I did it! I graduated! I have a degree! I realise I am repeating myself but this is big and exciting news to me. Now I can officially parler à propos de la comida em uma mistura de llenguas, as well as come out with the occasional useless snippet of the odd endangered language – topically, for example, onion in Breton is ognon. That was one of my favourites.
Now that I’m done showing off, I can also say that this means that I’m back to writing about things like guava, and this time I hope to be better at sticking around.
It’s at this point when people usually ask, “So, what’s next?”
The answer is that I’ll be home with my parents for the summer, and then off I go to Belgium to be a Language Assistant with the British Council. I’ve never been to Belgium but I hear they have good beer, chips and chocolate, so I’m sold. Beyond what’s known as typical though, I’m sure they will have all kinds of other delicious things for me to try and to write about, so I’m pretty excited.
My lovely friend and housemate Irini made these cheese pies (τυροπιτάκια (tiropitakia) in Greek, she tells me) the other day and they were so good I had to ask her for the recipe. The semolina brings a comforting but not overpowering starchiness that complements the sharpness of the feta perfectly, and all of this wrapped in irresistible buttered filo.
I watched Irini make the pies using her mum’s recipe and then she jotted me down the basics of it; here is an account of how I recreated them – I hope I’ve got it right! Many many thanks to Irini and her mum – these are delicious.
Irini’s mum’s feta cheese pies
Makes about 10 triangular pies.
1 mugful of milk
Half a mugful of semolina
1 tbsp of butter (plus extra, melted, for glazing and greasing)
Salt to taste
100g (half a supermarket pack) of feta cheese
5 sheets filo pastry
Preheat the oven to 200° C/180°C (fan). Line 2 trays with baking parchment and grease.
Mix the milk with the semolina and butter and salt in a pan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Once the mixture has thickened, lower the heat right down and add the egg, mixing in well. Then crumble in the block of feta and stir through before checking and adjusting the seasoning. The mixture should be of a spoonable consistency.
Now make the triangular pies. Cut each sheet of pastry in half length-wise to produce long, thin strips. Place a generous spoonful (but not too generous, or else they’ll overflow like mine!) of the filling onto the end of one of the pastry strips and fold the short bottom edge of the strip up over it through 90°, so that it lines up with the left-hand long edge of the strip. Now fold this triangle containing the filling straight upwards towards the top of the strip, so that the bottom edge is straight again. Then fold that bottom edge through 90° again, this time to the right, so that it meets the right-hand long edge of the strip. Finally, fold straight upwards again. Repeat this process (90°left, up, 90° right, up…) until you have reached the end of the pastry strip. Place on one of the lined baking trays with the loose end of the strip facing downwards to hold it in place. Repeat the process until all the filling is used up and then glaze the pies with melted butter. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden.
Several tofu-eaters had told me this before, and I believed them, but had never tried it. For the first time now, I got my hands on some firm tofu, but not the pre-seasoned kind.
(An aside: pre-seasoned basil tofu grilled with garlic powder and olive oil then topped with a mixture of grated tomato, grated fresh garlic, olive oil and salt is also a very good idea.)
I dutifully pressed my tofu, cut it into chunks and left it for a generous 24 hours to soak up some lime juice, miso paste, garlic powder and soy sauce. I tossed it in flour and fried it in hot coconut oil. Then, I dropped a piece on the floor and so just had to eat it, which is when I found out how very right all those marinading tofu-eaters had been.
The sour-umami of lime-miso-soy was always going to be a winner. However, the way that this penetrates each cube of tofu, the flavour developing as you bite into it, was more of a surprise.
Of course I had been told that tofu takes on the flavour of whatever it is soaked in. What I didn’t know was what that would feel like when I ate it. Unlike other foods, the flavour of tofu is indeed masked by the seasoning. What it does is provide a vehicle for that new flavour to become more complex, enhance and amplify it, add satisfying texture.
One of the thoughts bringing me most joy tonight is that there is half of the tofu still left, sitting quietly in the fridge as it carries on absorbing flavour, waiting to make tomorrow night’s stir-fry sing.
