Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Monday 28 September 2009

Galotiri (Γαλοτύρι)

Galotiri (galo=milk, tiri=cheese, therefore: milky cheese) is a curd cheese made by combining feta cheese, yoghurt and milk. It's a product of Central Greece, and is used as a table cheese or added to pies and pasties. because it is a fresh curd cheese, it doesn't travel well, so it isn't well known around Greece outside its local origins. We were introduced to it on our recent trip to Pelion.

local pita and galotiri at pelion
My first taste of galotiri, Pelion, Central Greece

Galotiri can take the place of feta cheese, tzatziki or fresh mizithra; it is used in a similar way as a spread or accompaniment to other foods. It is lighter in calories and not as salty as plain feta cheese, making it a healthier alternative. It can be made at home and keeps about the same amount of time as fresh curd cheese, ie about two weeks, before it starts to take on a more sour taste.

There are many recipes for galotiri (γαλοτύρι) available on the internet. Here is the basic preparation method.

My home-made version of galotiri. This cheese is available ready made from supermarkets, but not in Crete as there is no demand for it (nor is it known at all).

You need:
200g feta cheese (use good quality barelled feta if you can get it)
100g strained yoghurt
half a cup of milk
salt - feta cheese is inherently salty, but this dip could still use some more...
freshly ground pepper - you can also spicy pepper, eg paprika, or peppercorn mixtures or even garlic to give it a tzatziki taste; some people add light tasty herbs like dill.

Crumble the feta cheese in a bowl. Add the other ingredients and mix everything well, taking care not to melt the feta cheese - it should be crumbly while all the other ingredients should look like thick soup. Some people heat the ingredients together, but I think this is unnecessary - you can simply stir the mixture till it takes on a smooth blend.

galotiri cottage cheese
Week-old galotiri resembles cottage cheese

The mixture is ready to use as is, but will acquire a better taste in a closed container over the next week. Just shake the container (without opening it) a little every day - open it after a week, and the galotiri is ready to be consumed - if you hadn't already consumed it soon after you made it. If you do manage to let the mixture stand in the fridge and work its magic, you will realise that you have created a good Greek substitute for cottage cheese.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Friday 25 September 2009

From Hania to the Hania (Από τα Χανιά στα Χάνια)

It may look as though I haven't left Hania, but depending on where the stress mark is placed, Hania becomes a different place. HA-nia (not my own town of ha-NIA) is a small mountain village located in the Pelion mountain range in central Greece. It is a popular winter resort with a ski-field; in the summer, it is less popular with the (mainly Greek) tourists, who prefer (naturally) the coastal areas. How fortunate for us, as this was the perfect place to get away from the high temperatures (we were travelling during a heatwave) and the crowds.

Hania (in Pelion) gets its name from 'hani' (χάνι), meaning 'stopover inn, a place to rest', which was the original purpose of this place: a place to rest, sleep, feed and water your donkey and yourself, before continuing the long tiring journey over windy narrow roads to the other side of the Pelion mountain range. The 'hani' used to play a similar role as that of the English coaching inn. Such places existed in central locations all over Greece during the years when the donkey was an important means of transport.
In Hania (Crete), for example, there were 'hania' for donkey tie-ups up until some time after the second world war.

hania pelion central greece
It feels strange seeing my hometown's name in another part of Greece, especially when it isn't pronounced in the same way...

The Pelion Hania's significance may have lost its original value over time with the new transportation methods, but the ski field located close by has allowed this popular stopover to become an all-year-round resort. Hania - also (mis)spelt Chania, just like the Cretan town - is now a bustling resort village with a few hotels and restaurants built along the main road which passes through the village. It is located in the intoxicatingly beautiful pine-forested mountain range of Pelion, said to be the home of the centaurs, mythical half-men, half-horse creatures, on a large peninsular to the west of Volos, a seaside town in Central Greece.

front view from hotel near portaria pelion back view from hotel near portaria pelion
The different views we had from our hotel windows. Traditional style housing includes stone tiled roofs. All houses in the area conformed to the same architectural style - no aluminium window frame eyesores anywhere near the place.
mount pelion central greece

Even though it was at the end of summer time in Greece when we were visiting Pelion, the fireplace had been lit. Wintery meals are eaten throughout the year in Pelion. This should come as no surprise given the low temperatures that nearly always prevail in the area; the waiter told us that right throughout the summer, night time temperatures did not surpass 16 degrees Celsius. This is my kind of summer holiday - a respite from the searing high temperatures in my own Hania. The heatwave during the day could not be felt at these altitudes (1200m above sea level), where bears, foxes and wolves keep their home. Tourism was slow - summer visitors to Pelion prefer the coastal regions of the area instead of the heights - but there were a number of restaurants operating in the area. We were drawn to the one with a sign of Crete on the door featuring ZORBAS beer: the owner was originally from Eastern Crete, and decided to stay in the area once he finished his military service in the 1920s. He married a local woman and ran an inn, a restaurant and a local products shop, all of which are still operating today via his children, who have all visited Crete at some point in their lives.

local products from pelion pelion local products
Fruits preserved in syrup are very popular all over Greece; Pelion is one of the places known for their tradition in spoon sweets production, dried aromatic herbs and locally made pasta.
menu at pelion
When in Rome, eat as the Romans do; this menu looked tempting: fasolada, spetsofai, boiled goat soup (these form part of the local cuisine of the region), rooster in wine sauce, yiouvetsi cooked in a clay pot - wild boar, deer, beef in red sauce, lamb in lemon sauce, rabbit stew.

