“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.

PayDay… a day late and… er… never mind.

Yes, yes – I know, I know.  The last time I was here, I said that I was in the midst of stashbusting.

However, this morning the gloom of the grey sky and the fallen dead leaves…

… plus the completely foreseen (but no less crippling) bad mood engendered by Tuesday’s election results…

…led me and my iron will (HA!) regarding PayDay purchases astray.

It all started off rather innocently.  In light of my stashbusting goal – which involves the winding of approximately 5 kilometres of Super 10 cotton yarn – and a recalcitrant JJ (“Who do ah sue if ah get that carpal tunnel thingy from doing all these yarn balls??? Eh??? Eh???”), I decided to break down and buy a ball winder and swift.

A very economical purchase, really, considering all of the labour costs (which, at present Legal Aid lawyer rates, comes out to approximately… er, never mind.  And which, at JJ rates, led to too many whisky empties!) I will save.

Or would have saved, had I not come across this at Romni, where I bought the ball winder, at the same time:

This is brand new laceweight stuff!  It’s called One of a Kind (indeed!) and made right here in Canada.  The price, at $7.95 for a 600 yard skein, was actually quite reasonable (it’s a wool/angora/nylon blend).

Plus, the colourway is called Kaleidoscope.  How could I resist, really?

When I got back to the office after this little lunchtime foray, imagine my surprise to find this waiting for me!

This is the latest instalment in the Year of Lace 2008 club series which – horrors! – I had forgotten was on its way.  And Handmaiden cashmere to boot!  I must say the colourway is not one that falls within my preferred range, but I’m sure I’ll find someone who would like a shawl made with it.

I also rediscovered this lovely yarn that fellow blogger extraordinaire Clarabelle had winged my way from the UK back in the summer… (please do not think me ungrateful, C. – I had left it in my office to show everyone and it ended up as a decoration in my new office):

Now, one would think that all this largesse would have kept my @$$ in the tram seat on the way home instead of popping off to hit Lettuce Knit (notionally, in search of a swift).  But no.

Why, oh why, Handmaiden, did you have to come out with silver Sea Silk yarn?!?!?

Sigh.

After all of this, of course, my former past true love Super10 looks…er, rather dull.  But here is an in-progress shot of the Election 2008 Log Cabin quilt:

My goal: to finish it off before the US elections.  Given that the finished size should be 60″ x 50″ or so, I may well have bitten off more than I can chew.  Nothing changes, eh?

Well, off to make dinner… the easiest Greek pasta recipe ever.  Stay tuned!

Vote Brouhaha 2008!

Well, I’ve been trying for a couple of years now to become rich and famous. However, the knitting blog/foodie/rant thing is not leading to the big cash grab that I had hoped.

So, I’m going to take another tack. I’ve decided to run for President of the United States.

That’s right.

“President Brouhaha” has a nice ring to it, no? (I actually prefer “The Right Honourable Brouhaha” but I figure the perqs and benefits are better with the top gig south of the border).

And I think JJ would make a stunning First Man, don’t you?

Besides, if Paris Hilton can do it… so can I!!!

I mean, what does SHE…

…have that I don’t have to electrify an entire nation?

Yeah yeah yeah… huge breasts, blonde hair, and billions of dollars. Not to mention a folding lawn lounger. I know, I know. But surely that kind of thing is passe, no?!?

And besides, anyone can become a blonde:

Hey, do you think Paris was born with that colour of hair? Come on. If you’re that gullible, can I count on your vote in November? Because I’m, like, you know, ready to lead too, eh?!

Oh, that reminds me. Oops. I forgot that I’m not an American citizen -so I guess I can’t run for prez after all.

So much for that bright idea. I guess it’s back to the day job now.

Happy Thursday!

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!

a knitting post!!

I thought I’d make an exception to my summer hours policy and post this weekend because – I’m knitting again!  And with a vengeance..

First up: the Felted Clogs (pattern by Bev Galeskas) for JJ. The knitting is finished but felting is as yet unaccomplished.  I’m a bit worried about the size…

… but hope that the felting will work its magic.  After some initial setbacks, I was so jealous of JJ happy about the pattern that I decided to make a pair for myself as well.

