Wednesday 29 November 2017

Olive leaves for life

The olive tree provides shade, olive oil for health and cooking, wood for our winter warmth, wood for carving, olives to be cured and eaten and oil to keep the lamps alight.

These  olive wood salad servers are excellent for lifting salad from bowl to plate and elegant too.  We have a pair which came from NZ, obviously not made from olive wood.  Possibly rimu, totara, kauri or kahikatea, just to roll off a few maori words.

The olive leaf has endless health benefits, though results are still being studied.

I was reminded of them recently while watching Ben Fogle's 'New Lives in the Wild'.  He was visiting a couple living in a mud brick house in Morocco, Dina and Moustafa.  Being Morocco their mud brick house was  surrounded by olive trees and little else but dust.   Dina's chooks were dying from some sort of virus.  She boiled olive leaves and gave the chickens the resulting herbal tea to drink.  The chickens perked up and became healthy egg layers again.

Olive leaves are  -
anti - bacterial
anti - hypertensive    
  anti - inflammatory
     increase energy
promote healthy blood pressure
                improve brain function            

A few years ago the olive leaf cure hit Greece and every programme on TV was plugging them as a miracle quick fix.  We were shown how to make an olive leaf milkshake, how to eat them, drink them and add years to our lives.  I even remember  seeing a packet of olive leaves on sale in the supermarket, like a bunch of rocket. Someone was incredibly fast to take advantage of gullible consumers.

One bold television presenter had the foolishness to sell them as a cancer cure.  She lost her job and the mania came to an abrupt end.

However, there is something to the claim that they benefit our overall health.  I remember seeing olive leaf extract on sale in NZ years again.  Extract or tablets are the easiest way to take in all the goodness but if you have olive trees around you then try an olive leaf tisane.  Boil the leaves in water and drink the liquid.


Monday 27 November 2017

Christmas Time Coming Ready or Not

First decorations for Christmas 2017 have apeared on the island.  Some of the street lights have been turned on.  A few houses high above the harbour have their Christmas lights twinkling too, wrapped unevenly around balconies.  So annoying when you see dips and bulges in the line of fairy lights.  I just want to clamber up there and push them into a straight line.  Lights out of sync are not just mightily un-aesthetically pleasing but darn right irritating.

One of the family houses has been decorated with the Christmas tree up and glowing.  Lots of hand painted pine cones, Nana-knitted mini xmas stockings and a Santa hat instead of a star or angel at the top of the tree.  Yes, for innovative change.

The Xmas tree did have an aging gilded star.  It went into the fire and burnt like a Super Nova.  I plant  a poinsettia flower at the top of our tree, which shall not go up at least until it is December.

It is actually traditional to decorate a boat here in Greece.  Our Local Council will have a small boat in the main square covered in twinkling lights along with its usual decorated tree.

This is the boat in my daughter's house.  The lights weren't working but you can imagine what it looks like lit up at night.  The tree is in another corner.  On the left of the boat (schooner?) are the family icons, some of them rather old, vintage/antique and with a silver surround.

This year they start a new tradition, a snow man on the toilet seat.

Not a Christmas painting but a wonderful wall hanging, dolphins surrounded with a frame of driftwood, made by son-in-law.

Kala Christoyenna

Merry Christmas

Friday 24 November 2017

Olives away

Olive picking has begun in earnest.   The family who own the land next to us were out in force all day yesterday.  

Their haul, 8 sacks of olives ready to go off to the oil press.  Each sack contains from 50-70 kilos of olives.

They left the sacks overnight under the trees and a small truck collected them the next morning.  Here on Poros, an island, this is still possible.   Across on the mainland Peloponese no-one would dare leave bags of olives standing unattended under a tree all night.  They would disappear like magic into someone else's little truck.   Times have changed.

The two sisters, with 'menfolk', arrived soon after seven and set to work straight away setting out a large net under the first tree.  One of the men climbed up a long ladder, cutting and throwing down higher branches which were laden with fruit.  The two girls combed the branches letting the olives fall onto the nets.

