We now pay full price for doctors visits and medecines. Both are subsidised but payments from government to the health service are months behind. K has medecine for the next month so we watch and wait for doctors and chemists to lift the ban. They get paid in dribs and drabs. Meanwhile people are dying because they can't afford to pay the full costs of their doctors bills. Old age pensioners are the ones most hit. They are the ones with most medical costs and their pensions have been cut so much they were already finding it tough to survive. In many cases their small pensions are supporting extended families as their children lose their jobs.
' Coffee' is just coffee. This is one of the biggest adjustments we have to make. I just enjoy a coffee and time to people watch and read a book (no more magazines - an extravagence now). 'COFFEE' for a greek is a big part of his social life, especially here on Poros. All your friends and relatives will likely pass by while you sit at your favourite cafe. Conversation begins, people are invited to sit down. If you do the inviting, you pay for their coffee . Long, serious, furious but friendly discussions take place on everything from the lack of fish in the Saronic Gulf to the treachery of politicans and the state of your grandchildrens health. Talking is thirsty work, a cold beer or a small glass of ouzo help keep the throat oiled. It all costs. You count your money before you sit down and hurriedly make excuses of broken washing machines waiting to be mended when the going gets tough. The Greek would wither and pine without this 'social intercourse'. 'Coffee' is now a special occasion and is at the top of the budget list. K still has a weekend ouzo, but at home with 'lakertha' (greek sousi) he has caught and made himself.
- RECIPE for GREEK SOUSI
First catch your fish. 'Lakerda' is one of the tuna family.
The fish has to be hung for a few hours to drain off all the blood.
K fillets this and soaks it in brine for a couple of weeks. Then it is kept in vegetable oil, in the fridge. Small chunks are put in a saucer with olive oil and lemon juice and enjoyed with a glass of ouzo and a few slices of homemade sourdough bread.
Holidays. No more.
We're finally using everything in the freezer. Good news. The two year old kalamari was surprisingly tasty.
14 September - The day of the Holy Cross. A big celebration in the Greek Orthodox calendar. It is a day of strict fasting. We had split peas and onions (a sort of pease pudding hot, pease pudding cold) and fried kalamari - not the two year old frozen sort. It is the name day of the Stavros-es and the Stavroula-s and salted cod can be served at these celebrations. The cod is de-salted, fried and served with a strong garlic-bread sauce.
- RECIPE for BASIL SOURDOUGH SPONGE The greek housewife takes a bunch of basil to church to be blessed. The priest dips the basil in holy water. This basil is taken home by the housewife to make the sourdough sponge for the following year. The basil is soaked in water. Flour is added to the water and this is the beginning of the sponge which will ferment and bubble in a few days - hopefully. Doesn't work apparently if you have your period.
- RECIPE for new SOURDOUGH from GRAPEJUICE after the grape harvest. K brought a plastic bottle of juice back and we made 'moustolevria' which is a sweet made from the juice and semolina and then I forgot the rest of the juice and put the bottle in the fridge. When I eventually got it out and opened the top it popped and fizzed, already fermenting like the wine in K's barrels. I added the flour and in a few hours the sourdough was bubbling and rising and I am making my first loaf with this right now.
We also make 'moustoukouloura' (grape juice cookies) from the juice and any surplus juice is boiled for hours until it becomes a thick syrup. This is 'petimezi'. It is very sweet and besides being used to make sweets is supposed to be good for winter coughs.
The grape skins and pips can now be made into raki but you need a still for that. K and his friends tried to get hold of a still a few years ago but it was too expensive to buy. One day.
You can get high on the smell in K's shed at the moment. The fermentation lets off a strong heady tang. The wine has been bubbling away for a week now and he will send a sample down to the local wine-tryer to see how the fermentation is going. The first sample told him the alcohol level was 12.8. That is a bit low and he was told to put sugar in it to raise the alcohol level. But K doesn't like putting sugar in the wine and has left it to see how it progresses. PS He did add a kilo of sugar to the juice yesterday because the fermentation was slowing down.
Today we have a north wind which will affect the wine . The north wind is kind to the wine. It helps the fermentation.
