Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category

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Tried & Tested: Spice Cubes

January 16, 2012

We are big fans of having a freezer full of building blocks ready for use. Sliced and frozen lemons, berries for morning smoothies, herbs which have been washed and frozen and are ready to drop straight into a dish.  These are all things that save us time, and often money.

A while ago we realised that whilst we often cook with garlic or ginger or chillis there are times when we buy them and don’t get around to using them  as we intended and therefore things sometimes go to waste.  We solved the problem with the garlic: instead of buying a head of garlic and using it a clove at a time we took to buying three or four heads at once and processing them all at once then freezing them.

It doesn’t take much longer to prepare a dozen cloves than it does one or two but there is no extra cleaning up and no more garlicy-scented hands. Whole cloves of garlic freeze fantastically and defrost in less time than it takes to chop an onion while ginger, if it is peeled and cut into single meal chunks, can be ready in a few minutes.

Having got into a routine of buying garlic and ginger every month or so and preparing them for the freezer it occurred to us that quite often we use both together and about half the time if we are cooking with garlic and ginger we use copious amounts of chillis too.  And so the idea of the freezer spice cubes was born: instead of preparing garlic ready to be used and preparing ginger to be used straight from the freezer could we go one step further?

The answer is yes:

  • Take one head of garlic, peel the cloves and toss them into a food processor
  • Take a piece of fresh ginger of a comparable size, peel, roughly chop and toss into the food processor
  • Add fresh or dried chillis to suit your taste buds
  • Blitz in the food processor until they’re the right size for your cooking needs
  • Spoon into an ice-cube tray, drizzle a little oil over the top and freeze
  • Once frozen pop the cubes from the tray and transfer to a suitable container
  • Keep in the most accessible part of the freezer so they are close to hand when you want to cook

When we make these we’ve found that one cube is about the equivalent of one clove of garlic and a corresponding amount of ginger. If you use dried chillis (buy them in bulk when you come to Cyprus as they are absurdly cheap here) then you can make the cubes as spicy as you want.

These are best made in an ice-cube tray that isn’t destined to be used for making real ice-cubes, unless you don’t mind ginger tasting gin and tonics after dinner.

New freezers always seem to come with a spare tray so we keep one specifically for the purpose.  You can reduce the chance of the tray becoming tainted with the spice flavours if you wipe it out with a little light cooking oil before you start.

Since we started doing this we have massively increased the amount of garlic and ginger we use, and with hardly any wastage.

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Followup: Christmas Post

January 6, 2012

On Thursday we stopped by the post office … and found that the mailbox was full to the gunnels.  Not only were there parcels and cards and the ubiquitous bills but also a note to indicate that there was even more post waiting inside the post office itself.

We’re still missing a delivery or two and we’ve had very few cards compared to normal but the bulk of our presents are here.  When we got home yesterday afternoon we spent a happy hour opening the new arrivals and enjoying the contents.

There is still widespread discussions about missing post and both sides, the Cyprus Postal Service and Royal Mail, continue to blame each other.  We’re just happy to have finally received things which, in most cases, were posted in the first few days of December.

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Lefkaritika in the news again

May 31, 2011

Last year we mentioned that the very distinctive Lefkara lace had been in the news locally.  The lace is very special, so much so that it is now UNESCO listed.

The lace has been hand made by generation after generation of local women who work from designs that are hundreds of years old.  Anyone who has been to the island of Burano in Venice and admired their lacework may recognise the style of the Lefkara lace: travelers from Venice took pieces back from Cyprus to Venice and developed their own designs in the late 15th century.  So local tradition goes Leonardo da Vinci took a particularly fine piece of lace back to Italy where it was incorporated into the alter cloth in Milan cathedral.  More verifiable is that the lacemakers of the Lefkara villages offered lace to Princess Elizabeth in honour of her coronation.