They didn't stop for a 'charming rustic picnic' at lunch time, in fact hardly stopped at all during the day.  Husbands and friends arrived to help and they finished the (about) 15 trees by late afternoon.

The olives under each tree were gathered up into one big heap and the women spent a long time on their knees removing sticks and leaves.  

Next day they moved on to another olive grove they own.  The sacks are taken to the press every few days. 

We have a dozen oil presses in the area, each one  working from dawn till 'whenever'.  Friends of ours waited 7 hours to get their olives turned into oil.  The queue of farm pick-ups is endless at this season.    

  These olives are on flat ground and are fairly easy to pick.  Trees on rough, rocky land or on the side of mountains are hard work but the olives get harvested whatever the terrain or the weather.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

21 November

Armed Forces Day
'A celebration dedicated to the watchful guardians of the Greek borders, the guarantors of security, peace and prosperity of the Greek people'.

Also a religious holiday, of course. The Orthodox church celebrates the entry of the Blessed Virgin into the temple.

Name day for virgins named Mary and Maria.
Non virgins celebrate  on 15th August.

In Athens the day begins with raising of the Hellenic (Greek) flag on the rock of the Acropolis. There follows a service at the church of St Dionysios which is attended by all the bigwigs in politics and out, all the Forces Generals, Admirals and Air Marshalls in their dress uniforms with shining medals and sharply creased trousers.  Important people then lay wreathes on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Syntagma Square.   We see all of it on the news in great detail.  The church service is usually shown live on one of the national channels.

Who puts creases in their trousers nowadays? Our PM doesn't even wear a tie. Ever.

On Poros there is a service at the church of St Nicolas at the Navy Base this year followed by coffee, drinks and nibbles in the Base dining room

Poros Navy Base

Last year the church service  was followed by a free feast for all retired and serving officers, local officials and spouses at a taverna.  These 'lunches' can go on till dark and the remnants are then moved over to a nearby cafeteria till the last man drops.  There has been some strategic belt tightening this year

- 25th November       St Katherine
- 26th November       St Stelianos
Name day for Stelios and Stella
- 30th November       St Andreas (Andrew)
Patron saint of the city of Patras

Saturday 18 November 2017

Traditional beans

Bean soup - fassolatha

Fibre rich beans, lots of olive oil, carrots, celery and tomatoes, this soup is a super-winter-food, considered the national dish of greece.

One year at the end of September, as the rains approached and temperatures dropped we were at a Navy holiday camp. Meals were served in a large dining room with a selection of dishes including pork chops, stuffed tomatoes, roast chicken, fresh fish and all sorts of macaroni.  When the weather got colder this famous greek dish, fassolatha, appeared on the menu and there was always a scuffle or two as everyone raced towards the bean soup and left the roast chicken and macaroni for me and the French woman, the only two non-greeks.

On the other hand my two girls hated fassolatha even though they were brought up here and one of them eats sheep's eyes. They would empty their plates into the rubbish or probably out the window behind my back. I can't understand how I didn't notice. The little devils didn't tell me till years later.

The basic ingredient is dried beans (navy beans, lima beans?) which must be soaked overnight.    I put these in the pressure cooker the next day with lots of water and cook them for about 20 minutes or until  they are softened without being overcooked.

Open up the pressure cooker, or pot,  making sure there is a good covering of water and add chopped carrots, celery and onion.  Our celery is called selino and is a plant which looks very much like parsley.  You can use your thick stemmed celery cut finely.

I also like to put in a few handfuls of chopped leeks.

Boil these all together with the beans for 45 minutes to an hour or until the vegetables and beans are  very soft.


Two spoons of tomato puree
 a wine glass of olive oil
fresh tomato chopped or a tin of crushed tomatoes
  something to give a little heat, chili, paprika or 1/4 tsp of this russian chili paste which will blast your boots off!

Add the salt at the end of cooking.  Salt is supposed to make the beans tough.

Simmer the soup till everything comes together and thickens nicely

Serve with feta cheese, olives

Salted sardines in olive oil and vinegar
or a tin of sardines
or some smoked mackeral

You need stale bread with fassolatha.  Cut it into chunks and add it to the plate of soup.  The bread soaks up the liquid and makes it a very filling meal.

