Wednesday 31 August 2016

saintly tales

August was a busy time for those in the Orthodox church seeking saint hood.  Besides the Virgin Mary on the 15th and a huge number of little known saints I have never heard of from Salomi, Gesthimani, Heliostalakti, to Catholic there are some who have a well known story, albeit only local.

  My nephew Sam  had his name day on 20 August.  Bet you didn't know you had a name day, Sam.  Saint Samouel.  Next year you can celebrate your name day in NZ or  put the pig on the spit along with a roll of offal  here on Poros.  You've learnt all K's  traditional Greek roasting secrets. Only this time we'll fry the ears and make the head into brawn.  Beers on us.

Agios Andrianos and Agia Natalia  - 26th August

There is a small church near us dedicated to these saints which has an unusual story.  Under one of the icons of Mary and Christ there is a small hole which looks only large enough for a small child to pass through.

However, apparently, if you have faith, no matter how well built you are, you will be able to get through the gap.  Sometime we'll go and find out for ourselves though I don't think I'll chance getting stuck and having the firebrigade pulling me out.

Agios Fanourios - 27th August

Agios Fanourios is a saint whose help I often ask for.  He finds what is lost, opening your eyes often to something that is right in front of you.  If you lose your purse, your keys or a goat that has strayed you promise to make a 'fanouropita', cake with either 7 or 9 ingredients and without eggs or dairy (recipe below).  The saint will show you where you can find your misplaced object.  I have made dozens of these cakes and I can only say that the results have been amazing.  Even the girls track down their stuff this way though I often end up making the cake for them. 

You must cut up the cake and divide it amongst friends and neighbours and as everyone eats it they say 'God forgive the mother of Agios Fanourios' who was one of those engaged in the world's oldest profession and a real meany.

In Italy it is Saint Anthony who finds lost objects and in the village of Oulx they make the Torta di Sant'Antonio, an apple and red wine tart.

Agios Yiannis of the split pea (tou fava) - 28th August

Outside the small village of Damala near the ruins of Troizina there is a small white church  built in the river bed and probably made with stone from the ancient ruins all around.   The church has its fiesta on this day, housewives make fava (split pea puree) and the little village of Damala fills up with churchgoers who after lighting a candle at the church will go down to the main square for spit roast pig, music, wine, dancing and celebration till early morning.

This little church has a tradition of its own.  On one side is a small window and all the children clamber through it to bring them good health during the year.  They also leave behind an item of clothing, usually underpants so I'm told, clean ones I hope and not those they were wearing.  My son-in-law was taken to the church every year as a child and is now a very healthy specimen of greek manhood so I guess it works.

Agios Alexandros - 30 August

Not much to say about this one, just that it comes after the others. 

Fanouropita - easy-peasy
7 and 9 are holy numbers, hence the amount of ingredients.  Here is a recipe from our neighbour which is one of the best.  She makes it for  church fiestas and memorials to hand out after the service.  The traditional recipe uses raisins but the grandkids prefer dark choc drops (no dairy) instead.

500  grams self-raising flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup of oil (we use olive oil but you could use any vegetable oil)
1 cup of sugar
1  water glass of orange juice (12 tablespoons)
1/2 cup of water
1 level tsp baking powder
lemon zest
1 cup of raisins

(icing sugar to sprinkle over the top)

Put the raisins into the orange juice for ten minutes.
Mix dry ingredients, add wet and 'Bob's your Uncle'

Put into an oblong tin.  It will not rise very much.

Cook 30 minutes at about 180o Celsius and sift the top with icing sugar before serving.

This does come out rather crumbly but is a really nice cake.  Try it with or without a pledge to the saint.

You can also make the cake in hope of finding good health, happiness, true love or a new job.  In Cyprus apparently seven slices of cake should be given to seven married women that have only been married once, widows and divorcees acceptable.  It works for us with seven kids or seven cads, as long as they're hungry.

Tuesday 30 August 2016

pease pudding cold

The yellow split pea, known as fava here.  They don't need pre-soaking are high in protein, low in fat and all traditional greeks love them.  My mother-in-law used to cook fava on the days she baked her  sourdough bread.  Having risen well before dawn to use the sourdough sponge ready from the night before she kneaded six or seven huge loaves which were sent  to the local baker mid-morning and picked them up early afternoon. 
After a couple of hours she would send one of us down to the bakers to make sure the loaves were already in his huge woodfired  oven and that he hadn't set hers aside for some other neighbour's loaves to cook while hers spoiled.

All of the family were rounded up to help carry the bread and the tradition was that she made the fava while the loaves were being baked and when they were carried back we were allowed to dunk thick slices of the fresh bread into the smooth mix of fava beans with a very generous amount of her own olive oil.

