22 February 2013

Grecian Nostalgia: Acropoleis, Sheep, and Makin' Bacon

United States. Home. How interesting it is to be back on its soil.

It's been about three weeks since John and I left Charles and Ellie's blissful olive farm.
A short hike up from their backyard leads you to this abandoned and isolated  ruin of an ancient acropolis. This was our favorite spot to watch the sun set and the moon rise.
Five couches, two floors, one air mattress, and two beds later, I've reached the sunny shores of Florida for a week with my parents.

How does one manage 10 different sleeping locations in three weeks? Uncomfortably. The original plan was to couchsurf with a friend in Atlanta and help him with a new comedy project he's undertaking. After helping him move out of his apartment, I found that the new locale wouldn't be quite suitable for me to nest in for the weeks to come. Cold, damp, and under-insulated, I reached out to my other Atlanta friends and played musical couch for two weeks. It was fun, if a bit frazzling and unglamorous (not that my lifestyle could ever really be called glamorous).

The not-so-fun part about this period is that soon after my arrival to Georgia  my dear grandmother decided it was time to meet her maker. Since I last wrote you, I have become a grandparent-less child.
Only a woman who has raised eight children can strike such a pose. Farewell, Grandma Pat. 
Like I said, life has been a bit frazzling of late.

Now that I've left Atlanta, I'm happy to have my own bedroom for the next week or so here in Florida before heading to Spain in March to meet back up with John.

The truth is that after eight months of being in and around Europe, I feel a bit out of sorts and unfocused here in America. Somehow, the notion of staying and working on a farm presents to me an idea of stability, something that I've had little of in my zigzaggity path through Georgia, Iowa (for my grandmother's funeral), Florida, and soon back to Georgia again.

So to tie me over, I've decided not to be finished with farm number eight, otherwise known as the Olive Farm.

Let's get nostalgic, y'all.
Nothing says nostalgia like a picture of grown-up sitting with a child atop a knoll.
There's lots I've yet to show you about the farm, and even more to tell you about (by the way, did you see the way I smoked John in the 100 meter dash during our visit to Olympia?).

And warning: there will be excessive lamb shots.
You do realize you can come out, don't you?  No, you don't. Because you're sheep and you're dumb.
Did I tell you they have pigs? They have pigs! All food leftovers (pork excluded) go to these guys. The combination of pig waste and woodchips are used as fertilizer/compost for the garden. Yeah sustainability!
And then there was Daisy the cow, the most affable cow in the world who will brave wood-chopping implements and blazing fires if it means getting closer to you so that she can lick your sweater and/or your face. 
There is a reason that followers are called "sheep": sheep follow. And they do it with anybody, really. Just get a big stick (for guiding, not hitting!) and they'll go wherever you please. Ah, fools.

Before we go any further, I thought I'd show you this small orange band. What does it have to do with pictures of lambs? Well, it's a castration device. Shimmy it up around the goods and they should fall of within a couple of weeks. 
Now that we know about lamb castration, let's watch lambs playing!
In a few hours he'll somehow be able to jump five feet. That's an exaggeration, but not a big one.
No, I didn't follow baby lamb pictures with a picture of a roasted leg of lamb. It's goat.  And it's amazing. The Brits know their roasts (thanks Ellie)!
But hey, let's get back to that sunset spot I told you about at the beginning of the post. As if having the ruins of an acropolis to ourselves wasn't enough, every night, we would watch huge swarms of starlings dance over the water as the sun disappeared. Magic, anybody?
Looking out over the farmland of Zacharo
The top of the ruins
Where of where did this doorway lead to?
No big deal, right?
I'll close out the farm experience with our exciting endeavor into making bacon. As-local-as-it-gets bacon. This stuff was literally raised in the backyard, and I have no problem eating a pig that was raised happily and killed humanely. It's an encounter that's hard to find, and trust me, it was savored.
Our beautiful hunk of meat. According to Charlie, you can baconize any cut, but obviously one with layered fat and meat is best.
We rubbed it with sea salt, juniper berries, and a few other spices. You can spice it how you please, as long as there's tons of salt.
You gotta break 'em in early
After a few days of dusting off the salt rub, dumping any secreted moisture, and applying more salt, you're ready to soak and smoke.
Soak the pork in water to get rid of all the excess salt, and then find enough wood chips to smoke, not burn, all through the night.
Here's Charlie's contraption that, once fitted with a cover, will keep the hunk of pork surrounded by smoke all night as long as the wood stays lit (so expect to be up throughout the night to check on it--fun!). Since there's no flame, it doesn't get cooked--hence it's dubbed the "cold smoke method."
Somehow I forgot to get pictures of the finished and cooked bacon product. Oh yeah, it's because I was too busy eating it savagely.

Here's a good source on reasons and how to cure your own bacon, and although the curing method is different than what I've described, I'd like to try it out, only with lots more salt and curing for 4-7 days using Charlie's methods

If you're offput by so many pictures of meat hunks, let's cool things down with photos of a cute cat.
Just what the doctor ordered: cat pictures. Wait, does that not do the trick for you?
I'm pretty sure he's drinking the water that the salted pork was soaked in...
So that's it guys. I'm at least mildly cured of my nostalgia.

