Monday, August 5, 2013

Cyprus beaches - gems of the Mediterranean.

No matter how much money you have in the bank, how much money you lost to the banks or how much money you owe to the banks, the best things in Cyprus are free. The best free 'thing' we have in Cyprus, that no one can take away from us, is definately the magnificent Mediterranean Sea. Did you know that, this year, Cyprus was awarded 57 blue flags for its beaches? According to Wikipedia, Cyprus has the most blue flag beaches, per coastline length in the whole world! That's great news for us locals and for the tourists traveling to Cyprus, because it means that most of our beaches have been awarded for being clean and safe for swimming! Most of us work very hard and are highly stressed during the week so the beach is a great place to slow down, relax and forget our worries - even if it's just for a few hours. We all know how hot Cypriot summers can get. Is there anything better than soaking in a cool sea on a humid day, when even our ear lobes are capable of sweating? The deep blue sea is good for our body and for our soul.

The other benefit of swimming in our section of the beautiful Mediterranean, besides the skin benefits of the salty water, is that sharks and dangerous jelly fish are very hard to find! If you are lucky you might spot a green or loggerhead turtle - they love to breed in our waters and lay their eggs in the sand of remote beaches around Cyprus. I almost bumped into a large green turtle in the Akamas peninsula in Paphos a few summers ago while I was busy snorkelling - what an incredible creature. It swam upright and was scrutinising me with its beady eyes, before I frightened it off with my shriek of excitement.

The time has come to lose the extra kilos that have been plaguing our brain, so grab your bikini, sunblock and water bottle and get ready for swimming! Whether you prefer wild and rocky, smooth and sandy or tiny pebbles - Cyprus has a beach to suit everyone's taste. Speaking of taste, don't forget to pack a sweet watermelon and a few slices of salty halloumi into your cooler bag - trust me, when they are eaten together they make a delicious snack! And please, please, please take all your litter with you when you leave the beach so that we can preserve our sea life for future generations.

Have an awesome, and hot, summer holiday in Cyprus!

Elena Demetriou

P.S: If you are travelling or moving to sunny Cyprus and would like an insight into Cypriot life, find out by purchasing my memoir:  'Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings'. Available on in paperback and kindle format.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The festival of the flood

While the rest of Europe is drowning in torrential floods, Cyprus is drying up rapidly in scorching temperatures that have already reached 40 degrees this past week- according to my car's thermometer! Fortunately for us, tomorrow is the very wet public holiday called Kataklismos or the festival of the flood. It is celebrated 50 days after Easter and it is known in English as the holy Pentecost. According to our religion it is a celebration of the day that the holy spirit descended upon the apostles. The apostles were blessed with the gift of speaking in tongues and many souls were saved because they heard the teachings of Christ in their own language. (For more religious information see the wonderful site of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America)

The festival dates back to Pagan times and may also be a celebration of Noah and his ark and the survival of the great flood. This refreshing long weekend is the only time of the year when kids squirt their parents with water guns and attack the neighbours with water bombs without landing into trouble. Most families spend the weekend swimming in the sea or lounging by a pool.

It is a great time to visit Cyprus as the seafront roads of Kato Paphos, Limassol and Larnaca are filled with colourful stalls that sell toys, or entice you to play a game of luck. There are many food stalls that sell various nuts and traditional Cypriot treats like Shoushouko that is made with grape juice, essence, flour and almonds. We call this fete a Panigyri. There are some vendors that make delicious sweet dough balls called Lokoumades and others that grill salty corn on the cob over charcoal. It's a fun and tasty outing for the whole family and besides all the food there are also traditional dances and local singers that entertain all the spectators.

Have a wonderful Pentecost!

Elena Demetriou
Paphos Cyprus

Learn more about Cypriot traditions in the memoir:
'Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings'

Friday, May 3, 2013

Greek Cypriot Easter-the most beautiful celebration of the year!

