Friday, 29 December 2017

Sunny Christmas Days in the Square

Christmas on the island is being celebrated every day in the main square with clowns and a carousel (merry-go-round), Santa Claus, presents, music and dancing

The high pitched voice of the clown on the microphone was irritating but the children ran free while we drank coffee. The entertainment crew from Athens included a snowman, a Santa Claus-ina (female santa), and an unfunny jester who organised games for the mob

Free rides on the round-about


A beautiful sunny day.  Perfect for coffee in the square for mothers with toddlers.  Those without young children chose a cafeteria as far away from the babble as possible

Our younger grandchildren were happy in the square and so were we.  Ouzo and a fishy meze.

The maker of almond cakes, a local speciality, takes a break outside his shop.  He has had a busy morning baking fresh cakes for the New Year's visitors.  Note, half the population was out in thick jackets and warm clothes, but many were in short sleeves.  We sat in the sun but soon got over heated and had the waiter put up the big umbrella.

No decorated boat in the square this year or even a tree decorated with Christmas lights.  We had a blow-up Christmas tree this year.  At least it is bright and cheerful

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

CHRISTMAS DAY with greeks

Christmas Day in our cross-cultural house. 

Food  -
Turkey - roasted the traditional English way with bread and sage stuffing
Brussel sprouts - boiled, but not to death
Potatoes 1 - smashed the Jamie Oliver way.  Alongside pumpkin and sweet potato
Potatoes  2- the greek way with oil and lemon juice
Lamb - roasted the traditional greek way.  With oil, oregano and lemon juice.  Not a mint leaf in sight
Gravy - made the Jamie Oliver way.  Never again.  I placed the turkey on a bed of carrots, onions and garlic and pureed the vegetables along with the juices to make the gravy.  It tasted like vegetable soup.  Fortunately we had wine and bisto and managed to shock it back to a form of recognisable brown sauce.

No tzatziki.  No greek salad.  But we did have a lettuce salad, with rocket, spring onions, dill, lemon juice and olive oil

Good French Sauv Blanc, the usual greek wine out of a barrel

The table set oh so nicely.  Matching plates, proper wine glasses and real Christmas crackers

The 'Christ-bread'.  Soon to be blessed with the sign of the cross and cut by the traditional man of the house

In mid-feast.

Only eight of us, family and friends, sat down to eat but the rest of the family arrived soon after.  Presents were opened and the children sent outside to play in the wintery winter sun.


The boys, denied their electronic toys, used their imaginations and skills, pulled Grandads shed to pieces and made a cart out of a trolley and I'm not sure what else.  It had a number plate, a control panel, a spare tyre and a couple of jaw bones to add to its wonder

We live on a slight hill so it was perfect for a thrilling 'high speed' sprint, wearing a crash helmet of course, but no seat belts on this horseless carriage.  Any spills were into the olive groves and the long grass

Tall people and short people all had a go

And the men partied on

A new face in the kitchen.  She looks happy to be there.  This was a 'before'  photo!

We all had another chaotic, tiring and extremely enjoyable day.  There was no sweet/pudding to have with our coffee but fortunately one of our friends brought a big box of traditional sweet, sticky baklava, something everyone loves. I should have made a trifle darn it. Next year.

It's all over, till next year.  Hope all your Christmases were just as pleasurable.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Christmas Eve

All greek children will be out today with metal triangles to jangle and clash as the accompaniment to the traditional Christmas carol (kalanda) they sing today.  Every household waits for the children to ring on their bell, thump on their door, from early morning till midday and bring them Christmas joy and good luck.  There are a few 'humbuggers' who won't open the door but not many and even the shops tolerate bands of kids wandering in one after the other and reward them with a 50 cent coin.  

My grandchildren will all be out carolling with their friends, going first to friendly neighbours, godparents and family who they hope will give them much more than a 50 cent coin.

