Friday, December 16, 2011

'Homage to Catalunya'

Last week Best Beloved swept me out of my bucholic Paphos existence, down the motorway to Larnaca, aboard Ryanair's flight to Girona on the Costa Brava and into the Anba Deluxe B&B in central Barcelona. He did this despite my protests and churlish sulks (after nearly eithteen years together he has developed a leather hide, immune to my behavioural quirks and difficulties) and with the active connivance of Sophia who insisted that looking after the Littles for three days would not be a problem.

I admit: I didn't want to go. The thought of eight hours travelling for three nights and two days away put me off, and I hate driving and flying more with each passing year. Call it age or timidity, but both scare me to death. OK. Call me chicken.

He ignored my tantrums and booked anyway, assiduously researching wine shops and restaurants and sending me a booking form for a cooking workshop. Amid my grumblings last Thursday evening, he loaded me into the car, handed me the keys, and said “Let's go.”

I expected the drive to be a nightmare. It wasn't. I expected Ryanair to be shabby, late, and awful. It wasn't – packed to the gills, yes; charging for extras like the Light Brigade, yes; comfortable, no – but what airline is these days, except maybe, Emirates? We landed near midnight at Girona in a chilly mist and walked from the plane through a miasma of cow smells (I love walking from the plane like in the old days – it gives a whole new set of images about the country that you are entering – the plumeria smell mixed with rain and jet fuel in Honolulu, the dust in Israel, the pollution in Cairo, the goat scent that used to greet travellers in Larnaca before Cyprus got 'civilised' and acquired jetways), to the courtesy bus that took us to the airport hotel.

The next day we bussed into Barcelona and walked the couple of hundred metres to our accomodation. Leaving our bags we started our on foot exploration of the city centre, its plazas, its tapas bars and its shops. I had the Lumix with me, and BB was patient but I was far too excited to concentrate on photography. Wide avenues, narrow streets, trees, shops, vistas, squares, crowds. I was a boondocker, a sticks-dweller, in one of Europe's major cities, and I'm sure it showed. We lunched on tapas, and later stopped by Picasso's hang-out, the Four Cats – but couldn't get a table for coffee. A heavenly dinner came with a Michelin star – the tasting menu at Sauc – where I tried sea snails and learned that even Michelin-starred chefs cannot make cauliflower palatable. The dessert (chocolate brownie) came embellished with gold leaf. We staggered back to Anba, replete.

Saturday was dedicated to wine shopping and cooking class. BB found his wine shop and made his purchases, and we killed an hour or so in a quiet cafe before heading to class at Espai Boisa, a relatively new concept run by Venezuelan Claudia and her Catalan husband Pep which strives to make available – to visitors and residents alike – fresh, seasonal, organic ingredients and the instruction and space to turn them into wonderful meals. Together with California web-designer Joe, and Ohio lawyers Jill and Jeff, we made lunch of a sparkling gazpacho, a Catalan tortilla with eggs, onions, and potatoes, a salad of marinated peppers and eggplants, a paella with elements of surf (clams, mussels, and shrimps) and turf (traditional Catalan pork sausage), and a typical flan. We also consumed several bottles of local cava and wine, and listened to Venezuelan chef Alejandra expound on everything from the importance of organic agriculture and ingredients, to the state of her home country, to the evening's match between Madrid Real and Barcelona. Sparkling, vivacious, well-informed, and with graceful technique, she guided us through the meal and sat with us while we ate before leaving on her motorcycle to 'teach a cooking class'.

Any of my loyal readers planning a trip to Barcelona? I cannot recommend Espai Boisa enough. Not only do they teach cooking workshops, they also do catering and food and wine appreciation evenings with a range of different cuisines. Multilingual, young, passionate about what they do, Claudia, Pep, and Alejandra are a real asset to the cultural life of the city.

The walk back to Anba took us about an hour, and after a short rest, we plunged again into the heaving streets. I had seen some shoes that I wanted, and I wanted to take BB to the artisan cheese and sausage stalls that I had discovered the evening before. We crisscrossed the old city for hours, sometimes in narrow lanes, sometimes jostling along the Rambla with Christmas revellers and football fans. At sometime around eleven – early for Barcelona – we returned to the B&B and tucked ourselves into bed.

