Instructions for Next Year’s Hay/Straw Bale Gardners & Skordalia

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My blog subscriptions are piling up in my mailbox which sucks, because it makes me feel like I don’t post as often as I should. Maybe because everybody else who has been blogging so much longer than I have, has the rhythm down, and wham bam they press out their posts. I don’t have time to read all their posts, much less do more than I already am except constantly taking pictures of our food.
Who would have thunk that now every time before we can sit down to eat, I have to be all over it with a camera first.
Picture files are piling up and need sorting.

Lentil soup and fresh sesame and caraway rolls were last Friday's dinner

Lentil soup and fresh sesame and caraway rolls were last Friday’s dinner

Seriously, I see fabulously talented bloggers and as I have mentioned in an earlier post, I try not to become too overwhelmed.
I do think though that my last post was a bit on the too longish side, so I shall be brief this time.

Roasted turkey thighs with acorn squash and potatoes

For those of you who want to do a bale garden (like we have been doing for the last three years):

Bales laid out before planting. Ideally they will need to 'season' (decompose) for 3 -4 months.

Bales laid out before planting. Ideally they will need to ‘season’ (decompose) for 3 -4 months.

If you’re thinking of doing a hay or straw bale garden next year, AND are also using hay bales as autumn decorations on your front yard; you might want to consider buying enough hay or straw bales to fully complete next year’s garden IF you have a place to keep them covered (like under a weighted tarp) until February. This will be the time when you would take out the bales to start ‘seasoning’ them prior to being able to plant in them.

To establish how many bales (the small rectangle kind, not the large round massive ones) you will need, you will first need to consider what vegetables you want to plant and how much of them. If you are doing it for the first time, I suggest you stay within conservative amounts. Then, if you find you are really into it, like us, then you’ll feel more confident planning the following year’s even bigger garden.

Our first garden. We had 20 bales in an E shape along a fence. The fence worked great for climbing beans. You need to be on good terms with your neighbor for this.

Our first garden. We had 20 bales in an E shape along a fence. The fence worked great for climbing beans. You need to be on good terms with your neighbor for this.

Each bales holds two (2) well established and fully grown plants. It might seem in the beginning like one could fit more, but the plants get big quick, and the bales also decompose more throughout the summer. By the end of the summer,when you will have two gigantic tomato plants in a bale, or two humungous zucchini plants, you will understand.

Mid summer bale garden.

Mid summer bale garden.

The things that we have found grow well in bales are:
tomatoes, basil, marigolds (those you plant all together), cucumbers, all kinds of squash, zucchini,cucumber, melons, beets, beans, and eggplants.  I haven’t tried leafy vegetables like lettuces or kale and cabbage, because they are for cooler weather and by that time I’ve lost my oomph.

Summer squash happy in a bale garden.

Summer squash happy in a bale garden.

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So, get your bales and think about how you will arrange them in the garden next year. After Halloween, if you don’t have a barn, stack them in a pile and cover them up with a tarp. I’ll tell you more when the time is right.

Skordalia (Greek garlic paste)
Great for serving with boiled, steamed, or roasted vegetables, grilled meats,  or as a dip.

Root vegetables roasted with olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper, and lemon.

Root vegetables roasted with olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper, and lemon.

When I first started this blog two months ago, I was asked by my virtual friend Harry (we met through friends on facebook) to post a recipe for skordalia. I immediately got to work. The reason it took so long is because there are three kinds of skordalia that I know of, and for each post I need to take a few pictures, don’t I?
There is also a limit as to how much skordalia one can eat in a month.

So sorry for the delay, Harry, and may you have as much fun trying these as we have had eating these!

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Skordalia 1 – with a walnut base
This is the most unusual version, but my favorite, so I will start with that one.

1 cup of walnut pieces
2-3 garlic cloves (depending on how potent you like it)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of breadcrumbs
1/4 cup (aproximately) lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
coarse sea salt
fresh parsley

Blend everything except parsley in blender until. If too thick, add a few teaspoons of water or lemon juice until it has the consistency of a thick dip. If too thin, add a little more breadcrumbs. Season with salt. Garnish with lots of roughly chopped parsley.

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Skordalia 2 – with potato base

1/2 pound of potatoes
2 -3 cloves of galic
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
coarse sea salt
fresh parsley

Peel and boil the potatoes. When they are soft; drain them, then mash them in a bowl with a fork or wooden spoon.
Press garlic through a garlic press and add with remaining ingredients to the potatoes. Season with salt. Garnish with roughly chopped fresh parsley.

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Skordalia 3 – with bread base
This recipe is great if you live in an area where you can easily get loaves of fresh bread from a bakery.  When this kind of bread is stale, it is the best for this. Otherwise, use breadcrumbs.

1 cup of breadcrumbs (with 3/4 cup of water) OR 3/4 lb of stale white or whole wheat bread slices
2- 3 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
coarse sea salt
fresh parsley

If you are using stale bread, cut it in slices, soak in water, and when soft, squeeze out the excess and place in food processor, then add other ingredients
If you are using bread crumbs, add them with the water directly to the food processor and combine with the other ingredients until smooth. If too thick, add a little more oil and water, if too thin, more breadcrumbs. season with salt and garnish with plenty of roughly chopped parsley.

