Thursday, 26 November 2009

Mud and pomegranates II

(continued from I)

When the sun was well on its way, and nature around them was wide awake, they slowly got up and headed back inside the orchard. They made their way through the fruit trees to the edge of the orchard and started walking back, clapping their hands and throwing the odd pebble here and there, trying to drive the birds out of the orchard and towards the grove where they'd set their sticks. At the same time, they kept an eye open for anything they could shoot with their slings. Angelís spotted a blackcap on an olive tree branch. He aimed his sling and shot at it but missed. He spat another mouthful of lead shot into the pouch of his sling and carried on with scaring the birds.

When they came to the end of the orchard, they again sat against the carob tree and opened their bags. "I hope you brought some of your mum's halloumi" Paráskos". "Of course, never without some". Angelís brought out a bag with olives, some cucumbers and tomatoes and some fresh bread which his grandmother had baked the day before, all carefully wrapped in a cloth. They laid it all on a rock, and had breakfast lying against the carob trunk and looking at the aerial activity. A kourkoutás was watching them curiously from a hole in the carob trunk. They spotted a flock of starlings in the sky, flying south. They'd love to catch a couple of them, they were beautiful and their song was glorious. But they had other things to catch.

They finished their breakfast, wrapped up their things and started walking carefully towards the olive grove. They could see some birds were already caught, but treaded slowly so as not to scare away any more that could still be around. Paráskos spotted a thrush caught on one of his sticks, and quickly climbed the tree to collect it before it managed to break off. They climbed all their trees and quickly collected their harvest: blackcaps, robins, chiffchaffs, finches. Angelís put all the seed-eating birds in his cage: a couple of goldfinches, a chaffinch and a couple of greenfinches. Birds which ate seeds were kept as pets, and some, such as goldfinches, were particularly loved. They killed the other birds-those would end up on the dinner table as a delicacy.

They went back to their carob tree to rest, leaving the cage with the captured birds in the grove to attract more with their chirping. They sat around for a while, but they soon got bored waiting. Paráskos picked up an empty, rusty can and put it on the ground against the carob tree. Angelís didn't take long to figure out what he was trying to do. They both stood a few meters away from the can and started aiming for it, using pebbles instead of shot. After two or three attempts, Angelís hit the can, the pebble bouncing off it, leaving a hollow metallic sound. They stood it up and started all over again, everything was a competition.

After a while, it was time to check on their trees again. They started walking towards the grove, but their cautious approach was interrupted by Paráskos' loud shouting: "run! There's a blackbird!" Angelís dropped all he was carrying and started running as fast as he could, stumbling and falling in the freshly-ploughed field. He quickly climbed the olive tree and made it to the branch where the blackbird was caught. He grabbed it carefully with his right hand, holding the lime stick with the left as he carefully released the bird without damaging its feathers. He held it as if it was the most fragile piece of porcelan ever. He could feel the bird's tiny heart beating fast. He slowly climbed down, holding the bird with great care. They loved blackbirds and valued them greatly. It was rare they ever caught one, but when they did it filled them with pride.

He put the bird gently in the cage. It was time to gather their sticks and go home as the birds in the cage needed to be cared for. So they started again, in reverse to what they'd done before dawn. They gathered their lime sticks, rolling them together into bunches and placing them in the koukkourká. As Paráskos was on his second tree, he heard a heavy flapping near him. He looked up and spotted a falcon making for the grove at great speed. Angelís had seen it too. They both started shouting to scare it off, but to no avail. The falcon swooped and landed on a lime stick on one of the trees where a chiffchaff had been caught. It grabbed the small bird, and flew off taking the lime stick with it.

They gathered all their things, except for Paráskos' lost stick, and prepared to walk back home. It was just after noon and they were getting quite hungry. Paráskos mused: "I guess Mr Falcon deserved his harvest as much as we did." "Yes, no grudges", replied Angelís. He had as much right to the sky's harvest, if not more. Walking out of the grove and through the fruit orchard, the boys stopped and picked themselves some pomegranates. They sat under their carob tree once more, cutting the pomegranates open and feasting on their juicy insides. They tasted better than anything in the world.

They'd caught about a dozen each

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Mud and pomegranates

It wasn't even half past three when Angelís woke up. He'd set up the alarm clock for four but his excitement couldn't wait. Sundays were the best, there was no school and he could do whatever he liked with his time-usually hunting or playing football. He got up, pulled on his dad's old military fatigues, an old woollen jumper with holes, thick socks. He had a quick glass of milk, looking out of the window. It was still pitch-dark. He put on his coat and wellies, grabbed his bag, turned the key in the door and found himself outside in the crispy cold.

He headed for the shed and soon emerged with his koukkourká* and a small cage. He threw the koukkourká over his shoulder and walked to the far end of the neighbourhood where he was to meet up with Paráskos. Paráskos was not there yet-he was probably running on time rather than jump out of bed early like him. He looked around. The neighbourhood was still, motionless, like a freight ship waiting in the distance at night before docking in the morning. Most lights were off, apart from one or two, where the unlucky ones had to get up very early to go to work. He took it all in: the crisp October chill, the last of the starry night, the sweet scent of jasmine. He loved that time of year, when summer still held on but the winter had started to move in, like a tenant eager to occupy the premises for a few months.

Paráskos' voice made him jump. He'd been lost in his thoughts when his friend called him as he approached. "What are you doing there Angelís? Dreaming again? We'll never catch anything like this". "I've been waiting ages!", protested Angelís, in an attempt to snap out of his thoughts and into reality. Paráskos was also carrying his own koukkourká, all ready and in good spirits. They left the road towards a path which led to the fields. The darkness swallowed them but they knew very well where they were headed; this was a path they'd taken many times before and knew with eyes closed. They went on teasing each other for a while but their games gradually faded into the darkness, leaving them in their own, individual and shared contemplation. It was a beautiful morning, the air was sweet and mild and they were happy to be there.

They slowly walked through the muddy paths to the edge of the village where they usually did their hunting. They usually set their lime sticks in specific trees and even specific branches in an old olive grove. The grove was one of those which weren't producing many olives any more. The trees were ancient, their trunks hollowed out, the size of small rooms. These occasionally doubled as hideouts or tree-houses during various phases of afternoons full of games. The grove belonged to old man Kongolís who hadn't even bothered fencing it as he didn't mind the children playing in it. He sometimes tied his mule on one of the trees and Angelís and his friends had endless fun with it.

