Sunday 30 April 2017

May Day

May Day or Protomagia in Greek

1st May is another holiday in Greece, for schools and workers.  Also a time for strikes, protests and demonstrastions  in the middle of Athens.

It is a workers holiday, Labour Day in other countries, and a day to celebrate Spring.  When the children were young we always went on a picnic, along with crowds of other Greeks doing exactly the same, and made a May Wreath of wild flowers to hang over our front door.

Everything will be closed except of course cafeterias, tavernas and cheese pie and sticky cake shops.

This year it falls on a Monday so we have another long weekend.  Poros is full again and Monday we'll have a huge influx of day trippers.

We pick daisies, poppies and other wild flowers, roses from our garden and any flowers we can pilfer from the neighbours' front yards.  A head of garlic or an artichoke bring good luck.  

Daughter Danae cuts a supple olive branch or some grapevine and joins it in a circle.  Then the flowers are woven around the stefani (wreath) and tied in place with string.  

We usually tie a bunch of wild flowers to the front of the car or bike as well.

It is left there till 
June 24th
 Summer Solstice
 the fiesta of St John 
when the wreath is burned on a fire ideally lit at a crossroads.

 The celebration of Spring and flowers comes down to us from the story of Dimitra (the greek goddess of harvest/ fertility of the earth) and daughter Persephone.

Pagans, the Orthodox Church or the 12 Gods of Ancient Greece.  Take your pick.


When we visited the garden centre last week the whole area was awash with yellow and white chamomile.  The air was full of the refreshing scent of this carpet of herbs.  My sister in law picks bags of chamomile and lays it out in the sun for a few days to dry it out and then stores it in a clean pillow case.  She gives us jars of the dried herb whenever we need some to calm a nervous stomach or an agitated mind.

Kala Protomagia

The poppy (paparouna).  Sacred to Dimitra and Hypnos, the God of Sleep (....and opiates)

NB Note very well.  There was no mention of food in this post (except for a passing reference to picnics and sticky cakes)

Saturday 29 April 2017


The bergamot is a fruit which looks like an orange.  However it is sourer than a lemon and more bitter than a grapefruit.  In other words, you wouldn't want to pick and eat it. 

Bergamot essence is the flavouring used in Earl Grey tea.  About one half of women's perfumes contain bergamot essential oil says Wikipedia.

What does an ordinary traditional greek person do with their bergamots?  Italians make marmalade.  Greeks make a syrupy preserve from the peel which is served as a sweet after a meal or as a welcome  dish for a guest.  It goes well with thick greek yoghurt.

We were given a bag by a friend who has some trees in his orchard on the mainland.  They must be used somehow, just like the bags of lotus fruit we are given and the bags of quinces.

First each bergamot has to be grated on a fine grater.  The zest can be frozen and used in cakes and biscuits. It can also be used to make a bergamot liqueur, similar to the lemon liqueur, limoncello, I presume.  I shall investigate because I now have a small bag and an ice cube tray of bergamot zest.

Once the fruit has been grated the peel is removed by slicing the rind and with a sharp knife pulling it off piece by piece.  Each piece of peel now has to have the white pith removed from the inside. 

What a palaver.  And you're not done yet.

Each piece of peel is rolled tightly and pinned with a toothpick, or as my sister-in-law used to do, threaded on to a string and pulled tightly to keep its rolled-up shape.

And then
They are all put in a pot of water and boiled for three minutes.
Next day
 with fresh water boil them again for three minutes and leave to soak. 
Repeat this  for three days to remove bitterness.

A syrup is made of water and sugar and then the rolls of peel are added having first removed the toothpicks.  These are all boiled till the syrup has thickened and then put into sterilized jars.

After all this you have a very traditional Greek 'spoon sweet'.

I'm eating one right now so I can describe the taste. It is slightly chewy, very sweet and has the most wonderfully fragrant orangey taste.  I don't suppose any of you will ever make this sweet but if you ever come across it on your travels then give it a try.

The syrup that is left in the jar at the end is the perfect flavouring for all sorts of cakes and puddings and ideal for topping yoghurt, ice-cream, a cheesecake or a pavlova (New Zealand or the Australian version).

In our garden we have a 'neratzi' tree whose fruit is similar to that of the bergamot.  Looking up this greek word I find it is called a Seville orange or a bitter orange.  We make a similar spoon-sweet with the fruit and it makes a pleasant marmalade, especially when mixed with oranges or a few mandarins.

Thursday 27 April 2017

The Greek Garden in April

A little rain, a little sunshine.  Great growing weather.  Everyone  is weed whacking, digging, hoeing and planting.