Fava can eaten warm or cold always with lots of sliced raw onion.  A totally healthy combo.  Split peas, extra virgin olive oil and raw onion and lemon juice.  The best split peas come from the island of Santorini.

They are very easy to make.  Just fill up your pot with water and add about a cup of split peas.  Boil slowly until they form a thick soupy mush.  This takes about an hour.  Make sure they don't boil dry but you don't want too much liquid at the end of the cooking.

Add salt and when cool make into a puree with a food processor or one of those stick blenders.

To serve put in a soup plate, add lots of olive oil and mix really well.  Top with thinly sliced onions and add a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

Keep the fava in the fridge.  As it cools it will thicken and you will almost be able to cut it with a knife.  Just mix that olive oil in and it will turn into a smooth yellow paste.

Local traditional greeks do not add caramelized onions, oregano, bay leaves or garlic but you do find these variations elsewhere.

Dhal - in India dhal is the name for these split peas and a number of thick indian stews made with them.  Being India the stew is nice and spicy and can be served with rice and flatbread.

Pease pudding - in England the split peas are made into a savoury pudding often boiled with bacon or the ham bone.  Can be served with faggots, saveloys or stottie cakes apparently.

Sunday 28 August 2016

On the Waterfront

This is the hub of the island, the action centre.   The locals leave on the early morning Flying Dolphin (hydrofoil) for their doctors' appointments in Athens.  Tourists arrive on the mid-morning Flying Catamaran, hauling their suitcases down the steep gang plank,  hoping to find a taxi, in this unfamilar place with the strange language, to take them to their accomodation.  The coffee drinkers in the cafeterias watch all this activity, noting who is leaving and who is arriving, and with whom.  News travels fast as in all small communities and soon blurs into plain old gossip.  

A five minute buzz of activity as the Flying Catamaran disembarks its load of Poros people before continuing on to Hydra, Ermioni and Spetses. 

Meanwhile the Anna Maru leaves for the next island, taking the tourists on a daily three island cruise.  The boat stays in Poros for one hour and everyone tries to make some money from these rich travellers.  Today the passengers seem to be American (the women with pink or blue rinsed hair and the men in checked bermuda shorts) or, Middle Eastern, the women covered from head to foot in long flowing shirts and skirts, their heads covered by a scarf.  The head covering is not so remarkable here where the older women wear head scarves.  This tradition is dying out but K's old aunt wore a white scarf which went over the top of her head, under the chin and tied on top.  That was normal day attire whether at home or in the fields.  My mother-in-law wore a black scarf knotted under the chin.  

The 'Happy Chairs', otherwise known as Tiropoulos Cafe.  One of the many cafeterias along the front.  Every cafe has a different clientele and you frequent, or not, each cafe according to who owns it, what sort of people gather there and only after that do you consider the flavour of the coffee or the coldness of the beer.

This young lad travels through the Peloponese selling his family's home made pasteli.  This is a sweet made from sesame and honey and apparently coming from the time of Homer's Iliad.  He comes to Poros in the summertime from Ancient Olympia, selling his sweets in the cafes in the balmy evening air when  everyone is full of moussaka and relaxing with an after-dinner drink.  He's cheerful, non-pushy and his sesame sweets are delicious and so healthy.  Lots of vitamin E and calcium.

These are squares of sesame pasteli and also some made with honey and pistachio nuts.

Souvenir alley.  Or it used to be.  In the golden days of the 80's this alley way was full of souvenir and gold shops and crammed with tourists.  At times you could hardly push your way through the mass of shoppers.  Nowadays there is only one souvenir shop at the  start of this back alley and one jewellery shop for the tourists.   For us locals there is an inviting cake shop whose buttery sweet aroma clouds the odour of the meat and fish market, a place selling local products, a craft shop, the old style taverna with its pots and pans of todays traditional greek dishes displayed in the window, a hardware shop a couple of clothing shops and a hairdresser.  


The meat and fish market.  This has been cleaned up a lot.  Years ago great chunks of meat were hung up on hooks in the open air, your steak was cut by a butcher with a cigarette in his mouth and they sprayed fly spray straight at the meat to keep off the flies.  Now the meat is in glass cases and the fish on ice.

Parking for all the motorbikes, the preferred method of transport on the island in the summertime.

My four wheeled quad bike.  It's on the slow side and a bit noisy but gets me up and down the hills and I can go down all the little narrow streets and alley ways and park almost anywhere.  I can even take a passenger, as long as they're short and under 30 kilos  ie a small child.  The quad bike is as tough as a donkey.  I've hauled 6 packs of water, crates of beer and great piles of garden rubbish.  Perfect vehicle for the island.

