Kleftiko

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I love Mediterranean cuisine and when our weather here in Uruguay (Southern Hemisphere) changes from the hot days of summer into the cooler days of fall, into winter, I find myself wanting warm comfort food. The kind of dish that cooks slowly in the oven for hours (until the meat falls off the bone) with the sweet smell of rosemary, oregano, or wild marjoram wafting in the air, Mediterranean style.

When I lived in Cyprus in the early 70s, I had a wonderful cook book titled “A Cyprus Cook’s Calendar.” It was written by a British writer, Sue Lennane, for the British Forces Broadcasting Service in Cyprus in 1969.  A delightful month by month cook book, it provided recipes based on fruits and vegetables available and in season. I used it often and was sad to lose it, along with everything I owned, following the Cyprus War in July 1974.

Years later, while living in Frankfurt, Germany, a friend who was my neighbor in Cyprus, sent me a copy of the cook book (the original First Edition 1969). I was thrilled because it had so many of my best-loved Cypriot recipes in it.

One all-time favorite is a recipe for slow roasted lamb, called Tandir in Turkish and Kleftiko in Greek. Lamb Kleftiko, roughly translated, means stolen meat. Legends say that thieves would sneak onto a remote Greek hillside and steal a lamb or goat, and cook the meat for hours over coals in a hole sealed with mud to prevent steam escaping and alerting the shepherd who previously owned the animal.

In Cyprus, Kleftiko is cooked in a sealed earthenware pot with a narrow opening buried in the earth, with a fire under it, and left to cook very slowly for hours. Kleftiko pots are still sold in Cyprus. (See picture on the front cover of the cook book.) Since my Kleftiko pot was also left behind in Cyprus, I’ve reverted to using a large, deep casserole dish, covered with aluminum foil and a tight fitting lid.

Lamb Kleftiko (Serves 6)

Ingredients:

2 lb. lamb (a piece of leg or loin cut up)
salt and pepper
2 T.  olive oil
oregano or wild marjoram
juice of ½ lemon
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cup red or white wine
1 large onion (peeled and cut into quarters)
1 T. peeled and chopped garlic

Preparation:

Place the meat and olive oil in the Kleftiko pot or casserole dish. Add the onion and garlic. Sprinkle with oregano, salt, pepper,  lemon juice, and red or white wine. (A glass of wine is also recommended for the chef and any helpers.) Cover the top with aluminum foil and place the lid on top. Cook in a moderate oven, No 3, 325º, for 3 hours. Turn off oven and leave simmering for an extra hour.

Kleftiko is rustic, delicious, and finger-licking good. Serve over a bed of al dente pasta or rice. It’s extra delicious when served with eggplant ratatouille.

ENJOY!

Tranquilo is nice!

 

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“Wherever you go, there you are…” is a quote attributed to the teachings of Buddha. No matter how far away we go in hopes of finding greener grass, there’s no getting away from ourselves.

My husband and I moved to the mountains of central Mexico in 2006 and immediately got to work designing our dream home on an extra large lot in the small village of Tzurumútaro, Pátzcuaro. We lived in the small casita while our big house was being built. Our Mexican contractor decided our dream home should be even grander and built us a beautiful Mexican colonial mansion with illegally cut pine beams (which we learned about much later, that’s another story …), baldosa floor tiles, beautiful stone arches (noticeably lacking the keystone), three fireplaces finished with elaborate wood mantels, a circular staircase, new windows to accent exquisite views, and French doors opening to the closed courtyard on one side and the large garden with pond on the back side. It was beautiful and spacious. Perfect for indoor and outdoor living.

But after the sledge hammers stopped pounding from gutting old walls and the concrete mixer’s revolving drum stopped its noisy spin, we began to realized the noise wasn’t going to stop.

Trains rumbled through our village up to ten times a day and blew their horns repeatedly to caution pedestrians to move off the tracks. Since our property line was less than 70 meters from the track, the noise was unavoidable. In addition to the rumble of engines and screeching or axles, the incredibly loud train horn: LOOONG LOOONG SHORT LOOONG preceding the town’s two level crossings. One of which was, you guessed it, one block from us, or 15-20 seconds before the train arrived, which is exactly when a train is required to blow the signal. Opposite us, a couple houses down, periodically we’d hear frantic, very loud squealing of a pig. We never found out for sure what that was all about. I wore ear plugs to muffle that. And, every time someone died, the local religious rites included fireworks set off every twenty minutes to commemorate the life of the deceased. The fireworks, rockets that went up 100 meters then exploded with deafening concussions, continued until the body was taken away. In the meantime all dogs for miles around howled and barked for hours on end, making it difficult for me to sleep at night and to concentrate and write by day. A writer friend of ours, doing research for a book on the culture of Mexico, came to the conclusion that Mexicans were actually sleep deprived because of noise.

