Tuesday 28 February 2017

Clean Monday ... a sort of Greek Ash Wednesday

A Lenten celebration.  

The first day of the 40 day fast (it is actually 49 days from Clean Monday to Easter Sunday) from meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
A public holiday.  Time to eat shellfish and octopus, kalamari, flatbread (lagana), taramasalata (fish roe salad), drink ouzo and finally fly kites.  Well, the kids fly the kites, the adults retrieve them from olive trees and gullies.  

The lagana, I read, is the name of the unleavened bread given by God to the Israelis to feed them while they crossed Egypt to their promised land.  It is two times the price of a normal loaf of bread on this day but I make my own.

When the lagana comes hot out of the oven you break great chunks off, cover them in home made taramasalata and by the time you sit down to eat the lenten meal your stomach is full.  Happens every year.  Our custom is to tear the lagana into pieces and not cut with a knife. 

Homemade lagana.  The ones on the left are made with sourdough and cooked in our woodfired 'pizza' oven

I am preparing dolmathakia yialantzi (without meat), from vine leaves I collected and preserved last spring, and a dried bean salad.  The beans are prepared with lots of fresh parsley, thinly sliced onion, olive oil and lemon juice.  This year it is a legume mix which my daughter brought back from a visit to a mountain village.  There are yellow split peas, red kidney beans, brown and red lentils, white navy beans, chick peas and what looks like green lentils.  It is prepared the same way and served cold as a salad.

These are cut in half and given a squeeze of lemon juice.  They are eaten by scooping those orangey insides out with a piece of lagana.  The taste is sea water.  An acquired taste.

A popular Clean Monday dish.
After googling a little it seems these are the bulbs of the wild blue hyacinth.  I do know that a flat fertile area near us is full of them.  They are a devil to be dug up however as they are found quite deep down.   One of  K's cousins used to make a lot of money at this time of the year digging them up with a heavy pick.  He and his elderly mother then painstakingly cleaned off all the dirty outer layers and washed them before selling,  They are boiled and eaten with a dressing of olive and either lemon juice or vinegar.

K has ordered from his friend two octopuses which will be hung out to dry and then grilled on the BBQ to be sliced and served as an appetiser with a glass of ouzo.

The octopus has to be dried in the sun before being grilled.
Our backyard is in 'winter mode', full of weeds and rubbish.  Clean up time is nigh.  The sun is warming and the temperature perfect for outdoor chores.

The sweet today is 'halvas' made from semolina, sugar, olive oil, almonds, raisins and flavoured with cinnamon, not to be confused with the commercial halvas which is made from sugar, water and tahini and is eaten with bread during the meal.

Making a kite with light weight pieces of bamboo, string and coloured paper

Flying the kite outside with hopefully a little wind to lift it up and over the olives and into the sky. 

Sunday 26 February 2017

The last Sunday before Lent

This Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent, The Big Fast or Tesseracosti (the forty days of fasting, which are actually 49).

Yes, this is another celebration, followed immediately by Clean Monday (a national holiday) and the beginning of the Big Fast.

Elsewhere in Greece there are fiestas involving flour throwing (all over the spectators) and yoghurt besmirching.  It is the end of the carnival festivities and there are parades with satirical floats and troupes of carnival costumed merry makers.  Each part of the country has different customs, going back to the very old times.  Men dressed in goats skins clanging great bells to drive away evil, a 'burning of the king' and a mock wedding with a young man dressed as the bride, are amongst some of the many customs.

Here on Poros in recent years we have a Treasure Hunt which goes on all day.  The Hunt is organised by the council and all sorts of small groups take part. This year one family of  grandchildren are taking part with their school friends and with the help of teachers and parents.   The clues are difficult and they must  phone around for local information and dash all over the island trying to find answers.

The other family of grandchildren are going down the coast and under the volcano to the village of Methana to watch the carnival parade and festivities.

When the children were younger we carried on the custom on this day of 'catching the egg' and smearing yoghurt all over the winners as K used to do when he was a child.  This year I hope we will simply go out for coffee in the sun and give the treasure hunters a cheering-on.

The egg swinging is done on Sunday after the midday meal which in our house is always beef stewed in tomatoes and spaghetti.

The hard boiled egg has a needle and thread passed through it and it is attached to the rafters.  My mother-in-law's kitchen had a nail in the ceiling especially for this.

