Friday, December 31, 2010

...And a Happy New Year!

last night's Corfu sunset from the kitchen door
Yes.  Well.

It may seem like I have forgotten this blog (or relegated it to the Well of Souls) but actually since my last post I have had my computer "fixed".

Having an older laptop with XP as my aging operating system, things began to seriously become undone.  It was possible to check the email  and touch base on facebook, but anything requiring doing two things at the same time would cause the computer to crash.

Steadily things got worse until I finally broke down and took it in to my gracious computer tech guy where upon he told me that things were starting to "degrade" (as in photos on my computer were starting to become inaccessible and programs were starting to fail) and I would have to "DO something!".

What this meant was that it was a good thing I'd invested in the re-installation CD's as we had to :"wipe" poor Ms Laptop who had started to develop Altzheimer's, and reinstall my same old XP program again. (this time without all the Dell junk I never used)  Of course we also had to find all the other programs and the updates for the old programs and, and, and...

As for a New Years' Recommendation of "Needful Things to make 2011 a better year"- I recommend a little USB back up hard drive

I finally purchased a nifty little back up hard drive, which is about the size of a pack of cards and I recommend to all and sundry BUY ONE, and back-up all your photos and important documents.  ASAP (Unless of course you are one of those "Ant" people, and already have one, as opposed to the rest of us "Grasshopper" sorts who didn't.)

I have now obviously done this, in a proper Ant-like way, but unfortunately I did lose some photos before I could back it all up.  Bummer.

Lesson learned.

Anyway, much of my seemingly cold shoulder to the blog has been because I have been first struggling with my computer, then going through the trauma of trying to save as much as possible on CD's, then taking my baby to the computer doctor to be "wiped". And finally relearning my computer (who is not the same "person" since the lobotomy), and then trying to find the discs to the old printer and other programs (still not up to speed on a lot of stuff), updating all and sundry, ... Oh yeah, and baking cookies, making quiches, cooking holiday meals and generally being a bit of a seasonal bon vivant.

So today I end this year and say, "I am glad you are over 2010".  Between the collapsed septic field, the dried up well and other water issues, moving my mother across the US, the mini wind sheer that made a hole in the roof and took out half of our yucca trees, and of course the computer "fail" that I've just been through, I am thinking that 2011, even as an unknown, is looking pretty good!

For what it's worth, Happy New Year to all and sundry, and may all your toasts be true!

Tomorrow I will try and do a bit of a catch up overview of the past month that does not include technology issues.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Celebrating International Men's Day...

In spite of the rainy day today, when I found out it was International Men's Day today,  I figured we'd just have to have a celebration!

I figured I would honor T with a favorite meal meal of his (I'm thawing two frozen lobster tails that were being saved for JUST such an occasion...).

I would also write a post on what a great idea it is to celebrate this day! Considering I have 3 sons and 2 grandsons, I feel I have a vested interest in the day.  (Plus, though it's not "yet" celebrated in Greece, it's celebrated in the US and Ireland!! so it "sort of" reflects life and times, eh?)

A little background from Wikipedia:

Calls for an International Men's Day have been noted since at least the 1960s when it was reported that "many men have been agitating privately to make Feb 23 International Men's Day, the equivalent of March 8, which is International Women's day" In the early 1990s, organizations in the United States, Australia and Malta held small events in February at the invitation of Professor Thomas Oaster who directed the Missouri Center for Men's Studies at the University of Missouri–Kansas City. Oaster successfully promoted the event in 1994, but his following attempt in 1995 was poorly attended and he ceased plans to continue the event in subsequent years. 

Whilst the Australians also ceased to observe the event again until November 19, 2003, only the Maltese Association for Men's Rights continued to observe the event each year in February. As the only remaining country still observing the earlier February celebration, the Maltese AMR Committee voted in 2009 to shift the date of their observation to November 19 in synchrony with all other countries celebrating on a single date.