There was neither mule nor Kongolís that morning. The boys moved as swiftly as the red soil mud would allow them to. They picked their trees carefully in advance and they had each taken his share of the spots in the grove. Angelís pulled out a bunch of his lime sticks and placed it on a branch on the first of 'his' trees. He climbed it with some difficulty, as his muddy wellies slipped against the ancient trunk. When he was up and secure, he picked up the bunch of lime sticks, all glued together, and with great skill he picked one out, held the tip with his mouth and cut it out of the bunch with his knife moving outwards and away from his body. He placed it across an opening in the branches, ready for the birds to rest on. He placed them all, one by one, with great care and attention. When he finished the first tree, he moved on to the next one, and then the next one, until he had placed all six of his lime stick bunches. He put his fingers to his lips and threw a swift whistle in the direction of Paráskos, who whistled back in acknowledgement. Paráskos was slower and was still setting up on the fourth tree. Angelís gave him a helping hand, and together they emptied Paráskos' koukkourká in no time.

They picked up all their things and started walking fast away from the grove towards an orchard a few hundred meters away. They had to be done and away from the grove before the break of dawn, and they could already see the rosy horizon in the east breaking into two. They sat down and rested their backs against the trunk of a carob tree. All they could do was sit and wait, so they leaned and waited, dozing off but waking up from the cold. The first birds started singing as the dawn chorus started rehearsing the day's performance.
(to be continued)

*custom-made reed basket for lime sticks

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Rigatoni with roasted peppers and fetta

I found these lovely peppers at the vegetable stall the other day and thought of a nice recipe (after talking about it with Billy).

Ingredients (serves 4)
500 gr rigatoni pasta (or whichever type you like)
3-4 long, red peppers
1 pack of fetta cheese
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
chopped fresh parsley
some mushrooms, chopped
Chilli flakes
Olive oil

Grill the peppers in your grill for about 25 minutes, turning them once halfway through, so that both sides are almost charred (but not). In a frying pan lightly fry the garlic in olive oil and add the chopped onion and chilli flakes. When the onion is nice and translucent, add the mushrooms and stir them gently until they're cooked. Turn it off and set it aside.

Boil the pasta in salted water for as long as your pack suggests (or until you're happy with it). While that is boiling, take out the peppers from the grill, take them gently and put them on a flat surface (a plate is good). Gently pull out the stem and grab the skin and peel them slowly. You'll find that the skin comes off very easily. Cut up the peeled peppers and keep them in the plate with their juices.

Drain the pasta and return it to the saucepan or a large bowl. Add the mushroom/onion mix with all its juices. Add the peppers with their juices, the chopped parsley and, finally, crumble the fetta in as well and give it a good stir so that the fetta pretty much melts in the pasta. As the fetta may be salty, taste it before adding any more salt. Lovely.

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Thursday, 19 November 2009


He had to jump in order to get to the long ball Javier sent from right back. With great effort, he chested it down onto the muddy pitch on the left flank. He saw the defender approach with the corner of his eye. He'd been kicking lumps out of him all evening and was certainly coming back for more. Claudio flicked the ball down the sideline and managed to jump out of the defender's way. He looked up and saw Diego and Gabriel advancing from midfield, waiting for the ball. He paused. The rain was lashing down, and the floodlights seemed to give it an almost supernatural quality, as if it was pounding down on him, heavier than ever before. Ever since the coach called him to the national team he had been trying hard to prove himself. He knew he was only in the squad because of others' injuries, and he'd only made tonight's starting line-up because Juan got injured in training just that morning. He knew this match was his last chance to show them what he could do.
Time seemed to slow down, almost pause. He could hear this fan a few meters away, screaming at him to cross the ball. What did he know? What did anyone know? He turned and looked at the coach, out of his dugout, pointing at something and yelling. He only just spotted the defender recover, making his way towards him again at great speed.

He remembered his childhood in La Plata, playing in the street with that flat football they'd found one day with his brother Alberto. They impersonated the greats of the day: Kempes, Ardiles, Tarantini, Luque. They always played these endless matches against the children from the calle San Lorenzo, a couple of blocks away across the avenida. Nobody ever knew the final score. The matches, scrappy affairs played in a cloud of dust, always ended in a fight which the Lorenzitos always won as they were a bit older. They could only retreat throwing rocks back at them. Once they crossed the avenida back into their own turf, they could taunt their opponents with swearing and gestures. The Lorenzitos would never dare to cross, they would be too far from home.

He poked the ball with the outside of his right boot, past the charging defender, jumping to avoid the tackle. He cut in, approaching the corner of the penalty box. There were three defenders, plus the one he'd just skinned who would surely be back on his feet any moment and approaching again. Jorge was taking a position near the penalty spot, while Diego and Gabriel were not far behind. He could also see Javier moving in fast from right back, towards the far post. He had a number of options and a number of obstacles. As the ball was getting stuck in the mud, he again slowed down to decide what to do.

He was only 13 when he lost his brother in the Malvinas War. He remembers his mother crying in the evenings for months, his father sitting in silence. That pointless war changed everything. Some of his friends were also conscripts and fought there, while his cousin Jose was on board the Belgrano, lost in the cold Atlantic waters. There was a shadow in his family and in the neighbourhood ever since, as if his childhood had come to an abrupt end. He carried on with his football, playing for a local club before signing forms for Gimnasia, one of the local big clubs.

He advanced with the ball, always keeping an eye out for the defender behind him. One of the two center-halves came towards him, slowly and cautiously. He saw Gabriel pointing to the space behind the center-half and beginning his run to space. He looked further and saw Diego stand off a bit, as if to shape to receive the ball and shoot. He had to act fast.

His childhood friend Matias had signed forms with Gimnasia's hated rivals, Estudiantes. Although they still met occasionally, the hatred between the two clubs was so great they gradually drifted apart. Whenever they met on the pitch, he sensed that Matias had grown arrogant and treated him with more than a hint of sarcasm. He tried to take his own back, but all he could manage was two sendings-off in three encounters. His coaches had already labelled him a rogue, a loose cannon who couldn't be relied upon when the going got tough. Against all odds, he managed to establish himself in the first team. But as he saw his friends advance and move to Boca, River or even Barcelona and Madrid, he stayed as his reputation as a bad boy preceded him, somewhat unfairly. His chance had come and gone.

