“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.

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!

Marketing 101

Oh, and before you go and hit the back button on your browser – no, not that kind of marketing.

This is just my shorthand for saying that JJ and I hit the shops and markets today… but, as a result, no doubt I will be announcing yet another career change shortly. I intend to become a master purveyor of fine preserves.

(JJ is sceptical.  But I don’t think he’s yet clued in that, as a newly retired person, he will be the ideal free labour force I need to start up my venture.  Do me a favour and don’t tell him – he doesn’t go on the internet, and so can just remain in blissful remote-control-commanding oblivion for the time being, I reckon.  I’ll give him a couple more weeks off…)

We hit Crappy Tire today on a quest for a canning maching. Once we arrived, I realised I don’t actually need one. I just needed this stuff:

…and this:

… and this:

(Oops – sorry – wrong photo… but then again, what Master Chef doesn’t need a little liquid inspiration from time to time?! And those who tell you they don’t – they’re lying.)

But I actually meant to say… and these:

JJ was a bit worried about the acquisition of three dozen mason jars. While we were in Crappy Tire, he had the nerve to ask me if I was planning to convert the contents of our burgeoning deep freezer into canned “guids”. I had no choice but to remind him that it was his bright idea to get a deep freezer in the first place, and that it is his wee fixation on “buy two roasts, get the third free”, family size bags of frozen potato products, and trips to the Scottish butcher that keeps the freezer overflowing.

And besides, I’ve already used six of the jars for my sour cherry jam – so all is not in vain!!!

JJ: Well, lassie, we don’t know if it’s in vain yet air noawt… as ah cahn’t even try the jam for another 24 hours!!!!

KB: Oh, skase (“shuddup” in Greek. The only three words that JJ knows in Greek are skase, skasmos [“shut the $#&*(@$ up”], and s’aghapo [“I love you”]. Not necessarily in the order listed, I hasten to say.)

I got the sour cherries for the jam at this local farmers’ market we checked out – a 10 minute walk from here, Saturdays 2-5.

I was also very, very excited to find huge bunches of basil at the market!

It was so fresh I couldn’t help but process it right away.   If you don’t have a recipe for basil pesto, feel free to use this one.  Six packed cups of leaves from the above (or two huge bunches), and 3/4 cup of these lovely pine nuts (I recommend toasting them in the oven at 350F for 5 minutes – NO MORE):

(oh, and if you’re me, you then add a pinch for guid luck!), and one and a half cups of this stuff:

(I hasten to say that ordinarily I have both this and the regular olive oil in stock in 3 litre metal cans.  But I’m almost out, and Loblaws wanted too much for the large quantity today – so I had to resort to their house brand which was on sale.)… and 10 cloves of this stuff:

(and don’t give me that “what do you mean, 10 cloves?!?!?” bit??  Try it – you’ll like it.  You’ll see.)

Blend it all together in a blender or food processor.  Oh, and you might like to try a dash of this stuff:

(And yes, I do appreciate the irony of making pesto from ultra-fresh basil then adding bottled lemon juice.  But Loblaws today was demanding $1.09 PER LEMON.  Thieves!!!  I refuse to pay those prices, especially when the lemons in question have skin thicker than that of your average elephant.  Welcome to Canada, where the citrus comes from Vanuatu or some such place at this time of year, and the shops charge the gas price for the entire shipment in one $&#*(@* lemon.)

Oh, and don’t forget some of this, to taste

You will end up with approximately three cups of this lovely stuff:

…which, with the addition of parmesan, romano or asiago cheese and some pasta, gets very easily converted into this:

(I know, I know – the photo isn’t that appetising.  But it tasted so good I ended up eating it out of the saucepan.  All of it.)

So, it’s been a very guid day.  We even ended up with this stuff:

Good old Sandy McTire!!  The only downside is that, when having spent all my money before I bought new hair dye, I tried to use this at Shoppers, they wouldn’t accept it!! Bastards.  I got a haircut yesterday, and all the dye is now gone and I need some more quite desperately.  But, no go today.