Easter is my favorite religious holiday of the year. The date of the Greek Easter changes every year because we follow a 'lunar' calendar. The Greek Orthodox Easter is celebrated after the first full moon following the Spring equinox. Unfortunately, this date differs from the Catholic and Protestant Easter - imagine how special and powerful Easter would be if all Christians around the world celebrated Christ on the same day, but who am I to discuss religious politics. If you are lucky enough to visit Cyprus over the Easter holiday, you should visit the nearest church and follow some of the traditional festivities.

During the church service of Good Friday we mourn Christ's crucifixion. The wooden 'epitaphio' (epitaph) is decorated with many colourful, scented flowers, it is adorned with a red or gold embroidered tablecloth and icons of Christ, and it is placed in the middle of the church. We light our candles at the entrance of the church, worship and kiss the icon of Christ and the epitaph, and we listen to the priest's holy readings from the Bible and the mesmerising psalms of the church choir. The epitaph is then carried outside, with the help of a few strong men, and led around the church, while we follow the procession with our candles.

On Holy Saturday we celebrate Christ's resurrection and mankind's ultimate salvation. After the church service that carries on until after midnight, we hear the good news that Christ has risen, and the Holy light is passed around the church until all the followers' candles are lit. It is considered good luck to take the holy light home and we try very hard not to let our candle's flame blow out. At the end of the service the teenage boys of every village burn their prized 'lambradja' (a collection of scrap wood that is collected all week and stacked in a huge pile outside the church) and the ear-popping fireworks begin. We then go home to crack red, hard boiled eggs with each other and we say, 'Christos Anesti' which means Christ has risen. The kids have competitions to see who has the strongest or 'winning' egg. Some families break their fast after the midnight service, with a hot bowl of delicious egg-lemon chicken soup (recipe may be found in my book: 'Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings') or they eat a similar tasting Greek soup made with greens and tripe that is called 'mayeritsa'.

Easter Sunday is the day we eat like 'kings' with many of our relatives. A few religious Cypriots, like my maternal grandmother, fast for 40 days before Easter-they avoid all animal products, so Easter Sunday marks the end of the fast. In Cyprus we usually make 'souvla' (mouthwatering pieces of spiced lamb/pork/chicken that are cooked over charcoal on a slow turning spit) or a whole lamb on the spit. There are plenty of salads and side dishes to accompany the meat, including Easter tarts called 'flaounes' (my mom's recipe is in my book) and then last but not least, the desserts come out. I almost forgot to mention the plaited, sweet Easter bread called 'tsoureki' that is eaten at the end with tea or Greek coffee.

In Cyprus we are very blessed that the apostle Paul traveled to our island, from the holy land, in order to spread the good word and share the miracles of Jesus that he had witnessed. Even though Paul was stoned and flogged by the Roman rulers of the time, he survived, performed miracles in Jesus' name and converted many Cypriots to Christianity. Paul's very important and historical journey changed the religious face of Cyprus - at that time Cypriots believed in the 12 Greek gods of Olympus. There is an ancient pillar dedicated to the apostle Paul in the archaeological site in Kato Paphos, next to St. Kyriaki Church. A man called Lazarus, that was resurrected from the dead by Jesus, also fled to Cyprus from Judea. He died for the second time 30 years later and was buried in Kition (Larnaca). The church of St. Lazarus in Larnaca was built in the 9th century in the place where Lazarus' tomb stone was found.

Jesus taught us many good things. If we have faith, and love for God and our neighbours/fellow human beings, and if we forgive those that have sinned against us and show repentance for our own sins, we shall be forgiven and our souls will be saved from death and the devil. Jesus won the hearts of his once skeptical disciples, and millions of people around the world, with his teachings of unconditional love, his unselfish acts of kindness and self-sacrifice, and with the many miracles he performed while he walked on this earth. Miracles continue to occur to this day, through the grace of God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. May Christ save our souls and keep us safe from evil.

Happy Easter/Kalo Pascha!

Elena Demetriou
Author of 'Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings.'

Monday, April 15, 2013

Religion, superstition and tales from the bus.

