A Happy Accident

I had Sunday all planned out. There were a few chores but mostly it was about relaxation. And then the tell-tale pool of liquid on my kitchen floor told me it wasn’t going to be that way.

My fridge freezer is 9 years old and I can’t begrudge its retirement but I find myself working out how to gainfully cook the defrosted contents on this day of rest. The temperate evacuees sit on my work surface begging my attention and creativity like a horribly misjudged ready-steady-cook bag. In the salvageable category there is sweet pastry, filo pastry, puff pastry, meatballs, chicken and cheese. Less fortunate (and less identifiable) comestibles are mercifully relegated to the bin.

Happy on the outside
Happy on the outside

Filo? I didn’t even realise I had filo pastry. For the uninitiated filo is the devils work to make and that’s why it’s perfectly respectable, indeed expected, to buy ready made sheets from the supermarket. A trawl through my recipe books found plenty of recipes but all requiring ingredients I didn’t have. Then, en-route to the bin, I noticed a recipe for hazelnut baklava on the side of the pastry box – and here it is…

Ingredients
200g hazlenuts
200g filo pastry
75g butter
200g caster sugar
honey
ground cinnamon
cinnamon stick
lemon juice

The pre-cursor to much washing up I suspect
The pre-cursor to much washing up I suspect

Instructions

1) Roughly chop the hazlenuts and mix in two teaspoons of ground cinnamon and four of sugar.

Nuts!
Nuts!

2) Melt the butter. I used a ramekin in the microwave.

Mmmm, melted butter…
Mmmm, melted butter…

3) Brush some butter onto the base of a baking dish. Then unroll a sheet of filo (it’s paper thin so be careful) and lay it in the bottom of the dish. Brush the sheet with butter.

A pudding construction site
A pudding construction site

4) Add another 6 or 7 sheets, placing each on top of the last and buttering each one. Then spread half of the nut mixture evenly over the top layer.

This is going to be filling
This is going to be filling

5) Place another 3 buttered sheets over the nuts, then sprinkle the rest of the nuts into a second later. Add the remaining sheets one by one buttering as you go. If you are me (stupid) now use a knife to trim the pastry over spill from the sides of the dish. Alternatively you could trim the sheets to dish size prior to placing them. Doh!

Trim it first. Doh!
Trim it first. Doh!

6) Now carefully use a sharp knife to slice this pale Greek odyssey into bite sized portions – you will find it hard once cooked. Diagonals are more traditional but square is lazier and quicker. Sprinkle the surface with water to minimise the risk of burning and place in the oven at 190 degrees for around 30 minutes.

Pale and pasty like an English tourist on a Corfu beach
Pale, pasty and half-cut – like an English tourist on a Corfu beach

7) While the dish is in the oven make a syrup. Put the sugar, 200ml of water, a cinnamon stick and 3 teaspoons of lemon juice in a pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add a three or four heaped teaspoons of honey and simmer for a further 5 minutes.

Still nothing healthy in sight
Still nothing healthy in sight

8) When the baklava is baked and golden remove it from the oven and after 10 minutes of cooling pour the syrup over.

Καλημέρα!
Καλημέρα!

9) When it’s cool eat a slice, forget it’s January and dream of warmer Aegean climes.

By Zeus, it actually looks like baklava!
By Zeus, it actually looks like baklava!

The result is an authentic tasting sticky Greek treat – very scoffable without ever quite meeting the heights of the Greek Easter Cake I wrote about a while ago. I would add a little rose water next time and perhaps throw some cloves & cardamom pods into the syrup. Next time? I’ll throw some more filo into my new freezer when it arrives and hope it’s less reliable than the last one.

Kefalonia – A Greek Odyssey

I’ve just returned from the Greek Island of Kefalonia – my second visit in three years. Normally I blog my travels but this was a family affair so I didn’t have enough time to myself, or indeed any guarantee of WiFi connectivity. Instead, with the tan fading and a glass of Ouzo over ice at my side here is my attempt to capture the essence of the island in visual form.

The Island
Kefalonia sits in the northern Ionian island chain west of Mainland Greece within easy sailing distance of the heel of Italy. The island was the setting for the book/film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Like all Greek islands there are fine views, plenty of sunshine and a great quality of light at either end of the day.

