Aunt Voula

 

Aunt Pareskevoula (Voula) scooted around the house atop an old soft rag, her toes gripping the material through her worn slippers.  With a strange see-saw motion, she waded over to the kitchen sink to make uncle George his lunch. Her inner voice reinforcing her “kill two birds with one stone” motto.  Why just walk across the kitchen floor, when you can polish it at the same time! 

With deft movements and typical Cretan ability, she slipped lunch, effortlessly in front of uncle George with a meek smile.

The strong, silent uncle George sat ready with his spoon upright in hand and dove hungrily into the bowl of stew, splashing and slurping in great gusts, letting the sauce dribble down his unshaved chin.  No acknowledements were made for his lunch, it was what was expected from his lady wife, nothing more, nothing less.  

His muddy boots left clods of soil in piles as he scraped his booted feet below the table.  Aunt Voula said nothing.  She glanced at the lottery tickets under the fridge magnet, and tentatively mentioned that the draw was today.  Uncle George grunted his disapproval at such ridiculous trivialities. “Damn waste of money”, he barked. Quietly, he could only think that the 500 drachmas his silly wife had spent on the tickets would have bought him a damn fine evening getting drunk in the local kafenion, and play a hand of cards too.  

Old school uncle George was a “tough-love” giver.  No frills, no fancy stuff, just tough love.  Taking pride in the fact that he took his seriousness, very seriously, he metered out conversation in dribs and drabs, rarely endearing or kind, just truths, or truths at least as he saw his lot.  Aunt Voula knew this, but ever lived in hope that her ill-tempered hubbie would one day relax and smile, perhaps even express a little gratitude for the food they had on the table, and give thanks for their two healthy grown children.  

The fact that neither of their children had brought home potential future spouses, niggled away at both of them, despite their heartache never being voiced, to each other, or to their offspring.  

Truth be told, should old school, tough-love giver, uncle George learn which way his son`s inclinations leaned, he would have fallen into deep throes of shame. His mother secretly knew, or suspected, a mother knows these things.  Ever protective of her testy husbands reaction, she shielded her son from any rigorous interrogation, redirecting the conversation expertly, in another, more favourable direction.

Later that evening, uncle George pulled on his jacket, his indication that it was time for his nightly saunter to the kafenion, aunt Voula quietly said she would accompany him down to the village centre where the Lottery shop was, to check her tickets.  He grunted his acknowledement and strode across to the door.

In the Lottery shop, checking the board, aunt Voula stood still, staring fixedly at the numbers.  She read and re-read the number, as her brain wouldn`t comprehend the fact that she was in possession of the winning number.  She remained rooted to the spot, mouth slightly apart – speechless, quite unable to believe she was holding the equivalent of 20 million drachmas in her hand.  Paled and light headed, she steadied herself on the nearby table.  The proprieter noticed something amiss and stepped forward to assist her.  

Pretty soon the whole village was abuzz with the news of the winning lottery ticket.  A scruffy urchin like boy shot to the kafenion and blurted to uncle George between gasps of air, that “aunt Voula was feeling faint due to the millions of drachmas she had just won on the lottery” and he was to go immediately to her side.  He dismissed the message as some child`s prank and curtly told the urchin to get lost. Shortly, two or three drinking companions shoved the kafenion door open and excitedly asked George why he was not with his wife.  

In years to come, uncle George remained his grumpy old self. However, should the opportunity ever arise for him to relay the winning lottery ticket story, he`d push his cap back, clear his throat and smiling slightly as he reminisced, tell the story in intricate detail. Leaving nothing aside.  The words flowed as if he was reading from an old, well worn book with dog eared corners.  Re-running the story, he adorned embelishments and flourishes, to enhance the tale.  Aunt Voula always liked to listen to her husband when he relayed the tale.  It was the only time she saw him take pleasure in anything – and she needed that.

Lessons

 

Like I said, the not too brilliant year has finally turned it`s back, and we can look forward to a better, kinder New Year.

Despite having no olives to harvest this year, we seem to have been busy enough and looking back at last years Christmas holiday period, this year was actually pretty uneventful.  However, I came away with a few lessons.