Mexicans do know how to celebrate and do it often. There are official holidays observed nationwide and numerous local festivities to honor religious events or public celebrations. In 2008, I counted forty-four holidays that were celebrated with rockets (cohetes), firecrackers, sparklers, rattles, drums, loud music, a parade, and lots of noise. Numerous times, in the middle of the night, I was jolted awake by aerial explosions. And after experiencing the war in Cyprus in 1974 where the bombs bursting in air were real bombs, I cringed at the cacophony of any nerve racking noise.

In 2009 my husband and I traveled from our small village in Mexico to a small country in South America which was getting good reviews, and seemed like it might be a quieter place — más tranquilo. Although we loved many things about Mexico (the customs, the traditions, the art, and the delicious food), the constant noise was wearing us down.

While vacationing in a small Uruguayan beach town, we often sighed and smiled at each other realizing we had found a quiet place. By day, we walked the beach and explored other small towns and villages nearby. All seemed tranquilo compared to our village life in Mexico. Each night we slumbered deeply, lulled to sleep by the soothing sound of waves lapping and swirling along the sandy seashore. By the end of our first stress-free week, we decided to move to Uruguay. My head tingled with excitement, knowing I would finally be able to finish an important project I had been working on for many years—my memoir.

We moved to Uruguay end of 2009. I felt a flood of creative energy wash over me as I walked barefoot along the sandy beach near our new home in Atlantida. I could hear myself think. Aah! Gentle waves tickled my toes and senses, and writing became a joy again. I finished my book, “The Lullaby Illusion,” in 2013. Happy to say in that same year, I only counted seven noisy holidays in Uruguay. Tranquilo is nice!

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Susan Joyce on Epicurious.com

Susan interviewed on Epicurious.com

Initially, the web site editor picked a photo of American barbeque to represent Uruguayan asado, which is almost sacrilege! (Quickly corrected when we pointed it out ;-)

Apparently Uruguayans and Argentinians get great amusement out of seeing North American ads for “flame-grilled” steaks. In Uruguay and Argentina, flames never touch the meat. The wood is burned on the side, and the coals raked underneath the meat, which cooks at surprisingly low heat for a not-surprising long time.

You can see an explanation in this video, from 0:45 to 2:45.

 

Uruguayan Asado, kid style

By Fedaro (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Fedaro (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Except for the green paint and floor, this could be our parillero. Well, that and the fact that it’s stocked with wood and actually being used. ;-) Two hours is an awful long time to cook a meal …

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… unless you’ve got plenty of beer, friends, time, …

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… and perhaps a Playstation and flat-screen TV ….

Give Peace A Chance!

Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot school girls on their way to public school in Kyrenia, Cyprus 1973.

Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot school girls on their way to public school in Kyrenia, Cyprus 1973.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, on 20 July 1974, I awoke to the distant drone of aircraft. Stunned, I sat up in bed and listened. Planes. Getting louder. The realization sent shivers down my spine. I placed my hands over my heart. “Oh, my God!” I gasped. “It’s the Turks!” I looked at the clock—5:20. The crack of dawn. I jumped from bed and screamed, “The Turks are attacking.”

Moments later, a series of explosions awakened the entire sleepy, seaside village of Kyrenia, Cyprus.

It happened 40 years ago today but I still remember the details vividly; the sights, the smells, the sounds, the taste of dirt and rubble collapsing around me as I ran under the stairs for shelter.

My peaceful life in Cyprus was blown apart first by the Greek Officer’s coup on 15 July 1974, followed five days later by the Turkish invasion on 20 July 1974. Thousands of lives were shattered forever by the atrocities, including foreigners who like me who lived there. To this day I marvel, bewildered at how at how a tranquil place, seemingly paradise, could be rendered a living hell in the space of a few days. The fighting between Greeks and Turks almost started a world war because two NATO allies fought against each other. The island of Cyprus remains divided by a line cutting across the capital of Nicosia–the world’s last divided capital.

And there are conflicts and atrocities happening all over the globe; In Syria, Tunisia, the Gaza strip, Ukraine, the Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Egypt, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan.

The vast majority of casualties in any war are civilians, who neither want war nor gain anything from it. Quite the opposite. War defeats the human spirit. What will it take to bend history, and honor the will of the people over that of their “leaders?”

La Cuisine Seychelloise

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I was introduced to La Cuisine Seychelloise in August 1975, after a private yacht I helped crew docked in the port of Victoria, Mahe, Seychelles on the day after the Assumption Day festivities had ended.

