Tag Archives: Bread

Breaking crust

The farmhouse, Momavlis Mitsa

Saturday morning in Argokhi. There is work to be done: water butts to fill; pigs to feed; floors to sweep; tea to brew – but there’s no hurry. I sit on the steps cracking hazelnuts, listening to the sounds passing up and down the lane on the opposite side of the above-head-high metal fence. I hear ducks squawking, the lazy turning of cartwheels, neighbours fussing, the crank of the timber grape press, and the occasional sound of apples falling from the tree. It’s mid-autumn. Every warm day between now and Christmas is worth its weight in gold.

Working on Momavlis Mitsa (Future Earth) farm in Argokhi has ameliorated the discomfort of waiting for visas in Tbilisi. Instead of sitting like ghosts in some disembodying hostel, milking the wifi and kicking stones down Marjainishvili on the way to the Metro, we’re working outdoors, using our lungs and hands to lift things, fix things, bake things, grow things.

Creating new raised beds

Richie and Sam adding rotted compost to the soil

In the garden we’re asked to do things we’d never do at home, in our own garden: pull weeds, hoe earth, turn soil, plant monocultures and raise new beds without mulching them. I bite my lip as Inken, the 18-year-old longterm German volunteer, instructs me on how to break the ‘crust’ that has formed on the surface of the soil due to successive phases of watering and sunshine. We work the hoe forward while simultaneously walking backwards down the aisles. I wonder if I’m disturbing the roots of the small plants, and why there are no bugs or worms in the soil.

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Georgia on my mind…

In the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, you can still find homes arrayed around large central courtyards set-back from the road. As many as six or seven families share these communal courtyards: coming and going at all hours of day or night… washing hanging, children playing, and the scent of cooking wafting through windows. Everyone’s business is everyone else’s business because everything here is open and transparent. A lot of yelling goes on, and a lot of retaliation.

Three generations of women reside in the house where we’re staying. One of them speaks English. There’s a dog too. His name is Pushkin. We’ve become used to nosing through the womens’ quarters on our way to and from the bathroom. We’ve grottied the courtyard table more than once with watermelon juice. It’s nice to know that when we tire of the cramped conditions inside the house we can step outside for a breather, airing our stained towels on the outside line and waiting under the poplar tree for our Russian and Kazahk visas to mature. We wish Sam would put his shoes out once in awhile!

A Tbilisi courtyard – homestay.

Tbilisi is a pleasant place to be waylaid. It’s the bottle-neck through which we hope to pass into the wilds of Russia, Kazahkstan and, eventually, China.  It’s not a simple or a speedy process but as our Syrian roommate pointed out to us, we’re extremely lucky that if we follow procedure by filling out the relevant forms and providing the stipulated amount of money, we can travel more or less unimpeded through any territory on the planet. The apple forests of the Tien Shan Mountains still feel a long way off, but the breeze is blowing from that direction.  Continue reading

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Season of the harvest

We arrived in Plovdiv’s Yug Bus Station feeling grateful for having escaped the intensity of Istanbul and the foot-swelling all-night bus journey.

Bulgaria – our seventh country in as many months!

As we sat in the bus station chewing greasy breakfast pastry we speculated about the many permutations of fried bread we’ve eaten during our 7 months on the road, and wondered what was ahead in the way of fat and flour.

Thankfully, in Bulgaria, there’s no reason to live off grease, cheese and coffee. Gripped by a late-season glut of tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants, grapes, peaches, plums, apples and pears, Bulgaria’s towns and villages were awash with colourful market stalls. To impoverished tastebuds acclimatised to the bland horrors of English supermarket food there was no doubt that this was some of the best food we’d ever eaten. Who knew tomatoes could be this good?

In a region of central Bulgaria known variously as the Valley of the Thracian Kings and the Valley of Roses we were delighted to find that not one household had neglected to fill their backyard with a variety of fruit trees and heirloom vegetables. Walking the streets of Kran was a moveable feast, hands darting between railings and over fences to snatch mouthfuls of red currants, black grapes and marble-sized cherry plums.