All regions of Greece have their local produce and specialty cuisine, and it is in the Pelion Hania where we first heard of and tried 'galotiri', a creamy white spicy feta cheese spread made with yoghurt. It is served in a similar fashion to tzatziki dip; perfect with those thick slices of still-warm toasted sourdough bread that appeared at the table after we ordered. In Central Greece, it is sold ready made (it isn't available in Crete due to lack of demand), but galotiri can also be prepared at home.

local pita and galotiri at pelion spetsofai wild boar stew and fasolada at pelion
Galotiri, greens pie with home-made pastry and lemonade (EPSA brand from Volos); boar stew, fasolada bean stew, spetsofai (sausage and pepper stew). The fireplace is used all year round in Pelion.
summer time fireplace in pelion central greece

Although fasolada and greens pie (hortopita) were also referred to as local specialties of Pelion in the menu, it should be noted that these are eaten all over the country, made in the same way as my own versions, which gives them a unifying character among all Greek people. To go with the hortopita, fasolada and galotiri, we also ordered spetsofai (spicy sausage cooked with peppers, a specialty of Central Greece, easily copied in your own home) and wild pig (caught in the region, now available in most supermarkets).

*** *** ***

If the food in Greece shares many similarities, then one would expect that so do the people. We were dining next to a table where a Greek woman was seated, loudly airing her views about the Greek people:

"... Of all the Greek people, it's the Cretans I can't stand, and I couldn't stand them ever since I was at primary school. My parents didn't like them either, so I suppose that's why I can't stand them too; we lived in a neighbourhood [in Athens] where there were many of them, and we just avoided them like the plague..."

Did she realise that the owner of the restaurant was Cretan? Probably not; the name 'Kokkinis' does not immediately denote Cretan origins in the same way that mine does (a common Cretan name suffixis -aki/-akis). And she didn't stop there:

"... because we're not all the same, are we? I mean, look at the people from Thrace - they don't even look like Greeks, do they?"

We didn't look like her either (she looked Irish to me), and yet we were all Greek; in her opinion, there is an Aryan race living among us. In any case, she sounded as though she was brought up on the assumption that discrimination is normal.

pelion running water

Before leaving the area to continue our trip (and hopefully hear less racist views about our own origins), we filled up our water bottles with clear spring water which was running freely at many points along the windy road.

Total cost of meal, with wine and sodas: 38 EURO, with loukoumades (Greek donuts) served as dessert on the house. We stayed at ADAM rooms (with traditional decor) near the village of Portaria (a few kilometres away from the Hania), 60 EURO a night (pre-booking not necessary in summer) in a 2-room 4-bed unit: 24280-99435.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Apples (Μήλα)

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Apples are full of vitamins, they are light in calories, they have beneficial effects on the digestive system; if fruits can be classified in the same way as colours, then apples must be one of the primary fruits. My earliest apple memories are those I lived in Wellington: the Tory St fruit and vegetable market, truckloads of red and green apples, rolling off the carriage, being weighed on the largest scale I've ever seen, then sorted and packed into plastic bags each containing five kilos of apples. The Tory St market is probably more mechanised now and the sorting process isn't as romantic, but such nostalgic memories cannot be erased from my memory. The deplorable state of market apples in Hania has stamped my mind forever with images of firm juicy apples beyond my present reach.

Most apples sold in Crete are invariably imported from other areas in the country, mainly from the region of Zagora in Mount Pelion of Central Greece, one of the most beautiful forested areas in the country. Many of the buildings located in Pelion are perched on mountain sides with panoramic views of the peninsula. Apples do grow in Hania (mainly the firiki variety), but only in the more mountainous (ie colder) regions of the island, and their bounty (or taste) does not fulfil the demand in the local market.

apple trees central greece apple tree therissos hania chania
An apple orchard in northern Greece; an apple tree in Therisso, Crete, fenced off by its owner to keep away passersby; an apple orchard in the winter in the Omalos region of Hania, Crete.
apple trees omalos hania chania

Zagora apples are often picked before they are ripe at the end of summer; apples ripen off the trees and store better, away from insects and diseases due to temperature variations and climatic conditions. They are then kept in cold storage (ie refrigerators) and transported around the country. The longest journey a Greek apple makes is, of course, to Crete. The apples are then distributed in the market and onto the shelves of the groceries and supermarkets - away from cold storage, where they ripen more quickly, not being able to make the adjustment required when changing environments. The result: softened fruit, lack of crispiness, sour taste, excessive browning, in combination with bruising; in effect, bad apples.

apples from volos
Apples sold at a roadside market in Pelion, Central Greece; 5 euro per 3-kilo bag.

During our summer holiday this year, we were lucky to spend a night in the Pelion region as we made our way further north.

The Pelion region of Central Greece offers amazing views, ranging from seaside towns to islands to forests. It is a favorite Christmas resort with a ski-field located nearby. The closest Greek town to Pelion is Volos.
mount pelion central greece mount pelion central greece

You can only understand our excitement after biting into our first apple for the season if you know how many bad apples we've eaten over the last few years; Crete is not an apple lover's paradise. We bought a three-kilo pack of both red and green apples, topping up our supplies at the central market in Athens before we left the mainland.

snacking after visiting the new acropolis museum apple pie
How much apple can you see in the cafe and kiosk versions of apple pie?
apple pie CIMG8723
My apple pie is based on Sam's recipe, a self-crusting pie that doesn't involve making dough and rolling out pastry.
My apple pie is based on Sam's recipe, something in between a cake and a self-crusting pie that doesn't involve pastry rolling. The same recipe can be turned into muffin-sized cakes.
apple pie muffins

Talking about apples makes me think of apple cake and apple pie, especially now that it's autumn. Apple pie is symbolic of American cuisine, and I still believe that the best apple pies are made outside Greece. It is amazing that, despite our ancient history being laden with apple stories, we are not well known for our apple pie making skills. Milopita (apple pie) is a popular bakery snack in Greece, but it is usually made badly, using more puff pastry than apple, which is usually stewed into a mushy syrupy mess. Apple pie connoisseurs will surely be be up in arms at the desecration of their beloved dish.

vegetable market thessaloniki
Baby potatoes and white beans? Never seen these before in Crete!

