Tuesday 31 July 2018

Summer Dining Under the Silvery Moon

An evening with our elderly neighbour Vaso and her family.
They come from Athens to visit their family home, help Vaso with the grapes, bathe in the waters of the Saronic Gulf

The table was set out in the courtyard overlooking Vagiona Bay

Surrounded by jasmine and 'ancient' greek pottery

Vaso sits at the head of the table smoking and drinking and talking

Under the light of the full moon
Yes, that tiny dot is the moon, the night after the eclipse. In actual fact it was huge and very bright

On the table, spetso-fai, sausages and peppers stewed with tomatoes

The inevitable greek salad, no longer with her tomatoes
She has given up her summer garden. Her daily work at the moment is in the small vineyard. Winter it is the olives . She does most of the pruning, weeding, watering by hand

Stewed okra/ladies fingers, called bamyes in Greek.  Sounds like a word with turkish roots.
Okra stewed in tomatoes is a popular summer dish, especially now as there is a strict fast from 1 - 15 August, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Greece's biggest holiday

Cold watermelon to finish the meal and clean the palate

We sat around talking and drinking till almost 2am even though they all had an early start the next morning. The water pump for the grapes has broken down. 

It was a cool evening with no mosquitoes to drive us indoors.   

Saturday 28 July 2018

Escargot? Not Quite

Snails have been on the menu and the blog before because they are a summer delicacy and are cooked in this household for the fiesta of Agia ( female Saint) Paraskevi on 26th July.

They are gathered in the winter or at the end of long hot summer when it finally rains and they all come out to dance the happy snail dance.   We gather them up and leave them  to feed on herbs, flour and macaroni to flush out the wastes of their little internal digestive systems and purge their discharge tracts.  The snails, the little garden variety, then close themselves off and settle down for a long winter's nap.   

Snails stored in an old pillowcase....in the fridge, not under the bed

We buy them by the kilo from our local grocer

Snails on a bed of spaghetti and rosemary

The membrane used to close themselves off from the world is scraped off each snail with a sharp knife.  Our traditional person does this boring job.  I used to but really my life is now too short to include tedious cleaning of snails.  

They are then washed thoroughly, looked at individually to make sure each one is open and fresh, and placed in a container covered very firmly with netting.  Don't want any of these little ambrosiacs  escaping.  They slowly awake, have a few nibbles and then of course try to escape and often do.  But they don't go far.  Their  fate awaits

After a few days they are boiled, humanely.  Is that possible.  Then an even more boring job begins of cutting the top off each snail so air can penetrate and and they can be sucked easily from the shell with a greasy, noisy slurp

The last of a plate of snails.  

Then the most important part of the operation begins, the making of the sauce.  The success of the snails depends on the taste of the sauce.  A naked snail is neither desirable nor appreciated.

First of all you need lots of sliced onion and garlic.
Bay leaves and freshly grated tomato
A wine glass of your best Greek olive oil
Salt and loads of freshly grated pepper
Rosemary and thyme

All the rich, fragrant tastes of the med

These fresh ingredients are slowly stewed till the sauce is thick and soft and then the snails are poured into the sauce and mixed well.  Preferably they are left a few hours to take in all that delicious sauce.  

Then you suck the insides out and sop up the sauce with lots of bread.  Any that can't be sucked out are poked out with a toothpick.  Careful with the sucking.  A little extra  suction will find a snail disappearing down your throat in one very unexpected swoop.

Eat well away from small grandchildren who object noisily to the lusty sucking sound that you are making.

I see in my snail investigation that these are yet another area that the all governing EU (European Union) has decided to stick its pervasive finger into.  In some EU countries it is forbidden to collect snails because they are becoming a disappearing species.  If you decide to live dangerously and collect a few anyway they must be over 3cms.  I presume we are talking about French and Cretan snails here which are much larger .  Garden snails are not an endangered species in my garden and they are a helluva lot smaller than those 3cm monsters.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Summer Celebrations and Catastrophe

25th July Saint Anna
The little church across the waters opens its doors for its celebratory church service.  The maiden aunts and a m-in-law live just round the corner and look after the church.  They have been cleaning, arranging flowers and baking bread to be blessed on this morning.

Agia Anna

26th July Saint Paraskevi
This is the day our little church has its fiesta.  The neighbourhood fills up every year for this Saint's day.  All our neighbours have arrived from Athens and beyond to dust out their family homes, fire up the oven and prepare to celebrate.  

