Tuesday, 28 April 2015

24 hours in Sussex: Ockenden Manor, Ridgeview wine and the local fishing industry

This high speed glimpse of Sussex started badly with all trains to Brighton being cancelled. After a bit of standing around wondering what to do, the PR decided to call a cab, £137 to Brighton. Between six passengers this price wasn't so bad. The journey was enlivened by scurrilous showbiz gossip: Which recently married Hollywood star is gay? Which British Hollywood light comedy star tells 11 year old girls to fuck off if they say hello in the street? Which British top ranking political couple, prone to condemning the underclass, were in fact coke heads for years? It was like a mobile Daily-Mail-sidebar-of-shame rendered live.
One of the goodies promised at Ockenden Manor spa was a hot stone massage. The train delay meant we got there too late for me to have the whole massage. 
"Don't think I'm going to be fobbed off with a 20 minute massage" I snarled at the PR in the taxi. She looked anxious.
We got to the spa counter: the uniformed girl said "I'm afraid you can only have a short massage..." before she'd even finished her sentence I had snapped 'THAT'S NOT ACCEPTABLE!'. 
The other 'nice' bloggers were asked "Do you mind a shorter duration?" 
"Yes, that's fine" they cooed accommodatingly.
I'm just gonna say it right now. I hate group trips. I like meeting other bloggers but I am always looking for exclusive content for my site. I also hate it when I set up a portrait and the others stand behind me and copy my shot. I've now taken to saying 'get your own shot' which makes me popular as you can imagine.
My massage was changed to the next day when all the others were going to visit a meat farm.


Ockenden Manor hotel and spa


The main Ockenden Manor is really old, parts of it dating from the 1500s, particularly the dark wood panelled dining room where we ate dinner that night, cooked by chef Steve Crane. We were installed in the modern suites in the spa building, with a freestanding bathtub from which you could watch telly. The meal itself was my kind of food: although Crane has a Michelin star, it was none of that cheffy bollocks so beloved of modern cooks, where every plate looks like a lunar landscape comprising of a puddle, a powder of some kind, a few scattered micro herbs and some droplets that they call a sauce. I get into a total fury when the ego of some chefs dominate the ingredients. The chef should show off the ingredients not obliterate them under the guise of l'art de cuisine. At Ockenden Manor we ate truffled watercress soup; roast monkfish with vegetables and a trio of chocolate puds. Modern, lots of flavour, ingredients are central, food not up its own arse. 
I like hotels. I like the anonymity of it while at the same time knowing there are other people in the building so you aren't alone. I like the clean starched tightly threaded linen on the beds, the multiple upright pillows, the very white thick towels, the minature toiletries. I like looking in the drawers to see what goodies you can get, if there is a free shoe shining kit (I can't remember the last time I cleaned my shoes), or a sewing kit, or writing paper. I like reading the free glossy magazines that I would never usually buy. I like living without clutter for a few days, just the items in my suitcase. I like having staff (what a terrible thing to say!). I like pretending that I'm rich and pampered and some kind of jet setter.


South Coast fishing


The next morning we headed out to Brighton and Newhaven fisheries in Hove where Sussex retains a small artisanal fishing industry. While waiting at the dockside, a small wooden day boat chugged into view and unloaded its catch of cuttlefish, ink staining the gloves of fisherman Adrian Gray (pictured). He'd been out since half past five that morning and would earn around £100 a day. The south coast is particularly good for flat fish such as Dover sole, plaice, brills, turbot. Newhaven landings supply many of London's top restaurants as well as Ockenden Manor. Chef Crane is inspired by the fact that he can get locally caught fresh fish for his menus. At the moment Sussex fish doesn't have the brand recognition of say, Cornish sea food. The fishermen also have to contend with EU directives that mean outside of a six mile limit, fishing trawlers from other European nations are lurking, scooping up all our fish. This was the devilish deal we made when we joined the EU common market: we get to join and every member state gets access to our fish. I think this was a huge mistake, economically and environmentally.
This fish market is open to the public on a Saturday, and they have queues waiting to buy. We had a fish fry up cooked on a two ring burner by Chef Crane on the beach, right next to the sea front houses of singer Adele and comedian David Walliams. 


