The migrant/refugee crisis is a tricky one. Selfish or not, I’m really glad it’s not happening on our Kefalonian shores.
August has been a hot, busy month and I haven’t had much time to update the blog. With the best of intentions I made a lovely dish of moussaka but forgot to take photos consistently so you have the great honour of looking at these two WIP photos.
The second photo is a shot of making the red sauce; combination of onions, garlic, fresh tomatoes and herbs.
Everything was washed down with a nice glass of home made Kefalonian wine 🙂
I caught this photo on my trip to Argostoli. If you are a regular I am sure you know where this kitty can be found! Kalo mina in advance for tomorrow!
Kefalonia is in the middle of
a heatwave summer meaning no rain and temperatures 34C and higher during the day. During these scorching days, not many locals brave the sun except for when it is necessary. It is essential to stay cool either by having a nice long swim during your free time or if you are unlucky enough that you can’t make it to the sea then a nice bath or quick shower several times a day will also help cool you down. For those with children who can’t afford to have a swimming pool, some hotels will allow you use if you buy drinks or food, or you could always buy an inflatable paddling pool for the little ones.
At these temperatures alot of tourists can’t cope too well – breakfast, laze by pool, lunch, laze by pool, dinner, drinks drinks chat chat shop shop. The Greeks (whom the international media have been quick to bash calling them lazy) are doing all your running – taking you to your room and assisting you with luggage, serving you food and drink, cooking and baking at extreme temperatures in the kitchen, cleaning your room, your swimming pool, cleaning the shops and tavernas, sweeping, mopping even in the sun and all done while keeping a smile on their face while answering your questions, and for minimal wage, working every single day until the season ends. So spare a thought for these workers and try to be as considerate as you can to them. We are ever so grateful for your custom as tourism is what is keeping Greece afloat now, but please, spare a thought for these overworked and underappreciated workers.
Because I’ll bet you that if you were in their shoes you might not even last a week.
July 2015 is continuously proving to be a horrid month. Apart from some misfortunes that I will keep private, today my pet chicken Hondroula breathed her last. I had seen it coming in the past few weeks as she was not herself. The last few days I sensed that she was getting weaker as she couldn’t fly up to roost at night and didn’t scrabble for food with the others like she used to. She also became more quiet and subdued and for the past two days stood in a corner by herself.
Hondroula at her element was the lead hen at the top of the pecking order and one of my first chickens. She introduced me to the world of chicken keeping. Although I had not raised her from young and had purchased her as a layer, she was very friendly and allowed me to carry her around and pet her. She also sang tunes (po POP!) in different melodies and tones and would come over to chastise me and peck my hand when some hens who did not like being handled, squealed when I had caught them.
Lately, I had seen her get slower and her comb and wattles less red, and she produced less eggs this spring. I had vowed to keep her as a pet as long as she lasted, and it seems a strange coincidence that she left us today when we have so much in our minds and many decisions to make.
The last few days I had given her cuddles and stroked her wings and helped her into the coop so she didn’t have to tax herself. This morning I helped her out and thought that she looked weaker. But perhaps I didn’t want to believe that one day she would leave, eventhough that is the certain fate of all us living things. In the evening when I went down, she had already breathed her last breathe some time ago.
Goodbye Hondroula, and thank you for all the memories. I will always remember you.
Cooking and baking in Greece is often an elaborate affair in terms of the time required. While the dishes may seem pleasingly simple when served in a taverna, most Greek dishes require a long time simmering or slow braising in the oven or on the stovetop. Coming from a culture where quick cooking is the norm it initially shocked me when I perused through my first Greek cookbook that some dishes required an hour on the stove and then a further hour and a half in the oven. If you look through a Greek cookbook today you will find out the same thing – that most dishes involve long hours of preparation. The methods of cooking may be easy (think French cooking in comparison) but they require long periods of time for that special Greek taste and flavour.
In addition to the amount of time required to cook a main meal I was also appalled at the cost of using electricity and gas to run the oven for such extended periods of time! In a time of severe economic austerity I am sure many Greek households are watching their bills too although wanting to continue to savour homecooked food which is still cheaper than eating out.
In order to manage a balance between having slow cooked food and also quick stovetop meals there are several little things you can do to shorten cooking time. My main tips are to ensure that pieces are cut or chopped to smaller pieces (for instance it takes much longer to boil a whole potato than one cut into 6 pieces) and secondly if I am using the oven I make sure that I utilise it efficiently. For example I will bake a large tray of moussaka and freeze half of the tray for eating later on. If I am making cookies or breads I always make sure I bake a full tray. Any leftovers go in the freezer to be baked with other leftovers when I have collected a full tray of leftover breads and cookies. And generally, I try to avoid recipes that take a long long time to cook or try alternative ways of cooking a similar dish. If the recipe permits, the pressure cooker always comes in handy. Fortunately for my
drachma cent counting ways, Greek dishes are excellent when kept for eating the next day or even frozen for later on.