I mustn't forget to thank the lovely grocery store owner in Thessaloniki who presented me with an apple as a present after my husband chatted with her about the different fruits and vegetables available between northern and southern Greece - there are quite a few items of fresh produce that never make it down to the south, white beans and baby potatoes, to name two. Her generosity was very representative of the city as a whole, as we had many instances of such kindness right throughout our stay in the north of Greece.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Saturday 19 September 2009

The thing (Το μαραφέτι)

My aunt had received a package from New Zealand which her daughter had sent her. It contained a separate parcel for me, a few bits and pieces that I might appreciate for old times' sake as an ex-pat Kiwi. My favorite presents are those from abroad because I know they will fill my mind with nostalgic memories of home, which doesn't really feel like home any more anyway.

I knew that there would be a packet of pineapple lumps in it. They hadn't changed at all, they were just like I remembered them: little rectangles of chocolate-coated chewy pineapple-flavoured marshmallow. They taste better once they've been refrigerated for a little while, but since I was opening my parcel in company, I knew I'd have to open the packet of sweets now and offer everyone a piece, refrigerated or not.

"Chocolates?" my aunt exclaimed. "Athina has no idea how big your waistline's got, does she?" Thia is very honest; she doesn't even realise she's doing it. I explained to her that pineapple lumps are a New Zealand invention (like 'afghans' and 'pavlova'), and that everyone eats them there in the same way that Greek people love their 'pas-tes'.

"Do they grow pineapples in New Zealand?" asked Smaragda, my aunt's neighbour who always makes a beeline for Thia's house when she hears a stranger's voice talking with her on the verandah.

"No... I don't think so," I replied trying to avoid her, and turned away to look at the next item in the parcel.

"Oh," she answered, with a slightly confused sound to her voice. "I thought the climate was too cold for that." I knew the climate was too cold for that.

There was a pair of green gloves in the packet. I figured that they weren't for keeping my hands warm in winter: the word 'veggies' was printed boldly on each one, "the latest craze in kitchen gadgets," my cousin had informed me, "to keep your hands clean when you peel potatoes." Did she not know potato juice is quite astringent? A bit like lemon juice, so it actually keeps your hands clean as you peel them. I hoped that they would at least stop my fingertips from blackening when I was working with aubergines.

presents from nz
Pineapple lumps, veggie gloves and 'the thing'

But it was that last thing in the packet that stumped us all - a piece of orange plastic, in the shape of a square, with one thick rounded side that seemed to act as a handle, and another sharper finish with a 90-degree angle; what could it be, I wondered, is it some kind of knife?

"Idanafto to marafeti?" asked my aunt, looking at the piece of plastic.

"I dunno, Thia," I answered truthfully. I had no idea - it had caught me completely by surprise.

"Domou na to ido," Smaragda called out. I passed it to her and she picked it up in her wrinkled hand, turning it over and over, feeling the smooth edge with her fingers. Her eyebrows heightened with surprise as she touched the sharper edge.

"Ide mo-re, de to thiaksane kala!" she exclaimed, referring to its odd shape, where no side was alike; she thought it was badly made. She passed it back to my aunt.

"Ba, ola 'ne kala ekei da, giafto de fevgei o kosmos apo chi pera," my aunt corrected her. She loved the tangible comforts from the planet outside the borders of her own little world. Any place outside of Greece was 'Ameriki' to her, and it was always perfect. Her daughter had gone to New Zealand to marry someone she didn't know, upon the recommendation of my parents. She came back home once to visit her aging parents, but couldn't get used to the used toilet paper in the wastepaper baskets, the dirt roads and dusty houses, the swimming tomato chunks in salads that were overdressed with olive oil, all things she had grown up with for the first 23 years of her life before she left the place. She wanted to go back 'home', which she did as quickly as she could and has never come back since.

Her early letters enticed her brother to join her at the other end of the world. Periklis was not so taken to the land of the long white cloud as his sister, which is how he found himself back in the village with us today. It was his turn to investigate the 'thing'. He picked it up and shoved it under my nose.

"Tosa grammata kates, kai de kates na mas epeis idanafto to prama?" he berated me, for not knowing what the thing was. I had been born in foreign parts and had lived there for so long, that it was somehow deemed 'wrong' not to know what a thing from down under might be. He turned it over and over in his hands. "Pou'n' i Ioanna na mas epei ida'ne?" He was searching for his daughter, a Greek university student - she knew everything.

"Katidis gia tsi ginaiches thane," he contemplated. It probably was something ladies use, but that didn't help us to work out what exactly it was that women could do with the thing so that it couldn't be so useful for men.

"Katidis prepei na'ne, ma de kateme 'meis i amorfoti." Smaragda was lamenting about the general lack of intelligence among the parea that had congregated on Thia's verandah.

"Aaah, ide idane," offered my aunt. "Les nane ksistra gia ta podia?" She always made an effort to act worldly using her limited experiences and knowledge of the antipodes (and the rest of the world for that matter), gained from her daughter's stories, through letters and phone calls, about her new homeland. The village also had a few newcomer brides who brought with them their modern hairdoes, high street fashion and make-up bags. I could just picture my Thia watching a young newly-married woman sitting on the balcony of one of the newly built villas rubbing a ladyshave up and down her legs or using a scraper to remove the dead skin off her heels; from the distance, it could look just like the thing.

Periklis had just returned from the chicken coop with a bucket of eggs.

"Ba," he muttered, without stopping to investigate further. "Pali ra-pes ap' to Niou Zoolan," he spat out, making his way to the kitchen. When he first arrived in New Zealand, his brother-in-law had found him a job at the local city council working as a 'ra-pes' collector. At first, Periklis thought he had hit the jackpot by landing a job in the 'dimosio', even if it meant that he would be collecting rubbish. He phoned his parents to let them know how well he was doing for himself in his new home. Slowly, he came to realise that state jobs were not as highly regarded in New Zealand as they were in Greece. He came back to the village after spending only two years at the end of the world, as he liked to refer to New Zealand, and had never gone back. His first insight to New Zealand was through the 'ra-pes' he collected off the streets and people's garbage bins, hence his final verdict that everything kiwi was 'ra-pes'.

