Archive for the ‘Food & Drink’ Category

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Tried & Tested: Frozen Lemons

July 1, 2010

Having two mature lemon trees means that we have masses of fresh lemons for much of the year.  However, even when our lemons were sourced from UK supermarkets we went out of our way to get every last bit of use from them.

To make sure that they were ready to hand whenever needed, and had no chance of going off, we do the following:

  • Slice, overlap on a freezer-proof tray and freeze.  The slices behave best if they aren’t flat on the tray so use the ends to provide a support at one end of the run of slices
  • Once fully frozen separate the slices, bag and keep on hand until the next time a gin and tonic, vodka and tonic or glass of coke is poured
  • Because the lemon is frozen it’s possible to dispense with, or at least reduce the amount of, any ice needed

Frozen lemon slices

To squeeze the very last use out of the lemons:

  • Retain the end slices
  • Once frozen bag up separately to the slices and keep until kitchen-cleaning day
  • Boil the kettle, put two or three frozen lemon ends into a microwave-proof dish and add cold water
  • Make a cup of coffee
  • Place the lemon bowl in the microwave for two or three minutes on hot, go away and drink the coffee
  • Once it’s drunk return the kitchen, remove the bowl from the microwave and wipe down all the inside walls and surfaces with a cloth.  The lemon-scented steam generated by the bowl of water will have loosened any baked-on food, the lemon oil and juice will have fragranced and disinfected the microwave

Feel cheerful at the lack of effort involved in cleaning the microwave and the economy of using nothing but lemon ends which would have been discarded otherwise.

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Cyprus Cost of Living #4

June 24, 2010

*** Warning … Not for vegetarians … Warning ***

We knew when we moved here that we’d have to adjust some of our normal ways of shopping.  Things that we used to consider as economical would, undoubtably, become more expensive when we moved to Cyprus and vice versa.  Grocery shopping is one area where this is particularly obvious.

Were we to eat grilled pork chops, salad and jacket potatoes every night then grocery shopping would be both cheap and simple.  Pork is, by far, the most economical meat to buy and is available in more cuts than are normally seen in UK supermarkets and butchers.

Did you want pork chops or fillet or lounza or souvla or souvlaki or shoulder or nondescript cubed pork or ribs or bacon or belly pork?

In contrast lamb is hardly ever seen.  We once tried to buy some lamb mince (ground hamburger) from the butcher who provided our first ever Cypriot rib of beef but he wouldn’t sell it to us.  No, it would be too expensive, he said. He would happily sell minced beef or pork or turkey or chicken, but not lamb.  In part he was right; all of his meat is cut to order and when a customer wants mince he cuts a piece of meat from the carcass and minces it there and then.  That has the advantage that the mince can be customised for the customer.  Making hamburgers?  Then you’ll need a cut with slightly more fat to keep the burgers moist as the cook.

With the lamb he would need to cut and weigh and price the lamb before mincing it.  By the time the usable meat was removed from the bone then the relative cost would be high he explained.  Rather than disagree we bought something else instead and ever since have used a mix of beef and pork  in place of minced lamb.

So, plenty of pork, not so much lamb.  And beef?  Well there’s plenty to buy but, steaks in particular, seem be closely related to shoe-leather.  Nice to look at but tough, tough, tough meat.  It seems not to matter where the beef comes from as the imported French beef is just as bad as the local meat.  That suggests, and those in the restaurant trade have said similar, that it is the length of time the meat is matured for that is the issue.  We’ve tried to get around this a number of ways by marinading meat for great lengths of time or buying it well before it needs eating to give it a chance to mature a little extra and lose some of the toughness.

All of this has been in vain so we pretty much stopped buying steaks.  There are plenty of other things we can eat so why go through this angst for a meal that won’t actually be that good despite our best efforts.  The final straw was a pair of fillet steaks bought from the meat counter of a decent supermarket for a special anniversary meal.  We winced at the cost: 32€/kilo and even then the meat was mediocre at best.

So, having sworn off beef steak we were in Larnaca running some errands and decided to pop into an English-run store specialising in fish, all of which is frozen before being shipped to Cyprus.  We don’t eat a huge amount of fish and that’s something we’re trying to change.  Actually having some fish in the freezer seems a good first step.