The best way to learn about Cypriot traditions is to spend some time with the locals. If you live in Cyprus and your neighbours are not Cypriot, then the next best thing to do is to go on an excursion with some locals. Yesterday my mother and I went on a religious excursion to explore a few Greek Orthodox churches in Nicosia and Limassol, that we had never seen before. The trip was organised by my mother's neighbour, Mrs Eleni, the 65 year old wife of a local bus driver. I once told her that I had never been to the church of Chrisospiliotisa (a church that was dug out of a rocky mountain in Nicosia) and Mrs Eleni told me she had organised this trip especially for me.

The bus was filled with Cypriot pensioners, that regularly go on religious pilgrimages all over Cyprus. Mrs Eleni sat next to me on the bus and she kept me entertained with many stories, from the time we left Paphos all the way to Nicosia and back. I didn't mind listening to some gossip, it was a refreshing change from the topic of the recent banking crisis that everyone in Cyprus has been talking about. My favourite strangers in this world are either over 60 or under 10 years old. I have found that people in these age groups have an open heart and share their dreams, and innermost secrets, without any reservation. I discovered that Mrs Eleni had an arranged marriage, is 8 years older than her husband, has 1 daughter and 3 grandchildren and she built a house for her daughter right next door to hers, so that she could help her daughter with the children. Cypriot parents are usually very selfless, and they have this manic idea that they must help their children as much as possible - until the day they die.

There were quite a few elderly men on the bus, most of them in their late eighties. They sat towards the front of the bus, near the microphone and during the long drive, they sang traditional Cypriot songs and Chatista, which are competitive  or romantic, short rhyming songs that are made up as one sings. They took turns to challenge each other and the singer that came up with the best rhyme enjoyed the most applause. Mrs Eleni pointed to the old man that was busy singing a romantic song, and she told me that he shot and killed his son in law with his hunting rifle, in order to save his daughter from her husband's ruthless beatings. I wondered how the old man had managed to escape prison- in those days many people got away with murder.

Once we reached Limassol we stopped for a Greek coffee break at one of the restaurants on the way and a middle aged lady from our group told us that she could read our fortunes. Greek coffee is unfiltered and it leaves a sediment behind that you are not supposed to drink. Once you have slurped all the liquid away, you turn your small coffee cup upside down, onto its saucer, and the dried up sediment forms various patterns on the bottom of the cup, that supposedly reveal the drinker's fortune. We didn't have much time so we had to take a raincheck on our fortunes.

We lit our first candle in a small church in the village of Klirou in Nicosia, that used to be a monastery. I was told that a few years ago, two icons from that church were miraculously weeping and the story was on the local news. We walked out of the church and I heard an angelic melody coming from the distance. An elderly man, wearing a black cap, was holding a hand-carved flute and was busy entertaining one of the children from the bus. He told us that he used to be a shepherd and had taught himself to play the flute while looking after his goats, in order to pass the time.

We then stopped at the larger and more modern church in the center of the town, and a young village priest, with a short pony tail and a dark beard, was kind enough to explain the history of the beautiful church and its icons. The priest showed us an ancient icon, an oil painting of the holy Virgin Mary called Panagia Evangelistria, that was discovered in a dried up well. The Cypriot Christians hid it away from the Ottoman Turks, so that it would not be destroyed. (The Turks had a habit of burning icons and scratching the eyes out of the religious figures represented in the icons.) The priest then pointed to a 400 year old Silver icon that depicted a religious scene and he showed us a secret door, barely visible to the naked eye, that was carved into the center. The secret door led the priests to discover a hidden oil painting of the holy Virgin underneath the silver, that has recently been restored and is also on display in the church.