And I haven't even told you about Athens yet!
The Theatre of Herodes Atticus at the Acropolis in Athens,  with the city in the background.
(Spoiler alert: I saw FIVE cats hanging out together in a SINGLE tree!! Just kidding, that wasn't a spoiler alert, but I still think everybody should know about it.)

Stay tuned by receiving Chowgypsy updates in your inbox, and find me on Facebook for more pics!

11 February 2013

When Ruin is a Good Thing: Visiting Ancient Olympia

It's sometimes difficult for people to understand why I would want to work for free on my vacation.

And while this trip isn't technically a vacation, I could have made the choice to spend less time on the road by skipping the farmwork and simply visiting a city and moving on.
Looking toward the Philippeion, the colonnaded structure toward the right
But nobody ever learned anything by skipping class, and by the end of this trip I'll have learned so much from the locals and their respective cultures that volunteering will have been like going back to school for free.
The ruins of the Temple of Zeus (470- 457 BC)
The archway, or Krypte, leading to the stadium
More importantly, if you plan your farms out carefully and based on location, you might be able to work in a free sight-seeing trip.
The Stadium, which dates back to mid-5th century BC, has dimensions of 192x28.5 meters. There were no seats on the embankments save for a stone platform for the judges. Stadium capacity was estimated to be around 45,000. Yes, John and I ran the whole dash.
Charles and Ellie, the British expat hosts at our most recent farm in Zacharo, Greece, were particularly generous when it came to the understanding that volunteering should be a sort of symbiosis. They ask us to work about five hours a day with one day off per week, and during the rest of the time we can hang out with the family, take a walk, or sit on the floor and stare at the wall. Anything goes.

On the aforementioned day off, instead of washing their hands of us, they offered to drive us the 40 minutes to nearby Olympia and come back for us when we were finished. And yes, I'm talking about the Olympia.
The "Octagon" with its peristyle courtyard and view of a temporary residence of the Emperor Nero in 1st century AD
A piece of an old column with original Latin writing
It's great to find a host who actually cares about your entire experience at their farm, and unfortunately it's not always the case. But there have been no real horror stories yet for us. Only stories of mild annoyance.

But back to the frolicking grounds of the gods and early fitness buffs. Have a look:
The huge Gymnasion, an area for practice in foot race, javelin, discus throwing, etc. Competitors were required to train here for at least one month before the games.
The workshop of  Pheidias, wherein the huge gold-and ivory chryselephantine Statue of Zeus was sculpted 
The Statue of Zeus, at about 36 feet high, became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Olympia was known as the sacred place of Zeus and is where the Olympic games originated. Even today, the Olympic flame is lit here before it travels the world to reach the site of the games. Supposedly the games began around 776 BC and the surrounding buildings were used to facilitate the games or worship the gods. Religious in nature, many of the activities were based on or influenced by stories of Greek Mythology.
The Temple of Hera, an example of Doric architecture. According to legend, this is where the discus of the Sacred Truce, which protected travelers as they journeyed to and from the games, was kept
A few of the Temple of Hera's 22 columns

The original base of Paeonios' Victory, upon which stood the statue of the Winged Victory
The Philippeion, dating back to 338 BC, was donated by Philip II
Alexander the Great finished the Philippeion and decorated the interior with his ancestors' busts.
Lunchtime among the ruins
Very few structures still remain because when Christian Emperor Theodocious ruled in 393 AD, he deemed the games Pagan and banned them after nearly 12 centuries. That abandonment combined with a series of floods and earthquakes destroyed many of the structures and buried most of the city until it was later unearthed in the 1700s. After excavations began a few years after the rediscovery, the games began again in 1896. Despite all the destruction, it's easy to channel the magic and energy of what once was while walking through the ruins of a phenomenal history.
The Leonidaion Thermae, a bathhouse and guest room
Leaving the stadium behind
The entry fee for the Olympia ruins is six euros, and the nearby museum is also six. A combo ticket sets you back nine euros, and a little bird told me that the museum is worth a visit, although we opted for a walk and an overpriced coffee in the nearby tourist town instead.

This website has some great extra information on Olympia and how to get there.

And if you go, you have to do the 100 meter dash, obviously.

Stay tuned for more adventures!

02 February 2013

Orange Marmalade, Cornish Pasty, and Rainy Days in Greece

I wouldn't have predicted that rainy days in Greece would lead me to learn how to make traditional British food, but hallelujah, that's exactly what has happened.
Big things lie ahead for your guys. Big, gelatinous, yummy things.
We have managed to get in a fair amount of outdoor work as volunteers here at the Olive Farm, but complaining would just be silly. We "toil" among rows of olive trees overlooking the small town of Zacharo and the distant Mediterranean Sea. It's heavenly (visit here for a deeper look at our current farmstay).
A view of the piles we have to sort through in order to find firewood-possible pieces
We've been going bonfire crazy. Afterwards the ash is used to fertilize the soil
But it's January, and when the rain comes, there's only so much Top Chef you can watch. So, we cook.