A little mouth trying to 'catch' a large egg

And the winner gets.....a yoghurt face wash

Friday 24 February 2017

Greek meatloaf stuffed with eggs and cheese...and fish cakes

Meatloaf (rollo) with a filling of boiled eggs and cheese

This is a greek recipe which my mother-in-law used to make, though I am sure some version is made in many western homes. It has gone out of fashion, a 70s recipe, along with shrimp cocktail and cheese and pineapple on a toothpick and stuck in a grapefruit.  I remember when I served this at a small party just after first arriving here 40 years ago.  K's friends sort of stared at that concoction in mystifying silence and no-one touched those darn toothpicks. I found out later that Greeks did not eat sweet and sour, ie cheese and pineapple, and that also they are not willing to even taste something different.

 I don't experiment when cooking for locals. They do not appreciate it and will suspiciously poke anything unusual on their plate, ask mistrustingly, 'wot's this' and leave it there staring me in the face, reminding me that I will always be a foreigner.

The bottom half of the meatloaf.  This is covered with the rest of the minced beef mixture

Easy, tasty and eaten by traditional persons, if the recipe has not been modified (no soy sauce and don't used marjoram instead of oregano!).  The meatloaf mix is squished together and about one third is laid out on the bottom of an oiled baking dish and formed into a loaf-like shape.  On top of the meat-mix press in as many boiled eggs as will fit.  Then arrange around the outside pieces of whatever cheese you have on hand.  I used Gouda (which melted and disappeared) and another hard, tasty greek cheese, kefalograviera.

Very carefully close the whole thing with the rest of the meat mix, pressing it over the top and around the eggs.  Close it up well so the cheese cannot escape and there are no gaps along the sides.

Fill the pan round the loaf with cubed potatoes and pour over a sauce of wine, olive oil, mustard, hot water and a little honey.

-Minced beef    1/2 kilo (about a pound)
-Onion       one, diced
-Garlic       as much as you dare, diced
-Mustard    a generous squirt
-Bread soaked in water    a thick slice of stale bread, soaked and then squeezed so there is no extra water
-Parsley/mint   chopped
-Thyme/oregano  a little of both or only one, dried or fresh
-Egg ,  one
-Salt and pepper

Mix really well altogether in a bowl.  I put my hands in there and give it a good massage

Boiled eggs
Olive oil
Add also about a cup of hot water so you've got enough sauce to use as gravy or use as the base of a gravy.

Accompany with cubed potatoes, boiled rice or mash

Bake about one hour and baste now and again with the sauce.

Fish cakes.............................

Yesterday I made fish soup and today I made the mix for fish cakes with the leftover fish and potatoes.

This is not a traditional greek recipe.  Traditional people poke these with their fork, eventually push them to one side and ask if there is anything else to eat.  They don't like fish pie either.

I love them.

 -Cooked deboned fish
-boiled potatoes mashed with a fork
-salt and pepper
-one egg
-one spoon of flour, may need slightly more flour if the mixture is very wet
-the zest of half a lemon
-chopped parsley or dill

Mix all this together with a fork till it is really well combined.  Put into the fridge for an hour.  I'm leaving mine overnight.

Form into little patties. Lightly flour and fry.  Delish, with a slight lemony tang.  Add a dollop of  mayo or tartare sauce or whatever your heart desires.  

Serve with a salad and drink a glass of chilled wine, red or white.

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Mansfield Park...book review for February

Mansfield Park  by Jane Austen

Published in 1814, this is the third of her books after 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Sense and Sensibility'.

All about  Fanny Price who is given away at 10 years old by her mother to be brought up by a rich aunt and uncle with her two female cousins and their two older brothers.  Fanny is meek and willing and 'knows her place'  as was the way for young women without means in those good old days.  

As a young woman she is wooed by a friend of the grand family but refuses his offer of marriage.  Henry Crawford is charming but without morals and Fanny has watched from the sidelines and seen through him long ago.  Anyway, Fanny is secretly in love with Edmund,  the younger son of the big house.

After misfortune and several scandals strike the family Edmund realises he is in love with Fanny . They marry (being first cousins doesn't seem to matter) and live happily ever after.

 That's the basic scenario with many twists and turns,  flirtation, duplicity and drama. 

Fanny is rather frail and so shy as to be thoroughly annoying.  By the end of the book though she had become quite likeable I found and a heroine. 

I downloaded this book very cheaply from Amazon but then discovered it was also in audio form.  

Youtube has the full, unabridged book (in two parts) on audio, read by Karen Savage.  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her voice reading the book.  She has a clear speaking voice, deepens it a little when she is reading the male lines, makes slight changes for each character and flows along smoothly.

The antiquated language once again made it slow reading but I found listening to it made it easier to follow. 

