Wednesday, 27 September 2017

A Purple Patch and a New Publication

My attempts at growing vegetables have met with ever more depressing results over the years that we've lived here. The first time I planted up our modest little vegetable patch we had a fairly respectable crop of French beans, after we'd saved the plants from being eaten by a pesky hare who'd decided that our plants were the new fast food joint in his area [see chapter 4 of Tzatziki For You to Say]. The first time I grew red onions I thought this whole 'good life' thing was going to be a piece of cake, since that first harvest yielded a goodly number of tennis ball-sized onions that I was well pleased with. I even had enough to give a few away.

We grew peppers (the capsicum variety), garlic, cucumbers, melons, courgettes, lettuce (various kinds, but we like the purple crinkly ones the best) and even a few tomatoes. We also ate our own aubergines (eggplant, guys).

As the years have gone by though, the quality of my yield has gone down the swanny, as it were. So, last winter I made a determined effort to rejuvenate the soil. Not only had I already left the patch fallow for a whole year, but I'd worked in a whole load of horse and chicken manure, plus dug compost pits for all our kitchen green waste and also poured on and dug in a few sacks of general purpose compost from the local garden centres. This year I was going going to reap the benefits of all that preparatory work, we were going to eat the produce of our own graft once again. (Wait for it, wait for it...)

It all started out with such promise. Our neighbour David, from two houses up the hill from us, had entered into the whole 'good life' spirit with gusto and built himself a rather impressive greenhouse from bamboo canes that he harvested himself and lugged up the whole kilometre of our dirt track strapped to his bicycle and acres of polythene sheeting that he bought down the road in our local DIY store. All we had to do was ply him with empty yogurt pots and he started returning them with all kinds of seedlings potted up and ready for planting out. 

It was all going so well.

Then came the hottest summer for sixty years. With temperatures pushing 50ºC for a couple of weeks everything withered to a crisp. What the heat didn't kill the water finished off because, owing to the water table having dropped so low beneath the mountains here, the stuff coming out of our taps for several months suspiciously resembled seawater. Salt water and crops - not a good combination. We had healthy cucumber and courgette plants for the first time in several years, some promising tomato plants over which I'd constructed (even though I say so myself) a fairly clever translucent green screen-roof to stop the sun from burning the plants while still allowing them plenty of natural sunlight. Everything was looking good for a bumper harvest. Then the July sun and the fetid tapwater polished the whole lot off. In just a couple of weeks our garden resembled the Gobi desert.

All except, that is, for one aubergine plant. Bless it but it wasn't going to give up without a fight. It struggled admirably on until the mains water was once again sweet and drinkable, until the temperatures dropped to a respectable lower 30s, and produced a bunch of very promising flowers along the way. Here it is folks, the only remaining living thing in our entire vegetable patch...

And doesn't it look good eh? If it wouldn't damage it I'd give it a great big hug for showing such a fighting spirit in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. If you click to get the larger view, you'll see that it has new flowers on it too and another modest little aubergine just ripening nicely. In fact, to date I've picked four little beauties from it already. Here's the one I picked only yesterday...

OK, so it's not the largest you've ever seen, but it's all ours and it's a miracle. I gaze at these amazing fruits and the colour takes my breath away, it's so beautiful. It's almost a shame to cut into it and eat it. The good news is too, that my ever faithful agrotis friend and advisor Mihalis tells me to leave the plant in the ground until the next season, prune it and it'll produce for another year too. 

"Don't pull it out Yianni!" he says, with great earnest. "Leave it where it is and it will give you fruit next year!"

So, after all the ups the downs, the highs and lows of a very difficult season, we seem to have finally hit a (modest maybe) purple patch at last.

Take a look at these...

Sorry about the quality of that one!
These are shots of a brand new perfect-bound (trade term for a publication with a spine) glossy magazine all about Rhodes that I picked up fresh from a pallet sitting outside the periptero in Krana Square, Lindos just a couple of days ago. Some years back we used to have a similar magazine, published annually, simply called Rhodes, and it was excellent. It disappeared though and for a couple of years there hasn't been such a great advert for the island available.

"Greece Is" seems to be an Athens-based venture that looks like producing a dedicated magazine not only for Athens and Thessalonica but also eventually for each island and, judging from my first impressions of this one, it's very, very good. There will be a new one annually and it will be available in shops, bars, offices etc., for folk to simply pick one up and take away. 

If you're in Rhodes get your hands on one and keep it on your coffee table. It looks very good to me.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

A Unashamed Plug, Plus Some Other Stuff.

Me with the great man himself, chef Manolis at the Odyssey Taverna.

This, my friends is the redoubtable Manolis, chef at the Odyssey Restaurant in the Old Town of Rhodes. When anyone asks me "What's your favourite taverna?" there is a shortlist of probably five or six that comes to mind, but top of the list always is the Odyssey. I keep trying to tell myself, "You're not being objective Johnny boy. Surely it's not that good."

