Saturday 28 May 2016

Some serious stuff - Putin, Aristotle, the French and the Refugees

Russian President Vladimir Putin is on a visit to Greece.  His presidential plane was escorted into Athens by 3 F-16 fighter jets of the Hellenic Airforce.  With him are Russian businessmen, the head of the Russian Orthodox church and 40 priests.  He will be having trade talks with the PM and tomorrow will visit the Russian Monastery on Mount Athos, Ag Oros or the Sacred mountain as it is called in Greek, where females are forbidden to tread.  This is the first European country he has visited since trade sanctions were imposed after Russia's annexing of the Crimea.  Greece wants Russian tourists and Russian investment.  2,500 policemen are on duty in Athens during the visit and anywhere Putin's car goes there will be a cyber blackout.

Aristotle -
Archeologists are certain they have discovered the 2,400 year old tomb of philosopher Aristotle.  He was one of ancient Greece's crowning philosophers.  The tomb has been uncovered at Stagira in central Macedonia (province of Greece, not neighbouring country).  Aristotle was born in Stagira and died further south in Halkida (near Athens).  'They' believe that his ashes were brought to his birthplace and a tomb built over them.  The domed tomb was built on a hilltop near the sea and has 360o views.  It was 10 metres tall and had marble floors.  Aristotle was born in 384BC and was a pupil of Plato.  He has been descibed as the 'first genuine scientist' .

A water taxi crossing the narrow passage from Galatas

The view from one of the waterfront cafeterias  

France -

The french people are rioting all over the country blockading refineries and nuclear power stations protesting against labour reforms.  One of their slogans is apparently (  facebook rumour but definitely hits home) 

'We are not Greeks, we will not lie down and take this sh**' or something very similar, in french of course.   

The greek people haven't rioted in quite a while.  I guess we are all  used to austerity after 6 years. Greece is an EU experiemnt gone wrong and  no protest, molotov bomb throwing or blockade has made any difference since 2010 and is not likely to do so.

I hope the French rioters get their message across.  There has been a suggestion the reforms may be 'modified'.  France is hosting the Euro 2016 Football championships next month.  A country in turmoil could cause a major embarrassment.  France still has a state of emergency in place since the Paris attacks by islamist militants.

Refugees -

The makeshift refugee camp at Idomeni on the border with Skopje was cleared by the police in the last week.  There were reported to have been 8,500 refugees remaining camped out there without any facilities.  Stories of a brothel in an old railway carriage and drugs told just some of the problem. Refugees had settled in with their own shops and 'tavernas'.  

The police moved thousands by bus to official camps around the country but many refused to leave, took their few possessions and walked to heaven knows where.  Some will probably try and return.  Police have cleared the area with bulldozers and opened the railway line through to the neighbouring country. This is Greece's main train freight line to the Balkans and has been closed by refugees camping on the tracks for months now.

No one from the press was allowed within 3ks of the area during the police operation.

Friday 27 May 2016

Strimming the verges, reducing the fire hazard. Our garden.

An Albanian strimming the field next door.  Our neighbour on the other side has already had her grounds strimmed and her 'boy' does our entrance way as well.  

This man has a name but I bet not many locals know what it is.  I was talking about this with a friend recently.  Her next door neighbour is a foreigner (local alien) and has been here for thirty years.  She is known as 'the foreigner' , the one who looks after the dogs.  Although she is well known and well liked no-one knows her name.  Down the road is 'the crazy woman' and we have 'the ponytail' (a man with long hair) and 'the red nose' in our neighbourhood as well.  They are local Greeks but they are rarely called by their names. K is known as 'the stone' (votsalaki), because as a small boy he threw stones.  I am 'the foreigner' too but to describe me better I am the wife of
'the stone' and Elli and Danae are 'the little stones' (votsalakia).

And, wonder of wonders,  the Albanian is actually wearing protective head gear.

At this time of the year everyone is strimming and the island looks a little cleaner.  However, there is always a 'however'.  The road verges are done by a council worker and he did not do a good job this year.  He didn't strim low enough so many of the weeds have just been 'laid low'.  What is cut by the strimmer is just left behind to lie on the ground till these tinder dry stalks are eventually blown away or washed away by the rains in September.  One of the reasons everyone strims now is to reduce the fire risk.  However, if the dry grass is not swept up and removed the fire hazard remains on the ground.