The land around us was owned once by the Poulaki family.  The five sons built houses, some of the land was parcelled out to relatives and our house was eventually sold to us by a cousin's daughter who no longer wanted to own an old house on a small piece of land in the middle of nowhere.  

The brothers have scattered but always return for the church service and a family get together.   

Last year and for many years gone by the biggest party took place on the beach below us.  The boys at the beach canteen arranged for suckling pigs to be roasted, extra fridges for the beer and a truck load of rented chairs and tables.  The music was always a live band and the revelry went on till sun-up the next morning.  

This year there is no beach bar.  The party has moved up to Paradise Taverna at the top of our hill.  There will still be roast pig and cold beer 

There is not enough room inside so chairs are placed outside

You sit where you can find a seat

The five loaves are stuck with candles ready to be blessed

The icon of Agia Paraskevi is carried round the church

There follows a long lecture from the Monastery priest about women covering themselves from head to foot and men not touching any woman till he is married, in church.  Finally a great many loaves are cut (no fishes) and given to the crowds

These are photos from the service on the eve of the Saints Day.  There will another, longer service tomorrow morning.

I lit a couple of candles.  Always one for myself and one for all the victims of those horrendous wild fires on the outskirts of Athens.  So many people killed in such a horrific way.  The flames were fanned by very strong winds and the fire reached these seaside villages before the people were aware they were in danger.   

We live in the same sort of area, with dry grass, pine and olive trees around us.  We are so careful during these dry months but all it needs is a careless spark.

If the fire is caught in the first minute it can be put out with a glass of water
After two minutes a bucket is needed
three minutes a tank of water
four minutes and it is too late.


Saturday 21 July 2018

A Terrible Tart and the Evil Eye

Sorry, the tart is the edible sort.... boring

I've seen a couple of summer tart recipes on blogs this week so decided to make one of my own.

Homemade pastry of course, which turned out so tough I had to slice it with a carving knife, hoping not to slice off a finger as well.  Then a smothering of chilli mustard over the pastry, a layer of fried onions, a layer of fried zucchini slices, some grated feta.  The feta had been sitting in the fridge awhile and was rather dry so it grated easily.  

A layer of sliced tomatoes, mostly homegrown, salt, pepper, a sprinkling of freshly rubbed dried oregano.  See the oregano on the right in the photo above.  It had just been rubbed finely by hand and the pungent smell of oregano was incredible.

Grated yellow cheese, regatto in this case, an Irish cheese which melts perfectly.  And into the oven. 

So what went wrong besides the rock hard pastry?

Next time, if there is ever another time, I would sprinkle a little sugar over the tomatoes.  They were far too acidic.  I would skip the zucchini, double the mustard and the onions and add some sliced spicy sausage.  Oh and I would definitely leave out the feta.  That strong cheese taste was just too much for the vegetables.  It just needs a little grated regatto or gouda, something to make it soft and gooey.  

And puff pastry

Traditional people did not like this tart.  I didn't like it either but I ate my piece with a smile on my face so I didn't get any flak about terrible tarts and a waste of time and money.  Now half the tart is waiting for me in the fridge to eat for lunch for the next few days,  I will surreptitiously slice off  as much as possible and hope the cats will eat it.

Pizza stuck to the pizza tray

Having written this I just realised this is one of three food disasters today.  And guess what, our neighbour popped in early this morning and again tonight.  This is the neighbour who leaves a trail of bad luck behind her.  I've had flat cakes, broken vases, an oil leak in the car, a ruptured water pipe and many more catastrophies, all following a 'friendly' visit.  She's  the best of neighbours, always friendly , always with time for a chat but the garlic over the front gate and spirited spitting  does not dispel that 'evil eye'.

We started off with an inedible tart, K followed up this evening with fried fish that broke up in the frying pan and now poor grandson found his 'giga' pizza only just fitted into an ordinary  sized pizza pan and it stuck so hard and fast we had to leave half of it behind and soak the pan to remove the crust.

So that terrible tart wasn't my fault after all!!!

another ps
We always keep a couple of frozen pizzas in the freezer in case starving teenage grandson pops in.  This one not only stuck to the pan but it was bloody horrible and even he couldn't eat the soggy, gummy filling.  Unfortunately we have another two of them. 