This, of course, entailed a trip to Knitomatic.  I was very glad to see that Haley has taken up a “Beautify our Community” project and trust she won’t mind if I reproduce her photo here:

//frayedattheedges.blogspot.com, by Haley Waxberg)

(original photo at http://frayedattheedges.blogspot.com, by Haley Waxberg)

I went into the shop and picked up this Lamb’s Pride Bulky for my own Felted Clogs:

I also spied some new Handmaiden Lace Silk but left the shop with head held high, saying “I don’t need any more Lace Silk”.  However, I made it approximately one-half block before I went back in and bought this:

Haley’s comment upon my re-entry was “Well, that was quick!”.  But I will note that I showed great forbearance indeed – I only bought one of the three skeins in this fantastic colourway.  I don’t know what it’s called, but I’m calling it “Cool Aqua”.

(And yes, I know that I said recently I wasn’t buying any more laceweight.  Oh well.)

But where was I?! Oh, yes. I also discovered a brilliant use for those carry bags they’re selling at the liquor stores in lieu of giving you plastic bags:

You know the bags?  (Maybe those of you who live in a part of the world where liquor sales are not government controlled don’t… sigh) Well, check this out!

(And if any knitters living outside Ontario want these, they cost $1.99 and I’d be glad to post you one for that price plus postage!!)

Before I started work on my own clogs, I decided to try to assuage my guilt about letting JJ’s last pair of slippers get into the poor pathetic state that they had…

So, I decided to try to re-felt them.  The holes were clearly way too big to mend with yarn and needle, so I managed to find a crochet hook…

… and attempted with my lame@$$ crochet technique to mend them.  Here is the result, pre-felting:

I’ll let you know how it comes out.  And, if it actually works, I’ll splash out for some suede slipper bottoms, which clearly I should have done in the first place.

Anyway, I’ve already finished one of my own Felted Clogs – but I’m still worried:

I’m off to the laundromat later today to try to felt these things (my building only has huge front-loading washing machines at $2.00 per wash… and Amy kindly advised that it took her eight or so rounds in her washer to shrink these puppies down! The laundromat only charges $1.10 a load and have better options on the washers.  I must really talk to my landlord about providing adequate machines for felting… sigh.)

But I’m of half a mind, actually, to leave JJs slippers as is and make some nice tricorn hats instead:

Could we start a new fashion trend?!

Happy weekend.

food – a suicide mission?

This morning, whilst at the Fresh and Wild(ly Expensive) Shop getting my bagel (the cheapest thing in the place!) I spotted a new hot sauce:

In case you can’t read the printing on the label, it’s called Blair’s Death Rain Nitro. Now, I don’t know about you, but to me the concepts of “food” and “nitro” don’t really mesh.

But there’s more! If you want to buy the stuff off their website, you have to read this disclaimer first!

Product Disclaimer

Purchaser of this product hereby acknowledges the intense heat factor of this product and the element of danger if misused. This product is over 100 time hotter than a jalapeno pepper and is a complex blend of fresh peppers and extracts. This product is not a sauce but a food additive and should be used as such only. Furthermore, it should be clearly understood that this is used strictly at the purchaser’s risk.

Purchaser hereby releases Blair’s Sauces and Snacks from all liability, indemnifies and holds harmless Blair’s Sauces and Snacks with respect to any claims of damages or injuries resulting from the use, consumption, ingestion, and/or contact with respect to this product.

Now, ordinarily I would chalk this up to American protectionism against increasing numbers of frivolous lawsuits, or to marketing hype. However, with this Blair’s stuff I actually believe that it could harm you. This is the “heat meter” for this product:

I had seen this guy Blair on the Food Network one time when he won the “Hottest Sauce of the Year” Contest. This contest involved a bunch of masochists misguided gourmands people going and sampling many, many excruciatingly hot chilies, sauces, etc and deciding which one caused the most pain.

Shortly thereafter, they began carrying some of his potato chip line up here. Now, as you all know I am a chip monster. I saw a bag marked “mild” and thought that I should be able to handle those as I do like hot food and I have no taste buds left from all my smoking, anyway.

Well, it is the first time in recorded history that I could not finish a bag of chips. Seriously. These ones nearly killed me – and that was the “mild” version!!

This, perhaps, is not surprising when you note that most of the food products on Blair’s website come with descriptions like this:

This is Mad…Blair has made his Mega Death Sauce in a Dry form. This 1.5 oz Shaker Bottle is Full of Hell…Pure Extract has been Sprayed on Habanero Powder …Feel Alive and Good luck! [emphasis added]

I don’t think I’ve ever been told “Good Luck” before eating something – one should think it wouldn’t be necessary. But, apparently not when it comes to “extreme food”.

