Friday, December 24, 2010

A Day of Baking in anticipation of the Morrow…

I started out making pumpkin pie this morning… well, butternut squash pie, really. I know it’s not Christmas Fare. We don’t always play by the rules, Christmas being such a grafted on novelty to Cypriot culture and our family being such a hybrid blend. Besides that, I had a butternut languishing on the shelf, and Phil liked the pie last time I made it.

By the time that was out of the oven, the Christmas lunch starters were on the rise. Also not Christmas Fare, they are bread sticks from Richard Bertinet’s excellent book, Dough. I pitted olives, grated parmesan, gathered and chopped fresh herbs, then applied them to the dough that Leo had kneaded earlier, folded, cut, and twisted the sticks, put them for a second rise and then baked them… Lo and behold, appetiser and starter for lunch tomorrow… Done!

Poor Leo’s grasped the short straw with his no-gluten diet, so we dived into a recipe of gluten-free carob cookies. We were both a bit dubious of the blend of dried figs, almond flour, honey, vanilla, and butter, and it seemed to produce only a small amount, but I just took them out of the oven and Wowee!! Worth a try even if you’re gluten tolerant, and a super-super food.

This new diet thingie in our lives has led me down some interesting culinary roads and into some fantastic and inspiring blogs. I mean to post more in the new year, but the main thing I’ve learned (which many others have learned before me, but each has to travel their own path) is that substitutes DON’T work. Don’t think you can spend a fortune on gluten free flour or pasta and get the same result that you would with wheat… It doesn’t happen that way. People just say ‘Yuck! It doesn’t taste the same…’ Explore new cuisines instead: Asian food and Mexican are almost completely gluten free. It’s just hard work getting four children to stop resisting new tastes. From all of them, at least once, I’ve heard: ‘I don’t see why I should eat differently just because the others can’t eat what I want!’ Even Best Beloved, though he is the most innovative of us all, drew the line at a gluten free meal.

I did try blood tests for the Littles yesterday, just to see if the results tallied with the bioresonance – even though I have been warned that blood results ‘can give false negatives’. Stay tuned!

Best wishes to everyone for a happy Christmas and a peaceful, healthy, and prosperous 2011.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It’s Still Greek to Me (Though It’s Now Becoming a Little Clearer)

Despite attending a fancy private school – with commensurately fancy fees – Sophia cannot take both A-Level Greek and GCSE History this year due to scheduling problems. Since she has an inspiring history teacher and the Greek Department is not to write home about, we opted to pursue Greek lessons privately. She speaks Cypriot dialect fluently and is comfortable with spoken Greek, but her reading and writing are not as good as they should be.

I cast around for teachers and decided to try for Maria, my former teacher at InterLingua in Paphos. I had done three years of classes with her, and my Greek’s simple but not bad, and any foreigner who speaks decent Greek here in Paphos has been a student of hers at one time or another. She’s kind, experienced, and a wonderful teacher.

Maria agreed to take us on. Yes, ‘us’. I decided that since I had to fetch and carry Sophia, and wait around for her, and that my Greek could sure use some improvement, that I would go for lessons too. ‘I cannot teach the A-Level course’, she said. ‘I’ve never done that…’ But I was adamant that passing the exam was less important that attaining proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing, and I had the course materials and past papers to work with when we reached that stage, so we began classes on Saturday mornings using a textbook for foreign students that attend Thessaloniki University and need proficiency in Greek before attending their degree classes. Sophia found the review of the basics boring, I found it necessary, and we both found ourselves enjoying the experience – and learning from the varied reading and writing exercises that she gave us every week.

The experience was not to last. Family obligations meant that Maria had to give up our Saturdays, so I went in search of another teacher. I found her in a neighbouring village, Anarita. Yes, she had taught A-Level Greek before, yes, her Saturday mornings were free.

We went to our first lesson a fortnight ago, and I was dropped in the deep end. I could make neither head nor tail of the passage that she gave us to translate, only realising that it had to do with t.v viewing, and that the author had a poor opinion of mass media. Sophia fared better, but found the piece tough going. Later at home, I showed it to Phil, a good English speaker, and one well-used to reading and writing formal Greek.

