SOME VIEWS OF SPRING

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

 

Every year I used to remark to my wife on the shortness of the spring and autumn seasons in Cyprus. “Yes”, she would reply, “You said that last year….. and the year before”. True. Nonetheless, the few weeks of spring provide us with a lot of pleasure, especially the flowering of the almond trees, which tinge the hillsides, greened by winter rains, a delicate pink.

clip_image002

William Shakespeare wrote many sonnets and poems that allude to spring and its effects on young lovers. In these lines he explains the reason for the cuckoo’s cry: it is mocking married men who are no longer free and single. They are thus unable to choose freely from the available women. He is also hinting that some men may find themselves cuckolded in the spring.

From “Spring” in clip_image003Love’s Labours Lost by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

“When daisies pied and violets blue And lady-smocks all silver-white And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue Do paint the meadows with delight, The cuckoo then, on every tree, Mocks married men; for thus sings he, Cuckoo; Cuckoo, cuckoo: Oh word of fear, Unpleasing to a married ear!"

The next lines are also by Master Shakespeare, and once set memorably to jazz music on a lovely old recording I still have.

In springtime, in springtime, The only pretty ring-time, When birds do sing, hey ding-a-ding, Sweet lovers love the spring

Onwards to the 20th Century; another age and another poet. Less elegant, but amusing was the American Ogden Nash, whose work includes this light-hearted ode to spring

Spring has sprung,

De grass is rizz.

I wonder where de boidies is?

Dey say de boid is on de wing

But, dat’s absoid,

De wing is on de boid.

If in spring, as the poet says, a young man’s fancy does turn to thoughts of love, whereas an old man’s, like mine, turns to thoughts of spring vegetables and springtime recipes, which is better for us all. And I can recommend this one…

Spring Lamb and Vegetable Casserole

clip_image005

Look at my picture! The lovely baby carrots, green beans, onions and potatoes in this spring casserole. And easy is the word. Start by chunking lean lamb, dusting in flour and turning in a big oven-proof pan, in which you have heated fat or oil, until browned all over. Add pieces of onion, carrot (and other root vegetables, if you like, such as turnip, swede or parsnip) and cook for about ten minutes, stirring regularly. Pour over lamb or chicken stock to cover, put on the lid and cook in a moderate oven (100ºC) for at least an hour or until the meat is tender (this depends on the cut and age of the meat), stirring in the green beans and asparagus about 15 minutes before serving, or adding cooked beans or asparagus just before you serve)

Having grown up in England, I could never quite accustom myself to the seasons in Cyprus. The often blistering summers seemed to dry off, nay kill, grasses, shrubs and other greenery. Anywhere in the uplands that was not covered in vines looked almost desert-like And yet, with the first rains of October, green grew the grass, wild herbs, shrubs and little wild flowers. And then, come February, another show comes along.

clip_image007

As spring unfurls, the hills become a symphony of different shades of green, a paradise for the walker, or bird-lover charting the migrations of many visitors, some of them, like the Hoopoe, most exotic. These are days for townsfolk to take the family to visit Aunty in the village or have a picnic among the greenery. Better still, leave the kids with Aunty and take the wife to a good taverna.

A DELICIOUS PICNIC LUNCH BOX

Fill a couple of plastic containers with good dishes of cold food, rather than make sandwiches, and pack them in a cold-keeper. That’s my advice for a successful picnic meal. And here are a few thoughts on what to put in them…

clip_image009 clip_image011

Home-made chicken and ham pie uses frozen ready-made puff pastry and “stuffed” with chopped, cooked meats “suspended” in a little thickened stock or white sauce. Take the ingredients for “Trciolore” (Halloumi, Tomatoes and Greens) in three little boxes and assemble on the picnic plates.

clip_image013 clip_image015

(Left) Take a Dip on your picnic, like tahinisalata, hummus (pictured) or Baba Ghanoush (Melitzanasalata) with crackers or bread. Or (right) go English with a “Ploughman’s lunch” of cheese, pickles and ham, to which I have added big Greek black olives and some of our delicious local ham.

FAY-VRITS

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail

When Mary and I ran the Cyprus Donkey Sanctuary, after a lot of hard work, we found ourselves with reasonable funds to look after our then 30+ animals. So, we were able to hire the very necessary services of a proper professional farrier, who came every Thursday to look after the feet of eventually houses more than 130) Often a new arrival would have either very long or badly trimmed hooves. It was an all-day job so I got to cooking a meal for the farrier and the helpers, often eight or even ten people. Farriery, whether doing the business with the rasp, cutters or files, or holding the animal still, was tough work. So substantial fare was required. But, whatever I served, George, our farrier, having washed up, would sniff the air and declaim “My favourite!”, pronounced as two long syllables “FAYV – RIT” As an eclectic eater, I am a bit like that, but I do have particular dishes I regard as special.

clip_image002

Taken in early 20th century, this photograph demonstrates that the technique of shoeing has not changed in more than a hundred years. In the early days of our running the Cyprus donkey sanctuary I asked a villager why his donkeys needed shoes. Somewhat scathingly he told me to have a good look at the ground in the vineyards and the hills. I did and saw how stony it was and how many of the stones were sharp edged. It also became clear to me that the donkey’s foot was quite a complicated arrangement, with a very tender centre, requiring some skills to maintain. Alas, many donkeys had suffered from lack of proper care.

             clip_image004

When we had just a few animals, by arrangement with the British Bases, we had the services once a month of the Army farrier (pictured above). In those days the Bases actually kept polo ponies – small, nippy horses. There were regular polo games at Happy Valley sports fields and from time to time a team from the Jordanian army, with its ponies, would fly in to play a couple of matches. With UK economic cuts, though, the polo “luxury” was closed down. Luckily, we came upon “George”, an ebullient resident Brit., who was actually born in Cyprus, who looked after “our” hooves for more than a decade.