According to its creators, International Men’s Day is a time to highlight discrimination against men and boys in areas of health, family law, education, media or other areas and to project their positive contributions and achievements. During past years the method of commemorating International Men's Day included public seminars, classroom activities at schools, radio and television programs, peaceful displays and marches, debates, panel discussions, and art displays. The manner of observing this annual day is optional, and any appropriate forums can be used. Early pioneers of IMD reminded that the day is not intended to compete against International Women's Day, but is for the purpose of highlighting men's experiences. Each year a secondary theme/s is suggested, such as peace in 2002, men’s health in 2003, healing and forgiveness in 2007, or positive male role models in 2009, although it is not compulsory to adopt these themes and participants are welcome to come up with their own to suit their needs and local concerns. In 2009 the following broad objectives were ratified as a basis for all International Men’s Day observations:
  • To promote positive male role models; not just movie stars and sports men but everyday, working class men who are living decent, honest lives.
  • To celebrate men’s positive contributions to society, community, family, marriage, child care, and to the environment.
  • To focus on men’s health and wellbeing; social, emotional, physical and spiritual.
  • To highlight discrimination against men; in areas of social services, social attitudes and expectations, and law.
  • To improve gender relations and promote gender equality.
  • To create a safer, better world; where people can be safe and grow to reach their full potential
According to Mens Activism News Network, International Men's Day  interfaces with Universal Children's Day on November 20 and forms a 48 hour celebration firstly of men, then children respectively, with a recognition of the bonds between them.

Here, here!  And a big  "thank you!" to all the good guys in the world!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Our olive harvest

time to harvest!
Checking the weather, we discovered a block of what appeared to be four days of decent weather exactly at the time we had decided to harvest our olives. 

We'd impatiently been looking for a new olive press, as our old press had finally given up the ghost and decided NOT to open this year. 

We couldn't pick the olives until we'd found a press that was open!  Finally, through the "garden center" in the Ropa valley, we found one in Gardellades.  It was only about an extra five minutes from the house which all things considered, was pretty good!

The weather was sunny and between 22C and 25C (72 F-77 F) which was ideal and only a little warm.

T got everything organized and ready and 8:30 Saturday morning we were doing the first tree.

falling like rain
Raking the olives off the branches with three different sized rakes.  Also with hands (but more leaves come off that way... and you have to sort out the leaves!)

There were so many olives on the tree!
medium rake

We managed to get a pretty good rhythm going, we me on the ground getting all the low branches and T on the ladder getting the high ones.
just before the gather

We used three different sized rakes (the heads were pretty much the same size) to reach difficult places.

Of course there is a certain amount of eye hand coordination that you need to use, particularly when you are reaching over your head.

We only had three trees to gather from this year,  but they were, as usual, bountiful.   Luckily, we had all of them trimmed two years ago and the man who did it, knew what he was doing!!  The tree branches were laden! 

[Long rake is being used on tree on left]

ready to gather
By the end of Saturday (we had to wrap up early as we were going to a friend's house for Curry night (see previous post!) around 5, we'd finished the first tree and rolled up the nets in preparation for sorting the next day.

[Balou  really tried to help.  She was at her best though, holding down the nets so the olives couldn't escape...]

 Sunday we were again out early to start raking and gathering.  We got three good sized bags from the first tree and three from the second tree.

It's a simple process, you hand pick all the big dead branches out of the pile of olives, then with the sorter you shake the olives back and forth until the little bits of leaves fall through and you have "clean" olives...

except the sorter weights about 5 lbs and you fill it with about 20 lbs of olives and shake out at least two pounds of detritus. 

It takes about 5 of the sorters to fill a bag just under 60 lbs. Each tree had 3 bags.

At the end of the day you can imagine how your shoulders feel!

clever way not to tear up the nets!
Monday was the third and final tree.  Some friends who'd never harvested olives, came by and so I got up really early to start some spaghetti sauce and make a quick cake.  Then we were at it again by 8:30.  We finished up the last bagging of the second tree and started raking the olives off the last tree. 

Our guests arrived and while my friend decided to sit and draw, Alex decided to help T with the raking of the last tree. 

He was so excited he begged to come with us for the olive pressing! (As he is young and strong and  speaks Greek, we figured he'd be a welcome addition...)

Meanwhile I started to collect some nice ripe olives to cure in brine.  I'd already done some green olives and some big Kalama's from a neighbors tree.

By Monday night the olives were all in their bags and shut up in the trailer waiting for transport Tuesday morning.

We arrived at about 10 AM, and waited no more than 15 minutes. 

They had a nice little waiting area with a tv, which would have been fine but for the NOISE of the business end of the press!

There was a lot of machinery in there!

Then we were told to back the trailer up to the sorter weighing machine and empty the olives into the press!

We were really glad Alex decided to come- not least because the bags were pretty heavy!

 All our olives were finally in the hopper...

 sorter scale at work.
the washed olives go into the weigh bucket, to be tallied each time the bucket was filled.
our olive weight! (576 lbs)  The olive press kept our olives separate, and didn't mix them with anyone else's, so it was only our olives processed to make our oil.

our olives were in number 2...

Our olives being pulped and the blades hand sprayed with hot steam water (oil and water separate quite nicely!) The greener the olives the less oil.  Many people think that the oil is much better with a mixture of green and black olives.

riper olives than ours were in vat number 3!! (our oil was WA-ay better)

sign in Greek asking people to keep their children out of the machinery...

