Eating Well Is The Best Revenge
By Diana Farr Louis
“It’s this uncertainty that’s demolishing us. If we knew what the year was going to cost, we could perhaps cope, but it’s only February and new surprises arrive every week. January’s pensions looked like they’d been to Weight Watchers, 25 percent lower than the previous doses. When added to earlier cuts and slashes, this means some people receive half of what they were getting two years ago.” Diana Farr Louis
ATHENS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—3/4/2013—Remember that old saying, “There’s nothing certain in this life except death and taxes?” I thought it must have originated during the Great Depression but, no, it goes much further back, to the 18th century, and was made famous by none other than Benjamin Franklin. He in turn may or may not have been quoting Daniel Defoe or a play that appeared in 1716, according to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_%26_Taxes). The amazing thing—oh what a wonder is Google—is that he wrote it in 1789 in French to a scientist named Jean-Baptiste Leroy, who had also conducted experiments in electricity, and who had gone missing during the Revolution.
Inquiring as to his whereabouts and confessing to great concern, Franklin then added: “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
In a way, it is somewhat comforting to think of all the history and ups and downs the world has experienced since 1789, and yet our “Crisis” here in Greece has added a new dimension to the death and taxes conundrum. There is nothing more certain than the tsunami of taxes that are currently flattening us here, but the question dangles before us like Damocles’ sword: where will they strike next?
It’s this uncertainty that’s demolishing us. If we knew what the year was going to cost, we could perhaps cope, but it’s only February and new surprises arrive every week. January’s pensions looked like they’d been to Weight Watchers, 25 percent lower than the previous doses. When added to earlier cuts and slashes, this means some people receive half of what they were getting two years ago.
But last week, a letter slipped into the mailbox announced in language which made most Greek legalese read like poetry that even more money would now be shaved off some pensions. That same day, another missive from the municipality complained that we had not been paying the real estate tax included on electricity bills since 1993. It’s only 7 Euros every two months but, times 20 years, it hurts. The fact that “they” were at fault by omitting it and that our flat was not even built in 93 did not merit us either a pardon or a discount.
Meanwhile, every property owner in Greece is trembling at the prospect of having to fork up four years of real estate taxes in 2013. Thanks to government incompetence or heel dragging, the bills for 2010, 11, and 12 never left the ministry. They’re based on “objective market value” at a time when the market has evaporated. At the same time, because virtually every house has some anomaly—an addition, perhaps, of a storeroom or, even, would you believe it, a pergola, that was not submitted with the original plan—the government is offering “lowered” fines for rectifying these illegalities. You will not be able to sell, rent, or bequeath a property that is not fully legitimized. But, even with easy terms, not every offender can afford to do this. Or comply with new demands that every property be inspected by a certified engineer for environmental “worthiness”—like double-glazed windows or insulation—at considerable expense before it can be passed on.
All this at a time when few have the ready cash for such refinements.
So, what’s a person to do? Eat, drink, and be merry, of course.
These past few months I’ve been watching the transformation of the shopping districts in Kifissia, the garden suburb where we live. Artisti Italiani, Nautica, Uterque, Timberland, and many other lesser boutiques and shoe stores have admitted defeat or relocated to a mall. But sooner or later, workmen move in and, before you can say “Jack Robinson,” balloons proclaim the opening of a new . . . eatery.
Restaurants may be suffering, but small food shops are enjoying a boom. In a one-block strip around Varsos, at 120 years old probably the oldest café-sweet shop in the Athens area, two frozen yogurt establishments, a crêperie, two cupcake bakers, and two chocolatières have opened in the last six months, joining a cluster of three ice-cream parlors and six “fastfoodadika.” A “souvlakerie,” dubbed “Boutique (!) Kalamaki South,” will be joining them soon.
I cannot predict the longevity of the cupcake establishments, pretty though they are, but all the other joints are thronged.
Meanwhile, in my immediate neighborhood, two new spice emporiums perfume the air with exotic aromas, two gyro joints send out meaty signals, and three pastry shops/bakeries have opened. I find myself pressing my face against the windows, more tempted by the sights than the sugar. They are certainly more alluring than the other new arrivals: a second lottery establishment and two morticians.
Our most recent acquisition, Ta Alonia Village Bakery*, is one of the prettiest. Housed in an old stone building, it not only has more than a dozen types of bread, gritsinia (bread sticks) in many shapes and flavors, biscuits and sweets, it also offers a special dish every day (canneloni or stuffed eggplant, for example), as well as pizza, succulent olive bread, and lahmaçun.
This last treat took me by surprise. I haven’t seen this Anatolian version of pizza since my trip to Gaziantep two and a half years ago. I immediately snapped up the last one and brought it home in triumph. When you think that the bakery’s owner is a Greek-American from Michigan, its presence is even more surprising.
So, I welcome all these exciting developments in the food world of Kifissia. And take comfort in the certainty that the harsher the penury, the more affordable goodies there will be to console us.
Lahmaçun or Lahmajoun
If you can’t find a Lebanese/Turkish/Syrian/Armenian baker who sells lahmaçun in your neighborhood, you can always make a facsimile at home. The real thing requires a soft dough similar to pizza but, being lazy and not a dab hand at pastries, I would get hold of some pita bread and put the topping under the grill for a few minutes for a quick and easy taste of Anatolia.
Some recipes call for tomato sauce and cheese, like the one by Ta Alonia in the photo but, if rushed, I would keep it simple.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 lb minced lamb or beef
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon pomegranate syrup or petimezi (grape must syrup) or
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon cayenne or Turkish pepper flakes
½ teaspoon powdered cumin
salt and pepper
Lightly brown the pine nuts in the oil over medium heat and then add the rest of the ingredients and cook, stirring, until the meat is cooked through and the onions soft.
Have ready 6 small rounds of pita bread or a couple of big ones. Spread the topping over the surface of the pitas, and slip them under the grill for 5-6 minutes, until the topping and the bread are browned.
You could serve these with soup or salad for a delicious lunch.
*Ta Alonia, Agiou Tryfonos 24, Kifissia, Greece, Tel. 210.6239920.