I was actually looking forward to putting on the headphones and continuing the tale.

Not the sort of book I'd usually read but finding the audio version was a happy surprise and shall look for more books on YouTube.

This was made into a film, like a lot of classics.  It is described as a romantic comedy-drama.  I haven't seen the film and probably won't unless it turns up on greek tv one long winter night.

Monday 20 February 2017

Smokey Thursday

Tsiknopempti - smokey Thursday

In the second week before Lent, this is one of the bigger celebrations during Carnival.  A tradition which probably goes back hundreds of years.  The custom is to grill meat on the BBQ and the day gets its name from that flavoursome smell of the smoke from the grill (tsikna).

Even today as I went down town and into the back streets that strong cooking smell was wafting from every house and courtyard.  At the petrol station their big BBQ was out and skewers of pork were being shared with the clients along with a glass of wine.

On the waterfront there were at least half a dozen grills along the quay as the butchers shop by the supermarket and a couple of cafeterias and other shops got ready to grill their lamb chops and souvlaki to share with friends and passersby.

At the primary school a local business had donated a few hundred skewers of pork which were grilled in the school yard and the kids filled up with souvlaki and bread and a small drink before going home.

Carnival - time to dress up and party. 
 In days gone by everyone would dress up, put on a mask or a funny hat and go out to a taverna to eat grilled lamb chops, dance, sing, throw confetti and streamers and party till the wee hours.  The tavernas would be full of revellers and tables had to be booked in advance.

  Now we buy a kilo of pork chops and light our own BBQ, though still with the dancing and music and the children at least will be in masquerade.

Ready for grilling.

There was a terrific gale so we just lit a small BBQ in a protected corner of the balcony

Juicy pork chops and underneath a few pieces of chicken and Papou's famous handmade beefburgers 

Time to celebrate.  Lots of grilled pitta bread, lashings of very garlicky tzatziki, grilled meat, a lettuce salad with lemon and olive oil dressing and some of Yianni's broccoli/cauliflower special

And to finish off 
slices of apple sprinkled with cinnamon and drizzled with local honey

Saturday 18 February 2017

The Prodigal Son

Tou Asotou..The Feast of the Prodigal Son, the second Sunday before Lent

  Most know the parable of the younger son who demanded his inheritance and then went off and squandered it on wine, women and song. He returns home with his tail between his legs and instead of being cast out is welcomed by his father who 'kills the fatted calf'.

Greek men, the ones in my neighbourhood, celebrate this day as the Feast of all 'naughty boys'.  Just one day in many of their celebrations.  K says prodigal sons celebrate for 6 months before their fiesta and six months afterwards.

I say he's too old to be a prodigal son and should leave it to his grandchildren.  Yet he's never too old for celebration and jubilation.

This feasting always falls on a Sunday, aha, but the next day is Monday, a working day.  Does that really make any difference here?  Of course Not.  The men gather to drink wine, gossip (men gossip so much more than women!), argue vehemently, consider, debate and debilerate.  Talking makes them thirsty and very hungry.  And you never drink without eating something to soak up the alcohol.

The meze  today is usually meat, a piece of fatty roasted pig or a rooster, especially if it has been slowed boiled and then stewed with fresh tomatoes, a big stick of cinnamon and served with that long, fat, pipe like macaroni which has to be sucked up and dispatched between great gulps of the local rough white.

They don't each have a big plate in front of them.  A meze is a communal plate with chunks of meat from which they cut small fragrant mouthfuls and smother in mustard or tzatziki.  Some aromatic feta cheese, bread, a tomato doused in olive oil, a jug of wine, and no wives around to nag,  makes for happy boys.

At the end of it all they stagger out to their motorbikes and weave their way home, as is the custom here

Wednesday 15 February 2017


Looking up from the harbour.  Old style houses with only a small front balcony, most accessed by steep and very irregular steps.  These should all have tiled roofs and on some islands must also be painted only blue and white.  Not on this island. We had a bright yellow house next to us in the old town and a couple of bright pink houses.  

Two harbour cats wait hopefully beside the fishing boats

Along the harbour and the seaside many of the trees are eucalyptos.  They grow to a great height and every few years are cut back almost to a stump.  The Municipality this year is giving the wood from the tree trimming to families that cannot afford to buy  logs for their wood burning fireplaces.  Nearly all of the old houses had fireplaces, as did my in-laws house when we first arrived.  Not so long ago the fireplaces were not only used for heating but this was where most of the cooking was done as well.