Steaming mountain of pits outside the building.  When cooled and dried it's used as fuel for the olive press!

Finally into the centrifuge to separate our oil. 

Filling the carriers- we had two large cans and two five liter plastic carriers.  We ended up with about 30 liters of olive oil (or 8 gallons).

Our emerald prize at the end of the three days. (well that and the sore muscles!)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

End of October through mid-November: storms and stuff

Yes! You're in luck, this is another 'catch up post' that takes us from "it was a dark and stormy night"  to harvesting the olives (only that post is for tomorrow as this catch up post will probably take up all the space.)

So, since last I posted, we finally found a pumpkin for carving on Halloween. 

- In fact we found the Great Pumpkin.  Since we found it the day after the last post, we had to wait 10 days to carve it...

- We had a great time with some friends who came for dinner.  I made a ham- the kind that takes three days to make!

the recipe - long overdue... sorry  Angie!- (buy a "ham"; put it in a pot and cover it with a mixture of water and apple juice overnight in fridge;  the next evening, drain and refill pot with water and boil gently for about 2 hours for a 6+ lb ham, let it sit in the hot water on stove overnight; Next day, remove from water (re-weigh!!) and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes per pound.  Score fat and put honey-mustard glaze over ham for the last 20 minutes.)

- Went out to dinner with about 14 of our great neighbors to Godero and had a wonderful night.  Our neighbor Jan and his lovely wife Lillian were our hosts.  As it was a meze (starters) restaurant, we ordered at least one of everything on the menu. It was delightful and delicious.

- Finally Halloween arrived and we carved the pumpkin.

Our favorite little ones, came from Holland for a visit to see their dad and grandparents and stopped by on Sunday morning to carve the great pumpkin into TWO faces!

- Then, cut up pumpkin corpse the next day and LOTS of pureed pumpkin for muffins, pies, etc.

Made a terrific Thai pumpkin soup (well that's what I call it as it sort of became more Thai-like, than anything else.) out of some of it.  This was about a third of the pumpkin cooking so I could puree and freeze it in 2 cup bags. (I had blisters on my hands from peeling and chopping that much pumpkin!)

- Discovered a great organic restaurant!  Had a terrific meal and listened to Blues music by our friend and his band.

It got a lot more rollicking, after dinner and we stayed til the very end.  Both the band and the restaurant called it a night at the same time.

- Had the garden tilled for our winter plantings.

We bought some seeds and a few sets.  We'll have fava beans, and broccoli and cauliflower, chard, salad, parsley and onions.  (hopefully by December-January).  We've sprouted seeds under the grow light downstairs and hopefully will get them in the ground shortly.

- Had TWO huge scary storms back to back

that destroyed a lot of the yucca trees behind the fountain/waterfall.  (you can't even see the pond for all the debris!)

The winds also tore an awning in half, and ripped tiles off the roof to leave a fair sized hole right above our bedroom!  We had no electricity for just over 12 hours, but many on the island had no electricity for 24 hours.

- A local sailmaker resewed the awning

and my beloved 'fixed the hole, where the rain comes in' ("to keep my mind from wandering..." as the song says!)

It's a good thing he spent so much time up there this past August, sealing the roof!  That's mostly why the whole thing didn't get blown off! (as you can see from the inside photo, it's not a very "sturdy" roof!)

- Most recently we went to a friends curry night on Saturday, wherein I made a really good shrimp curry.  As it was a combination of two recipes and the ingredients I had on hand, I can only hope I remember it well enough to duplicate someday...

Mostly though what we did this past weekend and yesterday, was harvest the olives and today we had them pressed. 

Tomorrow I will try and reconstruct the process and post a bit of what we did.  Hopefully, adding a little 'show and tell' with pictures from the picking of the olives to the pressing at the olive press.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night...

This post was written the day before yesterday.  I didn't post it because the three times I tried, the electricity went "poof!" and stayed off  until I'd shut down and unplugged everything computer, so I gave up.  Today seems to be working, so just imagine that it's two days ago, OK?

[or reading and writing by rechargeable flashlight]

"It was a dark and stormy night," I am currently writing on a yellow pad, trying to be erudite in the glow of three candles and a rechargeable (blue light) flashlight.

Yes, the power is off again, and my faithful companion (the dog, not T) is keeping me updated on the fluctuating shifts in barometric pressure.  Who knew Bernese dogs had a secret side as "weather canaries"???

So finally after much sighing and tossing and turning - the dog successfully managed by 5 AM to wake me up enough for me to decide to get out of bed, fix some tea and a piece of toast and settle down in the wing chair for a couple of chapters of my latest read (actually re-read). 