Strimming reveals all the plastic and rubbish which is not removed either

A badly strimmed and dirty verge.  Not an attractive sight for the tourists.

My Summer Garden ..

Cherry tomatoes.  Yeh.  We may have a decent crop this year.

And the first zucchini

The lemons have more than doubled in size since we pruned the tree.

Monday 23 May 2016

Church fiestas and the family

20th May St Lydia.
 Granddaughter's name day.  And mine because she was given the Greek name that was closest to 'Linda'. Or I can celebrate on All Saints day in June  as there is no Saint Linda (well, except me)

21st May the fiesta of Sts Konstandinos and Eleni.

A family fete.  We have in the close family:
The most important K-onstandinos and
My sister-in-law  Konstandina (Dina)
A daughter Elli,  baptised Eleni (Helen)
A granddaughter Nelli,  baptised Eleni (Helen)
A mother-in-law Eleni.
Brother and sister of the other mother-in-law Eleni and Kostas (Konstandinos).

All these family members are named after Grandmothers and Grandfathers as is the tradition here.  The same names go down from generation to generation.   This generation of baby breeders  mostly continue the tradition and the Grandmothers and Grandfathers beam with pleasure at the sound of their name at the baptism.  Or start a family feud if they hear the wrong name!

Saint Constandine was Emperor of Constantinople which was named after him (now Istanbul). Constandine was the first ruler to support Christianity.   His mother Helen  supposedly found the remains of the true cross - in 326AD.

Our local church is dedicated to these saints and is decked out in flags, flowers and it's prettiest doilies today.  Their icon will be paraded through the back streets of the Parish. Anyone who wants their household blessed  stands out in the road as the procession passes with their family icon and their incense burner and the Priest will stop for a few minutes, say the necessary words and wave the incense all about.

Today we have yet another of those endless family feasts for K and the rest of the celebrants.   Roast goat and potatoes is on the menu.  The goat was given to us before Easter and has been in the freezer awaiting this special day.  We will also have  Greek salad, tzatziki and feta cheese, salted sardines in oil and vinegar, my sourdough bread and quite a few litres of   wine from a local barrel.  E makes her famous (in our house) potato salad and D a big baking dish of galaktobouriko (milk and semolina pie in phyllo pastry and dripping with a sugary syrup)

Real Greek salad and tzatziki

A slice of galaktobouriko

The shoulder bone from the lamb/goat which will tell you what will take place in the coming year.  This one seems to tell us of clear skies.  There is not much at all in it except maybe a stick figure which is sitting but probably dancing.  Not very conclusive, but then I have never been able to see much in any of these bones.

I have 'fed' the sourdough starter and kneaded a big loaf of bread which will be baked so it is hot when everyone arrives.  The potatoes have been cut into long chunks 'kythonata' the way K's wants them. The tzatziki is in the fridge so it's flavours blend.  Danae is bringing a few more kilos of Yianni's wine in case the twenty litres we have are not enough..God save us.

Potatoes cut lengthwise 'kythonata'

You don't invite anyone to a name day.  Your friends and neighbours turn up, or not, as they see fit.  In years gone by we have had half of the island traipse through our doors.

In the 'olden days' K's friends would come for an hour or so drink a lot, eat a lot, loudly make merry, then climb on their motor bikes and stagger off to the next 'Kostas or Eleni', leaving behind a few bottles of ouzo or whisky as a present.  K collected enough whisky to last him all year.  No more my friends. A lot of people no longer celebrate name days except with their immediate family.  We expect only our immediate family today, maybe our neighbor Vasso and two close friends.  The present will probably be a plastic bottle of their own wine. We don't give presents in the family now either, except to the grandchildren and that is usually money so they can save up and get something they 'think' they need.

Anyone else will phone and wish K and Elli a 'Kronia Polla', literally 'Many Years'.  Our house phone and K's mobile ring all day and well into the night.

afternote - Vasso  brought two bottles of her own white wine.  K's nephew brought a bottle of whisky and so did another friend and another neighbor a bottle of K's favourite ouzo.  K also received a gardenia in a pot from the family.  An impressive haul for these days of frugalness and restraint. 