By late morning we received clearance from the port authorities, and my husband and I were allowed to step ashore on the tropical paradise archipelago of the Seychelles. We had spent thirty days of mostly hellish weather in monsoon season crossing the Indian Ocean (from Sri Lanka to Diego Garcia) and another week of battering storms from Diego Garcia to the Seychelles. Physically and emotionally drained, we asked the English Captain to give us permission to disembark in Port Victoria. Knowing he needed crew to sail on up through the Suez Canal, he was reluctant to let us go. But knowing we were unhappy about the weird things happening on board between him and his crazy Israeli girlfriend (that’s another story!), he finally agreed to give us our passports and allow us to leave the yacht with our belongings. Prior to this adventure, I knew nothing about Maritime law and a captain’s supreme authority to do just about anything he wants, including not allowing passengers to leave the ship.

Grateful to touch solid ground again, I took a few deep breaths and shed happy tears. No more rubber sea legs, sea sickness, and no more being chained to the railing when working on deck. We had somehow managed to survive storm after storm, giant wave after walls of giant waves, and were now free to walk about on earth again. In paradise no less. Our first stop was the bank to exchange money. Next stop, lunch at a restaurant in the harbor! Real food? What a treat! Our eyes of course were bigger than our stomachs and we ordered more than we could possibly eat. We asked an Australian couple, dining at a table near by, for lodging recommendations. They immediately referred us to a private B & B owned by Eveline Man-Cham. “Her cooking is the finest,” the woman told me. “The country’s traditional cuisine. Creole cooking! You’ll want to eat there all the time.”

After lunch, and receiving numerous tourist tips from the waiters and other diners, we hired a taxi to take us to Mrs. Man-Cham’s place. We checked in and were given a snack of fried breadfruit cakes with afternoon tea. I oohed and aah-ed, and asked for the recipe. Mind you I didn’t have a clue what breadfruit was but Mrs. Man-Cham was happy to show me the breadfruit trees and explain the variety of ways the Seychelloise used it in cooking and baking. She invited us to join them for dinner before we left to explore the nearby beaches.

“I’ve prepared ladob patat for dessert,” she said as we were leaving. I obviously looked confused. She smiled and added, “sweet potato pudding.”

“Sounds delicious,” I replied. “We’ll join you.”

I spent hours walking along the beautiful white sandy beaches letting the topaz water tickle my toes. No one in sight. Heaven on earth! My husband enjoyed snorkeling and we sat on the beach and watched a glorious sunset.

Later that evening we enjoyed an exquisite dinner. Mouth watering delicious, from the Soupe de Tectec ((clam cooked in tomatoes, garlic and ginger), to the Gros Bourgeois de L’Ile Mahe (baked snapper with sauce), to the Cochon de lait rÙti (roasted pig), served with the Salade De Millionnaire (palmheart), followed by a Beignet de Giraumon (Pumpkin Donut), and last but not least the Ladob Patat.

We tried a few local restaurants during our three week holiday in the Sychelles, but always returned to Mrs. Man-Cham’s for the finest Creole Cuisine Seychelloise (a mix of Chinese, Indian, and French flavors).

On the morning of our departure, Mrs. Man-Cham presented me with a copy of her cookbook, 4th Edition 1973. I’ve treasured it all these years and often use her recipes.

Her son, Sir James R. Mancham became the Founding President of the Republic of Seychelles when the country became an independent sovereign State on the 29th of June 1976. Sometime later, I heard on the news that when he went to England, to attend the Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, he was deposed in a bloodless coup. A bloodless coup? Now that could only happen in paradise.

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Kraków Monuments

sjd,Krakow,chairs

In October of 2008, my husband and I took a train from Vienna to Krakow, Poland. We wanted to see if trains were still a fun way to travel around Europe. We discovered that a lot had changed. I had visited Krakow in the early 70s when it was still behind the Iron Curtain. Seemed strange not to have a border guard come aboard every few minutes and demand to see passports when we exited one country and entered another. As we neared Krakow, a new and more visually charming town came into view. Was it because the sun was shining? My memory of Krakow was of a dark and dreary city where people shuffled from place to place as though sleep walking. Like an old photo—sepia tone without light.

We stayed in a newly renovated fourth floor, walk-up apartment in an old stone building, one block off the 13th-century Main Market Square. Our window views of historical houses and churches was awesome. Unlike other Polish cities reduced to rubble during World War II, Krakow’s skyline had survived unscathed.

By day we walked the cobblestone streets around the lively square (the largest medieval town square in Europe, covering 10 acres) and ogled and awed at ornate mansions and Krakow’s rich cultural heritage. We visited the elaborate St Mary’s Church with its two slender, spired towers reaching high above the city. Horse drawn carriages pulled by white horses pranced about, taking visitors on short city tours. We toured museums, saw the world famous painting, Lady with an Ermine, by Leonardo da Vinci at the Czartoryski Museum.