By now, I was feeling my body sweat out of the embarassment of not being able to explain the non-growth of pineapple in a country which invented chocolate-covered pineapple sweets and the significance of this alien form of plastic. Smaragda picked up the marafeti and felt the sharper side with the fingers of her free hand.

"Kanei kalo masaz," she said, and everyone laughed, probably with the thought in their mind about who the massager might be in my case, and how he'd use the marafeti on my body.

"Haras to prama," said Thia, picking up the object of interest one more time. She was beginning to show signs of mental exhaustion after so much energy being spent on thinking about the possible uses for this unusual object.

Just then, Periklis' daughter bounded into the house. Joanna was a bright-eyed second-year Psychology student at the University of Rethimno. She always carried about her an urban whiff, despite her village upbringing; seeing her walk and talk would make one believe that unemployment was an unknown concept and life was perpetually readying itself to accept her into its routine after she graduated. Everything seemed within her reach and no one could stop her from attaining her dreams, which she wasn't quite clear of herself. She reminded me of myself at her age.

"Hello, Mary," she greeted me with an air of confidence. "Idanafto pou kratas, yiayia?" she asked her grandmother.

"De kateo, pedi mou," she answered. "Tha mas epeis esi pou ise epistimonas?"

Joanna picked up the thing in her hand and scrutinised it carefully. She turned it over front, back, up and down. She clearly had no idea what it could be. She looked at the barcode sticker which was still stuck on the thing.

"Pree-vee-ledz ider-na-si-o-nal," she read out. "We can check it up on the internet."

Why didn't I think of that first, I admonished myself. After so many years of living on the island, I had forgotten my city ways and taken to the rural culture that I was living among, despite having spent my university years being indoctrinated to believe in a progressive urban system which sought freedom, even though its aim was to control via jolting culture shocks, completely alienated from nature despite its strong organic movement, a system which I had been subjected to and which all too often I served as a willing or unwitting instrument.

While I was musing on my previous life, Joanna had gone into her bedroom and googled the words written on the barcode sticker. She came back with a beaming look on her face.

"It's a kitchen gadget," she exclaimed proudly. "The company's American."

"Aaaaah," said her yiayia.

"But they make their products in China," explained Joanna. Another of those products designed in one place, but made somewhere else.

"Oooooh," said Smaragda.

"And Thia Lambrini left me a message on faze-buk," she continued.

"Eeehh?" The older generation gaped at her in awe.

"She said she sent you a pot scraper, Mary. Must be it, right?" A pot scraper? Indeed. It must have taken a super-brain to invent that one, a brain that was probably rewarded with a prize for combining the idea of how to use up the world's excess production of plastic in a marketable profit-making venture, with maybe a huge bonus included if the idea of recycling was incorporated into the blueprint.

"Ide pou perpata i technoloyia," said her yiayia. "Che de mou'steile che'mena ena?" Lambrini had put two scrapers in the present, presumably for me to use one and keep the other as a reserve, another example of the hoarding culture prevalent in societies where big houses on large sections of fenced-off land in straight rows with wide streets dominate the landscape. Could a village ever be built in thiese places? Only if the town planning rules were ignored...

"Here, Thia." I offered her one of the pot scrapers. "Take one."

"She must think you burn a lot of pans, Mary," Joanna remarked.

facebook did this
This happened soon after I joined facebook nearly five months ago.

Little did she know.

PS: The characters in the story are all made up - I have no relationships of this sort.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Taverna 'O Kipouros' - The Gardener (Ταβέρνα 'Ο Κηπουρός)

Children can't make healthy choices when offered less healthy but much tastier choices. That's final. Here's a little experiment I conducted on some children I was entertaining at my house during the summer.

I had set up a play date for my children. Their friend was invited to our house where all the children had free reign over the garden, the living room, the balconies and the children's bedroom (yes, Dad was away), and they could do as they pleased as long as they had the stamina for it. It went on for much longer than I expected, but at least they had their fun, and they even tidied up afterwards, so I really can't complain.

During the afternoon, which stretched out into the evening, they would also have a home-cooked meal. I was in the middle of a cooking marathon, as I had just picked a whole lot of garden-fresh vegetables and had to find ways to use them for the next meal or preserve them.

vlita bush a busy day in the garden... _3778078_4326768_n

Cooked vlita will keep in the fridge for a week. There were too many tomatoes to store in the fridge, so I had to make them into tomato sauce for the winter. My uncles gave me some fresh black-eyed runner beans, which would constitute the next day's meal.

fresh black-eyed runner beans
All this fresh food had to be processed into something edible or useful.
... and another busy day in the kitchen

This meant that I was cooking for preservation, cooking for the next day's meal, and cooking for the play-date meal, so there would be a lot of food for the children to choose from.

First up, a healthy glass of orange juice, followed by a couple of home-made biscuits. My daughter began to scoff them up.

"You'll get rotten teeth if you eat too many," our guest warned her. Sometimes children need to be told the bad news by their peers, and indeed this worked on her.

When it came to the actual sit-down meal, I wrote out the menu for them and left some space next to each item so that they could write their initials to indicate their choice.

The menu was listed in the following way:
1. Horta
2. Fasolakia yiahni
3. Greek salad - CD
4. Souvlakia - CD AD OR
5. Biftekia - CD AD
6. Oven-fried potatoes - CD AD OR
7. Bread - AD OR
8. Water
9. Lemonade - CD AD OR
10. Watermelon - CD AD OR

No one chose horta or beans, and only one chose salad. When the actually sat down to eat what they ordered, they discovered that the taste of the biftekia 'burgers' was not meaty (they were actually courgette burgers), so they left them on the side of their plate. The souvlaki disappeared and so did the chips. Lemonade was preferred over water.

taverna o kipouros

The most interesting part of this 'restaurant game' was the comments the children made:

- You forgot the paper towels.
- Could we have some ice, please?
- What about desert?
- Can you please bring us the bill, Ma'am?
- Mmm, delicious, we'll come again.

