A few days ago I was asked if I had always baked but it is really only in the past few months that I discovered and passion for cooking and baking. When I left school in June last year I could cook eggs and pasta and that was about it. After a wonderful and interesting gap year I will start university in just over two weeks time with some baking knowledge and the knowledge that I can take whatever odds and ends are in the fridge and make a soup or omelette or maybe a stir fry. I won’t need any of this knowledge in first year since I will be in catered halls but I will use it. I want to make cakes and no-bake bars and puddings and drinks both to share with my friends and floor mates and to keep up this blog, hopefully posting more frequently than I have recently.
In beginning to prepare for going to university and beginning an Archaeology degree I am looking back to the beginning of my gap year. I spent a month living and working with 15 Australians on an archaeological excavation in Cyprus. We enjoyed several wonderful Greek mezzes but also cooked for the group on the days we were on kitchen duty. I found myself helping out some days when I wasn’t on duty, enjoying watching simple ingredients turn into delicious meals. As the drinking age in Cyprus is 17 I got my first experience of alcohol and going out in the evenings. While the bartenders in Cyprus seem to use a shot glass as the guideline for the minimum amount of each spirit in a cocktail what I remember most is the joy of sharing absurd conversations and laughing while joining a group performance of ‘I will survive’ in a Kareoke bar, something I would not usually have the confidence for.
Each day we got up in the dark and arrived on site just as the sky was beginning to lighten. The site was never shadowy, despite the earliness of the hour. It felt almost as if tendrils of light were escaping the sun’s rays to weave themselves into the walls of the trenches and welcome us to a new day’s digging. Talk and laughter would mix with the thwack of pickaxes, the scrape of trowels and the patter of earth falling into the wheelbarrow as we worked towards breakfast and then lunch. After lunch the sounds would change to splashing water, the bristling scratch of nailbrushes and the soft thump of pottery dropping onto tarpaulin as we washed the finds that had emerged from the ground that morning and sorted, bagged and tagged the now dry finds from the day before. Some days there would be very little to wash and on others we would be faced with a long row of buckets filled to the brim after a trench had reached a ‘mega-context’. Our conversations ranged from the perfectly normal to the slightly insane. We talked of the differences between Australia and Britain, notably the difference in currency. Paper money in Australia is not strictly paper, it’s bright colours and slightly laminated feel were odd and to me almost seemed like monopoly money. I was used to notes in muted blues, reds and purples, the new ones crisp edged and glossy, the old ones crumpled and often with taped up rips. I was fascinated by the idea of waterproof money, especially one girl’s story of washing her jeans three times with a $50 dollar note in the pocket then going out and spending it since it was still as good as new. They seemed baffled that the tatty £5 note I had in my purse, creased to the point of feeling like cloth, could be deemed usable currency.
As the trenches deepened and the spoil heap grew we learned more about each other and the site, though in relation to the site we uncovered more questions than answers. We reached the end of each day’s work dusty and sweaty and spent the afternoon swimming in the crystal clear water of the harbour and enjoying ice cream and frozen yogurt. Our Sunday afternoons and Mondays were mostly spent driving around the island to various archaeological sites or simply enjoying tearing along a dirt track in a four-by-four, then pausing to wait for the smaller Ford Fiesta to catch up.
We all enjoyed the Zorba’s store, part of a bakery chain, that was just down the road, though the fact that we all gained weight while wielding pickaxes and shovels suggests we enjoyed the profiteroles, crème brûlée and chocolate mousse cakes a little too exuberantly. We enjoyed mezzes at various restaurants including The 7 St George’s, reportedly the best restaurant on the island. It certainly lives up to its reputation.
The 7 St George’s is every inch a classic Greek taverna, right down to the canopy woven from palm leaves and growing vines. We were greeted by several cats, including one tiny kitten, and the welcoming host and his sons. We were asked about allergies and if anyone was vegetarian or vegan. Most people are confused by the fact that I am allergic to just cow’s cheese and not other dairy but not this man, he simply nodded and told me exactly which parts of the mezze I could or could not eat each time a dish came out. The vegetarian and vegan were equally well provided for. The bread that came out as four entire loaves was still warm, the sweetly spiced interior enveloped in a perfect crust. Every dish that emerged from the kitchen was perfect. By the time the meal was finished we were all pleasantly full and the table was littered with over a dozen small desert bowls that had been shared round until they were scraped clean.
By the end of that month I was absolutely sure that doing Archaeology at university was the right choice. I am so glad I made the decision to take a gap year. I have grown and matured a lot in the past year but I have also discovered how wonderful and therapeutic time spent creating in the kitchen can be. I have memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life but in some ways this newfound passion is even more precious.
These cookies are from a recipe I have used several times. I made them for friend’s birthday, for another friend on the day she moved into university halls and for a barbeque at our allotment when I was extremely flattered to see a chef who grows award-winning vegetables go home with a handful in his pocket.
Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from Cookies! By Pippa Cuthbert and Lindsay Wilson)
220g butter/dairy free spread (soya spread or sunflower spread)
120g brown sugar
150g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1tsp vanilla extract
300g all purpose gluten free flour
1tsp baking soda
200g dark chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 190˚C/375˚F.
Beat butter/spread and sugars together until creamy (not until light and fluffy or you will get bubbly cookies that don’t taste as good).
Add eggs and vanilla, beating until combined.
Sift together flour, soda and salt and stir in.
Fold in the chocolate chips.
Drop rounded spoons of mix onto ungreased baking sheets about 2” apart.
Bake for 10-15 minutes until the surface is set but the centres are still soft and the edges are lightly browned. Leave to cool on the trays until they have hardened enough to be moved then transfer to a cooling rack.
Notes: – The recipe says it makes 28 cookies but I have got everything from 24 to 42 depending on the size I made them. Smaller cookies can be placed a little closer together and bigger ones, further apart.
– I line my baking trays with Teflon coated baking paper (a bit like silpat but designed for lining cake tins) because one of them isn’t very non-stick.
– These are also very good with chopped walnuts instead of chocolate chips, other nuts would work too.