Krakow boasts of  numerous world-class sculptures and magnificent monuments including the famous Florian Gatea—a medieval watchtower erected in the 13th and 14th centuries.  Bronze statues and marble monuments are everywhere. and can be found on almost every city block. Standing on the Square of the Virgin Mary is a charming monument of  a pensive student standing atop a fountain crying tears that flow into “The Fountain of the Student.” A tribute to Veit Stoss (in Polish: Wit Stwosz), it was presented as a gift to the city of Kraków. The legend says that if you throw a coin in the fountain, you will return to Kraków.

We sat for hours in small pubs and cafes discussing Krakow’s pleasures and treasures. On one street, we viewed unique examples of communist architecture. My artist husband Doug was impressed with the fabulous street graffiti. By evening we dined in both rustic and chic restaurants. Krakow was indeed lively.

One day we  toured the famous Royal Wawel Castle and admired its picturesque Renaissance courtyard. We laughed at a fun monument to the Wawel Dragon by sculptor Bronisław Chromy. The sulfur eating dragon belched smoke out in fire-breathing bliss. On our walk back to the main square, we viewed a sculpture of a giant bronzed head,  another of someone on a horse, and a copy of the weighty “Battle of Grunwald.” As one of the greatest battles ever to take place in medieval Europe, it was a defining moment in Polish history. We stopped to appreciate a gorgeous sculpture of an orphaned pup “Dżok (Jock)” had a touching inscription, “Most faithful canine friend ever, and symbol of a dog’s boundless devotion to his master.” This work was created by the same artist who designed the belching dragon. A collection box in the back of the pup sculpture encouraged visitors to help orphaned animals of Krakow. There were monuments commemorating poets, artists, musicians,  homeland, science, patriotism and valor.

But the most impressive monument was in the “Ghetto Heroes’ Square” in Kazimierz (made famous by the film, “Shindler’s List” by Steven Spielberg).   Founded by Casimir III the Great, Kazimierz was an independent city from the 14th to 19th century. A place where Jews and Christians lived side by side in harmony. Until the 20th century.

Entering the square, I saw the eerie display of empty over-sized bronze chairs honoring the murdered Jews of the Podgorze Ghetto. I noticed markings showing the former ghetto walls in the pavement, and a sacred place to burn memorial candles.

Overwhelmed with emotion, I took a deep breath and blessed all who had been forced from their homes and ordered to bring their earthly possessions (tables, beds, chairs, etc) to the square. They were then rounded up and taken away. Most of the 17,000 ghetto inhabitants perished in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II.

I sat on one of the chairs and watched clouds roll past overhead for some time. My mind slowed to a stop as I thought of all the horrors humans have had to endure because of wars. I reflected on those bright minds whose lives were snuffed out senselessly. I thought of the Cyprus War of 1974 and the lives that were lost there and my own personal crisis when I had to flee from my home and leave
everything behind, including my beloved cat. I felt so grateful to have escaped Cyprus alive.

Rejection Brings Gifts

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I received a big “NO!” slap from life many years ago when my husband informed me he wanted a divorce on grounds that I didn’t produce a child for him. After many miscarriages and the loss of a baby in childbirth, I was shaken by his insensitivity, his drastic move to end our marriage of 13 years. I tried to convince him, and myself, that we could adopt a child if this was the problem. Of course it wasn’t.

I cried and cried, feeling pitifully sad and abandoned. Worthless! I had given him my heart. What did I get in return? Rejection. I looked at my fearful face in the bathroom mirror, and with a little bit of surprise, asked myself, “What are you afraid of?”
The unknown, being alone? A voice questioned.
I searched deep into my eyes and let the conversation flow.
You’re not alone. You have yourself.
Love yourself. Trust yourself.
The best is yet to come.

Hours later, as a calm settled over me and the city of Frankfurt (where I was living at the time), a piercing cry interrupted my serene thoughts. Through thin walls, from the apartment next door, came squeals of laughter and shrill erotic screams. My thoughts scattered while my heart skipped several uncomfortable beats. Damn. Two guys. Having sex. Loudly! Initially horrified, I reacted: cranked up Billy Joel’s album, The Stranger, to the max. Singing along and dancing wildly, I no longer heard the ruckus from my horny neighbors.

Long after the album had finished, I got ready for bed. Cleaning my teeth and face, I observed light and love in my eyes. I smiled. Getting to know you.

That night I dreamed …
My husband broke into my apartment, rushed into my bedroom and pulled me from the bed. I tried to scream, but my voice didn’t work. He reached for my heart and tried to tear it out of my chest. Frantic, I waved my hands motioning for him to stop. When I screamed “NO!” … his grip loosened and his image faded to black. He vanished.

The next morning sunshine splashed across my eyes, My heart thumped a steady beat. I took a deep breath and smiled. I still have my heart. No one can take that away from me.

Transformed while dreaming, I felt grateful to be alive and thankful for the gifts rejection brought me—forcing me to explore my fears and encouraging me to love and trust myself.