The national team coach would never have called him had it not been for the misfortunes of other, more popular, and probably better, players. But here he was, striped in sky blue and white, with the crest on the chest, playing in the world cup final.

He knocked the ball forward, going past the first centre-half. He chose to ignore Gabriel and Diego; instead, he sweetly moved the ball to the left, finding himself with the other centre-half just off his right shoulder, but he was at too sharp an angle to take a shot at goal. He anticipated the defender's move. As the defender tried to shield the goal from a potential shot, he put his right foot under the ball and flicked it over the defender's left foot and into space. He didn't have to look. He knew perfectly well where the goal was. Where it always was, in the dusty streets of La Plata, in the training ground. It didn't matter if it was a Lorenzito in goal or a world class goalkeeper. It felt like a lifetime passed in a few split-seconds. He hit the ball firmly but with accuracy, making contact with the outside of his left boot. It curled and swerved away from the goalkeeper, landing just inside the far post and resting inside the net.

He can't quite remember what happened. He ran towards the fans, behind the goal. In the daze of it all he felt his team mates jumping on him, exploding with joy. It was all a mixture of rain, floodlights, mud and noise. Tears and laughter. Although he'd just given a whole continent a huge moment of joy, he could only weep. He wept the bitterest tears he ever had, as if the sweet embrace the net had reserved for his shot had released him from years of frustration. He'd done it. He'd won it. For himself, for Alberto, for his crying mother, and every crying mother. For that bastard Matias. He'd won it.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

How the fight against fascism became fascist

fas·cism n.

a. A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.

b. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government.

From the Free Dictionary

I was teaching yesterday morning, 11-12. When I got into work I found an email from Central Bot saying that the Institution would be observing a 2-minute silence for Armistice Day. This immediately put me in a weird position: I have never observed the two-minute silence in my private life for a number of reasons. To begin with, as a general rule, I do feel that it is a tragedy that millions have given their lives for god, country, and whoever thought of sending them out to die to start with. This is a constant belief of mine. War is never right, the loss of life can never be truly justified, and this applies to all wars, ancient and modern, the Balkans, The Somme and of course Afghanistan. They are all wrong, violence as a means of solving tensions has never worked. It just creates more.

In addition, I always felt somehow excluded and threatened by the 'poppy' culture. I was always fascinated and at the same time mortified by the nation's obsession with war. In this country there are 'War Lanes', football stands named after battles, no 'Peace streets', something I haven't experienced anywhere else. War and fighting, and their terminology permeates everything else. On top of that, I always thought that the significance of the poppy became a celebration of 'Britishness', something like flags on top of cars during any sporting event. You either belong in this or you don't. If you don't, you'd better watch out.

But when faced with the institutional directive to observe the silence, I was at a dilemma. I live and work in a country where this is important. Moreover, in my function as teacher, I am to respect the culture and observe the silence. However, isn't my role as anacademic to also questiondirectives and authority? Isn't academic freedomimmune from phenomena of mass control? Apparently not. To my shame, I asked the students to observe the silence, and looking out the window, I saw everyone else, whether they believed in it or not, whether they knew what Armistice Day was about or not, stand in silence, in public, for 2 minutes.

When one ideology becomes dominant to the extent it imposes itself oneveryone's life and activity, surely it is too close to fascism for comfort. OK, we don't have the blackshirts with poppies going around bashing everyone to death. Not yet at least. But the public ridicule and aggression towards anyone who contravenes this, based on personal beliefs (such as John Snow), shows that this surely is fascism. Perhaps we should be allowed to remember the war dead in private if we choose to, but not be forced to do so in public to show our respect.

I will not make the same mistake again. If anything, next November 11th I will do things differently. For now, I am ashamed.

Claude in Hagley Road to Ladywood also comments on the poppy-bashers....

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Chickpea & butternut squash soup

Chickpea & butternut squash soup

250 gr dried chickpeas (soaked in water overnight)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 can of chopped tomatoes (or some nice fresh, ripe ones if you have them)
Coriander seeds, finely crushed
Cumin seeds, finely crushed
Olive oil
Chilli flakes
Salt & pepper
Fresh parsley, chopped

In a pressure cooker, add the chickpeas and cook for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes check them, if they're not cooked to your satisfaction, cook for about 10 minutes longer. In the meantime...

Boil the diced squash and let it rest to one side. In a frying pan shallow fry the garlic, onion and the crushed coriander and cumin seeds. Add the chilli flakes.
Open the pressure cooker, bring to the boil again without the lid and add the (drained) squash, along with the tomatoes and the onion/seeds mix. Let it cook together for about 15 minutes. Serve with a handful of fresh parsley.

P.S. In the original recipe it said to put everything in the blender. I like my soups with some texture so I ignored that.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Armed solitude

Panikkos carefully put out his cigarette by stepping on it with the heel of his boot. He picked up the cigarette butt and put it in his magazine pouch. There was no point flicking it away, as Captain Kitsis would only make them collect cigarette butts as a punishment. He was in full gear, standing watch in the outpost's detached watchtower, which was about 1/2 a mile from the main buildings. Ever since the order came from HQ to be on alert, everyone was doing double shifts. His turn had come to keep watch at the dreaded detached post. Dreaded because it was in the middle of nowhere, so far from any visual stimulation that could keep him from being bored. At the same time it was well within the visual range of the Captain, so taking a nap was out of the question.

Since the alert orders came in, the company had set up a .50 caliber machine gun as defence to potential air attack. Panikkos knew that there was as much chance of the attack happening as there was of that old piece of junk being of any use. He had no ammo for the .50 cal, and the ammo for his G3 rifle came with the guard post. It was securely sealed in a magazine holder made of leather, heavily stitched so that the soldiers wouldn't steal bullets. He was not allowed to open fire without permission from the officer on duty. But the guard post phone didn't work. He knew that his best chance was to make a run for it if the worst was to happen. But it wouldn't. This was just an exercise in exercising power. HQ made up a stupid order, Panikkos and his mates had to stand by the .50 cal for hours. Somebody somewhere was having a laugh.