English sparkling wine


Our next stop was the chalky vineyards of Ridgeview estate, started in the 1980s. The terroir is identical to that of the champagne region, only 85 miles away, linking up under the English channel, making Sussex ideal for growing vines that produce brilliant award-winning sparkling wines. The long days of low sunlight on the south coast are ideal; especially with global warming, there is a gradual movement to growing wine in previously unthinkable more Northern regions. English vineyards are harvested in October rather than September, meaning the grapes have longer to ripen but do not become too concentrated in sugar.  Ridgeview grow three types of grape: Chardonnay and Pinot noir/meunier. After tasting their range, I realised that I preferred blends such as the Bloomsbury, that uses a higher percentage of pinot noir, leading to a more classic 'champagne' style, more rounded, less acidic. The British sparkling wine style, like 'Cavendish' has a higher percentage of chardonnay, with a tight, crisp, citrussy, green apple, gooseberry flavour. I also enjoyed their red sparkling wine 'Pimlico', a type of wine neglected by the British up till now. They only produce a couple of hundred bottles of that a year, so it's not on sale.
Overnight the crew at Ridgeview had word of a late frost so they spend all night checking temperatures and laying a thousand 'bougies' or candles (in large white buckets seen above) under the vines to prevent freezing. The vines are dormant from November to March, the shoots are trimmed, leaving a T shape of two shoots in February. We were visiting during 'bud shoot', the vines were bare of leaves but you could see pale green life beginning to burst through the greyish roots. The bulk of English sparkling wine is sold in the UK, with Scandinavia, Holland, the USA also keen. The French aren't interested of course, they pretty much drink only French wine. 
So after much enthusiastic 'tasting' I went back to Ockenden Manor for my massage. I'd chosen a hot stone massage simply because I had never tried that before. The masseuse said she could only do a hot shell massage; these were shell-shaped ceramics that were heated up; the idea is that the heat helps your muscles to relax. What was it like? I'm afraid I couldn't tell you because I fell into a drunken stupor, occasionally waking myself up with my own snoring. But I think, on reflection, I prefer the human touch to hot shells. 
Post-massage I floated across the emerald lawn, a green such as you only find in England, for a quick fire English afternoon tea in the garden of Ockenden Manor, trays of scones, cakes, finger sandwiches in the bright sunshine, then back on the train to Victoria station in the big smoke.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

V is for Vegan is published today/Vitamix giveaway

My book on creative vegan cookery, V is for Vegan, is published today. It's one of the most original cookbooks you will ever see, with delicious recipes ranging from easy to complex. You will have recipes on how to make tofu, vegan butter, nut milk, nut cheeses as well as ramen bowls, beetroot ravioli Georgian style, watermelon stir fry, sage and squash pizzette, vegan trifle, chocolates and mousse au chocolat. Order the book here today.
Many of the recipes are made easier by using a Vitamix blender/food processor. I've been using a Vitamix since 2012 and I can honestly say I use it almost every day. It doesn't take up much room on the counter but does so many things. (I've put my old blender in the cupboard as a result, I just don't use it, once you've gone Vitamix, you can't go back). You can make your own instant icing sugar, rice flour, oat flour by grinding it. It's wonderful for smoothies and dips, sauces and soups, nut butter, nut milks, tofu. It is expensive but worth the outlay as you use it so often. And most importantly, it's easy to clean, a quick rinse through.
Vitamix nutrition centre, v is for vegan
The model is a Total Nutrition Centre which comes in black, white, red or brushed stainless steel. If you win, you can choose which colour. This is an amazing giveaway worth £450! I don't often do giveaways, but this is a real treat for my readers.

Rules:

Answer the question below, follow @msmarmitelover and RT this post.

Question:

What is your favourite recipe from the book and why?


Good luck everybody and hope you love (and buy) my book. 

Love Kerstin aka msmarmitelover

P.S. Don't forget the Secret Garden Club supper club at my place this Sunday 26th April, book here. 

xxx


Giveaway terms:
This competition is held jointly by Vitamix UK and msmarmitelover.com. It is open to UK residents only. The deadline is the 23rd of June 2015. The winner who answers the question correctly will be picked at random.
1 entry counted per person. 1 prize. 1 winner will be sent a Vitamix Total Nutrition Centre in the colour of their choice.
UK Delivery only. No cash alternative. You must follow @msmarmitelover and RT this giveaway tweet to enter. Closes 11.59pm 23rd June 2015. Winner chosen at random using random.org from valid entries. Winner will be informed on that date in the comments when I shall ask you to contact me by email. If prize isn’t claimed within 1 week a new winner may be chosen. Msmarmitelover.com's decision is final
The winner (UK only) will be chosen at random.