So, with trepidation, I bring to you a very very rare photo of me with my natural hair colour:

I actually don’t mind this photo, as it doesnae show all the grey at the back.  Stay tuned for my new hair colour choice next week!

Happy rest-of-the-weekend!!

summertime… and the living is (gr)easy!

Well, summer must finally have arrived in Ontario, as attested to by the new copy of the Bible that I found at the All Hallowed Store of Liquors yesterday:


(ducking to avoid mass chunk of ice which will inevitably fall on my head, resulting from freak late June snowstorm and provoked by tempting the Fates!).

This was perfect timing, as I’m trying to plan my mid-August party. Now, between all the delicious recipes in this mag and those in another book I recently got from the library:

I now have a ridiculous number of new recipes to try. JJ, cringing at my evergrowing scrawled list of “must-makes”, reminded me yesterday that were I actually to make all the food I wanted to make for this party, I could likely feed … oh, the whole building and the two next door besides!

So, what’s the problem! Opa!!

Speaking of “opa”, I had to laugh because the Bible featured a feta and watermelon salad as a “new trendsetting item”. I have been making this for at least two years and Nigella Lawson had a version in one of her books at least five years ago. Try it out – her recipe is at this link, and I’ve had at least 40 rave reviews by now.

But, actually, this discussion is altogether too healthy, given the provisions laid in yesterday for kickoff of Summer in the House of Brouhaha:

Get this! New, scottish-style beer! And it’s one of the “bargain priced” ones. Go figure:

This beer went very well indeed with a very greasy (and very delicious) indian buffet we got to pig out on at a party last night…lamb vindaloo and meat samosas and all the naan you could hide in your purse stomach.

And, more guid news – the Laundry Room drought is over!!

Check out the fancy unopened mango bath products gift box!

And, in light of my whine about meetings the other day, this was a particularly welcome find:

Here’s the original poster from Despair, Inc.:

There is some peculiar truth to that. Must be some mathematical equation out there regarding quantum of intellect and how it flies out the window during meetings!

But why am I talking about meetings, anyway?! It’s Sunday. Off to eat some chips make some breakfast, kick JJ’s lazy @$$ out of bed and see what the day holds.

Happy Sunday!

Five Ways to Combat Your Fear of the Demon Weed

No, not that kind of weed.

Get your mind out of the gutter!!! Anyway, it’s (still) illegal.

What I was actually referring to is the kind that pops up in yards and gardens all over the place at this time of year, striking fear and loathing into the hearts of gardeners everywhere.

An example: the dreaded and much-maligned dandelion.

Now, my thumb is not green but black – must be all that tar in the smokes. All this to say, I have no clue about gardening. But I do think that dandelions are quite pretty:

See? What’s wrong with them? They’re bright and cheery. And they’re free, and they don’t take any work to maintain. So what’s the big deal?

Still not convinced? Well, maybe my five tips on combatting the affliction of weed hatred will convince you.

1. Start eating the leaves.

Yes, you can eat dandelion greens. My great grandmother did it for years – and she even drank the water they were boiled in (the appearance of which any smoker who has tried that time honoured quit smoking tip “empty your ashtray into a jar, fill with water, let marinate one week then keep bringing it out and looking at it when you’re jonesing for a smoke” will recognise). And, she lived to be 107! (well, I exaggerate a bit. But she was very old when she died).

I’ve also seen dandelion greens at the supermarket in certain ethnic neighbourhoods from time to time Even some of the top chefs have picked up on this dandelion trick and are serving dandelion salad. So, if they can serve it, so can you, right?

As for prep tips, don’t ask me. I wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole. But, as they are extremely healthy, you really should try some yourselves. I’m thinking about your best interests here.