Apparently, a Christmas tree, doesn`t necessarily have to be a tree

 

If you build your house from candy, then it`s likely to be eaten!

 

Next year, I should remember not to trust those “non specified country” packs of bargain flour, found on certain German`s shelves

Sadly, kids can actually get to 13 years old and never have seen snow!  A fact we quickly remedied

Even an ice damaged rose can smell devine

The ever present, protective dome cast over Kanakary spared us from snow settling.  But the surrounding views were spectacular

You can always wear a great pair of earrings, no matter where you`re going

Despite years of protestations and objections that four dogs would be too many, too expensive, too hard to exercise all together – it seems that I know nothing.  Here`s the fourth member of the team.  Slipped in through the back door and kinda stayed, as they do!

 

Covering a portion of the garden with protective netting, not only allows more delicate crops to survive damaging hail storms, but hopefully will reduce the fierce sun in the Summer

It wasn`t all bad, but nevertheless, “Στο καλό να πας 2016”

2016

 

Well, the last couple of days of 2016 had us battoning down the hatches in readiness for the Wintry conditions we`d been promised. Waking in the night to heavy hailstorms, I was sure we` d wake to a light covering of snow at Kanakary at least, but no, seems it wasn`t to be.  Nevertheless, house, gardens, lock stock and barrel, are on the verge of taking float and sailing off down the river, thanks to the plentiful rain, which of course we all hoped for. The parched gardens could be heard, gulping greedily to get their fill.

Gotta say I `m not sad to see the back of `16.  Not that it was a particularly bad year, it s just it wasn`t a particularly good year either.  

I also saw the year out with the incubator in full swing, (catering for a friends request for chicks in the middle of Winter). Temps being pretty low on an evening, I was hesitant to put them outside, so have boxes of day and two day old chicks arraying my desk, pipping away under a heat lamp, to keep me company.

I would however, like to wish warm heartedly, everybody, far and wide, family and friends, a wonderful 2017!  

Brawn (Πηχτή η Τσιλαδιά)

 

Well, we made a right pigs ear of this one!

A very traditional meze for the Christmas holidays here in Crete. Once upon a time, it was popular in England too, but now it`s rarely seen.  Thank goodness, the tradition holds strong here and Cretan housewives still indulge in this ageless recipe.

Ingredients

1/2 a pigs head

4 pigs trotters 

2 cow hocks

500 g beef pref on the bone

10 – 20 pepper corns

2 – 3 bay leaves

2 – 3 tsp cumin powder

1/2 – 1 glass lemon juice

1 glass orange juice, sweet or sour, or a 1/2 1/2 mix (optional)

Rock salt

Quantities of spices, salt and lemon are totally dependent on your personal preference, you may prefer more or less.

Procedure

Begin by slitting the nostrils and the ear cavities, this will allow them to be cleaned thoroughly.  Using a razor, shave the head, the nose and ear channels, meticulously, as finding a grizzly pigs whisker in your food is awful. 

Under running water, wash the head very thoroughly and it`s exposed cavities until you can see no impurities whatsover.  Pop the head into a bowl with water and leave for at least 15 minutes.  This will allow any unseen impurities to surface and dissolve any traces of blood.  Follow the same procedure with the pigs feet if required, but nowadays, pigs feet are sold fully cleaned.  

Wash the hocks and the beef.  Place the meat, head and trotters into a large saucepan, cover with water, add the bay leaves and some of the pepper corns and bring to a boil.  The water will need defoaming 3 or 4 times until it cleans completely.  Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover and leave till the meat falls away from the bone.  This may take up to 4 hours.  Add water if necessary.

Remove the saucepan from the heat, lift out the meats and leave to cool a little.  Strain the broth, returning it to the cleaned saucepan. When the head has cooled enough, begin removing all of the meat, chopping into chunks.  Here, every single part of the head has been used, including nostrils, ears, tongue, brain.  If you feel you are unable to cope with the head complete, exclude whatever you don`t want.  

Continue by chopping the meat from the hocks, the beef and the trotters in the same manner.  Return the chopped meat to the broth. Add salt and pepper corns, cumin, a sprinkle of oregano and lemon juice.  Bring to a boil once more.  Make sure you test for salt and lemon and adjust if necessary.  Then it`s ready to pour into the mould.  