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Food snippets and Papamoa

Mini tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes have come into fashion in the last few years in Greece.  I even had a couple of plants in my garden this summer.  They were the only ones to produce.  I have seen round red and yellow minis (as they are called here) but now the shop down town has green.  I had to try them even if they were selling at 2 euros a kilo, one euro more than the normal tomatoes.

Unfortunately though tasty , all these mini tomatoes had very tough skins.  I googled and found an easy recipe for grilled tomatoes and they were tasty enough to reccomend.  

I cut each 'mini' in half and put them in a baking tray lined with waxed paper.  Waxed paper might be environmentally unsound but for me it is a godsend.  The baking dish often does not need washing and nothing sticks.

I sprinkled over the tomatoes a little salt, some squashed garlic, oregano, a little sugar to take away that acidic taste and a little olive oil.  15 minutes in a very hot oven and they were ready.

Next time I think I will use fresh basil instead of oregano, skip the olive oil (there is enough liquid with the juice from the tomatoes) and maybe sprinkle over a little tasty cheese and garlic powder.

You could do this with any tomato, cut in half.  A great side dish. Or layer them on top of pastry or pizza base, cover with cheese and hey presto a tomato tart.  Not  traditional greek but something , maybe, a traditional greek might eat even though mama would have thought mini tomatoes a freak of nature.

The tomatoes ready to go into the oven


Vaso is still collecting dried carob beans from every tree in the neighbourhood.    She is up before dawn drinking coffee and smoking her first cigarette while listening to the early news of the day.  We often hear her radio or TV at 4 or 5am as we stagger into the loo and then stagger back to bed.  She sits outside in the morning to smoke come rain or snow.

At first light she is off to feed the goats some dried carobs, let the hens out and water the dogs, before going out into the fields.  Lately she has been checking up on her grapevines.  Harvest time is getting near and it is essential the fruit is in the best condition for this years wine. Next task is the collecting of carobs from all the trees in the neighbourhood. She makes the rounds of the trees regularly now as the beans dry and fall to the ground.
                           Hauling carobs for the livestock

Often there will be a short stop at our house on the way back.  The bags full of carobs that she heaves over her shoulder are extremely heavy.   She will pause for ten minutes, have a glass of water, a cigarette and a grumble about the latest news on the financial front and then scuttle off up the incline with her load of carobs.  Carobs are the new super food we hear.  A small carton sells for 5 euros  in Athens.  They certainly plump up Vaso's goats.

Time for some social intercourse
The carob bean is quite sweet.  Break it in half and try chewing on the flesh.  It is used as a substitute for cocoa though could never give you that rich, satisfying chocolatey shot of the real bean that soothes the nerves and ignites the senses.

  To make flour or 'cocoa' powder with them is one helluva task.  The small brown seeds in the middle have to be removed so the bean must be boiled for ten minutes to soften them.   Then cut down the middle and take out the seeds.  The beans must then be dried, either in the oven or the sun.  When dried out again put in a food processor or grinder and turn them into powder.  Maybe next year.                                     

Pickled cucumber

Cucumbers are in season and cheap.  K's cousin at the fruit and veg market always puts an extra half dozen in the bag.  We eat them, give them away, put them in the juicer with other abundant fruits of the summer harvest and now I pickle them as well. 

In a jar:
sliced fresh ginger (because I like a tang)
garlic squeezed (because I live in greece)
2 parts vinegar
1 part water
slices of cucumber
If they are too strong then add more water.  Put the lid on the jar and give it a good shake.

I would put in the amount of cucumber that you can eat in a couple of days.  They do get stronger the longer they are in the pickling juice.  They also get softer.  I make these an hour before we need them and put them in the fridge.  They are cold and hold just the right amount of pickle for my taste. 

Beware: traditional greeks may not eat them.

It seems to be an american thing, these fresh cucumber  pickles, though I do remember my mother in the summer having a plate of sliced tomatoes and cucumber doused with vinegar on the dinner table.  This is one of my memories of a NZ summer down at the bach (nz holiday home) on Papamoa beach.

This little bach made out of an old garage was built by my father and a friend and was/is located right on Papamoa beach, a long expanse of sandy beach and sand dunes in the North Island .  It cost them about 250 pounds in the 1950s and was one of a few scattered shacks at that time.  Lo and behold that little bach, now called Pipi Palace, is still there in almost the same state, out of place  beside the beautiful show homes, and is now  worth a million or so. Unfortunately it is no longer owned by our family but  is a place of pilgrimage whenever any of us return to NZ. 

Monday 22 August 2016

Snippets of life on a greek island

This is an example of cycladic art 'sculptured' many years ago by a friend of a friend.  It has suffered a fall as you can see but I still love this and it graces our entrance way (along with the plates in the wall).  This figurine is typical of those found in diggings dating from 3000BC on the islands of Naxos, Paros and Amorgos (islands in the cyclades).

