Monday, 27 October 2014

Rain and Edible Weeds

 Rain and Edible Weeds

Rain in Athens, and Rain in Melbourne

Round and About Athens

Draining water from buildings after the recent rains
photo Nikos Chalkiopoulos

When we left the island the garden was very dry. It still had not rained, and though cooler the soil was very dry. I know this is the time that you can loose plants so I watered the pot plants and new plants well just before we left. But when we arrived in Athens ready to depart for Australia the weather changed. Dark clouds came in and thunder rolled overhead, and the rain fell. Now when the rain falls like this in Athens, being a city with a lot of cement, very gardens (and possibly many blocked gutters) the streets become rivers.  Takis called me to look at one picture on the news of a car that had been washed down the street and was now on top of another.

Melbourne sky-line

The weather was good when we arrived in Melbourne and our first day was sunny. But then the next night a storm hit Melbourne. Again lightening flashed and thunder rolled. The rain fell out of the heavens. And here too were pictures on TV of traffic jams as the rain delayed the rush hour traffic.

Storm over Melbourne Sunday night, 26th October
herald sun photographer, Jason



Just before we left Greece my neighbour pointed out to me the good crop of dandelions in my garden there. Not as large as those we’ve got here in Australia but young and tender. Together we gathered several and the next day she brought me a bag of leaves from their farm. Takis and I cooked them and ate them with a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice.

Coming home to spring it always a joy. I would have liked to see early spring but though the azaleas are past their best there are still rhododendrons in bloom. But the winter rain and spring sunshine in Melbourne has brought on a wondrous crop of dandelions plus thistles that are six meters tall. I have to get out and pull them out before they seed. But I might go around and gather the dandelion leaves for supper. They are perfect, large and tender.

Horta, Edible Weeds


Horta is the general name given to stuff that you boil for a green vegetable in Greece. Most tavernas serve it. It could be spinach but it could be a mix of edible weeds. These could include dandelion leaves and amaranth leaves, also known as vlita, a plant that grows on the roadsides but also in my garden.


Three Blogs

1. In her blog about Greek Mediterranean Cooking Diane Kochilas tells us that

‘Vlita is the Greek name for amaranthus viridis, or slim amaranth, a green that grows wild in gardens all over Greece in the summer. There are about 60 varieties of amaranth throughout the world, at least one of which is cultivated for its seeds. In the U.S. most people know amaranth as the [gluten-free] Peruvian grain that has taken health-conscious consumers by storm the last few years. Greeks eat the leaves, not the seeds.’

Boiled Vlita
I’m a beginner in this area. I’ve only just discovered that you can add purslane to salads and I almost had a field of it in Greece. I have discovered this blog and will pass on a bit of wisdom from another Julia.

2. From the New Zealand the blog, Julia’s Edible Weeds
gives the golden rules for enjoying wild edibles responsibly:
1.     If you dont know what it is dont eat it. Learn to identify plants that are edible and get to know those that are poisonous. The best way is learning from a local expert. Second best is from books and the Internet.
2.              Make sure the plants you harvest are not sprayed or from contaminated soil.
3.              Sample new edibles in small amounts to start with and if you have no adverse affect after some time a little more can be eaten.
Get permission if harvesting from someone else’s property.

3. And from another Greek blog, Aglaia’s Table in Kea Cyclades comes this information about Greek Horta

‘The greens we consume today are probably the same we encounter in the texts of Theophrastus and other ancient authors: The ancient ascolymvros has become scolymos, Sonchus is now zochos, caucalis is cafkalithra etc. As these plants–their names and uses—have never been part of any school curriculum, we can safely conclude that our knowledge of them has passed orally from one generation to the next, starting in the very early times. I must have been ten years old when my Kean grandfather taught me which greens are healthy and which are foul-tasting or poisonous, while most of my friends learned it from their mothers. Horta can taste sweet, tart, or bitter, and some are wonderfully aromatic. Apart from the greens collected from the hills and mountains, there are also some, like purslane, which grow as weeds among the cultivated crops. For centuries, poor Greeks used these wild plants to complement their frugal menu of bread, cheese, olives, and olive oil.’

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Eating Out: And the Ubiquitous Greek Salad

Eating Out: And the Ubiquitous Greek Salad

The Mediterranean Diet and Health

A Typical Lemnian Taverna

‘The heart-healthy Mediterranean is a healthy eating plan based on typical foods and recipes of Mediterranean-style cooking…Most healthy diets include fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, and limit unhealthy fats. While these parts of a healthy diet remain tried-and-true, subtle variations or differences in proportions of certain foods may make a difference in your risk of heart disease…The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends the Mediterranean diet as an eating plan that can help promote health and prevent disease.’ ’ Says the Mayo Clinic

Recently scientists have also wondered if not only the heart but the brain might benefit from this diet. The brain needs a good blood flow to deliver vital nutrients and oxygen and take away waste products and omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, and vitamins B and D all have these protective effects. But so far trials have failed to show that a high-dose of supplements protect you from dementia, however, eating a tasty Mediterranean diet that combines most of these nutrients can’t hurt!

