“You’re Gonna Eat Wood!”: Ruminations on a Greek Wooden Spoon

My mother, like every other woman in the Greek diaspora, kept a wooden cooking spoon – a koutála – handy at all times.

This multi-function kitchen gadget served as the weapon of choice for mamádhes everywhere. So known is this use, in fact, that the Greek for “you’re due a walloping” translates literally as “You’re gonna eat wood!”

To be fair, I don’t think that my mother actually ever used the dreaded spoon on me. She probably just waved it around at a few times when I was four or five years old and said, “Wait until your father (a.k.a. “The Boss) gets home.” After that, a robust shake of the drawer where THE KOUTALA lived was enough to smarten me up.

I do find it curious that the mere threat of THE KOUTALA seemed far more useful a corrective tool than its male counterpart, THE BELT, as threatened or swung with seeming abandon by The Boss. (The Greek diaspora, after all, is hardly a matriarchial society.)

Perhaps this is so because in my little corner of Greece in Canada, food meant chastisement as well as love. This does not always jive with the many heart-warming recollections of immigrant food I have read.

I lack the number of fingers and toes required to count the number of articles about nonnas, bubkes and yiayiáthes, standing at their vast hearthes and showering affection upon anyone in the general vicinity with enough baked goods to feed the whole of Prince Edward Island.
Conversely, I have noticed only cursory literary mentions of food as a tool of discipline. One exception: Christina Crawford’s accounts of life with her movie-star mother, Joan. Admittedly, the food-related traumas from my past were not quite that severe.

One example that keeps ringing in my brain like that song you hear on Muzak and then can’t shake for days: “You little ingrates, during the wartime we were lucky to have a dry crust of bread to suck on and some weeds to eat – so you had better finish that tripe stew and that lamb’s head or else…(stentorian fingering of THE BELT).”

Moreover, food also became fraught in my childhood universe of one because it was a direct symbol of my Otherness within the smaller Anglo community of my upbringing. At least today I can chuckle when I read about all the pleasures of the Mediterranean peasant diet. In past, I had spent far too much time wondering whether those authors skipped home blithely from Brownies, swim practice or slumber parties. I imagined their triumphant arrival home to dinners catered in front of the TV by Chefs Swanson and Boyardee and accompanied by pleasant chat in dulcet tones.

Those kids, the kanadhezákia, did not know how good they had it! While they were lazing in front of the tube eating tater tots and fish sticks, I was trudging home in the dark through the snowdrifts from Greek school (which took place at least 10 evenings per week). The teacher (some guy who they sent to Canada because he was too sadistic to teach school in Greece) had assigned me approximately 10,000 lines in punishment. So, I was shivering more from the anticipated plea-bargaining with The Boss than from the cold.

What wafting harbingers of dinner greeted me? Colonel Sanders? McCain’s pizza? Pogo sticks, even? Nope. Instead, the wet sneaker stench of cabbage and rice slapped me across the face yet again. That smell was enough to bring bitter tears cascading down my frozen cheeks. If instead the plat du jour was lentil soup or stuffed vine leaves, I would sink to my knees in abject terror. What was so wrong with Hamburger Helper, anyway?

At the time, the only Greek foods I found remotely palatable were the Greek-Canadian experiments that my mother (like me, Canadian-born) indulged in when The Boss was working late. One of my favourites: chicken “lemonáto”, cooked in Campbell’s condensed cream of chicken soup diluted with Realemon and redolent with dried oregano . Another: fried Spam “a la Grecque”, which came with Kraft Dinner made with sweet-salty brown butter and mizithra cheese, all stirred together with THE KOUTALA.

(I have no idea what ended up happening to the many packages of the powdered orange stuff in the KD box. Since it was a sin to throw out anything in my house, perhaps they were donated in aid of hungry kanadhezákia.)

Since those grim and scary days, my interest in Greek food has expanded tremendously. In fact, the only thing food-wise that causes me to weep into my platter of stuffed vine leaves is the memory of the sheer number of delicious lunches I gave away in my zeal to score Wonder bread and peanut butter.

So, whither THE KOUTALA after all these years? It takes pride of place in my very own utensils canister. I liberated it from my mother’s kitchen drawer when I moved to the big city some 20 years ago.

In my idealistic world view, I felt that in this way I could help put an end to the cycle of violence in the Greek diaspora. (Let me stress that in no way was this particular revolutionary act related to a desire to save my student assistance loan money for important things such as … um, textbooks… rather than mundane household items.)