His watch started at 6 in the morning and was to end at noon. It was only 8.30 and he was already bored out of his mind. He tried to divide his time into smokes, pacing himself so he wouldn't run out of cigarettes before the end of his watch. He had a whole pack of Craven A's he'd bought the evening before. He smoked Craven A's because they were so heavy nobody wanted to pinch one off him, they kept away. He'd planned to smoke 3 cigarettes per hour, roughly one every 20 minutes, that would bring him to the end of his watch fine. But it was only 8.30 and he'd already smoked half the pack.

His little radio, hidden in the other magazine pouch, was playing music, frequently interrupted by the musings of the DJ. He liked that one , she had a warm, fuzzy voice, which made him think of nice, comforting things. Her name was Joanna , and he imagined her to be beautiful, with long blond hair and blue eyes. Her voice gave him some comfort in the long hours.

By 10.00 he was really bored. Thankfully the patrol dropped by, sneaking him a halloumi sandwich and the football newspaper, Kosmos ton Spor. He ate the sandwich very slowly, savouring every bite, making it last as long as possible. The newspaper headlines were just commenting on the results from the day before. His team, Nea Salamis, was thrashed 4-0 and was lingering at the bottom of the table. Pushing the newspaper aside, his thoughts drifted to the coming evening. He was due for a pass, his first one in six weeks, and couldn't wait to see Andri, his girlfriend. He'd have a nice, home-cooked meal, his clothes washed, go out for a drink and get back the following morning with his batteries charged.

It didn't help the time pass. If anything, it made him more impatient. He stood his rifle (bayonet fixed during the alert) against the wall, took his helmet off and started kicking the pebbles around the guard post. He picked up a handful and started tossing them, one by one, trying to hit one of the many crows that flew around. He quickly went to the dirty toilet at the base of the guard post for a piss and came back up, in case Captain Kitsis was looking at him through his binoculars. He was really strict, one of those officers with a real chip on their shoulders, always giving the boys a hard time. Panikkos thought Kitsis was in some kind of ego-trip, fancying himself as one of those hard American officers from the movies, perhaps just like the sergeant from Full Metal Jacket. They were not all like that. Captain Ektoros, for example, sometimes came to the outpost with a bottle of brandy and some food and sat with the lads around a game of poker. He was all right, one who understood the futility of it all and had decided to have as little aggravation as possible.

By 11 o'clock his spirits were good. He had two cigarettes left but was less than an hour away from being replaced. He hoped that his replacement wouldn't be late. As the phone was broken he had no way of contacting the rest. The patrol was not due again until about 1. He tried to keep himself busy by thinking ahead, what he'd do in the evening, if his mate Yorkos would be around, if his mum would cook his favourite food, keftedes.

"8.28: Turkish Land Rover sighted". He updated the log, even though there was no land rover. He didn't want the Captain to think he wasn't watchful. "9.44: Turkish patrol". "10.36: Turkish guard replacement". He made sure the things he 'observed' were simple routine, nothing that would cause an investigation or further paperwork, such as reported gunfire. The logbook was full of such observations, as each guard ensured that they left no room for anyone to doubt whether they were watchful, or even awake.

By 11.45 he was really happy. He was sure the replacement would come soon. He was getting hungry and was ready for a quick nap before he scrubbed up and got his pass in the afternoon. He had a hitch hike journey home ahead of him, but he didn't mind. He usually met interesting people while hitch hiking, and drivers always stopped for a soldier.

12.01. There was no sign yet of the replacement, but Panikkos was sure it was on its way; being 5 minutes late was not uncommon. Perhaps whoever it was took the path through the orchards to gather some plums and peaches on his way. He hoped that his replacement wasn't that new guy from England. He was only serving six months and was really lax about such things. Everybody hated the 'Charlie', because they were envious, but also because he was culturally alien to them. And he was usually late for his guard duties.

By 12.15 he'd started getting a bit anxious. "Where the fuck is the damn replacement?" he thought, now kicking pebbles around in fury. He was not pleased, that Charlie, or whoever, was eating into his rest time. Another half an hour passed, it was a quarter to one. He started contemplating walking down to the outpost but was sure the Captain would see him and so he stayed. He tried not to think of it, something must have happened-his replacement would be there soon, definitely. By 1.30 he was out of his mind. He hadn't smoked in over an hour, out of cigarettes, out of patience, hungry and furious. He thought that if he took the orchard path he wouldn't be seen walking back for most of the way, and if the Captain happened to check the guard post through his binoculars, he could always claim he was in the toilet with the runs.

He took the ammo, his rifle and everything else and started walking cautiously back. It was almost 2 o'clock and he'd been guard since 8. Inside him the possibilities were projected, like a black and white film against the screen of his mind. If he was lucky nobody would see him and he'd get the replacement to quickly run back to the post. But if the Captain saw him he was as good as dead and buried. He'd definitely get a 20-day punishment, no leave or pass, plus he'd have to serve it at the end of his national service as an extension. In the worst case he could even be court-martialled for deserting his post and abandoning his duties. This was no joke, he could end up in jail, probably serving another six months at the end of his service. But he had to rest, eat, get ready for his pass. The whole thing tormented him. He couldn't face the wrath of the Captain, it could crush him. He thought of going straight home, at least he'd get a night's enjoyment before he was severely punished. Perhaps it was a gamble worth taking.

He approached the outpost very cautiously, as if on a stealth mission against the enemy. The Captain was the enemy. He saw the Captain's car parked outside and his heart sank. He knew he was in trouble. No pass, nothing for weeks. He approached the gate and saw there was no guard. Panikkos entered the compound, making for the entrance. Entering the main building, he saw Kyriakos, in full gear, sitting on a chair and keeping one eye on the road and one eye on the TV. He was on guard duty at the gate but knew there was no danger. Panikkos was relieved. He saw his mates sitting around the table playing cards. They told him that the Captain's car broke down and he went to HQ in a service jeep. He asked Andreas, the sergeant, who was supposed to replace him. They all turned and looked at him first, and then looked at Yiannis who was sleeping in his bed. He'd returned drunk just that morning from his pass and had struggled to keep his eyes open. As soon as the Captain left, he collapsed. Panikkos went outside, came back in and emptied a bucket of water in Yiannis' bed. "Get up you bastard" he shouted, as he landed a kick in his ribs. Yiannis jumped amidst the roar of laughter from the rest. He sheepishly picked up the ammo and his gear and started to make his way to the outpost. Panikkos took his boots off, grabbed a piece of bread with cheese and sat in a chair to watch some TV. His mind was already hitch hiking home.

