard, Cavalo Nero or Tuscan cabbage, some beautiful tender stem  broccoli, enormous fennel, kale, parsley, radichio and eggs. Every Saturday morning they open their doors to the public to allow them to come and buy this great produce. Check out their website Parhelia for details of where they are and times they are open.

As my regular readers will know, in the UK I belong to a community garden and whilst talking to Peter as we walked around the vegetable plots, I realised how much I had learned during my time there. Happily chatting about using liquid nettle feed and natural ways of deterring pests, recognising the crops common and not so common. We sat happily chatting in the sunshine talking of their plans and eating the delicious kataifi made by Maria’s mother as part of the Green Monday celebrations.

In Cyprus now there are quite a few small groups of people who are keen to move in a different direction to the focus of the majority and in a way go back to the roots of a way of living that, until very recently, was the norm all over Cyprus. In so doing they bring with them techniques and knowledge which will enable a better, healthier way of life without the hardship of previous generations and a much more environmentally and ecologically sound way of living on the land and working in harmony with nature. This island has so much potential in terms of its younger generation and riches of the land, I believe the future is very bright. I hope in my own very small way I can show examples of what is happening and showcase the people I get to know about and meet and in so doing promote Cyprus.

Pater and Maria admit is isn’t easy but they knew it would be a challenge maybe the reality was harder than they imagined but they are here and doing it. Please support them by visiting on a Saturday morning to buy their beautiful bounty, the crops are ever changing, broad beans, peas and artichokes are on their way as well as many more crops when in season.

There are Grapes at the Bottom of My Garden

grapes

In Cyprus it is the grape harvesting season and even here in the UK near where I live we have vineyards. Just in the next village there is a vineyard, Tinwood, producing sparkling white wine and delicious it is too. I even have a vine at the bottom of my garden which this year is laden with ripened grapes. Last year, I guess because of the awful weather the winter before, I got very few but this year they are back to abundance. Because we had a lot of sunshine this summer, a phrase I’m sure you who live in Cyprus will puzzle over – summer surely that is always sunny? – the grapes are nearly sweet, that is to say they are certainly edible without having to screw your face up into a grimace.

grapes

So this year I have been juicing them to make a delicious drink which I am sure must be packed with goodness. In past years when they didn’t achieve optimum ripeness I used them by crushing and then cooking and straining out  the juice  then adding a little sugar and lots of garlic to make a thick sauce I could keep and use to add to stews for extra richness. I have also made chutney with them, I have used a pear and grape recipe which was very good.I always leave some for the birds as I so enjoy watching the starlings descend in a squaky,, noisy raid to gobble them up.

grapes3

In Cyprus however there is far more choice as there is a positive cornucopia of grapes and not just wine is made from them. My favourite product is soujouko or shoushouko, that strange looking string of knobbly sausage that hangs on a washing line all over the island this time of year. Do not be fooled by its appearance it doesn’t look like it but it is a delicate morsel fit for any a gourmet. When bitten into it reveals a delicate sweet fragrance with that nutty centre. In it’s purest form it has no sugar added and is as healthy a food as you could wish for. The ingredients are pure grape juice with a little added flour to thicken the juice and make it more manageable. It is my favourite sweet better than chocolate. In Omodos on my last trip, Androula took me to a shop filled with local yummy delights and there were small packets of two types of shoushouko, one was made with pomegranate juice and the other traditional grape and they were both a delight.Watch out for it next time you go.

Soup of the Day

The evenings are drawing in and soup is on my mind. I have been digging up my leeks at the community garden and so chicken and leek soup has been on the agenda. I make up a large pan of chicken stock to last me a week, using organic chicken wings cooked with carrot, celery, onion and herbs from the garden. I sauté the chopped up leek in butter and maybe a small amount of chopped up potato or maybe some butternut squash, all of which we have been growing as well. Once the leek has softened I add the chicken stock and cook for about 20 minutes. As I’m still not eating bread I had the idea to grill some halloumi and break it up over the soup. That little bit of extra saltiness is great.