Drink lots of  red wine

Wednesday 15 November 2017

First-Harvest Oil

17 litres of the best of this year's olive oil

Mid October.  Before the rains.  Before the oil press/es had properly opened.  The first olives were being picked.  The oil from this first early harvest gives a thick, rich, green oil called αγουρελαιο/agourelaio meaning olive oil from unripe green olives.

We were very lucky to be given a 17 litre can of this finest oil.  Hand picked by a friend of ours from his farm on the Peloponese.  780 kilos of raw olives gave him 142 litres of oil, about 5 1/2 kilos to a litre.  That's a good ratio.

 Early oil is prized because of its low acidity.  Low acidity means that it is resistant to oxidation and remains fresh for a much longer period of time.  Being stored in a tin reduces its exposure to the sun  helping it to  remain in first class condition.

The first oil of the season is sought after because of its powerful antioxidant content.  A greek superfood.  I have heard our friend claim that this oil helps to cure stomach complaints and much more.  Eaten raw in salads it can give an almighty boost to the immune system 'so they say'.   One hardy friend drinks a glass of extra virgin oil first thing in the morning with a good squeeze of lemon juice.  I don't think I could stand that and neither could my stomach.

The full bodied flavour is not to everyone's taste.  My two girls, although brought up on fresh oil, do not like its strong taste and wait for the November harvest to gather their oil.  The only way they would even try this green oil was when their Yiayia (Grandma) fried little pancakes which they ate covered in sugar.  It used to be a tradition for my m-in-law to make these 'tiganites/little fritters' as soon as the first olives were pressed.  I think my sister-in-law still makes them for her grandson now and my daughter and her children who live upstairs in our old house.

Crisp, piping hot, fresh oil fritters covered in sugar or honey.  They are made from a simple flour and water mix

Most of the olive trees around here are of the variety called 'manaki'.    I have read online that the oil tastes of
tomato leaves
fresh cut grass
citrus fruit

None of those adjectives are particularly appealing. Around here the taste is said to be sweet and slightly peppery.  Now that is more like it.

It is still raining and sometimes it is pouring.  Next week the olives will be plump and full of oil.  Vaso and her family will be out picking and so will everyone in the neighbourhood.  I hope the weather is sunny and warm for all these harvesters of 2017

Monday 13 November 2017

In the Eye of a Storm

Zeus threw at us everything thing on hand up there on Mount Olympus.   Forked lightning flashed across the sky,  terrible ear splitting thunder bolts crashed around us. Violent sheets of rain swept across the balcony, smashing into the lemon trees and destroying the newly planted lettuces.

Our storms are getting named now .  This one is Evridiki or in english, Eurydice.  She has already flooded Corfu (Kerkyra) and killed an english tourist.

Half an hour later the storm had passed over and the sun came out again.

Ηalf an hour was enough for some of us to wish they had been elsewhere.  Stuck down on Poros town.   Unable to return home.   Having to make the most of this sudden incarceration with a glass of tsipouro and a plate of fried innards.

Some find comfort in offal, others make a warming pot of soup with hot chili peppers to warm the cockles of their heart

Yiourvalakia  -   meat balls full of rice and parsley in a tangy egg and lemon sauce

A greek lemon squeezer.  Cut the lemon in half, stick in your fork , twist and squeeze.  This is the way to get every last drop of juice.

The Athens Classic Marathon

The Marathon was won by three Kenyan runners, the first coming in at 2 hours 12 minutes and 17 seconds.   The first female runner  was from Ethiopia, followed by two Kenyans.  

The first greeks came in  8th, 9th and 10th.  After the Kenyans received their medals,  the greeks were then awarded as Panhellenic (Greek National) Champions.  The 3rd place winner was so exhausted he had to hauled on to the winners stand and then promptly threw up, as shown live on our TV screens.


Poros had its heroes too.  Vasilis  arrived at the stadium after 3 1/2 hours.  His training runs take him up Mount Olypmus when Zeus (known here as Dias) is in one of his better moods.

