Friday, 29 May 2015

Our Two Villages: Compared

Our Two Villages : Compared

A crowd in Emerald watching an Anzac day celebration
A crowd in Myrina watching an annual Lemnos celebration
As we yearly fly from one hemisphere to another we leave Australia in autumn and arrive on the island in their spring, and when we leave behind our house on the island we again go in autumn to arrive back in Melbourne in November, in their late spring. OK, we do have two summers but, unlike most travelers, we are not tourists and we return to our house for a number of months and so we have come to feel ‘at home’ in both places.
What I think has happened for both of us, my husband a Greek-Australian, and me an Anglo-Australian, is that we have come to love ‘village life’, as it occurs in both countries. It is not the same, but it is the same. When thinking about our two homes I can see the ‘big’ stuff, like hemisphere, geography, weather, and vegetation differ, but the ‘people’ stuff of  village is often remarkably similar, 


Having let our unit in Melbourne we have now settled into a house in a village not far from this city. It is in the Dandenong Ranges and one hour’s drive from each of our children living in that city. The Dandenong Ranges are a set of low mountain ranges, rising to 633 metres at Mount Dandenong.


Myrina is the main town on the island of Lemnos. To locals it is the capital, but for us it is another village. Myrina is on the island of Lemnos, Northern Aegean, Greece. It is located in the middle of the island's west coast. The town is also the capital of Lemnos, as well as the seat of the Metropolitan (Greek Orthodox bishop) of Lemnos.

Of course there are dissimilarities that appeal to us, adding to the romance of the switch. One is in the Southern hemisphere, lies on a range of high hills with forests of huge trees, and has wet winters and mild summers. The other, in the Northern hemisphere is on a low Aegean island with many beaches and few trees. It has cold windy winters and hot dry summers,

 Similarities and Dissimilarities

Perhaps the biggest difference that we’ve had to get used to is the daily schedule.

In Emerald the general opening times of shops and businesses is 8, 5 five days a week (plus one hour for lunch)

In Myrina the general opening of shops and business is 9-10 and stopping at I for a long lunch siesta, and opening again at 5 until 8 five days a week. But there are also a lot of exceptions, to cater for holy days, summer tourists, and strikes.
The is the main church, but all the churches are Greek Orthodox









In Emerald there are a number of churches of different denominations. This is St. Marks


Emerald Lake Park
Androni Park, Myrina
In fact the similarities to Emerald are quite distinctive. And as we live on the outskirts of both villages we do have many of the same living conditions and these similarities do help to make us feel ‘at home’ in each place.


This is somewhat similar in that both have main and subsidiary smaller villages that tend to often use their facilities.

Emerald There are 6,813 residents in the town and about 5.000 more when you include nearby small villages such as Menzies Creek, Kallista and Clematis

Myrina There are 5,107 resident in the town and about 3,000 more in the municipal unit which includes nearby villages of  Kaspaskas, Platy, Thanos and Kornos,

    Post Offices



The first Post Office opened in the town on 22nd December 1899, possibly about 50 years after mail was being sent out to the Greek islands


Hellenic Post was founded in 1828 along with the Modern Greek State. In 1834 an agreement with French banker Feraldi ensure mail service to and from the islands, and in 1836 placed the first wagons for transporting mail between Athens and the port of Piraeus

     Main shops

The Agora or Market Street Myrina
The monthly Emerald Market


The Woolworth's supermarket has not been long in Emerald, and there is one more supermarket, IGA, plus several other small stores that sell grocery items.



Similarly in the last few years a large supermarket was established, which is now in the process of being enlarged. There are two smaller grocery shops and several very small markets in various suburbs.



    Tourist Sites

Another similarity is that both are tourist centers. Emerald draws many people all year round to its monthly market, and for rides on it old steam engine called Puffing Billy. Plus folk like to drive or cycle up into the ranges through the forest, and then stop off at Emerald for coffee. In Myrina the tourist are limited to the two summer months when folk come to the island for its beach life.

Both villages have about 4 café restaurants open all year. In addition Myrina has many tavernas that open for those summer tourist months.
Sitting out in an cafe in Emerald
A cafe in Myrina

And there are other similarities as far as we are concerned; in both villages we don’t have sewage to our houses. And in both places we are very aware of the need to conserve water. In Myrina we have a well that helps and in Emerald we have a very large water storage tank.



 Of course, the subject I have yet to sort out is when does a village become a town?

