Friday, 19 January 2018

Out Like Snails

Yesterday the gale force winds almost picked me up and tossed me across the channel when I went down to the harbour.  They were gale force 8 on the beaufort scale.  All shipping was tied up in port for at least 24 hours.  Today the winds died down and the sun came out.  We all appeared like snails on a rainy day.  Time for coffee on the waterfront.  I haven't been out for coffee yet this year, so I took my camera to record the event.

We all sat out in the sun at the T Cafe

First coffee and then a 'koupa' of wine for K and a no-cal coke for me with a meze of olives, cheese and tomato with a slice of salami.  I'm staying away from alcohol as much as I can.  A red wine now and again, for my health.

The little petrol tanker was out filling up the taxi boats

Our favourite and friendliest taxi boat.  Captain Kyriakos at the helm of the 'Socrates'

A long line of taxi boats on Poros this morning.  One leaves every 20 minutes for the 5 minute journey across the strait to mainland Galatas.  Cost 1 euro

Looking across to the hills opposite and the smoke from the fire of an olive grower burning the small branches from the pruning done as olives are harvested.  The larger branches are cut up and sold for firewood

Look at the sky and the sea.  Both were a clear dark blue today.  So different from yesterdays dark rain clouds

Next to the T Cafe is a cafeteria which calls itself  a bistrot.
This is the second one on Poros which uses the word 'bistrot'.  
I presumed this was a spelling mistake but when I googled the word I see 'bistro' and 'bistrot' are both mentioned.
However, this cafeteria is hardly a bistro and neither is the other.

bistro -  a small restaurant selling moderate priced meals in a modest setting.

This so-called 'bistro' is a hip cafeteria with loud music, cocktails and beer in the evening, serving coffees and ouzo with a toasted sandwich or two during the day

But who here knows the difference.  It sounds chic.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

In Winter Mode

What does one do on a greek island when the temperatures have gone right down to only 15o, when olives have been picked and you're full of coffee.  Be patient, carnival is just around the corner.   28th January is the start of the carnival, called apokries here.  It runs for three weeks and is really early this year because  Greek easter Sunday falls on April 8, almost a month earlier than last year.  

Watching movies is now something we do reguarly when we are bored with Masterchief gr no2, Money Drop, old episodes of Jamie and Nigella or long boring greek made programmes about Greece. 

 The english, americans and french make greek history come alive, or at least interesting with sharp historians and brilliant high tech reconstruction.  The greeks on the other hand turn their history into long, boring hours of dry documentaries often with very little dialogue and far away shots of heaven-knows-what, and get awards for it. 

Back to the movies.  K naturally wants action whereas I want comedy and light entertainment,  We rarely agree on a film and have taken to watching old Bud Spencer, Terrence Hill movies.  They pass the time and are preferable to Bruce Willis or Clint Eastwood in some predictable 80's drama.

We also play a greek version of Trivial Pursuit.  There are only a couple of hundred questions and after a few games it is a question of who has the best memory and can recall the answers.  Our authentic Trivial is in greek and must be about 40 years old.  A lot of the questions are ancient.  Which film won the most Oscars in 1976?  A Clint Eastwood probably.

Our days are taken up with cooking, hauling wood and finding ways to pass the time.  I write blog posts, read blog posts, read books, knit and generally enjoy myself in a number of pleasureable pastimes.  Traditional greeks need company and verbal stimulation and spend long hours on the phone trying to arrange just that or annoying their family with improbable scenarios involving whole roast pigs or trips to far off rustic eating establishments.

Fortunately for mental stability there is a regular mid week male gathering  with long hours of discussion and wine tasting.  Then there are the weekly soccer matches between Olympiakos and some loser team.  

We buy fresh fish from the fishing boats, when weather permits them to go out and fish.  Fresh fish are much cheaper at this time of the year when most of the tavernas are closed and there is not a big demand for the catch.  We buy a kilo of fish for around 5  euros.  A big bag of greens costs around 4 euros and we have a couple of cheap meals which will make any greek happy.