A neighbour and old hand at grafting is doing the job for us

Now is the time to graft our grapefruit and bitter lemon trees.  Of all the trees in the garden these are the ones which produce most fruit.  Fruit that no-one wants to eat.  We didn't plant these trees.  They were already established when we arrived.  After eight years we have finally decided to do something about them.

A mandarine  and an orange are being grafted on to these but it is not certain whether the grafting will take as apparently the sap has not risen yet.  If necessary we'll do it again in two weeks. 

One of the prunings from Vaso's grape vine has taken.  Νew leaves have sprouted

This is a rambling rose.  It is just covered in buds and should look glorious in a few weeks

Picking vine leaves to preserve and make into dolmathes

Trying to dig a hole to plant a new tree.  The ground there is so hard even with a pick axe it is hard work.  I want an olive or a fig tree.  K wants a peach or apricot.  We're going to consult the experts.

A visit to the garden centre.  I bought some pansies, aubergines and tomatoes.  It was just after St George's day and the owner's name is George.  He had a tray of 'diples', a sort of sweet pastry, on the counter to treat his customers.  Very flaky!  I declined but only because I would have ended up such a mess

Tuesday 25 April 2017


ANZAC    (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp)

ANZAC Day on the 25th April was originally to honour those who fought in WW1 at Gallipoli in Turkey.  Now it commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who took part in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

Almost 10,000 ANZAC soldiers fell during the campaign at Gallipoli, along with British, Irish, French and Indian troops.  The objective was to knock the Ottomans (Turks) out of the war and capture Constantinople (Istanbul).  They spent 8 months in brutal conditions before the remaining men were withdrawn.

100 years later in 2015 thousands of New Zealanders and Australians travelled to Turkey and the now renamed Anzac Cove for the commemoration services and passes to attend had to be allocated by ballot.

25th April is a public holiday in New Zealand.  Thousands attend dawn ceremonies  wearing the symbolic red poppy.

In Athens there is a morning remembrance service at the Faleron Commonwealth War Cemetary on the coast just out of Athens.  This year it was attended by the Greek Minister for National Defence and Ambassadors and Heads of Missions of 15 countries.  Usually the ceremony gets some television coverage but I haven't seen any today.

Services also take place at the Commonwealth War cemetaries on the island of Rhodes and at Souda Bay in Crete.

17,000 NZs and Australians served in Greece, including my father and my uncle George.

Last night I received an email from my cousin Jenny in NZ which gave me a moving picture of the day and what it means.

.....  it's 7 o'clock on Anzac Day. Wellington has turned on a superb morning. Windless and cloudless. I'm watching dawn parades on Tv. Services  from Wellington, Auckland, Sydney Australia  are being broadcast live. There are moving moments, and very large crowds everywhere.  Our little choir will meet at 9.30 wearing black and a knitted poppy, and sing at our own service of readings, hymns,and remembrance ...... 

Personally, l find it a difficult day, bringing back many memories of my father who never got over the the battle of El Alamein and how my mother reacted to learning of Uncle Frank's death while we were living in Nelson.

There will be Tv coverage all day, on a beautiful autumn day.  I'm remembering Harry's* great remark, what it was like in his little boat in the Mediterranean  during the shellings. He said his crew of cockneys went below deck, covered heir ears with their hands and called 'I want me mom'!   A lovely memory.

* My father

Sunday 23 April 2017

St George - Agios Georgios

April 23rd

Fiesta day of Agios Georgios
Saint George Patron Saint of England
The dragon Slayer

Name day  in Greece of any male named Georgios or female with the name of Georgia.

Usually celebrated on April 23 but if this day falls during Lent the fiesta takes place on the Monday after Easter.

The first church on the island is dedicated to St George so it is decked out in flags and inside there are lace doilies and flowers decorating the icon of the Saint and the church.  This morning the icon will be taken outside with pomp and circumstance and paraded around the Mitropoli (cathedral) accompanied by the municipal band, the usual bigwigs, chanters and half a dozen visiting priests.  The bells will peal joyfully and can be heard over most of the island.

The church will be open all day and anyone who did not attend the morning or previous evening service will pass by to light a candle.

Our oldest grandson and many of our friends celebrate their name days today.  The older generation will go to church this morning and take with them a loaf of bread with the Holy stamp which will be blessed in the church and handed out in small pieces after the service.  They will probably also bring along five sweet loaves (representing the miracle of the five loaves, without the fish, which fed the five thousand) which are also blessed and handed out.

Our young teenage George is still sleeping on our couch after a long night of computer games and an overdose of ice-cream. 

This is what happens when a teenage boy doesn't know his own strength and can't wait for the ice-cream to soften a little.  Fortunately it wasn't a family heirloom.

Life lesson - use a sharp knife to cut chunks of super hard ice-cream, not your Grandmother's silver salad server.