By this point, I had blown THE KOUTALA up in my mind until it was roughly the size of a baseball bat. Imagine my surprise when what I actually found was regular old spoon somewhat smaller than a soup ladle, and worn and stained to boot. I marveled: “So small! So harmless!”
As I do not have children (by choice – with THE KOUTALA in my possession I would fear for their physical and emotional safety), the only things getting whipped into submission in my household are the vats of homemade hummus that I scarf down on a weekly basis. With, of course, Greek-style pita.

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Kristina Brouhaha is a perpetually disgruntled recovering legal professional living and (not) working in Greektown, Toronto, Ontario. In her (considerable) spare time she dreams of the halcyon days of blogging at her erstwhile site http://www.bespokebybrouhaha.wordpress.com, ingests at least 2 food-related publications daily, practices the accordion she bought on a whim a few months back and pursues her long-deferred dream of working as a line cook. While she realizes that Mickey Ds and Harvey’s are pretty much always hiring, she can’t live with the idea that as a fast-food pusher she would be (theoretically, at least) old enough to have grandmothered her boss.

bubble bubble toil and… yum!

OK, OK, so it’s not a direct quote, and it doesn’t even rhyme. But it reflects how I spent a good part of the Labour Day long weekend…

Yup. The Mad Princess of Preserves is at it again, folks.

You see, I made the mistake of going to Loblaws on Saturday for…oh, toilet paper and other boring things. But for once they had some local Ontario produce going!

So, I had to buy about 20 pounds of plum tomatoes and 10 pounds of these Shepherd peppers. I’ve never really noticed these before – they taste like red bell peppers, but sweeter and better. So, my first thought was to try for some flavoured booze:

This, in about three weeks, will be Shepherdised Tanqueray gin. I have no clue whether this one will taste like anything you’d wanted to drink, but I had a bunch of Tanqueray left over from the recent party, so thought I’d give it the old college try.

This, on the other hand, I can hardly wait to crack open:

Iceberg vodka with Shepherd peppers and ten jalapenos with the seeds left in. Better stock up on those ulcer meds… I love pepper vodka!

I also decided to make some infused rice vinegars, one with the peppers and one with lemon and lime:

Then I decided to roast the hell out of the rest of the Shepherd peppers:

…and start making some real stuff. First, I made a whole lot of tomato sauce with roasted pepper, roasted garlic and onion puree:

That took care of about half the peppers. So, what to do with the other half?!?

Initially I wanted to try to make some tomato/roasted pepper low sugar jam. Unfortunately, however, I made the mistake of musing about this aloud, at which point JJ overheard and suggested very reasonably that I not make any more jam until some of the stuff I made some weeks back was gone.

When I say “reasonably”, I mean this of course in the Scottish fashion:

Ye daft wee lassie, what on God’s grrrrreen airrrrth would possess ye to make more jam?!?! Every time ah open the cupboards, ah almost get murdered by a flyin jar of jam. And ye doan’t even eat the stuff! Ye should go tek a long harrrd look in the mirror…

He did, however, have a point. So, instead I made…

… salsa! Three bloody litres of the stuff. It has tomatoes, the peppers plus a third major secret ingredient. I first premiered the secret ingredient salsa at my party to great accolades (I must say I was shocked – I had only come up with it at the last minute when I realised I had 5 million bags of nachos and no salsa as I had dumped all the salsa into the slowcooker with IKEA swedish meatballs in a panic…). That version, however, did not have roasted peppers.

If it turns out at all good, perhaps I will post the recipe here. Or, perhaps I’ll just send it to the Food Network and wait for the telephone call offering me my very own programme.

I also made a V8/coriander jelly:

… and rehabbed some former jellies I had made which hadn’t set properly, including this bell pepper one:

So, I think that was a guid weekend’s work, don’t ye?

Off now to premiere the fabulous new salsa with the colleagues work.

Happy Tuesday, all!


the mad preserver strikes again!

Well, I couldn’t help myself. You see, I had to go to the local farmers’ market on Saturday to replenish our stocks of produce and fruit.

(And, of course, a wee treat for JJ: apricot loaf!

Looks decent, eh? It’s all gone now!!)

Then I got home and realised that I’ve been bringing in produce etc at a rate that JJ we just can’t seem to come up with.

What to do with all of the leftover stuff? Why, get my cauldron going, of course!

And find my special preserving outfit to go with the cauldron…

And… voila!!!