When all through the shed the north wind doth blow
when roasted crabs hiss in the bowl (we wish)
when K's wine doth still and slow
and greasy Joan doth keel the pot ( apologies to our Joan)
To dream of drousy hours b'side the fire
with mugs of vintage thus to lift
to drink the wine and toast the vine
apologies to Shakespeare too
All this talk of wine reminded me of the Poros tavernas when I first came here in 1976. Every taverna made its own wine. The locals (males ) used to choose which taverna they would drink at according to the wine. It was the tradition for the man of the house to repair to a taverna in the evening and have a few glasses with his friends and 'try to solve the Cyprus problem' before going back to dinner with the wife and kids. A great deal of discussion went on I remember about which taverna had the best wine and the better the wine the greater the clientele. Wine back then was resinated. A lump of pine resin was put in each barrel to help preserve the wine and it became the aroma of greece. The only un-resinated wine available was bottled and bottled wine was not liked by greeks and still isn't. They prefer the local wine from the barrel. Kostas says that as the grape harvest drew near all the tavernas got out their barrels to clean and there were lines of barrels all along the waterfront. The first wash must have been with sea water - must ask K about that. And the sewage went straight into the bay! Yes indeedy they did use sea water .. and a bit of sweage to clean the barrels.
The only taverna we can think of now that has its own wine is Dimitri's family taverna up where Elli lives. He runs Dimitris Family Butchers Shop Taverna - has 7 or 8 or 9 kids to help him - I have lost count.
Our friend and neighbour, the grape-man, is 'quarter-master' at the navy base.
There were rats, rats
big as bleeding cats
in the quarter masters store
Bet that stands here at the Poros base too. He was a good friend and neighbour and has just been transferred to Athens. We have his 76yr old mother still here. She gets up at the crack of dawn and weeds the 2 acre vineyard by hand and can slither like a snake under the iron gate of our english neighbours......hmmmmmmm
He will be missed. Being the supplier for the base he got the best prices and bought in bulk for himself and often for us too. 50 kilos of flour. We're still using it and I gave away a lot to the kids. In the fiery summer heat all the bugs in it come to life. Freezing the flour before they develop is one answer. I put 20 kilos in the freezer for 48 hours. That lot was ok but by July the rest of it was writhing. I spent many hours sieving. Fortunately greek housewives are familiar with this problem and the sieve is a big wooden affair making it slightly easier.
We got 10 kilos of salt from friend Vangelis as well. 10 kilos goes a long way. If we're not freezing, preserving or pickling then no doubt we'll be salting.
Snails. We haven't collected snails since Crete. They'll be coming out once the rains start. We collect them on damp evenings - hunting them down by torch light. We feed for a week, macaroni and flour (they don't mind a few weevils) so they excrete any nasties. Then yum, yum. But they are not french snails. They are stewed in a garlic, tomato sauce and sucked out with loud noises.
- RECIPE FOR STEWED SNAILS . First gather the snails. Put them in a wooden box with a heavy top - and give them air to breathe. Feed them flour or chopped raw macaoni.
Wash them, discarding any that haven't emerged from their shells, or are starting to smell. Boil a big pot of water. Throw them quickly in and ignore their screams as they hit the hot water. Wash again to get rid of scum and slime. Slice a wee piece off the top of each one with a sharp knife.
Prepare the sauce. Fry lots of onions in lots of (local) olive oil. Add fresh grated tomatoes, garlic, a bay leaf, salt and pepper. Add the snails and simmer until the snail is tender.
Suck out one by one, use lots of thick, heavy bread to soak up the sauce.
I froze 100 young leaves from the grapevine to make stuffed vine leaves. Still a lot of those left.
- RECIPE FOR VINE LEAVES
first pick your vine leaf. About the size of your palm and not too pointy. You'll have to examine a vine leaf to understand this. It needs a large flat area in the middle to hold the filling.
Par boil them. About 2 minutes. They'll turn dark green and you'll know they're ready. Then you can freeze them or pickle them to use them later or go on to make 'dolmathes'.
The filling is just a mix of raw rice, lots of chopped onions, garlic of course, a few pine nuts, parsley, mint and dill and lots of salt and pepper. Put a teaspoon of filling in the middle of each leaf and roll up, folding in the sides so you have a nice little vine-roll. Lay them in a saucepan. Do only one layer. Cover with water and add a good dose of oil. Put a plate on top of them to stop them dancing around and unfolding. Simmer about half an hour. Eat either with more oil and lemon juice - vinegrette perhaps or make a lemon and egg sauce.
A Pig. Would be a good idea. Would eat all the scraps and then we could eat the pig. Much handier than a dog. Although apparently the ancients did eat dogs up at the temple to Poseidon. Archeologists have found the remains of fires and celebratory feasts. Lots of dog bones.