This caroller got a melomakarouno (honey biscuit).  He's far too old to be given pocket money.  He doesn't really need another honey biscuit either but 'hey, ho' it's Xmas.

'Good morning my lords
Can I please
Sing about Christ's birth
In your noble house
Christ is born today'

Our Christmas carollers.  They brought joy and the Christmas spirit early this morning and were suitably rewarded.  The girls got dragged in to do a few chores as well.  Only simple things like arranging the presents under the tree and wrapping up an ungainly and fragile biscuit barrel.  Then they were off to continue their warbling elsewhere and fill their purses 

While doing some last minute shopping we came across the municipal band playing the kalanda along the waterfront.  This is our friend and relative Vangelis who, as you can see, beats on the big drum

A sunny day but it is a day of 'sun with teeth' as they say here.  Clear but darn cold.  We bought some salad items, an extra loaf of bread for the turkey stuffing tomorrow and then high-tailed it back to the warmth of the house.

Merry Christmas, peace and happiness to you all!

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Snow in the air but not on the ground

After 40 Christmases in Greece I thought finally I was going to celebrate a white Christmas.  The greater part of greece has been snowed in.     A few weeks ago the headlines were 'Heavy snow in Europe, Sunshine in Greece'.  Well, the icy front finally hit us.

14 kilometres north of Athens roads closed due to heavy snow. City slickers heading north to their villages for Christmas were stranded for hours as they waited for snow ploughs to clear the way.

Strong winds and high seas have stopped many ferries from sailing.  Our car ferry kept on chugging across the narrow channel though a few of the water taxis tied up because of the very choppy water in the strait.

The mountains around Athens should have a covering of snow and the ski resorts in the mountains will be happy with this Christmas snowfall.

We woke up this morning to a very cold but sunny day so no white Christmas for us.  The temperature at midday was around 9oC.  Freezing for us, an all winter phenomenon for a lot of you in the northern hemisphere.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Pate: warning, photos of offfal

Chicken liver pate has become a tradition in our house although I never ate it, or could imagine eating such a thing when I was younger.  Chicken livers?  Shudder. 

An English friend of mine made pate every Christmas and gave us a small bowl.  Amazingly (or so I thought) the family loved it.  When she returned to England I decided to make it myself and found that it was incredibly easy, as long as you could find the chicken livers. 

Chicken livers here come with the hearts.  This absolutely the worse part of making the pate.  I have to put my hands into that soft squelchy, disgusting mess and separate the hearts from the livers. 

I eat the pate but am not an avid fan.  I put in a few big spoonfuls of Dijon mustard and a few hundred grams of fried bacon to take away the offal flavour!  Ridiculous of course.  Chicken liver is the dominant taste whatever I do.  I usually add a few shot glasses of whisky or brandy.  We have neither in the cupboard at the moment so I used a shot of raki instead  this year.  With all these variations and substiutions it is a wonder it turns out so well.  Everyone else seems to love the pate this year so I didn't ruin it. 

Ingredients -
1/2 kilo of chopped chicken liver
250 grams chopped bacon
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves dices garlic
100 grams butter (or oil or margarine, whatever I have on hand)
2 big desert spoons mustard.  Spicy would be nice.
fresh thyme
2 shot glasses of alcohol
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Fry the bacon and put aside.
Melt the butter or oil in a saucepan and add onions and garlic.  Fry till soft, add chopped chicken livers.  Cook gently about 20 minutes.  Add mustard, thyme, salt, pepper, bacon and alcohol of your choice.
Mix well.
Blend with a stick blender.


My English friend made sausage rolls each Christmas as well but with sausage meat she brought back from Blighty.  I can find or make the pastry but sausage meat or anything resembling English sausages is not available here.  I've tried quite a few substitutes but greek village sausage or frankfurter style sausages do not give the same taste experience.

