This weekend was a long weekend.   Easter weekend and so we had (Good) Friday off and also Monday off.  What to do for four whole days?  Should we follow most of the country and leave for sunnier climes?  After all, what has seemed like a particularly harsh winter has now morphed into a never-ending one.  March 31st and the temperatures here in London are steady at -1 to 2 degrees centigrade.  That isn’t springtime weather.  That is middle of the night in December weather.  Last weekend I woke up to a white bloody Christmas in March.  I don’t object to winter weather when it is winter.  I am however objecting now.  We’ve had the first day of spring, and last night the clocks went forward.  Spring is officially here.  So whoever is in charge of the weather, please get with the programme.  I am now tired of wearing my duvet out every day.  I want to be able to throw on a light jacket and go out without feeling like I may lose my extremities.

Easter is a weird time of year for me.  I am a bit schizophrenic about it.  On the one hand – it’s a holiday so hurray.  No complaining from me, I like holidays as much as the next person, especially when they involve chocolate and binge eating.  Easter for me though is confusing.  This is because as Greeks, we do not always celebrate Easter at the same time as everybody else.  This year, Catholic Easter (as it is known is Greece) was on March 31st, and Greek Orthodox Easter is on May 5th.  So Easter has completely passed me by this year.  I have been seeing the eggs everywhere but haven’t really bought any.  Of course my nieces and nephews will be expecting Easter eggs in May when there aren’t any in the shops any more.  I guess a visit to the supermarket this week will yield some bargains, I will have to go and see.

Easter also brings up the whole giving stuff up for Lent thing.  I usually do give something up for Lent, in fact I usually start on Ash Wednesday and go right through til after Greek Easter.  This year, all  that means is that I haven’t eaten crisps or chocolate since February 13th and won’t again until May 5th.  Yes, I still have over a month to go and suddenly it all seems like a terrible idea.  I don’t miss the chocolate too much I have to admit.  Chocolate is something I only crave if I eat it.  So if, like now, I haven’t had it in a while, I don’t want it.  I don’t even think about it.  The only time it is inconvenient is when you go out and someone has made a chocolate dessert and you have to explain why you aren’t going to fall into it face first like you usually do.

Crisps on the other hand I have found harder.  My weakness has always been for savouries, and a packet of crisps is the ultimate convenience food as far as I am concerned.  You’re hungry?  A packet of crisps can be opened in seconds and satisfaction is not far away.  I have to admit that I had been hitting the crisps a little too hard after Christmas and in the build up to the move.  Lent couldn’t have come at a better time.  I have an addictive personality, and the more crisps I ate the more I wanted.  Time came when a normal size bag of crisps just wasn’t enough.  I started needing two packs, or I would open a family pack and eat without thinking until the bag felt suspiciously light.  I would fold the bag up and put it back in the cupboard without looking too closely at how many were left (usually crumbs and about 3 and a half crisps).  I don’t know what it is.  I am not sure if it is the salt, or the crunch, or the feeling of instant gratification, but whatever it is, I couldn’t get enough of it.  Now though I am not eating them, and so I have had to seek alternatives.  I bought almonds.  Not salted (healthier option, I thought).  It turns out that almonds, although they are healthier than crisps, are a) not as satisfying and b) make me choke.  The not as satisfying I was expecting, but the choking was an unexpected turn of events.  Choking  alone is no fun, there is no one to thump you on the back, express concern, and run around panicking and fetching glasses of water.  When you are alone and you choke, there is only you, thumping your chest with tears streaming down your face and images of D coming home to find you blue in the face with a jar of almonds spilt on the floor around you.  I stopped the almonds.  I tried raisins for a bit, but they really were a poor substitute.  The truth is there is no substitute.  Crisps are the ultimate snack food and that is the truth.  Today we were watching TV with my sister and her boyfriend and they both came in with a packet of crisps each.  I didn’t say anything of course, crying and beating my chest would have freaked them out, and frankly, I don’t want to be one of those people who expect everyone to stop having fun because they have decided not to.  Still they sat there crunching away and I was literally salivating.  I wanted to take the packets and lick the salt off them.  Or as my niece does, feed them the crisps and then lick my fingers.  Of course, I did neither of those things.  I am an adult and in full control of my cravings.  I simply sat there staring at the television and drooling like Homer Simpson.  Eventually they finished and, oblivious, went to the kitchen to get some chocolate.  At times like these I think – what was I thinking?