The next morning, there wasn't time for much. A leisurely breakfast, the packing of our small bags, a walk through the winter sunshine to the park near the bus station where we sat and read until it was time to return to the airport. A winding down.

We didn't do the touristy things – the almost obligatory visit to the Sagrada Familia Cathedral or any of the museums or parks – there simply was not enough time to savour them. But now I know what to visit if – when – we go back: Gaudi's work is too crazy to miss..

The plane left on time and arrived in Larnaca early, BB drove us home, and I returned to my peaceful existence as a housewife and mother in rural Cyprus. Blessings on two friends who took the Littles Saturday night and Sunday, blessings on my Big Ones for looking after everything in our absence, and blessings on Best Beloved for ignoring my bad behaviour and taking me anyway.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sophia and the Thai Cookbook

A few Saturdays ago Sophia, sitting at the kitchen table drinking morning tea, gestured at the cookbook shelf saying: “Mum, please put that Thai cookbook away. It reminds me of the lovely food that we had at the Chilli Pad in England last month...” And I said: “Well, why don't you have a look through it and see if there's anything you'd fancy making?”

“Is it that easy?” she asked. “Can we get the stuff here?” Sophia has never displayed culinary tendencies – or even interests – before, although left with detailed instructions, she has been known to produce a roast chicken in my absence.

Mili had given me the book, Stylish Thai in Minutes, several Christmases ago, and although I had flipped through it drooling slightly, I had never used it.

She took it down from the shelf and quickly established that we had 'the stuff' for Barbequed Prawns on Lemongrass, “If,” she continued “I can use a griddle and don't have to light the foukou.”

“Yes,” I said. “That is indeed possible.”

So we had prawns on lemongrass skewers (“I am never harvesting lemongrass again!” she harumphed, emerging from our clump with cuts to face and hands from the razor-edged blades) for brunch that day. A few days later, the boys being at school and Best Beloved at work, she produced fried meatballs with a tasty blend of fish sauce, coriander, onion and garlic in addition to minced beef (“These are just Thai keftedes!”) for our midmorning snack. And now that I have found Spring Roll wrappers, I'm sure we are on our way to something else.

“I'm not quite ready to start on the main courses yet,” she said. That's ok, Sophia. We're all enjoying the appetisers...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Gallery: My Kitchen

This week, the Gallery's prompt is 'My Kitchen'.  Please follow the link to see how other Gallery members interpreted the theme.



My friend Cleo came over one morning for some baking. She and her four children and me and my two younger ones made plain rolls, olive rolls, and some wonderful cheesy pull-aparts with a filling loosely based on the recipe from Greek-Canadian food blogger Peter Minakis – but incorporating some of my mother-in-law's jewel-like cherry tomatoes.

I love the hands-on aspect of breadmaking, the texture and feel of kneading, the smell of rising dough. For kneading technique, we freely adopted our own take from Martin Bertinet's Dough, which incorporates a lot of banging of dough onto the table.

It is one of my favourite kitchen memories, and I'm glad that I had my trusty little Lumix on hand to record it.  

Cleo and her family are leaving to return to the UK on Monday, and we will miss them.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

It's Raining!

And the system is working – or seems to be from what I can see...

Best Beloved took a weekend last month and we connected all the tanks together at the bottom, leaving a reserve of about four tons should there be a need for firefighting – not that four tons would make a big difference, but having a reserve also helps with cleaning and leaves room for sediment to settle out. We cut a hole for the outlet to which we can connect a portable electric pump (we looked at a permanent solar pump, but it was not cost effective), and connected a tap.

And then my dear husband climbed a ladder and installed air locks on the top of each tank. And then my dear husband fell off the ladder... Yes, he did, from right at the top of the tank – about 2.3 metres up. And he's a big man, so when he falls it is with a thump. A large black bruise graced his hip for ten days, and he felt distinctly like he needed realignment, but there was no permanent damage.