 He'll have to fill up on icecream instead.  Poor kid!

I'm off outside to fill up the cats bowl.  The wild cats will eat anything.  They'll love the fish, wonder if the pie and pizza will get tthe same attention

Wednesday 18 July 2018

More Summer Stuff

Life goes on, hot or cold

Hot and sultry are the words to describe our weather though tonight  we are suddenly enjoying a cool breeze, from the north, blowing down from those Siberian steppes.  Freezing in winter, so much appreciated in mid-summer.

An evening swim cools the body and clears the brain.   Unfortunately a lot of the locals feel the same way.  There must have been a dozen people in the water last night.  I was getting used to our deserted beach and suddenly these 'crowds' seemed to spoil my swim.  I sat and baked and sulked for a few minutes before coming to my senses and wading in for a refreshing dip

K loves all these people.  The locals bob about, covered up to their necks, and cluster for a gossip.  All you see are bunches of talking heads.  At least he comes out with all the latest news, and a bit of psst psst, don't tell anyone, but...................

I swim from one side of the bay to the other doing a gentle lady-like breast-stroke, coming out when some of the bathers have departed, to sit on the wall and enjoy the peacefulness

The tap beside our front gate.  Mint under the tap to catch the drips, rosemary on the left, a pot of basil on the right

Our first figs.  My nephew has a few dozen trees and these are the first of this summer's crop.  The tree at the end of our road is laden this year but they need another few weeks of sunshine to get to this size

Monday 16 July 2018


Octopii or Octopuses

A cousin of ours gave us seven tiny octopuses.  Seven.  He was so proud of having caught 7 octopii.  We weren't happy about it at all.  They were  baby otopuses, weighing less than a kilo each.   Octopuses which were not allowed to grow and reproduce.  It is illegal to catch octopus this size but still some people do, and are proud of it.

In a few years this, seemingly intelligent, greek man (ex-navy) will be complaining that there are no more octopuses to catch.  I wonder why.

What is the plural of octopus?
octopii          or   octopi
octopuses     or 

I'll go with octopuses though octopi with one 'i' or two does sound quite learned.

Octopus - a mollusc with eight long sucker bearing arms, bulging eyes and a strong beak like jaw.
In greek 'octo-podi'  
Octo - the Greek word for 'eight'
Podi -  the Greek word for 'foot'

Now this is an octopus which has produced a few generations of octopii.  
Just one tentacle is more than enough for an ouzo meze (a snack)

Does anyone remember Paul the Octopus who predicted the results of the 2010 World Cup matches?  He had an  85.7% success rate.

This year the Japanese used an octopus called Rabio who successfully predicted all the early games the Japanese played.  Unfortunately he was then sold and turned into sushi.

Saturday 14 July 2018

Everyday Stuff

What's going on around our house?  Not much in this heat.  

Another washing machine has been dumped in our front yard.  Can't complain this time.  The machine out the back gave up the ghost and even our expert can't bring it back to life.  This one was being carried away from the house of a local Irishman.  Or is he a Norwegian.  Who cares.  He's rich enough to throw out his appliances at the first sign of fallibility and buy new ones.  It's our washing machine now and with a new hosepipe and a tweak or two it cleans as washing machines should.  And it's out the back!

Sotiris by the sea.  We went for a wine and a meze.
The sun was going down and soon the lights of the port were twinkling.  The front tables by the water were reserved.  That's summer.  Even at this early hour the taverna was busy.  We could not be given a front row table  and we've been steady customers for the last 20 years.  

That's ok.  The islanders are working, making money.  We'll have our waterside table again in September,

The fire truck is ready and waiting.  I wonder why there is not a firetower  on one of the high points of the island.  Any whiff of smoke would be spotted immediately.

Dried broad beans.  The ones at the back are still in their shell.
They are shelled. drizzled with olive oil, oregano and vinegar and eaten with garlic sauce


Wednesday 11 July 2018

Vlita - King of Greens

Vlita - Amaranthus viridis . 

 I can't find an english translation.  You may recognise it and tell me what you call it.

Grows in the heat of our summer, dies out in cooler temperatures. Have seen it called Chinese amaranth or Guernsey pigweed. Related to spinach and beet greens.

It is a summer green which most Greeks love to eat.  A plate of vlita, a clove of garlic, a squirt of vinegar, a slosh of olive oil, a fork in one hand, a slice of bread in the other and you have the perfect summer lunch.