These quantities filled 3 moulds.  Make sure you share out the meat equally between the moulds, following up with the broth.  Once you have your broth and meat in the moulds, place a piece of cling film over the surface to avoid a crust forming.  Allow to cool out of the fridge, once it has set, it can be covered and will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Notes

A successful brawn should not be completely packed with meat, but should have a nice layer of jelly too.  Try to adjust the liquid levels accordingly whilst you are cooking the brawn in the final stages, but be careful not to add too much water as this may alter the final result.  

This meze demands flavour, so be generous with the salt, cumin, pepper and lemon.  The last taste test is vital to get this correct, as it would be a shame to spend all the time and effort to create this dish and the seasoning not be correct. 

Some people singe off the hairs with a burner, but I find it can leave an after taste.

Recipe kindly provided by Stella Manousaki

Tomato Fritters (Ντοματοκεφτέδες)

 

Having not harvested any tomatoes this Summer, needless to say, I`m more than delighted to be harvesting now, November and December!  And what tomatoes!  – red and tasty, firm flesh, thin skinned with minimal core!  

This is a lovely simple recipe, a great meze!

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Ingredients

750 g ripe tomatoes

1 large onion grated

50 g melting cheese grated, or crumbled feta cheese

250 g approx self raising flour, or add 1 tsp of baking powder to plain flour

Small bunch each, of mint and parsley

Sprig of basil

Sprinkle of oregano

S & P 

Procedure

Peel your tomatoes, (there`s a quick tip below).  Chop the tomatoes into dice sized chunks and place in a colander to strain off excess liquid.  Leave for about 20/30 minutes.  

In a bowl, place the grated cheese, finely chopped herbs and oregano and the tomato chunks, S & P.  Stir well.  Add the flour in doses till you have a very thick mixture.

Heat about 1/2 cm of olive oil in a frying pan.  Have the heat at almost full.  Using a dessertspoon, plop dollops of the mixture into the pan.  Turn to brown on the other side.  They don`t need too many minutes so keep your eye on them.  Lay on absorbent paper.

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Easy Peel Tomatoes

Bring a pan full of water to the boil, add the washed tomatoes and leave on the heat for about a minute.  Remove and dunk into cold/iced water, the skins will come away very easily with a knife.

 

Pumpkin Tart

 

`Tis the season to cook pumpkin!

Ingredients

Pastry

170 g flour

50 g icing sugar

110 g butter, cubed

2 egg yolks

A little grated lemon peel

A pinch of salt

Filling

1 kilo of peeled, cleaned pumpkin, chopped into chunks

75 g sugar

A generous tablespoon of honey

3 eggs beaten

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Grated nutmeg

100 g full fat cream

Grated lemon peel

Procedure

Throw all of the pastry ingredients into a bowl, knead well until you have a smooth mix.  Wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge to rest for an hour.

Boil the pumpkin chunks till soft, strain well and leave to cool.  

Heat the oven to 200 degrees.  Butter a 20/25 cm flan tin.  Using the cling film, roll the pastry into a circle.  Lift and lay into the flan tin. The pastry will mould with your fingers also, so you can push and pull to it to fit the base and the sides.  

Once the pumpkin has cooled, zap it in the blender and pour into a bowl.  Add the honey, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and grated lemon peel.  Mix well.  To finish, add the cream, mix well and pour into the pastry case.  Bake for 40 minutes.  

Leave to cool before slicing.

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Pumpkin Puree (Πουρές με κολοκύθα)

 

A super alternative to plain ol` mashed spud!

Ingredients

500 g cleaned and cubed pumpkin

300 g peeled and cubed potatoes

3 tbsps olive oil

1 wine glass fresh milk

1/2 wine glass cream

1 tsp ground coriander 

Salt (pepper optional)

Procedure

Boil the cubed pumpkin and potatoes in salted water, till soft.  Strain very well and mash, or blend.  It will be quite runny, so return to the hot plate allowing the excess liquid to evaporate, stir continuously to avoid burning.  Once it has stiffened, add the liquids and the coriander, leave on a medium heat, stirring until it has thickened nicely.pumpkin-puree-small

 

Tip

It`s easy to peel pumpkin using a peeler, if you cut into slices, approx. 5/6 cm width

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Beef Stew with Grape Syrup (Μοσχάρι Κοκκινιστό με Πετιμέζι)

 

A traditional dish, rich and inviting, just the thing for these dark nights!