So, I ask you – what is this fixation with “extreme” food, anyway? Does everything have to be a contest? Millions throughout the world don’t have enough to eat – but we have so much that we can choose to render it inedible by sprinkling the equivalent of a five alarm fire onto it, then eating it anyway to prove how macho we are?!

That’s enough to leave a sour taste in my mouth, I tell you.

Now, the closest I get to lusting after “extreme food” is drooling over photos of food that looks extremely good. Take, for example, my version of ladenia – Greek pizza:

If you want the recipe, it’s available here at Peter’s blog. I cheated and used store-bought pizza dough, though – so easy! And not a Scoville unit to be found!

And if, like me, you’re into salivating over photos of fabulous food, in addition to Peter’s blog, check out Greek Food Recipes and Reflections by Sam. Both guys are greek-canadian like me, by the way, and they may just be the only two Greek men in the world who like cooking! Where were they, I ask you, before I decided never, ever, ever to marry a Greek guy?!?!? Why did I make that decision again, exactly?

Oh, yeah.

Happy Thursday and don’t let your tongue get burned off. You need it to talk, after all!

Wanted: Christmas in July

Amazing! With only nine days left in the month, what did I spot yesterday in the street but this joyous scene?!?

All right, all right, I’m lying to you – again. This photo was actually on the Globe and Mail website yesterday. This was the caption:

Santas gather to make their way in a parade through Copenhagen on Tuesday during their annual three-day congress. Now in its 51st year, the World Santa Claus Congress brings together 136 red-clad delegates, mostly from Scandinavia but also as far away as Russia, Japan and the United States.

Now, there’s a new one for me – a Santa Conference. How come I don’t get to go to fun conferences like that? The last one I got to attend was called, I believe: Feudalism in the Modern Age – How to Deal with Ontario’s Many, Many Landlords – or something along those lines. Not a red suit to be seen or “ho ho ho” to be heard. Sigh.

Oh – a little Christmas in July tip, while I think of it? Do yourself a favour and read The Santaland Diaries by David Sedaris. It’s his account of working as an elf in Macy’s department store in their Santaland one year. Hilarious. If you’re a podcast type, you can also listen to him read it here.


Another example of the Christmas in July spirit in Europe – they’re giving away Vauxhall cars at the Tower Bridge in London!!!

Um… not really. Actually, this appears to be a publicity stunt for yet another new model of car. But my explanation of the photo is far nicer, no?

Personally, though, I think that this is a far nicer shot of the Tower Bridge, with a very rare sighting of one of Canada’s most esteemed intellectuals and artisans.

(In seeing this photo again, I hasten to say that I am not one of those pretentious wankers who insists on wearing shades all the time, even in winter. Instead, I have those eyeglasses which get dark in the sunshine. This was a bad move on my part in retrospect as I can no longer pretend I’m in the washroom 10 minutes every 45 minutes hour and a half when I’ve actually snuck – sneaked? – outside for a smoke. Sigh.)

But not everywhere in the world is lucky enough to have me and my benevolent presence strolling around, sadly. One place that could really use some benevolence right around now, not to mention a few Santas – Zimbabwe.

Apparently they just issued new money over there because their currency is completely in the toilet. This means that one egg costs $35billion Zimbabwean. This $100billion note is not enough to pay for the three eggs depicted in the photograph.

My math is horrendous – but this must mean the new Vauxhall car would cost… er… something like $200billiontrilliongazillionandquadrillion in Zimbabwe. Sigh.

Considering this, we really don’t have it all that bad over here. However, one thing I’ve noted – the cost of gas has risen well more than a quarter since the real Christmas month in 2007. Witness this photo I took in mid-December:

The blur is due to me shaking with rage because the price of gas refused to go under $1 (CDN) per litre.

And today? That same litre costs between 126.9 cents and 134.7 cents per litre, depending upon what part of the city you’re in (I like the way they still use “cents” to make you think it’s not all that expensive. Well, that little trick, I’m here to tell you Big Bad Gas Companies, doesnae work.) Apparently in some parts of the country it is nearing $1.50 and a couple of weeks here in good old TO it was $1.38.

In other words, not billions – but I find it very difficult to understand how the prices have gone up more than a third in the past seven months, really.

It’s enough to make me want to rush back to London. Forget Tower Bridge (although I can think of a few dozen top-level people who should perhaps be taken across it in legchains and left in the old prison there!). I’ll be looking for this place:

Will I find some answers there? Will I, hell. But I’ll be able to work up some guid big old rants, I should think.

Happy Wednesday and may Santa be kind to you all.