Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Greece ~ Where Life Gives You Lemons

In this part of the world, life does give you lemons ~ the good kind, of course! And when you think of  life in the Mediterranean doesn't images of olive and lemon groves come to mind?

Lemons growing at The Stone House on the Hill
Friends who know me well can attest to my daydreams of Mediterranean life and my love affair with olive and lemon trees. Over the years in our American Pacific Northwest life, I’ve purchased and managed to kill off more potted lemons and olives than I want to admit in my quest of having a taste – however small – of  Mediterranean life.

The Lemon Tree Patio - The Stone House on the Hill
Now here I am living in the Mediterranean surrounded by olive groves and have my own enormous lemon tree. It shades and shelters the patio named after it: the Lemon Tree (Wine)Patio. The scent of lemon blossoms are wafting in the garden and lemons are being grown at a pace with which we can’t keep up. . .roasted Greek lemon chicken and potatoes, lemon cake, lemon bread pudding, lemonade and lemon-water are all on the menu.

Lemon harvest - it is spring in Greece
We’ve stunned our local Greek and British friends when we tell them that a single – small – lemon back in the U.S. Northwest was selling for $1 at our local market when we left two weeks ago.  Here, where so many are grown, that we are having a tough time giving them away!

I’ve appreciated the suggestions from many of you on ways to use the lemons. I’ve got a growing file of lemon-flavored dishes and desserts to try. One friend suggested preserving them and taking them back to the States – nice thought but those agriculture-sniffing guard beagles at the airport would likely nail me even if they were in a jar - the smell is too aromatic to stay contained in a jar.

A friend told us the story of a Greek lady going to visit her son living in Florida who packed some fresh lemons in her suitcase for him. Not only was she ‘caught’ by the US authorities and her citrus gift confiscated but she was fined several hundred dollars.

We'll just have to 'preserve' them for use here and one of my favorite ways of doing that is to make Limoncello. . .


The Messinian Bay from The Stone House on the Hill
Limoncello is a luscious liquor that can be consumed alone as either an aperitif or digestivo, or can  be splashed into champagne or served in tonic water, think L and T vs. G and T. Or it appears in recipes for main dish flavoring or as a dessert; it is a great topping on vanilla ice cream!

I’d wanted to tell you about the origins of Limoncello but, as 'frequently happens in these circumstances, the truth is vague and the hypothesis are many and interesting,’ according to one Limoncello source. For example:

This year's crop - lemons anyone?
One story tells that Limoncello was created at the beginning of the 1900’s in a small boarding house on the island of Capri where Maria Antonia Forace cared for a garden of lemon and oranges.  Her nephew, post-war, opened a bar nearby and served old ‘nonna’s’ recipe. Another version says fishermen and farmers used the liquor to keep warm since the Saracen invasion (the first half of the 8th Century).  Others say it was invented by friars inside a monastery to ‘delight themselves between prayers’. Another credits an innkeeper in Capri.

We are probably safe in saying its roots are somewhere in the Sorrento, Amalfi, Capri area of Italy. We know that Massimo Canale registered the trademark “Limoncello” in 1988. And we know it is easy to make at home. . .if you have the patience. . .

Here's the recipe I use:

Making Limoncello
What you will need:
* 15 –20 lemons – clean, unwaxed with the thicker and more unblemished the skin the better. They should give off that ‘lemon’ scent.
* 2 (750-ml) bottles of 80-proof vodka.  Some say that cheaper is better and others say to buy higher quality so it doesn’t freeze when you chill the liquor in the freezer. If you can find Everclear, us it instead of vodka because it is pure liquor and doesn’t have any sugar in it.
* 2 – 3 cups water
*2 – 4 cups sugar (a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water makes a classic simple syrup, but use more sugar if you want yours a little thicker or sweeter.  Less if you want it a bit tart like we prefer it.)
* For this recipe you also need a larger 2 – 3 litre) glass jar with sealed lid. Wash, rinse and sterilize it.  (Old-fashioned sun tea jars work well or olive jars as in our case in Greece).
*  You’ll also need some nice glass bottles in which to put your brew once it it done.

Zesting the lemons - step one
Step 1: Lemon in Alcohol
1. Wash and dry the lemons. Cut off any skin blemishes, spots, stems, and ends.
2. Remove the peel from the lemons with a knife, peeler or fine grater/zester. Avoid the bitter white pith.  If any white pith remains on the back of a peel scrape it off as it will make the Limoncello bitter.
3. Put the peels in a glass jar and add the vodka and/or Everclear, leaving at least two inches at the top.
My lemon peels
4. Leave the lemons to steep in the jar in a cool, dark place until the peels lose their bright color, at least two weeks.  (I have left mine for 2 – 3 months before adding the simple syrup, some recipes say leave it at this stage for a month and add simple syrup then let the mixture set for another month.) Every couple of weeks swirl the peels around in the jar to mix up the oils in the alcohol.