Edit: Question has changed 23/4/15

Monday, 20 April 2015

15 minute Pad Thai recipe (vegan, gluten free and not vegan)

Vegan Pad Thai recipe
Vegan Pad Thai recipe
This vegan Pad Thai is as good as the non-vegan version. It only takes 15 minutes max to make, including the ten minutes necessary to soak the noodles. Using soft tofu to replace the egg really works well, giving a similar texture and consistency, I actually prefer it to the eggy version.
My hack for replacing the fish sauce is to use miso.
I've given both versions of the recipe here, vegan and non vegan so you can mix it up if you like.
Clearspring are that unusual thing, a vegan company. Many of their products are Asian, all of them are animal-free and ethically sourced. Here is a recipe using some of those products which they sent me to try out.
As it's also wild garlic season I used that but when wild garlic is out of season, use chives or garlic chives.
Tip: if your palm sugar was rigid in a block like mine was, put it in the microwave with a small bowl of water. A minute or two should soften it. Same trick works for brown sugar.

Vegan Gluten-free Pad Thai recipe


Serves 2 to 3 as a main course


Sauce
2 or 3 tbsp White miso or 100ml fish sauce
100g palm sugar
100ml Tamarind paste
1 finely chopped red chilli (optional)


200g Brown or white rice noodles ( I used wide brown ones from Clearspring but you can use white or narrow ones)
a tsp of sea salt
100ml groundnut oil or rapeseed oil
300g Soft tofu or 2 eggs whisked together
a bunch of spring onions, finely sliced
a bunch of Wild garlic or a bunch of garlic chives (available in Chinese supermarkets or use plain chives), torn up or chopped up
100g of peanuts (you can use a mix of raw and salted), roughly chopped
Sriracha or sweet chilli sauce or Lingham's sauce
Wedges of lime

Make the sauce by mixing the ingredients together and warming on a low heat.
Soak the rice noodles in a heat proof bowl for ten minutes by covering with boiling water and a tsp of salt then drain.
Chop up the tofu (do it Japanese style by cutting it up on your palm), the spring onions, the wild garlic, the peanuts.
Prepare a wok or non-stick frying pan by warming it up on a medium high heat with the groundnut oil.
Add the soft tofu and let it fry for a couple of minutes, then add the softened noodles (make sure they aren't stuck together). Let this fry for a couple of minutes then add some of the pad thai sauce. (If using the egg rather than the soft tofu, push the noodles aside, add the egg and gradually stir in).
Carefully stir the noodles, tofu and sauce together, adding the rest of the sauce bit by bit.
Add the white part of the spring onions, the wild garlic. Let it fry for a minute then add the peanuts and green part of the spring onions.
Garnish with lime segments and sweet Chilli sauce.
Serve.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Wild garlic and asparagus crispy omelette recipe

wild garlic, asparagus, omelette recipe
wild garlic, asparagus, omelette recipe ingredients
wild garlic, asparagus, omelette recipe



Spring is sprung. I can tell by the ingredients available in my weekly Riverford Organic veg box. Lo! the hungry gap is drifting away into the horizon...that dull period in Britain between January and May when there isn't much to eat other than potatoes, turnips, kale and cabbage. Until next year...I heave a sigh of relief.
I got asparagus and wild garlic, yes another wild garlic recipe, the second in a week. Say it myself but it was delish. Hope you enjoy.


Wild garlic and asparagus crispy omelette recipe


Serves 2


4 eggs
pinch sea salt
a large handful of wild garlic, chop up 1/3, keep the rest whole
a dozen spears of fine asparagus
enough olive oil to cover the base of your frying pan
Zest of 1 lemon
a handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
White pepper


Whisk the eggs in a bowl and add a pinch of salt and the chopped 1/3 of wild garlic. I used a heavy seasoned cast iron frying pan which I heated up in advance on the stove. Use any good non-stick wide frying pan.
Snap the stringy ends of the asparagus by bending near the ends and snapping it off.
Oil the frying pan and tip in the egg mixture. Swirl it around until it cover the base of the pan then let it cook for a minute.
Add the asparagus spears whole then add the wild garlic leaves on top. Keep your pan on a low heat, use a lid or plate to cover the frying pan, letting the asparagus and garlic steam.
After five to ten minutes, remove the lid and grate on the lemon zest and sprinkle the fresh mint. Season with more sea salt and white pepper.
Serve warm, from the pan if you wish.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