The other part of Greek Easter that I have a hard time with are the religious traditions we follow.  Typically in Greece, you would fast for 40 days – all of Lent.  By fasting, I do not mean total abstinence.  I mean eliminating certain foods.  So for 40 days, you don’t eat dairy, eggs, and meat.  This for me means that I wouldn’t be eating anything, so I never do it and certainly not for 40 days.  Many people feel the same way, and so we have reduced the 40 day sentence to Holy Week for good behaviour.  And this is where I feel like we may adhere to tradition rather than any kind of religious ‘law’.  You’re supposed to have fish on Palm Sunday, and then from Monday you cannot eat eggs, meat, or fish.  You can however eat shellfish.  Cue everyone eating lobster, caviar, crab and prawns as a sacrifice to God (nice work if you can get it).  Every day one more ingredient is knocked off the list until by Good Friday you are eating boiled lentils with vinegar.  On Saturday you go to Church for communion after which some people break the fast, but many people wait until after the Saturday evening service to eat properly.  Sunday is then spent slaughtering and eating lambs, and generally over-indulging in everything you haven’t been eating for however long.  I do not take issue with anyone doing it however they want to.  If they want to eat a rare steak on Good Friday, I don’t care, I really don’t.  What I do object to is people telling me what I am doing wrong.  How I choose to celebrate Easter is my business.  I don’t think there is a right and a wrong way.  There certainly isn’t a passage in the Bible that refers to whether Flora spread is an acceptable substitute for butter, or if Coffeemate was allowed by Jesus.  In Greece, where many people do fast, all the fast food places jump onto the bandwagon.  McDonalds serves a prawnburger and what it calls McFasting foods (McNistisima).  It never fails to make me laugh.

So, the four day weekend.  Should I stay or should I go?  Well, I stayed.  Firstly travelling anywhere on a bank holiday weekend is twice as complicated as travelling on a normal weekend and that is already complicated enough.  Secondly, I was lured in by the promise of a barbeque.  Yes I know, a barbeque in this weather.  My Australian brother-in-law, A, inherited our barbeque when we moved and he has offered to fulfil our family tradition and grill meat on a bank holiday.  I think he is a little worried about it.  When we first met him, we invited him over for a barbeque at our place.  It was a meet the parents and family, get to know us invite.  We totally over-catered.  We are Greeks, so that is reason enough for having too much food, but we were expecting Australians, so we thought: Australian men can eat a kangaroo each at BBQs, we had better get the food in (not that we had any sort of pre-conceived stereotypical ideas or anything).  We went crazy with the salads and trimmings and went to the butcher and basically ordered a petting zoo.  I was in charge of the fire at our family events.  In fact, I am in charge of catering at all our family events.  I lit 4 of those boil in the bag charcoal thingies and off we went.  It was just the family plus my brother-in-law and his sister and her family.  So there were about 20 of us – a small gathering.  I grilled, and we piled the food onto a huge table, called everyone to table and sat down to see what to make of the Australians.

We were excited that we weren’t going to have to tone it down.  Sometimes, we invite English friends over and they fall into a coma at the sight of all the food on offer.  They valiantly attempt to keep up with our appetites, but fall out of the ‘race’ really early on, and we smile indulgently and talk about training and practice.  With the Aussies, we were expecting to be eaten under the table. They waited til I called it, and then went to the table and took what can only be described as measly girl-sized portions of food which they proceeded to nibble gingerly while we all tore the flesh from bones as if we had just hunted and chased the animal down and killed it ourselves.  At first we thought they were just being polite.  Then we realised they weren’t going to go for it.  These two men were actually going to just eat light.  We were crushed.  In fact, I was rude enough to point it out, making comments like:

“I heard that real men eat meat in Australia.  Call yourselves real  men? Pathetic.”

None of my baiting worked. Unfortunately, they had been ill all week with some sort of stomach bug and so they had a chipolata each and some salad. Well that’s their story anyway, and they’re sticking to it.   I was gutted.  In fact, I have since revised my opinion as my brother-in-law often eats huge portions of whatever I am offering at the time (perhaps to make up for the fact that he didn’t eat that first day).  His brother-in-law too, always eats like a horse around me to make up for that first impression and prove his masculinity.  So far at family barbeques?  Greeks 10 – Aussies 0.  Not that we’re counting or anything.

OK, just came back from the family barbeque at my sister and brother-in-law’s house.  Definitely a point for the Aussies!  A managed not only to cook everything to perfection, but he also finished all the cooking and actually sat down to eat with us.  So perfectly cooked and timed – chapeau A, I salute you!

Anyway, I have spent this weekend seeing friends and family, eating and on the couch in no particular order.  I haven’t been bingeing on chocolate.  My sugar induced coma will have to wait until May 5th.  I am already looking forward to it.