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.    

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Wild and Wonderful

It’s been a busy time since I last posted.  The weather has been gradually getting warmer, today it was 23 degrees in Paphos so several layers of clothing have been shed in the daytime and thinner layers are called for. Today being International Women’s Day there was an event my friend Elena of Orexi was catering for in a Anasa community Wellness centre in Paphos run by Annelie Roux. I went along to lend a hand and took some books just in case. There was a whole programme of taster sessions of about 20 minutes duration including self-defence and Chi Gong, It was a beautiful day.

I have been taking advantage of the lovely weather to get out and enjoy the glorious countryside that is around the area in which I am staying near the Akamas. Early in the week I met Elena to visit Koula at the goat farm and buy some fresh anari the delicious soft cheese made from goats milk that is very like ricotta. A favourite way of eating this is taking a slice and pouring some carob syrup over it. On the way we passed some almond blossom in full bloom and a field filled with mustard and dotted with poppies. This lush growth of Spring is exceptional this year as there has been an abundance of rain. I spent the lunchtime with a group of ladies that lunch at Droushia Heights hotel, perched high on the hill with magnificent views overlooking the sea,

On Thursday my cousin Androula came down from Treis Elies to walk the Aphrodite Trail and we set off at an easy pace stopping to admire the wild flowers, cyclamen were everywhere and as we climbed ever higher like the proverbial goats ,the panoramic scenery became more and more breath-taking and the orchids became larger, dotted about with yellow anemones, the smell of the gorse was heady. The combination of the exercise, scenery. and the fresh scented air was both invigorating and relaxing. We chose to climb up the steepest side and it seemed we would never reach the top, once the plateau was reached the scenery changed again with a lush covering on the ground and a different species of tree intermingled with the grey skeletons of dead bushes either ravaged by the harsh winter or just past their natural life span. Whereas the ascent was on a gravelly soil, the descent was on stoney ground, many in large slabs with almost natural steps  taking you down in a gentler slope. Areas where many travellers had passed were dotted with their creations of stones stacked in natural sculptures. We passed the goats feasting on the fresh lush vegetation, hearing the tinkling of their bells before coming into view looking very sleek and proud. This walk takes about three hours if you are sturdy walkers but as we stopped for various breaks and admired the scenery we took nearer four hours. It is one of the many trails you can take in this area some less strenuous and shorter, some longer.

On the Friday I did another foray into the wild, this time more of an amble along the country roads of Droushia with Elena’s foraging group. I had been looking forward to this for a long time. Elena supplied a very tasty breakfast before we set off in search of wild food to cook for lunch. The most prized food being wild asparagus which we found very difficult to find as the harsh weather had sadly brought this delicate vegetable to an early end but some of the group were successful in claiming the odd shoot. We gathered the succulent centres of wild artichoke, mallow leaves, mustard flowers, nettles, vetch and wild pea shoots along with a few other wild leaves. These Elena turned into a wonderful risotto with gorgonzola cheese and garlic, the mallow leaves were cooked with onion dressed with lemon and had a wonderful fresh flavour while the artichoke stalks were cooked with fresh louvi (a black eye bean that is a Cypriot favourite and eaten often) and dressed with oil and salt. The rare asparagus was cooked with scrambled egg. The mustard flowers and various shoots and leaves were made into a delicious salad. We sat in the garden under the mish mish tree and ate our flavoursome lunch washed down with a glass of chilled white wine. A truly relaxing and inspiring morning with good company.

Next week sees a complete contrast as I’m off to walk the mean streets of Nicosia.

 

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.

The Big Cheese- Cyprus on a Plate

Whilst watching the Two Greedy Italians talking about cheese and cheese- making which came up in nearly every programme, I inevitably started to wonder why there are comparatively few types of cheese made in Cyprus. Of course there is the versatile Halloumi, the hard,salty cheese made from goat’s or ewe’s milk preserved in brine with Anari the soft cheese made from the whey.  There is also Kefalotiri  made from sheep or ewe’s milk which is a hard yellow cheese similar to Gruyere with a salty, nutty flavour. These three are the traditional well known cheeses. The Anari can be eaten fresh which is a beautifully mild creamy texture and taste  or left to dry hard and used like parmesan. It is very similar to ricotta and is used in all kinds of cooking, my favourite being Bourekia Anaris which are little pastry parcels filled with cinnamon and anari, lightly fried. There is also a table cheese called Kaskavalli which is a yellow cheese with holes in it which is like the Italian Caciocavallo and probably was introduced by the Italians to Cyprus during the period of Venetian rule. Feta is also made on Cyprus, another cheese which is preserved in brine and inevitably sprinkled on top of the village salad when eating out.

In Cyprus as in Greece, sheep and goats are kept for their milk to make cheese and some cow’s milk is used nowadays and mixed in. In Cyprus it’s not allowed to use cow’s milk in the making of Kefalotiri however. The terrain of the country is perfect for sheep and goats as it is hilly and there are plenty of fresh herbs and shrubs for them to eat giving the resulting cheese a delicious flavour. To rear cows, pasture is needed which is not available although beef and milk are produced, the cattle must be reared in sheds. The goats only produce milk for a few months of the year which is why brine is used to preserve the cheese so it can be used  in the months when there is no fresh milk available and thus giving the cheese quite a salty taste. Cheeses made from goat or ewe’s milk is my favourite kind of cheese and I delight in trying the different varieties made around the world.The method for making all cheese follows roughly the same techniques it’s the source of the milk, the rennet and the maturing process that gives cheese its individual textures and flavours.

The Cypriots are strong traditionalists and this is shown in their steadfastness to sticking with the tried and tested. I wonder if any of the new generation of makers coming up now will venture into new avenues and say make a soft goat’s cheese or experiment with making a different variety of hard cheese? I would be very interested to try it when they do.