I'm on TV! BBC2's Food and Drink


In the midst of a particularly laddish (ie male) episode, some have called it Top Gear for food, I appeared, clad in pearls, tottering in heels with a rose and net fascinator clamped to the side of my head and slightly smeared red lipstick, in a segment of BBC2's Food and Drink talking about fashion and food. We were looking at the mash-up food of chef Dan Doherty of Duck and Waffle and an Indian Scotch egg recipe by blue-eyed presenter Andy Bates. The lipstick smears were due to the fact that I'd been waiting in the Duck and Waffle's sky-high bar, overlooking London. I can faithfully report that the cocktails were excellent.
I wasn't introduced as a chef or even a cook but as a food blogger but I'd love to do more TV. What do you think?  Here is another video by me: 
How to make marmite on toast.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Mini-calzone with wild garlic and sheeps cheese recipe

mini calzone with wild garlic and sheeps cheese recipe

mini calzone with wild garlic and sheeps cheese recipe
It's wild garlic season so I'm threading it through all my recipes right now. Ramps tend to be mentioned on American food sites; while similar it is more like a baby leek or spring onion. Wild garlic is just leaves and flowers.
Everybody thinks bread and pizza making is so hard but it really isn't. This recipe couldn't be easier. Mix, leave for an hour, make balls, fold in 'topping' ingredients, bake, done.


Mini 'calzone' with wild garlic and sheeps cheese recipe

Makes 8

500g strong white flour
10g sea salt
10g fast action dried yeast
350ml luke warm water
a large handful of wild garlic
200g of sheep's cheese
Sea salt
Good olive oil


Mix the flour and the salt together, then add the yeast and water. If using a stand mixer, use the dough hook to knead for 5 minutes on a low speed. If mixing by hand then knead for at least ten minutes. Make a ball of the dough.
When using a stand mixer, I just cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave to proof in a warm place for an hour. If doing by hand then flour a bowl and place the dough ball inside. Cover with clingfilm or a damp tea towel and leave to rise for an hour.
Once the dough has risen, carefully tip it, using a dough spatula to gently pull it away from the sides of the bowl, onto a floured surface. Preheat the oven to 250c.
Divide the dough equally into 8 balls. Flatten them into rounds using your hand.
Then add some wild garlic leaves, (I stripped the leaves away from the central stalk), some sheeps cheese (you can use other cheeses) into the middle of the dough circle. I then crumbled a little sea salt on top.
Lift the edges of the dough circle, gathering them up until the edges meet in the middle and press them together. Flip over the ball and flatten into a circle again.
Do this with all 8 balls.
Line them up on a silpat or parchment paper, with gaps between them. Place in the oven for ten minutes then flip them over and cook for another five minutes or so.
They will puff up. Remove them from the oven and eat while warm. Once broken open, drizzle with olive oil.
If you want to freeze them, part bake them for only 8 minutes, remove, leave to cool then place in a plastic bag and freeze.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Pastitsio, recipe for a Greek vegetarian pasta dish


Pastitsio, the classic Athenian recipe, a pasta bake, similar to lasagne, but made with long tubular macaroni called 'mezzani'. If you can't find it where you live, feel free to use shorter macaroni, or bucatini, which is Italian pasta with a smaller tube. But if, like me, you believe certain shapes of pasta go with particular sauces and are a little bit fussy about that, make the effort to get the right pasta. 
I admit that I'm a pasta fascist. I recoil with horror when my daughter puts different shaped pasta together in the same pot. Of different cooking times! No. Just no. 
My other pasta rules: buy the very best, the stuff that costs a couple of pounds a packet. You aren't exactly breaking the bank with that. In fact this is one of my life rules: if you don't have much money, go luxe on the cheaper things of life. Buy great soap, great pasta, great tinned tomatoes. Never buy cheap pasta and of course never EVER buy quick cook. 
Do not confuse pastitsio with pasticcio, an Italian dish, which is more like a pie (although you will see recipes around the internet which call it by the latter name).
I think this is a great supper club or dinner party dish, as you can make everything in advance, assemble it, then bung it in the oven while your guests are here, leaving you hands-free to serve drinks and chat.