The fishermen's club house.  The older men gather here every day especially on cold winter days when they are shooed out of the house by their wives.  They sit here and talk tall fish tales.  They bring their wine and a meze and while-away the morning until it is time to reurn home to eat their midday meal.

Their boats are tied up to the flimsy wooden jetty nearby.  

The lottery seller.  He has the lottery tickets arrayed on a long piece of wood with notches for each ticket.  

At the Lotto shop there is a steady stream of customers.  The 'Joker' has been in 'jackpot' mode for the last two weeks.  The pot is now 16 million euros.  We went and played yesterday but it was another 'Jackpot' last night so I suppose we will have to replay our numbers.  At 1.50euro for 5 lines of our lucky numbers it is not going to break our bank, and who knows...........

Monday 13 February 2017


February on a Greek island.  Wet and cold but with signs of spring.  

The almond trees are in full blossom

There are clumps of spring flowers in the fields

The rosemary bush is in full purple-flower

Selling honey at the Friday market.  The wind is blowing in off the sea and the mountains opposite.  Not many buyers today.

A few more stalls than the Monday market.  There were five altogether.  Lots of citrus fruit and greens but not much else.  

Down at the Happy Chairs cafe there really is no choice but to sit outside.  There are three tables inside, each surrounded by a haze of cigarette smoke.  Out in the open-air each cafe is surrounded by plastic 'curtains' and here the two gas heaters have been going since early morning.  

Saturday 11 February 2017

Fish, the family dish

Down at the fish market.  
We bought most of these, a nice mix to make Wednesday's fish soup.  The ones at top left are small scorpion fish.  Their needle-like spines make them dangerous to scale but their taste is worth it.   If you've got time to wait the fish will be scaled and gutted for you.

Cleaned skate and 'other' fish.  We also bought two pieces of skate for the soup and it was delicious boiled.

Small sardines at 5 euro a kilo, ideal for grilling or stewing with tomatoes and onions

Cousin Tasos mending his nets.  The weather is warm and calm and all the caiques are out before dawn. 
 A caique is a small traditional fishing boat found in the Aegean or Ionian Seas.

His catch of small red mullet

At around 10am the caiques come in to sell their fresh catch from the quayside

Our Sunday lunch grilled on the old trusty/rusty BBQ made from an old hot water cylinder.  The grill is cleaned with half a lemon (a lemon cup)

A fish quote -

What's the two things they tell you are healthiest to eat?  Chicken and fish.  You know what you should do?  Combine them, eat a penguin.
- David Atell

Thursday 9 February 2017

Local winter market

Our own Monday market.  On Mondays there are fewer stalls than the Friday market.  Today there were only two

Cousin Roula has almost sold out.  We bought the last of the tomatoes and mandarines.  The tomatoes are out of season and were soapy.  I made them into a sauce with onion and garlic.

Roula is always smiling and ready with a joke .  

She spends hours out in the fields gathering and cleaning wild greens which the Greeks love, picking citrus fruit, harvesting olives, planting, weeding and setting up a market stall four days a week.

Tuesday 7 February 2017

Famers market

Once a week there is a huge outdoor market down the road, up a couple of hills and along the coast in Ermioni.  It used to be a regular outing for us to visit the market, buy  fresh fruit and vegetables, stock up on knickers and cheap clothing, have a beer on the waterfront and return home with a car full of bargains. 

No Longer.  It costs us 15 euros return to get the car on the ferry boat, another 20 for petrol and that's before we have barely started.

Recently though we did manage to go down to Ermioni on a bitterly cold day and stocked up for all the family and various friends and neighbours.

Turnips and their leaves, radishes, beetroot, all eaten for the leaves and the bulbs

The 'refugees'  are Pakistanis and Indians who have been working in the fields and orchards around here for many years.  Most of them have brought their families over as well and in our area they have built their own temple.

This area is also very popular with Germans who have bought or built beautiful holiday homes.  Over half the voices you hear at the market are foreign, including mine

Such a bitterly cold day was not ideal for bargain hunting.  In mid summer you must shop before 10am or suffer under the unrelenting sun

Nuts and dried fruit by the kilo

Local wine sold by the producer

Honey and all its side products, a balm for treating cuts and burns, honey comb and bee pollen.  I once bought a jar of bee pollen which is supposed to work miracles.  I did eventually manage to use it all but it was furry and tasteless and not nice even with yoghurt and fruit.

A few cut flowers but mainly small plants for the vegetable garden and flowers and trees in pots for replanting.

My untrendy shopping trolley 

Time to go indoors for a warming capuccino and a toasted sandwich which they serve  with potato crisps.