Bread is a staple in Greece and is eaten at almost every meal. Until now I still haven’t figured out what a Greek breakfast is. The closest I can conclude is a coffee and a takeaway pastry like spinach pie or cheese pie. These pastries are filling and will keep you going well until lunch time. It is uncommon here to sit down to breakfast and usually the pies and coffees are consumed on the go. When hungry, a Greek might break off a chunk of bread to eat on the go. The bread that they usually buy has a thick crunchy crust. Zimoto (sourdough) bread or xoriatiko (village) bread are popular breads that Greeks buy everyday. White sliced bread is not commonly bought unless you are planning to make a toasted sandwich. As Greeks tend to buy bread daily, I often wondered what happened to leftovers as surely each family does not consume the entire loaf each day but now I stopped wondering as I realised that lots of animals (dogs, chickens, goats, donkeys etc) enjoy eating bread!
I grew up eating sliced wholemeal bread and porridge oats everyday for breakfast. Since then I have always had to have something in my tummy for breakfast to start off the day. Here in Greece I find it really difficult to have a constant breakfast, so my daily breakfast is different every single day. Some days it is bread with homemade jam, some days a piece of pie and somedays it is a selection of fruit. Bread is commonly served at main meals too so that you can dip the bread into the delicious sauce accompanying your meal or to mop up the extra virgin olive oil left in the salad bowl. If you are not careful, you can put on alot of weight with all this bread eating!
From anecdotal evidence, I was told of how Greek society used to depend on communal ovens. Back in the day, most villages only had one oven which was either communal or belonged to the village baker. It was uncommon for people to have their own oven. The Greek housewives would take their casseroles and bread dough to the shared oven. This also proved to be a local
gossiping hangout for the wives where they would share their news and perhaps discuss recipes. Once all the breads were cooked, then the casseroles would be put in to be slowly cooked in the embers of the fire. This explains why most Greek dishes were able to require long and slow simmering (despite poverty of the Greek villagers). They would not be able to afford their own oven, let alone the materials for building one and therefore it made far more sense to pool their resources for one oven which they could all use and they could all share the cost of using. In those days we would be talking about wood burning ovens so I imagine people would take turns to collect firewood, clean and maintain the oven, or pay a small fee to the owner for using it. Now compare this to the picture of every household in Greece firing up its electric oven for two hours per day plus half an hour for warming up to cook its main meal. Obviously, communal ovens made alot of sense (and still do).
In addition to the obvious cost savings I would also imagine that the community was much stronger and well-knit with everyone knowing each other and more willing to lend a helping hand. How many of us today can admit to knowing our neighbours well, let alone the names of all their children and spouses?
Then days came when Greeks became more affluent (we all know this story) and could afford their own oven and didn’t want the inconvenience of having to wait their turn at the communal oven. So now, each housewife can use the oven whenever she likes in the peace and comfort of her own home.
I had a yearning to make some homemade bread but wanted something simple that didn’t require too much time in the oven. I settled for making koulouri which are the sesame coated bread rings that are sold on the streets of Athens and at every bakery near you. This was my first attempt at making koulouri and I was pleased at how it turned out. This version is the plain one made primarily with flour and yeast. There is also a more fluffy, bouncy version that has eggs and milk in it. My version is based on Vefa Alexiadou’s recipe in her Greek Cooking tome. I followed it quite truthfully except for omitting the part about letting half of the yeast grow overnight. The dough was kneaded by hand and the recipe portion yields 10-12 koulouri.
You will need:
- 500g plain flour
- 300ml lukewarm water (I used less)
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 50g sugar (I used 1 heaped teaspoon full)
- 8g dried yeast in 120ml lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Sesame seeds poured into a large shallow pan
Pour the yeast into a bowl with the 120ml lukewarm water. To activate it quickly I added a little sugar and flour after it started bubbling. Set aside for 15 – 20 minutes. In the meantime, get the other ingredients ready.
When the yeast is ready, combine flour, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir well. Make a well in the middle and pour half of the water and the yeast and start mixing well. Add more water as necessary until you have a sticky dough. Keep kneading for 15 minutes until you have a soft, elastic dough and add flour if necessary to achieve this effect.
Set aside in a large bowl covered with a damp cloth, preferably somewhere hot for its first proof.
Once the dough has risen to double in size, punch it down and shape into whatever shape you desire. I have done mine in twisted circles. Let to proof for a second time until double in size. Then on both sides of each koulouri lightly brush with water and place into the container with sesame seeds. Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes at 200 celsius.
Place on baking rack to cool and then enjoy! Best eaten on the day. Leftovers are best wrapped in a kitchen towel and stored in a dry place. I also placed leftover dough in the freezer for another time.
It is a few days after the Eurogroup meeting where the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras backed down and agreed to (even more) severe austerity measures and a third bailout for Greece.
