Saturday, 1 August 2015

Good things come to those that bait.

The Mediterranean diet, and by association, the Aegean diet, is envied the world over. Lots of fresh vegetables, fruit, olive oil and fish.  That's how the world sees it and I have no argument with the availability of the first three, but fish is not the mainstay of the diet that it once was.  Eat fish in a restaurant in Bodrum and your bill will show that it is now on the "luxury list".  Most of us have to make do with farmed fish in the summer as wild-caught is beyond our purses.  When I first started cooking in Hydra, I had difficulty buying fish; the fishmonger seemed reluctant to sell me any. It was a few weeks before I was given unrestricted access to the contents of his fridge.  So it was with great dismay that when I turned up in Hydra earlier this year,  I found the fish shop closed and it has remained so.  I tried to buy from the fishermen on the quay, but not recognising any of the bug eyed, strangely coloured seafood on show,  I threw away more than I could serve; the resulting dishes tasting more muddy than fishy.  So my quest for fish began.  Soon, the bait was taken.  The housekeeper returned from her shopping trip on the mainland with a bag of red mullet.  A shopkeeper produced a spear-caught sea bream of magnificent proportions and then, the best surprise of all, our electrical engineer came to sort out our lights and returned with a relative of a grouper as a gift.

Christos is as good at fishing as he is at keeping the island's lights on.

Decades ago, when I worked on a yacht, we would be offered groupers this size on a daily basis, now they are a rare sight.  Their meat is perfect for serving raw, marinated in lime or lemon juice but this one was baked in the oven and then served off the bone with a garlic, lemon, caper, dill, parsley and olive oil sauce.  The head and carcass boiled with celeriac, onions and parsley, made a wonderful soup the next day.
Maybe this is how everyone finds fish here. It would explain why the fishmonger closed down.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Bodrum in the News

I've been reading that hotel bookings in Turkey are down on last year because the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts have featured in the media as dangerous destinations. "So have we" you say. Facebook and Twitter are full of irate residents complaining that the gutter press has it in for our glorious home and is trying to ruin our holiday industry for the sake of a sensational headline. Except the newspaper I am reading was published in 1991, the inaugural issue of Bodrum Halicarnassus Free Newspaper, the first English paper in the area. So if you feel Turkey-bashing is a recent occurrence, think again. Those of us who have been knocking around these parts for a while are quite used to it. It used to annoy me and as the owner of a travel agency, worry me, but now I see it as a blessing. If it keeps away the sort of visitors who believe everything they read in the Dailies Mail and Express, long may they continue to slag off the country. You only have to take one look at the comments on the online versions of these rags to see that you would never want to share a airline departure lounge or stretch of beach with these folk.
I'm glad I kept this little newspaper. It was my first step into journalism and as editor I had to write most of the articles and rope in friends to provide the rest. In the pre-internet age, it was an attempt to bridge the gap between the local Turkish newspapers and guide books. Just looking back 24 years puts into perspective how little the press really affects us and I hope it offers solace to those of you whose livelihoods depend on the foreign Pound, Dollar or Euro. I'm sure no one would suggest that the tourist industry in Turkey has been moribund for the past two and a half decades because of the mud thrown in its direction. Let's keep Turkey for the discerning traveller, who really appreciates the history and culture and let those who think Bodrum is a stone's throw from the Syrian border stay at home.