First up is orange marmalade. The Greeks, despite their abundant citrus crop, haven't exactly figured out the best way to profit on the harvest. In fact, one pound of oranges fetches something around three cents. It's sad and pathetic, because it's hardly worth it for farmers to actually harvest the citrus, so it's not uncommon to see moldy, unpicked fruit carpeting the ground below the trees.

But the expat Brits do their part in preventing this travesty, because as a rule, British people love orange marmalade (with the exception of a certain lady named Ellie).
Our bounty, which we used to quadruple this recipe
Soon my little friends, soon.
For no specific reason that I recall, we segregated the oranges from the lemon and grapefruit
Ellie, John, and I had a peel cutting party. This job is a lot more fun with a team.
And thus we found ourselves in Charles and Ellie's backyard, strolling amongst the trees to find bitter oranges and a few lemons and grapefruits to make what would be one of the best marmalades I've ever tried. Charlie threw in some gargantuan hunks of ginger to spice things up a bit (who would've expected such a stray from tradition out of a British person!?) and it made things about ten times more exciting. Exciting marmalade! The queen would faint.
Authentic British Orange Marmalade with Ginger
This yields about five pounds of marmalade. Since the peel is consumed, I recommend using organic fruit.
Ingredients


  • 1.5 pounds bitter oranges*
  • 6 cups water
  • 3 pounds sugar
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 ginger root about as long as the palm of your hand, peeled and minced (use less if that scares you)
  • *To vary the flavor, use a mixture of 3/4 bitter oranges and the rest a combination of lemon and grapefruit

    Directions
    First of all, place a small plate in the freezer (more on that later).

    Clean the fruit and cut in half. Juice and reserve product for your drinking pleasure. Scoop the juicy membranes from the fruit shells and reserve this along with the seeds in cheese cloth or muslin. Tie off and place in a large pot filled with six cups of water.

    Take the peels and their pith and chop into your desired consistency. Extremely thin strips about 1/2-inch long are traditional and my favorite way to go. Add this and the minced ginger to the water.

    Bring water to boil, then reduce heat to a very low simmer, cover, and cook for about two hours, or until the peel is tender.

    Remove cheesecloth/muslin and squeeze all the liquid from it. Add the sugar to the pot and stir until dissolved completely. Then bring mixture to full boil and maintain this for about 15-20 minutes, or until mixture darkens and setting point is reached. To test for the setting point, place a teaspoon of the mixture on your chilled plate and allow it to sit for 30 seconds. Afterwards, run a spoon through the middle and if there is a clean line, the marmalade is ready.

    Skim the marmalade of any foam that might have come up, allow to cool for five minutes, then begin jarring for storage (here's a resource on how to jar).
    Beautiful.
    Cornish Pastie
    Next up we made Cornwall's claim to fame: The Pasty (pronounced "pah-stee"!). These savory meat pies were the traditional miners' fare back in the day, and were the perfect meal because tin miners could hold the thick crust with their soot-covered fingers and eat the filled part of the pie without contaminating themselves with tin. In case you didn't know, tin isn't the best flavor.
    Prepare yourself, you's about to be pastied.
    The tradition stuck, and whether you have tin on your fingers or not, pasties are a great and fantastically hearty meal. The recipe usually calls for a filling of steak, potatoes, onion, and swede/rutabaga/turnip, but you can substitute the swede with kolrhabi or any firm root vegetable. In fact, you can go ahead and substitue everything with anything, because when you put something into pastry dough and make yourself a mini pie, it's pretty much guaranteed to taste good.
    Some serious pasty making action going on
    The perfect treat for your dirty hands
    Steak, blue cheese, and red onion? Chorizo, cheddar, and tomatoes? Or how about chocolate, peanut butter, and banana? Maybe I just crossed the line, or maybe I'm a genius.

    We used this recipe for Classic Cornish Pasty from the BBC website and quadrupled it to store extras in the freezer after baking and cooling. They reheat beautifully!
    Fact: you are going to be full after this
    On another rainy day, we made the uber-British Steak and Kidney Pie. Charles and Ellie's neighbors typically throw out the kidney when they butcher their cows, so they now save them and thus enable us to make these somewhat peculiar delights (kidney can be weird). Once again, we made a surplus so that Ellie could freeze them for quick and easy meals later on. Genius!

    Unfortunately, instead of providing you with the recipe, I'm just going to taunt you with a picture. Google it, old chap.
    A pie of many sizes
    And don't think the idea of how lucky I am that I am allowed to cook for my volunteer "work" is lost on me. This is awesome .
    The kitchen team, clearly with Lexi in charge
    If you're curious about what John does on rainy days, he colors and plays princess with Lexi.
    Best friends
    We're all getting in touch with our feminine side, I suppose.

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