Part of the Army Tales series
Inspired by AH's story.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Life is going round in circles

image by Leonard Freed. Click here to buy. Click image for large version

At last. The much discussed, rumour-based, policy-driven, top-down shakedown-fuelled office move has taken place. The 'porters' shifted all our stuff this morning into our new space, where we're sharing with two other blokes, all blokes in one room! All we need is a urinal, that symbol of masculinity!

And as I'm sitting there, 5 jobs and 5 years down the line, it hit me: this was the very same room where I had my viva*, those millions of years ago, way back in the palaeolithic age. Do I need to get out of here? Is the room trying to tell me something, like a friend giving you a pat on the back when it's your round at the pub? I don't know. All I know is that it feels very strange, as if I am caught in some kind of game, an allegory where we are all puppets in someone else's hands. I need a pair of scissors...

*A viva (viva voce) is an oral examination for PhD candidates

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Life is a journey, I am a traveller

image from here

A few days ago I scanned and posted some old photos on Facebook for the delectation of friends, old and recent. The outcome was a thoroughly moving response by about 10 fellow students from a time long ago, which reminded of the friendships, likes, dislikes and, inevitably, loves, of my undergraduate days. One of these friends, Eleni, is also a blogger, and has expressed these same emotions very beautifully on her own blog.

It's not monumental for others. This life journey is something we all go through, en route to the bitter end (as Placebo says). And all of us go through the coming-of-age ritual one way or another. Mine was during national service, but mostly during my time as an undergraduate. The optimism, naivete, hope, passion. Children disguised as adults. Children becoming adults. The world was there for the taking, and I certainly wanted, and still do, a huge chunk of it.

Perhaps our choices landed us on different shores, apart from what was at the time our universe. Apart from people we loved, the warm embrace, the soft kiss, the swift kick in the shins during a game of football in the Venetian town walls' now dried moat. Our friends (and foes) all took their own path, followed their own journey, made their own choices, regretted their own mistakes perhaps. And it's rather sweet to rediscover them and briefly reminisce, but also find that we have changed, as Eleni points out, but what made us friends is still there at the core sometimes. Peace and love, peace and love.

I know it's a bit sentimental, I promise you a slasher horror story next time.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Open Season on Wire Laggers [SPOILERS]

Last night's BBC finale of The Wire means that it is now open season on whoever is still on season 3 or still trying to catch up. Sorry guys, we've been keeping a vow of silence for months not to let it slip how Omar dies, or how Stringer and Avon fall out, with the latter handing the former on a silver platter for brother Mouzone and Omar to execute. We can now enjoy the analysis of what was a fascinating insight into the world of drugs, crime and their social background.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Chips glorious chips!

Easy to make, far far better than what you get at the chip shop. I come from the potato-producing part of Cyprus, so eating potatoes in all shapes, sizes and ways is almost in my blood. What on earth did we do before they came from America?

Potatoes, cut in...well, chips
Fresh oregano or marjoram (I used the latter as I have loads in the garden-dried will also do)
Sunflower oil

Wash, peel and cut the potatoes. Mix them with your finely chopped herb. Heat your oil on a medium fire until it looks like it's bubbling. When you drop a chip in it should start cooking fast. If not, the oil is not hot enough. Put all your chips in, give them a quick stir with a straining spoon (ladle with holes?) and allow to cook for about 15 minutes. Check if the bottom side is crispy and golden, then carefully turn them. Cook for another 5-10 minutes-until you're happy with them. Take them out on a dish with kitchen roll at the bottom so you get rid of the excess oil. Don't forget to turn the oil off :-).

Add salt as you please and enjoy!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Fish Chowder

This my take on what is a lovely, wholesome dish. I tried a lovely version in Saratoga Springs in 2007, but wanted to make a version without the bacon rind. I hate mixing seafood and meat.

Ingredients (serves 4)

For the stock
Heads of 4 sea bass
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 cloves of garlic
(if you have more fish off-cuts and heads, use them)

For the soup
400gr of white fish, I used coley, cut in large chunks
1 onion, cut in strips
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
parsley, chopped (separate the harder stalks from the leaves)
some sweetcorn
prawns (shelled)
mushrooms (quartered if small)
[shelled mussells if you have them-I didn't]
3-4 medium-sized potatoes, cut in cubes

In a saucepan, boil the ingredients for the stock for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, heat some olive oil and butter in a different saucepan, shallow fry the garlic and onions for a few minutes. Add the potatoes and parsley stalks and stir for a few more minutes.

Remove the fish heads from the stock and pure it in with the potatoes, adding hot water if necessary. Add salt and pepper. Boil for about 15 minutes or so. When the potatoes are cooked, take some out, mash them and leave them aside. Add the mushrooms, prawns and sweet corn and cook for another 10 minutes. Add the chunks of coley and simmer very gently for about 10 minutes (or until you're happy with it). Return the mashed potato in the mix, stir gently, turn off and allow to stand for about 10 minutes. Serve with a sprinkle of the fresh parsley and crusty bread.

(note: I chose not to use milk or cream as I find it culturally challenging to mix dairy and fish. Soups don't always have to be cloudy.)

Friday, 21 August 2009

Stuffed Marrows

I found these lovely's the outcome:

Ingredients (serves 4)
1/2 kg of minced meat (beef or lamb)
1 large marrow
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
lots of mint
Olive oil
Tomato aste
Salt & pepper
Ground cinnamon
Ground nutmeg

Shallow-fry the onion and garlic in a pan. Add the minced meat and the mint and cook slowly. Add some tomato paste, cinnamon and nutmeg. Salt and pepper. In the meantime, cut the marrow in pieces roughly 4-5 cm thick (see pic). Hollow the pieces out by removing the seeds with a spoon. For the tips it's OK if there's no hole, make them like cups.

When the meat is ready, put the pieces of marrow flat in a pan and fill them with the minced meat. Fill them as much as possible. Add hot water in the pan, carefully and from the side so as not to make a mess with the filling. Add enough water to roughly half cover the marrow pieces. Allow to boil lightly, with the lid closed, for about 30 minutes. Check if the marrows cooked with a fork-if they're soft, they're ready. Serve them by carefully picking them up with a spatula underneath so the filling doesn't fall out.

Serve with cous cous or salad (or even both).

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Lentils with aubergines

I pretty much made this up as I had some aubergines I had to use.

