Let`s Walk

 

Take my hand – let`s walk. 

Shepherding us clear of tourist boroughs and bogus features which populate softer, conquered coastlines, come, let`s forge acquaintance with true Crete.

Down shady alleys with cobbled ground, aside tumbled walls, empty homes and defiant arches, dressed splendidly in blazing colour, amidst lifetime’s regalia, discarded, but doubtless valueable to holders` eyes.   A thousand scents storm faculties – fragile chamomile, robust thyme and sage, enduring rigani. Open abodes, emit fragrant fare, simmering within.  An elderly, encarcerated to the old iron bedstead, face drawn thin and milky pale, to match bed sheets.  A time worn face, bearing toothy beam, bids “καλημέρα!” genuinely meaning just that, “good day!”  A paper-thin skinned hand profers ripened grapes, cherry red tomatoes, fragrant and pure – the rule of generosity, undefined in our world, but law in theirs.

Rustic, leafy tracks, snake temptingly out of sight, inviting legwork exploration of nature and man`s handiwork, where chance meetings occur with flinty Cretans laboring over the day `s manual task.  Cool spring water drawn from some fathomless well, sating thirst, like blissful wine. 

Inviting the Meltemi breeze to caress perspired bodies, affording modicum relief from the persisent, Cretan Summer fieriness.  To dally in acqua, Libyan surf, gloriously clad with a million diamonds, riding the rocking sea, akin to baby and crib.

We pick fresh, ripe, syrupy figs, feasting on them, there and then, sweet, ambrosial and warm from the sun.  To seek shade beneath a generous tree, where cold beverages draw relaxed conversation and carefree laughter.  Observing elder Cretans` heated, political debates in dim Kafeneons, where coffee`s broody aroma, kindles appetite.

Closing the mind to pre-conceived beliefs of how true food tastes and sampling snail or octopus, or whatever other delightful, diverse fare is presented.

Cretan ladies, bearing bowls of food, traipse to closeby houses, where surely, aged relatives reside, unable to tend their own needs, the dish of the day is delivered, not from obligation, but duty, to care for loved ones in their latter years.

Drawing in deeply, the delicate orange blossom perfume, leaves senses giddy in overindulgence.  The perfect, star-shaped blossom of the olive, strewn to the ground, triggers remorse on treading them.  The delightful quelsh of grapes being trod by bare foot, the heady scent of sweet, sweet grape must, pervading the air.  The sun`s heat, leeching the distinctive perfume of fig, walnut and pine tree from their leaves, creates calm, serenity in mind. 

The outsider, whom feels it`s pull, like some invisible magnet, adoring it`s atmosphere, it`s character, is rarely able to capture it`s true essence – it`s true backbone, but remains captivated, confused, under the influence of this island.

This race, by title Cretan, rather than Greek – proud, innovative, loud and passionate – at one with the island.  The island, at one with it`s people.  The one without the other would be senseless, illogical.  Oblivious to the marvels they live amongst, careless of it`s beauty, few, acknowledge the bounty of this haven called Crete. 

                                                                                                      By Jabey

                                

Taking Stock

Taking stock of the year so far, whilst seeking shade below our now, crispy, grape vine, I perused my shabby garden.  The effects of the long and severe Summer, coupled with systematic under watering, have taken their dreadful toll.  Leafless twigs and stalks, shrivelled and undernourished, stood sadly, in dusty basins.  Adding insult to injury, plant roots, exposed by Mavy`s persistent burrowing, in search of a hint of cool, dampness, lay bared to the sun`s unrelenting blaze. Wondering how much longer my garden will hold out with this prolonged drought, I grumbled at the ability of my least loved plants to have not only thrived, but to have thrown new shoots about it s root, whilst I mourned the loss of yet another rose bush.

With a mental list now made of all areas and projects needing attention this Autumn and Winter, I`m itching for the first, true rains……….

It can`t be long now.  July and August proved unusual,  with cloudy days and even a hasty, but noisy, rain storm, which, ever so briefly, sated the dust bowls and cooled the pavers.  

Our dog status changed radically also this Summer.  With a very heavy heart, we laid to rest our gentle giant, Demmi, after a period of illness, which unfortunately, we could not get under control.  So under the cover of darkness, torches in hand and spades slung over our shoulders, we solomely trudged to the furthest flung edge of our land, carrying out the deed with loved ones close by, we said our goodbyes to our big bear.  A glorious bougainvillea planted to his side keeps him in shady cool.  In Demmi`s absence, Roxy readily stepped into the alpha dog role at Kanakary, and has thought it necessary to expand her range of tricks.  Twisting and spinning, rather like the twirling dervishes in her excitement to go for her walk, she spins like a top, knocking plant pots and buckets array and bruising legs.  Much to my dismay, it is proving quite hard to get this new behaviour under control.  In her new alpha role, she also thought it fit to teach Mavy how to dunk her hot paws in her water bucket on return from their walk.  Hmmmm, cute, but rather annoying!