What we hadn’t realised was that the owner has branched out into other frozen goods.  As we were nosing around the freezers for fish he mentioned in passing that he had some fillet steak which was on special offer.  Did we want some before the price went up?  The price was nice, very nice.  The catch?  This meat is intended for the restaurant trade and therefore is packaged appropriately.  This wasn’t some fillet, this was an entire fillet.  A little under 2kg and frozen solid.

After some debating we decided to take a risk on being able to separate it into more useable portions and bought one.

About 2kg of prime fillet steak

Half an hour with a hacksaw (and a nice new blade just for this purpose) and the fillet was cut into 6 pieces, each large enough for two respectable steaks.

One hacksaw later ...

We put five of the six meals in the freezer and allowed the final one to defrost for dinner that night.  As a first test it was a simple cooking process: seasoned on all sides, seared in a griddle pan for a couple of minutes on each side, allowed to rest for 10 minutes, sliced across the grain and served over a mix of peppers, onions and mushrooms.

It was superb; the meat was tender enough to eat with a spoon.

At last steak is back on the menu.  And the price?  A very respectable 15€ a kilo.

There are bargains here but they often take some effort to find.

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Plenty of lemons

June 1, 2010

The house smells of lemons.  We smell of lemons.  Right now it seems as if the entire world may well be lemon scented.

Today seemed the perfect opportunity to deal with the stockpile of windfall lemons from the trees.  It being our very first full year of lemon tree ownership we’re still getting to grips with managing the trees including when to harvest lemons to get the maximum amount of juice.  As a result of that, and combined with some high winds, we had a fair number fall from the trees.  About 50 or so.

The plan was to wash them, halve them, juice them and then freeze the juice in handy sized volumes.  Because the lemons had fallen we decided to forgo the zest this time.

It seem, having never juiced that number of lemons, we may have slightly underestimated the amount of time it takes to process that many lemons.  Several hours after starting we have a freezer full to the brim with lemon juice – a little over 4 pints (English pints so 80 fl oz all told) frozen in differing quantities.

There are lots of containers holding 4 fl oz for marinading meat for fajitas.  A good supply of 2 fl oz lollipops for lemon cakes and muffins and a dozen or so half ounce ice cubes for salad dressing and recipes which just need a small amount of juice.

The first third

The final two-thirds

A pint or two of lemon juice

As all this work was going on we could hear from the garden the sound of yet more lemons falling from the trees.  It seems unlike that we’ll run out this year.

Gin and tonic anyone?

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Bee part of it

May 24, 2010

Listening to UK news it seems that bees and bee-keeping are much in the news at the moment.

The BBC and the National Trust have come together to raise awareness of the plight of the bee, campaigning under the banner “Bee Part of It”.  The National Trust, a UK charity which owns and protects over 450 historic properties across Great Britain, is placing new hive colonies on some of its properties.

The campaign is getting a fair amount of coverage right down to Martha Kearney, the anchor of the BBC Radio 4’s daily news programme World at One bemoaning the loss of her queen bee over winter in between commenting on the newly elected government.  Happily someone was able to provide her with a replacement, via the post, and her hive is happy once more.

Over at the Times newspaper the weekly column, the Beekeeping Diary,  following the trials and tribulations of their newbie beekeeper has become a surprise hit.  He too lost his queen over the winter and received a replacement via the Royal Mail.  Who knew that it was possible to pop a queen bee into a post box?  For those interested just how to mail a queen see here.

Here in Cyprus beekeeping is a huge industry, but not a mainstream commercial one.  It isn’t possible to buy local honey in any of the big supermarkets, to do that it’s essential to keep an eye out for roadside stalls or head into the mountain villages and find a small family-run stores.

As part of the reporting of the new National Trust bee hives there was a passing reference to the actual locations not being made public.  The logic for this is that good hives are at risk of being stolen; hive rustling is a significant danger in the UK apparently.