This evening K will go and visit two or maybe three of his friends who celebrate today.  Two of them are roasting lambs on the spit once again.  It is going to be a long night.

On name days there are no invitations.  Friends and relatives either phone with a 'Kronia Polla', literally 'many years' or just turn up at the house bringing a small gift.  In the olden days the right gift to bring a man was a bottle of whisky.  Now it is often a bottle of ouzo or maybe a box of sticky cakes, and flowers for the Georgias.

Any villages named after the Saint will have two or even three day celebrations with dancing, singing, a communal feast and a market around the edges of the panagyri (festival).

Friday 21 April 2017

Stuff Greeks Eat


This is a lump of salted fish roe, Greek caviar.   These are the tiny fish eggs, from grey mullet, that are the base of taramasalata, mainly eaten during Lent.  The best taramas is a dark pink bordering on beige. The cheaper it is the brighter the pink, due to artificial food colouring.

Fish eggs are a terrific source of Omega-3 and when mixed with virgin olive oil it becomes a super food.  My father-in-law made taramasalata with the roe, lots of olive oil and lemon juice, all pounded in a pestle and mortar.  Strong flavours, very salty and acidic. We now use a blender and add lots of soaked bread or boiled potato as well as some onion.  The resulting puree is agreeably smooth and mildly fishy. 

Moray Eel

This fish in Greek is called a 'smyrna'.  I'm pretty sure in english it is a moray eel.  It certainly is a fish to keep clear of and not one that many people like to eat.   It has a long eel-like body and a mouth full of very sharp teeth.

Often other fishermen will give one to K because they cannot sell them.  We chop them into slices and fry them till the skin is very crisp.  They are a great tasting fish but have a sort of jelly-like substance next to the bone which some find a little unpleasant.

Chook's Feet

Yuk.  Searching in the freezer today for some cuttlefish I came across something wrapped in supermarket paper.  I opened it up of course to see what it was.  I shudder even now.  Look what I found.  Two chicken feet.  They are absolutely disgusting, yellow and scaly and with what looks like long fingernails.  They were speedily rewrapped and returned to the back of the freezer.

I may take a photo when K eventually gets round to cooking these but it will be a very fast photo and a swift retreat!

My father-in-law used to enjoy eating chicken heads and feet, at the dinner table.  Not an experience I want to recall.

A sink hole, the Grand Canyon, the black hole of Calcutta.

I baked a cake yesterday, a lemon cake, a cake I've made a dozen times with great success.  In the middle of the baking our neighbour popped in to say 'hi, what's going on?" We had the Albanian cleaning the garden.  I should have spat three times. I should have crossed myself, turned around  and shaken the evil eye out of my clothes.  I should have at least crossed the cake when I put it in to cook.

The cake sank.  As I took it out of the oven it gave up the ghost and collapsed in the middle.  It was perfectly cooked.  The cake was one of the most delicious I've ever made.  It didn't really matter that it sank.  But that's the 'evil eye'.  Believe it or beware!!

Wednesday 19 April 2017

Looking up

Poros is actually two islands connected by a very small bridge over a sea canal.  Sphairia is the name of the smaller island where the main town is located.  It is volcanic, formed by the volcano of Methana 45 minutes down the road.  Last eruption 300 years ago.

The main town is built around the harbour with picturesque tiers of houses above connected by  narrow streets built for donkey traffic, flights of very uneven steps often made from the volcanic rock and alley ways which are sometimes just a track between houses, used by locals when taking a shortcut.  

These are photos of the main town looking up from the harbour.

Looking up from the yacht harbour and the 'Green Chair' cafe

This is the view coming in on the car ferry looking up to the Old Mill (behind the trees on the top of the hill) and the small church of St Athanasios.  

There at the top is the church, a perfect place to sit and enjoy views of the mainland and savour the quiet, broken only by the eeyore of a donkey or the bark of a dog.

This time we are looking up to the blue and white clock tower.  It is quite a steep climb up there but the view is awesome.  You can see the harbour down below,  tiny yachts and taxi boats and the houses of Galatas across the strait


A photo taken from the car ferry, once again looking up towards the clock tower

These steps climb up to a road above, a road without cars or motorbikes, accessed only by foot.  Imagine living up there, or even higher, carrying up bags of groceries and life's esentials.  You'll see a lot of the older women have bent legs and aching knees after many long years of scaling these flights of steps hauling heavy bags.  And still they scramble up to their houses uncomplaining even in old age

Another flight of endless steps.  In the last few years the council has at last provided handrails

Looking up to one of the impressive neo-classical buildings, flying the blue and white greek flag.   