Step 2: Make the simple syrup and add it
1. Put the sugar and water in a saucepan, stir and slowly heat until it turns clear and all the sugar is dissolved completely. Let the syrup cool.
2. Put the cooled syrup in the jar with the lemons (if you used a small jar you may need to divide the batch into two at this step).
3. Put the jars back in the dark place for at least two weeks (here, is where some say to let it macerate longer).

Key ingredients of Limoncello
Step 3: Strain and bottle
1.  Strain out the lemon peels through a coffee filter or cheesecloth and pour the Limoncello into another contrainer. Squeeze to remove all the vodka and oils that you can from the peels before discarding.
2. Stir the liquid with a clean plastic or wooden spoon.
3. Put the liquor in the clean bottles, seal tightly and let it sit for at least a week before using. For the best flavor when drinking it straight, store it in your freezer. It shouldn’t freeze because of how much alcohol is in it. It is best served ice cold.
That’s it from The Stone House on the Hill this week.  I started my batch of Limoncello the same day that we set out on The Road to Residency here in Greece. We met with our attorney and turned over our document packets (that you read about a few weeks ago) to her on Sunday morning and I started the Limoncello later in the afternoon.  Tick, tock the clock has started officially running for both. . .

Until next week, thanks for being with us and safe travels to you all.

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Stone House on the Hill ~ Living in a ‘DIY’ World

DIY – abbreviation for ‘Do It Yourself’
            -- Webster’s Dictionary

DIY or Do It Yourself projects are the focus of some of my favorite blogs, television shows, FB posts and publications.  Always inspiring, they provide step-by-step directions to living in a colorful, clever world that you’ve designed, painted, built, sewn, or otherwise created by yourself.

The Scout completes the clothes line
Long before it became the catch-phrase for creativity, Do It Yourself, was a way of life in the rural area of Greece where we make our part-time expat home. And it continues to be the way repairs and projects are completed even now in our part of the Greek Peloponnese.

To be honest, it has tested the skills and abilities of these two city-slickers from suburban America, each of whom are more comfortable and confident at a computer keyboard than brandishing a hammer or screwdriver.

PicMonkey Collage
Dozens of parts and directions in Greek
In the States, we have been known to pay a wee bit extra to get items assembled before delivery or to hire a handyman to make repairs or changes. While we still hire help for many of the projects we’ve undertaken in Greece there is a remarkable (for us anyway!) number of things we’ve accomplished by DIY. 

By the way, ‘It’s Greek to me” is favorite phrase we use when directions for the DIY are written in Greek. Thank goodness for illustrations: we’ve often resorted to matching parts and screw sizes to the drawings and then guess at what we are to do with them. 

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The Stone House on the Hill - the Mani, Greek Peloponnese

Slowly, slowly, or siga, siga as they say in Greek we’ve strung a clothesline, assembled coat racks, and constructed book and storage shelves. Each completed project bolstered – a wee bit --our DIY self confidence!  Just enough that by last fall we were dreaming up things we could DIY at our Stone House on the Hill:

PicMonkey Collage
Chalk painting the chest of drawers - DIY project

Our first project – such a tiny step for most DIY folks but a giant leap for us -- required finding a paint store in Kalamata (our big city an hour north), then explaining we wanted to purchase craft ‘chalk’ paint, wax to finish the project and the tools to apply both.  (Keep in mind neither of us had ever ‘done’ chalk painting but I’d been insistent  we do it – after reading those darn inspirational DIY home decorating blogs. . .) 
“You know, you create your own hell.”  --Warren 'Dean' Starr 
While we still had the painting bug --  and upon discovering they make a paint for bathroom grout, we tackled our guest bathroom.  A dark-colored gray grout had apparently been popular (because it didn’t show the dirt) when our 10-year-old house was built. From ceiling to floor it was used, making the room look, well. . ., dirty.

PicMonkey Collage
Painting the grout white - a DIY of tortuous, tedious measure

If we each painted, we reasoned, we could probably change that room in a day. Once started we couldn’t change our minds either. So with teeny-tiny brushes and cloths to wipe the excess, we set forth. What. A. Joke. Hours and hours, days later, our DIY was done.  Happy with the end result, but vowing never to do that again!  