There were, of course so many other incidents this year, mainly concerning my place of employment.  So numerous were these experiences, (actually, on reflection, the word numerous could easily trade with humorous, although at the time I thought otherwise) that they would be worthy of a short story.  I will however, hold back on recounting these episodes, till I am truly disentangled from said employment.  Safe to say though, they readily provoke stiffled giggles, wide eyed disbelief, exhaspiration, with a good measure of agitation thrown in. 

And 2018 still has 3 months to go.   

 

Prawn Saganaki

 

A nice little meze or main meal, lovely with ouzo.

 

The name “Saganaki” is derived from the cooking utensil in which it was once cooked, a two handled copper pan.  It was often served in the same pan.

Ingredients

500 g prawns without shells

1 onion sliced

3/4 garlic cloves diced

1 pepper sliced (light green preferably)

2 Cups grated tomato, with a tsp of sugar mixed in

3 star anise

1 heaped soupspoon tomato paste

300 g crumbled feta cheese

Olive oil

S & P preferably ground

A few basil leaves chopped finely

Pinch of chillie flakes

Optional – a little ouzo

Procedure

If you are lucky enough to own a saganaki, use this to fry the prawns in olive oil for 1 minute, then remove the prawns to a plate.  In the same pan, add the onions, pepper, garlic, star anise and chillie flakes.  Fry until the onions have softened.  Add the tomato puree and the ouzo if you are using and stir, allowing the alcohol to evaporate.   Add the grated tomato and bring to the boil to achieve a fairly thick sauce. 

If you don`t have a saganaki, pour the sauce into an oven proof dish.  If you do, you can complete the dish in this and bake in the oven. 

Add half of the crumbled feta and lay the prawns on top.  Push them down into the sauce and sprinkle the remaining feta over the top.  Finish with a sprinkle of olive oil and bake in a moderate oven for 20 minutes. 

Serve with crusty bread.

 

It`s that time of the year again

 

I was caught red handed – clutching the pergola post, stomping up and down and round and round, coordinating my moves to David Bowie`s “Sound and Vision” belting from the radio, a middle aged pole dancer, in not so attractive short, shorts, when Vags turned the corner.  He raised his eyebrows in cheeky appreciation, as he eyed me up and down, the way only your hubbie can.  I tutted and huffed, pointing down at my feet, where my legs were buried mid-calf in soupy, sticky, half-squished grapes.   “Ahh” he sighed.  “Great! what`re you making, petimezi or moustalevria?”

I concentrated on my task, taking pleasure in each gratifying little pop and crack between my toes, as the grape surrendered its juice.  Testing the sweetness of the must – just another delightful detail savored in the grape-treading ritual.

Grape skins still clinging to my calves, we loaded the pulp into pillow case covers and twisted and squashed them further, till we achieved 8 litres of must.  

Vags, realizing this morning that if he didn`t harvest the grapes swiftly, the cheeky blackbirds would devour them in a feathered, feasting frenzy before we had chance to.  As I departed for work, I`d spied the enormous pile on the courtyard table and quietly hoped he wouldn`t have the time to harvest the rest from down the garden.

 

Άντε, και του χρόνου παιδιά!

Oven Baked Meatballs (Σουτζουκάκια στο Φούρνο)

 

This recipe, rooted in Smirni, lovingly preserved here in Greece, fills not only the house with tantalizing aroma, but the whole neighborhood!  Well worth the effort.

Ingredients

Meatballs

1 kilo minced beef, or a mix of lamb and beef

4 thick slices of bread without crusts

1 large glass of sweet red wine

1 tsp butter

1 tsp ground cumin

Bunch of parsley finely chopped

2 onions grated

2 large garlic cloves ground in a pestle and mortar

2 eggs beaten

1 soupspoon vinegar

1 heaped tablespoon plain flour

Olive oil

S & P

Procedure for the Meatballs

Soak the bread slices in the glass of wine.  Strain and squeeze the bread and save the wine to one side.  Add the bread to the minced meat.  In a frying pan, heat the butter with a splash of olive oil and throw in the cumin.  Leave for a couple of minutes till the aroma begins to release.  Add the onion and garlic, stirring lightly until the onion becomes translucent.  Add a pinch of sugar and 2 soupspoons from the wine used to soak the bread, turn off the hotplate and leave the frying pan on the heat for 3 minutes, to allow the alcohol to evaporate. 