Our next stop was Chrisospiliotisa the cave church in the mountains. We made the sign of the cross with our fingers, kissed the icons, said our prayers and walked through the carved rocky labyrinth ending up in the souvenir shop. While I was busy studying the religious trinkets, a white haired, elderly man from our group, that had green eyes, badly stained teeth and a large belly, rushed towards me, grabbed my hand, stuck a folded piece of paper onto my palm and in a hushed voice said, "Buy whatever you like." I was a little bit in shock when I opened the piece of paper and discovered different colored bank notes inside, including a 500€ note. Last year I watched a local TV series, called 'Eleni the whore', that was based on a true story, so I naturally assumed that the old man had promiscuous ideas. I rushed after the strange man, gave him back his money, thanked him and told him I didn't need it. The old man was very offended, he told me I insulted him by not accepting it and walked away in a huff. The bus driver was standing in the corner and had watched the entire scene, with a big smirk on his face. I told him what had happened and he laughed and told me I should have taken the money because it was a gift. Apparently this generous old man is very wealthy and has no children of his own. Every time they go on an excursion, he picks a lady that he is fond of and buys her gifts, but he does it secretly-behind his wife's back. I told the bus driver that I felt very bad that I had offended the man but ever since I opened my dental practice, I've never had a stranger give me money, without expecting dental treatment in return.

Later on when we were back on the bus, Mrs Eleni told me that the elderly man that gave me the money was actually born a 'eunuch??!!' (for lack of a better term), his wife was forced into the marriage by her parents, and that is the reason they never had any children - so much for my 'the man may be promiscuous' theory. I concluded that men never lose their passion or fondness for romance, no matter what their age. I was also told that the generous man's wife is a gifted 'phobia healer' (gets rid of phobias) and that she also knows how to get rid of bad luck spells caused by the evil eye. Mrs Eleni planned to take her 6 year old granddaughter to the healer because the little girl has a fear of going to the toilet alone...

We made a few more stops at some smaller churches, lit some more candles and then had a delicious Cypriot lunch/feast at a popular taverna in Limassol. On the way back home I learned about the life of the hunched, elderly lady dressed in black, that was sitting on my left. Apparently the old lady is a millionaire because she inherited a lot of land and she never married or had any children. Her 8 brothers and sisters tried to steal her inheritance for their own children, by forging some papers and drawing up a fake will. The elderly lady caught them out and is in the process of taking them to court, even though she is in her late eighties and can barely walk.

Overall it was an adventurous day, filled with wonderful, mysterious churches, interesting characters and stories juicy enough to inspire a bestselling novel. I came to the conclusion that even though Cypriots are very religious, a lot of our beliefs are based on superstition. What I am absolutely certain of is that life would be very boring without these wonderful tales!

Elena Demetriou
Author of 'Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings'

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Nothing is healthier than homemade food!

I recently saw a movie on Youtube called 'Food inc.' that is based on the nasty realities of the food industry in America- a real eye opener. Everyone should watch this movie, it will change the way you see fast and processed food. It has made me stay away from fast food and has made me aware of just how lucky I was growing up in a little village in Cyprus. My sisters and I are very blessed that our mother cooked homemade food, almost everyday, while we were growing up, even after we immigrated to South Africa.

My grandparents in Cyprus (and my parents- when they lived in the village) not only ate homemade food all their lives but their food was also homegrown. They kept their own chickens, pigs, goats, rabbits and cows and grew their own fruit, vegetables, wheat and herbs. Eggs were plentiful and laid by free range chickens that had a varied diet. Pigs ate scrap vegetables and leftovers and goats and cows roamed free in the fields and ate grass. Feeding farm animals genetically modified corn, growth enhancing hormones and antibiotics was unheard of. Those were the good old days when the words 'organic' and 'food' were not used in the same sentence.

Cyprus cheese like anari or halloumi was made fresh, by my grandmothers, after the goats or cows were milked. Fruit, vegetables and nuts were picked only when they were ripe and consumed daily. My grandparents (and parents) used olive oil in their baking and cooking, that they produced themselves from their own olive trees. It is no wonder my great grandmother Angelou lived to the wise old age of 105!

So far, in Cyprus, we have managed to avoid a lot of the problems of mass produced meat, fruit and vegetables, that the bigger cities of the world are facing, but unfortunately far too many processed foods have infiltrated our supermarkets and made their way into our kitchen cupboards. Many modern women are also more focused on their careers and they don't have the time to cook as often as their mothers or grandmothers did, so eating fast food is becoming more popular in Cyprus as well. Because of these facts diabetes, heart disease, obesity and many other inflammatory diseases are on the rise in Cyprus.