T got up shortly after I finished my toast.  Bleary eyed, he wondered what insomaniacal thing was keeping me up at this ungodly hour. 

she would really like to be much smaller
The dog backed out from under my chair, yawned and turned soulfully guilty eyes up at him. 

He sneered, (at me or the dog, I wasn't sure!) went off to make coffee and turned the TV on to check out the state of the world.

Just as he settled (fortunately WITH coffee), the power went off.  No blinking, no; nor half hearted flicker of maybe coming back, no.  Just off. Period.

So comes the long blind search for matches (that work!), to light the candles (which ARE everywhere, but really hard to see in the pitch black). 

The the job of lighting candles through the house is an art, so as to maximize being able to see as we wander though the house; and so to light the last one.  Usually, at which point, the power will come back just as we finish lighting the last candle. 

Cleverly, T filled the buckets, which lately we've been keeping outside by the kitchen door, for just such an occasion, with water from the swimming pool (ahem, for the bathrooms... to flush?)

[I can't tell you how useful we find owning a swimming pool!  Its versatility - apart from a fine place to swim and cool off on hot days- is only limited by imagination during power outages.]

Sitting, each with our respective hot drink and a cowering dog, in the study with the glow of the 3 candles and the one rechargeable flashlight,  T shook his head and morosely said, "I'll never have any confidence in electric cars".  I raised a questioning eyebrow, tho after these forty-gazillion years of marital bliss, early morning non sequiturs are standard from both of us.

"It's the rechargeable battery... you know, like the cellphones? only bigger!"

falling up the steps
"Ah," I said, "you mean it would be difficult to build in a big hand crank to get it up and going again to get you home should the car die on the road?"

He shook his head. 

"No, it's because rechargeable batteries always die eventually, and for things like cellphones and laptops, they're impossible to find  for that particular year or brand or they don't make them anyway, because it's not cost effective."

The last time we went looking for a battery for one of our cellphones, we were told it would just be cheaper to buy a new phone!

Potentially I suppose, T's right.  You could spend what you thought was a small fortune on an electric car, only to be told a couple of years later, when the battery died for good and no longer could keep a charge for longer than 22 minutes, that it would be cheaper to buy a new electric car!

Whenever there is a long power outage, I generally find myself in sympathy with T.  He has little confidence in technology.  He functions well enough in the 21 century and does email and finds things well enough on google, but he is deeply suspicious of these 'bright shiny' bits of tech.  He would never buy a new computer (he usually takes over my old ones with the outdated operating system,,,) and tolerates my passion for these "things", the way most men tolerate their wives passion for buying shoes, or salt and pepper shakers, or Troika glassware.

His life would never revolve around a computer or an I Phone, or for that matter ANY cellphone. (I have enough trouble getting him to remember to turn it on when he's off and about for the day doing errands!)

He just walked past the doorway with a cup of coffee in his hand and quizzically asked me what I was doing.  I told him I was writing a blog post.  He said "Hmm.  What are you going to do, mail it in?"

dawn, finally.
Years ago, (in that other life), one of his managers remarked that T's cellphone was never turned on!  He replied, "That's because my cellphone is for MY convenience, not yours."

Actually, he was right about the cellphones, maybe he's got a point about the electric cars!?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Olives: The Cure

Sounds like a disease (or a rock band)!  Actually it's more like tempering them from the hard, bitter, little, pit-filled, oil makers, into something you might put into a lovely glass of martini...

I'd like to say I meant to post this earlier, really! ---- good  excuse this time!--- because we've been in the middle of  rather amazing and, in a awesome way, lovely thunderstorms.  Normally that wouldn't be an issue, except here on Corfu it is.

tonight's sunset
We have managed to fry so many electronic items, as most of the other inhabitants of the island, that it's pretty much a dark joke amongst all and sundry.  First off our electricity comes into the house at supposedly 220 volts (in the US, it's 110 volts).  That apparently is the baseline, because when we had it checked back when we discovered nothing in the house was properly grounded (we kept getting nasty shocks just touching light switches, never mind loading the dishwasher!) our electrical guy told us that it was fluctuating but generally running pretty hot... WAY over 220 and in fact at one point it peaked at 260.

This doesn't mean that we're all about to die or anything, it just means that if you are an electrical appliance living in this house, you are living a very hard life and your lifespan could be shorter than appliances that, say, live in France or Denmark.

last evening.
Combine that with spectacular thunderstorms with chain lightening and incredible sky to ground, and sky to trees and of course sky to power line, flashes we have regularly and you're talking MAJOR power surges.