Sami beach life
Sami beach life
View from Assos harbour
View from Assos harbour
Myrtos Beach
Myrtos Beach
Assos Waterfront
Assos Waterfront
Sunset from my balcony
Sunset from my balcony
What's up there?
What\’s up there?
Tim's going to see the fishes
Tim\’s going to see the fishes
Nightfall over Lixouri
Nightfall over Lixouri

There’s a lot more to Kefalonia however. There is a delightfully cool cave at Drogerati, a stunning deep blue pool in the open roofed Mellisani cave and the Robola vinyards and winery where disconcertingly a Yorkshireman runs the wine tasting sessions.

Drogarati cave
Drogarati cave
Mellisani cave
Mellisani cave
Grapes at the winery
Grapes at the winery

The commanding castles at Assos and Agios Giorgious allude to a long and turbulent history.

View from Kastro
View from Kastro

1953 and all that
The defining post-war moment came in 1953 when an earthquake destroyed many buildings on the island. The legacy of this day remains visible in many locations and old people will still clearly remember the moment when the world changed for them

Now it only clangs
Now it only clangs
It's a church of two halves
It\’s a church of two halves
Legacy of the 53 quake
Legacy of the 53 quake

Daily Life
Tourism remains important to the island but there’s plenty more going on. Whenever I travel anywhere it is the local way of life that appeals most, ahead of any concessions to tourism. It was refreshing to see people living life in the slow lane, taking the time to stop and talk to neighbours in the shade. You want fruit you go to the fruit stall. You want fish you go to the fisherman.

Fresh fish
Fresh fish
Passing the time
Passing the time
Honey for sale
Honey for sale
Nice big melons
Nice big melons

I saw many churches and plenty of roadside shrines to various saints, kept fresh and lit at night time by souls unknown.

Roadside shrine
Roadside shrine
Kerb crawling monk
Kerb crawling monk

Plants and Creatures
In contrast to some of the more desertified islands further south Kefalonia is relatively green and fertile. Many people grow their own fruit (oranges, lemons, figs, etc) and vegetables. On my previous visit I drove through mountain villages stuck behind a lorry that at first glance appeared to be selling produce to people by the side of the road. It soon dawned on me that people were flagging down the lorry to sell their own excess produce for resale elsewhere.

One of the highlights on this visit was the sight of a friendly turtle that was a regular visitor to the quayside in Argostoli. I would imagine the fellow is considerably older than me.

Neither mutant or ninja
Neither mutant or ninja
Lizard point
Lizard point

Sami Bay
Sami Bay

Getting about
Greece is an island nation and I saw plenty of boats arriving from places like Corfu, Athens, Patras and Brindisi bearing Greek and Italian passengers and cars. The island capital of Argostoli is also a stopping off point for the huge cruise ships that hop from port to port around the Mediterranean.

Island Ferry
Island Ferry
Night boat to Athens
Night boat to Athens
Motoring time warp
Motoring time warp
Beat up Datsun
Beat up Datsun
End of the road?
End of the road?
Once a moped
Once a moped

Meanwhile island residents seem to prefer ancient and often battered old vehicles to the KTEL bus service that seems to provide a reasonable service, so long as you aren’t too reliant on timeliness.

Food and drink
I love Greek food and there are no shortage of tavernas selling Mousaka, Dolmades, Kleftico, Stifado, Humous, Pastichio, etc, etc. The local speciality is the lovely Kefalonian Meat Pie.

I tried the local wine (better than my home brew, but that’s not saying much) and survived largely on iced coffee and Baklava, while my nephews seemed to consume an inordinate amount of ice cream.

Local Robola wine
Local Robola wine
Iced coffee - my favourite!
Iced coffee – my favourite!
Various filo/syrup combinations
Various filo/syrup combinations
Ice Cream Impatience
Ice Cream Impatience
Glamourous Derby bar
Glamourous Derby bar
Baklava syrupy goodness
Baklava syrupy goodness

Lost in translation
Finally, here are a few adverts and menus that made me chuckle. You may need to click on the images to view the text in a readable size…

Aftershave or manifesto?
Aftershave or manifesto?
Whrimps - my favourite!
Whrimps – my favourite!
Anonymous salad
Anonymous salad
Gordon who?
Gordon who?
Its a sign peeps init
Its a sign peeps init
No regrets...
No regrets…
Hot dog
Hot dog

I feel I know Kefalonia quite well now and with so many other places I want to visit I can’t imagine myself returning for any period of time. Perhaps one day I will fly to Athens and board a ferry to Argostoli, hopping my way from island to island. I may even have digested this weeks baklava intake by then, but I doubt it.