Tuesday, December 29, 2009


We’re still eating turkey.

Best Beloved left for Nicosia Monday morning, having eaten turkey in every meal (including breakfast) since Christmas lunch. “No, don’t give me any to take with me,” he said as he fled to his car at seven on Monday morning. “I think I’ve had enough!”

My family had a tradition of naming our turkeys. When we lived in London in the Sixties, my mother used to name them after film stars. “Bake well,” she’d say. “Gina!” -- or, Brigitte, Elizabeth, Marilyn, Zsa Zsa. My father had a trademark recipe that he made every year for the family and to give as presents – uncooked cranberry sauce flavoured with orange. I remember racy jokes about large-breasted turkeys and ‘plenty of sauce’– though I didn’t understand them then.

In this PC era, such names and jokes would be deemed outrageously sexist; worse, by far, than giving hurricanes only female names. Maybe next year I’ll stick Brad in the oven. Or George.

Maybe not. ‘Cold George with gravy’ doesn’t have the same ring as ‘A bite of Brigitte with sauce’. Consider me irreparably damaged by my upbringing.

But I digress. I have been cooking leftovers for the last four days: turkey soup with egg and lemon (boil up the carcass for 1.5 litres of stock, then remove the bones and add a palm of rice per person. Whisk 2 eggs with the juice of 2 lemons, and when the rice is cooked add a little of the broth to the egg-lemon mixture. Add more, whisking well. Then a little more. Finally add the egg/lemon/broth mixture to the rest of the stock, whisking constantly so that the eggs don’t curdle. Add shredded turkey meat and enjoy with a sprinkling of black pepper.), mushrooms and turkey cooked in a wine and cream sauce, toasted turkey and brie sandwiches, turkey with pesto, turkey omelette, turkey fried with halloumi... Reeling off the menu I feel a little like Bubba in the movie Forrest Gump telling Forrest all the ways that he knew to cook shrimp.

I estimate that only one day of turkey leftovers remains. Five days’ eating’s not bad for thirty-three euros, but I doubt I'd ever choose a bird that big for only family again -- at least not until the Littles become teens.

Friday, December 25, 2009

I am my Father’s Daughter (or The Saga of our Christmas Turkey)

My father did not grow up poor, but his father did. My dad grew up in Depression-era St Louis, the son of a dirt-poor man from Tennessee who had gone to the city and had some lucky breaks, but imbued in his son and daughter a life-long thriftiness that somehow combined with true generosity of spirit. I remember seeing my father build and repair tools rather than buying them, and he enjoyed a life-long quest for the Special Offer.


A couple of weeks ago, Best Beloved and I had our usual Christmas discussion about whether we would have a turkey or a goose for Christmas lunch.

“Turkey, Manamou!” he finally decided. “But not from Pepa (a village woman from whom we’ve bought turkeys for the last few years). She’s been getting greedy. Order a free-range one from the frozen shop.”

So I ordered a free-range bronze English turkey that would arrive fresh on the 23rd and be available for collection any time up ‘til lunch on Christmas Eve.

Yesterday I went to collect it at about nine. “Name?” asked the owner, a middle-aged English Cypriot whom I’ll call Charlie. I told him and his frown of worry deepened.

He went to the ‘fridge, scanned the tags on the two remaining birds, and came back to the desk looking tense. “Are you sure you ordered?”

“Yes,” I told him. “And you wrote it in the book.” Together we pored over the pages until we came to my name. “Ah!” he said with a smile of relief. “I misread the name as ‘Bachelor’! Now…” He launched into an explanation of how the other shop had mistakenly taken one of his turkeys and left him a fresh bird short “So, you could have this 7 kilo frozen defrosted one for half-price, if you want, and your fresh one will go to So-and-So… Or, of course you can have your slightly smaller fresh one at 12.50 a kilo...(And I'll find some other sucker to take the defrosted mammoth off my hands.)”

“When was it defrosted?” I asked.

“The girl in the other shop took it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge yesterday morning.”

He brought it down and my heart sank when I saw the price tag. How could someone pay 83 Euros for a turkey? I thought. Why didn’t I just get one from the supermarket instead of opting for this ludicrously expensive bird? “See, your fresh one is smaller,” Charlie said. It would have been 76 Euros.