I did a sharp u turn to take a photo if this.  It's a classic.  Once upon a time all menus had one or two hilarious translations (grilled lamps for lamb chops) but nowadays most tavernas have children who speak english or know how to google.  I wonder what is expected of the poor old tradisional cousin, an arme and a legg? I should not mock, my mistakes in greek are much worse.    'Cuisine' is a french word, maybe that's what bamboozled them.

On a second board they have taken another 'stab' at the word and come up with 'coysin'.

Goats.  These ones roam free all day but as the sun goes down they return to the pen all by themselves so their owner can milk them. 

 We have had a rogue herd around us for the last few months.  They come in the night and eat anything hanging over or poking through our fence.  They have ruined Vaso's olive trees, scrambling up the trunks and gnawing away all the lower branches. The bigger billy goats with huge horns a metre across have trampled all her dry walls, broken down fences and made her cholesterol soar sky high.  They have damaged our english neighbour's citrus trees and left droppings all over the terrace.  
Rumours are that another 'rogue' has penned them up.  Good on him if it is true.   He lives down near the sea where one day I almost ran into the leader of the goat-gang on the beach.  Even though he looks so fierce with his huge horns and long shaggy coat he was quite shy and had disappeared by the time I got out my camera.  

Cleaning the greens.  Three times they are dunked in fresh water or until the rinse water is clear with no dirt in the bottom of the bowl.  With the first rinse it is also best to add a little vinegar.  Some say the vinegar helps the dirt fall off the leaves, others that it kills any little bugs clinging on for dear life.  Whatever the reason it sounds to me like a good idea. 

Friday 19 August 2016

More on the moon

After all that mushy language about climbing up to the Acropolis with your lover under the light of the full moon it turns out that the Acropolis wasn't actually open after dark.  Those slippery  marble steps are apparently now deemed too unsafe for night visits.  

The acropolis was however lit up as it is every night and the romance is still high level.  You two and a thermos of G and T sitting on a wall somewhere in the Plaka, the old part of Athens, people watching and gazing up to the ancient columns of the Parthenon, or sitting on the roof top of a 5 star hotel sipping cold Sauv Blanc.  Two scenarios  bathed in the romance of ancient and modern Athens.

Here on Poros I sat on my terrace sipping  vodka and low cal orange and this year I did hear some of the piano music wafting over the pine trees.  It was a perfect, short, interlude when the ads came on and the Olympic commentary momentarily came to a halt.

Down in Crete  on its highest mountain Psiloriti (Mount Ida to the english) there is a cave where Zeus (Dias in greek) was born (6,000 years ago?).  This sacred site was once the centre of worship of Zeus.  Local Cretans brought the place back to life with  a re-enactment of this ancient myth in music, theatre, dance and poetry.  

That is something I would like to have seen.

Thursday 18 August 2016

Magical August Full Moon

August full moon.   It rises up through the trees, appearing sliver by sliver, illuminating the night sky, shining a shimmering pathway across the bay, pouring through the window at 4am, bathing me in all its mystical beauty.

The man in the moon is being kind to us this full moon.  Temperatures have gone down a few degrees with a light breeze mainly from the north.  No gales, no hail, no rain either, no crazy lunar antics.  

But beware: 
New clothes washed for the first time in the full moon will not last long.

Please note:
the best days in August (2016) for setting eggs are the 15-17 and 25th and 26th.  

Please tell me:
how or why do you set eggs!

Greece makes the most of this bewitching lunar occurence and this year 116 archeological sites and museums all over Greece will stay open till midnight.  Imagine climbing up the slippery marble steps of the Acropolis in Athens in the sultry moonlight with your loved one, hand in hand, watching the path of the silvery moon over the ancient ruins, maybe with a flask of G and T  in your bag.
Other ancient sites with that mystical aura which you should visit if you are nearby on this night are the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, a temple high on the headland south of Athens where Byron carved his name in a marble pillar  over 100 years ago (find it if you can, I couldn't).

The ancient city of Mystra down near Sparti which is mystical enough even in daylight, Delphi the site of the mythical oracle, Yianina Castle and another 111  locations .
A lot of these sites will also have musical events, poetry readings and exhibitions.

On Poros, where Poseidon's temple is open to the public day and night all the year round and for free, once again there will be a piano concert, featuring some of the world's top soloists.  We did go one year but left early.  The chairs were placed so the full moon was behind us.  Nothing magical about that.  And I found one hour of piano music to be more  than enough, especially when all I could see was the back of the whispering couple in front of me.

The Council does deserve a pat on the back for allowing this ancient site to be used.  They set up the plastic chairs, provide plenty of parking, but the road up there still has more craters than the face of Mars.

