My long prepared for demonstration and talk at West Dean College finally took place on Saturday and to say I was apprehensive in the days leading up to the final hour, was a bit of an understatement. I had made a trip to London paying a visit to Tony’s Continental store in Finchley to gather some of the ingredients but I was more worried about not giving value for money than what the food would taste like as I knew that would speak for itself. The recipes were all tried and tested and most of the dishes I cooked beforehand so just needed re-heating . I left the simple dishes for demonstrating. I wanted to give an idea of the unusual foods that Cyprus had to offer so colocassi of course was there although strictly speaking the taro can be found in a great many countries, trahana had to be included, mixed with some home made chicken stock and shamali made with semolina and yoghurt was for dessert. I took along some masticha and mahlep for the audience to see and smell as well as carob syrup and carob bean.
I started by making a simple village salad and sprinkled grilled halloumi on top also offering the fresh halloumi to taste. The halloumi was the real thing made with goat and sheep’s milk and kept in the brine, completely different to the flabby tasteless stuff our supermarkets offer up. Tsakisstes were there and so delicious. My friend Rosemary Moon was assisting and cooking up some koupes while I chatted along about the different foods and cooking up some kieftedhes. It turned into quite a meze of flavours, the audience were invited to come and taste at intervals rather than leaving it all to taste at the end. Many came for seconds and even thirds, the colocassi and trahana as well as the tsakisstes proved to be a great hit. As an afterthought I had also made some skordalia to be eaten with the other things and wasn’t sure they would like it as it was so strong but this too disappeared.
My friend Lois came along to take some photos and shoot a bit of video and she wasn’t left out when it came to tasting the food.
The audience all had some experience of Cyprus and apart from one man all had visited, or lived there, several had been in the British Forces, there were also a couple of people who were Cypriot and born in the UK, we had a full house. After a tea break I gave a slide show and talk about the crafts but it also ended up with photos of more food by request. I felt that most had come to re-visit happy memories of the food and island and there was a genuine love of this magical place. It seems that Cyprus touches people in their hearts. I found it a great pleasure to act in my humble way as an ambassador for this place and share my enthusiasm for the food and crafts. I found I had to put quite a bit of time into the preparation of both the talk and the food but it was worth it. Now I have one under my belt I wouldn’t mind doing another one…. but not quite yet!!!
Well the planned talk demo at West Dean College is getting nearer and my time seems to be getting eaten up with so many other demands that I seem to have the feeling of running towards it but wanting to put myself in reverse or on the spot. I will just have to make myself sit down and ignore the other things until I’m happy with my plan for the talk. Of course I have to write this blog first and then go and do some painting but apart from that! I have managed to collate most of the photos in some order and have a rough outline of the food part, with lists being drawn up. What I fear the most is not giving value for money so I could end up over compensating with too much food; very Cypriot, or too much information. You know the sort of talk when the speaker bombards the audience with endless bits of information and facts that they end up looking glazed. I want to keep it entertaining as well as informative. My hope is the audience will leave feeling they have tasted some good food but also learned a little about Cyprus.
I will have to aim to emulate my helper and instigator of this event, Rosemary Moon who is an experienced food writer and demonstrator and gives a good line in banter when she delivers her demonstrations. I think once I’ve worked out a clear running order of when to do the cooking and where to do the talking I should feel more confident.
Just writing this blog has just inspired me to leave off and pop over to my West Dean notes and jot a few things down that occurred to me, so you could say that I am working on several fronts at once. I am thinking of making another trip to Cyprus in September to do another little sales push and mingle as well as follow a few interest while I’m there. There are still many place I want to see and landscape I want to spend time with as well as revisiting old friends and haunts. Writing about it always makes me even more curious and wanting more.