2. Look for comparisons between other “real” plants that you have to pay for and tend.

If you do this, it may well be that you will stop seeing the necessity of shelling out your hard-earned bucks at the flower centre. Here’s an example:

I mean, do you see any difference, really? If anything, the dandelions are nicer looking because they don’t have those big ugly fuzzy brown spots in the middle!

3. Hunt down artistic depictions of the weed.

And yes, people do honour dread weeds such as the dandelion in art. Here are two examples.

This piece by Ann Beckley is called “Dandelion Lace:

Don’t you love the dandelion etching on the side?

And this piece is Myrna Oostrom is simply called “Dandelions”

Wow. I wish I could paint like that.

Anyway, works of art like these are important in that they help to remove the stigma of weed-dom.

4. Make a pros and cons list.

I have a deep dark secret to confess: I am a huge fan of pros and cons lists. Having said that, I’m not going to list the “cons” of letting weeds flourish here because you already know all of those. Here are some pros:

  • You don’t have to break your back any more doing all that weeding.
  • You can save all that money you spend every year on plants which end up dying half the time anyway when there is some freak snowstorm in June.
  • Got any neighbours you can’t stand? Letting your yard grow over with wees provided great fodder to piss them off.
  • Alternatively, having problems coming up with social chit chat with the neighbours? Let your yard grow over with weeds, then you can casually ask them how they cope with weeds in their yard. I imagine that this is good for hours of pleasantries.
  • You will have lots of extra time for fun things… such as knitting, for example.

Which leads us to the fifth and final tip…

5. Check out yarn inspirations.

There are even knitting yarns named after weeds. And let me tell you, fondling a skein of Handmaiden Dandelion sea silk could probably change your mind about a whole lot of things:

For some reason, I haven’t quite managed to get my hot little mitts on any of this glorious stuff yet. But, after all, it is PayDay tomorrow!

Here’s a little challenge for you. Below is a photo of more Handmaiden colourways.

Tell me which one is named after a (sort of) weed – and provide the name. I’ll post the link to the answers here tomorrow. Hint – each colourway has one word in the name only.

See, weeds can be fun. Go forth and let them multiply, I exhort you!

Happy Weednesday Wednesday!

Brouhaha’s guide to surviving the northern winter

What’s a girl to do when the temperature dips way below zero, the sun never shines and daylight only takes place for a few hours a day?

(Yes, yes, I know… it looks sorta pretty, actually. Well, let me tell you, the sight of me arriving at work with trousers splashed up and down with brown slush by passing cars is a damn site less than pretty!)

I realise there are all sorts of pioneer guides written by those far more experienced than I (Jack London and Susanna Moodie come to mind) – and I certainly don’t intend to go roughing it in the bush to figure out how to write a better one. So, please treat this as my Six-Point Plan for the Modern Crafting Pioneer.

1. Knit things that cover as much of your body as possible while knitting them.
When you live in a 55 year old building with a heating system that most likely predated the building, you learn very quickly to dress warmly inside. At least, you might. I prefer to dress as though I were heading to the beach in Hawaii, myself. So, it’s imperative that my knitting projects meet my need to stay warm.

Here’s a good example:Now, I cannot tell you how $#&*@($&*#@( sick I was of this project (the Nina shawl from the MDK book) when I took this photo. However, it does keep me warm.

2. Knit other cold-weather stuff.

At the present time, as usual, I have too many ideas/projects on the brain and too little time. Right now I’m making a sweater.

For the next project, I’m trying to decide between the Jess gansey sweater featured in the Winter 2007 IK mag:

(and yes, yes, I know – it has short sleeves. But it is not a cotton T-shirt, so give me a break already!) using this yarn:(the Rowan Calmer I bought for the Morrigan by Jenna Wilson, which I recently acknowledged that I will never actually make…sigh) and the Bespoke Jacket from No Sheep for You:

using CotLin in a few colours.