Even if we don't have time to cook every single day we should all make an effort to eat healthier, even if it means adding a few extra pieces of local fruit or green leafy salads into our daily diet. A lot of faithful Cypriots are currently following the 40 day fast before the Greek Orthodox Easter, which is coming up in a few weeks. The Cypriots with the strongest willpower are avoiding all animal products, including dairy and eggs, and they are filling up with plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruit. Fasting is not only good for our religious souls but it is also a great way to eat healthier and give our bodies time to detoxify from harmful animal products. Our ancestors, that started these traditions, were so much smarter than us!

Below is an example of an 'organically' produced carrot that I was lucky enough to discover, while I was grocery shopping a while ago:

Happy healthy eating!
Elena Demetriou
Author of Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Green Monday-the best day to fly your kite!

Green or 'Clean' Monday as we say in Greek, is the day that marks the beginning of the long 40 day fast before the Greek Easter. The Greek Orthodox Easter date changes every year because we follow a 'Lunar' calendar. Easter is celebrated on the 1st Sunday after the full moon of the Spring equinox.

This is the day when many Cypriots travel from the city to their village and have picnics in the fields/countryside, with all their relatives. All animal products are forbidden on this day, so raw green leafy vegetables, olives, boiled potatoes and other salads are consumed instead. Most of us struggle to fast the whole 40 days but on Green Monday we usually follow the rules. We also eat unleavened fasting bread (a flat bread covered with sesame seeds) that we smother with various dips like taramasalata (made with fish roe), houmous (made with chickpeas), tahini (made with sesame seeds) and eggplant salad. For the stomachs that are not fond of vegetables, octopus or squid (creatures that have no blood) are also allowed, and are usually grilled over charcoal. There is always a bottle of homemade sweet wine nearby to quench the thirst and make the adults merry.

Children love Green Monday because this time of the year is very windy and they get to fly their kites. The sky is filled with colour and ribbons as kids and adults compete with each other to see whose kite will fly the highest. Most Cypriots love days like these because they relax and spend time with the members of their extended family and they also have fun with their kids.

The colourful wild flowers of the countryside show their beautiful face this time of year and they mark the beginning of Spring. If the weather is kind, it is a wonderful day to spend outside.

Elena Demetriou
Author of 'Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings'

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Take your soul for a walk!

I feel very blessed because I live in a village that is surrounded by green hills. The hills are scattered with beautiful carob, almond and citrus trees. I feel most inspired when I am walking through a field and I can hear the gentle whisper of the wind, as it converses with the trees and rustles the long blades of wheat or grass. When I am surrounded by nature I feel the presence of God and no man-made structure has ever made me feel that way. The famous author Nikos Kazantzakis said it best in his memoir,  Report to Greco and I quote: " I said to the almond tree: ' Sister, speak to me of God. ' And the almond tree blossomed. "  That is exactly how I feel when I see a blossoming  tree or when I discover colorful wild flowers. The other benefit of living in a village surrounded by fruit trees is that whenever I run out of lemons, which usually happens when I am busy making my favorite chicken soup avgolemoni (recipe may be found in my memoir) all I have to do is send my husband for a walk and get him to pick a few lemons from the neighbourhood.

My young nephews love to sleep over at our house because we go on long walks with our dogs. Their favourite part is wearing my hiking pouch around their waist, that I fill with edible goodies and a water bottle. They also love to hold their own walking stick. This weekend my 3 year old nephew Harry, and I, went on our usual walk and discovered a fragrant wild thyme bush. We picked almond shells off an almond tree, we bashed the shells open with a stone and we snacked on the healthy nuts all the way home. I believe that a homeless person would never starve in Cyprus, as long as he lived in a village surrounded by farm land and hospitable neighbours. The excitement my nephews feel during our adventurous walks will probably be embedded in their souls forever.