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On Climbing Mount Olympus and Processing Pumpkins

I won’t do a post about fall colors and the sounds of rustling leaves as they are joyously walked through. I’ve read too many recently and I’m thinking about October in another way today.

Greece – October 1988

We were all extremely exhausted after a grueling seven month tourist season of 13 hour/seven day work weeks. We needed a change of scenery, some good food we didn’t necessarily have to cook ourselves, and a place to sleep uninterrupted until our systems got caught up again.

On the suggestion of one of our crew, we headed to northern Greece. Macedonia. Achilles’ and Alexander’s stomping grounds. Lands of fabled creatures; half man, half horse. Home of the twelve Gods. I had just finished reading Mary Renault’s Alexander trilogy so my mind was full of history and mythology. We would find a lazy route up Mount Olympus, numerous beautiful and inexpensive lodgings, a full service lodge for hikers with delicious food, and unparalleled scenery. Made to order.

We traveled by bus from Thessaloniki to Katerini, then on to the town of Litoxoro. From there, two helpful taxi drivers crammed us and all our stuff into their vehicles and drove us up higher into the forest to a trail that would lead us to the monastery of Agios Dionisiou built on a rock ledge over the Enipeas river and gorge. From there we would follow an official trail (E4) up towards the hikers lodge where we could sleep some more before we made the final assent to the top of Olympus.

We reached the monastery at dusk after a longer-than-expected haul through deep, thick, virgin forest. We were carrying too much unnecessary  junk (bread, cookies, a birthday cake, balloons, wine, tomato sauce, etc), had no proper shoes, and had no clue as to what we were getting ourselves into. Hungry, and even more exhausted than when we left Athens a few days earlier, we looked at the monastery in front of us with a mix of curiosity and dismay at the work we definitly needed to do in order to provide some basic comforts. What we found in front of us was a dilapidated old monastery with nothing cozy about it. Half the stone building around the courtyard had tumbled down after years of neglect, leaving a huge wall with arched openings where windows may once have been. We walked past them to the center of the courtyard where a small chapel remained with a sagging round roof; ceramic tiles missing in some places, patched in others.  A pot of fresh basil stood next to the low entrance of chiseled marble. Inside, a candle could be seen burning next to the icon of a saint. Amongst the fallen stones in the courtyard a path had been swept and cleared. We followed it to a more intact part of the old monastery which seemed to contain some creepy looking rooms.
Water from a re-routed spring dripped onto a marble trough built into the side of the rock wall. The monastery was built on the ledge of a steep cliff.

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From top left, clockwise: 1) me looking down to the gorge below the monastery, 2) the monastery, 3) hiking along the Enipeas River, 4) lighting a fire to add some heat to our celebrations, 4) the dilapidated center of the courtyard. (Click the picture to zoom in)

Suddenly we heard something stir and we looked up to the second floor and a balcony along which was a series of rooms, or cells. Two cells had no doors and out of one them appeared a tall grey figure. We instantly tensed and huddled. The figure came towards us out of the shadows he was standing in. It was a monk with a long scraggly beard and even longer hair tied back. He wore the black robes typical of orthodox priests; this one patched in places, actually more gray than black.
“Καλός ήλθατε (Welcome),” he said with the softest voice ever.
He moved to the other side of the balcony towards the stairs, opening the doors to two rooms as he passed. Then he returned to the room he had originally appeared from and brought out a large basket and a plastic bag.
“Ελάτε εδώ πάνω (Come up here),” he said moving into one of the rooms.
Nikos immediately sprang forward towards the stairs, followed by Petros. Ritsa explained to me that monks often lived in old monasteries like this, preferring a secluded life. They also played the role of guardians to valuable icons or relics of saints. She told me that they must also abide by the rules of hospitality to strangers and travelers by sharing whatever comforts they have.

Upstairs we found our two companions sitting on low stools lighting oil lamps while our new friend,  Papa Yiorgi, went about lighting a fire. He made tea, then pulled out cheeses, smoked meats, dried figs, and walnuts out of his basket. He cut up some tomatoes in a deep plate, added a handful of olives, then liberally poured olive oil over it all. He pulled some dried oregano out of the plastic bag and rubbed it between his large hands, sprinkling everything in the bowl with the dried herb. He had hands like a builder who worked with marble and stone and it made an impression on me because I had been expecting old, frail, hands. He explained to us how he kept a goat, made his own cheese, and was relatively self sufficient even though the villagers often came by bringing him bread and treats. The villagers also came to visit the chapel, he explained. Inside it was a very old box containing some of the saint’s bones. The villagers often came by to pray, and ask for the saint’s blessings and of course, leave provisions for the old priest who guarded him.
We pulled out our bread and cookies, and between us all we shared a great meal. When we had eaten, the priest went into his room one more time to bring us a bottle of tsipouro that he had received from some visitors earlier. He declined to join us, telling us that he wanted to rest. He wished us a good night, and left.

