Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hiding on the Pier, Laughing with Sardines.

I went to the market the other day and spotted fresh sardines. It had been years since I'd had them freshly cooked instead of eaten from a tin, adorning my morning toast.

I have a romance with food. It takes me places. Even on my travels my greatest memories are inextricably linked around food. Gelato and chianti in Roma. Baguettes, Nutella crepes and bowls of hot chocolate in Paris. The juiciest nectarines I'd ever had in my life from Barcelona. And sardines in Greece.

Cooking takes me back to these places, and buying fresh ingredients from a market is cheaper than an airfare.

Today for lunch I cooked the sardines. It reminded me of my childhood, visiting my grandparents. As Greek immigrants they'd operated a popular fish'n'chips shop in South Melbourne in the 1960s. At home they would always be cooking up fish, the pair of them dancing away at the frying pans filled with whitebait and sardines. It reminded them of their seaside life in the land they'd left behind.

My beloved Grandmother, affectionately known as Mitsa, passed away just over a month ago, at the stunning age of 92. Today I paid homage to her in my kitchen as I scaled the plump little fish, chopped off their heads and slid my two thumbs down the lines of their stomach, ripping their little guts out. I'm sure Yiayia would have been proud.

(Although, I wish I'd worn gloves. After gutting 1 kg of fish, I washed my hands with soap 3 times, slathered on antibacterial hand sanitizer, layered on lavender handcream and rinsed them in lemon juice and THEY STILL STINK!).

I lightly floured them and popped them in a pan to fry in olive oil for a couple of minutes each side until golden and, voila! Lunch is served!

Which reminded me also of the time I found myself hiding out on a pier, laughing in the company of sardines. Intrigued? Read on...

You may have heard the story of how I met my husband? I was on holiday in Greece, we met at a bachelor party? Not familiar with this romance? You can read it here.
Anyway, after a whirlwind romance, I said goodbye to my life in Australia and hello to new beginnings in a seaside town in northern Greece. For 2 years my darling and I ran a tavern by the sea. Think fried calamari, grilled octopus, saganaki cheese, chargrilled prawns, mussels poached with fresh tomato and feta cheese, fried zucchini chips, tzatziki, roasted eggplant, souvlaki skewers, I was cooking it all, baby!
By the end of our 2nd year in the tavern, tragedy struck with the loss of my father-in-law. It saw us sell the business so we could help out my mother-in-law.

Things in Greece were starting to get tough economically. Work was sparse and what was available didn't pay very well. My husband was approached to manage a restaurant at a nearby resort while I found  a job as a kitchen hand with my sister-in-law at a local beachside tavern. My wages were 18 euros a day for shifts that could last up to 10 hours. Slim pickings but these were desperate times.

My time there was joyfilled, surrounded by woman from various backgrounds. Aside from my sister-in-law, there was Georgia from the country of Georgia, a big bulky woman with short blonde hair, and Peppa, a motherly little lady with brigh red hair and blue eye-liner. She was from Bulgaria. She looked so much like Mrs Garrett from the TV show 'Facts of Life'.

Mrs Garrett from the 'Facts of Life'
Peppa had hands that must have been made of iron. When it was time to change the oil, she would grab the searing hot frying pan, lunge it into the sink and wash it while it must have been a million degrees. "Peppa!", I'd exclaim, horrified, "How can you do that? You'll burn yourself!" She'd laugh, exposing her teeth with gold fillings."Peppa, strong! Best way to clean pan is when hot! See?!" And she was right. The muck would just slide right off.

One afternoon, the tavern's phone rang. It was another restaurant warning the owner that inspectors were in the area checking for illegal workers. Everyone that wasn't on the books or insured by the restaurant owner had to flee until the inspectors left the area. I wasn't an illegal immigrant like Georgia or Peppa, as I had dual citizenship, but I wasn't on the proprietor's books so he wouldn't have to pay me insurance.

So there I was. Hiding out on a pier like a fugitive, among the bobbing little boats and sunkissed, stubbly fishermen. Peppa, with her radiant auburn bouffant, had smuggled out cucumbers and was offering them around. Georgia was puffing away on cigarettes and flirting with the fishermen. 
And me? I was dazzled by pools of shimmering sardines, golden flecks beaming in the sunlight, the situation was comedic. Crunching on a cucumber I laughed joyously to myself, "Only in Greece......".

Have you ever worked overseas? Any crazy stories to share?
Do you love sardines? How do you like to eat them?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Shooting for the Stars and Following Through

A new year has begun and I'm relishing in its newness, and in its possibilities.
I know the reality is that life is just one day, followed by another, followed by another, followed by another. Minutes become hours. Hours become days. Days become weeks. Week turn into months and months become years. Sometimes the days go quick. Sometimes they drag on. Some days meld into each other and you have no idea what day of the week it is. Fridays have a feeling. Sundays have a feeling. Mondays definitely have a feeling. What feeling does today have?

It is school holidays and my husband has just taken our girls to the park for a couple of hours. It dawned on me that for the past 32 days of school holidays this was the first time that I was actually home ALONE. A selfish delight welled up inside of me. What to do with this precious time? Laze about? De-clutter? Laundry? Read a book? Cook? Dance about my kitchen and sing along with Elvis?
What to do with THIS day?

The possibilities flustered me. Decision-making is not one of my fortés. My brain filters decisions in this order: other people's happiness first, then mine. I have wasted a lot of precious brain activity going through the pros and cons of a decision so that I come up with a win-win for everybody. It's exhausting having my brain sometimes.

I am essentially a people-pleaser. And pleasing people that I love genuinely makes me happy. Sometimes I feel that it's what I live for. But it's futile if you don't put that same love and energy towards pleasing yourself too.

And so, to put some sort of order and meaning into my life, I have come up with my Intention for this new year. I don't believe in New Year's Resolutions. I have always been disappointed by them. So instead I would like to live my life with Intention.
My intention, especially this year, is to Follow Through.

There are so many little projects and dreams I have been wanting to do. Some I attempt, but through disorganization and distractions they are left in utter disarray. Books left unfinshed. Attempts at jewellery making. Recipes ripped out of magazines. Places I'd like to visit. People I'd like to see. Things I'd like to do. Things I SHOULD do.

Often I think I don't have enough time, but really, that's just my lazy excuse. I need to be smarter with with my time. To sort out the chaos that runs through my mind, which usually is reflected by the state of my house, I have come up with some mantras to keep me focussed. Whether it is an action or an object, I will ask myself this:

What PURPOSE does this fulfil in my life?
It has to make life BETTER in some way.

Where does this BELONG?
This is to help me de-clutter. Everything should have a purpose, a function, a use. If it deserves a place in my home and my life, there has to be a dedicated space for it. If there's no purpose, it has to go.

What GOOD shall I do next?
This I interpret in many ways. It could be an altruistic gesture like visiting my grandmother to brighten up her day. It could be tackling one of those chores you've been putting off but once you've done it the result make you happy. An action that brings you satisfaction and joy.

And so, as I type, it suddenly dawned on me that a decision had been made. I chose to write. I wanted to re-ignite my passion for this little blogging space and I followed through, distracted, fuddled mind and all. The sound of keys in the door. Giggling girls carrying chocolate milkshakes followed by their smiling father bound in.

"Did you have some nice 'Mummy Time', mummy?", they ask.
"Yes, darlings. I sure did" I reply, arms out for hugs.

Mamma made a decision today.
Mamma followed through.
Mamma feels Good.

Did you make a New Year's Resolution this year?
What is your Intention?

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