Ingredients

1 1/2 kilos stewing beef (fat trimmed off)

2 large onions, diced

3 cloves garlic, crushed

4 good sized, ripe tomatoes, grated (skins discarded)

2 tbsps tomato puree

1 generous glass of dry red wine

3 tbsps grape syrup (πετιμέζι)

1 cinnamon stick

1/4 tsp ground allspice

1/4 tsp ground clove

Olive oil

S & P ground

Procedure

Fry the beef chunks in the olive oil till all sides of the meat are seared, remove the meat to a plate.  Add the onions to the pan and fry till transparent, add the crushed garlic and the spices, stirring well to distribute the flavours. Return the meat to the pan, and when the ingredients are bubbling nicely, throw in the wine and stir.  Allow the alcohol to evaporate for 3 or 4 minutes, then pour in hot water, just enough to cover the meat.  

Add the grated tomato, tomato puree, the grape syrup and stir.  Add salt and pepper, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to medium. Leave for at least 1 1/2 hours or until the beef is tender. 

Serve with pureed potato or rice.  

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Today, I served it with pureed pumpkin…….recipe here

Looming `eck – The Assembly

 

Well, she was true to her word.  K. Kaliopi closed her shop up at the end of October and upon my call to her, declared she would come down to assist me with setting up the threads on my loom.  A little apprehensively, I made my way up to Kritsa to pick her up.  

There she was, waiting for me at the exact place we had arranged, at the exact time!   No problems getting into the truck (no lift up required).  A very spritely 86 year old chattered intently to me on the route back down to Kanakary.

She gave a cursory check over my loom and then got down to work immediately.  She requested a carpet and two chairs.   I happily obliged. 

Rather naively, I imagined that the chairs were for us to sit on, well that`s what anybody would presume, but no, the combs were hung on the chairs and we sat on the floor!  We set about and passed the 200 threads through the combs.  A surprisingly involved procedure which engaged the use of some head scratching mental arithmatic to calculate where we should begin the threading and a “stealer”, which caught the threads and pulled them through the slotted combs.  

Afterwards, she set to work systematically assessing what was required on my loom. Bit by bit, we assembled the inumerous threads, canes, ropes, brakes, handles, weights.  We loaded the combs, weighted the threads, squeezed, tweaked, tightened and adjusted all relative parts and then she declared it was ready for use and requested I returned her to Kritsa!

Of course I obliged, a little shell shocked at the speed, intensity and ability of K. Kaliopi with her instruction. Despite this, it had taken us three and a half hours to set it up.  Throughout the duration of her visit she repeated several times, whilst wagging her finger at me………    

“Αν θέλεις να γεράσεις, αργαλειό να αγοράσεις”

Basically, if you want to get old, buy a loom!  

I`m not sure whether she meant that the loom would age me, or whether the loom would promote long life.  Whichever way, I was eternally grateful for the time and effort she invested in me and my loom.

Photographic material, unfortunately, is limited, as I was so intent on not missing any part of the instruction of the asembly.threading-the-loom-with-kaliopi-1-smallthreading-the-loom-with-kaliopi-2-smallthreading-the-loom-with-kaliopi-4-smallthreading-the-loom-with-kaliopi-6-smallthreading-the-loom-with-kaliopi-7-smallthreading-the-loom-with-kaliopi-8-smallthreading-the-loom-with-kaliopi-10-small

The following day, I popped down to take a look at the waiting loom and noticed an escapee thread!      Argh, now what?!  Did it escape whilst we were shuffling and shunting, or was it an oversight? Hmmmpf!  

Logic tells me that it wouldn`t interfere with the finished result as it there is no gap in the threads in the combs, (basically I would just be one thread short ie 199 instead of 200), but on the other hand, my need for everything to be perfect, is nagging at me to pull out some of the threads to cater for the escapee.  

We will see………….