September was a fantastic month. I took my group to the Peloponnese and we had a wonderful time. I swam every morning before breakfast and the days passed with eating, drinking, exploring and cooking. Spyros showed us how to make small filo cheese pies and Jota delighted us with stuffed zucchini flowers, soft, fragrant meat balls and a delicious fish soup with rice and avogolemoni sauce. I love the Greek way of cooking the fish and removing all the bones before serving. The highlight of the week was our excursion to a small beach reached only by boat. We swam, drank crisp, local white wine stored in a cold box and then feasted on Ilias’s smoked, filleted sardines, home grown tomatoes and hunks of rustic bread. This was followed by another swim then a very different golden, rustic fish soup. This soup was incredibly good, cooked on the beach with a judicious amount of sea water. We felt we would have been happy to play Robinson Crusoe and stay for much longer.
On another day we explored the site of Ancient Messini, still being excavated, and some of our group were lured into local jewellery shops and had to be forcibly extracted so that we could be on our way to buy honey, preserves and pottery. We finally made it to Koroni where we surreptitiously fed the thin, local cats while we enjoyed lunch near the fishing boats.
Marina was always there, ready to play driver, interpreter and facilitator. She was a huge asset. We have all vowed to return next year.
We had planned to spend some time in Athens visiting the great classical sites but when Election Day was called for September 20th we changed plans and took a cheap Ryan air flight to Chania in Crete. We stayed in Rethymno Old Town and had a great time doing all the things we do well, eating, drinking and shopping. Our hotel, in a historic Venetian mansion, was literally surrounded by shops and on the corner there was a display of beautiful shady hats in every colour – lilac, sea green, black and white, the choice was bewildering, and only the thought of my meagre Ryanair luggage allowance restrained me. Next year I will return with a hat box and indulge.
I have been home a week and tomorrow I am leaving for the Budapest Gourmet adventure. One would imagine that I would sit back, relax and enjoy home and family. I have done that but by chance I discovered that one of my favourite chefs who came with me to London to show Marks and Spencer the real Bolognese cuisine now has a restaurant in Faenza, home of the lovely, world-famous glazed pottery.
I have long wanted to take people to discover Bologna, an enchanting, porticoed city which has escaped the main tourist-trail. In Italy it is known as ‘La Dota’ because it has the oldest university in Europe, and ‘La Grassa’ for its rich food. My mind is now playing with the idea some time in Bologna, late November or early December, to take in the Christmas Market, shopping, eating and visiting Faenza and Ravenna for the mosaics. My grandson tells me I am mad and my neighbours ask plaintively when I am going to retire and settle down ! Let me know if this last-minute idea appeals to you, or whether you would prefer March.
Fish broth, long grained rice, lemon juice and egg
Bring water, 2 T olive oil to boil. Add one whole peeled onion, 4 peeled poatatoes, 2 carrots chopped into 4cm lengths and 2 scraped celery sticks, halved, bay leaf, parsley, salt and pepper. Cook for 20 minutes then place cleaned, whole fish on top with a little lemon juice. When ready remove fish and lift off bone. Serve surrounded by vegetables.
To make the soup:
Strain the remaining liquid, bring to the boil and throw in 4 T rice. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Beat together the eggs and lemon juice. Add a ladle of the fish liquid. Then on a low heat stir this mixture into the rest of the extra liquid. Do not let it boil. This is called an avgolemono sauce.