Bravo Vasilis
 - και εις ανωτερα  
-  that's the way to go 

6 men and one woman from Poros took part in the Marathon.  Bravo to them all.

Friday 10 November 2017

The Authentic Marathon

 On Sunday 12th November 18,500 runners from 101 countries will run the 42.195 kilometres (26.2 miles) from Marathon to Athens.  They follow the original route run by Pheidippides as he raced to announce  to the Athenians  the greek army's victory over the Persians at the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC.  Poor Pheidippides gasped out his message of victory, 'We won' and dropped down dead from exhaustion.  

 The marathon began as an athletic event in the first modern Olympic games in 1896.  Greek runner Spiros Louis won that first marathon.  Another Greek Harilaos Vasilakos won  second place.  Spiros Louis became a national hero and his name is still revered 120 years later. 

The Authentic Marathon, as it is called, is run every November and this is its 35th anniversary.  If you don't think you can run 42 kms then there are concurrent road races over 5 and 10 kms.  There is also a Special Olympic race of 1,200 kms and a childrens race of the same distance.

The race begins in the town of Marathon, passing the funeral mound honouring the Athenian soldiers who fell in the battle and ends at the Panathinaic Stadium in the centre of the city.  An Olympic torch is lit at the Tomb of the Battle of Marathon and carried to the stadium at the beginning of each race.

You must be at least 18 years old and you've got 8 hours to finish the course.  The winners take just over two hours to complete the race.

This must be the top international marathon event, treading in the footsteps of history.  250 buses transport the athletes to the starting point in Marathon. 

 They run through farmland and small towns, spurred on by residents and live music until reaching city limits about the 30km mark.  The last stretch passes the Hilton Hotel,  the Presidential Residence, the American Embassy.  Then the Stadium, called the Kalimarmaro, comes into view, the road lined with thousands of cheering spectators.
The Panathinaic Stadium, locally known as the Kalimarmaro, is where the first modern Olympic Games took place in 1896.

I shall be watching from home and the comfort of my armchair.  May the best man and woman win.

Rain forecast for tomorrow so the woodburner will be fired up early afternoon. The fisherman caught a tuna today so I'll just pop that in the oven on top of the fire and maybe a loaf of bread later on.  There's always a little wine on hand. Looks like another chill-out day in rural wintry Greece.  

And most important, our neighbour dropped in this afternoon and gave us a huge block of chocolate she brought back from a recent trip to Roumania (where she toured half a dozen Orthodox monasteries).  I'm not turning up my nose at Roumanian chocolate. Looks delicious, chock full of hazelnuts.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Real Estate

This large, traditional greek house is for sale.  Owned by an English family it is in an ideal setting.  If you look carefully down that narrow road one of the balconies is flying a Greek flag.  This is the Police Station.  This is a big old house with a garden but needs a lot of work.  It is only a five minute walk from here to the harbour or the supermarket.  Asking price rumoured to be 300,000euros.  Far too much considering the repairs that it needs and especially considering they haven't paid taxes in Greece for years and there is probably a tangle of horrendous paperwork to be sorted out 

A German owned house, Villa Metina.  The woman who owns the house has died and her children don't seem to be attracted by holidays in Greece.  It is a little walled complex, very private, with two larger apartments, one tiny guest house, all fully equipped, a private garden and two terraces with views out over Poros Harbour.  It is rented now by a friend of ours.

This little house is next door.  Almost abandoned, covered in wild foliage but still a sturdy little residence.  I don't think this is for sale.  The family live in Athens and the elderly parents who spent their last years here have long gone.  It looks tiny, with two or three rooms but has a private terrace and garden.

One of many such houses on the island.  The families that live in them move on to the big city and the house gets left to its own devices.  No-one has time or money to fix them up anymore and property tax is a burden.  Some are used for a few weeks during the summer and some eventually go onto the market in the hope the family can sell at a decent price to a foreigner.

And another sturdy old house.  Abandoned for over twenty years.  Worth buying just for the view from that big front balcony

This house is also owned by a German family.  It has been restored with great care and is a house that brightens up the neighbourhood.  The couple that own it have grown old and hardly ever visit now.  I suppose it will be sold or one day the next generation will appear for their Greek holiday.