This week Etsy, a superb website that allows designers and crafters to sell their goods online to a worldwide audience, is featuring a lovely video about the lace and its future.  The video highlights two of the challenges that the lace faces: firstly that the numbers of lace makers is slowly declining, and secondly that some places sell inferior machine made or finished lace because it is significantly cheaper but don’t always make that clear.

What the video doesn’t mention is that one of the two Lefkara villages, Kato Lefkara, may have a solution to the second problem at least.  Often tourists don’t realise that they are buying second-rate or imported lace and walk away thinking that they own a true piece of Lefkara lace when that isn’t the case.  To resolve that confusion Kato Lefkara has introduced an authentication process by which a lacemaker can submit a piece of lace to a committee of master lacemakers.  They assess the quality of the work and, if it passes their criteria, the details of the lace are entered into a register of certified Lefkara lace and the lacemaker is issued with a certification to accompany the lace when it’s sold.

Certificates aside there are three quick ways to judge whether a piece of Lefkaritika is genuine:

  • If the price quoted doesn’t make the eyes water then the lace probably isn’t real Lefkaritika
  • Only certain colours are used in the traditional designs: white, ecru and brown are typical so if bright colours are present then the lace may not be true Lefkaritika
  • All Lefkaritika lace is reversible so if it doesn’t look the same front and back then it isn’t the real thing.
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Lefkara Lace – Lefkaritika

June 4, 2010

There is a lovely piece about the Lefkara Lace industry here on The Moodie blog

The tradition of making Lefkara lace goes back centuries; Da Vinci supposedly took a piece back to Italy and had it made into an alter cloth for Milan Cathedral.

Some months ago we were able to sit with one of the ladies featured, Evthokia, at a village meal.  Despite our lack of much common language we chatted away during the evening using an assortment of sign-language and the occasional translation from helpful neighbours.

Last year UNESCO recognised the importance of the lace making in Lefkara.  Lace aside both villages, upper Pano and lower Kato, are well worth a wander through for anyone in the area.  As well as the beautiful stonework and winding narrow streets the numerous churches are also superb.

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Limassol likes cruise ship spending

May 8, 2010

Well, they’d like to like the spending power brought in by the cruise ship ships but have been hampered by the fact that their opening hours on Sunday were restricted.

Legally the shops have not been allowed to open until 1pm, resulting in them missing much of the cruise ship trade.  Having had no success in changing the law the shop owners took matters into their own hands by opening illegally.

Last Sunday, the shopkeepers defied the ministry’s orders and opened up earlier. But instead punishing traders, the move alerted Minister Charalambous to the problem.

In her announcement, the minister said she had revised the area’s working hours after receiving new information she hadn’t been aware of.

More specifically, Charalambous explained that the town’s Advisory Council had not informed her on the matter, as was its duty to do so.

There you go.  The Minister would have resolved the problem had only she known.  The upshot of all of this is that, over the summer, some Limassol shops will be open on a Sunday morning.

SUNDAY shop opening hours in Limassol’s coastal area will be changed to better serve tourists arriving on cruises, the Labour Ministry has decided.

The new hours will allow the area’s shops to open from 10am and apply for 12 Sundays in total, during which a series of cruises are scheduled to arrive bringing with them thousands of tourists.

This summer season, shops in Limassol’s tourist area will be open from 10am on May 9, 16 and 23, July 18, August 8, September 5,12,19 and 26, and October 24.

The full article is here at the Cyprus Mail.

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Cyprus Cost of Living #3

April 16, 2010

The phone and internet bill is due once more.

Actually, it feels like there is always a phone & internet bill due; billing is monthly in arrears and is meant to be paid manually, so in the store 30 minutes drive away or at an ATM which is also 30 minutes drive away.  In the previous house our bill came in three parts, in three envelopes so a massive 36 phone bills every year.  Happily we now get a consolidated bill so just a dozen a year.