“Life is trying things to see if they work.”
— Ray Bradbury
So how much stone did we order anyway?

Having spent a week of gloriously beautiful fall weather indoors on that tedious project we headed outside for the next.  We had a vision for our garden area, so we set to work.  You might say that we had rocks in our heads, both literally and figuratively, on this one!

PicMonkey Collage
First step, hauling the stone down the steps
We ordered brown gravel which we would use to create new garden cover at the front of the house, to the side, and in parts of the upper garden.  Darn, those Pinterest photos of Mediterranean gardens!! First task, hauling the gravel from the bags in our parking area, down the stairs and to the gardens. (If you are wondering, we used plastic pails and made hundreds of trips up and down those stairs – a better workout than going to the gym!)

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge
-- Robert Fulghum

PicMonkey Collage
The 'before' garden DIY project photos
We added a new Greek word: kopiastiki, to our vocabulary. It means ‘backbreaking’.  Finally, we accomplished what we had set out to do:

Garden in front of The Stone House on the Hill

From the front of the house down into the grove. . .

Olive grove terrace garden - The Stone House on the Hill 

  To the side garden. . .

Our vegetable garden - The Stone House on the Hill 

And in the upper garden. . .

PicMonkey Collage
We added a winding pathway through the upper garden

“If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte 

Before we returned this spring we told ourselves  that this stay we’d get out and do some hiking on those wonderful old trails that still link the villages scattered about our hillsides. We’d go to the beach – something we have yet to do. We ordered books that we’ve been wanting to read. But then I saw a cute little strawberry planter on FB that you could make from a laundry basket. . .it just required a few supplies.  Then a video came across for making concrete plant stands and stools which could be so cute . . .

So what will we be up to this spring at our Stone House on the Hill? Not sure yet.  But we do hope you’ll be with us again next week as we settle into life in Greece. And if you are in the neighborhood in real life, stop by. There’s always time for a visit!  As always, thanks for the time you spend with us at TravelnWrite ~ Safe travels to you and yours.

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Friday, March 10, 2017

Road to Greek Residency: Next stop – Olympia, WA

The last couple of weeks our travels on the U.S. stretch of the Road Trip to Greek Residency have felt a bit like we were contestants on some reality television show. We’ve raced to gather documents and then raced to destinations to have them reviewed. We’ve questioned ourselves – and our sanity – at each milepost along the way.

On the flip side, we’ve learned much. We’ll be armed with cocktail party conversation trivia for years to come. For example, we can now tell you about the 1961 Hague Convention. ‘The what?’ you are probably asking yourselves.

Well, let me tell you. . .

I was eight and The Scout 12, when the convention took place. We’d heard of it during our ensuing 60 years,but had no reason to care about what took place there. That is until this ‘road to residency’ brought us up close and personal with it.

Roadway in the Greek Peloponnese
It was the outcome of that convention that dictated our next stop on our somewhat twisting, turning ‘road to residency’ in Greece.

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The Stone House on the Hill - The Mani, Greece

Recap for those just tuning in: We’ve decided that with two years of full-time home ownership and part-time occupancy in the Greek Peloponnese under our belts, we’re ready to apply for residency permits. The permits, similar to the U.S. ‘green cards’ grant residency and eliminates the inflexible 90-day in and 90-day out rule that applies to tourists.

Obtaining the residency permit requires several steps involving strict vetting of documents and interviews both in the United States and again after arriving in Greece. The documents presented must be current, i.e. the most recent bank account statements and such. So that means getting them issued as close to your departure to Greece as possible, while giving yourself time to pass all the required mileposts on the U.S. segment of the road trip.

While I sorted documents, The Scout organized the travel.

P1030083With the issuance of an ‘entry visa’ by the Greek Consulate in San Francisco last week, the real time clock started ticking. We’ve got a year in which we can apply for and hopefully be granted residency permit in Greece.

Before setting out for Greece, we had one more required trip in the United States. 

And that brings us back to The Hague Convention. . .

That convention: resulted in the creation of apostilles – not to be mistaken for apostles!

What? Never heard of them? As I said, we hadn’t either. . .

Preparing our packets for vetting - our life spread out before us in other words

‘Apostille is the documentary device by which a government department authenticates a document as genuine, thereby legalizing it for use in another member country under the terms laid out in 1961. Once a document has been ‘Apostilled’, thereby providing official government authentication of the signatures and stamps appearing on it, it is automatically deemed legalized for use in another member country.’
-- Greek Consulate web site

Some 82 countries – from Albania to Zambia -- participated in that Convention in 1961, which was called "Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents" and later known as the "Hague Apostille Convention".