This one is blueberry and apricot jam with lemon zest and lime juice.  It’s my first effort in making jam without pectin, which just means that you have to boil the fruit mixture a lot longer.  There is also a little extra ingredient in there… cherry tomatoes (I didn’t have enough of the blueberries and apricots, so had to improvise.  Not telling my chief taster, JJ, about the tomatoes though!!!)

And here’s another experiment:

This one is mixed bell pepper jelly with rice vinegar and rosemary.  The experimental component: midway through I realised I didn’t have enough sugar.  So, I’m not sure it will set.  But what the hey…

I also had a heap of fresh herbs, so decided to make some Sassy Scarborough Fair oil.

Parsley, garlic, rosemary and thyme… with some lemon zest added.  The garlic and the lemon are the “sassy” components.  I don’t like sage.

So, please do wish me luck – and don’t tell JJ about the tomatoes, eh?

Happy Monday!  Today is a holiday for us up here – yippee, yahoo, etc!!!  No big plans although there will surely be some patio or other calling our names out later this afternoon.

field guides

I was in a very fabulous gift shop near my workplace called The Outer Layer (and if anyone reading is in Toronto and anywhere near here, visit!  You won’t be sorry!) to pick up a gift for a departing colleague and managed to score this for myself as well…

And it wasn’t even PayDay!  But I just couldn’t resist.  It contained stitches I haven’t even seen in the Barbara Walker series.

So, while at the cash, one of the very, very kind salespeople there said “Well, did you notice this book… and do you eat meat, by the way?”

So, of course, I had to pick up a copy.

Now, this book discusses every type of meat possible – including armadillo, squirrel and various other types of roadkill.  So, that should speak to the comprehensiveness of the Field Guide to Knitting, at the very least.

I suggested to them that the Healthy Butcher, just down the street, should put up a sign pointing in this shop’s direction to sell the Field Guide to Meat.  The helpful salesperson said (I think seriously) “well, they’re into organic meat, so I don’t know that they would advertise this book”.

But well they should – and well they should also highlight the very fabulous gift shop down the street.  Where else do you get this as a gift for spending money?

I display the gift next to my spare glasses so you see how small it is.  It’s actually a fold-up shopping bag about the size of the one I showed here the other day.  And, given that I tend to leave my abundance of shopping bags either at the office or the apartment when I most need them, this fold-up version is most welcome.

You too can get one for free if you live in Toronto and spend… well, I won’t tell you how much… at the Outer Layer.  Or you can just go in and buy one for yourself.

And, now you know you can look forward to recipes for armadillo in future on this blog.  NOT.

Happy Thursday!

when do I get my programme on the Food Network, anyway?!?

Now, I’m the first to admit that I can become rather obsessive about hobbies – none more than food prep right now, apparently.

This was my haul from my raid on the local library the other day. Sigh. My knitting has been suffering from this latest revival of Kristina Does Food… and More Food… and Still More Food.

The obsession leads me to do very odd things – like boiling vats of stuff for four five hours in 30C weather:

This was a cauldron of beef stock I made on Sunday after our little $230.00 foray to Fiesta Farms, my new favourite supermarket too (and, I hasten to say, JJs – he was personally responsible for about $150.00 of the acquisitions). They cater to Europeans like me, which means (among other things) that at any given time there are lots of humungous and dirt cheap cuts of meat intended for soups and stews, like the Tyrannosaurus Rex beef knuckle shown above at the top centre of the pot. Two beef knuckles cost $2.25 – and now I have four litres of stock, 14 consomme ice cubes and at least three cups of shredded meat for soup.

Mmmmm.

Now, while at Fiesta Farms I promised myself I would not buy anything to preserve this week as it was too hot. And – I didn’t! However, when excavating the fridge to find room for the new purchases, I found an embarrassment of berries which were past their prime.

So, what was a frugal food obsessive to do?

Why, make jam, of course!!! I call this KBs Secret Cherberry Jam. The “secret” bit is that little white blob, which is cheesecloth containing fresh rosemary and pink peppercorns. Yes, rosemary and peppercorns.

The household jury of one (JJ, of course – because you know what? I don’t even EAT jam!!) has rendered his verdict – two thumbs up. He didnae know about the rosemary – when I told him after he tried it, he said “That’s just weirrrrrrd, lassie”. I note, however, that this did not stop him from polishing off the better part of a 250 ml jar yesterday, though).