Plus all the Usual ingredients, with Mousaka


The typical Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating, vegetables and fish— plus a splash of flavourful olive oil and perhaps even a glass of red wine. Though, here on Lemnos, most have Lemnian white wine, beer or ouzo with a meal.

I no longer go to tavernas for an interesting meal as the menu is so predicable, I go for the ambiance and company. There will be a very long menu but most things are not being served that day, and you know that the best food they have (and similarly in all Greek tavernas) is the usual, saganaki, horta, fish or meat balls and Greek salad.  

With Lisa and Tony in Moudros









With the Grandchildren

The Ubiquitous Greek Salad

Ingredients - cucumber, tomatao, onion, a couple of olives and possibly cheese.

Always enjoyed, a Taverna meal

We recently went out for a farewell meal with our neighbours as we will soon be leaving for Australia. We have been coming to the island now for ten or more years and this year have been on the island for nearly seven months and so I knew what to expect and I had previously told Takis we could be sure of having saganaki, horta, fish or meat balls and Greek salad for lunch, but, nevertheless when we arrived we went through the usual polite procedures of asking what they had.

We also admired the taverna decoration of sea shells and hand made model boats (all made with hundreds of match sticks!) And then the men in our party made their usual jokes about the need to begin with ouzo and then finally we ordered, saganaki, horta, fish and meat balls and a Greek salad. But, though this was exactly what I’d predicted, we still had to make the decision of whether we would have the salad with or with out cheese on the top, a very big decision!

Yesista and Tomato Salad - with cheese

Sardines and Tomato Salad without cheese
Of course the others would have fish, and Takis asked his usual question, ‘Is it fresh?’ and the waiter replied in the usual fashion, ‘Of course!’ and then they turned to me. I’m the odd one out as I was brought up vegetarian and have only got used to eating some kinds of fish and mean.  ‘But what will Julia eat?’ ‘Definitely nothing with eyes!’ I replied. I still cannot bring myself to each sardines, heads and all. (Generally I can only eat fish cooked by Takis that is smothered in vegetables and does not taste too fishy.)

And soon out came the usual, saganaki (fried cheese) meat balls, horta (cooked greens beautifully young and fresh dandelion leaves at this time of the year) and Greek Salad – without cheese.  We ate with gusto. And then bag was called for and the left-overs, bread, fishbones, etc, and these were put in the bag for Panoyotis’ farm cats. The bread was even used to soak up any left over fishy oil so the plates where shiny clean and those cats were certainly going to be fed healthily, for the next day at least.

The End of the Meal

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Autumn Spring-Cleaning

Autumn Spring- Cleaning

On the island the ladies sort out their houses, ready for summer, as soon as the weather improved after Easter. I often arrive on the island to see carpets hanging over balconies. For me this cleaning and putting away happens in reverse. I get out our carpets in spring. I can see that you would not want carpets over the hot summer months, but for us the carpets add some colour to the house, and cover the uneven floors.


Most Lemnians Hang out Carpets in Spring, I clean them in Autumn

My spring cleaning happens in autumn. We, and our guests, have been living in the house for at least six months and so before I leave to return to Australia I take down all the curtains and clean and roll up the carpets for the winter. Then I get them out again when we return in spring.

Washing my Curtains in Autumn

My Cleaning Program

Simple and Cheap.

Simple Cleaning Methods

Because I’m not someone who likes strong disinfectants or strong scents with my cleaning fluids I use bicarbonate of soda, vinegar, unscented soap whenever possible.

 (Takis won’t even let me use any personal scent as he hates strong smells and says it give him asthma.)

 (I don’t mind Maria using something stronger when she does her monthly clean, chlorine is something that might be useful on an island where rubbish is still often piled at street corners, and sewerage is still not connected.)


Maria Cleaning the bathroom with Chlorine!

Our house has been empty over European winter and Maria and Anestis come and tidy up, dust and use the ‘electric scooper’ (vacuum) before we arrive, so the house is pretty clean and ready to use. Then I hang up the curtains and unroll the carpets that were put away for winter.

(Many are the stories we could tell of our Lemnian electric scoopers. They have been used by the men to vacuum up stones of cement and block and break. They have to be lugged up three flights of stairs. When they break they fill the room that has just been clean with a cloud of dust. And Takis always insists on mending them himself, with mixed success, though I still have my fingers crossed for the success of this latest find – a scooper brought found in a roadside dump by Anestis and superbly mended by Takis! This is a story, like that of the mice, that I’m sure will continue next year.)

Some Useful Hints.


Wash Day

I try to avoid dry cleaning. Many things labeled dry-clean only can be washed at home. Not all things though I once tried washing Takis wool dressing gown and it shrunk three sizes. However most wool can be hand washed, but carefully!

I always hang my clothes outside, I love the idea that they are being cleaned by the sun and wind.  In mid summer when the heat is so strong I sometimes hang things out at night, especially delicate things I don’t want to bleach too much.

