Friday, February 3, 2023

Thoughts of Food ~ Food for Thought

 'Do they like Greek food?' I asked the grandmother of two teenagers who had been pondering a trip for the trio to visit us.   

Greek Kagianas (eggs) and Spitsofai (sausage)

'I don't know. Do you have a Wendy's or Jack in the Box in your village?' she replied, referring to two U.S. purveyors of fast-food, much like McDonald's.

I assured her we did not and that even the nearest McDonalds -- thankfully -- was a four-hour drive away in the heart of big city Athens.

Now, a year later, the trio has yet to come visit. I wonder if my answer had something to do with it.

Greek mezes (starter plates) offer a variety of flavors

And I still ponder that conversation. Every so often, as we sit down to some mouth-watering multi-course Greek meal at one of our local eateries, I wonder how the young guests would react to the spread before us. Then I wonder why one would come to Greece and not try the local cuisine.

While the ancient Greeks and Romans are said to have dined on locust and beetle larvae, that hasn't been a practice carried into the present day in Greece, a country that is the poster child of the Mediterranean diet with its olive oil, seafood, fresh veggies and fruits.

A meal out with friends - many dishes, many hours

In fact, that conversation made me ponder eating habits in general on both sides 'of the pond'. I went in search of eating habits on Google and one of the first things I learned is that about two billion people eat insects daily and more than 1,000 species of insects are known to be eaten in 80% of the countries worldwide. I can assure you I've never seen an insect in food served here - not even by accident! 

Other quirky eating behaviors that my Google search revealed were:

* Several sources claim that most Americans eat fast food -- defined as mass produced food for commercial resale -- of the McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken type between 1 - 3 times a week.

KFC Extra crispy chicken breast 510 calories

* Europeans eat on average less than one tablespoon of peanut butter per year as the product quality can vary, it can be difficult to find, and as I can attest, it is expensive when compared to U.S. peanut butter. On the other hand, shelves are stocked with Nutella, a reasonably priced sweetened hazelnut cocoa spread used on everything from toast to crepes. 

Nutella - a popular spread

* Americans eat larger portions and consume what they eat more rapidly than do those in Europe. We've found the opposite on portion sizes in Greece and usually have plenty of take-home at the end of a meal. As for speed of dining, I have to admit that it did take some getting used to the two- and three-hour meals here, but once used to it, we find it rather pleasant.

Greek 'chips' plentiful and fresh and not served with ketchup.

*The farm-to-table concept is alive and well in Europe. Even a hamburger and fries ('chips', as we call them here) will look and taste different than those in the States as the potatoes used are fresh, not frozen.  And the potatoes really are farm fresh as evidenced by the produce section of our local supermarket where they are displayed with moist mud still caked on their skins.

Fresh picked - the mud hasn't dried yet.

Thoughts on Food

Most of our visitors have been delighted to try local foods. I purposely wrote that 'local foods' because we aren't limited to just Greek dishes here anymore.  Our area's culinary vibes have definitely been changing in the last couple years. You might be surprised at the variety of food offered either in, or near, our small Greek fishing village in the southwestern Peloponnese these days:

Pizza Manina's pizza rivals that we've had in Italy

Take pizza for instance. We have at least one place in each of the villages (Kardamyli, Stoupa and Agios Nikolaos) that make and serve pizza. Now it may not look or taste like that pizza you get 'back home' but it certainly reminds us of pizzas we have had in Italy. The photo above was taken at a place in Kardamyli.  The pizza on the right is made with fresh Burano cheese, basil and fresh tomato sauce. 

The 1866 Burger is hard to beat

We can also get hamburgers at several places now - but they were a bit scarce back in 2014 when we bought the house. Again, they won't be like your favorite 'back home', as nothing is ever exactly the same. However, we've found our favorites and they are mighty tasty despite being served without mayo, mustard and ketchup. The 'chips' shown above are served with a sweet chili sauce that makes my mouth-water just writing about it!

Eggs Benedict with a side salad - just the right size

Breakfasts options have also changed in our part of the Greek world.  As new tavernas and restaurants open or old favorite's change their menu's, the options for 'breakfast out' have multiplied.  We have two new places in our village -- one a year-round restaurant and the other a seasonal cafe -- that each offer breakfast plates with a side of salad instead of carb-heavy potatoes, beans, and toast. Again, the meals aren't prepared like 'back home' because ingredients differ. In the egg dish above, small slices of whole grain bread replaced the traditional English Muffin.