I was actually thinking of adding some of this instead of the rosemary:

Now, that would have been really weirrrrd, I decided. Also, I’m giving some away for gifts and I’ve found that rose water is something that people either love or detest. I’m sure some of this will find its way into some jar at some point, though – stay tuned!

Anyway, the recipe (my adaptation of a blueberry jam recipe in the Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving):

Put four cups of crushed berries (I used strawberries, blueberries and cherries – and yes, I know cherries aren’t berries – I’m trying for pithiness for once, OK?!) in a saucepan. Add one 57 g packet of fruit pectin, three tablespoons of lime juice, two large sprigs fresh rosemary and 20 pink peppercorns, and one half vanilla bean. Bring to a boil over high heat. Mix in three cups of sugar and bring back to a rolling (i.e. big raging) boil and let boil one minute. Pour into sterilized and heated 250 ml (one cup) preserving jars. You can either keep this in the fridge for up to one month or process by boiling for 10 minutes. Yields six jars.

But hark! Is that something else in a jar that you spy in the back row at the left? Why, yes. Having ranted on last week about crazy hot foods, I decided to try to make my very own hot sauce.

Basically, I boiled about one litre of leftover white wine I had let go to vinegar (my frugality knows no bounds. How do you think I pay for all that yarn?!), about an inch worth of rice vinegar I’d had sitting around for some time, and a cup of white vinegar for about 5 minutes or untit it reduced back to a litre (four cups, approximately). I kept it hot and put the following things into a heated 1 litre mason jar:

  • seven fresh long red hot chili peppers (I imagine you could use any type of pepper, really). The peppers that were too long to fit in the jar, I cut in half and then split both halves down the middle to release the seeds.
  • four cloves of garlic, cut into slices
  • four sprigs of fresh thyme
  • four green onions, cut to fit into the jar (just the bulbs and some of the green part)

I’m going to let this sit for three weeks or until it all turns red, whichever comes first. We’ll see what happens. But it looks purdy, though – doesn’t it?

Any day now, I reckon I’ll get a call from the Food Network offering me my own segment on how to recycle food. I promise I won’t forget my friends, though. Really.

Happy Wednesday!

a fable and some very pithy recipes

A wee introductory note

Well, it’s finally Friday!  And, because I’m feeling dragged out and rather lazy I thought I’d post a couple of blasts from the not-so-distant past.  Below, you’ll find – respectively – a little fable about some food-crazed Torontoian… and some of my special “Recipes in 25 Words or Less”.  They were both previously published on a food blog I set up one day when bored at work feeling even more inspired than usual.  I posted a few times on that blog and then remembered that I was, in fact, a lazy@$$ and didn’t feel like doing two blogs.

So, here it is – and my apologies to any of the three people who actually visited the other blog and have already read this crap.  See you next week with some brand-spanking-new stuff!

An Urban Fable

Once upon a time, there was a little girl living in a village. She grew up learning the Greek-Canadian art of How to Cook a Meal in One Week or Slightly Less at her mother’s knee:

So, it’s not all that surprising that she moved to the Big City as soon as possible and became a bachelor.

She never even needed to cook, as she was constantly surrounded by fabulous prepared food in abundance.

But, one day, the inevitable happened. She met someone. And that someone was not happy living on chips alone (very surprising, considering that he was from Scotland).

So, our heroine had to learn to cook again from scratch.

And although the Guy From Scotland was very happy with what she made (particularly with the beanz), she kept losing the can opener. Plus, she started to miss the foods from her home village.

However, being a busy person, especially given her predilection for ranting on and on, she did not have hours on end to prepare the feasts of her ancestors:

So she started reading food magazines and watching shows about food on TV to get some ideas. However, she was not the Ideal Hausfrau, and thus she ended up becoming completely depressed by her lack of kitchen perfection and shortage of high end kitchen gadgets:


Something had to be done, quickly. She was slipping back into her bachelor ways and – worse – losing her sense of humour.

Then, one fine day, she came across a vintage cookbook:

… and realised that her cooking could actually be a whole hell of a lot worse than it actually was.

This cheered her up. I mean, why make stuff that takes hours and look like this:

…when she could make stuff in 15 minutes that actually tasted pretty good?

So, our heroine started to see the light. She could now pass the high-end without bursting into tears…and actually started to go in and giggle at all the silly gadgets. She stopped coveting $50 balsamic vinegar and truffle oil.

And now, she’s become so confident with her anti-chef status that she would like to start sharing her inspirations tips and secrets with you, gentle reader. You, too, can have fun and turn out edible meals in less time than it takes a TV chef to depress the hell out of you.