Monday 17 April 2017

Easter - photo reportage

It is over.  Never again.  We say this every year.  Days of preparation.  A day of celebration.  Days of cleaning and picking up the pieces.  This time I mean it.  Next year I'm going to sit at someone elses feast.  I'm going to dress up in my best clothes, arrive in time for the food.  Eat, laugh, drink, toast the hosts.  Then I'm going home to my nice clean house and my empty fridge.  Maybe I'll even go out for coffee after the feasting.  Maybe I'll join the throng on the waterfront in the evening for a g and t.  Roll on next year's easter!

As usual when a family of greek extroverts get together the air was fraught with friction.  Everyone yelling instructions, a few retreats with mumbled threats, dishes slammed down and small conclaves of grumbling serfs .  Once the celebrations began, with the first tidbits from the lamb and a few glasses of wine all was well with our world again.   

Next year.......

Blackening our doorway for another year.  That must be eight years of crosses up there.  

A little girl's fancy lambatha  for midnight mass

Playing conkers with the red easter eggs.  

A bottle of fancy wine for the end of Lent.  Two of us drank this nice bubbly Asti.  There wasn't all that much wine in the bottle though.  It was a thick heavy bottle, very deceptive.

Basting the lamb with an oily rag on the end of a stick

The lamb is off the spit.  Great smiles of anticipation!

Alas poor Yorick.....

The head of the lamb ready to go

Yum yum?

The first wave of visitors have a snack and a glass of wine before moving on to their own easter feasting

The potatoes were forgotten in all the chaos and were burnt to a perfect crisp.  We'll do the same next year....oops, no we won't!!!!

As well as easter we had a very important birthday to celebrate. This was a mosaic refrigerator cake, one of many desserts. We all made one and visitors brought boxes of sticky syrup cakes and milk pie (galaktobouriko) . Kids went home sugar happy

Elli my dear, thanks for the mountain of dishes you washed, the armfuls of plates you carried to and fro, the bags of rubbish you removed from the table and the house, the dirty plates you scraped, the fatty baking dishes you scrubbed, automatic smile you had for everyone and your presence which gave me courage to continue.   Danae thanks too for your support and all the clearing up you did too.  So who's place are we all going to next year???

Saturday 15 April 2017

Easter Saturday


All the chores and preparations must be finished today. The offal soup to break the fast at midnight must be cooked. The lamb must be trussed, the spit of offal rolled in the long string of intestines. The wood and coal bricks for the fire must be in place. The tzatziki should be maturing in the fridge, the Easter loaf with its red egg (baked this morning) should be on show in the middle of the table, a table laid with best cloth and service ready for the family repast just after midnight.

19.30pm and the lamb still has not arrived.  It is the first time we have waited so long for it to be delivered.  Usually the lamb (or goat) is already hanging in the shed by Good Friday.  The boys have gone to collect it from the water taxi.  The shephard across on Galatas has been busy and hasn't had time to send it down to the waterfront. 

This is kokoretsi, a spit of offal wrapped in intestines.  All ready to go on the spit tomorrow morning.

Elli and I are waiting with sharpened knives to cut up the innards to start the mayeritsa which is the soup we eat at midnight to break the fast. 

 The lamb has to be prepared and wired on to the spit so it can go over the coals early tomorrow morning.

The mayeritsa is made of the lungs, heart, kidney, liver and other bits and pieces from inside the lamb.  We cut it all into small chunks and saute these with a big pile of spring onions.  I pour in a glass of wine and then a little water and it is stewed slowly for about an hour.  Then we add two big lettuces sliced quite finely, a big bunch of dill and some salt and pepper.  All this is stewed slowly for  another hour and then I add a wine glass of rice.  At the very end the soup is thickened with beaten egg and lemon juice.

It might sound alarming to some but the flavours blend in so well and that last addition of egg and lemon just makes it rich and savoury and fit for a king. 

This is what we eat after the midnight church service when 'Christ has Risen'.    There will also be fresh bread on the table, feta cheese, salted sardines and lots of red eggs.

Just before midnight at the church all the lights are turned off and the priest lights a candle with the Holy Light brought all the way from Jerusalem in the PM's airplane.  From the airport in Athens it is flown (free by Aegean Airways) all over Greece.  Our light goes by speed boat to the Bishop's Monastery on Hydra and then on to Poros where it is greeted by the Mayor and taken to all the big churches on the island.  

When our priest emerges from the sanctuary holding his candle with the Holy Light the light is shared from candle to candle . This is carried carefully home to make a cross three times over the front door of each house.

19.48  The lamb has arrived.  Action stations!

10.45  everyone has gone off to church and I'm left to lay the table and heat up the soup.   

A sharp, tasty english cheddar given us by our English neighbours.  We also have feta on the table of course

Happy Easter everyone. Kalo Pasca kai Kronia Polla