Some of Eleni Georges’ fondest childhood memories centre around food. Raised for a large portion of her life in Cyprus, she remembers her mum and aunties spending hours in the kitchen, preparing delicious family favourites, and welcoming, what at times felt like the entire village into their home, especially for special events.
But when Eleni was just 12 years old, her world changed forever, with the passing of her beloved mum.
As the eldest of three siblings, and a natural interest in cooking from watching the women in her life, Eleni took up the domain of the kitchen in her mum’s absence.
Living in Lefkosia at the time, and her aunties living an hour away in Limassol, she would phone them up to be instructed over the phone.
“I remember calling her and saying ‘I want to make this today, how do I do it?’ And she would try and explain. I probably ruined the avgolemoni (Greek chicken, lemon and egg soup) a few times before I could get it right,” she laughs.
“I always experimented. One day, I actually remember the dish, I made these honey chicken drumsticks and I’m pretty sure they didn’t taste the best, but I remember my dad just eating it.”
Eleni moved back to Australia with her father and siblings when she was 15. Now she has a family of her own, and it was when she found herself at home on maternity leave just over a year ago that she started to take her love of food to a new level with her blog My Family Food Diary.
“When I was on maternity leave I had that extra time while the baby was sleeping and that’s when I started posting photos of the food I was making, and getting positive feedback,” she says, adding that this has been one of the most encouraging experiences she has ever had.
“Within the Cypriot community a lot of the new generation are not cooking themselves, but I was getting a lot of comments saying they were proud that these recipes existed and they were trying them out,” she says.
While the blog has given Eleni the chance to document the recipes passed down to her through family, it has also evolved into a platform to raise awareness about the Cypriot cuisine, which is less known in comparison to that of Greece.
“Because Cyprus was occupied by a lot of different countries, we use different spices to the Greeks; the Middle East especially has had a big impact. We use oregano and lemon like the Greeks do, but also a lot of cumin, cinnamon, mint, and coriander,” she says.
In February, Eleni launched a campaign called ‘Febulous Cypriot Food’ that saw some 300 people posting their food creations with the hashtag.
“I was getting so much positive feedback on that because it was provoking memories. The other day I put up a photo on my Instagram with my yiayia and a tray of lentils. A lot of people commented and said that’s what we were doing when we were younger. So it’s not just the recipes, but the memories that you relate to when you were younger, and a lot of people respond to that,” Eleni says.
With the majority of her extended family still living in Cyprus, she admits life in Australia does have a different feel. But she’s set out to create her own village with her immediate family, and friends.
“It’s different because of our family’s not here, but in saying that I think we found other ways of feeling the same, everyone getting together, and we do that a lot with our friends. I have a group that I’ll call, and we’ll cook together, say the flaounes at Easter time or kourabiedes at Christmas.”
A teacher by day, food is fast becoming a focus for Eleni. She recently conducting a Halloumi Cooking Demonstration at the Cyprus Halloumi Festival, and has similar ideas on the horizon, along with the prospect of writing a cook book.
There is a lot of sentiment invested in My Family Food Diary. It is dedicated to Eleni’s mum, and is a collection of beautiful recipes that she hopes will become a reference point for her own daughters in the future.
“The kitchen is my environment, and the process of cooking really calms me down. I love the taste of course, but it’s more the fact that as soon as I taste or smell something, it links back to my childhood and those memories that we created.
“The memories of cooking together [with my mum] are the ones I remember of her the most.”