My Big Fat Greek Craving

Hello again from the Big Blue!

I have cravings. Some are easily satisfied, others require a little more work.  

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An easily satisfied craving on Aitutaki…fresh mangoes.

Chocolate always tops my list. Not just any chocolate. It’s simple enough to find a Kit Kat, a Crunchie, or any of the other sugar sticks trying to pass themselves off as chocolate on this island. No, the sinful confection I seek must be dark as the heart of an assassin, and smooth as a southern lawyer. Swiss. The higher the cocoa count the better. I don’t want something to just stick in my mouth and munch on while I write emails or fold the laundry; I want a rare treasure to be rationed, broken into squares, placed on my tongue and allowed to melt in its own bittersweet time.

We had one guest from Canada who offered to bring us anything we missed from home. Prez – licorice, Me – Swiss dark chocolate, Both – Extra Strength Advil. I was on pins and needles waiting for his arrival. No, maybe I was more like a junkie in withdrawals. He touched down at last and I could barely contain my hunger. “I’m so sorry,” he said, handing Fred a gigantic package of red licorice, (he does prefer black), “I don’t know how I missed the chocolate.” I thought he was kidding for a moment, I actually laughed, but then I figured out he was serious and felt like some bully had just popped my balloon.

And then there was the wayward package of four – yes, four – bars sent to me by Carrie T of Nelson fame. I’d warned everyone, or at least I thought I had, not to give in to my constant pleas for a cocoa fix and mail me some because of the hideously expensive shipping costs… I am not worthy. But, bless her little altruistic heart, Carrie went ahead and shipped me four bars via extra-slow (read: the least pricey) mail. I could have hugged her through the computer. I waited, again, for the precious cargo to arrive.

I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited, and waited, and waited, and waited. Once or twice a week I would scooter down to the post office to be ignored by the only two unfriendly islanders in existence. “Any package yet?” I would ask, radiating optimism. When Mister or Misses Grouchy were finished staring at their fingernails, or whatever the heck it is they do in that bare office, one of them would grunt, stand up, riffle through the six packages strewn on the floor, sit back down, shrug and shake their head. Damn.

Finally, I’d reached my limit, (yes, it takes nine weeks for me to reach my limit), and I asked, “So how long does it usually take for a package to get here from Canada?”

Mr. Grouchy frowned, “Two weeks.”

Two weeks?? It had been nine already! Where was my chocolate? I fought visions of customs officers with chocolate stained teeth laughing as they tore apart my envelope. My heart walked off a cliff. Two weeks? Obviously, all hope was lost.

On my way back from an herb gathering trip for my Greek dinner – which shall be discussed shortly – Prez flagged me down on the road. This looked serious. “You better go get your ID,” he warned me. Oh no! What tragedy had befallen me now?

 Why?” I gulped.

Because your chocolate is waiting for you at the post office!” He smiled a wicked smile.

Man, you’ve never seen a scooter move so fast! Poor Mr. Grouchy was smothered by my good mood and you could tell he was pissed off that the package I’d pestered him about for two and a half months actually existed. I rushed home and ripped into the manila envelope. Four bars! JOY! JOY! JOY! Two were Lindt! My favorite!!!! I skipped, I jumped, I counted squares and compared them to the calendar – how many days of bliss lay ahead for me? There was also a Nelson Express tucked inside – our local paper – and I read, with glee, the latest news from our little city (well, latest news to me), as a square of creamy deliciousness melted on my tongue. Mmmmmmmmm.

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Happy, happy Princess!

I hereby declare, from this day forward, Carrie T is to be known as CFC (Chocolate Fairy Carrie)!! And she shall be privilege to all the honours that title carries. (Thank you, thank you, thank you!)

My next craving, and most recent one, was for Greek food. One of the perks of living in a country full of so many diverse nationalities – I have discovered – is the many foods one gets to sample from around the globe. Back home, even in tiny Nelson, (especially in tiny Nelson), if I say, “Hm, I have a craving for Thai food”, why, I just hop in the car and zip on down to the nearest Thai restaurant. Or I could zip on down to Save-On Foods and collect the ingredients to make it myself. Or I could zip nowhere and just phone someone to deliver it to my house.

My god, there are places in this world where people deliver fully prepared food to your doorstep! Utopia.