Neorion Beach is hosting a full moon party with live reggae music and Vayionia Bay is holding another of its popular summer full moon parties.  No doubt we will hear their music wafting up the ravine.  Poseidon's temple is on the ridge only a few hundred metres away (as the magpie flies) from our house but we  never hear the music from the piano festival.  Wind blowing the wrong way or divine intervention?


Tuesday 16 August 2016

Holiest of the holiest

15th August is the biggest holiday in the Greek Orthodox church, in the Greek calendar. The country grinds to a halt to   'observe' the death or the 'sleeping' of the Virgin Mary (Panagia).  City dwellers by the thousands quit Athens and Thessaloniki, a good time for the Turks to invade, a good time to visit and see the sites without the traffic and the noise.   The streets are empty except for tourists.  Everyone who can returns to their village, their family home, their island to celebrate with friends, neighbours and countless relatives.  Many (like our elderly neighbour) will have been fasting since the end of July and attending the evening church services. 

 One of the Holiest places to visit is the island of Tinos.  Those who have prayed to the miraculous icon of  Mary in the church of the Blessed Virgin will crawl on their knees from the harbour to the church to ask for  her divine intervention or in thanks.  

Many times when K was in the Navy he took part in the parade of the miraculous icon on Tinos as part of the honour guard, all dressed up in his best white uniform, with white gloves and sword in hand.  Today the Frigate Navarino, troop carrier Chios and a torpedo boat from the Greek Navy are cruising offshore, their officers and many of the crew are in church this morning at attention in respect of the Panagia.  The ceremony is shown live on TV.  Members of Parliament and the country's bigwigs are in the church but not the Prime Minister who is an athiest.  

In the evening there is a wreath laying ceremony on the sea and service for those of the destroyer Elli which was torpedoed on the 15th August 1940 by the Italian submarine Delfino, just before the outbreak of war.

On many of the islands festivites go on for two or three days.  Chairs and tables are set out in the main squares, there is live bouzouki music and free food and wine is provided for all the villagers and visitors.  Huge cauldrons of bean soup (fassolatha) or boiled meat will be prepared by the men while the women are cooking local delicacies and sweets.  Everyone takes part in the dancing and singing, from the very young to the old bent legged crone and the awkward tourist.

Don't expect to find a doctor or any other professional this week.  All will be away on holiday.

On the island of Paros the celebration takes place in the Church of 100 Doors (Ekatontapyliani), of which only 99 can be seen.  When the 100th door is revealed Greeks will take back Constantinople (Istanbul) from the Turks.  It is predicted that the city will be reclaimed by someone called Konstantinos who has 6 fingers.  Well, our K-onstantinos has 6 fingers so it is just a matter of time while he gathers his army of faithful followers lol. 

On the island of Kefalonia (Ionian islands) in the village of Markopoulou from the 6 to the 15th August snakes appear inside and outside the church of the Virgin Mary.  If they don't materialise it is a very bad omen, as in 1940 and 1953 when the island suffered huge earthquakes.  The snakes bring luck to the island and all visitors.

In northern Greece another holy place of worship is the Monastery Panagia Soumela. We visited this years ago on a trip to Thessaloniki (in the good old days).  I remember the immense church as absolutely freezing.  It was like walking into an echoing marble igloo.  But they did have clean loos, most important after winding up a long snowy mountain road.

In almost every family preparations will be  taking place for a party as 15th August is the name day of those named Maria, Panagioti, Panayiota and all the variations.  Our 'sinpethera' Nota (Panayiota) , the mother-in-law of our daughter, celebrates this day and always provides a magnificent  feast for all the brothers and sisters, nephews, neices, children, grandchildren, great granchildren, cousins and us. Her daughter and the family have already arrived from Athens to stay for the long weekend along with various nephews.  I cannot work out where everyone sleeps in the small house but it doesn't matter.  They all enjoy each others company tremendously and have a wonderful time together.

Tasoula, who makes the best sourdough bread ever.  Soft, chewy and so tasty.  I can't work out how she does it although she has given me some hints.  Experience counts here for sure.  Tasoula has been baking bread for the extended family for many years.

And Nota, who will cook everything and anything.  Her dinner tables are always full of food cooked with the utmost love.  No one ever leaves her house hungry.

 Her two unmarried sisters will be baking homemade bread and their speciality fried cheese bread and together they will be peeling mountains of potatoes and roasting chickens and maybe one of their own goats, plus a hundred other tasty nibbles.  Her table always 'groans'.

This year we had a change of venue.  We all ate out at a local taverna.  The place was buzzing all night with long tables full of families celebrating name days.  Really enjoyable.  Perfectly grilled and seasoned lamb chops, salads which were also perfectly presented with imagination and a delectable vinagrette.  With such a crowd the food could have been mediocre.