I'm looking forward to doing this again, but this time with fewer choices on a mainly vegetarian menu, and a signed agreement that if they choose the meal, they'll have to eat it all...

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Sunday 13 September 2009

Biscuit baking for children (Τα παιδιά μαγειρεύουν)

Back-to-school time - as long as swine flu doesn't close it down. Until the serious fires that swept through the area north of Athens recently, that's all the TV news talked about. Greece has had its fair share of cases of swine flu, notably in the islands which are holiday destinations for Northern Europeans, mainly British citizens who helped spread it in Greece, especially in the islands. If swine flu was spreading during the European winter instead of the European summer, most likely it would not have affected the islands as much, in the same way as the SARS pneumonia virus in 2003. Remember that one? No? Hopefully this is how swine flu might be remembered in a few years.

Some of the worst cases of swine flu occurred in Crete, where a number of people were in critical condition. Some of the more memorable instances were the first victim to fall seriously ill, a 33-year old waiter who did not check out his symptoms despite being ill for a week, and a 42-year-old male whose test swab did not reach the Pasteur Institute in reasonable time, hence his illness went undetected. Having said this, at the time of writing, 97% of all cases of swine flu in Greece to date have been very mild forms that have been treated successfully. Hospital staff have also picked up the illness, and it has also been detected in groups of soldiers, which has heightened worries that schoolchildren may catch it off each other when found in a confined space.

Other serious cases of swine flu have been detected in travellers, such as the case of a 16-year-old holidaymaker from Britain, whose parents admitted that she was exhibiting symptoms of illness before departing from the UK, the worst affected country in Europe, and one of the most important tourist groups during the Greek summer.

The present Minister of Health has told Greek citizens that under no circumstances must they stop going about their daily lives as they are doing right now, and the government is taking all measures as directed by international health organisations to keep people protected from the virus. For comparison purposes, Greece (the most affected country in the Balkan region due to its popularity as a summer holiday destination for those Europeans most affected by the virus) has had only one fatality (a young man with a serious heart condition) and few cases given the population (just over 2000 cases at the time of writing among a population of 11,000,000), despite constantly receiving visitors right throughout the summer season, who were actually the main carriers of the virus. It could be said that Greece is handling the problem very well, especially when the issue is put into perspective. For comparison purposes, New Zealand (one of the first countries to be affected outside of America), where the seasons are reversed, has had 17 deaths and approximately 3130 cases in a population of 4,000,000.

It's easy to work out how swine flu is spreading in Greece, and whether you run a real risk of being affected if you came to Greece. Should I be worrying about swine flu affecting my own family? My husband's a taxi driver who picks up new arrivals from Northern Europe at the airport and takes them to their hotels...

*** *** ***

The closing down of schools due to swine flu is a possibility, but there is also something else that is going to close down the schools for sure and positive: the general elections, due to take place on Sunday, 4th October, a snap decision taken on 2nd September. This means that schools will close on 2nd and 5th October - one day for teachers to travel to their voting area, Saturday for setting up the polling booths (most electorates use schools), and another day for teachers to come back to their jobs. If teachers need to travel more than 300 kilometres, they are given an extra day on either side (despite the fact that you can get from the north to the south of the country by air in less than two hours). If the proportional representation of the votes does not reveal the dominance of one political party (it NEVER does), a second round of elections is held the following weekend following the same process as above. Barely into the first month of the school term, the pupils will already have had at least a week off from school...

And how about this one, to top things off? The first schoolday for this year was Friday, 11 September (talk about killing the weekend spirit), which in my children's case entailed a two-hour wait in the rain where children were blessed by the priest of the local church, met their new teacher, and were informed about what precautions to take against the spread of swine flu. My son's teacher, a young lady who began working as a primary school teacher last year, has this year been assigned to work in our school, even though she officially asked for a transfer back to her hometown (in Northern Greece), which has been granted to her - and she begins work there next week: my son's class has been left without a teacher. Tomorrow, Monday, 14th September, is the local parish holiday in the area where the school is located, hence no lessons. I have no idea what my son will be doing on his second day of school on Tuesday, 15th September. All I know is that the school bell will ring at 8:10am (when the Greek school day begins), but no one could inform me on Friday when the school day would end - they told us to come and ask on Tuesday morning. The education system in Greece has always sucked; no wonder most politicians send their kids to private schools.

*** *** ***

So on those days when schools close down, I need an activity to entertain the kids. Here's a nice way to keep the children busy. I've found the perfect cookie dough that can be used as a base for any cookie flavours. The dough is so simple to make that a 7-year old child can make it on her own. The designs of my children's cookies are based on their own ideas.

Before starting to prepare the dough, tell the children that they have to wash their hands really well with lots of water and not too much soap, otherwise their biscuits might smell of soap.

You need
250g margarine (at room temperature)
1 cup sugar
3 cups plain flour
2 vials of vanilla sugar (liquid vanilla essence may be used instead)

Mix all the ingredients together with your fingertips, until the dough starts to form into a soft ball. If it is still crumbly, add a few drops of milk to make the dough stickier. Keep adding milk drop by drop (to avoid over-doing it). Divide the dough into as many parts as you like, to flavour each individual ball.

- For vanilla-flavoured cookies, use the dough as is.
- For chocolate cookies, knead some cocoa into the dough.
- For lemon- or orange-flavoured cookies, knead in some lemon or orange zest (I also had some appropriate decorative sugar balls to sprinkle over them).
- For jaffa-flavoured cookies, knead in some orange zest and some cocoa.
- For afghans, knead in some cornflakes, and sprinkle the shaped biscuits with grated coconut.

making cookies mum's cookies
We all got involved in this round of biscuit making; while the children created designer cookies, I made the lemon-flavoured cookies and afghan biscuits.
the children's cookies

I made lemon biscuits and afghan cookies, while the children took a ball of plain dough and half a ball of cocoa dough to make their cookie designs. This activity will keep young children busy independently for a couple of hours (but you'll still have to clean up afterwards). They can also eat what they make, which is an added bonus, but they need to be reminded that the whole tray will not constitute their main meal of the day (!)

