Ι think I start off every summer with a desire for cooking in a mental way, using my brain most.
I place my tools, knives, new gadgets I’ve discovered online in neat rows. Ironed uniforms and brilliantly white clean aprons. Comfortable shoes. Timers for perfectly poached eggs and silicone forms for sweet jellied fruit flans. I hope the new cookbooks I’ve read will actually come in handy, that I’ll manage to try out all the exceptional recipes I’ve found.
I want to place everything I’ve learnt, seen and tested over the winter in my pots and baking trays, in bread baskets and pitchers.
This is how I arrive to the island, mentally charged and prepared, with big plans and new ideas.
However, the Apollonian Light (this lovely sweet light of the greek islands where Apollo was born) is not to be trifled with and it quickly brings my racing designs to a halt. The swift sunrise and outrageous sunset, the star-strewn sky, the endless sea (no, not a cliché, it’s all true, I promise!), the golden fields of hay and olive trees, a stolen fig from a lonely tree, a morning hitchhike, an offered peeled prickly pear , a small vineyard in the horizon, freshly caught fish, an unexpected brilliant co-worker, a small vegetable garden next to the kitchen …all these make the heart spring to life and want to cook differently than originally planned.
Recipes remain tucked in my rucksack, the small sharp knife politely replaces all of the other tools, the clay pot becomes my ally every summer without fail and, after a brief moment of hesitation, I end up cooking what I know best, the kind of food which makes me feel good, which perfectly matches the environment and my kitchen and pairs perfectly with the dips in the sea, the salty water, the heat, in other words, the humble Greek food. (Strangely enough, the poor wretches who eat what I cook seem to like the same kind of food I do…).
The day’s menu is not planned weeks before, but is inspired by what fresh produce I collect from the garden, by the fisherman’s fresh catch, by the cook and friends’ mood, by the summer breeze or by Nature’s kindness, like the nutritious purslane growing unannounced in the small patch of dirt near the kitchen.
Briam. Moussaka. Greek salad. Fava with sweet caramelized onions and salty pickled capers. Baked chickpeas. Mixed collard greens. Kayianas and scrambled eggs with all fresh herbs cut last moment from the nearby bostani. Fish soup cooked with sea water. Meats cooked in wine or red sauce. Or oregano. Cretan rusks. Mostra with Mykonian kopanisti cheese. Meatballs with lots of mint. Courgette and tomato fried balls. Barbequed fish. Stuffed vegetables. Goat in the oven with potatoes. Pasticcio. Sofrito. Fried zucchini. Chicken with okra. Pumpkin pies. Pasta with fresh juicy tomatoes, spicy Feta pesto and basil. Yoghurt with figs, dates, cantaloupe melons, watermelons, grapes, sugared fruit. Honey. Feta. Fillo.
‘That’s it, greek readers may ask? This is the food we cook at home, that’s what we like best, too.’ What a compliment!
So, wishing you all a good winter. Thankfully, summer will come round again, and show us what feeling good feels like.