A plate of little fried fishes goes down well with the greens and a side of boiled zucchini put traditional people in very good moods.

It grows all over the garden and needs only water to enjoy vigorous growth.   Ours just came up by itself.  The first year there were a couple of patches under the mandarine tree.  The next year a few more patches and now in spring it pops up all over the usually bare and dusty backyard.  K picks the top, younger and more tender leaves.  The more you pick, the more it grows.  The vlita phenomenon during the summer months reminds me of the lemons and oranges in the winter.   Everyone around here has loads and we have bags of vlita left on our doorstep.  We have more than enough of our own so we pick bags full and leave them on others' doorsteps.  In Athens you probably pay 3 or 4 euros for a kilo of fresh leaves.

It just needs a good wash to get rid of dust and any dirt and is then boiled for about 20 minutes.  

The greens are a very good source of iron, vitamin C,  are rich in a variety of minerals and other vitamins.  Another  superfood.

So why is used to describe someone who is a little lacking in brains?  
'As dumb as vlita', they say.

Sunday 8 July 2018

Balla - On The Ball

Football mania

I've had to watch and learn and sometimes even enjoy  football (soccer) during this World Cup.  It's join em or suffer.

I even know what a penalty is, still not sure about off-side although it has been explained to me a few times.  How the players don't end up in hospital after some of the somersaults they do on the field I can only attribute to male stoicism.  I know a lot of it is staged but some of those tumbles look painful.  As for the head shots  ... their brains must be rattling round in their skulls.  The foul play reminds me of Australian rules rugby.  The excitement of the match is in the tackling.    How Neymar manages to do any foot work or shoot a goal is a miracle.  If he hasn't got someones arm around his neck, there's a player tugging at his shirt, stamping his foot or just shoving him as hard as they can without the ref blowing his whistle.  So what's a yellow card anyway.  

Rugby tackle

Last night we walked down to the harbour to see Croatia play Russia on the big screen at our favourite cafeteria

The cafe owner is a good friend so he saved us a ringside table and provided a plate of fatty pork to go with the beer, and my coke light

The only player whose name I recognised was Luka Modric, captain of the Croatian team.  He plays for Real Madrid and I've seen him play against greek teams and he stood out in every game.  Some names just pop-out as you listen to the commentary, especially when it is in a foreign language.  Mesi's name was noticeably absent from most of his matches.  He seemed to be a sideliner.  

Luka Modric
Croatian Captain

Anyway, I was hoping for a Croatian win, not that it mattered at all. Everytime the Russians scored a goal there were cheers all along the waterfront.  We noticed a lot of Russian flags being waved as we walked downtown so the Russians must have been in town in full force.

Big disappointment for the Russians, playing on home turf.  It reminded me of 2004 when Greece won the European cup.  They played the final in Portugal against the Portuguese national team.  It was a surprise win for Greece and one of the Portuguese players lay down on the turf and cried when the final whistle blew.

Now I'm looking forward to the semi-finals and we've already booked our seat for the final. 

We're also looking forward to a change in weather.  There is a noticeable difference in the air.  Heavy rain and thunderstorms are forecast for tonight and tomorrow.  The air is cooler, there are clouds in the sky so we may just get a cooling shower.  The last few days have been incredibly muggy.

An unusual June and July , as it has been in a lot of places in the world.  We've had rain, hail, heatwaves.  Zeus has hurled a few thunderbolts.  We've had everything but snow.

Friday 6 July 2018

Signs of Summer

Sharing a greek salad with a household pet

A little fishing boat called Lindaki, a greek version of Linda.  This boat is a recent arrival, brought from the island of Paros, from another greek with a foreign wife?

Our first swim.  The water was cool and clean.  Vagionia beach is very, very quiet this year.  Great for an evening swim but we do miss the canteen and a small glass of ouzo after our dip in the sea

The yacht harbour is full again.  

Some of the neighbourhood gang

Can't call this baby sitting anymore, the babies have grown up. Friends gather, they play, they squabble, they disappear off outside.  I am there for a few hours to make them toast and butter, these kids have simple tastes, rustle up a little something for lunch and find a little peace myself to read a book, write a blog

Tuesday 3 July 2018

Hibiscus Tea

I have been watching a series on cooking in orthodox monasteries, some with monks and others only nuns.