After that came the difficult part: connecting the guttering to the tanks. We used 63 mm hose – and fortunately we had enough lying around that we did not have to buy it – and created a sloping route for the water to flow from the collection/filter tanks that contain gravel and are positioned under the downspouts, over the outside steps, and into the tanks. The hose is heavy and hard to force into the connecting pieces, and two of the connections were in places where BB could get no leverage at all. Watching him, I was terrified that he would fall again because he had to balance high on the ladder that was in turn balanced on the stairs – and both hands were occupied with forcing the hose into the join.

Ugghh!! We were both glad when it was over. It's butt-ugly (no pun intended), so we will need to do some plantings to disguise, or at least soften the starkness.  But first let's see how it works.

Rain has fallen steadily since Saturday afternoon, and the gutters have been doing their job. Standing beside the big tank, I can hear the satisfying drumming of water falling steadily inside, but the tanks have not yet filled to the reserve level, as when I open the tap at the end of tank four, nothing comes out.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Olives 2011

I took the olives this morning.  We have far fewer trees than two years ago, and this time of the year no longer holds the stress of years past.  It could almost have been called a doddle ...

The picking was a bit of a rush job as I wasn't planning to pick for another fortnight.  Then I noticed that much of the fruit had begun to change colour from green to purple, and the ones that I was going to use for eating either needed collecting or nets under them, and I knew that a decision had to be made... But next weekend Best Beloved is away in London, and it's Leo's ninth birthday party.  NOT a good scenario for an olive harvest.

So I put Alex and Leo to collecting the fat black ones that will be stored in brine, and while they were doing that, my brother-in-law came by to show us the new gadget that he had brought for harvesting his grove:  a whirly picking machine that runs off the battery of the tractor.

Alex kinda liked the idea of using that, and he managed to get his friend to come and help.  "Don't start the job if you think you might not finish it,"  I warned them.  "It needs to be done by Sunday so that I can take them to Anogira on Monday and we're first through the press."  Although Oleastro, the olive plantation and mill in Anogira village is organic, they handle other people's olives which aren't, so to keep the label 'Certified Organic Cold Pressed', I need to be first through in the morning.

They assured me that they would finish, and indeed they were by yesterday at around four.

This morning I loaded up the Land Rover, and after everyone had gone to school and Sophia had arranged a lift to her first set of entrance exams (terrible mother that I am, I had forgotten them!) at her old school, I set off through the beautiful morning.

Some serious fires burned on the slopes up to Anogira last summer.  Huge tracts of scrub were reduced to charred sticks and timber, and several houses and livestock corrals were saved either through the luck of a shifting breeze or the tenacity of residents and firefighters.  Burns stopped almost literally at the walls.  Must have been seriously scary.

I arrived at eight, put my 161 kilos of olives through the mill, and emerged an hour and a half later with 30 litres of oil. That should see us through the year.

The man who arrived just after me outs his olives into the

Anogira is the only press in Cyprus that uses millstones
to grind the olives.  They also have a museum and a
small cafe.

Andreas starts my olives' oil.

The two guys behind me in the queue.  The mill was quieter
this year than last -- maybe it's still early.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Tanks Arrived!

They came on Friday morning at about 11, trundling down the hill on a truck followed by a small crane.  And without much ceremony the crane hoisted them out and positioned them on the concrete pad at the bottom of the slope beside the house.  Alex did not come home after school, and stayed out with friends until late in the evening.  When he staggered in, somewhat the worse for wear, he thought that we had been occupied by an Alien Force.  Too many computer games, obviously...

On Saturday and Sunday Best Beloved, with some help from me from time to time, constructed the hose system that will carry the rain from the initial filter tanks into the storage tanks.  We are still missing some parts, but I will buy those this week and hopefully we will finish the job this weekend and start catching the rain!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rainwater Catchment System

At long last we are in the process of installing something that I have wanted for ages: a serious rainwater collection system. How I regret not researching water conservation better when we were building this house! Retrofitting is so much harder than building to design... Where were my braincells when Best Beloved was urging me to 'really think about what you want and how we can include it, because making changes later will be hard, if not impossible'. 