The flowers and shrubbery are all out on the roadside.  

Imagine sitting out on that little balcony, framed by its dark blue shutters, hidden behind a tangle of brilliant Bougainvillia surveying the neighbourhood and drinking in a spectacular summer sunset over the 'sleeping lady' (the shape of the mountain opposite).

These steps lead up to two houses owned by foreigners.  The apartment behind the blue door on the right is rented out for a monstrous amount.  Or was.  My brother and another couple stayed there a few years ago because it is only minutes from our old house.  An ancient house, probably included a stable back then.  Wonderfully restored and modernised but tiny inside.  Listed to sleep 6 people, only if they're very good friends.  And a pool in the garden.  I can't find it advertised now.  Maybe this has been handed on to the next generation too.

Continue up those steps and you'll find the villa owned by English actress Claire Bloome.  Her house is also just down the road from us .  It too has a wonderful view of the harbour.

It is advertised at $136 a night.

Google for more info

Sunday 5 November 2017

Olympic Flame

Winter Olympics 2018
Pyeongchang South Korea
(Not to be confused with Pyongyang, captial of North Korea)

On 24th October the Olympic flame was lit once again and the torch relay began which will end on February 9th in South Korea, only 80kms from its border with the North.

The flame, lit in ancient Olympia at the 2,600 year old Temple of Hera on the 24th, has been carried through Greece to Athens.   The official handover ceremony took place in the Panathenaic Stadium.  The flame arrived in Korea on 1 November and will have a 2018km journey before reaching Pyeongchang.

Two northern Korean figure skaters will take part in these winter Olympics, along with athletes from 83 other nations, at the moment.  The Koreans are calling these games the 'Olympic Games of Peace and Harmony.  Lets hope they do take place in peace, friendship and harmony.

Lighting of the flame at Ancient Olympia, the 'priestesses' in their summer gear

The torch relay begins, Korean footballer Park Ji-Sung in his winter garb

I missed all of this.  When you avoid the bad news you also miss out on the good news.  The week long torch relay went way up into Northern Greece before coming down to Athens and 'overnighting'  on the Acropolis.

The torch relay for the 2004 Athens summer Olympics came to Poros and one of our Olympic champions, a local rower, received the flame on behalf of the islanders.

Soohorang, the white tiger,  mascot for the Korean Olympics

Sooho is the Korean word for Protection

Mascots for the 2004 Athens summer Olympics 
Not many will remember these two

Friday 3 November 2017

Good Health - Sundays 5)

Either there were five Sundays in this month or we just forgot to stop celebrating!


The Greeks, and probably every culture, has a saying  ' if you have good health, you have everything'

The Greek family sees this as a fundamental of a good life.  Money can't buy good health.  Money can't buy happiness.
With good health though, anything is possible.

At celebratory church services we send  along a loaf, or loaves, of bread to be blessed along with a list of the names of all family members (including mine) whose names are read out by the Priest 'peri ygeias'  for continued good health.

My youngest grandson has a problem with his kidneys, one we hope will improve as he gets older.  When he was first diagnosed his parents held a church service  for his good health.  I made the five sweet loaves as an offering,  They were the best I have ever baked.  Lots of love was put into the kneading and baking of them !   The service was attended by extended families on both sides  in a little church at the beach.

Our neighbours recently held a service to give thanks for a doctor's report showing five years clear of cancer for their son-in-law.

On this 5th Sunday we held a family gathering to celebrate the favourable end to a short bout of illness, some successful surgery and the robust constitution of our most important family patriarch.  Just the immediate family this time.

On our back verandah.

Food for every taste, all  cooked without salt so youngest grandson can eat with the rest of us.  That's him with his mouth around a homemade souvlaki and pita bread.  Looks to be blooming with health don't you think!

Good Health to You All

Hippocrates   Father of Medicine

- A wise man ought to recognise that health is his most valuable possession

- Everyone has a doctor in him or her; we just have to help it in its work.  The natural healing force within each of us is the greatest force in getting well.

 -Our food should be our medicine, our medicine our food

- Walking is man's best medicine