‘But this is hard even for me!’ he said, helping me through words, phrases, and metaphors while I scribbled down verbs and vocabulary for later memorization.

In class the following week – the setting is one for a true cultural experience: the extended family residence in the heart of the village, granny dying her hair, grandpa whittling, mum cooking behind the curtain that delineats our classroom from the rest of the house – I mentioned that maybe we could start with something easier, and Kyriaki agreed that that might be a good idea ‘But this isn’t a difficult passage!’ she said. ‘You’ll find much harder translations on the real exam.’ She passed us photocopies of declension tables, and lists of verbs that are irregular in the past continuous.

What we’re encountering is the split between teaching for accurate communication, for knowledge, for enjoyment – and teaching for the passing of an exam. Maria, with her experience, is able to cover both. Kyriaki, barely into her twenties, I think will struggle as the education system here is not geared to flexibility: she knows how to teach A-Level Greek, but not ‘Advanced Communication’ in Greek.

We’ll see. Meanwhile, I am filling out my photocopies, learning to decline irregular neuter nouns, getting to grips with the past continuous – a tense that we use practically interchangeably with the simple past in English (as we use the future continuous and simple future). I am reading the Little’s anthologies and working through their textbooks trying to catch up with Sophia in grammar and vocabulary, and have started reading The Little Prince.

I do a lot of waiting around in the car for one child or another to do one class or another, and now, instead of Suduko, I do Greek homework. The other day Sophia spotted my pile of books on the back seat: a ring binder, the Oxford Dictionary of Modern Greek, a fourth-grade textbook, our declension tables, an invaluable tome that I bought over a decade ago called Three-Hundred and Thirty Three Greek Verbs, and my Greek copy of St Exupery’s classic.

‘Mum,’ she said. ‘You really are a nerd, you know? But it’s ok. I still love you…’

Dietary Changes

My family (touch wood) is blessed with good health. But there have been a couple of outstanding issues that various indications – synchronicity, anyone – have led me to consider allergy testing for the Littles. Yesterday, we went to visit my friend and GP, Dr N – a specialist in allergy testing through kinesiology and bioresonance.

Now kinesiology has always been akin to hocus-pocus to me. Hold a substance near your heart while someone tries to push your other arm down? Watch how energy makes a wand move in different ways? If I hadn’t seen water divining work time after time, and if I hadn’t seen kinesiology and bioresonance ‘work’ on my family and me, I would dismiss them like many others do, as quackery. But as it has always indicated accurately for me and the family, (at one low point when my shattered immune system didn’t seem to respond positively to anything, I asked Doc N to test me with respect to Best Beloved. Fortunately the result indicated compatability!), so I decided to give it a try for food sensitivities. If our experience after some weeks shows that it wasn’t accurate, we have other routes to follow.

I ran through the symptoms. Zenon was tested first and his results showed an allergy or sensitivity to lactose (fits with his bowel problems), pork, lamb, citrus, sweeteners and sugar, and mushrooms. Leo was next and tested positive for gluten (fits with his hyperactivity), cocoa, pork, lamb, and citrus.

My domestic life just got a little harder – shopping and cooking just became more complicated.

‘I’m moving out!’ Best Beloved said, when I told him, that the results meant no more souvlaki for the boys – our regular Friday barbeque. ‘I’ll take the foukou up to the quarry and eat there all on my own…’ He was slightly mollified to learn that the boys could still have barbequed halloumi, which is a mixture of goat and sheep cheese. ‘But no pitas!’

Best Beloved, despite niggling minor health issues of his own, resolutely refuses to submit to testing. ‘I like my food, I like my life. If my food kills me, I will die happy!’

Both the Littles are surprisingly acquiescent. They realise that food sensitivities, particularly in childhood, are often temporary, and removal of the allergen can lead to readjustment in the future. In the meantime, I turn to a superb website, Elana’s Pantry, for alternative cooking tips and substitutes for omnipresent gluten, and realise – once again – that the adventure continues!