I'm throwing my hands up, though, and saying, yes, it is. 

It's not particularly expensive and it's not probably the best restaurant in terms of its layout, but what matters first and foremost is the food. The boss is a really nice and unassuming bloke called Babis, whom I've had the pleasure of knowing now for five years and counting (in fact, the taverna and its owner that I refer to in Dean's experience toward the end of "The View From Kleoboulos" is entirely modelled on Babis and the Odyssey. I didn't even bother to change the name from Babis [short for Haramboulos, BTW]). He know what a treasure he has in Manoli, who, incidentally speaks very good English because he trained as a chef and learnt his craft under a certain Gordon Ramsay (or, as the Greeks pronounce it: "Gorndon Ram-say") in London, UK. I was surprised to learn just recently that the often foul-mouthed yet undoubtedly excellent chef Mr. Ramsay is well-known here in Greece too. I knew that Jamie Oliver was huge here, having watched some of his shows with Greek subtitles, but I'd never myself seen our 'Gorn-don' on Greek TV.

The above notwithstanding, the Odyssey isn't pricey at all. Its prices are pretty much par for the course for Rhodes. The food though, is not only wonderfully tasty, but brilliantly presented too. Manolis quite evidently loves what he does and delights in preparing his dishes to not only taste superb, but also to look very photogenic before you demolish them. Here are a couple of examples of dishes I've tried in the past couple of weeks...

This is a new tuna dish that Manolis created. The fish is fresh and sits on a bed of garlic mushrooms on top of a sauce made from celery root. Words like 'superb' don't do it justice.

This is Manolis' tuna Carpaccio (a starter). Wafer thin tuna done with lemon juice and olive oil, topped with chopped spring onions and caper berries and accompanied (Manolis told me especially for me!) by slices of octopus. I often don't order octopus because it's usually in too much vinegar, but not so this one. The salad is a tossed green salad with grated Kefalotyri.
I don't eat meat and often find that, even in very good tavernas, that presents a challenge. At the Odyssey, however there is an excellent choice of both vegetarian and vegan dishes and someone of either persuasion can eat like a king or queen with no shortage of choice whatsoever. There are a few Greek specialities that both me and the better half love, including kollokyth'okeftedes (Courgette rissoles), which at the Odyssey are the best I've ever eaten. Fact. Manolis works wonders with a couple of mushroom starters too. Oh, I could go on for a long time. For meat eaters, as an example, I've been told by several people over the years that Manoli's lamb kleftiko is the best they've ever eaten, anywhere.

Lots of tavernas only give you one or two choices when it comes to potatoes. it's either chips (French fries folks) or perhaps a jacket wrapped in foil. Manolis, on the other hand does oven potatoes that are simply melt-in-the-mouth scrumptious.

This is a shot from last year. That rectangular dish on my side of the table is Manolis' oven potatoes.

If you're tempted to give the Odyssey a try, then this might help, because it's sometimes a little difficult to find it, since it's not on one of the Old Town's main thoroughfares...

Been mooching around the town again of late and I've taken a few new photos to show a couple of changes for the better that have been going on, apart from just views I like the look of...

The very old (check out the door on the right hand side)...

...and the inevitable evidence of how the world moves on!

A lot of work is being done on the three windmills on the harbour wall at Mandraki. For many years the windmills had no sails at all. Now they've been restored and even have their canvasses ready to be rolled out. I hope I get to see them when they are fully extended. Should be a pretty sight.

The Palace of the Grand Master is by far the archeologists' preferred site for where once stood the Colossus, by the way. All that stuff about him standing with his feet either side of the harbour entrance is, sadly, the stuff of fairy tales. Makes sense too, as the Palace stands on the highest spot anywhere near the harbour area. Watch this video, it's very good.

Another shot showing the restored sails on the Mandraki windmills.

I just liked this view!

If you watched the video about the Colossus, you'll appreciate this one. Look at the clock tower. If you didn't watch it, here's the link again.

Well, there we are folks. I'm often asked why I don't write about food. Well, this time no complaints!

Monday, 11 September 2017

Pick Us Up at the Airport

Anyone who's made the move, taken the plunge, bitten the bullet and moved abroad will identify with this post. We have a couple of new friends who've proven the point (to their annoyance and cost) since moving out here just this year.

I'm talking about how you soon risk the danger of becoming a cheap hotel for all the people you knew from a distance when you lived back in the country of your birth. In our case I can well illustrate the point. Back in the UK we used to attend the occasional convention, party, gathering, whatever - you know the score, where we'd bump into people we really only knew from those occasions. They were the ones you'd stop and say hello to for the briefest of moments, before the both of you ran out of things to say and you'd pretend to spot someone else and move on (Check this out!). They weren't necessarily bores or unpleasant people, they were just folk you only knew from a distance, right?