And a chocolate 'tourta' to finish it all, with a huge great carving knife to cut it up.  It was simply YUM.

Poros is chock-a-block.  There are lines of  mercedes and BMWs outside the two big hotels, the beaches are packed and I doubt there are any rooms free to rent.  When this weekend is over we all breathe a huge sigh of relief.  Slowly people go back to work in the city and the weather may even get a little cooler.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Fishing Greek style

K has been fishing.   At long last.  First it was too windy, then the boat needed repairs, no-one was catching fish, it was full moon, no money for petrol .... 

 Then news was out, the fish had grown big enough to catch and they had been seen just outside the harbour.  He was off and running.  Last night he went out with Grandson George and they caught half a dozen.  Early this morning the catch was bigger, as seen in the photo above.  A couple of good tuna and a bucket of  'others' (kinigos - the hunter).

 The 'others'.  I have been googling to find an english translation but have not found the exact same fish.  It looks like some sort of small tuna-like fish to me.  Great for frying, grilling, cooking on a tile or stewing with onions, garlic and fresh tomatoes.  Flesh full of flavour and not many bones.

 The tuna cooked with rosemary and lots of garlic in the oven on a roof tile.  It turns out really juicy and full of flavor (and so does the tile).

Fortunately none of these fish have scales so they just need gutting.   K said they had just had a good feed of sardines.  He is very good at cleaning the fish on the way back from the fishing grounds.  I can scale and gut with the best but definitely prefer not to have to do this smelly job, especially in the middle of summer.

We used to bury the scales, bones, guts under the lemon trees or the roses but I saw no difference in the size of the lemons or the quality of the roses and the ground is so hard, the cats so insistent that I have stopped. 

We gave a lot of the fish away  in return for  the figs, apricots, lettuces, eggs and a variety of other home produce that we have received the last  months from neighbours.

The fishing boat (blue and white with  canopy).  K was lucky to pick this up at a good price just before he retired and just before the economy collapsed.  The tax on boats under 5 metres is still payable thank goodness.  He would be lost without this small boat and his hobby

Every greek island male dreams of buying a small fishing boat when he retires and spending his days catching his lunch.  This is the fishing boat harbour.

A typical greek fisherman.  I took this photo because I could see the fish jumping around the boat.  There were silver flashes all over the surface of the sea.  He must have got a great haul.  

Monday 8 August 2016

Olympics and more

The 2016 Olympics are up and running.  The Greeks as usual headed the olympic teams parading through the stadium.  Greece (Grecia) is always the first team to enter and the team of the host country the last.  207 teams this year including the Refugee Olympic team.  The parade was in alphabetical order according to the Brazilian/Portuguese alphabet.  This made for some interesting changes.  Germany (Alemanha) and South Africa (Africa do sul) were amongst the first to enter.  NZ became Nova  Zelandia.  Nice change, wish they had changed the flag as well.  There are at least 6 countries with the union jack in the top left hand corner just like NZ.

- For the first time a woman standard bearer led in the 90 greek athletes.  'Bout time.
- Two greek althletes, a swimmer and a member of the paraolympic team have been excluded already over doping charges. 
- Greece's first medal, a bronze, was won by a woman in the 10m air pistol

207 countries.  I have kept the Wikipedia list of abbreviations for all the countries on fast dial.  Unfortunately most of these country's names are only heard every 4 years as their team enters the stadium at the start of the games and the abbreviations give your mind a real work out.

South Africa (Africa do sul) is RSA, which I should remember, but don't.  Republic of South Africa.

PLW    Palau
COM   Comores

I need to get a world map on fast dial as well.

Good luck to all .

British chef Rick Stein  was in Thessaloniki last week, Greece's northern capitol .  He is making a new series with the BBC, Rick Stein's Long Weekends.  Of course there will be a book as well.  I loved his series last winter, From Venice to Istanbul.  We were all so pleased that he came back to a rented Villa on the Greek island of Symi to try out his new found recipes.

He has already made programmes for this series in a load of european cities investigating and reporting on markets, restaurants, cafes, anywhere with food and atmosphere.  He described Thessaloniki as a 'fabulous food city'.  At least we will have some pleasant tv watching this winter.

A year ago I was writing post after post on the huge refugee problems and the worsening of the Greek economy, the hardship of austerity and high taxes.  These two  problems still exist but the refugees are now confined to camps and the economists have gone on summer vacations to their plush villas.