One day these too will appear on our supermarket shelf I am sure.  Patience.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

For the Best of Christmases

Χριστογεννιατικα Γλυκα    Christmas 'Sweets'

Today's the day our granddaughters make the kourabiethes and melomakarona, for the 'good' of Christmas.  The boys are a stage beyond these 'childish games' and play with electronic toys instead. 

While each batch of cookies is baking however the five children make funny videos with their iphones (or are they ipods?  or something else?).   

First to be baked are the kourabiethes.  An almondy, buttery, rather fragile biscuit made also in Turkey and the Middle East.
Every Greek house will be baking or buying these irresistable biscuits covered in a thick layer of icing sugar.  The buttery taste is quite strong and at times you can tell the origin of the animal which provided the butter.  Lurpack only I say but traditional people much prefer sheeps butter. 

When they come out of the oven they are sprayed with rose water which gives the whole house an enticing, flowery aroma, then covered in sifted icing sugar

You can't eat one and pretend you didn't because you'll be covered in white dust from the sugar.  


We always make plenty and give away plates of them to friends and neighbours

The second round of biscuits were melomakarouna or honey biscuits.  The girls made the mixture but the boys did come and roll one for the photo shot.

Melomakarouna are are made with orange juice, cinnamon and cloves and then dipped in honey syrup.

We have christmas plates piled high with each on the big table.  First to receive this year's sweets was Vaso, our neighbour who is still picking olives.  Everyone that steps into the house in the next few weeks will get one or both of these sweets pressed on them, from the telephone repair man to the sheep herd watching his flock over the road.

Talking of telephone repairs, we have just come back online after a very long 24 hour deprivation.  Other neighbours up the road are picking olives and trimming the trees as they go.  The chainsaw went through our telephone wire.  We got a very fast repair because we know the telephone man.  He also lent us his tall ladder to fix a glowing xmas star to the top of our roof.  

Neighbours way over the other side of the gulley were complaining because they couldn't see our xmas lights this year.  The outside lights are only at the front of the house, so now we have a glowing star to guide the flocks at night and  illuminate the long dark night.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Winter at the Cafe

Now is the time to visit the island, not with the hordes of tourists who come to bake in the midday summer sun.

Now the islanders start to relax and enjoy themselves.  Not that the summer sun stops them from enjoying each and every day.

We had the car insurance to pay yesterday, a loaf of bread to buy and a coffee hit to savour in the T Cafe.  This is the 'multi-coloured-chair cafe', previously known as Tiropoulos Cafe.  Like Colonel Sanders they decided a shorter version of the name might be easier to pronounce and remember.    Though I believe that the savvy old Colonel realised that anything with 'fried' in the name was no longer desirous in these days of health freaks and organic vittles.  KFC has become the universal name, even here in Greece

Summer or winter this group are regulars.   By 10.30am they are sitting in their winter seats inside the protective nylon.  In the summer their spot is beside the road, out under the tree  to catch the breeze.  Unless we get there first.

This old geezer flits from table to table talking to everyone in a very loud voice.  Daily.  Today he sat down at the table next to us and we learnt all the islands gossip in one fell swoop.  We sat silent for half an hour while he rattled on about a  couple of house robberies, someone's hernia operation and all the inside info on the new roadworks outside the cemetary.

This table on the inside of the cafeteria is 'reserved' for fishermen who have sold their catch and parked the caique.  They are usually joined by a couple of taxi boat captains waiting for their turn to ferry passengers across to Galatas and whoever wants to waste an hour or two.  

This son brings his father down every morning for an hour or two with his elderly buddies.  The father can hardly walk but holds on to his son, stick in the other hand and hobbles out to the car parked by the curb.    A Greek cafeteria is the equivalent of the NZ 'working man's club'.

I haven't been down here for weeks.  I was hoping to get away with just a large capuccino.  No such luck.

The 'men folk' in earlier days would pass their evenings in a small neighborhood taverna drinking a 'koupa' of wine with a pocket full of olives for a 'meze'. 