My mother also loves to take long walks in her village of Steni. She is always on the look-out for edible wild greens like salad leaves, young asparagus shoots, caper leaves and more.  Her grandchildren usually join her and besides the special bond they are building during their walks, they are also learning about the edible plants that grow in the fields of Cyprus.  In today's advanced technological age many children spend too much time behind a computer screen and too little time walking in nature. We should all make an effort to take more walks.  In Cyprus we are fortunate to have a low crime rate, mild winters and plenty of sunshine. Walking doesn't cost a cent and it is good for our bodies and our souls!

One benefit of the financial crisis, that recently hit Cyprus,  is that the property developers have slowed down on mass construction and fewer green fields are being destroyed.  We should take advantage of this situation and walk through as many fields as we can, while they are still around.

Elena Demetriou
Author of: Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Support Cypriot farmers - buy local fruit!

I don't know if it is the divine scent of its fragrant blossoms or the refreshing, sweet flesh of its fruit, but the orange tree is one of the most cultivated fruit trees in the world. The sweet orange is also the favourite fruit of all my young nephews and my friend Suzann, who eats at least 6 a day - every day!
It's that time of year again when my father's orange and mandarin trees in the village, are decorated with bright orange balls and look like ornamental Christmas trees. The local fruit shops are filled with delicious local oranges and mandarins, and in my opinion they taste a lot better than the imported, mass produced varieties. We should support our local fruit farmers, there is no good reason why they are importing oranges (and bananas) into Cyprus, while a lot of the healthier, local fruit falls off the trees and is not consumed.

Coincidentally it is also that time of the year again when many Cypriot moms and grannies are busy making their 'melomakarona' or Christmas biscuits, and their kitchens are infused with the heavenly scent of orange zest, cinnamon, cloves and honey. I have included a great 'melomakarona' recipe in my memoir.

Did you know that oranges contain 64% vitamin C per 100 g? (***surprisingly red bell peppers contain 94% vitamin C!!) Oranges were brought to the Meditarranean from China in the 16th century, and the sweet orange tree is actually a hybrid between the pomelo and the mandarin tree. 

My respect goes out to all hardworking fruit farmers and to Wikipedia for all the useful information.

Elena Demetriou

Author of 'Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings'

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

No fungus tastes better than wild forest mushrooms!

Hooray for a bit of rain! This weekend my uncle from Lysos village, and my father, collected these beautiful blessings from the earth- tasty wild mushrooms. They grow in the nearby forest during the rainy season. They are protected by tall maternal pine trees and they hide away in secret locations that are known and remembered only by the local village men. The red ones are my favorite as they have a sweet, meaty taste and they bring back fond memories from my childhood. In Cyprus they are grilled over a fireplace or in an oven, drizzled with olive oil and fresh lemon juice, and sprinkled with wild oregano and salt. If you are lucky you may also find them in your local supermarket or fruit market in Cyprus. If you decide to go mushroom picking, make sure you take an experienced local with you, so that you don't land up eating anything poisonous! Edible mushrooms have many medicinal properties, anti-cancer and anti-diabetic benefits, so we should all eat them more often!

Elena Demetriou
Author of : 'Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings'

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The blessed olive trees of Cyprus.

For thousands of years, our Cypriot ancestors have been plucking the olives off their beloved olive trees, in order to cure the precious fruit for eating, or to transform them into glorious and health-giving olive oil. Many hills in the villages of Cyprus are scattered with beautiful olive trees. This weekend my parents and relatives in Steni village, have been very busy under their own grown-up olive trees. The olives are plucked or raked off the trees until many buckets and crates are filled to the brim. When there are enough olives to provide olive oil for all the close relatives, for a whole year, the crates are carted off to the nearest olive mill. Since we moved back to Cyprus, I feel very blessed that I haven't had to buy any olive oil. (When I run out I visit my mother and simply raid her pantry.)