Monday, 25 May 2015

Bread Stories 2

 Bread Stories 2

Bread (Psomi) from Lemnos

When we first came to live on the island we so much loved having fresh warm bread for breakfast that at half past seven Takis would drive off to get a loaf or two for the day. Often we would slice what we did not eat and freeze it so that when next toasted it tasted fresh. But it still meant that we tended to end up with a lot of bread and I had to find other ways of using it, like bread-and-butter pudding, or rissoles made with mince and breadcrumbs.

 Lemnos Flour

Description: Pure yellow flour traditionally ground from 100% Lemnos hard wheat

I buy Lemnian flour form our local grocer. It is said to be ideal for bread, traditional Greek fillo dough, pizza dough, pasta, dumplings and frying batter. And, because it is without additives and also a hard wheat flour that has a low GI rating, it is better than most flours for diabetics.

Lemnian wheat was famous in Classical Greek times supplying Athens and in Byzantine times supplying Constantinople. But does it exist today? How much of local wheat is made from those ancient grains? And anyway, do the local bakers use local flour?

I’ve spent some time trying to research these questions BUT, when I tried to find out more about Lemnian flour from local bakers and housewives I heard so many conflicting stories.

Was it true that one baker made 80% of his bread with local flour?

Or, was it true as a neighbour said that the island produces very little flour today, and he’s seen loads of wheat delivered from the mainland?

Was it true that one particular baker had a hidden field, where he’d sown some Byzantine seed he’d obtained from a priest on Mount Athos?

Or perhaps all the old grains had been eliminated by decree of the unions who wanted everyone to buy from allocated seed distributors.

So I think that to some extent Lemnos Wheat and Lemnos Flour remains a bit of a mystery, and myth. Probably there is some wheat produced on the island but nowhere near as much as needed to make all the loaves that are made. And the grains that are used would not be the same as the original and famous wheat grains. Maybe, somewhere, in some archive store they have some but…..

 Making Bread the Old Way
In a book of Lemnian recipes written by a friend of mine I read that women baked bread in their households once a week. They’d use either plain wheat flour or a mixture of wheat and barley flour. The baking was carried out in traditional ovens, or furnos. I’m sure that the grandmothers of today’s Lemnians had to use local flour, as it would have been difficult for them to get flour from other places during the wars.

As by friend Ourania wrote in her cook book,

‘By tradition, they made their own live yeast from the holy water and basil plant the parish priest handed out on the 14th September, when the Orthodox Church honours The Holy Cross.’

Though few local households still make their own bread you can still from several local bakers bread made on the island.

Local Bakers

For a small town there are a lot or bakers. And they do make wonderful fresh bread, especially compared with that bought in supermarkets.


I’m happy to make the 15 minute walk to buy Mr. Boulotis small heavy dark rye bread loaves called Olikis Alesseos or whole grain rye. I find I can eat a small amount of this even though a diabetic. This baker told me his bakery was begun by his grandfather in 1923 and he is now handing it on to his son.

 I also love his current buns, sliced and toasted. (only one slice for me)


Takis likes to buy flat bread from this shop called Zapata. It is down by the port so we only visit this shop now and then.

We also go here to buy chocolates from Salonika. These have crystallised fruit and marzipan in them.


This bakery is very well known on the island and there are Chrisafis shops in nearly every village. It was originally established by a woman and sells a variety of dairy and bakery products. We go to this shop to buy a small sour dough loaf for Takis and also Koulourakia, a round bread ring covered with sesame seeds. And now and then we buy a dark chocolate with walnuts here called Karioka.



I like the fresh biscuits I bought at this bakery, though it is a bakery we don’t often visit as it is in another part of town.

Other Local Flour Products


In stores you can also buy a number of other wheat based traditional dishes.


Wheat mixed with hot ewe’s milk and then dried in the sun and passed through thick sieves. This was used to make soups.


This is a kind of pasta that is either cooked on its own and garnished with cheese or stewed with meat and or with vegetables.


Fillo Pastry

These are very thin pastry sheets, which traditionally in Lemnos are then combined with sesame seeds, almonds and honey to make ‘samsathes’.


Using local flour to make our own pasta products


Thursday, 21 May 2015

Bread Stories. 1

     Bread Stories. 1.

The Staff of Life

Definition: food made from dough of flour or meal and usually raised with yeast or baking powder and then baked
From Wikipedia
Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods. Evidence from 30,000 years ago in Europe revealed starch residue on rocks used for pounding plants. It is possible that during this time, starch extract from the roots of plants, such as cattails and ferns, was spread on a flat rock, placed over a fire and cooked into a primitive form of flatbread. Around 10,000 BC, with the dawn of the Neolithic age and the spread of agriculture, grains became the mainstay of making bread. Yeast spores are ubiquitous, including the surface of cereal grains so any dough left to rest will become naturally leavened


Bread in Difficult Times

We take bread for granted to day. It is cheap, mass produced and sliced can be bought in supermarkets, equally white and pappy bread can be bought in well known bakeries and speciality bread can be bought from delicatessens or from regional markets.