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Clockwise from top left: 1) waiting for the water to boil. 2) the view from the outhouse built directly over the gorge, 3) more dilapidated walls, 4) Petros with a well earned beer, 5) Hanging out at the Hiker’s Lodge.
(Click on picture to zoom in)

The room was warm, dry, and swept clean. Other than the low stools and a low table made out of what looked like a slice from an ancient column, the floor was covered by many thick hand woven rugs and blankets. More were folded in a corner in a tall stack. We found the same was in the other room where we lighted a second fire. Plastic covered the windows to keep out any drafts. We rolled out our sleeping bags and slept feeling happy, sated, and safe.

The next morning was misty and cool as a fog rolled off Olympus and down through the gorge. We could hear the river passing under the cliff that the monastery was built on, but we couldn’t see it, so we decided to rest and wait for better weather before climbing the mountain higher. We stayed at the monastery for two more days; eating, taking short walks through the woods, having a birthday party, sleeping, and drinking tsipouro. The old priest joined us often and told us stories about his visitors and some of the pilgrimages they had made in honor of the saint whose bones he guards.

When the weather cleared we laced our flimsy sneakers and pulled on our packs in preparation to tackle a small portion of the mountain, before reaching the Hiker’s Lodge. We followed gorgeous scenery along the Enipeas River, part of the E4 European hiking trail, until signs directed us to head up along an ever more narrowing and steeper path. I had to make myself go into a trance to forget the weight on my shoulders and the pain in my feet and legs. I had long conversations in my mind, berating myself for being such an idiot for thinking that Olympus could be climbed by a “lazy route”. We climbed for many, many hours.

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Sometimes the path was a series of steps chiseled out of the mountainside, other times, we were simply scrambling over stones; up, up, up, the signs kept saying.

My legs were like jelly when we reached the hiker’s lodge. I was too tired to appreciate the scenery. I didn’t see the huge outdoor patio amongst the fir trees. I honestly didn’t give a shit at that point. I was blind with exhaustion and my feet were blistered and in pain. We were served dinner by a huge fireplace. Huge portions of bean soup, thick slices of toasted bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, and wine. Lots of wine. Sitting on the wooden benches and leaning against the rug covered walls, I felt virtuous because I was climbing that mountain. Then I passed out.

Above the dining area of the lodge, the attic space had been divided into two areas of open floor space, each capable of boarding at least 25 people. One area for the men, one for the women. In a corner of each space, were piles of foam mats that could be borrowed and lain on the wooden floor under ones’ sleeping bag. Somehow I managed to get up there because that’s where I woke up.

We had only one last leg to reach the top of the mountain.
Going up, and coming back down would be done in the same day since it was only a few hours each way. No trees, no lodges, no bean soup, no wine up there. I wasn’t the only one exhausted. Our friends from Thessaloniki decided that they would forsake this final privilege of hauling themselves up the mountain, promising they would attempt it again some other time. Petros and Nikos of course were going up, and me… well, let’s just say I felt challenged in spite of it all.
We set off after a fortifying breakfast. We left our packs behind with our friends, taking only a small day pack with water and dried figs – a gift from the priest.
We climbed and climbed and climbed, and soon we cleared the tree line. In front of us was a trail walked by thousands, a mere shade lighter than the terrain surrounding it, cleared of stones, and marked by the feet that had pressed it into being.

I was tiring faster than the boys who kept moving way ahead of me. At some point I lost them, but saw a vertical wall of stone to my right, which looked more fun than that slow and steady incline that was killing my legs. It didn’t look all that high and it was definitly a short cut. I decided to climb it. Looking back now, I am amazed at my audacity to climb that thing without ropes, without a helmet, or even a partner. I just climbed it and when I had reached about half way up, I looked down and realized that if I fell down, I would die. I hadn’t calculated how different the height would appear from the foot of the rock wall, and how big it would be when I was actually up on it. I saw Petros and Nikos, as they saw me from the snaking path that they were on.
“Keep going! Don’t look down! We’ll meet you at the top!”, they yelled into the warm southern wind which carried their voices to me.
I kept climbing, one move at a time. My arms and legs were straining but I didn’t have any more choice in the matter. I had to keep going and tried very hard not to look down. I reached the top and hauled myself over the edge and lay there until the boys caught up to me. I was completely done in and couldn’t get up. Maybe the air was thinner up there, maybe I had used the last of my resources, but I wasn’t going one more step.
The boys urged me to get up and join them for the last easy walk to the top. It did look easy. The path went up a short ways then along the top of a ridge, to another peak in easy distance. Maybe no more than a half hour’s walk. But I couldn’t. It took a lot of convincing to make them go and at last they did. With a few tears in my eyes I lay there and watched them as they reached top, then return to where I was lying. It was very beautiful up there. They helped me to my feet, and together we slowly hobbled down the path that led us back to the lodge. We stayed there another two days before we climbed back down the mountain.
One week later I flew home to my mom in Austria and slept for a week.