- hundreds of migrants are still arriving daily and boats are  capsizing with tragic results
- the riot squad had to be called in on the island of Chios after refugees clashed with police during a protest over food quality
- also on Chios authorities are arresting all refugees involved in illegal activities because of an outbreak of burglaries and thefts.  40 will be deported.
- tourism on the island of Lesvos is down 70%.  The locals are naturally very worried.  They need tourism to survive the winter.  There are 3,000 refugees on the island now but 600,000 have passed through in the last 18 months.  Tourists are avoiding these island hotsopots.
- resettlement to other European countries is very slow.  Only 2,681 of almost 60,000 refugees have been resettled since last summer.
- refugees in Greece quite rightly fear that they have been forgotten.  Living in a squalid camp on a greek island was not what they expected when they fled the war in Syria.

The good news.  140 musicians from around the world will converge on the Cretan village of Houdetsi as its 7th music festival gets under way.  The festival is described as a '4 day celebration of music, dance, food and art'.  The idea is to get together different music and traditions from all over the world and 'jam boys jam'.  That sounds so wierd, but I'm sure I'm right.  What musicians do is 'jam'? Yes, wikipedia says that 'a jam session is a musical event, process or activity where musicians play..'

Sunday 7 August 2016

Greek fish stew/soup

I make this quick tasty stew when frozen fish is on special at the supermarket.  It needs fillet of fish and my greek man, like most, will never fillet his fish and prefers not to eat it that way either.  All the taste is in the head, skin and bones they say.  It has to be grilled whole and then dissected at the table.  

This time I used frozen squid as well.  I know it is sinful for a fisherman to eat frozen fish but sometimes it is just easier.  If you can get fresh fish fillets then please use them.  Usually I add NZ green lip mussels on the half shell and prawns.  We don't get fresh mussels around here. Octopus is a tasty addition too.

When we lived on the island of Salamina and the girls were young we used to dive for mussels.  Salamina, where the main Naval Base is sited, it known for its mussels.  

K likes the whole combo.  It has lots of mediterranean flavour, wine, garlic and fresh herbs.  The original recipe I found on the net and altered it a little for greek conditions.  It is/was called a stew but with the tomato  is more of a soup.  All you need is lots of bread with a crust and a bite.  Fresh, fluffy supermarket bread is just no good for dunking and mopping.

Time - only about half an hour
Calories - not too many if you have a light hand when adding the oil

Ingredients -
- olive oil for browning the onion
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- bay leaf
- fresh (or dried) oregano, rosemary (chopped) and thyme
- chopped parsley
- a stock cube
- a large glass of white unresinated wine
- fish fillets
- any sort of shellfish you can find 
- prawns (shrimps)
- octopus cut into small pieces
- squid chopped small or in rings
- 2 or 3 fresh chopped tomatoes (or a tin)
- salt and some sort of red hot pepper or hot sauce

Brown the onion and garlic in oil, pouring in the wine at the end of the browning. Add the tomatoes, stock cube, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, parsley, rosemary (or whatever herbs you have on hand and prefer) and a mug of water.

This is the sauce.  Add the squid if you are using it as this needs longer cooking and the octopus if it is raw.  If cooked you can add at the end.  

Stew gently for about 15 minutes.  Add more water if it is getting dry.  Think juicy soup.  Season with salt and pepper. Next  the fish fillets go in.  Place them on top so they don't break up.  After about 10 minutes add the prawns, mussels and other shellfish and cook gently about 5 minutes.  Voila.  It is ready to eat.

Kali orexi

Friday 5 August 2016

Figs and capers and our poor old walnut tree

Figs will be ripe in a couple of weeks.  These ones are hanging over our neighbour's wall.  Forbidden fruit is so much tastier.   

Figs are high in potassium and may help to control blood pressure.  They also may help in weight control.  I thought they were high in sugar and not at all good for those on a diet.   A few figs a day will keep your bowels 'regular' (maybe that's how your weight is controlled lol). 

You can eat the leaves too.  They have an insulin lowering effect.  Or wear them like Adam and Eve.

It goes without saying that figs were eaten in ancient Greece (traced to 9th century BC ).  Nowadays they seem to pop up often in gourmet cuisine stuffed with goats cheese or poached in red wine.

I will give the last word to my dear departed mother in law.  Her family down the road, up the hill and round the corner (45 minutes away) in the little village of Megalohori had fig trees and they dried the figs in the sun and stored them to eat in the winter, often pushing an almond (from their own almond trees) into the middle of the dried fig or sprinkling them with sesame seeds before eating. 

 To dry the figs they are dipped first in boiling water for half a minute, probably to kill any creepy crawly that might be inside. Dry them well and then thread them on to a string or push onto a thin skewer.  These are hung from a tree in  full sun (think  scorching, drying Greek sunlight) for a couple of days, covered with thin netting.  Flies, bees and wasps (etc) will just love this sweet fruit. 