Next stop:  Olympia, Washington

Before immigration officials in Greece will review those same documents we presented in San Francisco we needed to get them apostilled. Each document must carry our government’s seal of approval before they will be considered legal documents in that country.

The Secretary of State issues apostilles – and only on documents that first have been notarized. Next stop on the road trip, our state capital, in search of the apostilles.

Interstate 5 - between Seattle and Tacoma - Washington State
This segment of the road trip was undertaken yesterday -  one of the wettest, nastiest days in recorded history in the Pacific Northwest. It was a bleak 120+-mile day trip to our state capital, Olympia, Washington and back.

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Olympia, Washington

Map pictureIn fairness though, on a sunny day Olympia is a beautiful city. From it you can see our state’s stunning Olympic Mountain Range. It was that mountain range on the region known as Olympic Peninsula for which the city was named. 

That mountain range got its name back in 1788 when a British mariner is said to have been so struck by them that he claimed they would be a perfect dwelling place for Greek gods. (Guess there is a tie-in to Greece after all.)

Subsequently, the state capital was named for them.

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Original Washington State capitol building built 1892
Olympia, a city of 40,000+, swells when our Legislature is in session. However the bad weather kept traffic to a minimum and we were able to get documents notarized and apostilled in a few hours time.

An Apostille is required for documents in the immigration process

As we handed our stack of notarized documents to the staff member at the Secretary of State’s office, explaining they were for a Greek residency permit, she flipped through them and said, “Boy, they want to know everything don’t they?”

Ready for the next segment in Greece
‘Yes, they do!,”  we replied, feeling a bit better at the thought someone else had noticed the quantity of information we’d gathered.

A short while later 18 documents had been apostilled at a cost of $15 per document, plus $50 for in-person service. Notarizing those documents had cost $125.

Our application packets are now official and ready to be presented to Greek authorities. We have the required entry visa pasted in our passports. If this were a reality show, we’d have made it past the first two rounds and are ready to enter the finalist challenge in Greece this spring.

While we are off doing that, you might want to keep Olympia in mind as a summer travel destination.

There are guided tours of the Capital Campus, and other guided tours of the town and campus offered by Oly WAlks; there's the Olympic Flight Museum, the State Capital Museum and the Hands-on Children's Museum. And a stop at their Farmer’s Market is a must!

Thanks much for being with us – you continue to be a great cheer and rally squad. Your words of encouragement have given us confidence. And the welcome messages from our Greek friends have made the effort even more worthwhile.  As always we appreciate the time you spend with us. 

We all need a break from this road trip so next week I'll give you a laugh or two as I tel
l you about these two city slickers and their DIY projects in Greece. Hope you’ll be back with us!
Wishes for safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Greek ‘Road to Residency’ ~ First stop: San Francisco

We set off this week on our Greek Adventure; traveling on the ‘road to residency’. First stop: San Francisco, California to meet with the Greek Consulate serving this region of the United States. 

Golden Gate Bridge - San Francisco
What prompted this journey through American and Greek bureaucracy is the constraint of doing the ‘Schengen Shuffle’ (90-days-in Greece and  90-days out, per the Schengen Treaty zone agreement). We want greater flexibility in the time we spend at our Stone House on the Hill and the only way to do that is to become a resident-card-carrying person. The card, to which we refer, is the Greek equivalent to a ‘green card’ as it is called in the U.S.

The residency application process for Americans has two parts.  The first must be completed while still in the U.S.  So Monday we headed to San Francisco for a Tuesday morning meeting with the Greek consulate. The session was part interview and part a review of our documents which (we hoped) showed that we met Greek thresholds for income, health, medical coverage and repatriation.

One quick trip 

At just over 24-hours our trip to the ‘City by the Bay’ may have been one of our shortest on record. Northern California has been drenched with rain storms in recent weeks. Hotel prices were breathtakingly expensive, ($300 and above in the city’s center where we needed to be). So we weren’t inclined to stay any longer than necessary. We’d decided to make the most of our few free hours there and celebrate The Scout’s recent birthday in this city where crooner Tony Bennett left his heart. . .

One of San Francisco's famed cable cars
‘I left my heart in San Francisco.
High on a hill it calls to me
to be where little cable cars
climb halfway to the stars!’
-- Lyrics from Tony Bennett’s, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco

Our Posh (Hotwire) Hotel on Nob Hill

In hopes of finding a reasonably priced room, The Scout turned to, the internet site on which you book a hotel by its star-rating, price and location, then find out its name after you’ve hit the purchase button. He chose Nob Hill as it was about a mile from the Consulate’s Office; walking distance, if you are up for hill climbing.