Vegetarian Pastitsio Recipe


Serves 8 to 10 people


Ingredients


The tomato sauce
A heavy splash of olive oil
1 litre of passata (or 1 500g box of passata and 1 tin of chopped tomatoes)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp of fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt
The pasta
500g macaroni, ideally ‘mezzani’
1 tbsp sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
The mushroom béchamel
1 kilo of mushrooms, thinly sliced
50g unsalted butter and a splash of olive oil.
1/2 glass of white wine
75g of unsalted butter
6 tbsps of flour
1.5 litres of whole milk
1 tsp of ground nutmeg
Sea salt to taste
White pepper, ground
Cheese topping
200g grated hard sheep cheese, Cheddar or tomme

For the method go to my blog post on this recipe  where I also talk about my new found love of Greek wines (even Retsina!) in my winetrust100.com column. And I explain how to keep all of your pasta in straight lines. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Artichoke, black lime, dill and lemon stew recipe (vegan)


Artichokes have hearts but as they grow older their hearts turn into bottoms!
This stew can be extravagantly made with fresh artichokes if you can get them cheaply in season otherwise this dish becomes too expensive.  But I've found artichoke bottoms in brine in large jars at my local Kurdish corner shop which taste pretty good. Frozen artichoke bottoms can also be found in Middle Eastern shops if you live in a city. I would count 3 artichoke bottoms per person if using fresh or more if using jarred or frozen. Fresh artichokes take up space in a saucepan and this is a rich 'stew' so you don't need too many. But you know your own appetite for artichokes I'm sure, so put in as many as you feel you'd like to eat.
Another ingredient you may not have tried is black lime which is often used in Persian cookery. It adds an intriguing smokey, charcoal, fermented note. Crumble it into any kind of stew or leave whole to slowly infuse into your pot of ingredients.
One more thing, if using jarred/canned/frozen artichokes, this recipe takes maximum half an hour to make.

Artichoke, black lime, dill and lemon stew recipe


Serves 4


400g jar of artichoke bottoms (drained) or 12 fresh artichokes, stem cut, top sliced off
1/2 lemon for the pot if using fresh.
Juice of 2 lemons
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 black lime, pounded into dust
2 preserved lemons, finely sliced
a handful of fresh dill, finely chopped
150ml of good olive oil
100ml raki (optional)
Sea salt to taste

Garnish with crumbled feta (optional)
or mint leaves, torn


If using fresh artichokes, cut off the stems and cut the top of the spiky thistle off. Prepare a large saucepan of salted boiling water, with half a lemon. Make sure you can fit all the artichokes in (you may need two pans) and that you have a lid for the pans. I also seal the pans by wrapping the lid in a clean tea towel. Boil for around ten to fifteen minutes longer if the artichokes aren't very fresh. However, do not over boil them. You want to be able to tug at a leaf and it comes off with just a little resistance, not too easily. If you were cooking them to use as a steamed artichoke starter then you would want the leaf to come off easily. But for a stew, you don't want the artichoke to turn into mush.
When they are par-boiled, remove the artichokes and leave them to drain, head facing downwards.
Then remove all the leaves and any thistle until you have the base.
(I ate the leaves as I went along!)
Using jarred/canned/frozen artichoke bottoms or prepped fresh ones, place them in a heavy bottomed large sauce pan. Add the lemon juice, garlic, black lime, the preserved lemon slices, the dill, the olive oil. Add the raki if using. Simmer for ten to fifteen minutes on a low heat.

Serve warm or cold as a meze or part of a main meal. Drizzle with more olive oil. Tastes even better the day after.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Recipe for Ezmé, a Turkish salad (vegan)

Ezmé salad, Turkish food, meze,

One of the things I like about Turkish food is their finely chopped salads. These are easy to eat, bite-size, no manhandling of enormous salad leaves or large chunks. They do something called a shepherds salad, very much like a typical Greek salad but with smaller pieces. And this tomato and pepper salad called Ezmé which is rather like a Turkish salsa. This salad is flavoured with spices such as the various types and hues of biber (pepper) which tend to be fragrant rather than hot. One such biber is a mild but deep smoky flavoured Turkish red pepper from the Urfa region that is sun dried then tightly wrapped at night to ferment. But you can use paprika and sumac instead. 