Friday 20 May 2016

A wedding and a memorial

Yesterday our girls went to a wedding at Methana 45 minutes down the road under an extinct volcano. The harbour smells sulphurous and the sea is a milky colour. There are baths there where those suffering from rheumatics can, with a doctor's certificate, have a therapeutic bath.

The bride is a neighbour and friend of ours.  Elli and Danae went to help her put on her wedding clothes and then dressed in all her finery she sailed from  Poros to Methana on a small boat, streamers flying, greek wedding music at full blast.  Our girls went by car and awaited her at the harbour with all the guests from Poros to escort her from the jetty to the small church on the harbour, another one of those small churches where most of the congregation mingle outside.

Elli dressed up in her best (with high heels on those cobble stones) outside the church on the waterfront.

Trekking up the side of the volcano

Grandchildren at the mouth of the volcano  after the recent trek up the mountain.  If you're agile you can clamber down over the rocks into the cave which is the crater of the volcano. There is no boiling mud or liquid lava, maybe a few bats and silence.  The last eruption took place in 230BC. 

Guardian of the volcano.

This morning we had a 40 day memorial to attend.  40 days being the most important of the memorials. There is a simple service after nine days and then on the 40 days the service will be held at the one of the central churches usually after the Sunday service, as it was today.  This is when the soul of the deceased ascends to heaven and after this  the will can be opened as well.  In this case I think it was most likely to be  debt they inherited. 

After the memorial we have coffee and hard biscuits and receive our bag of funeral wheat.  The coffee used to be without sugar, a death being a bitter pill to swallow.  Also the biscuits used to be hard rusks.  Now they are more likely to be sweet koulourakia (cookies).  Of course there is also the choice of brandy or mastiha liqueur.  I spilled mine this morning and took it as a sign to not drink anymore!  The white bag with the 'koliva' ('funeral wheat', also contains a plastic spoon, paper napkin and a very nice individual cake).  As you eat your koliva you say a prayer asking that the sins of the departed be forgiven.

This is what the funeral wheat looks like. The wheat itself has to be boiled and then lain out to dry overnight on a sheet or tablecloth.  This is then mixed with chopped parsley, pomegranate seeds, almonds, raisins and the icing sugar.

Liqueur and coffee.  After the coffee closest family and friends are usually invited to a meal (the wake, I guess).  Most often this will be a fish meal.  There is usually a gathering with food after the funeral as well and it is a time for the family to  remember the dead, laugh and cry and know that they must continue on with their own lives.

After the coffee everyone files past, presses hands and utters a few words of condolence

- my condolences
-life to you
- may you live long and remember him with love
- may the earth cover him lightly

It costs a lot to bury someone nowadays and the economic situation is causing these traditions to be curtailed.  The coffee for the congregation is often held at a local café or taverna and can cost a small fortune if the departed was popular.  Our local church  fortunately has a recreation centre where the coffee can be served for a fraction of the cost of a taverna.  Funeral wheat for this crowd can also cost a few hundred euros even if you make it yourself with the extended family, as my sister in law did a few years ago.  I have taken part in three or four koliva 'gatherings' and have the recipe.  Elli is great with  the decoration. We help out when we can. 

 The wheat is poured into a large tray, the first handful being put down to form a cross.  It is covered in icing sugar which is smoothed down and then a cross in silver cashews is pressed into the top along with the initials of the person being remembered, a few arty  flowers and a border of  blanched almonds.  In the olden days we always used to have an old aunt to wail as well but the old aunts have themselves died out.

As there was no meal after this memorial K and I went down for a Sunday morning ouzo.  The glass on the left is the ouzo before water is added.  When water and ice are added it turns a milky colour.  Served with a small plate of giant beans, dolmathes (stuffed vine leaves), cheese and meatballs.  K was not impressed.  Ouzo should be served with octopus and cucumber, or at least some sort of fishy meze (snack).

And the aftermath.  The café owner is a good friend of K's so he gave us another ouzo 'on the house' and another plate of meze. We shout out 'your health' across the tables when we get his attention. Two ouzos are too much for me.  I got home  and promptly went for an extended siesta.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Vine leaves and Vasso

Our own little vineyard.   There are many small bunches this year.  Only time will tell if we have enough grapes to make a litre or two.  This grape vine was planted by the previous owner for shade.  The grapes are full of pips and not particularly sweet.