'Toast' at breakfast means a sandwich

For a more traditional Greek breakfast, eggs kagianis, scrambled with fresh tomato, sometimes cheese, and spitsofai, thick chunks of country sausage cooked in tomato sauce with peppers, (shown in the first photo in this post) are a mouth-watering change from traditional 'eggs over easy and toast'.  However, one of our favorite breakfasts, or anytime snacks is 'toast'.  And when one orders 'toast' be prepared to receive a plate with a toasted cheese and ham or turkey sandwich with a side of potato chips. It is one of our go-to meals and it still costs less than five euros at the fanciest of places.

Fresh berries and parmesan cheese made this salad pop

I remember telling a friend who'd been thinking of a visit a few years ago that it would be difficult to find a lettuce-based salad. We had the traditional Horiatiki, better known as Greek salad, and another traditional salad made with cabbage and carrots on most menus.  Not so, anymore! Today the salad choices at most restaurants are many and include some amazing lettuce salads like the one pictured above.

A 'small' meze plate for two at a long-time favorite taverna

While the variety of our food selections have increased in recent years, there is still nothing like a good Greek meal served at one of our local, long-time favorite tavernas. The mixed grill plate pictured above is a good example of traditional Greek food.  From left, clockwise, there is hot pita bread, tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber, garlic), a Mani sausage, eggplant 'balls', meat balls, cheese, horiatiki salad, with cucumber, olives and tomato, Graviera cheese (like Gruyere), and in the center, cheese balls.

Mani sausage foreground, wild horta in the back

Horta is the name for cooked greens here. There is nothing like wild horta (harvested from hillsides and olive groves) served with some fresh olive oil and lemon juice. The horta pictured above had been plucked from the taverna owner's olive grove earlier that day.  Someday I plan to have a tutorial in harvesting 'horta' so that we can enjoy these greens at home.

Roasted pepper stuffed with spicy cheese

Vegetable dishes are hard to beat. The produce is fresh, and the dishes made flavorful with spices and other ingredients.  One of our favorites is the stuffed pepper with spicey cheese sometimes served hot out of the oven and other times served cold. 

Vegetables as a side to meat dishes

Of course, you can't write about eating locally and not mention fish and seafood when you live in a Greek fishing village. We still chuckle about the night that three of us dined at Vezuvios, one of two local fish tavernas. We all wanted to try the seafood spaghetti and asked the owner -- a friend of ours -- if a 'portion' as they call servings here would be large enough for three.  He said not to worry, he would make it big enough for three.  When it appeared in a giant paella pan, we knew we'd all have plenty for that dinner as well as leftovers for the following night!

Seafood spaghetti a favorite in our village

And just as any good meal is ended with dessert, I think a tale about food should end with desserts. Here is one of the best to be had right here in our village, Agios Nikolaos:   

This culinary art from Medikon tasted as good as it looks. 

And even closer to home, we had this wonderous selection at the Kafenion in Agios Dimitrios, about a 10-minute walk away:

Cheese pie, walnut cake, lemon cake and ice cream!

I may not ever convince the grandmother and her teen traveling companions to visit, but hopefully this post has given others among you some food for thought and thoughts of food, as you start planning your travels to Greece.

That's it for this week. As always, our thanks for the time you spend with us and hope to see you back here soon.  Safe travels to you and yours ~

Saturday, January 14, 2023

In Greece ~ Animals and their Angels

The committee meeting didn't start on time. 

Because so many things can cause delays in Greece, those already gathered sipped coffee and waited for our missing members.

Waiting for a meeting to start

This time the delayed members of the animal welfare event committee were late because they were busy saving animals: puppies buried under a sack of rocks in one of the village garbage dumpsters had been heard whimpering.  Luckily the kind soul who heard them reported it and the volunteer rescue team went into action. 

The planning meeting was eventually called to order. The fundraiser was a great success. And the puppies flourished!

The animal fundraiser we were planning was a success.

