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Monthly Archives: May 2013

In the early afternoon of a hot and windy August day in 1917, a woman was frying aubergines.

It proved to be a fatal choice… A spark from her stove inflamed a nearby barn and the rest is history. An uncontrolled fire ravaged Thessaloniki for thirty-two hours, burning down two-thirds of the city and changing its face for ever.

It is a different city I walk in on a late spring morning, that is for sure.  To my eyes, Thessaloniki is a city of merchants. A port and a hub. A place of mixity, decline, resurrection, trade and culture with an unbroken history of more than two thousand years.

I walk up from the train station onto Olymbou street, dotted with a multitude of interesting shops and leading all the way to the Rotonda.

vintageThe Rotonda. Once a pagan, then Christian and later a Muslim place of worship. I grew up with the round temple being concealed by scaffolding. It almost became a joke. Nowadays however, it is open and definitively worth a visit.

RotondaAfter the Rotonda, the most natural thing to do is to make a 90 degree-turn, head down on Navarinou street all the way to the sea-front, enjoying the smell of praline-filled crepes suspended in the air.

navarinouSo I do. I walk along the blue water line and then turn right up towards Aristotelous where I enter the covered markets.

fishmarketI wander around the alleys and look at stalls filled with fish, meat,  vegetables and fruit, spices, teas, dairy products, pickles…

olivesBezesteni, Kapani, Modiano: enchanted labyrinth-like marketplaces.

Somehow, this is where I can best feel the pulse of the city, its heart beating the strongest. Here where for centuries people have been interacting, exchanging and labouring for their daily bread.

Sit down, have a drink, enjoy a bite and take in the humility that comes with contemplating this intricate mosaic of past, present and future.

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Coffee school. Father makes coffee. I take notes.

Call it  Greek, Turkish, Balkan or Middle Eastern. It all boils down to finely ground powder, which as it settles leaves a layer of grounds in your cup.

It is made in  a special recipient called briki, preferably over a flame.

coffeeJust like espresso, it comes in a small cup and can also be made as a double. However, it lacks the bitter after-taste of espresso.

My father measures the water and pours it into the briki.

A heaping teaspoon of coffee and sugar to taste:  plain sketos, with a hint of sugar  me oligi, medium metrios, sweet glukos,  heavily sweet vari glukos. A level teaspoon of sugar will do for most palates.

Father mixes the coffee and the sugar into the water over a medium flame. When the coffee surface becomes foamy and starts rising from the edges, he removes it from the flame and pours a little bit of coffee into each of the cups to obtain the kaimaki,  foam.

servingcoffeeHe puts the briki over the flame again, and lets the mix rise up once again, without boiling.

The coffee is now ready to be savoured in matching cups.

coffeetandemSo, when are you coming over for a coffee?

It is nice to have a set of  recipes to fall back on when you feel like cooking something special and tried.

One of my favourite recipes is  the Sicilian  couscous trapanese. Despite its name, I have never tasted this exquisite ragout with  couscous. Instead,  I have opted for rice and pasta. Once I converted the recipe into a succulent risotto.

This rich, fragrant sauce is an excellent choice for a dinner to fall in love over, or to tighten the bonds of existing and new friendships.

spice

Use around 700 gr of white fish (4 filets) or 500 gr of washed and cleaned mussels and around 10-12 medium-sized shrimps, slightly boiled and peeled.

For four persons  you will need a can of chopped tomatoes, or a big fresh tomato, grated. I used some passata in addition to a big seasonal tomato.

You will also need a chopped onion, 2-3 garlic cloves, a piece  each of lemon and orange zest – preferably organic – 1 bay leaf,  1 cinnamon stick, 0.5-1  tsp chilli – according to the strength of your powder! – 1 dl of white wine, olive oil, salt  to taste,  0.5 gr of saffron – I used Greek saffron from Kozani.

Soften the chopped onion and garlic in 1-2 tbs of olive oil together with the bay leaf, cinnamon, chilli, lemon and orange zest for a couple of minutes.

trapanese

Add the wine, saffron and tomato. Let simmer on medium to low heat until the tomato sauce thickens. If you use fish, it’s time to add it to the sauce, put on the lid and let it cook on low fire for not more than 10 minutes, until it is done.

If you use sea-food, add the mussels and the shrimps. They are done in no time.

When the sauce is ready and you have turned off the heat, you can add some more olive oil to it.

pastatrapanese

Serve with couscous, pasta, or jasmine rice cooked with a pinch of curcuma  and cardamom pods. A dash of gee on the rice makes the whole experience  yummier.