We eat a lot of lentils, dried beans and chickpeas as well.  Classic greek brown lentil soup (fakes), bean soup with carrots and celery (fassolatha) or boiled chickpeas (revithia) with lemon juice are on the menu a couple of times a week. 

  I have to remember to add some baking soda to the chickpeas when I put them to soak overnight or they can end up like bullets (so I'm told).  Chickpeas should be soft and almost mushy if cooked properly.

In the evenings now as the sun goes down we can hear shotguns going off.  Hunting is forbidden on the island but that doesn't stop them.  When we first came to live up here 9 years ago the fields around us were full of pheasant and partridge.  We would see them on the road, or admire their beauty as they took off into the sky.  They all seem to have disappeared.  Hunters at dusk are often aiming at small birds hardly bigger than a sparrow.  By the time they've been de-feathered there is not much left but a few bones.  

I enjoy these long winter days.  As long as our wood burner is sending out heat I am happy.   

Sunday, 14 January 2018

My greek Winter

The island is green.  So unlike the dry brown landscape of a greek summer.  Roses are blooming though it is almost time to prune them right back.  I think I saw some snowdrops in the field next door.  

Cleaning a kilo of spinach outside on a cold winters day.  I must have been mad.  The spinach was full of mud and needed lots of rinses.   My hands froze but fortunately my shoes and trews didn't get wet which is usually what happens when I use the hose. 

This way the water gets tipped onto the garden and not into the septic tank.   Not that the garden needs watering.  We finally got rain, pouring rain, and an electrical storm last night which rattled the window panes.  Fortunately we pulled the plugs on anything connected with computers before the donner und blitzen hit us full force.  Neighbours didn't fare so well.

Spinach and rice for lunch and spinach pie tonight, and a few more nights if we don't have someone to share it with.  The pie is a spinach-leek-feta cheese pie with lots of dill, and plenty of pepper,  as I  discovered when I ate that first piece.

Our second load of wood this winter.  From last years olive pruning.  This is not a ton but that is how it usually comes.  A ton is the back of a farm truck piled high, or not, depending on how honest your provider is.  Now this wood needs to be moved around to the back of the house where it will covered and protected from any rain we might possibly have.

Our two lemon trees are laden with fruit.  This will the first decent crop for about three years.

The empty flower pots have a crop of stinging nettles.  I won't pull them out.  Maybe next time I make a spinach pie they'll be tall enough to cut and add to the mix.

Our green green garden, covered in three leafed clover, or maybe it is oxalis.  I like it under the trees and amongst the empty pots.  It makes a welcome carpet of green,  However this year I haven't done much weeding in the vegetable garden and the clover has almost smothered the lettuces.  I am 'uncovering' them one by one.  

Friday, 12 January 2018


Hoirino me selino avgolemono ............
or as you would know it, pork with celery in an egg and lemon sauce.  A perfect filling and warming dish on a cold and very damp winter's day. 

  We have hardly seen the sun in days.  Up in Thessaloniki the airport has been closed because of fog.   The sun when it does fleetingly appear is weak and watery.  It rained briefly last night but not enough to clear the atmosphere and let the sun come through.

It is in these damp winter days when the steep flights of steps in the old town green turn green,  slippery and treacherous.  Our front yard sees little sun in the winter and the stones are dark grey and water sodden.

In the older part of the house which is not insulated we have a dehumidifier working long hours on these sunless days, removing moisture from the air so the walls don't go mouldy.

Pork and celery is definitely a winter dish.  We don't find such luscious celery in the the summer.  We often cook it on New Years day, as my m-in-law used to.  It is very popular amongst the traditional people of the family.  I don't particularly like boiled celery, and neither does my younger brother.  It was one of the vegetables my mother loved and we often found it on our plates when we were young.    Even today poor old Uncle T  still cannot stomach it.  I prefer red lentil curry which is cooking in the other pot today.

You could make this with lettuce or other greens and sometimes I do but the meat then is usually lamb.

Pork and celery  - simple to prepare.  A one pot meal

Some prepare the pork and celery separately but I boil them together and it comes out just as it should and is eaten with relish by traditonal people.