Ingredients (serves 4-5)
Lentils (I always measure by soup bowl, in this case 1)
2 aubergines cut in chunks (see pics)
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 onion, cut in strips
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4-5 bay leaves
2 cans of chopped tomato, or a kilo of very ripe tomatoes, chopped (keep the juices)
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

In a large saucepan, boil the lentils for about 30-40 minutes, until you're happy with them. In the meantime, shallow fry the garlic, onions and bay leaves, add the aubergines and celery and stir so they're nicely coated with oil. Keep cooking like that for about 10 minutes. Add the tomato plus some water, salt & pepper and let it simmer gently for 30 minutes or so.

When the lentils are cooked, drain them and throw them in with the aubergines (if the aubergines are ready). Turn off and allow to rest for a while (the longer the better), so that the lentils can absorb the juices of the aubergines... I didn't have fresh parsley but if you do add some nicely fresh, chopped parsley just before serving.

Serve with a generous portion of set yoghurt, yummy!

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Monday, 20 July 2009

How to make the most of a chicken

(apologies to my vegetarian fans :-) )
I bought a chicken from the butcher the other day. I chopped the chicken into the following pieces:
2 legs/thighs
2 breasts
2 wings
2 back pieces

Using these I made a number of dishes. Firstly, I shallow fried (with minimal olive oil) the 2 legs/thighs and breasts, adding garlic, onions, celery, carrots, chilli flakes, cinnamon powder, nutmeg, salt and pepper. I threw in a bit of white wine, some mangetout/sugarsnap peas and then added a pack of passata tomato sauce (a can of tomato will do) with some water and let it simmer covered for about 40 minutes.

Secondly, for baby Blackbeard, I put the wings and back pieces into a saucepan and boiled them with broccoli and carrots for about 30 minutes. This of course created a nice chicken broth.

I took two cups of the broth and mixed them with two cups of cous cous to accompany the chicken. Taking some more broth I boiled some star-shaped pasta for baby. I boned some of the chicken I boiled, mashed broccoli and carrot and mixed it with the pasta. She loved it.

So, from one chicken we have all these dishes. The tomato sauce that stayed from the chicken and peas made a lovely pasta sauce. We mashed and froze the boiled chicken and veg in baby portions. We kept the remaining broth in ice cube sachets to cook with in the future. Not bad eh?

1 whole chicken
2 packs of sugarsnap peas
2 stalks of celery
3 carrots (2 for the chicken and peas, 1 for the baby food)
1 broccoli
2 cloves of garlic
1 onion
ground cinnamon
ground nutmeg
black pepper
2 cups of cous cous
a handful of star shaped pasta

Friday, 10 July 2009

Fresh around the ears

It's now been 18 years since that day. The day each one of us boys anticipated and dreaded. Despite the assurances of various males in the family who'd already been there, national service had not been abolished by the time our number came up. Whereas girls in our class were free to sit exams and plan their lives as students, employees or wives and mothers, boys had the 26-month 'service' to the motherland to anticipate. Stories from older brothers, fathers, cousins and uncles, black and white photos of their time in the army, all served to fuel our imagination and expectations. What would it be like?

On the morning of Wednesday the 3rd of July 1991 I said farewell to my mother, got on the bus with my school friends and left childhood behind. There were no tears. This was a habit, an expectation, and regardless of how much pain the mother and child felt, they contained it. And so did we. I entered the gates of the recruitment centre as a boy, a lad with a head closely trimmed, only to be identified as soldier number 5983/91. We went through various phases of carefully planned humiliation: the physical strip down, the psychological strip down of personal identity. The donning of uncomfortable, ill-fitting, camouflage fatigues, boots, cap (to be worn at all times), personal hygiene products. And a gun. A weapon. An actual, man-killing device. For training purposes we were issued with a Zastava rifle, a Yugoslavian AK-47 imitation. Don't imagine the opening scenes of the Full Metal Jacket here. There was nothing ceremonial about all this, just endless bullying, humiliation, shouting, but also the occasional moment of unexpected kindness from the odd corporal who happened to recognise you from school.

On the first day, we were lined up and taught to obey orders: march, halt, right or left turn and about turn. The striped sadists used about turn as a means of torture. Even though they were not allowed to order more than 4 about turns without an 'at ease' and 'attention' in between, they were really effective in getting us to burn our boots in the July sun. By midday we were pretty much skilled in the whole thing. We were made to jog to the restaurants, where I saw a passing soldier carrying a tray with chick peas stew, one of my favourite dishes. 'Great', I thought, in my diachronic naivety, 'I love chick peas, the army's not so bad'. Until I tasted the stuff. It was as if someone had shovelled some gravel into a tomato sauce and dished it out to 800 starving, camouflaged boys. Not good. I tipped it into the bin and got myself a bag of crisps from the canteen.

Over the next month or so we were made to run. A lot. Running in the July heat is no joke either. I remember drinking so much water during the day that I had neither space nor appetite for food. I dropped 7-8 kilos in a month. My shirt was so sweaty it was getting soaked and dried up in the heat, with white marks on it. We washed in our spare time, but having only two shirts meant you went a couple of days wearing a stinky, crusty shirt.

In addition, we were 'taught' to aim and fire, break down and assemble our weapon, clean it, make our beds so well a coin would (or should) bounce off them, polish our boots so hard you could see your face in them (for about 2 minutes before the dust covered them again). We were taught to hate the enemy. The specific enemy, with their Muslim, 'backward' attitudes. We were taught to fight them at night because Muslims 'didn't like dying at night'. Bullshit of course. Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and pretty much everyone else, hate dying whether it's midnight or the sun is shining bright in the sky.

It wasn't all bad though. We were taught to use a compass, a map, find the north by using the sun or the stars, such things. But above all we were taught to obey. Obey orders, your superior, the system, the institution. Learn the hierarchy by heart, the soldier's prayer, the soldier's oath. Military songs about parachuting, killing, pillaging and raping the enemy's women. Songs about the glory of our army and the evil of others.

After about a month, having done well in the exams, I was selected to be an officer. So I, along with another 300, were shipped off to a Greek island to learn the trade. Enter another 4 months of running, climbing mountains, walking the distance, shooting various weapons, night and day training, attacking imaginary enemies on real life mountain slopes. Clinging to things such as the memory of a girl, the new Guns n' Roses album. I remember sharing my walkman with my best friend from school who also made it to the island, listening to the same stuff, going through the same emotions, despite the army's attempt to desensitise us and turn us into animals.

