I want to paint for you a picture of food, one of taste, but also of smell and sight, emotion and imagination. If you can for a moment, reach back into your mind.
Reach back to the marvel of your youth when you bit into the cradle of a watermelon slice, and let the juice slide down your shirt marking it with a permanent pink memory as you spit the seeds in a spray onto the ground. Reach back to that moment where you held no embarrassment, no restraint of etiquette, and recall the pure abandon of a child in the wonder and enjoyment of food exploration.
If you can take yourself to that moment and that mind of wonder, then let us begin our journey…
The bite of winter winds, crisp with flecks of snow that sting your cheeks. The cold burn of your toes in your boots as you walk in the dark up a frozen gravel road.
This is winter in Alberta, Canada. This is the winter I have known and have been familiar with. But there is another winter around me now.
Instead of frigid airs, it’s the bite of artichoke spines as you sort through the piles of armadillo vegetables at the Wednesday market. The sting as you peel back their course outer leaves, and the soft bristles of the artichoke’s heart before you put them in the oven. The warm burn on your impatient finger tips as you pull out each tender flake to be dipped in a yogurt sauce of roasted garlic.
This is winter in Cyprus.
Go into the Trodoos mountains, the trees thicken, the air cools, and the people change. The pace of life seems slower. The houses still have red tile roofs, but their walls are made of stone instead of the smooth, postcard white of the coast. The roads are still narrow and cobbled, but there are more people walking, fewer cars, and more chances of seeing an elderly couple, hand in hand in the seat of a donkey pulled cart.
Terraces made in eras past and carried through history, cut into the sloping sides of the mountains, the hips of the land that rise from the drier lowlands, fertile and giving of abundance. Orchards tended by generations of hands, roots that dig deep into the ground and wrap tight to the land.
In the mountains, autumn means apple festivals. Streets suddenly jostle with music, laughter bouncing out of open doors and windows, bold calls from the white vendor tents and the light, sweet smell of apples drifting between any open spaces left.
Apple crepes, apple jams, apple syrups and preserves. Caramel dripping from the soft stewed form of once crisp fall apples. And the smell of smoke from the ever present grills charring skewers of lamb cooked with slices of apples.
This is autumn in Cyprus.
Roll down your car windows as you drive the tree lined road between Kolossi Castle and the Akamas Salt Lake that is home to migrating pink flamingos.
If you drive down that road at the right time of year, with your windows rolled down to embrace the hot, heavy air that fills your vehicle and your lungs, you will be gifted with the perfume of the mythical gods that reside in the bones of this country.
It is the smell of thousands of citrus trees in blossom, all growing on a spit of land before the soil gives way to milky white cliffs that reach into the sea.
Don’t rush down this road.
No one does. It is a road to linger on, marvel at, and immerse yourself in as you succumb your senses to it.
This is spring in Cyprus.
Intricacy is the invention of Mother Nature.
Take the fig.
Pinch the very top, the little stem that clung to the tree like the last finger of a climber before weight and gravity won the battle, and with both hands, pull it apart.
Tender green skin gives way to the most intricate and delicate pink insides. Seeds overlapping and embracing one another, each wrapped in its own silky covering.
Take the pomegranate.
Skin like worn leather, firm and protective, but smooth, soft, and vulnerable to the pierce of a knife. Break open this shell, and nestled within the bitter pith are jewels of red, each with a wild burst of flavor to match its beauty.
Summer is a time of travel, transition, and abandon – a break from the routine and reflection of the rest of the year, a switch from the well worn, and the straight forward. It is a time of complexity and intricacy.
This is summer in Cyprus.
Each season in Cyprus brings something new.
The smells, the dampness of turned over earth in the fall, brings with it the fragrance of an apple storage room in the Trodoos Monastery where the monks sell their fruit.
The feel, the heat of the spring as it moves into a summer sun that sinks into your skin, just as it warms the skin of the oranges that sit content on their branches.
The sight, rain clouds in winter, precious to the parched land as autumn ends, contrast with the brilliant green of artichokes, fresh with a coat of rain, piled in a crate.
You can live with the seasons if you sink down and relinquish yourself to the changes around you, appreciate them; savor them, even if they are not familiar.
This is what it means to eat local, to live local, no matter where your journey takes you.