Greek Diaries #1 / Strawberries in Rose Syrup

Tuesday - Laviro, Greece

Took a rattling Ryan Air flight from London to Athens this morning. I cried the whole way reading A Half Baked Idea. “I’m the man with the wooden bike in arrivals” texts the captain Loucas. He asks questions about Australia as we drive to the boat moored in Laviro. “I’ve never sailed before,” I tell him, he looks concerned as he turns his head from the road but before he speaks I say “but I can swim” to try and reassure him that I won't be totally useless this week living on the sea. My cabin is in the bow of the boat. Just one little window on the roof, I spread white sheets out over the plastic padded mattress and unpack. I go to the local library with Loucas and his partner Rosabella for a regular meeting they have with fishermen. I listened to arguments about the environment in Greek while drinking wine from a paper cup and eating cold loukaniko (orange and leek sausages) wrapped in pastry between the stalls of books I can't read. I just got back to the boat to sleep, I can hear the swells of the sea and stir every time the wind whips the sails.

Wednesday - Laviro > Kea, Greece

We sailed past old penal colony islands this morning as we pulled the boat out from Laviro. You can smell the green earth in the heat as the wind pushes us closer to the shore - it was intoxicating, I can only imagine how sweet that would smell after months on the ocean. We pushed past the island where Paris and Helen wed and I think about all the Homer I read in high-school as Loucas tells me about his life. As we hit the bigger waves further from shore, I tell myself that I am not the first sailor to be seasick. I tell myself I'm the Grand Daughter of a sailor and think about my Granda's navy tattoos as I try to let the nausea pass. I let the water from the waves splash onto my cheeks as the boat rose and fell. Everything failed and I was a useless sailor and spent four hours with my head over the edge of the boat. We arrived into Kea in the early afternoon. As soon as the boat stopped I finally felt okay. We cycled around the island together before I left the others and stopped on a beach for a swim. I chained my bike up, bought a beer, and left it half-buried in the sand while I swam in the cool May water. I cycled some more, stopped to photograph a wedding in a church that overlooked the beach, and then stopped at a cafe for a plate of tzatziki and bread. It was the best I’ve ever had. I tried to work out if it was because of the good Greek yoghurt or because it’s the first thing I’ve eaten all day and decide it’s probably both. I interviewed Andreas, a local deli owner who makes pasteli with honey he harvests himself and a geranium-scented liquor that tastes like it’s made of magic. His mother made us dinner at her restaurant and as the sun set I wandered around her garden of citrus trees and tried checking my emails. We ate slices of courgette and dill pie made with flaky filo and deep green olive oil, cucumber and crumbled feta salad and rice with smoky roasted aubergines. There were tumblers of wine and eucalyptus trees everywhere and if I shut my eyes it felt like home.

Thursday - Kea, Greece

Every morning for breakfast we eat huge oranges that smell like perfume with hard goats cheese, and bread. Loucas peels them in a single ribbon and feeds the peel to the fish below. I got up early today and went for a walk across the bay of the cove we're anchored in - I didn't know swans could live in the sea. I watch them rest on the still water by the beach before heading back to the boat for another orange. I interviewed a cheesemaker today, Alexandros. We watched him stir and salt cheese before eating it with him in the sunshine outside. The Tyros (like feta) he makes is scented like olive leaves and tastes like the air we’re breathing up here in the hills of the island. We drank shots of tsipouro before hiking down to the ancient ruins of the Carthaea. A "holy grail for hikers" apparently. A little tipsy we set off down steep hills walking paths that were carved here thousands of years ago. Past goats, bushes of wild rosemary, fennel, and sage, it was hot and the air was heady with the fragrance of herbs. I cut my legs on something covered in thorns every few minutes and quickly regretted my choice of a skirt. It took two hours but was worth every thorn to look out over the ruins. When we got back Alexandros had pots of goat's milk/pistachio ice-cream waiting for us - I could have kissed his feet I was so thankful. On the way back to the boat we stop at Andreas’s mother’s house for dinner again. Ravenous from the walk I ate bowls of olives and slices of cured boar while dinner cooked. She made cockerel slow-cooked in red wine, with fat sticks of cinnamon, what looked like handfuls of bay leaves and sweet stewed tomatoes. For dessert, there was a platter of thick-set yoghurt that had spoonfuls of strawberries cooked in a rose syrup over the top. Both plates and glasses were swiftly filled then cleaned and filled again all evening. I'm going to get up early tomorrow and swim near the swans on the beach next to the boat before we sail to the island of Andros in the morning and when I get home the roses in the garden will become dessert.

Greek Yoghurt with Rose Strawberries

Make it for the scent it will bring to your kitchen alone. Good for breakfast, dessert or whenever you feel like something special.

- 250g of strawberries

- Petals from a rose (make sure it hasn’t been sprayed with anything)

- 3 tablespoons of sugar

-1 lemon

- Thick-set Greek Yoghurt

Slice the strawberries in half. Put them into a pot with the rose petals, sugar, a piece of lemon peel and pour over water until the strawberries are almost covered.

Bring to the boil. Let it simmer until the strawberries are soft but not mushy - about 1-2 minutes depending on the size of your fruit. Remove the strawberries from the pot and place them in a bowl to cool.

Turn the heat up to high and reduce the water to a syrup. Take it off the heat, squeeze in the juice of a lemon and stir. Cool and pour over the bowl of strawberries. Serve spooned over yogurt, garnished with fresh petals if you fancy.

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