Vaso, our  elderly neighbor, the last of the dinasaurs, one of those hardy old greek women, bowed down under bundles of branches for their goats, their apron pockets full of fresh eggs and always a plastic bag and a knife in hand to dig out any greens she finds in the fields, is out de-leafing her vineyard.  Taking off  those extra leaves once the tiny bunches of new grapes have formed allows sunlight into the grapevine and lets air move around giving the bunches a shaded environment to grow and ripen.  Says me who has once again read all about it on the internet. 

Vaso looks after her vineyard mostly by herself.  Her children all live in Athens.  She will arrange the watering , pull out the weeds under the vines, de-leaf, trim and train on her own and maybe spray and fertilise as well, or hire an Albanian if her children don't turn up to help.  They arrive for the grape harvest in September and do the pressing.  She is the one who makes sure the juice is bubbling and closes the wine barrel and she will do a lot of the drinking as well.  Take her away from her grapes, her olives, chickens, goats, turkeys, lemon and pistachio trees and she will shrivel and die for sure. The land and the animals are what has known since childhood.  Her lettuces are bigger and greener, her tomatoes more luscious than ours or our neighbours due to the manure she hauls on her back from the goat pen.  Vaso is also the one who slaughters and plucks. She is not a simple peasant though.  Vaso follows politics and can argue with the best of them. She has three children and she made sure they studied and advanced in life.  One is a naval officer, one a teacher and one a chief of police.  Her grandaughter is studying at Oxford University on a full scholarship.   The woman is small and wiry, she smokes and drinks, she is almost 80 and she could still kick the hell out of a tough old boot.   Quite a woman.  

How did I get on the subject of Vaso again.  I have written so much about her already. 

Vasso at one of our neighborhood fiestas.  She is an aristocrat when dressed up.  Quite different from the sight of her in the fields with her dusty old floppy hat, cut off trousers which once belonged to her husband (long dead), an  open faded blue Navy workshirt, with patched vest and scruffy trainers.

This is the time of the year the Greek housewife  collects vine leaves to preserve for the winter and to stuff.  The leaves are still young and tender and they have not been sprayed yet with pesticides. 

There are two types of leaves.  The ones on the left you'll see have three 'fingers' and are no good for stuffing.  The ones on the right are like the palm of a hand and can be easily stuffed and rolled.  You'll find both these types on one vine so just be careful in your choice.  The smaller the leaf the better it will be for eating but much more fiddly to stuff.

The easiest way to keep them during the winter is to blanch the leaves and freeze.  They need a good wash first and then blanch in boiling water for half a minute or till they change to a darker colour. Put them in a colander to drain.  I lay them flat in a plastic bag 35 at a time and place them carefully in the freezer.  Why 35.  I have found that this is the number of stuffed leaves which will fit nicely at the bottom of my saucepan and also they are eaten in one go when hot and juicy.

Here is the recipe for stuffing them.  Once again, like the stuffed tomatoes and peppers they can be made with or without minced meat.  The same mixture can be used to stuff cabbage or lettuce leaves or any sort of tender green leaf.  This recipe is enough for around 60-70 leaves.

These are called 'dolmathakia' in Greek and are eaten all around the middle east, the Balkans and Russia.  The Greek dolmathakia came from Turkey and the name is from the word 'dolmak', meaning 'to be stuffed'.

- 1/4 kilo of minced meat, lightly braised and left to cool (optional)
- 2 wine glasses of short grain rice (I just weighed out a greek wine glass of rice and it was 100 grams, so use 200 grams here) - 2 chopped onions
- 1 or 2 crushed cloves of garlic
 - a small bunch of dill, mint, and parsley.  You need lots of herbs if you're not putting in any meat.
- another of those wine glasses, this time with olive oil. Once again about 100 ml
- I also put in a handful of raisins and pinenuts.  Those are optional.
- salt and pepper

To finish, lemon juice and a little more oil - or - one egg and lemon juice to make a sauce.

Lightly fry the onion and garlic in the oil and add the rice.  Fry together a few minutes with the minced meat if you want some and leave to cool.  Add the herbs, raisins and pinenuts, salt and pepper.