 This 'koupa' measure is a drinking glass, full.  And this is how we were served.  Eight or nine of these kept on coming out on a big tray for our ever growing 'company'.  I drank two and decided it would be better to stop right there.  

The first 'koupas' were served with a few pieces of cheese, slices of tomato with some of this years early harvest olive oil from the olive trees of the cafe owner.

As time passed we were in need of more serious food and a friend went next door and brought us plates of stuffed cabbage leaves in an egg and lemon sauce, fried 'little fishes' and chunks of bread drizzled with oregano and more of that thick fresh oil.

What did we talk about?  Olive trees, the weather, size of the fish. I don't remember. After a while my mind drifted off.  I took a few photos, answered a few emails, laughed in the right places.  I'm obviously not Greek.

Four hours later I stiffly rose from my chair and discovered it was siesta time and the weather had changed from sunshine to a cloudy grey and windy afternoon.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017


Poros Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has their xmas bazaar on at the moment.  It's not what it used to be.  PAWS was started by a group of ExPats on the island and we used to have magnificent Easter and Xmas Bazaars, used book sales, curry nights and all sorts of foreign goings-on.  After much internal conflict the 'animals' were taken over by the local greeks.  Their first xmas bazaar was a sad affair.  Hardly any old second hand clothing and white elephants to rummage through, no raffles and the books were a very dull mix of english and greek.  

Greeks are slowly getting into the idea of a bazaar but it is still more of beautifully sewn and knitted and expensive household items, a few bottles of liqueurs and not cheap Christmas decorations.  Next door to PAWS the Women of Poros are setting up their bazaar due to open at the weekend.  It is the sort of place you wander in and look around and realise you'll have to buy some expensive piece of useless junk (the cheapest on display) because you know half the women there and it would be soo embarrassing to walk out empty handed.

PAWS did much better this year.  Loads of good used clothing, shoes and bags, a pile of cheap jewellry, some homemade cakes and various white elephants.  Still nothing like it used to be when I would take down half a dozen jars of pickled onions, home knitted mittens and xmas ornaments and come out piled up with a winters worth of reading material, a pair of boots, assorted wine glasses and battered games for the kids, having consumed a couple of glasses of their mulled wine.

My find of the day was this big jolly biscuit barrel.  The selection of books was pitiful.  The only one worth reading was in some scandinavian language.  There was a luscious looking homemade almond and jam slice.  I might just go back and buy a plate of those tomorrow.  It's all in a good cause!

Thanks J and S for another wonderful, truly English,  marmite birthday present...

A squeezy jar of marmite and a marmite mug.  The marmite tin I received from them last year.  It is now a button jar.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Christmas Mince

'Tis the season of  traditional English christmas cakes, plum puddings and christmas mince pies.

I used to make a christmas cake (without the almond paste or royal icing).  I even boiled a plum pudding once or twice.  My family are not fond of raisin filled sweets.  My greek s-in-law was a bit bewildered by the cake as well.  'Vat is theese'.... sniff, sniff, put it away in a cupboard and surrepticiously give it to the dog.

The plum pudding went down easier when it was covered in custard.  

As for almond icing, it was absent from any shop anywhere, even in Athens, and my handmade icing did not look anything like the authentic smooth beige roll of paste I was used to.  Almond paste is easy to find here now, 20 years later, and if it wasn't I would just order it online.  

Mincepies are in a different sphere.  Once again, mincemeat, that fragrant mix of raisins and spices was unavailable 20 years ago but I did make my own.  Not every year though.  The last lot was in 2013 (there was a date on the container) and the leftover was stuck in the back of the freezer to be finally recovered two weeks ago.  The spices and raisins had mellowed and matured and it was a masterpiece of  culinary piquancy, with the help of a few good glugs of cheap whisky to refresh the mix

Making more of my own mincemeat

We had brought a kilo of raisins at the market so raisins it was that went into the mincemeat, without any other dried fruit.  A grated apple and the zest of a big orange.   I had cinnamon, cloves, ground ginger so in went generous amounts of those and some freshly grated nutmeg.  No lard, no suet, not even any butter.  But I did have some marge on hand so that went in as well.