There is nothing better than crunching on toasted village bread that has been drizzled with virgin olive oil (add a sprinkle of wild oregano, a pinch of salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice for extra flavor). In Cyprus, and in our family, olive oil is not only used in the daily cooking ritual but I have also witnessed its use in baptism ceremonies, funerals and as a magical cure for ailments like earache or as a treatment for dry hair. Read more about these traditions in my memoir Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings.

Below are a few photos that my sister Dora snapped today, showing my father and his brother (my uncle Theo.) with their freshly picked olives. Collecting olives is very hard work and I am just one of the lucky souls that benefits from their labor. I hope that we (the youth of Cyprus that will one day inherit these essential olive trees) will never let the olive oil run out...

Elena Demetriou
Author of Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings.

P.S. I discovered a delicious and healthy chocolate brownie-style cake that uses olive oil, have a look at the video below for the recipe! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Spice up your cooking, try new recipes!

I don't know if it is my Gemini star sign that creates this issue in my life, but I get very bored eating the same food over and over, week after week. I am constantly searching for new recipes to keep my taste buds excited and my greedy stomach satisfied. The last 2 weeks I decided to sway away from my usual Greek (or South-African) inspired ideas (thanks to some great British TV cooking shows) and I have been experimenting with a few unfamiliar, and very tasty, new recipes. Hard as I tried not to, I still managed to add my own Greek-Cypriot twist to a few of the dishes. 

Top left is my version of Nigella Lawson's glorious, Italian clam recipe- instead of adding concentrated tomato paste and large Italian cous-cous, I added fresh, chopped, peeled tomatoes and Cypriot bourkouri, which worked just as well.
Top right is my version of Nigella's Italian Sambuca kisses - instead of a splosh of Sambuca I used Ouzo and I replaced the Ricotta cheese with soft Cypriot Anari cheese. These are similar to our Cypriot lokoumades but taste more like doughnuts, and are a lot lighter on the stomach as there is less flour and no syrup.

In the photo above, is my version of the Italian chef, Giorgio Locatelli's stuffed sardines- instead of using soaked white bread for the stuffing, I added soaked village bread. It was the first time that I cooked with sardines and this new recipe made a boring but healthy fish, taste heavenly. 

Then I decided to try my hand at making homemade pasta, especially after watching Michela Chiappa from Simply Italian. The pink color of her beetroot pasta really attracted my eyes as well as my taste buds and I had to try it for myself. Making pasta is really time consuming but it is worth the effort. Make sure you have a pasta maker handy, you may find her recipe on google. Below are a few photos of my masterpiece:

Above is my mother's traditional village bread recipe, that may be found in my memoir Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings, but I added a bit of zing by adding a few mustard seeds, ground black pepper and pine nuts. You don't need an expensive bread maker to make bread, all you need is a good recipe and an oven. If I can make bread, anyone can!

Below is the same recipe, but I tried making it a bit healthier by using wholemeal flour; then to replace any lost flavor, I added half a grated halloumi, a few mint and basil leaves finely chopped, and 6 pieces of thinly sliced, oily sun-dried tomatoes.

Thanks to a tip from an English patient, I recently discovered an easy sweet bread recipe by Brendan Lynch, that doesn't need any yeast, and therefore there is no need to wait for it to rise. You may find it on his great website called: Brendan Bakes.  

I made it my own by adding prunes instead of raisins- which are very helpful for my intestines after eating all that bread...I have never been able to follow a carbohydrate free diet, I love bread so much it's a sin! Other people smoke or drink, my biggest vice is eating village bread!

There is another simple yet divine recipe that I made for the first time this past weekend, Rachel Khoo's French inspired, 'Oeufs en cocotte' or 'Eggs in pots.' I never knew that egg, soft creamy cheese and caviar could taste so good together! Rachel used creme fraiche but I replaced it with Philadelphia cheese, sprinkled with a few crumbs of of blue cheese. For the exact recipe and method see the video below:


After I ate the above scrumptious egg-concoction, in my fancy Chinese tea cup, I was in the mood for some sweet cake to clear my palate, so I baked Nigel Slater's lemon cake, an English recipe that he has spiced up with a few sprigs of thyme!

