Gastronomy

Nick the Greek / El Griego Nick

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Nick the Greek

Sometimes childhood recollection seems stronger than present experience. I know this sounds all very Proustian, only for me today, it is not the smell of steaming madeleines, but rather the tart astringency of my mother’s yoghurt. Mum learnt it from the Greeks. At 25 she was on a ship to Athens via North Africa. Fortunately she turned down the marriage proposal of Nick, the Greek soccer player she met on her way or else this story, as much as its author, would never have come into fruition.

I learnt how to prepare it, and also how the Greeks prepared it. Apparently, every household had a pot that was left at the front doorstep overnight. In the early hours of the morning the milk man would come past each door and fill the pot. By breakfast time, it would be ready for the family to haul into the kitchen from the hot Mediterranean sun.

I could tell by Mum’s tone that she wished we had a milk man to fill our yoghurt pot, as in Greece. I guess she made her own yoghurt out of a frustration with the gelatinous farce that was 1980’s shop bought Australian yoghurt.

I’d drag one of the wooden chairs, with intricate wood carvings in recession, across the wooden floor to the kitchen bench top that overlooked our jungly garden. Climbing the chair to add to my 5 year old height, I’d soon be by Mum’s side as she prepared the milk. She would boil, mix and finally pour it into her brown earthenware yoghurt pot.

In the scorched summer mornings Mum would place the pot, brimming with milk, out on a wooden chair under the sun, wrapped in a tea-towel, to incubate. By dinner time, after a few hours of refrigeration, we would cup our own cool bowl filled with it, scooping it into our mouths as it swum in the mahogany juice of  home stewed plums.

Today, I echoed my mother’s frustrations for shop bought yoghurt. It’s sitting by my window garden now, waiting to incubate while I write at the library. Though ironically, given the Melbourne weather, it’s started to rain.

Oh! For a Mediterranean sun!

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El Griego Nick

Se que esto puede sonar muy Prusiano, pero algunas veces los recuerdos de la infancia parecen más fuertes que las experiencias del presente. Para mi, hoy no estuvo presente el aroma de las magdalenas al vapor, pero si la fragancia de la tarta astringente del yogurt de mi madre.  Ella lo aprendio de los griegos  cuando tenia 25 años de edad y mientras viajaba por barco desde Africa del Norte rumbo a Atenas.  Afortunadamente rechazό la propuesta de matrimonio de Nick; el futbolista griego que conocio durante su trayecto, de lo contrario esta historia junto con su autora nunca hubiesen sido posibles.

Aprendi a como prepararlo y tambien como los griegos lo preparaban: Aparentemente cada hogar dejaba un recipiente en la entrada de la casa durante la noche, que luego muy temprano en la mañana, el lechero pasaba de puerta en puerta llenandos. A la hora del desayuno, el Yogurt ya estaba al punto debido al calor mediterraneo, asi que esta vasija podia ser  arrastratrada hacia la cocina para la familia.

Por el tono de mi madre deducì que ella deseaba que nuestro yogurt fuese como en Grecia.   Y creo que apartir de su frustracion por la gelatina artificial disponible en las tiendas de los 80’s que dio origen al yogurt australiano, ella empezo a preparar su propio yogurt.

Yo arrastraba una silla de madera, con grabados intrincados en el espaldar, atravez del piso tambien hecho de madera, para ubicarla junto al meson de la cosina que tenía vista hacia nuestro jardin selvatico, al treparme a esta silla ganaba más altura de la normal a mis 5 años de edad, de esta manera podia estar a su lado mientras preparaba nuestro yogurt.  En el proceso ella hervia, mesclaba y finalmente vaciaba la leche en una olla de terracota oscura destinada para el yogurt.

Durante las mañanas calurosas de verano, mi madre sacaba  al sol este recipiente rebosante de leche, previamente envuelto en un paño y sobre una silla de madera para que se aliñara. A la hora de la cena y despues de algunas horas de refrigeracion, ya podiamos llenar nuestras tazas con el producto final, el cual lo degustabamos al mezclarlo con el jugo caoba de los duraznos guisados en casa.

Hoy repreti la frustracion de mi madre por el yogurt comprado en la tienda. Por eso ahora mi propio producto esta reposando en el jardin de la ventana para que se aliñe, mientras estoy en la biblioteca escriendo. Ironicamente pienso en el clima de Melbourne porque ya empezo a llover.

Opa! Por un sol mediterraneo!

Translated by Fabian Rodriguez

Bolero and Ochre

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I have in my possession a little tin jar whose contents, once opened, storm the senses whilst weaving and dancing through my cuisine with the stamp of smoky feet. It burns the floor red and bites the tongue. This little tin receptacle contains pimentón dulce (sweet, spicy paprika) first sourced from a Spanish Vendor in Borough Markets London. I’d spotted it while meandering past the dry and fleshy jamones as they slid and fell into hefty mounds, trophies of the cheeky butchers that carved them in constant secession. 

I’ve learnt that where your pimentón dulce hails from is important. In fact there are even Denominations of Origin for paprika the most esteemed being the southeastern Spanish coastal province of Murcia.