This doesn’t come as a surprise to us as a result of the comments of some visitors a couple of years ago.  They were over in Cyprus this time two years ago and we spent some time with them visiting assorted locations across the island.  As we drove up towards Troodos they were shocked to see run after run of brightly painted hives by the side of the road, each group placed next to a lay by to allow convenient access for the hive owners.  In the UK this would be madness, an invitation for someone to steal the hives, they said.  Here, we observed, it’s perfectly normal.  Hives are left by the side of the road, or at the side of a farmer’s field or wherever is convenient for both the bees and the hive owner presumably.

About a month or so ago we drove around part of Lefkara dam.  The water levels were encouragingly high after the recent wet winter and the vegetation was fantastically lush and green.  At pretty much every twist in the dam-side track we came across hives, dozens and dozens and groups of hives.  Usually in Cyprus the hives are painted shades of blue; for reasons that aren’t clear a good number of the ones around the dam were in shades of yellow.  Oddly some, no more than one in each group, was marked with what appeared to be a crucifix.  In the photo below it can be seen in the top half of the middle hive.  Is all the honey from that hive destined for the local church or the monks at a nearby monastery?  Is this some sort of honey tithing?  So many questions.

Bee hives above Lefkara dam

Today our garden is alive with the sound of bees once more.  As far as we know the nearest hives are in a field about a quarter of a mile away on the drive into the village.  There is someone wonderful in the knowledge that bees from those hives are pollinating our citrus trees, giving us enough lemons for the coming year, as well as proving lashings of honey.

To finish up, some bee facts.

  • One bee would need to fly the equivalent of twice around the world to gather enough pollen to make a single jar of honey.
  • 40% of the world’s crops rely on bees for pollination
  • In the US alone bees are responsible for pollinating over $15 billion of crops per year with one mouthful in three directly or indirectly benefiting from bee pollination
  • Einstein is said to have stated (though there is a question about the attribution ) that if the bee population dies the subsequent chain reaction will result in all life on the planet dying out within four years

To find out more about the “Bee Part of It” campaign click here.

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The garden, mid-May

May 22, 2010

Another month, another round-up of the garden.

The main lemon crop needs picking.  Strong winds over recent days have dislodged a good number of ripe fruit; happily there are dozens more on the tree still.

Dropped Lemons

Our biggest challenge is finding homes for them.  There’s no question that we can use sliced lemons, zest and juice throughout the year and within a few months there won’t be ripe lemons left on the trees.  The only issue is just how much we can squeeze into the freezer.

The arum lilies have decided that they’ve had enough for this year.  The last of the flowers have gone and the foliage is dying back.  Once it has gone completely we’ll be able to have another attempt at lifting the remaining rhizomes and relocating them to elsewhere in the garden.  The narcissi have already had similar treatment; they were scattered in and around the area containing the monster yucca.  Having tied them up some months ago and allowed the foliage to die back we spent the good part of an afternoon searching them out and lifting them.  The plan, such as there is one, is to plant them in a series of containers which can then take centre-stage when they are in flower.

Elsewhere the pomegranate trees are in full bloom.  The flowers are absolutely fantastic and as the fruits set the petals fall from the tree creating a delicate red carpet across the donkey track.  Were it not for the minor rodent issue we would be absolutely over the moon with the amount of fruit we might expect.

Pomegranate flowers

An abundance of blossom

Pomegranate in full bloom

A carpet of petals

The pomegranate isn’t the only one bursting into life.  Last month we mentioned that the bougainvillea was putting on a massive amount of growth and the first colour had recently appeared.  In less than a month it has gone from a tiny amount of coloured bracts to being absolutely stunning.  As an added advantage, when the plant had this much growth it provides good and solid shade underneath which, as the days heat up, is very welcome.

Bougie, from above

Coloured bracts

More next month.

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German Lemons

May 3, 2010

There seems to be a theme to this week.

It is Sunday, the village has a decent size compliment of tourists. Most of them are German.  Blimey, these folks chatter; we can hear them coming from a street or two away.

We have been sitting in the garden at the new outside dining table getting on with important Sunday afternoon jobs.  A little reading, a killer sudoku or two, some daydreaming, a craft project.  The table is laden with all of the items needed for those as well as coffee cups and secateurs weighing light items down against an occasional breeze.