And it’s making me disproportionately emotional. I can smell it from my attic room, seeping through the kitchen door ajar onto the garden and rising two floors until it meets my single glazing, the resistance of which is futile. The scent creeps in through the cracks around the window frame, or perhaps it permeates the glass itself.
I feel like a dog that sits outside a bakery waiting for its owner, watching the rotisserie chickens turn on spits in their glass-fronted cabinets. Even though I can’t see what’s cooking (and I daren’t go down to the kitchen to find out what exactly it is), the smell conjures up powerful enough an image. The bakery I imagine is on the corner of my grandma’s street in Rio, the rotisserie cabinets right by the door. The door is always open and walking past on the street you are hit by a wave of heat and aroma from the roasting birds.
I remind myself that rotisserie chickens always look and smell better than they taste, that as soon as they leave their glass-fronted cabinet, the magic is lost. I remind myself that whenever my grandma suggests bringing one home for lunch I lose my apetite on the way home from the bakery, chicken in bag in hand, as the smell fades away. But until it fades, and until I can no longer smell chicken cooking in my kitchen, the imaginary dog will stare longingly at the rotisserie cabinet, where the magic is not yet lost.
On February 2nd, perhaps I will roast a chicken. Meanwhile, falafel?
Six days into veganism and all is well. As far as I know, I’ve only slipped up once. It happened with my dad’s home-made pickled peppers – by the time we remembered that there might have been honey in the pickling juice, I had already obliviously scoffed quite a few. Between you and me though, it was worth it. They taste of sweet and sharp and hot and gardening.
Apart from the pepper incident however, things have been going to plan. I have rediscovered grated tomato with garlic, olive oil and salt, just like they eat on toast in Spain, and rekindled my love for dark chocolate. I don’t miss cheese (yet). So far, it all seems a little easier than I had expected, which makes me wonder if I’m doing it wrong. I hope not. I snarkily tell myself that this is a honeymoon period, and that I will soon get tired of lentils (protein!) quinoa (more protein!) and Oreos (treats). If that is the case though, long may it last. In the meantime, tomorrow, a new challenge: eating out for lunch. Wish me luck!
I just had my first go at a specifically vegan treat. This is how it went.
I smashed up a banana with a fork and since it was still a little under-ripe, added a bit of dark brown sugar. I’m very glad I did because it melted into the banana juice just so, coating everything in a silky syrup. Then, I sprinkled over some cocoa powder and set to it with my spoon. Yum.
Technically speaking, we’re still within the 12 days of Christmas, so I don’t think this quick throwback to the 22nd or so of December is entirely inappropriate. Besides, I really want to talk about this cake:
Christmas cake has its merits, the main ones for me being the festive pomp and circumstance and thick sugary-almondy outer layer, left until last and then eaten on its own. To put things bluntly though, does anyone actually like it that much?
Even those in favour have to be committed enough to begin the making process a good couple of months beforehand, and this year (like most) there has been no yuletide miracle of organisation and I have done no such thing. Having said that, perhaps the miracle just occurred on a smaller, later scale, manifesting itself in flash-burst of proactivity that led to me clearing out the baking cupboard at my parents’.
Among the findings (which included some tea that went out of date in 1993, but perhaps the less said about that the better) were a couple of packets of readymade marzipan that were asking to be used up. I’ve made Nigella Lawson’s Easy Almond Cake from How to Be a Domestic Goddess before and liked it, plus it uses 250g of the stuff, and so out came a Christmas-spiced version of it.
To bring the seasonal cheer I added generous pinches to taste of ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon. I also used brown self-raising flour, which is not specified in the recipe, and 100g golden caster sugar plus 50g dark brown sugar instead of the 150g caster sugar in the original version. These additions added a little robustness and musky caramel to balance the spices, but I don’t think they overpowered the more delicate side of the marzipan.
So there you have it, a cake to eat at Christmas: sugary-almondy wintry-spicy like the genuine article but assuredly densely damp, fuzzily aromatic and, dare I say it… better.