Ezmé salad recipe

Serves 4 as a side

4 big ripe tasty tomatoes, chopped finely (I keep the seeds because I like seeds)
1 red pepper (finely diced)
4 or 5 spring onions, white and green part, sliced thinly
Handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 tbsps pomegranate syrup
4 tbsps olive oil
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp sumac
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tbsp turkish biber (available here)
1 tbsp sea salt

Prep all the vegetables and herbs, chopping as finely as your knife skills will allow, so take your time, put a tea towel under your chopping board to steady it and sharpen your best knife. Then stir in the tomato puree, olive oil, lemon, pomegranate syrup, garlic. Then add your spices and salt to taste.

This is good as part of a meze, as an accompaniment to the main dish, or even as a salsa.

Ezmé salad, Turkish food, meze,

Friday, 3 April 2015

Athens during Lent: beyond the crisis, the best food and drink

Strawberries Athens, Greece
presidential guard, Athens, GreeceAthens, Greeceartichoke stall Athens, Greecehaberdashers, athens greececlown in front of byzantine church, Athens, Greeceolives, Athens, Greecepigeons on a nut stall, Athens, Greeceeggs wrapped in newspaper, Athens, Greeceevil eye protection Athens, Greecesnails, Athens, Greecestreet art, Athens, GreeceStreet art, Athens, GreeceBegging for food, Athens, Greece


In Athens, I walked and walked - it's a city for walking. Pavements are often made of gleaming pale marble. Greece is marble, a material that lasts forever. I walked around the area, Plaka, where the finance minister Varoufakis has his flat featured in Paris Match, which he immediately regretted. This new government are trying to do things differently; they don't wear ties, some of them have rejected ministerial perks such as chauffeur driven cars and they don't have PRs, so they make mistakes.

I walked up to the Acropolis. I walked around the tiny byzantine churches, wedged between the newer buildings. I walked up to the National Gardens. I walked around the markets. The thing that most struck me was the emptiness of Athens. Compared to London, there is hardly anybody living there. The population is around two or three million people, and many of the younger generation, the millennials, have left to work abroad. Athens also used to have the reputation of being very polluted. Compared to London, the air was sweet and clean, the crisis is partly to thank for that, as people can no longer afford to use their cars.

Striking women cleaners, Athens, Greece

I talked to Greeks about the crisis; I talked to a mother waiting outside parliament while her child was on a tour around the building. I talked to a striking cleaner who has been staging a sit-in outside the Ministry of Justice for 18 months. I talked to taxi drivers. I talked to Eugenia, a food blogger who spent eight years living in England and recently returned to Athens. 

The Mother: It will get worse but then better. The last government lied. This one at least will tell the truth. I didn't vote for them but I am hopeful.
The Returnee: since the crisis started, yes life has been tough but also it has made people creative. There are so many new start-ups, a new generation of Greeks starting small businesses. My parents have suffered.
The Striker: I was a cleaner for the justice ministry then they privatised it and we lost our jobs. We were earning 700 euros a month, which wasn't much but now we are living on 200 euros a month. For rent, electricity, food, taxes. How can we explain to our children that we haven't enough money to feed them?
The Returnee: my mum and dad had a butchers shop. They had to close the wholesale business down except for the high season in the summer, when they supply restaurants. Before people would come in and order a kilo of meat but now people come in with 5 euros and ask 'what can we get with this?'
The Striker: People say we don't pay taxes. Yes, we pay taxes. We pay huge property taxes and emergency 'solidarity' taxes. Now Syriza have got in they say they will give us our jobs back, within 5 or 6 months. We are hoping. We've been living here for 18 months in tents.
The Taxi Driver: I paid for my license, for my insurance, for my car. But I barely have enough business to cover it.
The Mother: I think it will get much worse but in a year it will be better. We will see.


Food you must try:

Koulouri, Athens, Greece

Koulouri: a type of sesame seed-covered thin bagel in a ring shape is the standard koulouri but they also have them filled with olives, chocolate, cream cheese, cheese or in wholewheat, covered with sunflower seeds. These stalls are everywhere but one in front of the National Gardens is particularly recommended.

 loukoumades, Athens, Greece

Loukoumades: little doughnuts filled with cream. They are a traditional Byzantine food that has recently become fashionable again. I had them draped with chocolate sauce or filled with mastiha cream. I tried them at a modern place, Lukumades, in the centre of town.