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In the fall I like to cook a lot of things that have pumpkin as an ingredient. I couldn’t find canned pumpkin in Greece because they don’t really cook with it as much as here in the states, so I taught myself how to process pumpkin. I hope to post many recipes that focus on this beautiful gourd, but before I can show you any of these, I need to first show all my friends in lands without canned pumpkin, how to have this ingredient at hand all throughout the year.

Processing Pumpkin for Later Use

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First you need to accumulate a few pumpkins designated for cooking. These you can usually get a bit cheaper than the pumpkins used for decorations. We just recently got a huge more box for $5 from a stand at the side of the road, because they were weird shapes, or maybe a tiny bit bruised, which is OK for processing/cooking. The riper, the better, the sweeter.

The Oven method is the easiest way to cook the pumpkin without them accumulating extra moisture – like from boiling or steaming.

An oven full of pumpkin halves.

An oven full of pumpkin halves.

Roast at 350F (170C) for about one hour, or when the pumpkin is soft. When done, empty the water that has accumulated in its center.

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Let everything cool and take some pictures because it looks impressive. 🙂

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On the table is my ceramic yard fairy. A gift from Ceramist Alma Moriah – Winik.

Scrape the cooked pumpkin into a sieve that has been placed into the sink. Allow it to strain (stirring it up every half hour or so) for about 4 hours.

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Line a cup container (a plastic yogurt container would do) with a sandwich bag, and fill with strained pumpkin goop. Twist and seal each bag. When done, place all small bags into a larger zip-loc bag to help prevent freezer burn. Place in freezer until ready to use. Cup sized portions are practical because they can easily follow smaller recipe amounts.

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How To Make The Pumpkin/Apple Butter That Snuck Into The Above Photograph:

When I start processing Pumpkins, then I also prepare something with it while I have it fresh. These days I had a bunch of apples that grew on an abandoned tree and of course had to pick some. Pesticide and fertilizer free apples! They had a few wasp stings, but nothing that a knife tip couldn’t get rid of.

So I peeled the apples [about 12 pounds (6 kilos)], and threw them in a huge pot with a little fresh apple cider on medium heat so they wouldn’t burn. When bottom half of the apples in the pot had turned to mush, I stirred it all up, then added some pumpkin chunks [about 6 pounds (3 kilos)] that I had previously peeled. About half the amount of apples in volume. I’m sorry, but I was totally playing it by ear. All guesswork and estimation. I lowered the heat and left it on a low slow simmer until the pumpkin cooked and some of the liquid cooked out.

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That enamel lard pot (schmalztopf) was my grandmother’s. It now serves as our Kitchen Compost Collector. 🙂

Then I added to the pot of thick bubbly mush:
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon clove
1 teaspoon allspice

I brought it to a full boil then added 6 cups of sugar to what appeared to be almost 2 gallons of mush. I kept stirring (you will need to protect yourself from burns at this point because the mush will be thick and sputtering out glops of very hot stuff until the sugar is dissolved) and brought it to a rolling boil again.
I added 4 packages of low sugar pectin and and kept stirring at a low boil until it was completely dissolved.

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In the meantime, jars had been sterilized, which I filled with the Pumpkin/Apple Butter. They were canned in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.

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How To Not Become Overwhelmed by The Excellence of Other Bloggers & Vegetarian Moussaka

I’m navigating the blogging scene. As a personal creative outlet and as an accompaniment to my forming Personal Chef business, I must research other bloggers and their craft, in order to learn to appear like I know what I’m doing.
So far so good.
I’m learning photography and all kinds of hip stuff from Movita and Lan. Not that they are the only talented people with probably  great cameras out there, but one can only concentrate on so many research subjects at a time. Excellence must be studied in order to fully appreciate how much work is involved. And these ladies make it seem easy! Then there is Poppy, the first blogger that clicked “like” on my first blog posting. She is teaching me about the diligence involved to make a blog successful.
Thank you, Poppy.

I’d love to have a dinner party with these ladies, everyone bringing a dish or three. And their cameras. But they are very busy (reading blogs makes one kind of involved in the author’s life). Lan is doing pre-honeymoon preparations, Movita is going into Nutcracker mode, and Poppy keeps finding creative and delicious ways for Vegans to be able to deal with being Vegans. I’m just teasing, Poppy. Your enthusiasm and the skill in your craft are eminent and you must tell me how you manage to keep the weight off while cooking so many wonderful things.

I’m roasting some turkey thighs right now (cover your eyes, Poppy!) for a future post, so until that is done, I’ll post the recipe for my Vegetarian Moussaka  (you can uncover them now). I’d love to learn how to make vegan Bechamel…

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This was the only recipe I ever got a bad review on, by a customer who had come by and bought some of this Moussaka for himself and his wife during the pre-Easter fasting period (Greeks like to use these 40-day-long fasting periods that fall on their religious calendar just before Easter, Christmas, and the 15th of August, for periods of healthier eating, detox, or actually fasting because they feel they have to).
When I had packaged his two portions of Vegetarian Moussaka for him to take home, he repeatedly asked me whether I was sure it contained no meat. I assured him that since I myself was involved in the cooking process, I could testify that no, this special pre-Easter Moussaka, contained absolutely no meat, but that it did contain milk and eggs and cheese.