And if your family doesn’t like it? Just tell them to get off their lazy @$$es and cook for a change.


Recipes in 25 Words or Less

In which Brouhaha starts trying to achieve her lifelong goal of publishing an entire cookbook on 4 double sided sheets of paper…

Soups

  • Tortellini soup: Put stock in pot. Bring to boil. Throw in tortellini. Simmer six minutes. Turn off heat. Add frozen veg and let sit three minutes. Enjoy.
  • variation: use v-8 juice instead of stock.
  • click here for the full Anti-chef recipe
  • Cock-a-leekie: slice and saute three leeks. Add three cups chicken stock and 1/4 cup barley. Simmer 45 minutes. Turn off heat and add frozen veg. Tasty.

Appetizers

  • Hummus: Blend one large can chickpeas, 1/4 cup each tahini (sesame paste) and lemon juice, one teaspoon cumin, one-half teaspoon smoked paprika, cayenne and salt.
  • Saganaki: slice kefalotiri (or romano) cheese 1/4 inch thick. Dredge with flour. Fry in lots of butter until golden. Serve with lemon wedges and bread. Opa!
  • Spicy Peanut Sauce: mix one cup chunky peanut butter, one tsp each cumin, hot paprika, and chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, salt.  Add hot water to desired consistency.
  • Garlic Puffs: cut one sheet puff pastry into squares.  Brush on garlic-flavoured olive oil.  Sprinkle lots of parmesan over.  Bake 20 minutes at 400 F.

Salads

  • Greek Surprise: chop one red onion. Let sit in lime juice 1/2 hour. Cube watermelon. Add feta, kalamata olives, fresh herbs, salt, pepper. Pour onion/lime over.
  • Fennel Citrus: slice one bulb fennel. Add one tin mandarin oranges with juice, one quarter cup white wine vinegar, salt, pepper. Dress with edible flowers.
  • Moroccan Chickpea: mix one can chickpeas; red bell pepper; carrot; one teaspoon each cumin, coriander; 1/4 teaspoon cayenne; two scallions; garlic; olive oil; lemon juice; salt.  Zippy.
  • Village Greek: cut tomatoes into wedges; salt heavily; let sit.  Add sliced English cucumber, three cloves garlic, chopped onion, cubed feta, kalamata olives, pepper, oil to taste.

Entrees:

  • Lamb Shanks Youvetsi: place lamb shanks in ovenproof casserole.  Add two cups stock, one large can tomatoes, one teaspoon cinnamon, chopped onion, garlic. Cover.  Bake two hours. Hearty!
  • Pasta with Burnt Butter: Heat four tablespoons of butter per serving of pasta in heavy sauce pan until it foams then turns brown. Remove from heat.  Pour over pasta.
  • Chicken a la grecque: Brown boneless chicken breasts. Add sauce grecque (one can cream of chicken soup, half can water, lemon juice, oregano, salt, pepper). Simmer half an hour. Yum.
  • Desperation Curry: Saute one pound ground meat with soy sauce, pepper, onion and garlic (powder will do), red wine vinegar and BBQ sauce. Serve with rice.
  • Perogies: Chop onion and bacon – saute ten minutes. Meanwhile, boil perogies in salted water until they float to top – drain. Saute perogies in bacon mixture. Mmmm.
  • Ribs Like Mom Used to Make: Cut ribs into pieces. Simmer in water with an onion for one hour. Brush with favourite BBQ sauce, cover, bake in hot oven 20 minutes.

Desserts

  • Boozy Trifle: cut stale cake or muffins into cubes. Put in bowl. Soak with booze of your choice. Mix in pudding or custard and fruit or jam.
  • Decadent Delight: got cookies and pudding packs? Crush cookies, layer with pudding in bowl. Mix in whipped cream or cool whip and freeze 20 minutes. Mmm.
  • Lemon Squares: crush shortbread cookies.  Add eight tablespoons melted butter, 1/4 cup sugar, some salt.  Pack into pan and let sit 1/2 hour.  Cover with lemon curd.

Bonus: Baklava in 50 words or less!!

  • Baklava for Lazy People: shred half pound phyllo into large pan. Mix in two cups nuts and half pound melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees 20 minutes. Let cool.
  • add syrup: bring one and a half cups honey, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup orange juice, two cinnamon sticks to boil. Pour over cooled pastry.
  • (I know this one’s a bit of a cheat… but I couldn’t resist!! And everyone loves baklava!)