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Homecoming (Επαναπατρισμός)

As the day dawned, its importance descended onto the city, which had become a hive of activity on every corner. Policemen began taking their places in key positions, roads were closed off, television camera crews set up their equipment, journalists and reporters crowded the press rooms of the airport, the museum, and the offices of the Ministry. Television programmes were constantly interrupting their schedules to provide updates of the arrival of important dignitaries, the latest speeches made by the Minister and his office, and the most poignant of all: reporters out on the street, conveying the feelings of the exuberant onlookers, local residents, whole families, three generations huddling together under their umbrellas to avoid the burning sun, all standing patiently on every street surrounding the holy site. Some had bought folding chairs to sit out the long hours of waiting ahead of them.

view from the acropolis
The city awaits expectantly...

The day would be a long one, but no one seemed to show any signs of giving up, despite the scalding temperatures. No one was going anywhere. All the balconies surrounding the site were spilling over with people. Everyone had taken their places like sentries outside a guardhouse. This was a one-in-a-million opportunity that should not be missed. There was no guarantee that it would happen again; at least, not again in one's own lifetime: that was for the next generation. Those that could not attend had positioned themselves on a sofa, a couch, a divan, an armchair, or even a bed, any place where there was a television stationed before them. There were also those that had decided to celebrate the occasion in style, meeting up with friends and acquaintances in cafes, tavernas, bars, restaurants. All the big screens in the electronic shops were tuned into the same frequency, reporting the events of the day as they were unfolding, up until the moment of climax that everyone was awaiting.

*** *** ***
Behind the glass, overlooking the crowds, in the comfort of their new home, the sisters waited expectantly. They knew something important was happening. For the last six months, there had been no visitors at their place. At first, they had missed the smiles, the attention, the pointing, and the general awe of their guests, but they had seen this kind of thing happen to their neighbours at various times. They knew that it signified the start of something big. Instead of the regular visitations from locals and tourists alike, especially the large contingents of school children - their personal favorites, reminding them of the life they could have had, had they not been chosen to be the custodians of their ancient heritage - they were now being pampered by artists, technicians, archaeologists, architects, reporters, journalists, stonemasons, painters, plasterers, and almost every jack of a trade.

All of a sudden one day, they lost their vision; they no longer had a view of the light coming from their old house on the hill, the only home they had known until the day when they were moved into their temporary shelter, in anticipation of the construction of their new home, into which they had been moved relatively recently. Being tightly covered in trasparent veils, they could not see what exactly was happening, but they could still sense the excitement from behind the screen. It was their lost sister's space that was being treated with the greatest care. They could still remember the day when she had been taken away from them; their wails of anguish at the violence that had been inflicted upon her kept the whole town awake. Her captors did not find her an easy catch; they had given up uprooting any of the others, abandoning her maimed sister in amongst the ruins of their former home. Thus, she had gone unaccompanied, and they felt guilty for her loneliness.

There have been many defacers of the Acropolis over the centuries: some were accidental (like the first fire to break out on the site) while others were more deliberate (like the anti-pagan defacement by the Christians). But the last defacement is the one most remembered: look what he did (one of the Caryatids is clearly missing).

As the day dawned, a sixth sense overcame them all. They could feel her presence close to them once again, a sensation they had never felt so intensely until today. Could it be...?

*** *** ***
The plane finally touched down at the airport, but only a few people came out of the doors once they opened. Whoever they were, they were not important. All eyes were on the underside of the plane. A conveyor belt had been installed, linking the door of the plane to the long trailer that was being pulled by an articulated truck. As the box exited from the cargo area, a magnetic arm grasped the container firmly; no error allowance was permitted on this occasion. The box inched its way outr slowly from the plane and moved along the purpose-built corridor. When it finally reached the inside compartment of the cab that was pulling it, a priest wearing gold-coloured apparel and sporting a long grey beard began chanting solemnly as he thrust forward a burning censer in the direction of the container, its fragrant contents of aromatic franincense permeating the air. When he had finished his dirge, the container door was finally closed and the truck began its slow journey to deliver the container to its final home. It was not a lonely journey; police cars were flanking it on every side, their lights flashing menacingly, but their sirens silent.

The journey was an easy one through the empty roads, cleared of all traffic for the duration of the voyage. The real excitement started when it came onto the city streets, which throngs of spectators had lined in the hope of catching a short glimpse of the passing cargo. As the cab drove by, the spectators cheered and the crowds immediately began to disperse, scurrying away to find the television screen closest to them, to revel in the continuation of the journey until its final destination.

the caryatid fakes
These ladies are copies of the real ones...

The climax came when the truck finally stopped on the road leading to the ancient site. Officials took their positions and the container door finally opened, revealing its sacred cargo. Again the flurry of priests and censers, the setting into motion of the machinery and equipment, and the enormous arm suspended over the whole scene. Slowly the crane moved into position, the container was opened from all sides, and the arm was lowered over the cargo. Some people began clapping. As it began its ascent, the crowd began cheering wildly, shouts of glee coming from all around. It was anticipated that there would be a commotion of this kind; the crane operator had been instructed to wear earmuffs, lest her mind be distracted from the commotion. The box hovered in the air for only a few minutes, before it finally came to rest gently in the designated area where its contents would be revealed.

*** *** ***
There had been a lot of activity in the last few days in the sisters' home. They were still under wraps, but if their anatomy allowed it, they would be stewing in their own sweat. They felt a new lease of life passing through their motionless bodies, as if any moment now, they would be released of their pent-up grief and breathe peacefully once again, the turbulence of their past a fading distant memory.

.. who are now in their new home...