I'll show you some photos of how to roll them next week when I make some dolmathes.  Simple really. You put a little stuffing in the middle, fold over the sides and roll up. Sort of like a green spring roll.  Arrange a layer of them in the bottom of a pot, cover with a small plate to stop them jumping about.  Just cover with water. Boil gently for half an hour.  At the end just add a little olive oil and lemon juice and eat!!

A Loquat and a Salt Pig

We have just acquired a loquat tree.  This is the fruit I thought was called 'medlar'.  After looking at photos online I discovered my mistake.  It is in fact the fruit of the loquat tree.  My sister-in-law grew this from a seed and had it in a pot for two years.  Now we have planted it in the garden but alas the leaves are going brown.  The Internet came to the rescue again and after browsing a few online forums I believe that this is normal for a transplanted loquat tree.   The bigger leaves go brown and may drop off (or be removed) but new leaves will grow in their place.   In this case there is a lot of growth at the top of the tree so we shall just water it and leave it alone to grow.

And the loquat tree with its new 'head-dress'.  These trees grow really tall so hopefully in a few years we will have another shade tree in the back yard. 

My mother's salt pig.  My younger brother got the custard jug, I absconded with the salt pig.

Why is it called a salt 'pig'?  Thanks to the Internet and Wikipedia I discovered that 'pig' in Scots and the Northern dialect means an 'earthenware vessel'.

Apparently, as with this one, the salt pig is usually ceramic or clay and stops the salt from turning into a big hard lump in a humid climate - or the steaminess of most kitchens.

The little wooden spoon gives a 'pinch' of salt, what you can 'pinch' with your three fingers, or a bare teaspoon.

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Saturday 14 May 2016

Changing Seasons - Stuffed tomatoes and green peppers

Summer has arrived I think.  The seasons are not so different any more.  Winter was warm and spring was warmer.  However, now in mid-May I think we can assume that the sun will shine with a little more heat every day until its warmth turns to a steady swelter which will burn our skins, parch the soil and hopefully bring tourists to fatten the country's coffers.

Cabbages are beginning to look a little lacklustre, lettuces limp.  Tomatoes, peppers and aubergines have appeared fresh in the supermarket and even a watermelon, though that is still out of its season.

When I first arrived in Greece 40 years ago lettuces and cabbages had disappeared by mid May and we did not see them in the green grocers till after September.  Tomatoes which had been unavailable all winter suddenly appeared and we ate them almost daily all through the summer.  Back then, in the olden days, we only ate the vegetables that were in season because that was all we could find in the shops.  Nowadays there will be lettuces in sizzling July and tomatoes for our mid winter Christmas.  

Most Greek housewives prefer the fruit and vegetables that are fresh and seasonable.  For a start they are cheaper and of course the taste of a fresh tomato from a local market garden is completely different from that of the hothouse variety.  Most of them/us still shop daily and buy twice a week from our small farmers market.

One of the most popular summer dishes is stuffed tomatoes and green peppers (capsicum).  I made a small dish of them last week and here is the recipe - with photos.  Other popular vegetables to stuff are aubergines and zucchinis and the stuffing can be rice,  onions and herbs or with a little minced meat as well.  I prefer a little meat but as we are watching our weight this batch was meatless.

The hollowed out tomatoes and topless green peppers ready for stuffing.  The tomatoes are easily emptied by cutting a small slice off the top and digging out the flesh with a teaspoon.  It doesn't matter if the tomato skin is torn a little or a hole made in the bottom by too enthusiastic 'digging'.  The stuffing sits in there just the same.

I put the flesh from half of the tomatoes, the onion and herbs into this little mixer and make them into a pulp.  The stuffing mix does not need to be precooked.  

Here are the vegetables, each filled with the stuffing mixed, ready to be closed.

Closed up, surrounded by potatoes cut into small pieces which hold them all in one place so they don't move around or fall over while cooking.  My mother-in-law always sprinkled breadcrumbs over them all before putting them in the oven so of course I do that as well (for her son).  They have been drizzled with olive oil and salt.  The dish does not need any extra water because usually quite a lot of juice comes from the tomatoes.