That is the way it works here in our expat Greek life. Those who care for the animals do both the fund-raising and the hands-on rescuing. We don't have those well-funded mega organizations like the Humane Society, or Best Friends in the United States. There are no staffed animal shelter emergency numbers or 24//7 veterinary clinics to call in Greece's rural mainland and distant island locations.  

 Mani, Costa Navarino, Kos and Kalymnos Islands

Here, the animals in a given region depend on local, devoted volunteers. We've got a network of caring individuals here in the Mani where we make our home. However, in the last year we've met other caregivers - angels on earth, as I prefer to think of them -- on our travels in our adopted country. While approaches to fund-raising and rescue differ, their work with, and for, homeless and often-times abused animals has literally saved the lives of thousands of animals in Greece. 

Today I am taking you to four areas -- Mani, Costa Navarino, Kos and Kalymnos Islands- to introduce you to the work being done in those locations and some of the volunteers who are making it happen.  We're starting close to home with: 

The Mani and Marti's Fund

Longtime readers know that Marti Bartlett was a dear friend and fellow expat whose love of animals knew no borders. She worked tirelessly for them back in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and here in Greece. In fact, for a while, she was doing both at the same time. She left us far too soon in January 2020.

A major source of funding for animal welfare

Her husband, Chuck, himself an animal advocate, has honored her memory by establishing Marti's Fund for the primary purpose of spaying and neutering cats in our area of the Mani. Not only the homeless cats, mind you, but cats belonging to or befriended by those who can't afford the cost of the medical procedure. This fund operates as a branch of the umbrella organization, MIAO, the Mani International Animal Organization, the government-sanctioned volunteer-run animal welfare organization in this area of the Peloponnese.

Chuck Bartlett with and Cat Number 400

In early December 2022, when the 400th cat in our area was sterilized thanks to Marti's Fund it was cause for celebration. That memorial fund has also provided shelters at a feral cat feeding and care program, Pantazi Cat Community, run by devoted British expat volunteers, Sue Lilly and Chris Spybey.

Pantazi Beach shelters from Marti Fund donations

I used the Marti's Fund to illustrate just one of the efforts going on in our slice of the Greek Peloponnese. However, other volunteers throughout our community are working as individuals - without fanfare or funding support - to feed, love and care for any number of needy animals. Greeks and expats alike have 'adopted' colonies of cats, providing food and medical care out of their own funds.

Cats waiting at roadside for the human who is feeding them.

The two photos, above and below, are of one of the cat colonies adopted by an individual in the village. The furry ones are often seen lined up alongside the road when it is time for him to arrive. Meanwhile, similar colonies scattered about the area wait for Stuart, a British expat, who makes several stops on his rounds to feed homeless cat colonies. Bill, a Greek Canadian resident feeds and cares for another dozen cats living in the wild at the village lighthouse. While elsewhere in the village, expats, Richard and Astrid feed and care for cats living along the harbor. In Stoupa, just down the road from us, Bill and Anne, feed and provide medical care to some 40 cats, using their own funds supplemented with some occasional donations. Restaurant and taverna owners feed other homeless cats who reside near their businesses.  

They raced to greet this human who feeds them each day.

While MAIO and Marti's Fund cats have organized fund raising events, this additional support from individual care givers are a godsend because -- even with donations -- none of the programs have enough funds or person-power to help them all.

Always in need of fur-ever homes

Cats are not the only 'fur kids' being helped, our Mani area volunteers in equal numbers are caring for, feeding, walking, socializing and sheltering homeless dogs. In addition, MIAO arranges foster care and searches for permanent homes for many of the homeless canines.

Nelli recently got a fur-ever home thanks to MIAO

While the good news is that several cats and dogs each year are adopted, the reality is that for each one adopted there seems to be another half dozen found homeless and/or abused.  And the situation isn't unique to our area. Volunteers, individually and in organized efforts, are working for the welfare of animals all over Greece.

Over at Costa Navarino

An hour and a half 's drive away from us on the western coast of the Peloponnese, we arrive at Costa Navarino, the sprawling luxury development that attracts the rich and famous as well as people like us who sometimes want a special getaway.  Best known for its luxurious surroundings for humans - five-star hotels including Westin, Romanos and W - and tournament-worthy golf courses, there's another feature at this resort that has won our hearts:   

It is their animal rescue efforts.