(Having said all this, vigilance is important, no one can anticipate where the next terrorist atrocity will occur. Whether you are in London, Istanbul, New York or Timbuktu, keep your eyes open. I was in a check in queue in Athens airport last week and a woman with a case came up to the Turkish couple behind me and asked them in broken English to look after her bag.  They agreed and she disappeared.  After a couple of minutes I asked them if they knew the woman. They didn't and I "suggested" in my school ma'am manner that agreeing to look after a stranger's bag was not a good idea.  Their answer - if it blows up,  it blows up.  Every time I think I'm a fully integrated member of Turkish society, there is always a little reminder that I'm on a different planet. )

Saturday, 25 July 2015

An Evening Afloat in Bodrum

There are a myriad of restaurants to choose from in Bodrum from the cheapest street cafe to the ultra sophisticated hang out where you will need a mortgage to pay the bill, but I have argued for the past 30 years that the best place to eat is afloat. The most memorable meals of my life have always been accompanied by the gentle slap of waves on a wooden hull.   I've cooked on yachts and know the limitations of a small galley but Bodrum's cohort of sailing chefs do not let this hold them back and using the abundant fresh produce and tapping into the legacy passed down from captains who worked their way up from deckhand, they consistently produce the most delicious food imaginable. If you have the means, you can hire a gület for a week or two and enjoy breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and supper served in the lap of luxury but this opulence is available to those of us on a more restricted budget too.

An evening trip is the perfect way to enjoy the delights of a floating Turkish kitchen:  A short motor out to an empty bay, a swim,  a glass or two of white wine as the sun sets while the crew sets out 9 plates of meze and the captain is busy cooking 8 sea bass.  Dining on shore soon loses its appeal.

Include two talented guitarists in your party and entertainment is sorted. I'm happy to report that I haven't forgotten the words to "Sloop John B".

And when the songs are sung and the wine bottles drained, there is still a quiet motor back to the harbour to enjoy, with just the moon and milky way for company.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Back to Bodrum - At last

Home Sweet Home 

This bunch has my name on it, if it hasn't ripened in 4 days, I'm eating it anyway. 

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Greece - 28 Centuries

Laws are like a spider's web. If a fly or mosquito goes into one, it gets trapped, but if a wasp or bee does, it breaks it and leaves. The same applies to the law: if a poor man strays away, he gets caught while the rich and powerful exempt themselves from the law and walk away.

Thus spoke Zaleucus, a Greek philosopher and legislator in the 7th Century BC.  Nothing much changed in the past 28 centuries then.   The poor are yet again going to be stung for the tax-avoidance  of the rich and powerful who have walked away with their riches and left the have-nots to face another bout of stinging cuts (which will achieve nothing and be a massive waste of bail-out money).  The general feeling on this island is disappointment that their vote was ignored and resignation that there is no more to be wrung out of the working population. Their jobs are secure as the well-off Greek diaspora still want to holiday on Hydra.  Most of the folk I talk to are keen to get their children jobs abroad, they see no future here.  Someone should have listened to Zaleucus.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Best Place for Bayram

I was chatting online with my daughter, bemoaning the fact that I wouldn't be home for the Bayram holiday and wishing myself over the Aegean Sea to Bodrum.  I then flicked on to Facebook to read that friends in Bodrum were already suffering the effects of the influx of city drivers. In Turkey, a car registration plate declares its place of origin. Istanbul is 34, Ankara 06, and Izmir 35 etc. It is mostly alphabetical with a few new counties tacked on the end.  In the South, we dread the hoards of 34 plate cars descending on to our narrow roads, bringing their bad city driving habits to add to our own pretty ropey ones. The average 34 plate driver seems to spend hours driving round and round before eventually finding the worst place to park, usually blocking a local's access to their front door or barricading them in. Traffic accidents multiply as tempers flare and the best thing to do at this time of year is lock your car keys away for a week and try to stay at home.  So I retract my wish to be home for the holiday, despite missing husband, daughter and dog, because I am in the best place for Bayram - a traffic free island.  I plan to fly home on Sunday, when the hoards will be returning to the cities.

An example of bad parking on Hydra, these animals deserve 34 plates. I was always told never to walk too close to the back end of a donkey, it's impossible to follow that advice here.

Monday, 13 July 2015

A single ingredient recipe.