There we came into contact with our Greek 'brothers', with whom we had a love/hate relationship. They were suspicious of us and we of them. We clustered around our identity, our little cultural and linguistic peculiarities, against this common foe. Clashes were common, but also friendships. The army's deconstruction of the person is the great leveller, after all. In this school we were 'taught' how to be leaders of men, to take the initiative (but not too much). On the whole I had a fantastic time, only because of the lovely landscape and the frequent exercise, and the bonding with my brothers against the establishment that sought to swallow us up and churn us out as order-obeying robots. Even in our 18-year old naivety we could still distinguish some of the absurdities: the 150-kilo captain ordering us to do push ups. The principle that you couldn't walk anywhere in the camp-you had to run. Weaklings with stripes. Bullies and other people with all sorts of chips on their shoulders and sadistic tendencies. We resisted as much as possible, going underground to avoid detection and public humiliation. A Greek sergeant punished me for eating bread just outside the dormitories. I still remember his name and how petty he was.

When that was over we returned home, to be posted to various areas and duties. I ended up plodding along, having a good time on the whole, but also growing fiercely anti-authoritarian. I learned to appreciate superiors with common sense and kindness. I also hated deeply superiors who were power-hungry and irrational, and still do. Even though I was technically an officer, I identified with the soldiery, many of whom were mates from school. Together we saw ourselves a world apart from that of the 'professional' soldier, whose career evolves around pretending to be effective in the presence of their superiors.

I managed to finish my service without ever being punished, even though I often broke the rules. That was the greatest lesson I learned from all this: you can't openly oppose the institution on your own-it will always find a way to crush you. That's where the idea of the underground was born I suppose. Twenty-six months of an institution working hard at undermining your sense of personal identity and attempting to reconstruct you as a number (not a free man). Thanks, motherland. You taught me a great lesson: never ever ever to die for you.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Driving in Cyprus and the UK

I haven't been driving long. I learned how to drive and passed my test in the UK, after a rigorous training which lasted ages (and cost an arm and a leg). I bought a little Peugeot 306, small enough to park in tight spots but big enough to put Mrs Blackbeard and baby Blackbeard in and sail to the South Seas. At first I found driving daunting but also liberating. Daunting because I no longer had the safety net of the instructor. Liberating because I was at last free of the instructor to make my own mistakes. After I passed my test and started driving I noticed that for a few weeks, every time I drove I made a mistake (or two) that would have failed me the test. As my dad said, "you first pass your test and then you learn to drive".

A few months on and I can confidently say that I drive much better, I am calmer and make few mistakes (although parallel parking on the right is inconceivable). I am used to driving here, used to how other drivers behave, know which cars' drivers are likely to be completely devoid of brain (anything modified, with decals of stereo brands, spoilers, wings). I find that in particular small cars with such little 'interventions', such as Citroen Saxos, Seat Ibizas and even Ford Fiestas are driven by absolute nutters. So I keep well clear of those. I also hate with a passion drivers of 4x4s and luxury cars. Call it a class thing.

A few weeks back I went to Cyprus to see the Blackbeards in their natural habitat. Father Blackbeard had insured me on his pickup truck, a 2.5 litre Mazda (he's a part-time farmer OK?), so I could drive around and go to the beach. I hadn't driven in Cyprus since I was an undergrad and had a little Suzuki moped. The difference with driving in the UK was striking. Drivers are much more aggressive and selfish. I lost count of the amount of times people cut in and blocked me when I was doing 30-40 miles, reversed into the main road, did not let me turn right or enter a (busy) road, something which I find is basic courtesy in the UK. I kept using the car's horn to warn other drivers not to jump out, reverse etc etc. Constant aggro. I realised that in 4 months of owning my Peugeot, I used the horn twice, once by accident and the second time to warn someone of my presence. Behaviour you learn to expect in the UK is unheard of. Behaviour which is the exception in the UK is the rule in Cyprus. People get stuck in your back, flashing their headlights and demanding that you either a) go over the speed limit so they can go faster or b) make way for them to overtake. On a couple of occasions I went very slowly, way below the speed limit, just to irritate them more. Constant aggro, swearing and waving an angry finger from the open window.

I don't want to sound too much like generalising, but I must tell you that after two weeks of driving there, I came back more aggressive and aggravated than I was. Driving home from the airport I beeped the horn and gave the finger to someone who 'dared' to jump in while I was driving. You'll be relieved to know that I have since gone back to normal, only swearing in the car and not giving the finger to anyone...

Driving the pickup truck was great though...I want one I want one!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Octopus stew

This is a dish suitable for the Greek lent, since seafood is allowed. Serves 3-4

2 octopuses
5-6 onions, thickly cut
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
4-5 bay leaves
black peppercorns
2 cans of tomato (or plenty of ripe tomatoes)
Olive oil
1/3 glass white wine
1/2 glass red wine vinegar (approx.)

To soften the octopus, cut into pieces and boil in a pan for 30 minutes and drain (keep the broth, we need it later). In the meantime...

Lightly fry the garlic and onions in a large, deep pan (which has a lid). Add the boiled octopus and the bay leaves and stir for 3-4 minutes. Add the wine and let it cook for 3-4 minutes more on low heat.

Add the tomatoes, peppercorns, vinegar and some salt, and some of that broth you had from boiling the octopus. Put the lid on and let it simmer for 90 minutes, or until the octopus is really tender. Check every now and then so that the liquid doesn't run out, add some more water if it does. If you don't like vinegar much, use less.

Serve it with rice. You can use the octopus broth to make the rice, it makes it yummy.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Cypriot Eliotí (Ελιωτή)-Olive Bread

approx. 400gr flour (wholemeal or white)
1 sachet of yeast
400ml lukewarm water
Olive oil
approx. 1 cup pitted olives
chopped fresh coriander (or parsley if you prefer)
dried mint
1 large onion, chopped

Add the yeast to the water and allow to stand for about 20 minutes, until it forms a foam at the top. In the meantime, prepare your flour in a large mixing bowl, or a skáffi if you are lucky enough to own one. When the yeast is ready, add to the flour with some salt and mix well. Add about 1/2 a cup of olive oil. Knead until you have a nice dough which isn't too moist. If it's too moist add some more flour. When the dough is ready, let it rise in a dark place (I use the oven-off of course) for about 30-40 minutes.