PicMonkey Collage
The Scarlett Huntington Hotel - Nob Hill, San Francisco
We were delighted to find we’d be at The Scarlett Huntington, originally built back in 1924 as an apartment house but long ago converted to a hotel. It was shut down a couple years ago for  a $15 million renovation.  While room rates begin at the $350 range, our Hotwire prices was $175 plus taxes and fees. They upgraded us at check-in to a high floor with a room that overlooked the Episcopal Church’s Grace Cathedral.

A great, reasonably priced room and not a cloud in the sky.  It couldn’t get any better . . .but then it did.  We began the birthday celebration with a half block walk to the towering Mark Hopkin’s Hotel and headed to their lounge, aptly named for its location, the Top of the Mark for a glass of wine and a birthday toast.

The Scout and The Scribe - Top of the Mark - San Francisco
What unbeatable views we had. . .

View from Top of the Mark - San Francisco
From the sweeping city skyline and bay, to a view overlooking Nob Hill and Grace Cathedral. . .so many views in any direction. (For those wondering, our glasses of wine were $12, about what we pay when we go out in Kirkland these days – with no views like these.)

Nob Hill from the Top of the Mark - Grace Cathedral, center left
Then we headed a block beyond that park pictured above and returned to one of our favorite San Francisco eateries.

We found the tiny Nob Hill Cafe, 1152 Taylor Street, is as wildly popular as we remember it being decades ago.

We got there just before 6 p.m. without reservations and lucked out getting a table. When we left an hour and a half later the restaurant was full and foodie fans stood in clusters on the sidewalk waiting for their chance to get inside the small Italian restaurant.

Tuesday Morning: Back to Business

The Consulate’s office is in a residential area of historic homes and tree-lined streets, not far from Pacific Heights and Nob Hill.  The neighborhood’s architecture was postcard perfect:

San Francisco's Historic Homes 
We were early for our appointment so we strolled for a few blocks soaking in the beauty of the area and speculating on the history of its many building styles. Who had occupied them? What was the narrative they could tell?

Loved the ornate entryway

To Get or Not To Get ~ The Entry Visa

The time had come. Our journey would continue or stop inside this lovely old building which was painted blue and white, the colors of Greece.

Greek Consulate Building - San Francisco
P1030085Dimitri, the consulate with whom we were meeting and who’s name has been a household word for a year now – greeted us warmly. We spoke of the Peloponnese, our shared love of Greece, olive harvests, olive oil, fishing and villages. It was an enjoyable start to the meeting.

Then we got down to business.  We were applying as individuals, so our documents were identical, but had to be presented as though we were on our own.

I went first presenting and explaining each of the documents. It took an hour.

P1030082It wasn’t a slam dunk.

The insurance letter wasn’t written to specific categories of coverage as defined by the Greek entry requirements. ‘The insurance company wouldn’t write it that way. But it says the same thing,’ I explained.  He sighed.  The FBI fingerprint check, was deemed somewhat dated, it was three months old, dated last November. . . My doctor hadn’t used the correct stamp on the medical form. . . 

The Scout’s turn. The documents were identical to mine. Another hour passed as documents were moved from The Scout’s stack to Dimitri’s.

Dimitri left the room to enter our information into the system. We sighed. 

We paid the non-refundable application fee ($390 for both of us). He collected our passports and self-addressed, stamped envelopes so they could be returned once the application process was complete – two or three days, most likely.

Then Dimitri said we were approved. Done. No fanfare. Just step one completed.

Now the clock starts running. We have a year in which to obtain the residency permit. This visa is a one-time-shot. He made it clear he wouldn't issue a second one.

Then our conversation turned back to Greece. 
We told Dimitri to come for coffee the next time he’s in The Mani.

Back at the hotel an hour later, our mobile phone rang. It was Dimitri. Our passports could be picked up. . .the visas were attached. . .with visa photos as flattering as those in the front of the passport – no mistaking us!

PicMonkey Collage
Entry visas - set the process in motion

So our road trip to residency journey continues. It requires one more trip and a bit more bureaucracy before we leave for Greece. Hopefully you can join us on that journey next week. Thanks again for sticking with us on this rather long and winding road.

We can’t end this segment without sending a big, make that HUGE thank you to all of you who sent us good luck messages both in the comments, on Facebook and via email after reading last week’s post about heading out on this journey.  It is a humbling process and your words were just the confidence builder we needed.  If you missed last week’s post, you can find it here.

Safe and happy travels to you all.

Linking up this week:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


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