Ingredients -
- half a kilo of pork cut into large chunks
- large bunch of leafy celery or an even larger bunch of selino (the greek celery which looks like parsley)
- 1 chopped onion
-  chopped garlic
-  a wine glass of olive oil
- salt and pepper

For the sauce -
- one egg
- juice of a lemon

What was left of a large bunch of celery.  All the leafy green top parts are in the pot

Boiling it all up

Brown the pork pieces, onion and garlic for a few minutes.  Add boiling water and cook slowly for about 45 minutes.  Cut the stalks of the celery into small chunks and the leafy green part into large pieces and add to the pork.  Add some more hot water.  Stir the greens into the liquid and come back again and again to make sure they are covered in sauce. Add salt and pepper.

Celery needs quite a long cooking.  I stewed the meat and celery slowly for about an hour before the stalks were nice and soft.  Do add lots of celery.  Don't be afraid, it boils down like spinach.

As soon as you thnk it is ready then take it off the heat and quickly make the egg and lemon sauce which will raise the taste up a few notches, unless you heartedly dislike boiled celery.

Sauce -
In a biggish bowl beat one egg with a fork.  Add the juice of one or two lemons, it all depends on your taste.
Beat the egg and lemon juice together till very well combined.

Make sure the pork and celery has at least one big ladleful of juice.  If necessary add a little more water.

Add a ladleful of juice from the pork to the egg and lemon stirring it quickly as you do.  It can be done by one person but if you're a newby to egg and lemon sauce have one person pouring the hot liquid and one person stirring.  You don't want the egg to overheat and cook.  Add another ladleful and then pour it all back into the pot with the pork and celery.  Do make sure the pot is not boiling and do not reboil.  When reheating do it very slowly on a low heat.

The half finished plate with a couple of pieces of bread in the middle of it all to soak up the sauce

Serve with feta cheese, olives, thick bread and several glasses of wine

If you like boiled celery, well, kali orexi 
Eat up!

This time last year we were building a snowman

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Mortar and Pestle

A mortar and pestle are a necessity in any Greek kitchen.  We have three as you can see.

The big wooden mortar is used to grind up walnuts or almonds and occasionally when our traditional person wants to mimic his mother he will make the garlic sauce or taramasalata in this bigger receptacle.  In m-in-law's time there were no little electric hand mixers and anything that had to be mashed or pureed was pounded in a big wooden mortar, twice the size of this.

Slowly the wood matured, took on an oily sheen and a bouquet of garlic and salty fishiness.  The metal mortar is ideal for crushing the tiny end pieces of nutmeg instead of shredding your fingers on a grater.   I also pound machlepi and mastiha for the sweet loaves of bread at Easter and the memorial loaf.

Raw rice can be ground in them to clean out the surface and remove any tang left behind but that would remove the characteristic piquancy and je ne sais quoi of that big old wooden mortar

Machlepi  - 

Machlepi is an aromatic spice found all over the Middle East,  made from the ground up kernel of a certain type of cherry.  The flavour is described as being similar to marzipan.  I guess I would agree with that.  I use it in the New Year and easter cake.  It does come in powder form but for a stronger taste we buy small packets of the kernels and pound them into powder ourselves.

Mastiha -

Sun dried pieces of  resin from the mastic tree.  The resin has a slightly piney/cedar flavour.  Chios, an island in the Sporades group very close to Turkey, is known for its fine mastiha.  Greeks have always used it as a flavouring in breads and cakes and mastiha liqueur is de rigeur at any funeral or memorial service.  At 11 oclock in the morning a couple of shots of this liqueur can be quite lethal.

Mastic or mastiha as it is known here has always been used in medicine.  Hippocrates used it for digestive problems and colds.  Now it has become a superfood.  We could always buy mastic chewing gum but now we can buy mastic flavoured water at a high price and Mastic Shops have sprung up in Athens.

A tear drop of mastic resin ready to be collected from the mastic tree

Sunday, 7 January 2018

St John

January 7

Fiesta of St John the baptist and name day of those named
Yiannis or Yianna

These are very popular names and a greek saying goes
'a house without a Yianni will have no prosperity/happiness'  
Fortunately our family does have one Yianni.