Usually though electronic death to computers and cordless phones, is because the surge fries computers and routers via the phone lines, I presume when the lightening hits telephone poles and lines.  (we ALWAYS remember to unplug the phone lines from the router box, as well as the regular plugs- now.  We've gone through three.  See? You CAN teach old dogs new tricks.)

Anyway, we've had the power off and on and off (and on and off and on) for the past two days as well as a few mighty "crack-BOOM" flashes to keep the dog awake (and her faithful companion- me) most of the night.  It rumbled and grumbled long past the gale force winds and violent rains.

Last night, as the power was skipping around, we decided to go into town for our annual McDonald's hamburger, only to be caught in a real misery of a downpour that included, on our way back home, a good piece of the road going out of town, near the airport, that was door deep in run off water!  (tres scary!)  I would have taken pictures but I was too busy helping T drive!

So.  On to the olive lecture... and the hypothetical curing of olives- which I will be planning to do for real this year, to go along with our wine, olive oil AND homemade vinegar (ah! but that's another post!!)

Here's a picture of the three sizes of olives we have.  (that is a one euro coin, which is a about the same diameter as a US quarter)

The smallest one is the wild olive (of which we have three trees)  The middle sized one is the one we mostly collect and make our olive oil from; and the big is a Kalamata and we've only just recently planted them (one).  We have also planted seven more trees that are more like the middle sized one, but it will be at least 10 more years before they'll be producing much of anything.

 I always thought when I read Lord of the Rings, that the Ents were related to the olive trees.

So.  For the curing of olive to turn them into those lovely plump and delicious additions to our diets, one must make a commitment of fresh water, salt, and most importantly: Time.

Gourmets from the Roman empire to the present day have valued the unripe fruit, steeped in brine, as challenging to the palate. The bitter juice deposited during pressing of the oil (called amurca), and the astringent leaves of the tree have many virtues attributed to them by ancient authors. Olive oil as a cooking medium emerged as an economical alternative to the butter and animal fats used elsewhere.

Olives are high in monounsaturated fat, iron, Vitamin E, and dietary fiber.

These are a few simple methods used in many Greek homes.

Water Curing "Smashed" or "Cracked" Olives
(recommended for large green olives)

Wash olives. With stone or mallet, crack the meat of the olive, taking care not to bruise the pit. Put the olives in a pan and cover with cold water for 6-8 days, changing the water twice a day, morning and evening, until the bitterness is gone (taste to test). When ready, fill the pan with brine * (about 1 part sea salt to 10 parts water) and lemon juice (about 1 part lemon juice to 10 parts water), transfer to jars if desired, and refrigerate for several hours before eating. **

Brine Curing
(recommended for black olives)

Wash olives. With a sharp knife, make a cut in the meat of the olive (top to bottom) without cutting the pit. In a pan, soak the olives in brine (1 part salt to 10 parts water). Make sure the olives are submerged (use something to weight them down) and cover. Cure the olives for 3 weeks, shaking the pan each day and changing the brine each week, then taste for bitterness (they could take up to 5-6 weeks depending on the olives). When they taste the way you want, place in jars with brine (1 part sea salt to 10 parts water), add 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and top with a layer of olive oil.

Dry (Salt) Curing
(recommended for large black olives)

Outdoors, in a basket, burlap bag, or wooden box lined with burlap (that allows air to circulate), layer olives with coarse sea salt (you'll need about 1 pound of salt for every 2 pounds of olives). Leave the olives outside (with plastic underneath to catch the juices that drain) for 3-4 weeks, shaking daily and adding a little more salt every 2-3 days. Taste for bitterness (rinsing the olive first). When no longer bitter, you can either shake off excess salt and keep them that way, or shake off the excess salt and dip them quickly in boiling water to get rid of the salt. They can be marinated for a few days in olive oil to regain plumpness (this type of curing will shrivel them), or just coated well with olive oil (using your hands) before eating.

Dry (Salt) Curing
(recommended for small black olives)

In glass jars, alternate layers of olives with coarse salt. Every day for 3 weeks, shake well and add more salt to absorb the juices. Test for bitterness (rinsing the olive first). Continue to cure if bitterness remains, otherwise, add warm water to cover and 4 tablespoons of good quality red wine vinegar, and top with a layer of olive oil. They will be ready to eat after 4-5 days.

Oil Curing

Cover in olive oil and leave them alone for several months. Test for taste.

Tips About Brine:

    * * The water/salt ratio is perfect when a raw egg floats in it.
    * ** For cracked olives, when they're ready to eat, transfer to a brine that's less salty to keep for long periods.


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