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This did not concern him. I explained how soya granules absorbed the flavors of whatever you gave it to absorb and what with the wine, herbs, spices, and vegetables the soya was sauteed with, it may resemble the flavors that ground meat was normally cooked with, but of course will not taste of the meat itself.
“Of course,” he replied.

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So he left, and other customers came and left the shop; the moussaka was doing quite well that day, and I wished as I always did when something went well, that I had made more. As I was packaging the last three pieces of the Moussaka and some salads, the phone rang, and I answered it cradling the phone between my shoulder and my ear, while I kept packing the food up.
“Hello! Anke’s Kitchen. Can I help you? (in Greek)”
“You lied to me!(ψέματα μου είπες)”, an enraged voice coming out of the phone and made me wish my hands were free.
“Who is this? What are you talking about? (ΤΙ;)” as I quickly tried to hurry packing the food, salads and desserts into the carrier bag. The waiting customer has realized something is wrong.
“I’m sitting here with my wife who is an expert and she knows! She can tell! (Ξέρει! Ξέρει!)”
“Ποιός ξερεί τι; (who knows what?!)”
“This vegetarian meal you sold us! Do you think we are fools?! Foreigners! We take our fasting seriously! You can’t just sell us this and think we won’t notice! MY WIFE KNOWS! YOU CAN’T FOOL HER! THERE IS MEAT IN THIS DISH! (blablabla in Greek)”

At this point I don’t know what to say. Do I insist and explain, making him, the honorable customer, wrong? Do I up the level of my voice that will also certainly make my present customer flinch and insist that NO, it is SOYA GRANULES!?
Before I had the chance to decide, he yells a final “WE WON’T BE BACK!” and hangs up loudly causing me to almost drop the phone.
I must have looked pale because my waiting customer looked concerned and asked me whether I was alright. I explained what had just happened and how it was the most bizarre complement that I have ever received.She thought it was rather amusing.

“Are you fasting?” I ask her as I filled the bag with the final four pieces of egg-less desserts, taking care that none of the packages leaked cinnamon flavored sugar syrup.
“Oh yes. We find this time of the year very beneficial for eating lighter, healthier, and less. Not because we don’t like meat.”
“I see”, I said as I heaved the carrier bag over the counter with that day’s fasting provisions, hoping it wouldn’t break.

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Vegetarian Moussaka

serves 8

4 medium sized eggplants, sliced about 1/2″ (1cm) thick
2lbs (1 kilo) of potatoes, sliced 1/2″ (1cm) thick
2lbs (1 kilo) zucchini or mixed types of squash, slice 1/2″ (1cm) thick
olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

For fake meat filling:
1 cup dried soya granules
3 cups hot water
1/2 cup olive oil
2 medium sized onions, chopped
2 carrots, grated
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1lb (1/2 kilo) vine ripened tomatoes grated, OR 5 tablespoons tomato paste diluted in  1 1/2 cups of water, OR 14.5oz (411g) can of chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 cups (1/4 liter) of dry red wine
2 teaspoons dried oregano, or 1 handful fresh oregano
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For Bechamel Sauce:
1 double batch as listed here (Faith has done a wonderful job here describing, as well as photographing, the Bechamel making process), plus:
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
two pinches of coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, or Gruyere cheese
Breadcrumbs (for sprinkling)
a few small pats of butter

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1) Place sliced eggplant slices in a colander and rub them with salt (I use sea salt for everything). Leave them be for about an hour so they can sweat out whatever bitterness they may contain. Rinse, then pat dry.

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2) Pour the soya granules in a bowl after you have rubbed salt on the eggplant slices and cover with  the hot water. Let soak it soak while you prep the remaining ingredients. Afetr soaking, drain and squeeze out excess water. It will have the consistency of cooked rice, but it will not get any mushier by extra cooking, as rice would do. It will soak up flavorful goodness later, so squeeze out as much water as you can.

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Making the fake meat filling:
Saute the onion, celery, carrot, and pepper in olive oil, in a largish casserole dish, until the onions are glassy.
Add the soaked, drained, and squeezed granules. Keep stirring so it doesn’t stick.

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Add the red wine, the tomatoes, and the spices. Lower the heat and let simmer until the most of the liquid had evaporated, stirring occasionally. Set aside when done.
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In a pan, fry until golden, then drain on paper: the potato slices, the zucchini (or mixed squash) slices, and then the eggplant slices.

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After they have cooled a bit, layer them into a baking dish, starting with the potato, then the eggplant, then the zuchini and/or squash slices. I divided everything into two baking dishes so that I could freeze one before baking, for some gloomy time in the winter when I want to be reminded of summer.