Most eat no meat and they fast for over 200 days a year, eating  pulses, grains and vegetables.

  The monastics eat mainly whatever they grow in their gardens.  They preserve, pickle and sell a lot of their produce be it vegetables, wine, cheese or oil.

It is really interesting seeing life inside these monastic orders, especially the female monasteries/nunneries.  Many are rich with  acres of olive trees, herds of goats and cows, huge gardens.  However it is hard work and very 'hands-on' .  The nuns and monks don't just sit in church all day reciting their prayers. 

 In a nunnery it is the nuns themselves who do most of the work, driving tractors, and other farm machinery, milking, herding, tending the animals, making cheese, tilling the fields.  All these things are done by women all over Greece, it just seems strange to me to see the nuns in long, black, all-covering habits toiling this way. 

A female monastery near us which we visit now and again over easter. 
 Like many of the monasteries it is a collection  of stone buildings high up in the mountains, surrounded by immaculate gardens and hidden behind high walls

The monastery in Crete

Most monastics enjoy some sort of herbal tea, drinking it for their health and offering refreshment to visitors.  The flavour  of the tea depends on what is growing around them .  Mountain tea (tsai tou vounou) is a huge favourite all over greece. Ironwort seems to be the English translation.

Today the programme visited a monastery in Crete, much smaller than most of them with only an Abbot and 3 monks. The monk in charge of the kitchen looked well fed, enthusing over the snails he was stewing.  A larger type of snail called kohlous are a specialty in Crete.  I saw them described somewhere as the 'lobster of Crete'.

Cretan snails
The monk was not at all concerned about frying live snails, giving them a  lingering death.  Bad karma

 He introduced me to cold hibiscus tea. This tea is made with cold water, and is not the usual brew steeped in boiling water.

He collected a handful of those gorgeous red  hibiscus flowers and set them out in the sun to dry.  The tea was made by adding a few dried hibiscus leaves to a jar of cold water and leaving  it for a few hours.  He strained out the flowers and poured the brew into glasses.

You can make it with fresh flowers as well and it can also be enjoyed hot if you prefer.

Hibiscus tea is rich in Vitamin C and helps with stress and anxiety.  It also helps reduce high blood pressure, protects the liver, helps in weight loss and benefits the body in a number of other ways .

We have loads of hibiscus here so I'll be collecting a few flowers and trying out the cold tea, just to see how it tastes.   The resulting tea is a bright pink. Looks exotic.

 I've never heard of anyone around here drinking hibiscus so it will be a novelty.

Sunday 1 July 2018

Row Row Row Your Boat ... as fast as you can

School may be out for the summer but there is plenty for kids to do on this small Greek island.  Besides jumping fires and dancing the tango the grandchildren are also keen rowers.

The National championships for the younger age group are taking place on Mytilene this weekend.  Two of the grandchildren are rowing, one in the single skiff and one in the double.

Mytilene is the port and capitol of the island of Lesbos (pronounced Lesvos)  known for its superior ouzo and its salted sardines which are the perfect meze for a glass of ouzo.  

Lesbos, opposite the coast of Turkey, is also the site of one of the most overcrowded and violent refugee camps.  Hundreds of refugees are still arriving monthly and the camp built for 700 has been extended for thousands.  

Life goes on for the locals who live from tourism and an advertising campaign reassures tourists that Lesbos is still an enchanting holiday destination 

Here are Team Poros ready to board their first ferry to the Port of Piraeus, a trip of 2 hours.  At Piraeus they have a 5 hour wait and then an overnight ferry to Lesvos .

Storm Nefeli has given us alternate days of sunshine and then torrential rain and finally high winds but it seems to be over now and the team had smooth sailing all the way.

The whole family came down to cheer the team onto the boat
Handing over the vittles needed for the journey

Pappou made them a large bowl of traditional keftethakia (meatballs). Loads of mint and garlic, no salt. The aroma of them in the frying pan was tantalising, begging me to devour one ... But I didn't
Greeks can't go on a journey without keftethakia!
Nana provided a bottle of non-traditional ketch-up.

News just coming in from Mytilene 
Lydia and Jamie both got into the finals
Libby Loo got the silver medal in the single skiff
Jamie had a terrific race too
A great experience for both of them
Lots of hard training and Pappou's meatballs
A winning combination!