Our connection is with Cyta who, until fairly recently, pretty much had the market sewn up.  The four month process to get a phone line installed in the house in Aradippou doesn’t bear re-counting, suffice to say that it generated a number of grey hairs all round.  When we moved to the hills we rather expected that we would have to do without a broadband connection.  The bigger village further up the valley has broadband but the lower village is so small we didn’t expect it here.  A discussion with Cyta however confirmed that broadband was available.  Later, whilst talking with one of the engineers it became clear why.

Ahhh, I know your village.  When broadband was first rolled out one of the Ministers had a house there that he used on weekends.  He needed a broadband connection so it was installed there before most other places!

Such is life here.  This time it worked in our favour so we just smiled and said no more.

So, there is broadband but in comparison to the UK it is both slow and expensive.  To have a connection via Cyta we have to have a phone line through them, even though we no longer use a land line.  Mobile, or cell, phone packages are so cheap here that we use those pretty much exclusively.  So we are paying for a phone line that we don’t want or need.

All told the monthly bill comes to a little over 50€ (£45, $65 at the time of writing) for a 1 Meg connection.  600€ per annum seems an awful lot for what is a pretty slow connection.

For a while we’ve been talking about whether there’s a solution and in the last month there’s been talk of a couple of other providers who either offer better packages for similar money or would allow us to drop the land line and save on the cost there.  One isn’t available in our village but another looks like it might be suitable.  Ignoring upfront costs it looks like we could double the connection speed whilst reducing the costs by somewhere between 20-30% per month.  That has to be a saving worth having.

The company are inundated with new applications at the moment so it will make sense to wait for a month or two until things settle down.  Then the battle to extricate ourselves from Cyta, as well as try to reclaim the deposit we were required to leave with them when we first opened our account.  From memory it was £100CYP, so 171€ and this a deposit that is only requested for non-Cypriots.

For an island where internet usage is still relatively rare, less than 20% of the population have computers and less than 15% of households have internet access, it’s not surprising that the market isn’t as developed as elsewhere.  It is an example however of one of those areas where costs are unexpectedly high.

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Frugal fire tools

January 21, 2010

During the evening the fire sometimes needs a little bit of help.  Independently, and unbeknownst to the other, we both did some research on blow pokers as a possible solution.

Blow’n’poke, a UK retailer specialising in blow pokers describe the item as follows:

The BLOW POKER is a very simple and useful cross between an ordinary poker and a bellows. It is a brass tube about 3 feet long and one inch in diameter. One end has a mouthpiece like a trumpet’s through which you blow. The air comes out of the other end which is put near the fire and gets it to burn up – similar to a bellows but using your own puff. The ‘fire’ end also has a solid point, so it can be used just as well instead of a poker.

They looked just what we needed but £45 seemed a little steep, and that was before adding on the cost of postage to  Cyprus.  We have found, through hard experience, that shipping things here can be horribly expensive.  Last year it made more sense to buy an item online from a retailer in New Zealand than from one in Europe because of the shipping costs.  How can that make sense?  How can it be cheaper, or sensible, to send something 10,000 miles rather than 500?

Anyway, back to the tale at hand.  We looked, we liked, but we decided it was too great an expense so we shelved the plan.

A couple of days later we were doing some work in the so-called garage.   Once we’d finished the things we’d intended to do we had a little tidy up and identified two or three things that needed to be disposed of and were too big for the regular rubbish collection.  Included in that group were a pair of collapsible outdoor chairs, the type that can be folded up and thrown in the back of the car for use wherever.  We tend to buy a pair a cheap pair each year and accept that they won’t last longer than that.  Last year’s were the princely sum of 10€ each and had served us well all through the spring, summer and autumn only to start to disintegrate at the end of the year.

Just as we were about to consign the chairs to the discard pile a thought occurred. The supporting diagonal of the chair was hollow, approximately the same length as a blow poker and open at both ends.  Surely it couldn’t be that simple?

Well, it turns out it is.  Five minutes work with a screwdriver and bingo!  One piece of the chair is now acting as a very efficient blow poker for the fire.  £45 plus shipping saved … and we have three spares if needed.

Sometimes the gods of frugality are watching and smiling ;-)