My little tin is old worldly labelled Bolero and boasts a dancing couple posturing with the whisper of ruffling crimson and petticoats. It sits beside me as I write. Admiring its label, I pick it up and with clumsy fingers, drop the tin with a clunk to the floor. Cursing my fate and tendency to drop and break whatever dainty article comes my way, I instead look to my lap and below and there it lies, like vermillion ochre, coating my seat and painting the floor like in ceremonious ritual. I can’t help but breathe deeper, inhaling through my nose as the air grows in dimension- sweet and smoky. I am reminded of paellas and the sizzle of chorizo that claims my husband’s breath after huevos rancheros. There allover the hard wood floor of our little art deco apartment here in Melbourne, lies the earth of Murcia, the ochre of Murcia.

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Kimchi nights

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My Kimchi

Tonight the icy arctic wind binges in the bay. Whirling and biting, it skews my hat and unsettles my scarf. The air jabs and teases my appetite. I’m hungry.

Maybe my craving for warmth prompts me to reach for the kimchi. So here we sit. Ensconsed in blankets, perched upright against the hardboard of the bed, eating kimchi. The astringent Gochu (chilli) infused cabbage bites my palate as I roll it in steamed rice and barley filled toasty seaweed rolls. Chopsticks move speedily, molding the barley and rice into petite little clumps. I try to assemble a perfect fold with the crisp small seaweed sheets. Perfect and proportionate the serves crackle and flake in my mouth. A basic fare we have pared it down to the staples, well Korean staples that is. Kimchi and rice I conclude is like pasta and cheese- a gastronomical love union, an affair that never grows tired.

Kimchi nights.

Cider and Crêpes

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In my teenage years the cooking escapades escalated. I’d outgrown my recipe misreading days and had started to actually get some things right. I was blessed with the good fortune of a little sister, in fact a toddling and later preschool aged sister which among other benefits granted me with stronger rationales to make decadent breakfasts. At age fifteen I developed quite the penchant for lemon and sugar filled crêpes. Those who knew me as a teenager would not be surprised that I often referred to them as craps, finding myself to be incredibly witty and naughty at the same time, I’d giggle uncontrollably when declaring to my degustation buddy, “Craps are served” to the chagrin of my proper mother and her tenacity for keeping our language clean and our grammar pure.
The first attempts were impatiently undertaken – clotted mixture and unchilled batter a poignant reminder to my parents of my early epicurean days where gluten flour was once mistaken for plain and orange syrup donuts which met their unfortuitous and rubbery end in the scrap bucket under our kitchen sink top while I cried salt tears over a disappointed dessert.
House Cider at Breizoz
House Cider at Breizoz
 A few nights ago I rekindled my love for buttery crêpes, rice paper fine at Breizoz on Gertrude Street. In the balmy light we sat with decorum, sipped cider from Breton mugs, chatted and became more Francophilic by the minute. We were all very well behaved and grown up and  let me say, not one of us said “crap” at the dinner table, including yours truly.
Poached pear with chocolate Crêpe at Breizoz
Poached pear with chocolate Crêpe at Breizoz

The Leviathan in my Bowl

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Octopus out of Focus. Yumiko Utsu
Octopus out of Focus. Yumiko Utsu

He arrives at our table. Short, stout, pristine. Dyed and slicked with shine his jet-black hair glistens and frames an aged face. Almond eyes glisten. English vowels are clipped and chopped to the minutest proportions as he notes down our menu on a fresh, sharp cornered notepad cupped in wrinkled hands.

Near our table sits a Vietnamese couple surrounded by many platters that bely nostalgia for homeland. One platter has been intriguing me even up until the old gentleman stands guard by our table , butleresque. I can’t stop exclaiming to Mr Divageiger about it. Leaves of lettuce, assembled like crispy green clouds almost float off the plate in gregarious ebullience. Mr Divageiger keeps misunderstanding my subtle verbal explanations and I can hardly gesticulate and start pointing. So I give up and instead watch them roll the leaves, expertly. Rolling and dipping, rolling and dipping.
As our order is taken the couple crunch their way through the platter. The old gentleman’s signet ring glints at me. Etched gold with an asiatic image embossed into deep red stone, it grips his right ring finger. Polished. Stately. The fate of tonight’s Phô seems assured.
Chilli infused steam winds it’s way through my nose. I reach for the condiment dish and ladle fresh puréed chilli into my bowl. I load the little porcelain spoon several times until my bowl resembles a red carnelian sea. Bean sprouts are strewn, lemon is squeezed, the Vietnamese mint perspires its musky sweetness as my spoon meets the broth. It’s good to be home. For this is the taste of home for me. Good Asian cuisine served by a gentleman of old school Saigon reminds me of how far I have travelled in a week. Continental Bulgaria is eons away from Melbourne and its little Saigon. I declare we ought too visit Saigon, see it for ourselves, get lost in its French Colonial architecture and not so French smells.
I explore the bowl like an unchartered territory. I’m pincering crab-like with chopsticks chewy balls of seitan suggested to me as a meat substitute by the old guard Mr Saigon and flicking them into Mr Divageiger’s clay pot. Bartering in a sense for lemon grass infused beef morsels. But only morsels, please darling or I feel unfaithful to vegetarianism. Toying with my rice noodles, I spot it.
 
“Corazon, there is a vegetarian octopus in my soup!”
As I retrieve tentacle after tentacle, I laugh raucously. Imagine that…