So, we arrived out here in August of 2005 and not a month had passed before someone we'd only known in this way rang us up from the UK. For the sake of this tale, I'll call him Peter Parker (name changed, to protect the guilty). How he even got hold of our Greek number is a mystery I never got to the bottom of. No doubt he asked someone who knew someone who knew someone close to us or something. Anyway, I answered the phone one day and this voice says:

"Hi John, how you doing? Peter here. Parker, you remember. Just curious to see how it was going. Keeping in touch, that sort of thing."

Oddly, when we'd lived in the UK, we'd bumped into good old Peter once or twice a year at a gathering of friends and acquaintances and never exchanged more than an  "All right? How are you? OK? Good. ...Bye then!"

To the best of my memory we'd never been to his house and he'd never been to ours. From memory he was a pleasant enough bloke, but that's not the argument here. How strange that once we'd moved to a Greek island he felt this need to keep in touch. Why do I have this nagging feeling that, were I to have said, "You must come over and visit some time," He'd have been booking his flights before you can say unwelcome visitors. He called us once a month or so for well over a year, all the time the 'elephant in the room' of our conversation was the invitation to come visit that I never extended to him.

It doesn't always have to be these people who one only knew from a distance. Sometimes it can be family who don't quite know where to draw the line. When this is the case it's much more tricky to deal with the situation without starting family rifts and feuds. Why is it that so many people are insensitive enough not to know the difference between an invitation and inviting themselves? There are so many nuances to this. If your cousin rings you up and says, "We're coming over to see you. We've booked for such-and-such a date. Think you'll be able to pick us up from the airport?" You probably just grin and bear it and hope that it'll go well.

Off you go to the airport at the given date and time, they stay for a fortnight, having come laden wth gifts both of a practical and a luxury nature (I'm rather partial to an old Ely Malt myself, ...only saying), they can't do enough for you when it comes to sharing the kitchen arrangements, like preparing food and washing up, they dig out your vacuum cleaner (and actually use it!) and hang out the washing, demonstrating every moment how much they appreciate your hospitality. Maybe they take you out for a meal once or twice too. When the time comes to run them back to the airport, although you probably heave a big sigh of relief, you decide nevertheless that they were very good guests and you wouldn't mind them coming again some time. That's 'some time', of course, not a few weeks later when they call to say that they enjoyed their stay so much that they've decided to come again this season.

Of course, all too often they turn out to be the ones who most definitely want to stay in a cheap hotel, leaving you and yours to run around waiting on them hand-foot-and-finger. They lounge around under the parasol outside, buried in their latest novel, with a gin and tonic at hand while you wash up the dinner things for the sixth time. They leave various stuff (cameras, phones, snorkels, items of clothing, glasses...) lying around on every horizontal surface and tread sand into your bedroom without noticing. They flop down with sweaty, sun-creamed backs on your nice indoor sofa after a sunbathing session, without a thought for how hard you're going to have to work once they've gone to get the stains out of your cushions. How were these people brought up?

When they're close relatives in gets very tricky indeed. How do you raise the subject of wanting just a little assistance with making a salad, maybe buying a few groceries, washing the dishes, when they don't lift a finger?

Of course, when people come to stay they also often don't get it that you're not on holiday. You have to get your car serviced, maybe you have a job to go to, you have household chores and perhaps gardening to do. You have bills to pay and people to see. In short, wall-to-wall sunshine aside, you have a normal life to live with all that that entails.

Flippin' heck but you need your own privacy now and again too.

Many years ago, my aunt lived in Florida. Having lived in the USA since just after the war, my mum's sister and her husband moved down there from Pennsylvania when they retired. They bought a nice villa with orange trees in the garden and began living (hopefully) the good life in their final years. Within a very short time they were entertaining a succession of relatives from the UK who suddenly wanted to get back in touch. Some of my family began pressuring us to go. We frankly weren't all that keen, but under pressure from one or two who'd been and had a great time (no accusations intended, they meant well, of course), we were persuaded to write a letter to Aunty Nin and uncle Derek with a view to going over there for a visit. I hadn't seen this particular aunt in several decades and didn't know my uncle (by marriage, of course) at all well. I felt uneasy about the whole thing, but off went the letter.

Some weeks later we received a letter with a Tampa, Florida postmark. I opened it gingerly and read what my aunt had written. The letter was two or three pages long, but the only words I still recall vividly were the three words with which she signed it off. After an obvious attempt not to upset us, she wrote:

"Please, don't come."