There are so many unusual and delicious recipes out there that, God willing, I will be very busy in my kitchen for many years to come! The biggest challenge is trying to get my husband to taste these new flavors. Since I couldn't invite all of you over for dinner and cake, I thought the least I could do was show you my photos. 

Most of the above recipes may be found on that amazing invention called YouTube.

Kalin Orexi (Good appetite)

Elena Demetriou
Lover of food and author of Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Weird and wonderful food markets...

If you have read my memoir, Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings, you should know that after my extra large family and a little island called Cyprus, food and travel are my next biggest passions. I have never traveled anywhere in the world without paying a visit to a local food market, or without tasting the local cuisine. I am not one of those 'lazy' tourists that loves to lie by the hotel pool all day long and eats all three meals at the hotel's all inclusive international restaurant. Tourists that commit that horrendous crime are missing out on so many new delicacies, the local life and the cuisine of the country they are visiting. Life is too short to obey closed minded taste buds.

In Paphos, Cyprus large food markets are scarce as most 'Paphites' grow their own fruit and vegetables, pick them fresh from a relative's trees or simply buy them from the large supermarkets that have sprung up everywhere you look. I feel blessed to have explored a few outdoor food markets during my travels, and two of my favorite (and probably the favorite food markets of many professional chefs) were in Italy and Spain. The abundance of fresh vegetables, unusual fruit, tasty cheese and variety of different meat cuts were out of this world. The best part about food markets is that the food is fresh and you often get to taste the goods before you buy. Who doesn't love eating good food, except for the occasional sad supermodel?

The strangest and most exciting food market I have ever been to, so far, is definitely in Beijing, China, where I traveled to in July of this year. 

It is probably the only food market I have ever been to where I didn't taste any of the food items on display. There was 70% humidity in the air, it was 40 degrees Celsius and the food had been lying in the sun for many hours. There was a pungent, rotten smell in the air  which unfortunately repulsed my nostrils and adventurous taste buds. What surprised me the most was not the wriggling scorpion kebabs and snakes on a stick, nor the worm larvae and beetles that were waiting to be grilled, but the fact that there were no flies to be seen, on any of the food items on display. I assume that even though the horrid smell was strong enough to attract flying pests, the strong spices must have kept them at bay.

In Cyprus, Crete and many other European countries, we love eating snails, so I am not a stranger to devouring insects. After the first rainfall of the year you may find many a Cypriot, with a plastic bag or bucket, walking through the wet fields searching for snails that have slithered out of their hiding places. (I have included a great recipe for preparing snails in my memoir.) 

I have also tasted African mopane worms in the past, that I bought from a food store in London, believe it or not, so I am not afraid to try new sources of protein. However, I do draw the line when it comes to eating man's best friend - dog meat is a definite No No!! If it wasn't for that unpleasant smell at the Beijing food market, I would have probably taken a bite out of a grilled scorpion. I did find some delicious fruit in China like the sweet and juicy, hairy litchis that were absolutely divine.

Next time you travel, try to be brave and taste at least one food item you have never seen before. If you happen to travel to Cyprus in the rainy season, visit a local tavern and ask for some delicious snails. Go on... We only live once.

Happy adventurous eating!
Elena Demetriou

P.S. The mopane worms tasted like dried up salty leaves. I never said I enjoy everything I taste but at least I give new food a chance.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The grape that thought it was a plum...

My father grew very excited when he plucked this bunch of grapes from his gorgeous vines. Have a look at the size of the top grape in the adjacent photo. Grape season is almost over in Cyprus. Many Cypriot ladies have already turned their left over harvest into Shoushouko and Palouze. Read all about these Cypriot delicacies in my memoir Village bread, olive oil and a grandmother's blessings.

Monday, September 17, 2012

It's fig season!

The favorite fruit of September is the sweet fig and this month you will find many Cypriots under the fig trees! Did you know that figs are the highest plant sources of calcium and fiber? (Wikipedia) Peel the skin and eat as is, or add them to Greek yogurt and drizzle with a bit of honey...