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Spoon a thick layer of soya /veggie mix onto the fried slice layers

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Make the double Bechamel batch by following Faith’s  instructions, then add the nutmeg, white pepper, garlic powder, a little more sea salt, and eggs. Mix well with a whisk, then pour the sauce over the soya/veggie mix, making sure you leave just a tad of room so it doesn’t run over the edge while baking. Sprinkle with grated cheese, breadcrumbs, and small pats of butter.

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Bake in a 360F (180C) Oven for about an hour, or until the top of the Bechamel is browned and bubbly. Let stand until almost room temperature. Serve in large slices, or wedges. It will all hold together if it has had a chance to cool, otherwise you risk a baking dish full of swimming ingredients.

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Do a little like Zorba and dance a little Sirtaki.

Putting The Garden To Bed & Carrot Cumin Soup

Last night Mr Fabelhaft and I behaved in bed. We did not play tug-o-war with the sheet and comforter because we wore pajamas. But I did find myself being soothed as I realized that the anguished guttural sound I was hearing was coming out of my own throat. The picture I was seeing in my dream was that of a tomato. I don’t remember anything having to do with this tomato; whether it was hunting me, or I it, or whether I was drowning in its juices. All I know is that it’s over. The bale garden has been put to bed for the coming winter.

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Those bushes still protruding from the bales are basil plants that will wilt when the regular nightly frost hits. In the meantime enough basil must be picked and frozen.

First we had to take everything off the vines that could still ripen indoors. Then the plants got cut back and yanked.

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Some of these semi decomposed bales will go into the raised beds for next year. Others will be used as mulch around flower beds. What’s left over gets mixed with the compost and becomes the Most Amazing Growing Compound. I’m curious what kind of rogue vegetable will shoot out of it next year.

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Not that there isn’t any work left to do.

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Maybe that’s what that dream was telling me.
That I should cook something far related from tomatoes.
Something fall colored.
Something that would look cool on a Halloween dinner table.

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Carrot Cumin Soup

serves 6

1/4 cup (50 ml) olive oil
1lb carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 medium sized potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 medium sized onions, peeled and quartered
3 cloves of garlic, cut in half
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons almond butter (peanut butter is also good, but use only 2 tablespoons)
full fat Greek yogurt  (for dolloping)
toasted black sesame seeds (for sprinkling)
cold pressed pumpkin seed oil (for drizzling)

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Saute the carrot, onion, and potato chunks in the olive oil over medium heat.

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After blending and pounding the spices and seeds in a mortar , add them to sauteing vegetables. Add the garlic and a pinch of salt, then just cover everything with water.

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When everything is thoroughly cooked, blend with an electric blending wand until smooth.

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Lastly, when you have turned off the heat under the pot, but the soup is still hot, blend in the nut butter. Don’t worry if the nut butter is slightly crunchy. This will add a nice texture to the soup. Adjust seasonings, add more salt if necessary.

Toast the sesame seeds in a pan on medium heat, until they give off a nice aroma. Remove from heat immediately.

Before serving the soup, give the yogurt a quick whip with a spoon or fork for maximum dolloping effect.

Serve soup with small dollops of yogurt, sprinkled with the sesame seeds, and drizzled with the pumpkin seed oil. Serve with a crusty bread, a salad of your choice (beets with skordalia?), and a nicely chilled semi-dry white wine. We had ours with a wonderful Gewurztraminer from the newly discovered Victorianbourg Wine Estate which lies along the Niagara wine trail.
Enjoy!

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September & Fried Green Tomatoes

September is glorious, no matter where I’ve lived. The heavy heat of summer is gone, the days are still warm and lovely, and the nights a pleasure to sleep through. I’m a big fan of wide open windows, curtains blowing in breezes, and the sounds of country living.
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In the northern States and in Austria, fall colors are telling us that summer will soon be over, and that we should probably start collecting firewood. In Mykonos, the masses of charter tourists are gone and are replaced by hip independent travelers who can travel when the kids can’t. In Kalamata, where every kind of tourist season has ended, and the beaches are marvelously empty, many locals start wearing their fall boots, even when the weather still calls for bikinis. I would normally say their new fall boots because Greeks are very fashion conscious people, but what with the ongoing financial crisis, they probably have to make do with older models.

Mr. Fabelhaft and myself are taking advantage of our lovely outdoor deck as much as we still can. We were sitting out there, having an early evening glass of wine, when I reminisced how I used to have this weird obsession with living in really old, whitewashed, Mykonian houses. These were usually single roomed, rectangular,  very thick walled structures, with small windows that helped control the temperature. In the summer the houses were cool, and in the winters they helped keep the interior warm.

View from inside Pigados, 1987.

View from inside Pigados, 1987.

They often had small unused fireplaces in a corner that were once used for cooking. Rarely did they have formal bathrooms.