On Aitutaki, when you think, “Hm, I have a craving for ________food” (fill in Nationality of choice), your work has just begun.

First you need a recipe. Of course you didn’t bring a recipe book with you because you were already three pieces of luggage over the limit and Air Canada now has the greater part of your retirement fund because of that. So, you email friends – in my case, the nationality was Greek and my go-to girl was none other than Martha Roney and her fantabulous tzatziki – and you scour the internet. Once recipes are compiled, you have to make a list of necessary ingredients. The next list will be all of the ingredients that must be substituted – at least half. Some recipes will have to be discarded altogether after you realize the only ingredient not substituted is salt. You narrow your selection down to: Tzatziki, hummus, pita bread, Greek rice, and a pseudo-souvlaki.

Now begins your quest.

Measuring spoons. Who would carry measuring spoons? You drive halfway around the island, looking in every store for measuring spoons and find none. At Vonnia’s (our version of Wal-Mart), the lady doesn’t even know what you’re talking about. “You know, spoons, to measure stuff?” you say. She still doesn’t get it. “For baking and cooking?”

Awareness finally filters onto her face. “Oh yes!” she exclaims, “We have those!” Success. “Ah, but we’re all sold out right now, maybe next month.” Well, you’ll just have to find someone to borrow them from.

Yogurt is a pretty basic ingredient. You shouldn’t have trouble there. No sir! That is, if you don’t mind peach flavoured tzatziki. You send an email to your boss asking if he can get you some on Rarotonga. Then you check to see when the next incoming guest arrives so that Mr. Boss can ask if they will take your plain yogurt over as carry-on.

A bottle of balsamic vinegar will have to function as a rolling pin.

How much yeast is in a package? That’s all the pita recipe says, One package of instant yeast. Yeast is only sold in 2kg packages here so you better plan on baking a lot of bread this month. Try not to think about the fact that you don’t bake. You’ve never made a loaf of bread in your life, never mind something as detailed as pita bread!

Fresh herbs are available but scattered across the island. Tauono has mint, (don’t forget to wear your mozzie repellant, remember what happened last time), and Angelo has parsley. Whatever you do, don’t tell Tauono you’re going to Angelo’s or vice versa, as they have a feud going. And set aside at least two hours to get each herb because both men will want to chat and show you around the garden, and make you take home a bag of mangoes or hot peppers. If only the grocery store had dried herbs, you’d be happy to make the substitution!

You know the Heineken store will have bell peppers but bring your cash. Remember that time you bought broccoli? The woman asked you if it was a cauliflower? And it cost eight dollars?

Now, after five days, you have all your ingredients and equipment assembled. You are ready to cook!

Thankfully, the pita recipe calls for a really hot oven as yours has no temperature gauge and so you have no way of knowing what temperature you’re setting it at. Oh, isn’ t this going to be fun? Baking a dozen pitas and standing in front of a blazing oven in the middle of the afternoon? Drink plenty of water!

It’s seven o’clock. You’re sweating like a four hundred pound man jogging up a flight of stairs. Your husband keeps asking when dinner will be ready. The chick peas are still not soft enough to make hummus – why the hell can’t they sell them in cans??!! Your souvlaki is just a bunch of cubed chicken wrapped in tinfoil with the ten dollar peppers and some oregano. You were going to make rice, too, but forget it; you’ll fry up some leftover stuff.

Eight o’clock. Dinner is served. “There’s onions in it,” your husband frowns at your pseudo-souvlaki, and you know he’s also ginched about the cooked vegetables. He doesn’t like cooked vegetables. You’re so tired you can barely lift your pita, (it’s a tad chewy but otherwise turned out pretty good), and you’ve lost five pounds of water through perspiration.

Do you like it?” You ask your loved one, recalling the week of preparation for this one meal.

Yeah, it’s pretty good.” He answers, nonchalantly.

He raved about that pasta you cooked last week, which was, essentially, noodles, garlic, butter, and dried herbs. And took ten minutes to prepare.

But your craving is satisfied! Well done you!!

Hm, I have a craving for Chinese food…

QUESTION: What do you crave? Can it be satisfied?

Until next week, I hope this finds you healthy, happy & lovin’ life!

The Princess

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