As a quick and easy project, I’ll also be making another Moebius scarf with this lovely Noro Silk Garden yarn:
I also have another project mission on the go, which leads me to:

3. Think Pink!


Now, I’m not ordinarily a pink sort of gal, but when hunting through the stash today I was surprised to learn that my Pink cup runneth over:

Which is a good thing, because it means that I am prepared to undertake the Freeform Pink Fragment Challenge posted by Jenny Dowde on one of my listserves today. Essentially, we’ve been asked to create some knit/crochet fragments out of pink yarn for future assembly into an art piece to be raffled off for a breast cancer charity. A venerable cause… ! And, just look at all this pink yarn!

If interested, by the way, check out the Freeformations group on Ravelry or contact me for more info. Also, there is a Freeformations yahoo group.

(I know, I’m cheating… there is one there that isn’t all pink. However, the pink in it is very shiny so I thought it should go into the mix. And, speaking of shiny things…)

4. Make sure that your surroundings are as bright and cheery as possible.

In this regard, while cleaning this past weekend I came across some odds and ends and assembled the following display:

The vases both came from the Goodwill some time back and cost about $3.00 each. The flower bouquets are from the dollar store and were left over from my Homage to Carmen Miranda. Aren’t they cute? (Oh – the flower in the middle was the place card holder at a friend’s wedding.)

5. Use extra lighting when needed to keep you sane.

This lamp was an antique/junk shop find from a couple of years back. It is Art Deco, but I got it for $20.00 because there is a crack in it somewhere. The vase to its left is from the Goodwill. This colour cheers me up immensely, I must say.

The candy stash (which you can see in the standing ashtray at the far left of the photo, with Werthers caramels having a place of honour at the far right) doesn’t hurt either. And on the general topic of nourishment…

6. Eat nourishing cold weather meals.

Now, I don’t know about you… but I spend much of the summer foraging for exotic treats to stash away to keep us going through the winter…

This means that on winter weekends when I am snowed in (or alternatively, when I am too lazy to get any further than the gas station up the street for smokes and chips), I don’t have to worry about coming up with something better than stale bread and olive oil for dinner (actually, I have become rather partial to stale bread and olive oil over the years, but JJ will insist on eating a hot meal… ! Ingrate.)

Particularly in the winter months, the item on the left below is the Modern Crafting Pioneer’s best friend.

This slow cooker gets a lot of use in these parts. It is pictured here with the ingredients for tonight’s dinner, which, as I type, is merrily bubbling away:

Kristina’s Desperation Lamb Mexi-Mediterranean Chili

1/2 kilo (1 lb) ground lamb (thanks, New Zealand! I love ya!)
1 large jar medium salsa leftover from a party this past autumn
1 small jar garlic tomato pizza sauce
1 can chick peas (I don’t like those red beans)
Frank’s hot sauce to taste
(not pictured)
juice of 1/2 orange
cumin powder (probably about 2 t.)
cinnamon powder (probably about 1 t.)
salt and pepper

Make sure the lamb is thawed. Throw everything into the slowcooker and cook on low for 8-10 hours. Serve with lots of crusty bread.
By the way, you may have read in some fancy cooking book or homemakers’ mag that you should brown all the meat, etc. before putting in the slowcooker for better flavour. I’m here to tell you I’ve tried dishes with and without browning, and there is NO difference in flavour at all. I shouldn’t have thought there would be, giving that you’re cooking the hell out of the dish in the slowcooker anyway! So, a time-saving tip from Brouhaha – more time to knit!!!

(Oh – you can also add the beer if you want to. The beer in the photo was intended for the chef, actually – left there from the cooking effort last night.)

Nothing to it, eh? So – anyone from the South, consider moving on up here next winter. It’s really not as brutal up here as we like to let on. At least not in Toronto… now the people of Winnipeg or Angus, I suspect, would be laughing at me were they bothering to read it!

And, upon sober second thought, it is kinda pretty after all!