But there was a time when bread was not so available. Takis and I are old enough to ‘remember the war’. Takis in Alexandria remembers eating very dark bread made with Egyptian rye and wheat flour with added cotton seed oil. I remember a slice of bread for supper spread with something called ‘dripping’. This was animal fat.

(I remember my grandmother always made pastry using lard, animal fat, and it made the very best and lightest pastry for apple pies I’ve ever had.)

One neighbour showed me pictures of when her father grew their wheat and the whole family would help reap, and then thresh it. They would tether a donkey that would walk round and round, over the stalks. Then when they gathered up the straw all the grains were left behind and they would then take these to the mills to be ground into flour.

Yet another neighbour told me that her father would collect brush from the hills and load up three donkeys then walk into the main town of Myrina to sell to the baker for his oven. (There are not many trees and thus is not much wood on the island.)

In her recipe book Ourania writes that in those days, because the baked bread had to last for a week, the women placed the loaves on a long plank called a Kania, suspended by a rope from the beams of the ceiling.

Another neighbour told us some stories of those desperate times on the island when he helped his parents try to raise cotton crops. He and his five brothers and sisters slept in the same room as his parents, and though his parents had a bed the children slept on the floor. He well remembers his hunger, and how precious the bread was that his mother made once a week. The loaves were hung from the beams to keep out of the way of rats and mice, and from small boys!

From her I also heard a local tale about the doves that coo outside my bedroom window. They seem to me to have an abbreviated call. In England we say they call out, ‘My toe bleeds Betty’ but here they say eighteen, or the Greek equivalent. This is because once there was a young woman who made nineteen loaves of bread. She gave one to her old mother but her nasty mother in law found out and asked how many loaves she had baked. She said eighteen, and the old woman said, ‘You lie.’ She denied this and all her life kept saying, dekaokto, dedaokto, (eighteen, eighteen,) until she died and became the dove that calls, deka okto, deka okto.

My island friend Ourania remembered war time stories from Lemnos. One was that butter was not available and nor was cheese. Two young girls with their bread rolls were sitting in the yard bemoaning the lack of cheese one day when a crow flew over carrying a cheese in a cloth, which was so heavy he dropped it, and miracle of miracles, they had cheese for their bread.

Bread Today

In the Daily Telegraph there was an item that I rejoiced over. It said ‘Bread Shopper Turn their backs on Sliced White’

About 121 million English pounds have been sliced off Britain’s bread market in the past year as prices have hit their lowest level in a decade. Shoppers are ignoring sliced white bread in favour of freshly baked loaves and healthier wholegrain, figures show.’

Perhaps some people have now caught on to the fact that they have been eating ‘cardboard’, and its all about someone making money out of them.

From Wikipedia

‘In 1961 the bread making process was developed, which used the intense mechanical working of dough to dramatically reduce the fermentation period and the time taken to produce a loaf. The process, whose high-energy mixing allows for the use of lower protein grain, is now widely used around the world in large factories. As a result, bread can be produced very quickly and at low costs to the manufacturer and the consumer. However there has been some criticism of the effect on nutritional value.’

There was a time when I regularly made bread when my children were little. We even ground our own flour from wheat. My husband and I had got hold of a small stone mill when travelling through France. And because I made it every week I had got into a rhythm and could do it easily.

Here in Lemnos in our old furno (baker’s oven) I have not been as successful. I baked bread once but found it difficult to get the oven to the right heat at just the time the bread had risen. However since then we’ve had a couple of guests who were very successful. And we have realized the importance of lighting the oven the day before using it, to be able to get the kiln bricks to a white hot heat the next day.
Takis lighting our furno

When our guests said they wanted to make bread we said go ahead.  One was a guest from America who made a whole batch of delicious crispy loves, so quickly and easily it inspired me to try again. The other was my daughter who made a mix of loaves and pizza, again very successfully. She and her partner had previous experience in their own home built pizza oven.

Bread making in our kitchen

The waiting process




Thursday, 14 May 2015

Kitchen Politics


Kitchen Politics


Kitchen politics...