It wasn't marvellous. But I had read somewhere that it needs time to mature and the different spices to mingle and mellow.  I added the last of a bottle of cheap whisky called 'Cardhu' which we have been trying to get rid of for the last three years and left it to stand for a week.

Yesterday I made the mince pies.  This new batch of mince meat was another masterpiece.  My friend J who is english and has tasted the best to be found in Sainsbury and Waitrose was very enthusiastic.  Mind you these are the only mincepies she is going to eat this Noel so she hadn't got any choice but to make appreciative sounds or she won't get anymore of my mighty mince pies

I baked them in this pan which I have had for years.  I never knew quite what sort of cakes I was supposed to bake in it.  Now I know.  Is it a mincepie-pan.  Perfect shape and perfectly non stick.

By the way, those are tomatoes behind the pan.  3 kilos of fresh, outdoor tomatoes.  They are still being grown over the back of the mountains opposite where the weather is milder and definitely sunnier.

The pastry?  I made half with the leftovers of a packet of puff pastry and then made my own mincepie pastry with a combo of recipes I found online.  Flour, cold margarine (we rarely have butter around here) and the juice of an orange.  Pat on the back.  The pastry was just as I remembered it should be.  Soft-ish, slightly crumbly and delicious.

Smothered in icing sugar the little pies are moreish.
Definition of 'moreish'
pleasant tasting and leaving you wanting to eat more

The kids would still prefer chocolate.

I attempted to make a chocolate log last year.  The cake base was hard and dry.  The filling of strawberry jam and cream though was definitely moreish, and I rolled it nicely. Teenage grandson ate the whole thing in almost one 'wolf', heavy cake, cream, jam and all (and immediately shot up a few more inches).

Friday, 8 December 2017

Pre Christmas

Our family has a plethora of Sagittarians.   Friendly, on a slow fuse, promising more than they intend to deliver, supposedly avid travellers, companions of cat and dog, droppers of bricks.  I'm one of them.  I know.  Especially about dropping bricks!  I never mean to be tactless, indiscreet, embarrassing.  It just comes out sounding not quite the way I meant it.  

 Last weekend we had a Sagittarian party.  Four birthdays, four cakes.  There are more in the family, many more.

My present
 - one of the NZ flags suggested in the recent referendum as a change from the Union Jack and the Southern Cross to a flag which represents modern New Zealand and stands out from the flag we have today which so much resembles the Australian flag and half a dozen other Commonwealth countries.

This flag has the four stars of the Southern Cross seen in the NZ skies, and the silver fern leaf which is the symbol worn by athletes and representatives of our small progressive nation.

The hardware shop down on Poros has half a dozen of these flags which were put forward as a replacement. 

On the table a jug of strong, vodka spiked sangria.  Out of sight two bottles of fruity French sauv blanc. 

On the menu.
Meat loaf
stuffed chicken roll
mashed potatoes
garlic bread
pavlova and cheesecake

Not a greek dish in sight!

The four of us, each with our cake of choice
Me, two grandsons and son-in-law

Once the eating was done half the table was emptied, a few leftovers crowded down one end of the table for Greek men to nibble as they continued on, as greeks do, with conversation, discussion and a glass or two

The rest of the family decorated the house and put up the Christmas tree

Happy elves under the tree.  A Coca-Cola promotion quite a few years ago

Junior the dog got decorated as well

A few streamers ended up on the ceiling beams

Others had to dig in and do the dishes, load up the washer, scrub the pots.  Not me though.  Not on my birthday!

Poor girls.  Chief cooks and bottle washers today


                           And the men partied on