I thought for a minute. “But this one is frozen, so are you offering it to me at half the price of a fresh one – which would be 6.25 a kilo – or half the price of a frozen one which would be less?”

“You’re a hard woman!” he said, throwing up his hands. “OK. A frozen one’s 10 Euros a kilo, so at half-price this one would be 33.”

We opened the plastic pack and smelled it. It smelled good.

“You’ve got a deal,” I said. “But if I die from food poisoning, I want a big wreath – a massive wreath,full of flowers and ribbons – at my funeral.”

”If you die,” Charlie answered. “I’m right behind you, because my family’s eating the same thing tomorrow.”

We laughed together. “OK, we’ll party in heaven,” I told him.

“You’re going there?” he asked, raising both bushy eyebrows. “OK, but I doubt that I am – and I don’t think they do very good parties there, anyway.”

“Further south, then,” I told him laying cash on the barrelhead and walking to the door with my prize. “It’s a deal!”


I was a bit nervous recounting the story to Best Beloved later. “What if he thinks I did the wrong thing and endangered all of us for the sake of 50 lousy Euros?” But born of cash-wise peasant stock, my husband had no such qualms. “You got the ultimate Special Offer, Manamou,” he said with a grin. “Happy Christmas! Colonel Jim would be proud.”

Monday, December 21, 2009

School Christmas Party

Friday was the Big Ones’ school Christmas Dance. Like last year it was held in the Aliathon Hotel, tickets 25 Euro a shot, 7.30 to 11.30, buffet dinner and DJ. The few days leading up included a flurry of shopping. “I’ve got to have shoes, Mama!” “I need black jeans that fit and a red tie!” “How do I clean my skate shoes?” (Answer: “You don’t – ya gotta buy a new pair of shoes..”)

Fortunately, Sophia fits into my clothes and had no wish to buy anything new as I had found her dress several months ago.

Thirteen and a half years ago, when she was just a baby, we went out to Hawaii to visit my father. Strolling through the Ala Moana centre one day, infant in arms and toddler in tow, Best Beloved and I stopped in front of a dress shop.

“That would look lovely on you, Manamou!” he said, pointing to a reddish, slinky number on a manneqin. “Go and try it on.” I did, and it hung awkwardly, but when I tried on the smaller one, despite hugging my various bulges, it looked better.

“I’ll be losing those soon, anyway,” I said to myself. “I’ll get the small.”

The price tag of $369 made me wince a little – this was over a decade ago, and that seemed a lot to me for a dress – but I bought it…

…And never wore it. Never even removed the tags. About 4 years ago I tried it again, realised that I had grown even more bulges that I would never lose, and took it to the Dogs and Cats charity shop.

Last summer, flicking through the dress racks in the Cancer Patients’ charity shop, a familiar reddish tinge caught my eye. There was my dress – with the tags from Ala Moana still attached.

I bought it for a Euro and it fit Sophia perfectly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Children Sing in the Car.

Probably everybody’s do – and I know that when my siblings and I were young, we used to sing often – in the car and anywhere else, heedless of wrong notes, mistaken words, and variable keys. But hearing Zenon and Leo sing song after song – in Greek and English – during a twenty-minute car journey is one of my almost daily blessings.

And I don’t ask them to. One will start, and the other will join in – their voices generally true, even for children of nine and seven. Usually they sing songs learned at school – traditional Greek or Cypriot ballads or patriotic songs. Occasionally they sing pop songs, and Zenon has acquired a taste for soft rock, so that between glorifying the heroes and martyrs of 1821, he will launch into ‘Desperado’ – often with very strange words as he hasn’t managed to figure out what the lyrics are and just adds his own approximation.

He also has a liking for ‘Eye of the Tiger’, but fortunately his rendition only occasionally figures in the repertoire. Lately he and Leo have learned the words to ‘Jolene’ thanks to someone’s leaving a CD in my car. Both Zenon and Leo have picked up not only the lyrics, but Dolly’s accent, too. The other day Best Beloved pulled out of the drive on the way to town, and drifting back down the drive came ‘Ah had t’have this toke with you, mah happiness depends on you…’ A day or two later, apropos of nothing, Zenon suddenly said “What’s a toke, Mama?”