The day finally came when their blanketed bodies were once again bared and their eyes could again see their neighbours. As their eyes slowly became accustomed to the light, a new shadow passed over them. Each sister's view was restricted, so that they relied on each other for a wider picture of their environment. Only one sister had a more complete view of their surroundings; her room was behind the other sisters' front-room locations on the right-hand side. Another sister, positioned on the left-hand side, would also have had a better view had her eyesight not been damaged beyond repair when she was violated that fateful day after her lost sister's kidnapping.

But even the sister in the back room was having difficulty seeing. She felt a blurry sensation in her eyes, as if she needed to rub them; what was once an open space to her left was now blocked by--

lonely cariatid in the british acropolis
... waiting for their sister's return.

"It IS true!" she cried out suddenly without further though. "She has returned!" And as she smiled secretly, a chorus of songbirds could be heard emanating in the air of the building, slowly pouring out into the streets surrounding the Acropolis Museum. The citizens of Athens who were going about their daily business wondered where the beautiful music was coming from, as they all turned to follow it in its stream, close to the hill that had been looking over their city for so many centuries.

*** *** ***
The question is no longer 'if', but 'when'.

How long more will she be imprisoned?

*** *** ***

Greece has always been a bit slow to get things up to date, so that her modernism is always out of date by the time she reaches her intended target. That doesn't mean that Greeks are not trying to improve on past errors; they simply cannot keep up with the out-with-the-old in-with-the-new globalised culture that the world revolves around, at the best of times an impossible task in any sector.

One of the biggest complaints about the new Acropolis museum is the lack of explanatory material in the form of leaflets. They are probably still in the making, but of course they will be useless when they are printed, because by then the latest global museum technology will consist of freephone numbers that you punch into your i-pod which give you online information - and Greece will once again be accused of lagging behind.

the acropolis athens
The different layers of colours that make up the view of the Acropolis

This lack of educational material is not just a piece of printed paper - it needs a set of great minds to work out how to present a summary of the centuries-old exhibited works in just a few hundred words (at most a thousand). The Greek state can hardly afford to pay pensions at the moment; the educational material will just have to wait, unless some retired historians (or other do-gooders) decide to volunteer their services for the greater good. That's pretty much how the British Museum got going - collecting foreign antiquities for the greater good of Britain.

There are photography bans in the museum, although that has clearly not stopped many people from sneaking a few shots - they are plastered all over the internet (which is where I got the shot I used in this post). But I'm sure there is a good reason for photography bans. For years, Greece has been accused of allowing the Acropolis antiquities to languish, exposed to the vagaries of pollution. Maybe the authorities are just being extra cautious about the damage that could be caused to them by artificial intense light. This is pretty much the case for artwork all over the world; most art galleries and museums enforce strict bans over what can or cannot be photographed.

The 'what' and 'when' are covered in the small explanations given in the explanatory plaques below each of the exhibits which is helpful. The 'where' might also have been helpful too, but the truth is that most of the exhibits are the remnants of what was not destroyed or looted. Most of the time, it is difficult for archaeologists to work exactly what the use of each item found on a site actually was at the time it was made, especially when the items of interest are simply shards of larger items. The Acropolis has suffered so much destruction (fire, earthquake, explosions, anti-pagan crusades, adaptations for newer functions, and most of all, looting) that it is simply not feasible to expect a thorough explanation of all its mysteries, no matter how learned scholars, historians and archaeologists are.

Hence, the 'why' and 'how' is not covered in the explanatory plaques. But isn't that the information which the visitor to the museum should look up for him/herself? Self-education is an integral part of the cultivation of oneself - it cannot all be given on a plate (that's what makes smarty-pants know-alls rather than truly intellectual people). The Acropolis is not a collection of snobby elitist artwork without explanations. We live in a world where explanations are easy to get at the click of a button; it's a case of teaching a man how to fish instead of feeding him a fish. You can always buy the official guidebook before entering the site; in this way, I didn't have to suffer the same fate as at my recent visit to Knossos; thank goodness I had a brilliant guide.

snacking after visitin the new acropolis museum
Enjoying 17 euros worth of milkshake and apple pie - getting swindled after visiting the Acropolis museum at one of the cafes and tavernas located close by. Plenty of food for thought in today's post...

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Friday 4 September 2009

The ferry boat (Το βαπόρι)

Staycation is over - now it's time for vacation. We never holiday away from home in the summer, for obvious reasons: if I want a holiday by the sea, I just need to pack a bag and drive for five minutes to get to the sea. We prefer to explore unknown places during our holidays, and that's always best done in cooler weather.

Crete's insular nature make planes and ships a vital form of transport for visiting the mainland, and not just for passengers: the cargo section of the only daily ferry boat service from Hania to Athens (or more correctly, Souda Bay to Piraeus Harbour) is how Cretan produce is transported to the mainland. Articulated lorries fill the car decks of the ferry boat every night throughout the year. ANEK Lines' fleet leaves Hania every night (morning services are only available in the peak summer season), and reaches Athens early the next morning. The wind level has to be above 6 on the Beaufort Scale to stop them from leaving the port.

the ferry boat in port at souda bay
The ferry boat is visible from the balcony of our house. Click on the photo to see where it is if you can't work it out.

My experiences of travelling by boat are bitter sweet. For the first few years after I came to live in Greece, I always bought budget deck class tickets. Ships were then always overloaded with passengers; the maximum legal limit was always exceeded. This was common knowledge, and very few people did anything about it; it was patently obvious, from the examples below.