 

Simply Delicious

P1000833Following on from my post last week I want to talk about the health benefits of a traditional Cypriot diet. Whenever I visited Cyprus in the past I was always surprised and delighted with how much better the food always tasted there. The fruit was sweeter, the chicken more flavoursome, the potatoes were like nectar and still are of course the sunshine has much to do with how the fruit and vegetables taste. But lately I have noticed things are changing, even my cousin remarked that somehow the fruit bought in supermarkets doesn’t taste  quite as sweet as it used to. This set me thinking because I know nothing of how commercial farmers operate in Cyprus I hope to investigate should the opportunity arise.

There are still  many small farmers in Cyprus and there are a growing number of organic farms, at the moment about 225, mostly these are family run farms that in order to survive had to diversify. The numbers are expected to escalate  soon as new measures are put in place to support organic farmers as set out in the new Agricultural Development Plan which should encourage more farmers to explore this way of farming, with a new generation of farmers coming along who are willing to try different methods.

sheep's yoghurt traditional fare

Fruit and vegetable export used to play a large part in the Cypriot economy but now there is huge competition from other countries and the service industry and tourism has taken the forefront of the economy since the 1970’s. A new approach is being taken to focus on quality not quantity of produce. Cyprus potatoes are still exported widely and widely appreciated and I noticed the other day our local market is selling them again. Hooray!  Halloumi is another unique Cypriot product,there are many small farmers and producers who have goat herds and produce their own halloumi  if bought from a local farmer is of high quality not to be compared with the processed mass produced variety that is more prevalent in supermarkets. I blogged about a local farmer I met when last in Cyprus here:https://androulaskitchen.wordpress.com/2014/08/14/halloumi-oh-yes/ The bread used to be made with an unbleached flour  and have a beautiful flavour, now this sort of bread is harder to find in Cypriot shops unless you know an artisan baker. The bread is whiter and much less flavoursome sadly.

Because food plays such a large part in Cypriot’s lives and is so much loved I don’t think the food quality will be allowed to deteriorate without someone creating a fuss. As with the rest of the developed world generally people are much more interested in where their food comes from and what goes into it, If you care about your food you will make an effort to find a supplier of the quality of food you want to eat. My cousin Androula  lives in the mountains away from an easily reached supermarket and because she cares about the provenance of her food, gets to know where the best eggs can be bought locally and halloumi, knows where she can get organic olive oil and honey that isn’t heat treated, good bread etc. Cherries grow everywhere near her in season, people from the cities make a special journey to pick them. You can go for a walk and find walnuts etc just lying on your path. Many of these trees are not tended anymore as the villagers have moved away so you can forage for many things.

The Cypriot diet is a simple one and because it does not rely on highly processed food is a healthy one. The staples are fruit, vegetables and pulses, nuts, fresh fish, meat and eggs,cheese, olives and bread and of course yoghurt. Yoghurt is eaten with many meals and is often brought onto the table to be added as an accompaniment, it is a great aid to digestion.

Cyprus is self-sufficient in its food production and the variety is wide. In the cities the ubiquitous fast food outlets are popping up but Cyprus has many of its own healthy fast foods to enjoy, the best ones being souvlakia with salad in a pitta or koupes. Crisps and sweets,biscuits  and highly processed snacks aren’t eaten so much. It is traditional to nibble at bits and pieces with a drink but these tend to be nuts, or salted pumpkin seeds and small pieces of grilled halloumi and olives or preserved meats. The meat in Cyprus is of a high quality and always tastes good and again if you can trace where your meat comes from all the better but when buying in a supermarket this isn’t so easy. I was happy to find some organic eggs in the supermarket last time. Luckily they were labelled in English as reading ingredients on a label in Greek does make shopping a tad harder. Well I’m off to ferment some cucumbers now. Kalin orexi.