I know it may seem like a long way ahead but I’ve been thinking, on and off, about my debut as a cookery demonstrator in February. Yes, the world has gone topsy turvy. I can cook of course but I do not consider myself in any way as ‘a cook’ if you see what I mean. I still have to read recipes when cooking cakes, I measure most things instead of judging by eye. I like to try out new things and as regular readers will know I love a good cake recipe. It was only when I stopped regular work a few years ago that I really had the time to think properly about cooking and when I was researching for the book I tried out a lot more recipes. Like most things you become more confident and knowledgeable with practice.
I was asked to do a small demonstration and talk on food and crafts relating to my book by a local private college that runs short and long courses on food and art & craft subjects. The college, West Dean, is run by the Edward James Foundation and my path has led there on more than one occasion over the years for many different reasons. I of course have done a few courses on rare occasions but I have also worked there. For many years I used to give a lecture to the furniture restoration students about painted furniture restoration once a year, more recently I did a concentrated 3 day session with the post-graduates. When the renowned interior decorator David Mlinaric was engaged to give the dining room and surrounding areas a makeover in the 1980’s they asked me to work with him on the stencilled frieze that ran around the walls. I have even worked part time as a kitchen assistant, so now I find it a little ironic that I’ve been asked to do this talk.
As it’s only half a day and the first half is only one and a half hours long I’m going to have to find a few things that are quick and possibly take some things that are already prepared. While I’ve been pondering, I always wanted to try making skordalia. Although I’ve never eaten this in Cyprus it is eaten with salted cod in Lent and sounds delicious. It is a dip made with stale bread soaked in water to soften, olive oil and garlic pounded with salt. You can add nuts, almonds or walnuts and also it can be made with mashed potato. I made some today used stale bread and pine nuts, if you like fresh pesto you’ll love this.
I think this may be one thing I can take and a melitzanasalada which is another dip made with aubergines. I also want to make some keftedhes. These are those tasty little meatballs that pop up everywhere especially at weddings and parties. Of course I’m tempted to make a cake and the one that is so popular in Cyprus, Shamali. I’ve even made a video of this, check out the recipes page on the drop down menu under food.
At the weekend I went to join in the fun that was Med Fest at West Dean. It was the first time for this event and is a celebration of all that is Mediterranean. There was a lot of food of course and music. West Dean is very local to me and is shorthand for West Dean College and Gardens. A large Edwardian mansion converted into a college which runs not only foundation courses in restoration and tapestry but many short courses on all manner of arts and crafts in a beautiful setting nestling in the South Downs.
Med Fest was held in the grounds and in between the many delightful cookery demonstrations, there was a demonstration on how to make Turkish Delight. Who would have thought? The herbalist Steve Taylor, who gave the demonstration brought along a typical copper distiller which is used throughout homes in the Middle East to extract oils and essences from all manner of herbs and flowers by passing steam through them. So the steam teases out from the rose petals their essence miraculously and carries it through the droplets to end up as rosewater or orange blossom into orange water etc.etc.
He then produced some rosewater which was made earlier and gave us all a treat by spraying the cooling & calming liquid amongst the crowd. We all swooned…of course.
One of the many Greek myths around the creation of roses, Steve told us, is that Aphrodite or Venus, wept over the wounds her lover Adonis suffered and her tears mingled with his blood and created the red rose. This is where the connection between red roses and love stems, if you’ll excuse the pun. The best roses grow in high altitudes he told us, and the mountainous regions of Troodos area in Cyprus for example do indeed, yield very good roses. What has all this to do with Turkish Delight you might ask? well this little morsel of delight is made up simply by mixing a sugar syrup together with cornflour and water and adding rosewater. The little cubes of this refreshing sweet, which we were offered to us at the end of the demo. known in Cyprus as loukoumia, were the lightest and most delicious morsels I have ever tasted. These can often be offered at the end of a meal with coffee, the stickiness lines the oesophagus and the rosewater calms and soothes to aid digestion.
Now, when I get that sugar thermometer, I’m going to try making some of my own delight right here in my English kitchen.