As we were leaving Melbourne there was snow falling on the nearby hills. 28 hours later we were transported to another hemisphere where the air is warm and the sun shines every day.
This is Greece, the homeland of my parents, the place that I connect with, the country that my partner Tony has wholeheartedly embraced. We are on our fourth trip here together and it's just as beautiful as ever.
After a relaxing overnight stay in Athens we are now settled in Limnos, the north Aegean island where my dad's family is from. My dad is now retired, and he and his wife, Julia, spend around 8 months each year living in Limnos, in the house where his mother grew up. Tony and I have been making the annual trip to join my dad and Julia in Limnos for four years now and we never grow tired of this place.
The weather here on the island is consistently warm during the summer months, reaching a guaranteed 30 degrees celsius every day. The beach is only a minute's walk from the house and it's lovely to spend the mornings there when it's not so busy. The water is warm and shallow and the sand is lined with rows of banana lounges and beach umbrellas where you can sit as long as you like and be waited on by young gorgeous backpackers working at one of two bars that service the beach. It doesn't get any better than that.
Here at the house we are sharing the accommodation with my uncle George (dad's brother), aunty Koula, my dad and Julia. Tony and I are very fortunate to be able to spend this time with family in Limnos every year and to have such a beautiful house in which to stay.
The work that dad and Julia have done on the house over the years is nothing short of amazing. It has been transformed from a tired old house with sagging ceilings and sinking floorboards to a beautiful, majestic family home.
Our room is breath-taking, with shuttered windows, antique furniture and our own sheltered balcony to sit and watch the Limnian world go by from the second floor of the three-storey house. On the same floor is another bedroom/study, a large bathroom and the lounge room with a huge stone fireplace that for over 50 years had been rendered over in plaster.
Our amazing bedroom:
Tony enjoying the view from our bedroom balcony:
Lounge room with old stone fire place, recently discovered under a thickly plastered wall:
Right now I'm sitting in the study across the hall where Tony and I have set up our laptops. I can see the ancient fortress over on Castro Hill from here, and in the foreground, a dense maze of terracotta-roofed houses separated only by narrow lane-ways and footpaths.
Above us on the top floor are two bedrooms and another bathroom accessed by a large rickety staircase that slopes one way with scary creaky steps. If you can brave the climb to the top floor, the view from up there is incredible. From the iron-laced balcony you can see ships passing on the beautiful crystal blue sea and the faint silhouette of Mount Athos in the distance.
There is also a kitchenette in the making on the top floor. This is dad's current project and with the help of his trusty handy-man, Anestis, renovation work around the house is always in progress.
Staircase leading up to the top floor of the house:
Sitting room on the top floor:
Bathroom on the top floor:
On the ground floor where the walls are over three feet thick to withstand the frequent earth tremors and occasional earthquakes the island experiences, there is the kitchen, dining room, a bedroom, store room, and a pair of French doors leading out to a large terraced area adorned with masses of grapevines, jasmine and honeysuckle.
Outside there is a guest house, dad's workshop and wood-fired oven room. The large garden has been painstakingly transformed by Julia from a quarter acre of weeds to a productive and beautiful space from which we source many of our fresh ingredients for our daily family lunches.
Lunch is the main meal of the day at the house, and this is the time that the family gets together to talk and eat and wave hands and drink Mythos beer. We sit outside at a white plastic table on weathered plastic chairs but the garden and surrounds are so beautiful, the outdoor furniture can be forgiven. The food is basic, but good. Beautiful Greek salads made with the sweetest tomatoes from the garden, fresh crusty bread, steamed greens with lemon juice and olive oil, big trays of "Takis Briam" (recipe coming soon!) and thick slabs of local feta cheese.
Below from left: George, Koula, Takis (my dad), me and Anestis. Tony took the photo and Julia is currently in the UK. She will be returning to Limnos this Friday.
My dad preparing his special version of briam:
I'm the only vegetarian in the family so there is often fish or some kind of meat included in the lunchtime meals, but when it's my turn to cook, it's vegetarian all the way. We take turns cooking for the family, although Koula insists on rostering herself up for the task much more often than the rest of us! Which is quite alright by us because she is a fabulous cook.
Today Koula was telling me about the melomacarona (Greek honeyed biscuits) she made recently and it reminded me that I must post the recipe for the biscuits I made for my sister before we left Melbourne. My sister Kellie is looking after my cat while we are away and for the incredible job she does with Simba she deserves a truckload of biscuits. She takes the 20-minute drive to my house every day with her two young sons and spends an hour or so playing with my cat and sending photos of him to me. I couldn't ask for a better cat sitter. She's the best.
Tony has been working since we arrived in Limnos so we haven't had a chance to do much together. It's not an ideal situation but he's hoping to have everything sorted out in the next few days so we can really get into holiday mode. I'm lucky enough to have been spared most of the work I thought I was going to have to do whilst here in Limnos, so I've been spending my days at the beach in the mornings, and walking around the village in the afternoons taking photos.
Tomorrow it's my turn to prepare lunch for the family and I'm going to see how my Greek baked ricotta with fasolakia goes down. If Tony can manage to wrap up the loose ends with his work in the next few days we will hire a motor scooter on the weekend and revisit some of our favourite places on the island. We hire a motor scooter every year and as much as my mum hates that we ride without helmets, it's the most liberating feeling in the world riding around the hills with a 360-degree view.
I will be back in a few days to write about our adventures on the motor scooter and a little more about my family and the day-to-day lifestyle of living in Limnos, but for now, here's the recipe for Melomacarona, as promised :)
Melomacarona (Greek honeyed biscuits)
Adapted from a combination of recipes from "Recipes from a Greek Island" by Susie Jacobs and "Modern Greek" by Andy Harris.
Makes around 24 biscuits
IngredientsFor the syrup
- 6 tablespoons honey
- 125g caster sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 strip of lemon peel
- 150ml water
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 200g shelled walnuts
- 2 tablespoons of the syrup
- 30g unsalted butter, melted
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 150ml mild olive oil
- 100g butter, chopped and softened
- 50g icing sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Juice of 1 orange
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons cognac or brandy
- 250g plain white flour
- 125g wholemeal flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Start by making the syrup. Put the honey, sugar, cinnamon stick and lemon peel in a saucepan and add 150ml of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add the lemon juice, cover and allow to cool.
- Next, make the filling. Pulse walnuts in a food processor until finely chopped but not pasty. Reserve 2 tablespoons of nuts for sprinkling later.
- Transfer the remaining nuts to a bowl and add two tablespoons of the syrup, melted butter and cinnamon. Mix well and set aside.
- To make the dough, add olive oil, softened butter and icing sugar to a mixing bowl and beat on high speed for around 3 or 4 minutes, until mixture lightens.
- Add salt, orange juice, ground cloves, nutmeg and cognac and beat well.
- Slowly add the sifted flours and baking powder to the mixing bowl and beat on low speed until you have a malleable dough, adding more flour if too wet.
- Turn dough out on to a floured surface and lightly knead until smooth – around 5 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Pinch off pieces of dough, around two tablespoons worth, and roll in the palms of your hands to form small egg shapes. Press your thumb into the centre of each piece and insert a small spoonful of the filling, forming the dough around the filling to cover and seal. Place on an oiled baking tray and bake for 20 minutes or until golden.
- Remove biscuits from oven and place on a wire rack. When cool enough to handle, dip each biscuit into the syrup for 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a serving dish. Sprinkle with reserved ground walnuts.