And believe it or not I still iron some things. This summer one of our guests passed through the kitchen and said with amazement, watching me iron, ‘I’ve not seen one of those in use for years.’ It reminded me of my past memories of wash day, and the passing of the old clothes ringers!


Marble is porous and will stain. I got some bad stains on some marble in the kitchen from tomatoes left to stand on it too long. One way to remove these stains I found was to use mineral turpentine.

Two tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda with three or four of vinegar poured down your sink outlet with help to keep it from smelling. Leave the mix of 39 minutes, and then flush out with some very hot water.

Autumn Spring Cleaning

Curtains on our |Australian Hills Hoist

Before I roll up my carpets for winter I sprinkle bicarbonate of soda on them to deodorize them, use a light brush to brush it into the fabric, leave of a few hours then vacuum.

I always clean windows with warm water which has a few spoons of vinegar added. Then dry the surface with crumpled newspaper.


You can remove plant stains from vases by filling them with warm water a drop of detergent plus vinegar.

 I put tea leaves and coffee ground on my pot plants. It might give them some nutrients but it definitely acts as mulch.

 And I find one of the best sprays for bugs is grated non-scented soap, which I dissolve in warm water, put in a spray bottle with a little cooking oil. The soap deters and the oil makes sure it sticks on the plant leave, though this application is better done in the evening as it can burn the leaves if applied mid-day.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Shabby-Chic with Colour

Shabby-Chic with Colour

We often pass through the living room and so it is simply coloured; only black and grey. .

Firstly, it was the best answer in an old house, where we wanted to keep a historic look.

Secondly, we did not have the money to buy real antiques, and go for Vogue-style antique look, or even refurbish and modernize.

I like the look of shabby-chic.

But, it is a large house, with three floors with four rooms on each floor and cream on cream or cream on white would become boring if used through out so I added colour.

The ceiling in my new study


In my study an old carpet reflects the ceiling but with stronger colours

And these are the main rules I applied throughout this house.

I kept the cream and white for the container – the walls and woodwork throughout (see previous blog). This gave some uniformity to a house where chairs, tables, beds etc all come in different styles and with different shapes and finishes.

I put colour on the ceilings, as this is traditional in Greece, (see previous blog). Keeping the rooms on the bottom floor with low ceilings still white or cream, the rooms on the middle floor with usual height ceilings with more colour, and keeping the most colour for the top floor where the ceilings are very high.

A traditionally painted Greek ciling

Varying shades of mauve through to maroon on the bedroom ceiling


More colourful ceilings
3. I had a palette of colours
that looked good together. This palette was based around the traditional maroon shutters and includes peach, green, and coffee and mauve. In each room I emphasized one of these colours, with often highlights of one of the other colours. Maroon being a main highlight throughout the house. 

The palette of colours

Rust, mauve and maroon. They are tied together with brown.

Painting in the bedroom, emphasise the rust, maroon colours


As an addition unifying aspect (for all these different styles shapes and finishes) I have tried where possible to emphasis a symmetrical arrangement, of furniture or ornaments.

The rust pattern on the plates I copied on the stove canopy.

And, as is true of most houses but is more so true in a shabby-chic house, it is so important
not to let clutter spoil the effect. Some lived-in look is OK but too much at it quickly turns into a shabby-chic junk collection, rather than an arrangement that is valued and carefully placed.

Some messiness, but not too much or you loose the look

I wanted the house to highlight our values as a place that is not ostentatious, for we have not spent a lot on decoration, doing most of it ourselves. And I wanted a decorating style that that respects the past and yet is a homely place for friends and family. If the responses of our 15 guests this year is anything to go by I think we have succeeded.

And the places I'm still working on......

The blue and white table cloth was not in the scheme but it was beautiful and went best with green in a vestibule

Almost too much pattern and colour here, but on the whole the light coloured wood pulls it together

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Colours of Autumn

The Colours of Autumn

Sunny and Dry In Lemnos

Usually this is the best time of the year, alongside spring. The weather is still warm and sunny, thought no longer burning hot. The days are often still and dry and some are still enjoying the sea and swimming everyday.

Because the nights are cooler you can be lulled into thinking that you don’t need to water the garden, but the hills and the garden still dry, so pots and new plants need to be watched carefully or this is the time of the year you could loose them.

You’ll find lovely colours in the garden to pick for the house. And also it is the time to pick dried seed heads for winter decoration. The predominate colours are red and yellow, with the Virginia creepers turning red, and yellow daisies and chrysanthemums coming into flower.

In the well shed I have hanging onions, garlic (enough to feed an army), basil and oregano. I must soon crumble these last two and put in bottles to use next year.



John Clare

The thistledown’s flying, though the winds are all still,

On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,

The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot:

Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.


The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,

The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.

The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,

And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.


Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,

And the rivers we’re eyeing burn to gold as they run;

Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;

Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.


Colouring the Months of Autumn

Gatherings from the garden brighten the kitchen and the leaves of autumn turn bright red against the stone walls.

Along the paths you find a few ‘last roses of summer’ and those very early promises of spring as bulbs send up their first shoots.


Pied Beauty

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.


All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;

Praise him.