Halloumi Oh Yes!

I am very late posting a new blog I know. All I can say is gardening has dominated my days lately but the end is in sight I hope. My garden now is fairly mature and many of the bushes are very large and need a good purge. You turn your back for five minutes and they seem to grow exponentiallly but armed with secateurs, long-handled loppers, hedge trimmer and a tree saw I am fighting back and so is the rambling rose I might add.

On my last visit to Cyprus my friend Elena Savvides of Orexi catering fame in Droushia took me to see her friend who keeps a goat herd near her and makes her own halloumi and anari the staples of the Cypriot diet for centuries. The farmers traditionally and farm workers would take a chunk of halloumi and piece of bread with some olives for their lunch in the fields, their equivalent to our Ploughman’s  lunch in the UK. This cheese is used universally as it is the main cheese of the island and is much loved, there are other cheeses, the kefaloturi and kaskavalo, but halloumi is the most used, no house will be without it. It is delicious grilled and torn over salad. At Easter the beloved flaounes are made using a special halloumi.

Stored in brine it keeps for a long time becoming saltier with age. Taken out of the brine it will harden and then is easy to grate over your ravioles which are filled with more grated halloumi and mint. In the process of making cheese you have the curds which are the lumpy bits which are collected to make into the hard cheese halloumi and the whey which is left over makes anari a much softer milder cheese very like ricotta. I remember wistfully from my time in Yerolakkos so many years ago, when my aunt made halloumi from her goat herd, she handed me a dish of warm whey curds sprinkled with sugar, delicious. It’s a lovely cheese to have with anything sweet and is used in the little parcels of delight called bourekia tis anaris

We travelled down a winding dusty track to the middle of nowhere it seemed to meet the lovely lady Koula who was in the middle of milking. Her son was helping her at the milking machine which holds eight goats at a time with the odd kid sneaking in for a feed. They have a herd of 4,000 goats so you can imagine it takes a couple of hours to complete and it’s done twice a day. Each goat doesn’t yield too much milk so that is why so many are needed if you are making halloumi on a commercial scale. Koula loves her job and loves her goats, they are a particular favourite of mine and some of these goats were beauties in my eyes. There are a few months at the end of the year when the goats are not lactating but otherwise it is a daily round of milking and making cheese. Her husband helps with the goats and goes up to the Akamas to collect salt from the rock pools to use in the making of the halloumi, so you see this is a  very organic operation. When the milking was finished I was invited to a cup of coffee and homemade biscuits in the parlour as it were, where Koula takes a break, she showed me the process of the milk being piped through from the milking ‘parlour’ straight into a huge stainless steel pan where it has rennet added and heated and stirred until the curds and whey form. When I left, Koula very generously gave me a huge piece of anari to take with me which I enjoyed  with my cousin Christina later who poured some very good carob syrup over it. What can I say, heaven on a plate! You can ring Koula on TELEPHONE 99820778 OR 99058570 TO PLACE YOUR ORDER.

Gardens and Grub (food)

Well I am returned and have had to throw myself into the garden with force and grit as soon as I was able, as everything has grown to jungle proportions in my absence. I’ve hacked and chopped, cut and pulled and I think I can relax a bit now to catch my breath before I have to start again down at the community garden where my patch there also needs attention. Then it will be back to a bit of house maintenance, ahh I wish I were back in Cyprus already!!

In Cyprus also gardens of a different variety featured quite often. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the few I managed to write while away, I was in for a few lunches al fresco. The weather was little strange for this time of year in Cyprus, usually by late May June the weather has settled into a steady pattern with the temperature rising steadily. Instead it was a little cooler than usual with some strong warm winds and more cloud than is normal. The winter has been drier as well and rain is badly needed as the reservoirs are only 75% full at the moment.