Then take the strings out of the direct sunlight and leave them in the shade for about a week.  They should be like dried leather by then and hopefully will keep for a few months without going mouldy.  They do tend to be rather hard.  You can always soak them in hot water before eating to make them softer and chewable.  The best greek dried figs are from the city of Kalamata, same place as those big black olives.

Fig trees sprout up everywhere.  I picked some wild figs once meaning to make them into preserves but in the end found the recipe too complicated.  Picking the figs was a nightmare.  A white sticky substance oozes from the fig as you remove it from the tree and it makes your hands itchy and prickly. 

Nb: 1 week after I wrote this we were given our first bag of figs . We have eaten more than we should. Now I have more in  the  fridge. Let the jam, jelly, chutney making beginning.

Wild capers also grow everywhere.  This one is cascading down another neighbour's wall.  The capers are small and tender just now and great for pickling.  But the caper has long thorns and it is one helluva job to pick enough to make it worth your while.  On the island of Angistri they salt the tender caper leaves and add them to the greek salad.  They are delicious.  

Capers are part of the mediterranean cuisine.  Here they are normally used in salads but in Italy they are used for pasta sauces and meat dishes.  They are one of the ingredients in tartar sauce.  In biblical times they were thought to be an aphrodisiac.  Now you know all about the caper.  But if you don't have capers (kapari in greek) growing near you then maybe you have some nasturtiums in your garden.  You can eat the leaves and flowers in salad or pickle the young buds just like the caper.

The poor walnut tree is losing all its leaves and the few walnuts it had this year are shrivelling up and falling.  At this time of the year the tree should be covered in  green leaves providing a cool area of shade.

Here are the walnuts.  The two brown ones are from the supermarket.  You can see how small and puny is the green one from our tree.  Inside the green casing is the brown nut and inside the hard nut case is the walnut that we eat.

If you can get hold of half a dozen green walnuts fresh from the tree you could think about making walnut liqueur.

In a big glass jar with a tight fitting top..
add -
  700 ml of ouzo (you could use any alcohol, brandy or vodka would do just as well) . The liqueur will not taste of ouzo. 
     6 green walnuts
             6 cloves                    
    2 cups of sugar
                     1 cinnamon stick              

Put the ouzo and the sugar into the jar and give it a good stir to dissolve the sugar.  Add the cloves and the cinnamon and then the 6 green walnuts.  Screw on the top and leave 2 months.  
Strain and drink.

The walnuts will go black.  Don't worry about that.  But I did open up the jar now and again and push the walnuts down so they got pickled all over in the alcohol.  The original recipe called for 3 cups of sugar but I thought it was far too sweet.


Monday 1 August 2016

Sunshiny days

Greece gets 211 days of sunshine a year.   No doubt this is one of the biggest attractions for Scandinavian tourists who get 150 days of rain in their country and the english who get (on the average) 133 days of rain a year.  No wonder the Brits sit out in the sun all day and go that bright painful pink soaking up as much sun as possible before returning to their cold, cold home.

Mad dogs and englishmen go out in the midday,
out in the midday sun.
(A Noel Coward classic)

This week we have visiting us:

Leonardo di Caprio, 'incognito' (he wears a hat) on  Myconos with four friends
Kate Hudson, Skiatho.  According to one source she was 'sizzling' in a tiny bikini.
Andreas Bocelli - on a greek island.  In 2010 he sang at the Odeon of Herod Atticus (174 BC) under the Acropolis.

Tom Hanks.  He and his wife Rita Wilson own a  house on AntiParos and spend summer holidays on the island.  Hank's wife has greek roots.  They both worked on and helped to promote 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'.  Great movie.  Funny and portrays the greeks exactly as they are, family orientated, always ready to party and fanatical about anything greek.

I was once told by a Greek taxi driver that every language in the world is derived from Greek including Chinese.

Aristotle Onassis's private island of Scorpios was bought by the daughter of a Russian billionaire along with the next door island of Sparti.   Last year the billionairess was married at the small chapel on the island, the same chapel where Onassis and Jackie Kennedy were married in 1968.

Anthony Quinn.  Fell in love with the island of Rhodes when filming 'The Guns of Navarone'.  Quinn bought a small bay now known as 'Anthony Quinn Beach' and made the island famous.  He made a road into the beach and brought water in but the purchase was annulled and he never got the title deeds. 50 years later his family is still trying to legalise the purchase. 

 Boris Johnson is spending his summer holiday with his family near Thessaloniki.  Power and money talks.  I'm sure no-one will hold it against him now for his publicly expressed opinion that  Greece should get out of the euro zone and that England should not return the 'Elgin Marbles'.  These are sculptures 'stolen' from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the 1800s and now in the British Museum.

Today is a day for celebration and jubilation. We're alive, we're alive.  The world did not come to an end on July 29th because of a 'polar flip' as prophesied by the doomsayers.