Anastasia with one of the fur kids at Costa Navarino

I learned about the Costa Navarino Pet Community when writing an article about the resort's most commendable conservation and sustainability efforts. Among those efforts is an animal rescue program. Who knew? 

Animal rescue compound at Costa Navarino

While working on the story we met Anastasia Paulopoulou. She is one of those I consider 'an angel on earth' kind of people. She has worked in animal rescue for years. She is paid by the resort to run the dog rescue program, coordinating volunteers and providing (alot of) hands on support for these animals who live in a compound tucked away on a corner of the resort property.  The time we spent with her as she interacted with the dogs was a highlight of our stay. 

Waiting for homes at Costa Navarino

Animal loving guests are encouraged to walk the dogs, visit the compound and with proper vetting are encouraged to adopt the dogs. Volunteers working to socialize the dogs, walk them through the resort grounds -- a win-win effort as the dogs get socialized and guests get to meet and adore them!

Waiting for a fur-ever home

The shelter is located an easy walk from guest accommodations at the Westin and not far from employee housing. Employees, we learned, are among the most active volunteers during their off-duty hours. 

On Kos Island

Kos island is part of Greece's Dodecanese Island group, just a stone's throw from mainland Turkey. We traveled there for the first-time early last spring. It takes about 30 minutes to fly there from Athens or if traveling by an overnight ferry from Piraeus, as we did, you arrive early in the morning. 

The island is enchanting, it is much larger than that speck on the map makes it appear. There are small villages, archeological sites, a vibrant Kos city. . .and an active animal rescue program.

We'd set out to explore Kos city when we met Dina Karanasiou, another one of those 'angels on earth' kind of people.  She called out a greeting as we approached her street corner display of banners, donations boxes and goods to purchase.  She explained how the Kos Animal Rescue  and fund-raising efforts of this all-volunteer team work on the island.  

Dina lives outside the city and rides the bus - more than an hour each way - into and out of the city each day to run the street-corner fund-raising operation. We made a second trip to Kos last year and I couldn't wait to pay Dina and her street-corner stand a visit.

Handmade items, tee-shirts, magnets, and souvenirs were for sale at her street corner spot.  All items are donated, and all proceeds go back to funding animal rescue and care. I buy souvenirs from Dina as it is such nice stuff.  

Cash donation box displays on Kos

As we explored Kos Town, we found cash donation display boards in other heavily touristed areas.  The simple display board is filled with photos of rescued animals as well as contact information for island veterinarians and/or volunteers to call if one has come across an injured or homeless animal. We marveled at the volunteers' ingenuity for placing one of the donation box display boards: it was right at the approach to a cash machine! 

Perfectly placed fund-raising display

Nearby Kalymnos Island

Kalymnos Cat Project

Kalymnos Island is another in the Dodecanese group, an hour's ferry ride from Kos. It is famous for its sponge-diving history and its present-day rock-climbing tourism. What we didn't know about until we saw a small notice on a community bulletin board was of its Kalymnos Cat Project.

Now before you get all in a twitter over the clipped ear in the photo above, that is how they identify cats that have been sterilized here.  Some vets during the sterilization will put a nip in the ear, others cut the ear as shown above. 

Now this Kalymnos project is spearheaded by three ladies, Leslie, Anna and Irene and was created by the French Les Chats du Mercantour in conjunction with the Kalymnos Animal Welfare Group and Kalymnos Cats.  Since its inception in 2021 some 800 cats have been sterilized using a Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) sterilization program, primarily with feral cat colonies on the island.  

Animals and their Angels

Street cat, Red, a favorite at our local taverna - not all are as lucky

The animals and their angels can be found throughout Greece. You might wonder what the topic has to do with travel, but I can assure you that traveling in Greece means meeting homeless animals.  Some are just lucky to have angels on earth looking after them.  Others will break your heart.

A homeless cat feasts on fish thanks to woman on the boat

I've included links in this post to all the programs I have mentioned.  Their websites and FB pages tell the continuing stories of animals and angels in Greece. 

Should you want to become involved with or support a program, I can assure you, you will be welcome. If you are coming to any of the areas I've written about and want to visit a program (or even better, adopt an animal) you will be most welcome!   