When the dough has risen, take your bowl, lift the dough and throw underneath the onions, parsley, mint, some more olive oil and of course the olives. Let the dough drop on top, press it so it picks up some of the ingredients, and then turn, turn, turn until all your ingredients are nicely spread in your dough.

Place your dough in a lightly oiled metal oven tray as in the picture. Again allow to rise for as long as you can, but no less than 40 minutes. I once left it for over 90 minutes and the result was excellent, as the dough rose very well. When you are ready, bake the bread in a preheated oven at about 200 degrees for roughly 40 minutes. If you want to check whether it's cooked well inside, slide a knife into it and check the blade when it comes out. If it's very moist it needs to bake longer.

When you're happy with it, take it out and allow it to cool for about 15 minutes before devouring. Lovely. Store well and eat again and again for breakfast, preferably accompanied by Cypriot coffee (or Turkish/Greek coffee as some people call it) and some halloumi perhaps...

In Cyprus you can find this bread with the olives in it whole, stone included. This makes the bread slightly bitter, but it balances well with the sweetness of the onion. You can also make it with white flour or a mixture of the two as you like. If you use olives kept in salt, they usually melt slightly in the kneading, making the bread even tastier. But be careful not to add extra salt, as this will make it lyssa as we say in Cypriot, very very salty. Enjoy!

Friday, 3 April 2009

Stuffed Aubergines with Spinach, Fetta and Mushrooms

2 Aubergines
250gr Spinach
1 pack fetta cheese
1 onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Some mushrooms, chopped
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

For this recipe I am using the same method as the Stuffed Aubergines with Fetta and Pepper.

Step 1: Cut the aubergines at length, score them with a knife and put them in an oven tray. Sprinkle them with some olive oil. Roast them at 200 degrees for about 20-30 minutes.

Step 2: While the aubergines are roasting, in a large frying pan lightly fry some garlic and onions, add your spinach and mushrooms and sautee until cooked. Add the fetta cheese and stir for 1-2 minutes.

Step 3: Take the aubergines out (they should look like the ones above). Lightly mash the middle, creating a cavity.

Step 4: Add your stuffing, carefully, and return to the oven for about 15 minutes to give it that nice, crispy look. Enjoy!

Mixed bean salad

Mixed bean salad
For this recipe I use ASDA's mixed beans. About 500gr feeds easily 2-3 people. Soak the beans overnight in water. I usually cook them in a pressure cooker for about 25 minutes. If you are boiling them in a pan allow about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Drain the beans and mix with fresh tomatoes, spring onions and herbs of your choice. I like fresh coriander and/or dill in this. Season with olive oil and lemon juice.

Friday, 20 March 2009


10 policemen beat 2 handcuffed students on the pavement, in Nicosia, Cyprus. Click here to see the video (Politis newspaper). Yesterday these thugs were found innocent by a Cypriot court. The court did not accept the video, filmed by a local resident, as valid evidence. Once more the rights of citizens are brutally violated. May I remind you of the Menezes case? Nobody went to jail. Nobody was given the sack. And let's not forget Carlo Giuliani (video contains blood & violence), shot by police in Genova in the riots against the G(reedy)8 in 2001, or the shooting of 15-year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Athens in December 2008. Or, for that matter, the thousands of others not mentioned here, but whose cases are no less important. Overzealous police are still among us, ready to defy more than 60 years of Human Rights, trigger-happy and proud.

Police are there to 'serve and protect' citizens. Indeed, time and again we see that it is these very citizens who suffer from surveillance, intrusion, torture and death. And we're not talking about Zimbabwe anymore-this is the so-called civilised Europe, the same Europe that assumes the patronising role of 'protecting' the Zimbabwes of the world. Nonsense. Hypocrisy. Give a man a badge and a gun and they will abuse their power to satisfy whatever darkness lies in the depths of their soul.

Wake up. WAKE UP!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Mediterranean Lamb

1 lamb shoulder, cut into large pieces
2-3 onions, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1kg of ripe tomatoes, chopped (or 2 cans of tomato)
Red wine (dry)
Ground cinnamon
Fresh parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper

In a large, deep frying pan with a lid (or a saucepan) sautee the lamb in olive oil until it turns golden brown. Add the onions and garlic and stir for 2-3 minutes. Add the rest of your ingredients (except the parsley) and stir. Add a bit of water, until all is covered and bring to the boil. Turn the fire down low and allow the food to simmer gently with the lid on for 1 1/2 -2 hours. When the lamb is really tender it's ready. Add the fresh parsley, mix and serve with rice or bulgur wheat and natural set yoghurt. The rest of the sauce can be used as a pasta sauce, lovely!

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Samoobsluga-Universes of Me

It stands for 'do it yourself' in Polish.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Risotto with Butternut Squash

A lovely recipe plagiarised from my friend Federica (who is from Romanziol, near San Doná di Piave).

Ingredients (serves 2-3 hungry people)
1 medium-sized butternut squash (peeled, cleaned from seeds and diced)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
Fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 cups (or glasses) of arborio rice or pudding rice*
Vegetable stock (roughly double the quantity of the rice)
Olive oil
A splash of white wine
Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)

*It may be anathema to my Italian friends, but I have been using pudding rice instead. This is for two reasons: firstly, it's a nice, thick grain rice and does a similar job. Secondly, it's infinitely cheaper and you can get it anywhere in the UK. Arborio is a bit of a middle class thing, therefore expensive, right up Nigella's alley.

Put the diced squash in a saucepan with boiling water and boil for about 30 minutes or until nicely cooked. Drain and put aside. In the meantime...

Lightly fry the garlic and onions in the olive oil until beautifully translucent (or cooked as I like to call it). Add a bit of white wine and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and give it a stir for a few seconds until it's nicely coated with the juices. Add the stock until the rice is covered, bring to the boil and then allow to simmer. Add your seasoning and keep an eye on it. When it's beginning to absorb most of the stock, check if it's sufficiently cooked. If not, add more stock until you're happy with the rice. When you think it's cooked, take it off the fire and cover it for 5 minutes, allowing the rice to absorb all the juice. Add the squash and parsley and serve it topped with parmesan cheese. If you want, you can serve it with natural set yoghurt instead, turning it from a risotto to a Turkish pilaf. Enjoy!