mastic chewing gum, mastic, Athens, Greece


Mastic is a big deal for the Greeks. Referred to as tears of Chios, it can only be grown on this Greek island. Mastic, the precursor of chewing gum (above, left in lemon, bitter orange or rose flavours), is the resin from a certain kind of pistachio tree indigenous to Chios. It has a resinous, slightly pine flavour. I like it, but it is a Marmite thing, you'll either love it or hate it. That resinous flavour is what you also find in the Greek wine Retsina which dates from Byzantine times. I had a wonderful Retsina that tasted of thyme. Modern techniques mean that Retsina is now subtler than before, less of the furniture polish vibe about it.

wild greens, Athens, Greece


Wild greens. These are comprised of dandelions, wild rocket, spinach and other mysterious leaves. In March, the Greeks have their own 'hungry gap' when they have less ingredients available to eat. Wild greens are served with fish or on their own. 

home made olive oil, Athens, Greece


Olive oil. I bought some at a market stall. It was the stallholders' own olive oil, soft and fresh, stored in plastic pop bottles. If only I could have brought back more.

Cretan rusk salad, Dakos, Athens, Greece


Cretan cuisine is a thing. Greeks say that the food from the island of Crete is the best, with the freshest produce. A typical Cretan dish is rusk salad 'Dakos', similar to panzanella, with a large crust of bread topped by a tomato salad, sprinkled with feta cheese.


Pastitsio is the classic Athenian dish, long macaroni baked lasagne style. We think of pasta as Italian but macaroni is most likely derived from a Greek word. There is an interesting post on Greek pasta here and I quote:
"There are several theories as to the etymology of the word. It may derive from the memorial table of the deceased, called the “macaria” (“food of the blessed”), where homemade pasta was traditionally served, combined with the word “aionia,” which means eternal.Some theories point to 474 B.C., when the Greeks from Syracuse established their colony in Napoli (from the Greek, Nea Poli, or new city), where they discovered the primitive pasta made by local inhabitants. They liked it so much they named this newfound food macaria, for the Greek word for happy or blessed."
Gigantes beans Athens, Greece


Beans. Gigantes plaki (giant baked beans) make for a popular dish. You can buy dry beans by weight in most market stalls. Peasant-style dishes and vegetarian food have all become fashionable since the crisis. People in Greece take Lent very seriously; most restaurants will have a vegetarian Lent menu so March is a great time for veggies/vegans to visit. Lent starts on Ash Monday lasting 40 days and ending a week before Easter.

grape hyacinth bulbs, Athens, Greece


Grape hyacinth bulbswhich are then pickled or salted. This is a Cretan dish, popular as a delicacy in Greece. It's also popular in Italy as Lampascioni sott'olio.

Bergamots, Athens, Greece


Bergamots and bitter oranges. I've tried growing citrus but failed miserably which is a shame because I'm such an avid citrus user in my cooking. In Athens, I bought bergamots (above) to make a sorbet. Oh my god, I cannot adequately describe just how orgasmic this was. Don't believe me, listen to Xanthe Clay of the Telegraph when she came to my 'raki' supper club.
Spoon sweets, bitter orange, Athens, Greece

Spoon sweets. These are preserves, often made from sour or bitter fruits or from mastic, served on a spoon in a tiny glass with coffee at the end of a meal. Great recipe for bitter orange spoon sweets here.

Greek coffee seller, Athens, Greece
Greek coffee, Athens, Greece
Frappé, Athens, Greece

Drinks:

Frappé is a Greek iced coffee with a thick foam. Delicious.

Traditional Greek coffee consists of finely ground coffee (ratio: 1 tsp to 100ml of water) heated until 70Cº. Order it sweet, semi-sweet or without sugar.

Raki is stronger than the Turkish version that I've tried, more like eau de vie.

Ouzo is the traditional Greek liqueur which has a stronger aniseed flavour than Turkish raki.

Rakimelo is Greek raki with honey.

Mastiha is a Greek hard alcohol flavoured with mastic.

Mountain tea, Athens, Greece
cinnamon sticks at central market, Athens, Greece
herbs and spices at Central Market, Athens, Greece


Herbs and spices:

Mountain tea (above), made from the sideritis (ironwort) plant, is a grandma's tisane and good for you.

Thyme is heavily used, to sprinkle on French fries for instance.

Greek markets have really long cinnamon sticks, like 2 feet in length!