Leo and I (see his feet sticking out?  He's holding the flange
inside the barrel while I tighten the outside) experiment with
creating a filtration barrel.  The barrel will be contain a layer
of stones and gravel, and will filter debris from the water after
the initial 20 minutes of rain have cleared the roof of dust and
 bird poop. The final version will have the outlet emerging
from the bottom of the barrel rather than the side.

...But that's another story... Mea culpa, he was right.

Water conservation is not high in Best Beloved's agenda. He believes that rain should be allowed to run off the roof, soak into the earth, and recharge the water table 'in its natural cycle'. I agree, but think that that rain should be made to do as many things as possible before being allowed to slink off underground and run to the sea. And that in a country as dry as Cyprus (Paphos regional rainfall is 50 centimetres per year – almost all of it falling between the months of April and November), it should be everyone's responsibility to catch rainwater and use it instead of relying on the dams and the – often antiquated – village cisterns and delivery systems. Add to our arid conditions the fact that tens of thousands of people have moved here over the last few decades with their requirements for swimming pools, lawns, and manicured golf courses, and you will see that the strain placed on our water sources and the conventional management practices, is growing every year.

Hence my mania for water storage and recycling.

Best Beloved, I reasoned, wants a swimming pool in the future. Maybe we can create some kind of rainwater natural pool..? (Impractical, it turns out, thanks to the harshness of our climate and the total lack of experience in the matter in Cyprus. There are a few in Israel, but we were unwilling to gamble on the expense of creating one here and ascending the learning curve on our own.) Maybe at least we can catch the same quantity that we would use in a pool and recycle it back into domestic and garden use? That is a distinct possibility – and more.

Strangely Cyprus, despite hosting seminars for our neighbours the Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians to learn about rainwater recycling togther on neutral territory, has no initiatives of its own for catching rainwater – or, novel concept, for collecting and sharing water and knowlege with our Turkish Cypriot bretheren. If the Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians can combine their interest and expertise and weave their shared experience into another strand which strengthens the possibility of peace between them, why can't we? But that, too, is another story for another day...

Over the last year or so I have been researching madly: reading books and contacting experts as far-flung as Israel, Australia, India, and Arizona. Following raincatcher guru Brad Lancaster's instructions, I have improved the land's ability to retain water by constructing berms and mulched basins around the fruit trees, the olives, and any other plants, and have been looking at the house and pondering how to use our enormous roof area (132+ square metres on the main structure alone) to maximise water collection.

D-Rain tanks seemed to be one possible solution, with the siting of a massive underground tank at the bottom of the driveway, but a quote from the German company that produces them was prohibitively expensive – and that was before we had even included the local construction costs.

Only the main part of the roof will be guttered.  Collection/
filtration tanks will stand at both ends of the house, sending
 the collected rainwater to the large holding tanks on either

The catchment for the main part of the house – excluding the verandahs and the roofs of the lower rooms – is around 66 tons, using the figure of 50 centimetres of rainfall per year. Siting of tanks and positioning catchment systems took hours of pondering and discussion spread over a couple of weeks, and here, BB's clarity of thought won out over my unreasoned vision. “We'll put the first tanks on the lower terrace of the slope on the kids' side of the house,” he said. “And depending on how well the system works, we'll bring a digger next year, level parts of the other side, and put in some more there.” Meanwhile, we would install guttering on the upper roof (the lower, verandah roof does not have sufficient height to allow for a collection/filter tank underneath with enough slope to run off to the holding tanks. Most of the run-off from the verandahs and lower roofs is already channelled into garden beds and the area where eventually the pool and lower garden will be landscaped, and that which isn't accounted for will be easy to deal with at a later date.

The 2.4 x 11m terrace which will hold the first installment of
four 8-ton rainwater holding tanks for use in the garden.

I checked several websites for tank manufacturers. Varelplast in Larnaca makes twenty-ton tanks, but they are too big to put on the side terrace, so we have opted for an in-line connection of four eight-ton capacity polyethylene tanks from VitaPlast in Nicosia. An English company, DrainTech came out from Paphos to give me a quote for heavy duty PVC guttering, but their price was double that of a Cypriot company's aluminium work – which seems to do a fine job directing the water from Phil and Mili's roof – so we're going with Windorama. They are coming to do the work while Sophia and I are in the UK inspecting boarding schools for next year.