Can a recipe that has only one ingredient even be called a recipe.   Who cares! 
Take two handfuls of the best salted almonds you can find and place in a grinder. Pulse until ground and then wait for the grinder to cool down. This also gives time for the almonds to give up their oil.   Pulse again until almonds turn into a paste.  Voila! Almond Butter.   Great on toast or spread on roasted aubergines and courgettes. 

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Shock, Swedish Style

Swedes don't pull their punches.  They speak with a bluntness which to us pussyfooting Brits sounds rude. I admire plain speaking but am incapable of doing it myself. I will tie my tongue in knots trying to be diplomatic.  Don't ask me my honest opinion about your hair, dress sense or the size of your derrière because I am incapable of saying anything other than you look gorgeous.  I'm used to Swedish candour but I have been shocked by my Swedish bathroom. If I had to hang a full length mirror, I would put it by the bedroom door so that guests could check their appearance as they left the room. I would not put it DIRECTLY OPPOSITE THE LOO.  There are some activities I do not want to watch, does anyone look their best in this position.  I suppose I should thank the Hovs Hallar Hotel for this wake up call about the flabbly state of my thighs.  Every time I try to eat anything, the image in their bathroom mirror comes back to me and puts me off my food.  

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Austerity? Up in Smoke

On 28th June last year I wrote this: 

I've arrived in Hydra on the day they celebrate thrashing the Turks.  Named after Admiral Andreas Miaoulis, a Hydriot naval commander during the War of Greek Independence, Miaoulia commemorates his victory at the Battle of Elder where he destroyed a massive 130 strong joint Turkish/Egyptian fleet with only 75 Greek ships.
The town is full of visitors and the taxi boats are still bringing more people from the mainland. A navy frigate is anchored outside the harbour and the dashing officers in their formal whites are mingling with the crowd.  I've missed the folk dancing, boat races and concerts but the evening concludes with stirring speeches, rousing music, fireworks and a reenactment of the sinking of the Turkish Flagship.   Should I be keeping a low profile tonight? I won't be advertising the fact that I arrived from Istanbul today. 

One year on, and this year I've been in Hydra for over 2 weeks so I've seen the whole run up to the "Great Finale". I watched a concert celebrating the works of Leonard Cohen (who still owns a house on the island) ballet,  karate, folk dancing, modern dance and lots of music. The finale last night was the burning and sinking of a Turkish galleon; a very convincing performance accompanied by a sound and firework display that must have cost hundreds of thousands Euros. You have to admire the Greeks: their economy is balancing on the brink, their debt has reached almost 180% of their GDP, unemployment is pushing 50% and today none of the ATM machines here are giving anyone any money. But the party went on.  I remember a friend telling me that if you owe the bank £100 pounds the bank will rule your life but if you owe the bank £1,000,000, the bank will let you do pretty much what you want.  I think the Greeks are following the same principle.  Last night the harbour was lined with massive Gin Palaces, most with British flags, none registered in Greece, but I heard only Greek spoken on the luxury aft decks. I'm told such wealthy spectators finance the festival. I wonder if they'd be willing to put their hands in their coffers and bail out their country too. 

Friday, 26 June 2015

A vegan challenge

Every cooking assignment brings a fresh challenge and this past week I've faced a new one. I am used to cooking for vegetarians and gluten or lactose intolerants, but I haven't had to cater for a vegan before. So I have been trying to adapt my recipes to fit.  It hasn't been too difficult as a lot of Turkish vegetable recipes are vegan friendly but many also rely on egg to bind and cheese to give flavour so I've had to think up alternatives. 

I was making mucver/courgette fritters for the rest of the party and didn't want to leave the vegan out so had to put something into the courgette and onion mix instead of egg. I'd made some hummus the day before and had some cooked chickpeas over. I whizzed them in a blender and added them to the grated courgette, dill, grated onion and seasoning. I didn't want to put too much in and turn them into felafel so added a little chickpea flour, left the mixture an hour for the chickpea flour to swell and then fried as normal.  

Necessity is the the mother of invention, especially in cooking.