Add this mixture to the mincemeat, along with the parsley, eggs, vinegar, flour, S & P.  Begin kneading the mixture.  It`s important you mix extremely well and for at least 10 minutes.  This not only allows the flavouring to be evenly distributed, but it breaks down the mince meat further, allows air to enter the mixture, giving a lovely, light meatball.  Cover with cling film and pop into the fridge for at least 40 minutes.  Even better, over night if you`re able. 

Sauce Ingredients

1 kilo ripe tomatoes, grated or pureed

1 large glass sweet red wine

3 soupspoons flour

1 bay leaf

2 tsp cinnamon

1 cup water

Olive oil

S & P

Procedure for the Sauce

In the same frying pan used for the onion, dry roast the flour until you can smell it roasting.  Pour in the glass of wine and stir.  It will thicken.  Add the tomato and stir to break down the thickened flour, add the S & P and the water and allow to cook for 10 minutes.  Pour the sauce into a baking tray, add the cinnamon, a little water and bake at 150 c, whilst you continue with the meatballs.

Roll the mincemeat mixture into long, fat meatballs, dipping your hands into the red wine you have left.  On a sheet of greaseproof paper, sprinkle plenty of flour, lay the meatballs and roll them on the flour.  Put a good dollop of butter with a little olive oil into a frying pan and fry the meatballs on all sides till lightly browned.  Once you have finished frying the mincemeat mixture, you can add the remaining butter and oil to the tomato sauce from the oven, (removing any burnt bits of course).  Lay in the meatballs and bake for 30 minutes at about 180 c.  Open the oven occasionally to baste the balls with the sauce.

They can be served on their own, with rice, macaroni, pitta bread, or mashed potato.

 

Cheese Saganaki (Σαγανάκι)

 

This little appetizer is simple, makes use of any hard cheese and is quite satisfying. 


 

The name “Saganaki”is derived from the cooking utensil in which it was once cooked, a two handled copper pan.  It was often served in the same pan.

Choose your favourite hard cheese, but local Graviera and Kefalotiri are great options.  Slice a wedge about 2 cm thick.  Dip the cheese into a bowl of water and then into flour to coat.  Repeat once more and fry in hot oil till brown on both sides.  

Serve with squeezed lemon.

Peas with Fennel (Αρακάς με Μάραθο)

 

The road sides and hedge rows are simply full of wild fennel at this time of the year.  This recipe puts great use to this abundance. 

Ingredients

1 large onion diced

4 medium potatoes

Small bunch of fennel chopped finely

1/2 glass red wine

1 beef stock cube

1 vegetable stock cube

600 g frozen peas

3 large ripe tomatoes grated, or a tin of pureed tomatoes

Olive oil

S & P

Procedure

Fry the onion gently in olive oil.  Stir in the potatoes and fennel.  Leave for a couple of minutes and add the wine.  Increase the heat and leave the pan uncovered till the sauce has reduced.  Add the stock cubes and stir in half a cup of water, leave to simmer gently for 5 minutes.  Add the frozen peas, the pureed tomatoes and allow to cook for a further 10 minutes or until the potatoes are ready. 

Serve with a nice chunk of feta cheese on top.

 

 

 

Black Eyed Bean Soup

 

It`s Lent.  This one` s quick and simple.

Ingredients

300 g black eyed beans

1 onion diced

1 large red pepper chopped

1 large green pepper chopped

1 clove garlic sliced

2 fresh tomatoes grated

1 dssp tomato paste

Olive oil

Small bunch parsley

Small bunch dill

1 veggie stock cube

1 chicken stock cube (optional)

1 small glass of dry red wine

S & P

Procedure

Soak the beans in water for around an hour.  Drain, add fresh water and boil till soft, approx 30 mins.  Strain and leave to one side.  Add a splash of olive oil to the pan and gently fry the onion and the garlic.  Add the peppers, parsley, dill, tomato, tomato paste, stock cubes and simmer for a couple of minutes.  Add the wine and the beans, reduce the heat and allow to cook until the sauce has reduced and thickened. 

 

Fried sardines are an exceptional accompaniment with this dish.

 

Pomegranate Liquer

 

By popular request. 

Roll on those cold Winter evenings! 

Ingredients

1200 g pomegranate seeds, 

6 cups of raki (or other suitable spirit)

4 cups of sugar

Optional: 3 cinnamon sticks, 5 or 6 cloves

Procedure

Place the pomegranate seeds, the raki and the sugar into a saucepan.  Heat until the contents just begin to boil.  Add the cinnamon sticks and cloves.  Remove from the heat, cover and leave 24 hours.

The next day, strain and filter through fine mesh and bottle up.  It`s ready to enjoy.

Most Cretan recipes require larger quantities of sugar, which results in a thicker, more syrupy liquer  As a matter of preference, in this recipe, I reduced the sugar quantity by one cup.