And behold, this is what they look like after an hour in a hot oven.  A little blackness on top just gives them extra flavour.

half a dozen tomatoes
three or four green peppers
(or how ever many you think your family will eat)

one onion, chopped or put into the mixer
one clove of garlic
a small bunch of parsely
one dessert spoon of short grain rice for every vegetable
olive oil
salt and pepper

If you're using zuchinis and aubergines, cut off a small lid and hollow them out the same way with a teaspoon.  Use the flesh in the stuffing.  Put it in the mixer with the tomato and onion.  

2 potatoes
a little sugar
also nice is a small handful of raisins and pine nuts

Hollow out the tomatoes and cut a lid off the top of the peppers, removing the seeds.
Put half the tomato flesh into the mixer with the onion, garlic, roughly chopped parsely, mint and basil.  Mix to a pulp.

In another bowl put the rest of the contents of the tomatoes and roughly  mash up any lumps with your fingers.  Add the rest from the mixer.  Add a small glass of olive oil, the rice, salt and pepper.  That is your stuffing ready.

Put a small sprinkle of sugar in the bottom of each tomato.  This counteracts the acidity of the tomato.  Now fill up each shell and cover with its lid.

Peel and cut up the potatoes into small chunks and wedge them in between the vegetables.  Drizzle olive oil over them all, sprinkle a little more salt and scatter some breadcrumbs over the top.

Cook in a hot oven from one to one and a half hours.  The potatoes should be soft and the tops of the tomatoes lightly blackened.

If you want to use a little minced meat to make it a heartier meal for your man, then brown the mince a little and add it to the raw  tomato and rice mix before stuffing.  I would use a handful of mince for this amount of vegetables.

Any stuffing mix left over you can just add to the dish around the veges and potatoes and maybe a little water.  It will cook perfectly well there and you'll have a little more to put on the plate.  

Serve with feta cheese, sourdough bread and a nicely cooled rough white wine.

Kali Orexi

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Scenic Poros - life on the island

A glimpse of our life here on a small Greek island.  The weather is still mild, the land green, the roses, the wild poppies and cyclamen blooming.  Another month and the land will be dry and brown till the first rains in September or October.

Our summer sitting place, in the shade.  When the late afternoon sun hits the entrance we move around to the back balcony.  If  our neighbours trimmed their olive trees we would see the lights of Athens from there.

                    A carpet of poppies under the olive trees 

Water taxis waiting their turn to take passengers across
to the mainland.

Our local church.  St John of the Fleas.  Note the two cypress trees either side.  Cypress trees are often planted near a church or in a graveyard.  Services are held here on its fiesta day in September and now and again it is used for a baptism. The front is covered with a tiled shelter and it is ideal for picnics .  Opposite is a sheep pen with free range chooks scratching in the dirt and a loud barking dog.

Ye ancient pew.  This is part of an ancient column. It has ended up here, probably from the temple on the hill above.  The inside of the church is very small, only room for the priest, chanter and half a dozen worshippers.  Everyone else stands outside....and gossips

This very small vineyard is typical around here.  Less than quarter of an acre I would say.  But it is looked after by two brothers who get enough grapes to make a barrel with a few hundred litres of wine which will keep them supplied for almost all the year.

The harbour is full of yachts this week

And on one of the yachts flies a familiar (New Zealand) flag.  It is usual to see an Australian flag flying but not often a NZ one.

Putting out the rubbish island style.  We hang up the bags
so the stray cats can't get to them even if  they are high jump champs.  The bags used to be collected by a donkey with panniers.  Now we have a small truck which manages to get down our narrow lanes.

Pascal, our friendly waitress from the 'green chairs' café.  She has to cross the main harbour road with a loaded tray each time she has an order.

The car ferry on its 5 minute journey to the mainland

Another catch of fresh fish on the BBQ

In my sister-in-laws yard, getting ready for our feast of fish.

K and granddaughter Lydia dancing as all Greeks do while waiting for the fish to cook.

Our narrow little street, built for donkeys but cars can maneuver down it with care.  Motor scooters are the normal form of transport here.

A view out over the harbor and a house in need of renovation. This generation has not enough money to provide a little TLC.  Hopefully the grandchildren will live in a healthier economic climate.

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