I was not the only one who cooked the “Farrier’s Lunch” – several other helpers did, and it got quite competitive! After a few years, I had so many recipes in my head and in my files, a “donkey sanctuary” cook book was called for. Sales produced several thousand Cyprus Pounds revenue for the sanctuary.

                            clip_image006

I once did a little research by asking as many people as I could what their favourite Cyprus dishes were. I got a clear winner from Greek Cypriots and an equally clear one from foreign residents. Local people voted overwhelmingly for Souvla, and the other residents almost as strongly for Moussaka.

clip_image008

Cyprus’s Numero Uno – chunks of kid and lamb turning on the spit – the charcoal-grilled flavour verges on the sublime when accompanied by hot Pitta bread and a chopped salad.

Having been introduced to Cyprus food in London at its first (and best) kebab house, where tender English or New Zealand lamb was used in the cooking, I never really took to Souvla or its diminutive Souvlaki, when it was cooked with pork. Likewise, a large percentage of moussaka cooked in restaurants has long used pork meat. It’s very good, but to me it’s not authentic. Moussaka cooked with lamb is the proper method!

Pork, of course, has been readily available, always tender and not expensive, by virtue of the pork industry established fifty or so years ago. I remember the lamb used in pre-pork days – stringy and tough, but of good flavour. But no wonder the pork farming and processing industries have done so well.

CLASSIC CYPRUS DISHES – 2 and the Ex-pats Number One.

     PASTITSIO STO FOURNO

     Oven Baked Cyprus Macaroni

         clip_image010

The traditional Cyprus Pastitsio recipe does not contain tomatoes. Without them, the parsley comes through nicely. Sometimes, I either add four or five drained canned tomatoes, or a couple of tablespoons of tomato purée, which adds depth to the flavour, as do a glass of red wine and a couple of cloves of garlic, finely chopped. Every cook I know who makes Pastitsio has his or her own recipe. I like those which produce a lovely gooey, meaty, creamy, juicy dish. Here’s a basic recipe for anyone who hasn’t yet made this great grub.

Ingredients for 8 – 10 portions

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium-large onion, peeled and finely chopped

250g of minced meat – lamb for preference, but beef and or pork are OK.

250 g of macaroni

1 bunch parsley, chopped

100 g of grated anari cheese

Salt and pepper.

For the “Sauce”

1litre milk

100g flour

4 eggs

Method

1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion and mince, and cook on a medium heat until the meat is golden brown.

2. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add around 5oml of water and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the chopped parsley and stir.

4. In a separate pot, cook the macaroni for 7 minutes or until al dente; drain.

5. For the sauce, beat the eggs, add the flour and gradually add the milk, whisking continuously.

6. Transfer the mixture into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally until thick.

7. Place half of the macaroni in an ovenproof dish.

8. Sprinkle with grated anari cheese and pour over some of the cream.

9. Evenly distribute the minced meat filling on top of the cream and layer over the remaining macaroni.

10. Sprinkle again with grated anari and top with the remaining cream

11. Bake at 160°C (fan assisted oven) or 180°C (Non-fan oven with upper and lower heat) for around 40 minutes until golden brown.

For accompaniment, let’s let it all hang out: lovely long kidney shaped Cyprus potatoes, halved lengthways, boiled for around ten minutes, until the edges are getting fluffy and then oven roasted in plenty of good oil, turning several times in the 50 minutes or so they take to roast. Complete with a chopped green salad: lettuce, cabbage, spring onions (scallions), raw spinach or other green leaves, mint and parsley. Dressed, of course, with oil and lemon.

THIS WEEK’S RECIPE – MEATBALLS

clip_image002.jpg

  Ingredients 60g/2oz fine dry breadcrumbs 125ml/4fl.oz light cream 125ml/4fl.oz water 200g/7oz finely minced lean beef 200g/7oz finely minced lean pork 1½ tsp salt ½ tsp ground allspice 1 small to medium onion peeled and very finely chopped 1 egg, beaten 75g/3oz butter A few grindings of black pepper Method 1 In a bowl mix […]

[Continue reading...]

IN AN IRISH STEW

clip_image002.jpg

In the “old days” (say fifty years and before) farmers used to keep a proportion of the flocks of their sheep for several years. They would produce several lambs in this time. After which they would be killed and eaten as “Mutton” (any animal of more than one year qualifies for this definition). This was […]

[Continue reading...]

GARLIC – LOVE IT, HATE IT, YOU CAN’T IGNORE IT!

clip_image002.jpg

                Plump cloves of garlic from my garden in Vouni village. These had been hanging about in my kitchen for a few months and were, in my opinion, as good as garlic gets. Earlier, we had used other cloves when they were fresh and green, imparting a delicious earthy flavour to soup and dressings. […]

[Continue reading...]

FRANCE IS GREAT… What, again?

clip_image004.jpg

     Inspired by my recent purchase of a big book of French recipes called “SIMPLISSIME”, I have been (figuratively speaking) wearing my big French Toque on a daily basis. Aspects of France – and the French – may annoy us, but it has to be generally agreed that they are very good at the cooking. […]

[Continue reading...]