Thus I learned many years before moving to Greece a vital lesson. If you have friends or relatives living abroad, why not wait until they invite you before thinking about a visit? That way you can be sure you'll be welcome and not merely tolerated. It was nothing personal that led my aunt to write that difficult letter. It was merely the desire to have her own home back. People moving abroad don't erect a sign outside their home saying "Bed, breakfast and evening meal", so why should we imagine that they have done so?

If and when you do go, be sure to show your appreciation for the hospitality in as many ways as you can. Staying with friends or relatives abroad doesn't turn them, for example, into a free taxi service for the duration of your stay. 

When our place was being built, our friends and future landlords asked us if we'd like two bedrooms, or maybe just the one. Within the house's footprint, walls could be placed in any number of configurations. We opted for just one. This was primarily so that if we wanted to entertain friends or family, we'd be happy to move ourselves on to the sofa-bed in the lounge and give up our bedroom. If our guests were important enough to us, that would be no problem, despite minor inconveniences. If folk invited themselves, we could honestly tell them that we didn't have the space. Also, we felt that there was little point in having a room that we'd need to furnish for maybe just a few weeks' use per year.

I'm delighted to report too that, in our case, we've had some very close friends and even relatives come visit over the years that we've lived here who've simply booked a package to stay in our vicinity out of desire not to impose too much. Some of those were people we'd have been very happy to entertain here under our modest roof. They, though, demonstrated their appreciation for our situation by giving us space and both we and them enjoyed their stay, whilst also all enjoying the right measure of privacy.

There you go folks. I'm sure that there will be some who read this who perhaps never saw it from this angle. Glad to be of service.

Finally, on a lighter note, yesterday on my Bay-to-Bay excursion this chap definitely got into the spirit of the day with very little delay...

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

An Illustrious Occasion

The traditional Greek iced coffee, the frappé, is 60 years old. Its anniversary was Thursday August 31st, and last week the Greek Alpha TV evening news made a bit of a splash about it. The first Greek frappé is reputed to have been accidentally invented by Dimitris Vakondio, in the café/bar where he worked as an employee for Nescafé representative Giannis Dritsa in Thessaloniki in August of 1957.

According to the story, he wanted to fix himself a hot coffee during a break, but didn't have any hot water. Thus, he put some coffee (Nescafé of course), milk and a little sugar into a cocktail shaker with the aim of getting the coffee to emulsify, but when he poured it he was surprised to see the frothy head that it had acquired. Deciding to drink it anyway he was blown away by what he had accidentally created. Pretty soon the bar was selling them like hot cakes, well, like cold coffees, and it spread from there. Nowadays, of course it's the staple drink of millions of Greeks who have to have their frappé fix at least once a day.

I wonder how many Greeks would know though that the word 'frappé' is French? The verb to 'frappe' means literally to hit, or beat. Needless to say it's pretty obvious how that applies. Greeks generally believe 'frappé' to refer to the fact that it's chilled, or iced, but that would be 'glacé' in French, or 'pagomenos' in Greek.

Although the Frappé (usually spelt with just the one 'p' in Greek as it happens) is indeed now ubiquitous in Greece and Cyprus, in more recent years many younger folk have been opting for the slightly healthier 'Freddo Espresso' instead. Interestingly the word 'freddo' is Italian for cold!! Also popular these days is the freddoccino, invented by a Greek chap who was born in Italy apparently.

 And, here is a selection of recent piccies folks...

Evening meal in Filippos Taverna, old Rhodes Town.

Courtyard near the Eleftheria gate at 11.00pm

Our fave place for a few hours on the beach these days is the Sposa Beach Bar,  just north of Gennadi. They do a great choice of food that can either be eaten at table in the bar at the back of the beach, or your waiter will serve you at your sun bed if you prefer. This is how they serve up a portion of home-made fries. Delicious!

View of Mandraki Harbour from the steps of the Post Office building.

Back to the Sposa again...

...and again.

On board the Madelena during a recent Bay-to-Bay excursion. Tough work, but someone has to do it.

Anchored at Tzambika Beach for a swim-stop.

Well, bless me if we're not back at the Sposa again.

This beautiful little chap dropped out of one of our garden parasols as we were putting it up the other day. We probably really annoyed the little blighter, or perhaps scared the living daylights out of him. I was able to smooth his cuddly, furry back before he gathered his wits and flew off in search of a more undisturbed resting place.

Last week onboard the Madelena I snapped a photo of my sleeping work colleague Lubos, who is from Slovakia and looks after our guests from both the Czech Republic and Slovakia during our Bay-to-Bay excursions. He returned the favour this past Sunday as I was taking some thinking time after lunch.

Here I am thanking Lubos for taking that lovely photo of me. I'm pleased to say that he and I share the same sense of humour and I find him an absolute joy to work with. I only hope he decides to come back next year.

When you realise that your sun cream's run out and you still have a few hours to go...