St John has several feast days through the year.
June 24               birth-day
August 29           his beheading
September  23    his conception (?)

Name days are far more important than birthdays here.  Few know when your birthday is but everyone knows when it's your name day.   Even those with names  like Aristotle or Socrates have name days.  No, these are not the ancient greek philosophers but orthodox saints.  

To celebrate your name you must have been given the name of an orthodox saint and have your nameday on the saint's feast day.  Otherwise you can celebrate on All Saints Day.

You'll get endless phone calls, Facebook balloons and air-kisses from friends and acquaintences.  In the good-olden days it was presumed you had open house and everyone just turned up with a bottle of whisky or a box of sticky cakes to wish you 'kronia polla' (many happy returns) and join in your party.  Nowadays you'll still be expected to shout your workmates and cronies an ouzo or two but people do not turn up to your party unless asked.  In fact the party will probably be just a special meal for close family.  

This morning I wished our Yianni a 'kronia polla' and hoped  the bluebird of happiness might fly up his nose.  He wasn't sure whether to respond with a smile or be offended.

The bluebird is a symbol of happiness, prosperity, good health and the return of spring in many cultures.  Getting a noseful of the little fellow isn't quite as painful as it sounds

Blessing the Waters

January 6   - 
    Epiphany today, ta Theofania or Ta Fota in Greek.  Up till a couple of years ago I had no idea this day was called Epiphany and I didn't have any idea what it meant.  It was always 'the blessings of the waters' around here and still is.   It commemorates St John's baptism of Jesus, amongst other things, and is a national holiday in Greece.  Every priest in every island, village, town, whether mountain or seaside will be blessing the waters today, be it the sea, a river, lake, water reservoir or even a swimming pool.

Don't forget that your Christmas decorations must be put away by midnight tonight or the big bad witch will come and tear them to pieces.

Kronia Polla (many happy returns) for anyone named Fotis  or Fotini.  It's their name day.

The day started off at the Monastery.  We didn't bother to go up to the church.  A small crowd gathered down at the beach underneath where all the action took place

Down come the Holy Fathers carrying necessary icons, buckets of holy water, bunches of basil and a portable loudspeaker so everyone knows when to cross themselves

Here the sea is anointed with holy water.  A big wooden cross is then dunked into the sea three times.  The cross, attached to a long string, is cast, for the third dunking,  as far as the priest can throw.  

Fourteen foolish males then dived into the icy waters of a January sea in a mad dash to be the first to retrieve the cross

And here it is.

The Monastery always has its services early so we high-tailed it down to the harbour to see the main event.

More priests, the Mayor and the Commander of the Naval Base ready for action

This year they all climbed aboard a fishing boat (kaïki) and moved about 20 metres off shore.

Our grandchildren took part in the proceedings in their rowing boats, escorting the kaïki

After the cross was retrieved all the rowers scudded over the straits to Galatas (in the rear of the photo) where the sea was blessed on the other side of the passage.  'Poros' means passage, the passage being the narrow channel between the island and the mainland

There they go.  The next lot of brave males and females too (away from view of those strict monastery  monks) dive in for the Poros cross

After a coffee and social intercourse with everyone on the island we moved on to a taverna in the hills.  The coffee was actually a prolonged event.  Everyone and their mother-in-law was down at the harbour and these holy days we all wish each other 'kronia polla' with a handshake or an air-kiss on the cheeks.  We greeted half the population of Poros including the Mayor, our family priest and most of the town council.  No elections in sight but this is the time to be sociable and they all had big  smiles on their faces and their was much kissing, clapping on backs and admiring of babies

Great aunt or second cousin three times removed, Theodora,  matriarch of the Paradise taverna beside the roaring and very warming fire

This is the taverna where we sit out under the vines in the summer.  It is equally inviting in the winter with its open fire.  The tables are rather close together but everyone is a friend at the table next to you, or soon will be!

Tomorrow is another name day and so another story