All of a sudden a tourist ventures into the garden.  With no preamble he asked:

Are you tourists?

Feeling a little confused as to why we were being quizzed about our status by a tourist we replied:

No, we live here.

He looked entirely baffled so we tried again.

We live here.  This is our home, our house.

Comprehension dawned and was quickly followed by the real point of his incursion.

May I take a citron?

Ahh, the great tourist obsession with lemons.  Or, as this week seems to be showing, a German obsession with lemons.

Happy to oblige we picked up the secateurs-as-paperweights and snipped a couple of clementines from the tree, complete with a handful of leaves, before allowing him to select his lemon.  Chancing his arm slightly he then pointed to a second lemon and asked if he might have that one also.  We agreed and snipped once more.

He and his companion thanked us and then disappeared down into the village with their fresh-as-can-be-citrus fruits clutched in their hand.

We chuckled as we remembered a holiday we had here in Cyprus before we relocated here in 2006.  We booked a hotel in Latchi for a few days and when we arrived found that the car park was surrounded by lemon trees.  Each tree was laden with the most fantastic looking fruit.  As we checked in we cheekily asked if we might pick a lemon or two.  The receptionist’s expression, as she said we might, was fairly transparent.

There are lemons everywhere and these tourists worry that we might miss one?  Why bothering asking me?  Could they not just help themselves?

How quickly we have become used to having our own trees, though as the regular garden pictures show we are still  besotted with them.

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88 German tourists

April 30, 2010

’twas a quiet morning here in the village.  We were in the study drinking cups of coffee and catching up with world news before making a start on our day.

The garden gate was already open when we heard the first voices.  It’s still a little early for many tourists but there are a few more appearing each week.  Apart from their clothing and interest in everything village-related they make themselves known by chattering away as they mooch around the village.  This bunch were no different, we heard them long before we saw them.

Looking through the study window we saw a group of three or four trot passed the gate, peering in as they went.  Then another group and another and another.  A few stopped and took photos of the laundry hanging out to dry in the sun garden and plenty commented on the gate lemon tree to their companions.

You may remember the gate lemon tree?  That is the one that we took care in pruning so that some of the branches were left to hang over the wall and into the street.  At the time we said:

When we did prune we kept in mind the tourists who walk past the house on their exploration of the village.  The gate lemon overhangs the wall on two sides and is a tourist-magnet.  Many times we’ve heard, from inside the garden, discussions about whether it’s ok to take just one lemon.  After all they are hanging into the street, they say.

As we watched this never-ended group of tourists walking passed the gate one of them stopped and looked intently at the tree.  Then at the house.  Then at the front door.  Then, looking slightly guilty he stepped into the garden and grabbed a windfall lemon before rushing back out again.

This was all perfectly visible from the study window, something he clearly hadn’t anticipated as he scanned the front of the house.  We couldn’t quite decide whether to be shocked by his cheeky behaviour in taking the dropped lemon or to be impressed with his frugality in taking away one that appeared to have been overlooked.  Either way it would not have been a good addition to an evening gin and tonic having been sitting on the ground for at least a couple of days.

As we pondered this the stream of visitors continued passed the gate.  In the end Ian wandered down there and commented that there appeared to be quite a few of them.

Yes, there are 88 of us!

Declared one, with a German accent, as she headed up the hill towards the upper village.  Oddly once the last one had passed we didn’t see them again that day.

Tourism and lemon scrumping: such are the quirks of village life here.

Edited to add: To us Brits ‘scrumping’ is the act of stealing fruit from someone else’s orchard or tree.  If you came to this blog post expecting something else entirely they apologies if you were disappointed.  Who knew us Brits use the word in an entirely different way to the rest of the world?!

Edited to add: Is it a full moon or something?  Ian now tells me that as well as getting visitors interested in the other type of scrumping there’s also a chance that the title of this piece could be misconstrued also by the occasional neo-Nazi.

There really were 88 tourists, this isn’t a play on the name of the Column 88, the 1970 neo-Nazi paramilitary organisation.