Cretan cuisine, phyllo pie, filo pie, Athens, Greece
One piece of information that blew my mind was that pitta doesn't mean bread, it means pie. The Greeks are obsessed with pies, made with phyllo/filo pastry. They are often thin pies, almost a crepe, with a filling.
I did a phyllo rolling workshop with food blogger Eugenia of EatYourselfGreek who gives cookery lessons, food tours and runs supper clubs from her home in Athens. Contact her here.

Restaurants:

Since the crisis, Greeks can't afford to eat out as much, it's a rare treat. But, similar to what occurred post-crisis in the UK, with home restaurants and pop-up temporary restaurants (a movement I pioneered) evolving as a reaction to the lack of money, there are many small 'kafenios' springing up, in arcades, between buildings, behind shops, here today, gone tomorrow. A Kafenio, formerly a small cafe where retired men hung out, is a mix between a coffee place and a workers cafe. These places serve a few dishes, wine and raki in the evening along with rembetika, live greek music.

Tzitzikas kai Mermigas restaurant, athens greece

Tzitzikas kai Mermigas. I loved this restaurant, which had friendly service, great food, small prices and an interesting wine selection. Things I ate included salmon with butter saffron sauce, chalky tarama plastered on a plate, thyme flecked chips and fresh fresh fish. One night I ordered a grilled sea bass filet which came with steamed wild greens, topped with a mustard sauce. It was a Julia Child style fish epiphany. So simple but so good.

stuffed courgette flowers Athens, Greece

Cretan restaurants serve dishes like the stuffed courgette flowers above, rusk salad, disk-like phyllo pies filled with cheese and drizzled with honey. I visited Rakoumel in the Exarcheia area, known for anarchist politics and squats. Maria Elia, the Greek cook known for the wonderful cook book Smashing Plates, recommended I Kriti (Veranzerou 5, Kanigos Square).

spoon sweet with cake and mastiha cream Athens, Greece


Nancy's sweet home1 plateia iroon, Psiri. A great place for desserts, many of which are inspired by the crisis. Above is mastic flavoured cream on cake with a spoon sweet.
Little Venice is a popular restaurant run by women chefs in the Koukaki area, a student and non-touristy part of Athens, filled with bars and restaurants. People go out to eat very late, a large family arrived to eat at midnight. I loved the home made pasta and the thin deep fried courgette strips with dipping sauce in particular.
Varoulko Seaside is a Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant, specialising in fish, headed by chef Lefteris Lazarou, in the Mikrolimano marina area of Athens. I was taken there by Cosmote at whose conference 'The Sharing Economy' I gave a talk. What is the sharing economy? Etsy, Airbnb, Uber are examples of this new style of business which is shared via the internet and social media and relies heavily on trust. Supper clubs, home restaurants and pop up restaurants form part of that sharing economy. Greece is looking for new ways to do business, to expand its economy and, despite the difficulties of the past few years, crisis is almost an impetus for change and creativity; there are hundreds of new start ups. Supper clubs are a positive addition to any tourism based economy: during a typical tourist visit, they may visit a fine dining restaurant as a treat, a taverna on other nights and perhaps a supper club or home restaurant as a way of meeting locals, visiting their houses and experiencing local cuisine.
views of Athens, Greece

Markets:

The Central Market, Varvakeios, is a must visit. You have the meat section, fish section and fruit and veg area. It is surrounded by small shops selling intriguing food. You can also eat at reasonably priced restaurants within and around the market. I took a photo at one bar in the market and suddenly everyone was pointing at this guy, saying: He's a famous politician ! Just voted out!

On Saturdays, there is the open air market, laiki agora, in Exarcheia. On Fridays it is in Kallithea. Both close at 2pm. Here is more info on markets.

Farmers republicwhich is a fair trade market where farmers can sell their goods, getting rid of the middle man. It is found at El. Venizelou 171 (extension of Kifisias Avenue), Nea Erythraia (Kastri).
fish market Athens, Greece

Places to visit:

The museum of Greek gastronomy. This fascinating museum has at present an exhibition detailing the diet and food producing methods of monks. 'Monastic diet, traditional practices - timeless values'. Monks only eat once a day, in silence, for a maximum of 20 minutes. On Mount Athos, only men are allowed to visit the monastery. In fact this gender separation is so strict that even the animals they keep and eat cannot be female. In the back is a restaurant serving typical monastery food.

In the evening Monastiraki Square is a great place to see street performances, drumming and meet Athenian youth.
msmarmitelover kerstin rodgers at the acropolis Athens, Greece
The author at the Acropolis in Athens.