There was great public unhappiness and shock at the outcome – while many were apprehensive with the effects of a Grexit, nobody expected the severeness of the measures that Tsipras agreed to. The first part of the measures were voted in by Parliament on Wednesday 15 July 2015 with a majority of YES 229 NO 64 to accept the bailout (http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2015/07/16/tsipras-wins-parliament-voting-suffers-heavy-blow-by-39-syriza-mps/). Many were left wondering how their OXI (NO) vote at the referendum which totaled almost 62% was translated into a NAI (YES) just a week later.
I have a strong feeling that in another two or three years, we will all be talking about Grexit yet again!
I do apologise for not updating you with the latest news on Greece. The truth is, I was greatly disappointed with the latest developments. I don’t really know how to explain how I felt but it was as if there was a little glimmer of hope when the nation responded with one voice at the referendum. As they say, hope is the last thing that we are left grasping for when everything is lost. I had hope that perhaps we wouldn’t be facing a terrible future for ourselves and the future generations. I had hope that it would be a painful period for Greece but that it would be for the better in the long run. But no, we now face a slow, tortorous and painful decline with no hope of salvation.
I don’t know what I would have done if I was Tsipras. Many people reason now that he had tried his best and we should applaud him for that. Me personally, I feel that he had chosen the right path and charged ahead but then decided at the last minute to back off. But unless we are in his shoes it is really difficult to judge him especially for a position of such responsibility and at such a difficult time. If he had inherited an easier load perhaps we would not be facing a future of even more hardship. Tsipras says that he does not believe in the deal but that he had to do it or else the banks would have collapsed. If he himself does not believe in the measures agreed how are we the general public supposed to believe in him and the government?
If you would like to read more on the measures agreed in the early dawn of Monday at the Eurogroup summit, this link gives you just that (http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2015/07/13/euro-summit-statement-on-greece-full-text-in-eng/).
Tsipras gave an interview on national TV ERT the day after the agreement was reached. Keep Talking Greece has kindly translated the main points of the interview which you can read here (http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2015/07/14/tsipras-i-cannot-say-with-certainty-we-avoided-grexit-until-bailout-finalized/ ).
Of the measures already voted in one will be implemented starting today – VAT increases. More than 40,000 food items are been sold with a poisonous 10% Value Added Tax hike as of today and expect to burden the average Greek household with at least 55 euro per month (http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2015/07/20/value-added-tax-on-fire-crazy-hikes-in-food-tourism/). General staples will be taxed at 13% such as fruits, olive oil, flour, pasta, plain bread and dairy products. If you are so tempted to choose fancy products such as tortellini or bread stuffed with cheese or raisins you will have to pay 23% VAT on these. I guess it will be a very rare day for me to pick up a stafidopsomo (raisin bread) from now on! VAT will affect tourism immediately as VAT on restaurants will now go up from 13% to 23%, and for hotel accomodation from 6.5% to 13% from October 2015.
There is nothing we can do but to get on with our lives as usual. It will be very clear that soon there will also be wage cuts as businesses try to cut their losses from the increased VAT they will have to pay. Wage cuts plus VAT increases for general necessities such as food and transportation are going to mean that Greeks will have even less disposable income and again this is the opposite of growth measures that we desperately need in this country. We’ll just have to learn how to tighten our belts even more and spend our
drachmas cents even more wisely.
And now is the time for me to do a shameless plug. More so now then ever Greece needs your help. Everyone can help in the tiniest way. If you are one of many of the people of the world who think oh poor folks, I wish I could do something to help them, there is something you can do. Support Greek products. When doing your supermarket shop, include something of Greek origin in your trolley. A jar of Greek olives. A bottle of Greek olive oil. Greek wine. Greek feta cheese. Just make sure that you check the label carefully to see that the product is made in Greece and not a “Greek-style” product made elsewhere. One thing that Greeks may learn out of all this is that we need to be a more productive nation and market ourselves well as it is incredible to see so many copies of Greek-style products out in the market whereas we ourselves are too lazy to promote our authentic, nutritious and delicious cuisine. Greek manufacturing and production is also not the most efficient so you would probably pay more than the cheapest alternative in your effort to support Greece. However the taste and quality that you will get is definitely worth the extra as alot of Greek products are still made the traditional way.
To continue my shameless plug for Greek products and to be fair it has been a while since I’ve done some self promotion, if you are a fan of Kefalonia and want an expertly made, quality product made here, please check out these mittens. Designed and handmade by me from 100% lambswool, these are a great memory of your holiday and if you are one of our regular visitors each summer I am sure they will keep you thinking of your favourite island in the cold winter! They are customisable in any colour you like although the Greek blue and white is the default colour (!) and you can also choose any wording you like, so for example on the back of the mittens I can knit in your initials for a personalised pair. Also great as personalised wedding gifts to include the initials of the lucky couple! 🙂
Click here (www.boutiquekallista.com) to visit my shop and browse! And click here to view this pair of mittens (https://www.etsy.com/listing/61770249/kefalonia-greek-island-mittens-in-100?ref=shop_home_feat_4).