I preferred these houses out in the middle of nowhere. My excuse was that I had grown up in suburban New Jersey and was therefor used to living at a distance from the downtown happenings in NYC. In Venice, California, I had been at a distance from downtown, LA (even though Venice was pretty damn cool itself), so of course, on Mykonos, my living out in some fields, or near the light house, was totally justified.
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Often these houses lacked some kind of basic utility. In one, there was no electricity, but it did have a nice clean well I could haul water out of (and warm in a black bucket in the sun), for my daily ablutions.
In another, I had electricity but no well. That was solved by a cleverly built tank that was built on to the top of the house. It was filled by having one of the four noisy and leaking water trucks that roamed the island  come by and drive down my dirt road to do its job.

In this house, the water tank was hidden in the curved structure attached to the house. It was adorned with arches, which also served as steps to the top of the house.

In this house, the water tank was hidden in the curved structure attached to the house. It was adorned with arches, which also served as steps to the top of the house.

The best house of all that I lived in back then, belonged to a Mykonian fashion designer named Yiannis Galatis. He was also well known at the time for trying to preserve these gems of Cycladic architecture.

It was a  small home built onto the side of a steep hill, composed out of single roomed rectangular structures, either on top of, or next to each other. There was a beautiful downward sloping garden and a lovely entrance gate.

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Between the white sugar coated cubes (that’s what they always reminded me of) was a small courtyard with a fireplace and two perfectly placed pine trees (they smelled so GOOD) between which I could hang my hammock.
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The view, of course, was unadulterated Mediterranean-ness; the sea, the island’s hills, stone walls and fig trees, a few houses scattered amongst the fields of dried grass. One of my favorite afternoon nap locations.

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Mr. Fabelhaft poured me another glass of wine and asked me what we’ll be cooking the next day. I turned my head to see what the garden dictated.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Spicy (If You Like) Pink Sauce

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This dish is far from Greek, but it would fit beautifully on a table decked with appetizers, mezes, and tapas. Fried tomatoes can accompany ouzo as well as a steak, and when leftover and cold, make filling and delicious vegetarian sandwiches. If you eat them on their own (which I also highly recommend), make more.

Serves 4

4-5 medium sized roundly shaped very green tomatoes (you want to avoid any ripeness as this will only lead to mushiness)

1 1/2 cup of buttermilk OR 1 cup of thick Greek yogurt (I prefer full fat) with just enough milk to make it just a tad runnier – about 1/4 cup

2 cups of cornmeal

1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground sweet red pepper
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
dash of Cayenne pepper (optional)

oil for frying

Cut the tomatoes into 1/2″ (or 1cm) slices. Place them in the bowl with the buttermilk or yogurt/milk mix and let them marinate for at least a half hour.

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While they are marinating, mix the cornmeal with the spices.

Dredge the tomato slices through the cornmeal mix, then fry to golden brown in medium to hot oil. Drain on paper, cool to almost room temperature, then serve with the spicy (if you like) pink sauce.

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Spicy (If You Like) Pink Sauce

3/4 mayonnaise
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce
2 tablespoons of sweet pickle relish
small amounts of your favorite spicy red pepper sauce
(you’ll know best what amount suits you best – if at all)

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Blend all ingredients except hot pepper sauce together well. Serve with Fried Green Tomatoes, using hot sauce as an added garnish where desired.

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Flat Roofs & Tomatoes

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We’re slowly reaching the finish line here in Tomato-land. A cool night last night reminded us that it will all soon be over. We will stop eating tomato salads for lunch and dinner, we will stop making stuffed tomatoes to eat with our lunch salads and dinner salads; no more beeftekis baked with tomato slices, no more fresh tomato sauce with roasted veggies, no more green pickled tomatoes, but most of all, no more boiling down and processing, and no more drying.

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There’s still quite a few kilos of loaded plants out there in the collapsing bales, but the tomatoes will be picked soon, I’m sure, to finish ripening on the dining room table downstairs…. and yes, be processed. Those will be The Last.

The end is near.

The end is near.

I never made dried tomatoes while I was in Mykonos. I never even met anyone else that did either (not that this means anything), but for some reason Mykonian flat roofed houses seem to come to mind when I dry tomatoes. Probably because they are ideal for this job. Guaranteed sunshine, a dry atmosphere, and a steady northwind to keep humidity and rot away. Too bad I can’t beam ourselves and our tomatoes over there for a quick drying session. We’d hook up with some old pals, and just hang out a bit. Back in the day, some of those pals also used those flat roofed houses for other activities which did not make me very popular with the locals. Because of the strange behavior of my friends, I’m sure my neighbors thought I was a real hussy. I think it was probably a good thing that my Greek wasn’t very fluent then.

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Working with tourists was an exhausting business. Seven days a week, day in day out, morning and evening, often going on until late at night. To a Greek, the shop closes when the last customer leaves. This meant we sometimes had to draw straws as to who would stay awake to close up the shop. We just had to party on and keep the vibrations going because that was how money was earned. Tourists came to relax, blow off steam, or just frolic in their irresponsibility, and we who worked all summer long had to provide the services and the atmosphere they thrived in and paid for. The only time we could sleep was on the beach between shifts, or wherever we lived, but it was always just a few hours snatched here and there, and never enough. So sometimes one had to get inventive.