“Incredible edible” exclaimed Richie, marvelling at the absence of ‘ornamentals’. Not a single municipal council-planted acer, plane tree or horse chestnut was in sight. Instead, sour cherries, walnuts, plums and sweet chestnuts lined the village streets, flaunting their exceptional ornamental value while at the same time, dropping fruits and nuts into the palms of passersby. Not wanting to be outdone, even the pavements yielded a crop; enough fat succulent purslane to furnish many a late-summer salad. Continue reading

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Blues in the night

The rain comes down and we do not run for cover: not Richie, Giovanni nor I: we’re in the garden planting plugs of capsicum, aubergine, tomato and cabbage into beds that have humped backs like camels and are as hairy as Cousin It. The shawn grass we’ve piled on top of the beds shields a treasury of seeds: garlic, onion, spinach, alfalfa, buckwheat, corn – a cocktail of life… pure vegetal goodness

Richie tears a packet of borage seeds open with his teeth, prodding the tiny specks into the earth with soily fingers – here, here, there, over there. He scatters a pile of seeds underneath the leaf beat plants that have remained in the soil since last summer and are as thick and mutinous as an oasis of miniature date palm, seed heads drooping like sprays of dates on the stalk.

The sky is caught between smiling gold and the blackened blue of bruising. The lights in the village are shaken by the thunder until they burn a furious shade of cocktail-peach.

There’s lightning on the mountaintop and I’m cackling because Giovanni is laughing loud and it’s nice to be in the garden, planting plants, and letting the rain soak our backs. Before long we will be inside drying off, packing our bags for Greece, sending one last wave of emails rippling out across the globe.

In twenty four hours Richie and I set sail for Igoumenitsa, and that will be the end of Italy, for now.

On our last night in Busso Giovanni promises to cook two bunches of agretti that he bought at the market the previous day. From a sealed plastic tupperware container in the fridge he produces two small inferior black truffles to show me; he and the dogs found them early that morning on their pre-dawn excursion. There’s every hope, I tell myself, that the scaly black eggs will arrive on our plates this evening, shaved over a mousse of polenta or a creamy risotto blanco.

A bottle of white wine is in the fridge chilling. There will be four of us tonight, like there was on the first night we were here, when Giovanni prepared a meal of sautéed wild chicory (prised from the lawn at the edges of the driveway), dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, served with fried eggs and shaved truffle, and fried polenta bread cooked on top of the stove in a cast iron pan.

Giovanni’s friend arrives with broad beans. He plonks them unceremoniously on the table. We’re invited to eat from the pods. They’re delectable: crisp, bitter and green. We snap-unlock the seams of the pods and throw the skins onto the table. “Good mulch,” says Richie, chewing reflectively while he gazes at the growing mound of skins: white and wooly on the inside, apple green on the outside. Broad beans will be one of the first things we plant in our garden, when we have one again, along with asparagus, artichoke, basil, strawberries, and agretti. Wonderful agretti! Pride of Italy!

When we arrive at Giovanni’s on the 24th of May our bodies are in Italy but our minds have set sail for Greece. We’ve stayed overlong in Italy, or so Richie keeps telling me. By my account, we’ve stayed exactly the right amount of time – neither too long, nor too short. Italy had been good to us.

As we pull up in front of Giovanni’s imposing stone farmhouse on the outskirts of Busso, I realise there’s still one experience I’m holding out for: Italian home-cooked food.

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The Sultan’s City

After the blue somnolence of Chefchaouen, Meknes was a shock. It felt more like a ‘working’ city than any we’d passed through in Morocco. Dusty, car-ridden and noisy, it dragged us kicking and screaming back into the real world.

After 12 days in Chefchaouen we’d become happily ensconced in our daily routine: coffee, flaky bread (‘msammen’) and bananas in the market square; diploma by day; an afternoon stroll in the ville nouvelle; and in the early evening, a cup of tea in the busiest ‘boys only’ salon in town.

So, it’s little wonder that arriving in Meknes made us want to run for the hills. There was no Mohammed (our favourite food vendor) and no ‘idiot’s guide’ to the best cheap eats in town. The golden arch of McDonalds loomed menacingly above the main intersection. The local lads and lasses put us to shame in their stiletto heels, leather jackets and Adidas tracksuits. The cost of the hotels was frightening, and even moreso, was the sound of cats proliferating in the  back alleys at night.  Continue reading

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