Best Beloved and I worked out a gravel filter system for the initial collection tanks, and he has arranged for several local craftsmen to create the structures that will hold them and install them in our absence: frames for the big blue barrels and galvanised archways to carry the downspouts from the guttering over the walkways and into the big tanks.

The blue filtration barrel is not in its final position.  The first
array of tanks will be on the terrace below the fig tree, and the
pool will ultimately be in the flat area in front of the van.

I can't believe that we are finally doing this... Oh, Asproulla of Little Faith, didn't he promise you at the end of last summer that we would do it before this winter? And has he ever broken a promise?

Watch this space for updates! 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Shoes -- for The Gallery

I do quite a bit of photography at the Paphos-area community art studio, Turtle and Moon, which is run by my friend, Lise.  My children do art classes there, I facilitated a creative writing workshop there, and something creative is always going on.  It's a place where I like to have my camera to hand.

Most of the pictures I take are of artists or artwork -- the majority shot on or above table level.  But it's always worth sneaking a peek below.  Shoes, and how people wear them (or don't) are a source of endless fascination for me.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Paphos Water Park

Today saw the Little Ones and me 'Follow the Frog' as the marketing slogan urges, and make the annual pilgrimage to the Paphos Waterpark. Like the once-in-a-summer trip to the fun-fair, the waterpark excursion is one that I dread, but that I arrange because it brings so much pleasure to my children.

I resent the cost. Adults (that's anyone over 12) pay 29 Euros each, children (3-12) pay 15 Euros, infants enter for free – and that's the off-season rate in September! No food or drink may be brought in, and the price of a meal is high – 12-15 Euros for a burger, chips, drink, and ice-cream. For us to go as a family costs an arm and a leg, so it was with relief that I heard first Best Beloved, then Alex, then Sophia, express no desire to go.

Zenon, Leo, and I arrived at the gates just as they opened at ten this morning with our bags including some water smuggled from home, set up camp under the trees, and spent the rest of the day there.

I am not into places like this. I hate the rides: whizzing down water chutes, spinning through Black Holes, climbing volcanoes that spout water? Not my thing. Floating down the Lazy River in a big yellow ring or splashing in the kiddie pool (the kiddie slide is about the fastest I can cope with) is about my speed, but anything else – forget it. I hate the smell of suncream and the sight of oiled up, sweaty, roasted skin... And queueing for twenty minutes in the sun? No freakin' way...

But when we arrived, I realised that my days of having to deal with all of that is over.  I no longer have to follow the Little Ones around and deal with crowds, sunburn, and feeling ill on water-slides: Zeen and Leo can both swim, are big enough to look after themselves, and don't want Mum around twittering at them to 'be careful'! They dumped their towels and sandals and rushed off leaving me to contemplate a whole day's chance to read in the shade: ok, it came with a hefty price tag for entrance and meal, but on balance, my kids had a great time being completely engaged and active – no sitting at the computer or in front of the tv, no bickering, no fights that needed defusing... And Sophia and I spend that much on a morning of 'female bonding' with pedicures, lunch, and such.

I made forays out from under my tree to go with the Boys from time to time to watch them on a ride, or to take pictures. Leo loves the Lily Pads, and Zenon was keen to try diving. Zenon and I shared a ride in a double ring down the Lazy River, and I remembered taking both boys when they were babies (has the waterpark really been open that long?) Leo and I had lunch together, and Zenon went off by himself to eat at a later stage. We shared icecream and sips from the clandestine water bottle.

The lifeguards shooed us out as they started shutting down the pumps at 5 p.m. By then, Leo's teeth were chattering, and even Zenon had had enough. I had made it through the whole of The Way of the Warrior – book one of the Young Samurai series in which Zenon is currently immersed. He had made friends with a boy from England who is leaving tonight but hopes to come back for a visit next year. They traded telephone numbers, and each family headed to its separate car

Next year I will not dread the ritual nearly as much -- might even find myself looking forward to it!