My author’s lunch at Elena’s Orexi garden was a delightful experience and I met some new people. A friend of mine was able to come with her husband as well as two friends and we spent a pleasant time together. Unnervingly Elena asked me to talk a little about the book after I had circulated to introduce myself. It was brief as I hadn’t really prepared anything but I sold eight books  so that wasn’t bad out of 20 people. They all loved it as well which was encouraging. Hopefully we can do a bigger better event next time and I’ll come better prepared.

The lunch in Peyia was not so much fun for me. There was a crooner of sorts singing along to backing tracks of oldies, the food, mostly the usual English fare you get at parties, pork pies, Scotch eggs etc. and drink were offered free, very generously I thought. Sadly for me and the shop owners, that is all the audience was interested in as I had no enquiries or interest shown. I did however get introduced to a very lovely lady Yve Brookes and we had a really good chat which passed the time beautifully. Originally from Oxford she has been a traveller all her life living a few years here and there until she gets the seven year itch and then moves on. She has been in Cyprus seven years now and the familiar urge has descended again. She has eventually come to live in a house in Argaka  which she now calls home and has made her mark restoring the surrounding area to one of calmness and order after it was neglected for ten years by the owners. The house has an intriguing story; the original owner built the house himself and a few months after he finally moved in after all his labours, he died and the family who inherited it closed it up and left it. After many attempts to rent it out the grandson, who now owns it, was resigned to it not being suitable for anyone until Yve took a liking to it and feels it only right to honour the man who built the house by caring for it and the surrounding land. I would love to see  the work she has done here but I just could not find the time this trip.

The following day it was the Farmer’s market at the Pano Akoudalia herb garden run by the very talented herbalist Caroline Evans http://www.heavenonearthherbals.com/. On my way to the garden I passed many cars lining the approach roads, it turned out to be a very popular event as well as celebrating its first anniversary. There were crafters as well as food producers there this month. Another delightful spot and I passed several hours chatting to people, making new friends and enjoying a delicious slice of raw carrot cake and herb tea. A truly relaxing atmosphere and one I was sad to leave but I departed with a bag of goodies bought from Elena which I took great pleasure in eating for my meal later. The olive bread was to die for.

I came back from my trip this time with a yearning to stay a lot longer. Over my last few trips I have made friends and uncovered rare delights that tug at my heart and call to me to return.

 

The Ladies that Lunch

Today I’m trying an internet cafe in sunny, hot Polis to do a short post sadly without any of the new photos I have to show you…they will have to wait until I get back to the UK.

Last week  was busy catching up with relatives in Nicosia and there were couple of places I wanted to visit including the lovely Inga’s veggie Heaven, where I met two cousins to sit and chat and enjoy the beautifully tasty food, I had a wonderful cold rice pudding for afters. Later this week I have a couple of different kind of lunches but hopefully equally as tasty in their own ways. On Friday the wonderful Elena Savvides is hosting an author’s lunch for me and the guests will sample some of her fabulous cooking, hopefully I’ll also be able to sell some more books. On Saturday I’m winding my way to Pegyia over the  hills from Polis with fantastic dramatic scenery of the kind that I love about this Westerly side of the island . The road drops at a giddying rate to Peyia close to the coast where Sue of Hearn’s bookshop is also holding a lunch and she has invited me to attend and do a bit of signing of the book variety if requested, let’s hope there will be several opportunities.

Sunday will see a slightly different pace but again food is still involved, it is Cyprus after all! This time it will be at a farmer’s market held the first Sunday of every month when local suppliers and growers sell their wares at the very beautiful Pano Akourdalia herb garden.This one will also be a crafters market. Elena will be attending with a stall groaning under the weight of some delicious cooked morsels as well as  jams and chutneys that she makes. There may be more sales opportunities who knows but I surely will be busy looking and tasting  what is on offer.Landscape near Kritou Terra

A Little Snipette of a Demo

I have finally got around to trying to put together a few video clips of the cookery demonstration I did at West Dean College with Rosemary Moon in February here is the first on Trahana.

Please excuse the coughing and the scraping of spoons on crockery in the background!!