Alex has a true voice as well, and will often sing with me: our repertoire ranges from Kathy Mattea’s ‘Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses’ to Meat Loaf’s ‘Bat out of Hell’ complete with motorcycle sound effects. He has an instinctive ear for harmony, so we do quite well together.

Sophia is more inclined to join Celine Dion or the Dixie Chicks when she’s listening to them on her computer. Unfortunately it’s hard to persuade her that her singing with headphones on means that we get a tuneless drone – she just shrugs when we stand in front of her pointing at the headphones and wincing.

She is the one who most wants to be able to sing well, as she has hopes for the stage. But people ‘in the know’ have told her that an ability to sing and dance gives one a better chance of acceptance into acting school, and a good drama school is practically pre-requisite for a stage career. She has started learning to play the guitar, and I have been trying to explain basic theory. But “I don’t want lessons!” she insists. “That’s the quickest way possible to put me off music.” Unfortunately my knowledge is very limited, and if she applies herself as I know that she can, she may be looking for lessons within the next year or so as she realises that self-teaching can take her only so far.

Now that Christmas is around the corner, we are regaled by a range of carols. Rudolf (in both English and Greek) is reindeer non grata, and I’ve threatened to put a boot through the Little Drummer Boy’s instrument if I hear of it again (never liked that carol!), but the house and the car are full of ‘Jingle Bells’ – often including the parody ‘Batman smells’), Silent Night, and Greek and Cypriot seasonal songs.

It’s good to be surrounded by music.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Soldier Boy

Best Beloved just finished his annual army service for 2009. Conscription is mandatory here, and every July a crop of shaven-head eighteen-year-old males is herded off to the various training camps to spend the next two years running up hills, playing about in tanks, splashing around in rubber boats and guarding the Green Line from the 40,000 Turkish regulars who still squat in the northern 40% of Cyprus.

After their two years, all men have to do a regular reserve duty (most keeping their kit, service rifle, and ammunition at home) – the younger ones for several weeks a year, the older ones gradually tapering off their number of days until they reach their fiftieth birthday when they are assigned to Home Guard units.

Best Beloved did his army service as a Lt quartermaster in an armoured reconnaissance unit back in the early eighties. He hated most of it, but was a good shot and still loves weapons. When he came back from finishing college and work in the UK, he didn’t report to the police for Army Service, and after about a year they went to his parent’s house to ask where he was. His mother gave them our address, and shortly afterwards, they showed up at the door.

“Why on earth couldn’t you say that you didn’t know where I was?” he asked her.

“It was the police, son. And for your Army Duty! I couldn’t lie about that…”

“Thanks, Ma. Send me back to the tanks!”

The Army descended on him with glee, sent him to do another officer course, and ordered him to spend a couple of days a year at war games. When he began travelling regularly for work, they downgraded him until now he is out of his old unit and only has to report one day of the year.

So around December 1 each year, he dons his (too tight) camouflage and trundles off to base to play soldiers with the other forty-somethings who are too old for much and too young for Dad’s Army. They sit around and drink coffee and clamber into a five-ton truck for a shooting session before heading back to their city offices.

Last year he forgot. Missing your Army Duty makes you liable for a fine, but someone must have signed him in, because when he arrived today (“Don’t forget to remind me on Tuesday that I have to go to the Army, Manamou!” – but of course I forgot) no one said a word about it.

I just phoned him.

“I’m back at the office now,” he said. “But we were all saying that we need the chiropractor. Climbing into those trucks without a ladder is a bit beyond most of us now, and bumping over the tracks is a little hard on bones more accustomed to a Mercedes. The trucks’ll kill us before the Turks ever get a chance!”

“So what did you do?” I asked.

“Fired ten bullets.”

“Did you hit the target?”

“Well according to me I did – you can tell when your hitting it. But the bloke who was reading our scores really didn’t give a damn – he was just saying whatever came into his head. We could tell because the guy standing next to me always hits a near perfect score and so do I, but they told us both a silly number that didn’t mean anything, so we figured that they didn’t really care.”

Oh, it’s good to feel so well protected!