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.

Advertisements

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.

Book Review – Cyprus a Culinary Journey

I have been anticipating receiving this book for many months, finally I received my copy yesterday and it was well worth the wait.

The photography is stunning and the book does Cyprus true justice in its presentation. This is the kind of book I would have loved to have produced if I had  had the resources. The initiators and creators of this project are a group of German creatives: one a chef who works with truly authentic and high quality ingredients Franz Keller, Rita Henss a writer, Oliver Hick – Shulz editorial designer, Astrid Zeiglmeier a sommelier, Markus Bassler a food photographer, Anja Jahn a portrait photographer and Marianne Salentin-Trãger a creative media specialist. They had expert help in sourcing the food and recipes in Cyprus from Marlena Joannides who has devoted herself to researching the simple and forgotten recipes of her homeland over many years. So the book is published in Germany but also has an English version. I first started following them on their Facebook page when they started to visit Cyprus to do their research which was about the same time I was producing my book. They visited four times in all in the four different seasons and so have managed to capture the true “feel”  of Cyprus  throughout its culinary year so to speak, which is where their Facebook page name came from ‘Feel Cyprus’.

Again like my book they haven’t produced just a recipe book here this is a journal of Cypriot life with some tales of a few of the inhabitants like the beekeeper in Engomi, the farmer and the miller in Larnaca,  the chairmaker in Strovolos and of course they had to make a visit to George the potter in Lemba. The book is dotted with interesting information on religious holidays and all things food related such as of course wine, cheese and salt. It is divided into districts: Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol and so on and in the middle of it all are some delicious recipes both traditional with a twist and contemporary. It is all in all a beautiful book. You can feel the love and enthusiasm for their subject throughout and I will certainly enjoy trying a few of the recipes.

It has inspired me to find out even more when I visit next and this time I want to give myself time to sit and watch as well as chat and discover more. Check out their website below to view some of the fabulous photography.

http://www.feel-cyprus.com/

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.

Santa’s Little Helper

santa_sleigh4

I’m sorry to introduce the big C word at the beginning of December but marketing tactics demand that I think well ahead about these things. Marketing isn’t one of my favourite things and I find myself procrastinating rather than getting stuck in. Everywhere you look there are craft fairs and markets and I feel a bit like Cinderella. I have been half -heartedly planning an advert on Facebook but find the details a bit daunting (if not downright boring).

On a more enjoyable side I have been reflecting on some of the contacts I made when I was in Cyprus to do my promotion in April.These have turned out to be good outlets for the book and  interestingly they all are related to food but I suppose not surprisingly. One is a caterer and supplier of home made preserves etc. another is a baker and  a couple are cafes. The book seems to sell well in these environs. I find myself wishing I could be there in person to attend various craft markets and do my own selling, far more enjoyable than working out an online strategy. The most fun thing was playing around with  images to give them a personal appeal like Santa’s sleigh above. Also Santa’s little helper below.

Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 10.58.50

 

Garden Frolics

After a festival weekend a couple of weeks ago, last weekend I had garden centred frolic. The community garden I belong to has a couple of open afternoons a year where we all bake a few cakes, open the garden to the public and invite them to have a cup of tea and a slice for a small donation. We have a tom bola and sometimes a raffle to add to the jollity and usually we get a good turnout which boosts our funds to pay for any new equipment and materials we might need.

Last weekend as it was men’s finals at Wimbledon on the Sunday we made it an open morning so as not to clash. The weather was perfect and all available umbrellas and gazebo’s from member’s gardens were brought into service. I donated a couple of copies of ‘Androula’s Kitchen’ for the tombola and made my version of Revani that’s written in the cake section, for the cake stall.  My good friend Gill of Paisley Pedlar fame has raved about this cake often and seems to find any excuse to make it, in fact she bought a new oven recently and the first thing she baked in it was Revani tis Sonia now that’s dedication! I also made some fig slices, I was looking for a very quick recipe using dates and found one online but realised I only had figs in my cupboard so these were duly substituted and I have to say they were a winner.

9245507317_99a064c1f7_z

The copies of the book were duly signed for the lucky winners. If you want a chance to win a copy, a lucky draw is ongoing at the moment on the Eugreeka website http://www.eugreeka.com/cyprus-on-a-plate it’s open to any one until 18th July and the winner will be announced in the newsletter out on the 19th July.

The same weekend, one of the member’s had a milestone birthday, it seems to be the year for them , and invited a few of our members to a birthday bash in her garden, and very lovely it was too.

I love it when the weather is lovely down at the garden and at the moment it is thriving and we are busy harvesting soft fruits, broad beans, spinach and chard, cauliflowers and cabbages, as well as digging up shallots, onions and garlic to dry off for storing. We also have masses of salad stuff on the go. I was recently delighted to find a community garden has been set up on the outskirts of Lefkosia in Kaimakli and it has been founded on the same principles as our own Tangmere garden: community and friendship and learning how to grow your own good food to live healthily.http://collectivebahce.wordpress.com/the-community-garden/

9248264384_1690c57bae_c

Caked on!

I have written before about my love of cake and last Sunday I was in cake heaven. A couple of times a year  we throw open our gates to the general public and have open days  down at our community garden. This helps us raise funds for garden tools, compost, whatever is needed for our projects. The members make cakes and sometimes pickles and jams are brought to sell. Our driving force Rosemary, a food activist and writer, brings bread from a local artisan baker and some local veg to sell. We make lashings of tea to wash down the delicious cake and ask for donations. This works very well and we have the added attraction of a tombola and of course a leisurely stroll around our little bit of heaven.

We were very lucky last week as we had the added advantage of the sunshine to bless our afternoon. The tea stall was very busy and we had a huge variety of cakes. One of our members Rita, is a grand cook and made five cakes. Two huge Bakewell tarts, a couple of fruit cakes and a carrot cake.There were muffins and flapjack and biscuits and Victoria sponge, the tables positively groaned.

I made a sticky ginger parkin, my mum’s recipe, with a twist. I took inspiration from a recipe I had seen and added stem ginger in syrup to the usual mixture.When it was cooked,I added another innovation taken from the Cypriot method of using syrup on cakes and poured over some liqour from a marrow and ginger jam I made. It was a winning combination and one I will repeat. I also tried out another recipe I hadn’t used before and made some sticky Chelsea buns. These are made with a sweet dough and have a cinnamon and currant mixture sandwiched in and a soft icing. These had the added advantage of using cheap ingredients and also proved a hit.

We have recently had some new members join us and one of them is Czech, she brought along some little fruit pancakes which were a tasty novelty. Another member is Spanish and doesn’t bake but she brought along several jars of anchovies preserved in oil which she had prepared herself. These proved delicious when I sampled them later.

It was a lovely afternoon and a good way to see the Autumn in and the winding down of the garden. I still have a few hundred onions to plant and garlic but I’ve been laid low this week with aches and pains and a cold. I will recover my stamina and then tackle the task ahead. I will possibly comfort myself with a slice cake!!!