As the Hania-Athens ferry boat service is an overnight journey (it doesn't have to be; see below), if you are travelling by deck class (you may not be able to afford a cabin bed, or they were simply fully booked, which happens during all the peak travelling periods), you had to find a place to sleep somewhere in the hallways or the ship cafes, or the television lounge which had been fitted out with aeroplane-style seats. You literally had to hog your bit of floor space or chair; if you decided to leave it and wander around these large interesting ships to get a stunning outdoor view from the deck, sit by the swimming pool on board (the same ships are used for services linking Greece and Italy, as well as for winter cruises), have a drink at the disco (rotating crystal ball included) or dinner at the restaurant, or simply try to recreate the sensation that Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet felt on board the Titanic, someone else would get your space, and you'd be left squatting for the rest of the journey. It was always THAT overcrowded during the high season: Christmas, Easter, July and August (peak summer months), and all national and religious holidays right throughout the year, especially when they fell on a Friday or a Monday (or a Thursday or a Tuesday), turning them into three-day (or four-day) weekends (Greeks just love their holidays, whether they are officially on leave from their job, or not).

the ferry boat
It may look like I'm travelling on a luxury liner; I actually have no other choice but to use this monopolistic service if I want to travel by sea, there being no other marine alternative to get away from the island.

Passengers would place their suitcases, bags, jackets, sacks of Cretan cheese, crates of Cretan oranges, and whatever other bric-a-brac they were carrying over the seats or floor space to make sure someone else didn't take it. Then they'd go off and do their own thing on the ship, asking their 'neighbour' to look after their 'zone'. Some of them would return after the disco closed. Everyone's litter was scattered all over the place. The ships always looked filthy.

During the trip, you had to make sure that you used the toilets before people starting vomiting all over the bathrooms (using them in the morning was literally like entering a slum whose water supply had been cut off). During the evening, when most people were sleeping, the floor space disappeared. If you got up just to stretch your legs (or desperately needed to go to the bathroom), your eyes encountered a sea of bodies. People were packed like canned sardines; the floor of the hallways and the cafe bar (but not the restaurant and disco - they were locked up after cessation of normal activities) could not be seen. It was like playing hopscotch trying to find a space to tread on, until the early hours of the morning, when more and more people woke up from the cramps in their back or the smell of bodies so close together. Your clothes are crumpled, your bags had most likely been used as a pillow (for safekeeping purposes), and you felt as though you had just woken up to hell in a prison cell.

On the first of May in 1995, at the end of the two-week Easter holiday break, I recall making my last sea journey from Hania to Athens just before settling permanently on the island. Everyone was waiting at the harbour; no one was allowed on board the ferry boat, which was most unusual, given the carefree security usually found around prot areas in Greedce at the time. We were in the queue at the port under a hot sun for two hours before the captain gave the green light for people to board. As we did so, tickets were being carefully checked and counted by officials. The previous week, a ship servicing the Aegean islands had run into trouble while at sea. Passengers had to be taken off the boat for their safety. It was discovered that there were twice as many passengers on board than the maximum safety limit stated for that particular ship, and there were no appropriate records of the passengers (and possibly the crew). Exact numbers were not even known. That proved a turning point in the way Greek officials began to handle sea safety. Although Hania has not had many ferry boat accidents in recent times, one of the worst shipping disasters ever to strike Greece (in 1966) took the lives of over 200 people, many of them Haniotes. In the year 2000, 78 lives were lost at sea in two accidents, despite our leading position in the international shipping trade.

ship cabin good morning from pireas harbour
A romantic way to travel or a tiresome lengthy journey just to get to the other side?
Cabins are small and Pireas Harbour is not a sight for your sore tired eyes...

Travelling is a lot more comfortable now, but I must add a caveat: I am speaking only about the ships travelling between Hania and Athens; we never make it on the news in the way that most other services do, especially during the summer (ships break down, they collide into the port area or other ships, services are slow, etc). Passenger numbers are kept within the legal limit, people without a ticket may not board (Greek law states that passengers must have a paper ticket in their hands before boarding a ship, which can easily become a hideout), and cabin travel has become more affordable, ever since cheaper airline tickets became available with the rise of competition in the national flights sector. The public areas of the ship are kept clean, and people are not allowed to camp out in the eating areas or cart their heavy suitcases around the hallways (these can be stored free of charge in the cargo area of the ship). One thing that helps keep the service up to a high standard is the fact that ships from Hania to Athens do not stop at other islands to pick up passengers in the way that other ships servicing other (smaller) islands do.

Mylos is the only island the ship passes by, and it is close to this point that the two ships doing the Hania-Athens route (one leaves Souda Bay in Hania at the same time as the other leaves Pireaus Harbour in Athens) meet up with each other as they ply the waves in opposite directions. I was lucky enough to see this romantic meeting once during a sleepless night spent on the deck. Otherwise, it's one of the least enticing Greek island journeys imaginable.

But it's still a monopoly. Only ONE company services the Hania-Athens route. Every time a new ferry boat service enters this competitive market, it never succeeds. Minoan Lines (based in Iraklio) used to run a similar overnight ferry boat service, but this service stopped over a decade ago. Blue Star Ferries (based in Athens) offered a brilliant fast same-day service to the island. Both these companies eventually stopped doing business in the feudal nepotistic market of Hania where ANEK Lines rules, based, naturally, in Hania, a local business run by Haniotes for Haniotes. During the few times when there was a competitor on the market, the standard of ship service had been of the highest standard. Nowadays, if you voice a complaint, don't be surprised if you hear one of the ship workers reply: "If you don't like it, find yourself another way to travel" (personal experience); this kind of behaviour was sharply curbed while competition was operating, only for it to return when competition left. You have the right to complain to the captain about incidents such as these, but you are still left with only one marine travel choice; it's a take-it-or-leave-it situation.

ship meal from the buffet lounge
Ship food doesn't resemble in-flight meals in any way; ferry boats carry all sorts of meals on board, ranging from coffee and snacks to buffets to three-course meals with table service.

Flying is preferable to sailing, no matter how romantic a boat with sparkling lights moored at the harbour in the evening may look. There is more competition, quicker service (Hania-Athens in only one hour), cheaper prices if you book early online, with the added bonus that ships may not travel during rough weather, but flights from Hania are rarely cancelled due to adverse weather; that doesn't mean that flights don't get cancelled or delayed, but that's another story. The only reason why we didn't fly out of Crete this time was because the car couldn't be carried on the flight as luggage; come back and see where we're going...

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.