I accompanied the sea-food version with some grilled aubergines and zucchini. I cut them in fine slices and put them on an oven tray with parchment paper. I dabbed them with a mix of olive oil and lemon juice and grilled them at 170 degrees. Towards the end, you can also add some onion rings.

antipasti

Roll the veggies and decorate them with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, capers and grilled pine seeds.

Buon appetito.

These mornings I am drawn out of bed by a pair of restless feet. They act as my very own faithful dog, eagerly waiting to be taken on a morning walk.

tiledroofBy eight o’clock I’m by the door, putting on comfortable shoes, grabbing my sunglasses and then I am off. Walking is such a friendly, gentle way of moving, laid out with sensorial distractions.

MillsMy mind can wander off or find itself comfortably empty while the senses get their fair share of stimulation. Sniffing at jasmine flowers and colourful roses, stopping to admire tile roofs and patches of wild green, listening to the sound of nesting storks.

JasminStreets are nearly empty apart from children on their way to school and some early birds  popping by at the baker’s and the grocer’s for daily supplies.

By nine o’ clock I am back, full of energy and ready to start my day.

breakfast

Weather permitting, eating in the open is one of the simplest joys in life. As soon as temperatures are tolerable, enjoying an outdoor’s meal is grand.

ColdsaffronteaI can still recollect the taste of English breakfast tea, poured out of a thermos, and cucumber sandwich from grandmother’s picnic basket on our many summer road-trips…

The other day called for a picnic in the nearby nature reserve of Echedoros river. Pure beauty. Inclusive of unnecessary reminders of human stupidity, aka litter.

DeltaIoanna brought a scarlet tablecloth, china, easter bread, and saffron/lemon verbena  herbal infusion.

picnicMy  contribution was a batch of freshly baked scones and marmalade made of dry fruit.

After our evening tea, we went for a walk and picked camomile off the  fluffy fragrant floral carpet.

camomilleHow else can spring best be savoured?

Red poppies, white and yellow camomile flowers, green grass, clear waters and mellow light…

Nurturing quietness and peace of mind.

Spring for the body, spring for the soul.

pantokratornonvegetarianThe air vibrates of hyperactive insects; greyness gives way to colour and suddenly I can not recollect how it felt to seek the comfort of a thick pullover.

bloom

shakenThis sudden excess of activity in nature is  overwhelming and strangely enough, it brings with it a certain feeling of melancholy.  Or maybe that is just my impression.

On board on a Ryanair flight to Thessaloniki.

There is something about three-hour flights that make them utterly boring.

I browse the pages of a women’s magazine. I don’t know why women’s magazines are such dull pieces of reading. Nevertheless, I go through it several times in search of something that will sustain my spirits during the 180 minutes of suspension in the stratosphere. I am particularly entertained by a proposed outfit that looks like a desperate dive into the laundry basket.

laundrybasketstyledWhen I land, in the heart of Greek Easter, a bit after eight o’clock, it is still hot. Hot as in tank tops and flip-flops. Grilling the traditional lamb is bound to be a sweaty, sticky story…

It is Easter Thursday, the day for dying eggs and baking Easter breads. I won’t be doing any of the two. I am picked up my childhood friend and we go to mass somewhere close to the airport, before chatting over a late coffee.

AgiosNikolaosOrfanos

When I wake up the next morning, it is already Good Friday. Through a last minute arrangement I tag along some friends for a tour around the old Byzantine churches of central Thessaloniki. We seek shade under the church-yard trees and leave flowers at the epitafios, the flower-clad bier, symbolising the body of Christ.

Rotonda

I like Easter, although it is admittedly not a light-weight festivity. On the contrary, it is as dramatic as  Aristotle’s definition of tragedy…

…with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its katharsis of such emotions.”

It speaks to us, because it is a reflection of life. It stands for  a process you know you have to go through even though you would rather not. Everyone can relate to its inner meaning.

Flowers

In ancient times, people  believed that the harvest-goddess, Demeter, would stall vegetation during the cold season, in mourning over her daughter, Persephone, married to Hades, ruler of the kingdom of the dead.

Then, in spring, Persephone would return from her winter abode, and Demeter’s heart would explode of motherly joy. The absence of colours would turn into a magnificent display of fertility and growth.

That is what I see in Easter.

I see the unsollicited grief and pain, followed by the  reassurance that somewhere beneath that seemingly lifeless surface, life is strong and palpitating, alive and kicking, ready to overturn the odds.

sofiawise

Clockwise, otherwise & likewise

The Chick on a Pea

Clockwise, otherwise & likewise

Buttercupgoeswest

Buttercup is a newborn and we are taking her on a 5000 KM journey from Ahmedabad to Kanyakumari

Sadness Theory

Music with passion for the environment

zee pause café

taking a moment, having a coffee, writing down some thoughts