Tag Archives: Slow Food

10 Highlights of a Greek Odyssey

Saying hello while you wave goodbye is a natural fact of long-term travel. No sooner have you become attached to one place, one person, than it is time to move on again. This blog is a tribute to moving on: 10 highlights that made our time in Greece rich, memorable, and ‘real’. Time to say ‘hello’ to Turkey and wave ‘goodbye’ to Greece.

1   Aegean Sunrise

There was no one else around when we stepped off the ferry in Igoumenitsa. It took a while to find our way out of the international port to the dock where the Corfu ferries depart. Nothing to do but wait. I felt chipper as I gazed into the fishy waters below, reverberating with the significance of our visit. Glad to be by the sea again. The cold thickened. Richie wrapped his blanket tighter around him. The bakery flung open its doors, and the sun rose. It was splendid! “Hello Greece we are here, please give us the best!”

2   Cold Coffee

Drinking cold coffee is a pass-time at which Greeks excel. Not wanting to be left out of the fun Richie and I adopted the habit promptly. In Greece, cold coffee is as much of a necessity as it is an indulgence: the only sane way to pass the murderously hot long afternoons when your Crocs melt faster than Icarus’s wings. Most cafes provide wifi so rather than spend your precious euros in a smoky internet cafe you may as well buy a cold drink while you check emails and travel forums. Quality and prices vary but what stays the same is the sweet, smug indulgence of being able to sit and wile away a few hours while the rest of the world deludes itself about the necessity of ‘work’.

Cautionary note: unless you want to support Nestle avoid the ‘frappe’ and go for the real arabicca deal, the freddo cappucino. 

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Blues in the night

The rain comes down and we do not run for cover: not Richie, Giovanni nor I: we’re in the garden planting plugs of capsicum, aubergine, tomato and cabbage into beds that have humped backs like camels and are as hairy as Cousin It. The shawn grass we’ve piled on top of the beds shields a treasury of seeds: garlic, onion, spinach, alfalfa, buckwheat, corn – a cocktail of life… pure vegetal goodness

Richie tears a packet of borage seeds open with his teeth, prodding the tiny specks into the earth with soily fingers – here, here, there, over there. He scatters a pile of seeds underneath the leaf beat plants that have remained in the soil since last summer and are as thick and mutinous as an oasis of miniature date palm, seed heads drooping like sprays of dates on the stalk.

The sky is caught between smiling gold and the blackened blue of bruising. The lights in the village are shaken by the thunder until they burn a furious shade of cocktail-peach.

There’s lightning on the mountaintop and I’m cackling because Giovanni is laughing loud and it’s nice to be in the garden, planting plants, and letting the rain soak our backs. Before long we will be inside drying off, packing our bags for Greece, sending one last wave of emails rippling out across the globe.

In twenty four hours Richie and I set sail for Igoumenitsa, and that will be the end of Italy, for now.

On our last night in Busso Giovanni promises to cook two bunches of agretti that he bought at the market the previous day. From a sealed plastic tupperware container in the fridge he produces two small inferior black truffles to show me; he and the dogs found them early that morning on their pre-dawn excursion. There’s every hope, I tell myself, that the scaly black eggs will arrive on our plates this evening, shaved over a mousse of polenta or a creamy risotto blanco.

A bottle of white wine is in the fridge chilling. There will be four of us tonight, like there was on the first night we were here, when Giovanni prepared a meal of sautéed wild chicory (prised from the lawn at the edges of the driveway), dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, served with fried eggs and shaved truffle, and fried polenta bread cooked on top of the stove in a cast iron pan.

Giovanni’s friend arrives with broad beans. He plonks them unceremoniously on the table. We’re invited to eat from the pods. They’re delectable: crisp, bitter and green. We snap-unlock the seams of the pods and throw the skins onto the table. “Good mulch,” says Richie, chewing reflectively while he gazes at the growing mound of skins: white and wooly on the inside, apple green on the outside. Broad beans will be one of the first things we plant in our garden, when we have one again, along with asparagus, artichoke, basil, strawberries, and agretti. Wonderful agretti! Pride of Italy!

When we arrive at Giovanni’s on the 24th of May our bodies are in Italy but our minds have set sail for Greece. We’ve stayed overlong in Italy, or so Richie keeps telling me. By my account, we’ve stayed exactly the right amount of time – neither too long, nor too short. Italy had been good to us.

As we pull up in front of Giovanni’s imposing stone farmhouse on the outskirts of Busso, I realise there’s still one experience I’m holding out for: Italian home-cooked food.

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What’s Cooking?

One of the things I miss most when I’m on the road is spending time in the kitchen with Mum. For me, cooking with Mum is one of the ‘constants’ linking my infancy to adolescence, and my teens to early adulthood. It sustained me when I was low, and relaxed me when I was taut enough to snap. It gave Mum and I the opportunity to talk things over: with hands busily chopping and whipping our mouths could speak our minds, and before we knew it we were pulling freshly baked ideas and perspectives out of the oven.

My first memory of cooking with Mum is being allowed to lick cake batter from the wooden spoon – chocolate cake was my favourite. Mum was never fussy about hygiene. Fingers had as much of a place in the mixing bowl as whisks, forks and spoons. As long as you helped clean up afterwards you could make as much mess as you wanted.

From beating cake batter it progressed to poking cloves into sandy-coloured batches of kourambiethes and collecting fistfuls of mint and parsley from the garden for tabbouleh. Fiddly repetitive jobs were my favourite. Helping to peel and core apples for stewing, and chopping walnuts for Mum’s coveted baclava were two of my favourite jobs.

Later I became adept at more complicated tasks like judging the correct amount of nutmeg to incorporate into the sienna cake, and ascertaining when the bechamel sauce was adequately thickened.

Nothing was ever measured in my mother’s kitchen. We had a set of measuring cups and spoons that lived at the back of the cupboard where they were rarely, if ever, thought about let alone used. Instead, Mum preferred to use a heavy squat ceramic mug to do her measuring. Trust Mum to invent her own standard measure!

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Dogs in Heaven

Dino and Amanda are the type of hosts that every Wwoofer dreams of: fun, sociable, passionate and accommodating. What’s more, they cook great food and live in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited!

Right from the beginning, when our Wwoof Espania membership came through in the post and long hours were spent pouring over the host list, I knew I wanted to stay with Dino and Amanda at Can Col. They’re Wwoof profile said it all: “young couple living in a 17thcentury renovated farmhouse in the lower Pyrenees… surrounded by woods and silence for many miles around… we make our own bread, pasta, game sausages, pâtes, marmalades and jams… and we grow our organic vegetable terraces from which we eat all year round.

After arriving in Figueres, we were met off the train by Dino, Amanda and their two dogs, Rita (mother) and Lucy (daughter). It was a wonderful reception full of tongue kissing (from the dogs) and excited yelps (from the dogs also).

Dino (Italian) and Amanda (Catalan) spoke brilliant English, and it was nice to be able to talk freely about their lives, as well as our adventures on the road.

After several peaceful miles driving through fertile valleys we began the ascent into a rugged uninhabited mountainside, covered in a forest of holm oaks, chestnuts, walnuts and wild apple trees. Great ridges and crusts of limestone jutted out like stern eyebrows.

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