That's it for this week. Thanks for the time you've spent with us. Safe travels to you and yours ~

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Basking in Those Halcyon Days in Greece

Oh, those Halcyon Days in Greece!  No, not those summer days that most people associate with the word. . .but the summer days of winter!     

Sunset Pantazi Beach on a winter's eve

The summer days of winter are quite literally defined in Greece as the Halcyon Days. We are in the midst of the most amazing winter weather that we've ever experienced in our slice of Greece. These days are also known as Alcyonides in Greece; a time often considered a mini-summer break or early spring that takes place in winter. Occurring randomly - most often between December 15 and February 15 - they bring blue skies, sunshine and no wind.

Halcyon days in Greece

The dictionary meaning of halcyon is to describe 'calm, peaceful days' and is often used by writers and poets to refer to an idyllic time in the past. I can assure you this writer is using the term to refer to the here and now of expat life in the Greek Peloponnese.

Morning coffee in December

I began this post on December 15 after having walked home in shirt sleeves from a morning coffee at Pantazi Beach. Located just below our hillside home, it is about a 20-minute walk away. It is so close that we, and others who live in the area, consider it 'our beach' (as do the thousands of tourists who return repeatedly to it to spend hours of their vacations on it each summer). 

On that mid-December morning we'd sat at the side of the sea, the sun bright overhead and the sky and water alternating shades of brilliant blue. The temperature was 71F/21.6C. Later in the week we returned for wine at those same patio tables to watch sunset (opening and closing photos of this post).

Pantazi Beach on a December day

But I quit writing for fear of jinxing a weather that seemed 'too' perfect. I suspected that it couldn't last long, and our usual wet, chilly weather would return as soon as I published this piece. Our Halcyon Days don't usually arrive until later in January. Yet, here we are in the first week of January and the weather has continued to be as perfect as it was in mid-December.

Christmas Morning 2022

The Halcyon Days made our Christmas Day gathering at the beach a post-card perfect one. Expats have a tradition of gathering at 'our' beach for coffee, snacks, conversation and to celebrate the season. Most of us come from climates that don't encourage beach gatherings for Christmas. This year a couple of people swam, others wore shorts and shirtsleeves were comfortable. Last year's gathering was completely different as it was a blustery, cold day. That gathering was brief, unlike this year's that stretched from late morning into the afternoon.

Christmas 2021 - a contrast from this year

And Legend Has It . . .

First week of January 2023 - Agios Nikolaos

'Yes, of course', or nai fysika, as we say here, Halcyon Days, like so much of our Greek world, began back when Greek gods ruled the earth. Let's put all scientific explanations for this weather phenomenon aside and focus on Greek mythology - it really is a much more charming explanation, because. . . 

. . .Alcyone, who was daughter of Aeolus, the god of the winds, was so distraught over her husband's death in the sea, that she threw herself in the ocean to join him. The gods were so moved by her act, that they turned them both into Halcyon (alcyon) birds. Birds similar to present day European Kingfishers. The two nested in the ocean. Aeolus was so pleased that he calmed the waters until their eggs hatched.

Halcyon Days in Agios Nikolaos

While poets have been writing about those wistful kind of Halcyon Days for years, I happened upon a poem attributed to Chetta Achara, apparently the nom de plume of a person whose been writing poetry since 1992 that certainly seemed to fit the story told above:


At the winter solstice,

It is said,

The mythical bird

Mates in a nest floating

On the sea.

She charms the wind

And the waves

Into calm.


Our olive grove - Halcyon days 2023

We are definitely enjoying the Halcyon Days of winter at our Stone House on the Hill. We've spent hours working in the olive grove and gardens - in our shirtsleeves. Wild iris is blooming in groves and along roadsides. Cultivated flowers, among them, roses, lavender, freesias, and geraniums are in bloom.  Admittedly while basking in this wonderful weather, we are a bit concerned at the lack of snowpack (as in, none) in our Taygetos Mountains and the lack of rainfall here.  It could make for a very dry summer. However, rain is in the forecast.  Our Halcyon magic may have run its course for the winter.

A toast to the New Year

I will return to our travel tales from Thessaloniki next time, but for now, we wanted to toast the New Year with you wrapped in the warmth of our Halcyon Days.  Safe travels to you and yours. As always, thanks for the time you spent with us today ~ come back soon and bring friends with you!


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