Friday, April 29, 2011

Cuckoo For Cocoa...retsi

It's Thursday after Easter on The Rock and I wonder how many gluttons ended up horizontal in a nearby hospital after all that food. Google fails me and I cannot figure out how to type Greek characters on my wrecked laptop to run a search in Phileleftheros, Cyprus' largest newspaper. I call my Father-in-Law, who would definitely know this wretchedly entertaining statistic, but he does not answer the phone. I then try The Disney-Obsessed Man-Child; he asks around his office but no one knows or no one cares or no one seems to be able to focus thanks to the remnants of severe indigestion. In any case, probably dozens of people visited the hospital Sunday evening and early Monday morning to receive necessary attention for having swallowed one too many chunks of grilled lamb. In other countries, most holiday-related accidents (unfortunately) center around the heavy consumption of alcohol; on The Rock, however, these are dealt with stomach pumping sans the residual hangover and super-strong doses of Alka-Seltzer. Yes, the stats in Cyprus include a few cases of drunk driving and unchaperoned pyromania, but overeating definitely takes the, uhm, cake.

I think a part of the problem is that Cypriots tend to fast for Lent prior to stuffing their faces with meat and cheese. For us Catholics, such fasting means giving up something we enjoy, be it Neapolitan pizza, dark chocolate truffles, Kopi Luwak coffee, Trappiste beers, outdoor sex or voyeurism, or watching Seinfeld re-runs. For the Greek Orthodox, fasting is a bit more hardcore: they give up meat (fish, pork, lamb and beef), dairy products and, in some extreme cases, olive oil. So I can only imagine the massive shock experienced by one's system from indulging in grilled halloumi, wine-soaked pork cutlets and lamb chops after a forty-day-plus cleansing hiatus from these sorts of delicious foods.

And the feast on Easter Sunday certainly is delicious. It all starts at one a.m. after Jay Cee's resurrection. Fasting ends and the soup is served. In some homes, it's magiritsa, a hearty stew made of lamb offal (entrails and inner organs). At The Wife, Ph.D.'s, however, it's always avgolemono rice soup with chicken and lean lamb for the wussies and chunks of a boiled sheep's head (tongue, brain, eyeballs and all) for the brave. This year I bring along a bottle of the 2010 Domaine Vlassides White, a Gold Medal Winning Xynisteri at the 6th Annual Cyprus Wine Competition, to obfuscate the fact that I am sucking on ovine cheekbones.

Come noon, a solid mass of protein and carbohydrates already materializing in my stomach, we start off with what Cypriots like to (erroneously) refer to as niblets. There is nothing tinny about liver, pork and lamb kebab, wine-soaked and spice-laden sausages, sheftalia, halloumi and warm pittas as utensils. To subdue my homesickness, I prepare some provoleta (thick rounds of provolone cheese drizzled with olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano) and throw them on the grill wrapped in aluminum foil. I think, "Too bad there are no Argentinians present to fervently debate the Cypriots on the merits of their respective cheeses." Then again, as The Wife, Ph.D., always points out to me, halloumi is not a cheese; it's better. Touche.

Then we are off to the very long table for the sit-down portion of our wondrous journey towards obesity. The sidekicks to the main event include large chunks of salty and succulent lamb, pork and chicken commonly known as souvla, bulgur wheat cooked with tomatoes, Greek salad, fried potatoes and more bread. This segues into the Michael Jordan, Diego Armando Maradona, Roger Federer, or nude Scarlet Johansson of the meal, the infamous kokoretsi, a long skewer of lamb sweetbreads and liver heavily marinated in salt, pepper and cumin seeds, wrapped in lamb tripe and intestines and slow-roasted to finger-fucking-licking perfection.  In our household, it's prepared twice a year—for Christmas and Easter—which means I only get one chance to bite into its savory crunch since we spend Jay Cee's birthday wherever on earth my parents decide to stage a drunken family reunion. It's surprising how much I desire kokoretsi given my enmity with all-things liver. However, I take a sip of the 2008 Kyperounda Shiraz brought to battle and pick the two largest morsels. I then bathe them in lemon juice and go to work like a beaver building a dam. By the end of the day, my belly grumbling and close to cracking, I contemplate aiming for the gurney next Easter and blogging from a hospital bed on the travails of an amateur overeater.

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