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Homemade Tomato Sauce (simple unstrained method)

For this process you will need a water bath canning system and mason type jars with rings and lids. Or a pot tall enough to boil the jars in, completely covered in water. I did this the first time I canned in a water bath. I threw some knives into the bottom of the pot for the jars to stand on so they wouldn’t directly touch the bottom and possibly explode. After you try this once, you end up purchasing a regular canning system.

Collect your tomatoes and wash them, scraping away any dried leaves or dirt. In a food processor, chop them, then pour them into a large pot. If you don’t have a food processor, you can grate them. This method may take more time, but you will also end up with less tomato skins in your sauce. Personally this doesn’t really bother me, but some people it does. These same people will then also have to strain their tomato sauce to make it pure and seedless. I’m not one of those. I buy that kind.
Cook your tomato sauce on a medium to slow heat until it has reduced by at least 30%. I like to cook mine until it is reduced  by more than half. This creates a thick and flavorful sauce, but it also takes about six to seven hours of simmering.

When your sauce has reduced enough, put it on a slow simmer on a back burner while you sterilize your jars, lids, and rings. Before I seal my jars, I like to wipe them down with alcohol. Something like Grappa is perfect, but never rubbing alcohol which is a poison!

Fill your jars with sauce, seal them finger tight and process at a boil for 15 minutes.

Set them on shelves and admire them.

Dried Tomatoes

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We have a ton of plum tomatoes. Both red and yellow. When they are dry, I layer them in the jars, cover them with olive oil, and they look very lush.

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If you don’t have a flat topped roof on a Cycladic house in the Aegean or somewhere in southern Italy or Spain or Mexico, you will need an electric food dryer. We got ours two years ago from my sister-in-law and have been thanking her every time we use it. Thank you. Thank you.

Slice your plum tomatoes in half, scoop out the jelly-like seed stuff, and place the hulls skin side down, on the drying racks. Turn it to about 135F, or whatever setting is recommended for that model for fruit and vegetables, and leave it alone for seven to nine hours. Towards the end, check them every so often so they don’t get too dry, otherwise they resemble sour chewing gum. Let them cool completely with the top off, so as not to cause condensation, then layer them in jars. Cover completely with olive oil.

Savor in the winter with crostini, vegetarian sushi, pizza,…

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Labor Day & Meatballs

ImageIn the spirit of Labor Day (the American version of how May the first is celebrated in many other parts of the world – except that here it is always on a Monday) and it being an Official Holiday, I have decided that except for playing around on the internet, maybe watching a movie, or reading, I will do nada. No work. Labor Day also marks the official Last Weekend of Summer, which I have spent being productive for the most part by dealing with our garden’s bounty. Originally the weather forecast had been for heavy rain which I thought was highly appropriate for a planned day on the couch in pajamas. As it turned out though the forecast was wrong, which makes it just a tad harder to ignore the unweeded flower bed. I’m giving willpower my best shot, and am pleased to say that I am winning and still happily ensconced on the couch.

Since I won’t be canning or drying vegetables, or preserving fruit, I’ve decided to learn my way around this new blogging thing I have started. Truth be told, I’m not very familiar navigating this site, often going through a hit-and-miss procedure before actually accomplishing some task I need to perform. I’m also learning about the blogging community, the many wonderful blogs out there, and the how the sharing and support of each other ultimately makes us all prosper. That is a wonderful philosophy and one that is easy for me to adapt to. So in spite of doing much research (kind of like working), I am still on the couch, and reading. 🙂

In celebration of this lazy day and the many parties that have been held in this country all weekend long, and in spite of the fact that many recipes on the web are seemingly about how the grill will soon disappear off their owners’ decks, I will not post a grill recipe, but one for a favorite party snack while the grill is still warming up. I also like to eat these as a main dish with various salads, or cooked in a tomato sauce, or in the oven, or formed into a patty with a slice of tomato on top and roasted (beefteki), or placed in a loaf pan, around some lightly boiled veggies and a hard boiled egg, calling it meatloaf…

Greek Meatballs  (Beefteki & Meatloaf Base)
serves 8

1.5 lbs  of mixed ground beef/pork/lamb
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 eggs
1 cup of unseasoned bread crumbs, or 1lb of stale white bread that has been soaked in water and squeezed out
1 handful each of fresh parsley and mint, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
a few dashes of coarse sea salt
1 tsp ground pepper
2/3 cup of water (if breadcrumbs are being used)
oil for frying

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly. You can also “knead” the mix with the dough hook on your standing mixer. Everything should be well incorporated and soft. Let stand for 1/2 hour.

Form the meat mixture into walnut sized balls. Roll in flour and fry in hot oil until golden brown in color. The perfect meatball should be light and crispy on the outside, and light and almost fluffy on the inside. If too hard and dry, add a few more drops of water the next time you make them.

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These are so good, and one always tends to eat much more than one should, so when I make them, I try to make only about 6 per person, then freeze the rest of the meat mix in patty shapes which I will roast for a meal on another day (with slices of tomato on top for extra juicy deliciousness), or freeze in a meatloaf form for the same reason.
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