I don’t often write about politics, and I’ve tried to keep this a blog about living in Greece, but, more and more we are finding politics imposing itself on our conversations. Nearly every day we get neighbours calling in for coffee and there will be lots of talk about the Greek financial situation. Those on pensions are worried their pensions will be cut (they've already be halved, and the talk is of cutting off completely for a while if the money does not come through from the EU), while others, folk with money in the bank, are worried the goverment will close the banks to stop withdrawals, a situation that definately will happen if this government does a GREXIT. And, I've just read on the internet that shares in a Canadian printing firm have suddenly risen, and the speculation is that they've been asked to print the new Greek currency, while of course the Greek government are denying this!!

While in Athens I frequently buy the ‘New York Times International’, trying to catch up with what is happening in Greece. This is because this has a back section in English devoted to Greek topics. It does not take long to realise that the main topic of conversation at the moment is about the confrontation between international bankers and Greece over a huge debt repayment and below are some of the comments that seemed appropriate to the Greece we found this year.

Greek Parliament Building Athens

There is at the moment a sort of holding in of breath, either this or a great weariness, with continually reading and hearing about the Greek- EU political saga. It seems to me to be like I imagine the feelings of those in a combat zone, sensing they are coming closer to some kind of long predicted horror. In Greece the disaster could lead to resuming use of the Drachma, in the EU to the first national defection.
So when I read in Kathimerini, ‘People are hoping for some kind of divine intervention.’ I grinned to myself.
Alexis  Tsipras Prime Minister of Greece

On one side there is talk of a preparedness for a Grexit by the IMF, and this has sent stock lower and caused Standard and Poor to downgrade Greece’s economic standing yet again. One result that could affect us is that the Greek housing market has declined a further 10% for older properties, while elsewhere in the EU there has recently been some growth.
The politicians in the Greek Syriza Government are playing a dangerous game. Though supposedly left wing socialists these young leaders come from wealthy families, they have said they would make radical changes but they have only reappointed workers sacked in response to previous EU demands, and we hear they too are continuing the Greek custom of appointing family and friends to top positions!

Varoufakis the Greek Minister of Finance

They are talking big and yet doing very little other than keep the country running by doing the same as usual. Most people are aware of this and it seems to me that the Greek disposition for drama is coming into play yet again in these negotiations. Take the example of the Greek finance minister, wanting to hog the limelight with sartorial innovations (recently one of our kitchen coffee sessions was filled with the news that he had started tucking his shirt in!), or statements of being happy to be hated, plus his straw argument that Germany ‘owes’ Greece, as ways of diverting attention and avoiding any recognition of the country’s own contribution to this calamity.

Thankfully Greece is not the centre of the world.’ As someone else wrote in Kathimerini
And, Australia is also not without its own political problems.
Tony Abbott Australian Prime Minister

In Australia TV programs like Q and A (questions and answers) are criticised for their political grand-standing, and being argumentative rather than informative – especially when politicians are given the floor. Folk tend to appreciate the program more when a topic is discussed by experts in that field. So Australians would agree to the following statement from Kathimerini about politicians. ‘They do not make us wise and add nothing to a national debate. In fact they create more worry and confusion by being vague and contradictory.’

Another problem, perhaps even more noticeable in Greece than Australia, which is bad enough, is the Greek media obsession with itself. As someone wrote, ‘In Greece the news media seizes any mention of Greece and it is discussed for at least ten minutes of the hourly new broadcasts.’ And I also read that, as in Australia, in Greece folk think their prime minister deals with modern dilemmas ‘with a strategy of bluffing and conflicting comments.
The Australian Parliament Building Canberra

 But, there is one pretty major difference in the economies of these two countries. Australia does not have huge debts, and it has large agricultural resources and very large mineral deposits. Greece is beset by huge debts, from previous government policy, and though there is talk of petrol and gold deposits its major resource is its summer sunshine and blue seas that draw thousands of tourists every July and August.

Also Australia has a system that works; a good police force and a sound legal system. This definitely makes some aspects of life easier there, even though some criticise Australia for being a ‘Nanny State’ and imposing too many regulations.

There are many laws passed by the Greek government that do not see the light of day.
In Kathimerini I noticed one that should please our neighbours in Lemnos, but will it be put into effect? It involves new rules for beach bars that will limit pavilions on the beach and lounges being set up too close to the sea.

This is what it is like mid summer in Lemnos as it is on most Greek islands. Nice if you like sharing your space with others.

Last summer, in our small bay, we found bars were proliferating to the extent that the beach was packed with lounges and umbrellas and people playing beach tennis. When I went for a swim I found I had to hold up my sunhat and yell out, ‘Coming through!’, then run, hoping to reach the sea before being walloped by a tennis ball. And then I knew I’d not likely find an empty patch of sea to actually swim, without having to go way out into the bay. 

Lemnos can get crowded BUT hopefully never like this!!