Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Sleepy Sunday

Lunch with a view

Somewhere around 5am this morning I woke up when my husband came to bed. He was not very good company yesterday after Greece lost 0-2 to South Korea in the World Cup. I saw bits of the game and it looked like they weren’t playing very well. Worthy of a comment, but not much more, in my opinion, but my poor dear was pretty upset about it and ended up with a headache that got worse and worse. He took some headache medicine containing caffeine, and thus the 5am bedtime.

So while he slept away the morning, I cooked. I made homemade fat-free tzatziki, homemade almost fat-free hummus, and homemade pita bread. It was my first time making pita bread, and it was a success. Since my main goal is to save money, and this made enough food for two people for an entire day, I tallied up the whole thing and it came to just about €1.70 including some carrots, not including water.

Lunch

This is pretty much what my life looks like these days. I spend about 2 hours every day reading recipes online, trying to find things I can make with what I already have on hand, or with things that I can buy very cheaply, another 4 to 6 hours cooking every day, plenty of time cleaning (mainly the kitchen) and doing laundry, and the rest of my time I spend at the beach or walking around the island alone, with my husband, or with friends.

It’s not a particularly modern lifestyle, but it suits me since it’s only for two more weeks. After that, everything changes dramatically and I will be in a city of 6 million people and it will be hot and I will be exhausted and cranky. I’m enjoying this while it lasts.

Advertisements

World Cup and Focaccia

Today is Saturday, I spent the morning making homemade focaccia while my husband did the laundry and the floors.  We had the amazingly delicious focaccia with garlic-olive oil dipping sauce, and a Greek salad for lunch, after which I did the dishes and put the clothes on the line.  Sounds pretty normal so far, right? And then my husband went absolutely freaking nuts.  He is having something resembling epileptic fits.  It’s because Greece is playing their first game in the World Cup 2010 in South Africa, against South Korea.

I knew he would watch the game – he even watched the Mexico/South Africa and Uruguay/Somebody Else games last night – but I didn’t realize he would take it all so seriously!  This only happens every four years, and four years ago, Greece wasn’t in the World Cup, so this is the first time I’m seeing this reaction.

I’m going to post the focaccia recipe, because we thought it was really delicious.  This is not a food blog, and I’m not going to start taking photos of everything I cook, but it’s something to do instead of pretending to follow the game.

Caramelized Onion and Olive Focaccia

I got the original idea from here and also here, but after reading this article, I decided to use this recipe here and alter it as seemed appropriate.

Ingredients

240 gr (2 cups) white all-purpose flour
1 cup warm water, divided
1 packet (7-8 gr) active dry yeast
1 tsp white sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp and 1 tsp olive oil, divided
5 whole Kalamata olives
2 tbsp dried rosemary
1 tbsp dried thyme
2 medium red onions

Instructions

1. Heat the water very briefly in a tea kettle (or, if not using bottled water, just use warm tap water) and pour 1/2 cup water into a mixing bowl.

2. Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the water, followed by the sugar. Let sit for 10 minutes. The yeast should foam up. If it doesn’t, throw it away and buy fresh yeast.

3. Add the flour to the water and mix well; start adding the water bit by bit as you mix it until it reaches a moist but not overly sticky consistency.

4. Flour your kneading surface. Put the dough onto the surface and start kneading it. It doesn’t need to be kneaded very long. I usually knead bread dough for 10 minutes, and the recipe called for 1 minute; I did it for more like 5 minutes and it came out great. I ended up having to add a bit more flour as it was too wet; the original recipe never specifies how much water the recipe is supposed to use, so I overestimated.

5. Shape into a ball. Wash and dry your mixing bowl well. Put 1 tsp of olive oil into the bowl and coat the sides well. Put the dough ball into the bowl, rolling it around so it is coated lightly in oil on all sides. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and then drape a kitchen towel over the top. Leave the bowl in a warm spot. Note the time, because in 45 minutes, we will come back to the dough. Preheat your oven to 245 degrees Celsius.

6. Turn on your burner to medium heat with a largish saucepan on it. Clean and slice two medium red onions. The slices should be about 1/8″ thick (normal onion slices) and all about the same thickness. At this point, add 1 tbsp olive oil to the saucepan. Separate the rings. Once the oil is hot enough to make a piece of onion sizzle, add all the onions to the saucepan.

7. Stir the onions well so that they are all coated in olive oil. Stir slowly but more or less continuously for a few minutes. Then you can stir every 30 seconds or so (but for 10-20 seconds each time) until the onions turn golden.

8. Lower the heat a little to one tick below medium, and continue stirring the onions. It took mine about 25 minutes to caramelize so don’t rush them – it’s worth the wait. Withdraw them from the heat when they are brown but not burned. Put them on a plate, so they don’t continue to cook in the pot.

6. 45 minutes after the dough started rising, check on it: it should have doubled. Mine more than doubled, but it had a much wetter consistency than bread dough; it turned out great so I guess that’s how it’s supposed to be.

7. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Put the doubled dough ball onto the cookie sheet. Gently press out the air while also pushing the dough so that it spreads over the cookie sheet. Mine ended up pretty thin (about 1/4″). All the recipes say to brush with olive oil at this point – I didn’t, and it was great, and it saved some calories, but I suspect it would be worth doing, and next time I probably will. Cover with plastic wrap and wait 15 minutes.

8. Slice the Kalamata olives, removing the pit, into small pieces (about 8 pieces per olive).

9. After 15 minutes, uncover the cookie sheet and, using your fingertip, press “dimples” into the dough every inch or so over its surface.

10. Sprinkle the rosemary and thyme over the dough. Then spread the onions and sprinkle the olive pieces over the dough.

11. Put the cookie sheet on a low rack in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

12. To serve, cut into long, slender pieces. I made a garlic olive oil dipping sauce which went perfectly with it.

Since I’ve been to about sixteen thousand “destinations” in Greece, I thought I’d make a regular blog feature out of writing little travel articles about places I’ve been, with photos and recommendations. Who knows, maybe they’ll encourage someone to come check them out 🙂

Today: Milos, a medium-sized island in the Cycladic archipelago (the same one that includes Santorini and Mykonos), which is not very touristy (although it is very busy indeed in August) and is downright frighteningly beautiful.

Why should I go?

Milos is unspoiled, just as beautiful if not more so than the completely spoiled Santorini, has some of the nicest beaches in the country, has an excellent archaeological museum, several good archaeological sites, and a charming capital that’s perfect for wandering.

How do I get there?

Milos has an airport that gets flights from Athens, usually about once per day (Olympic Air).  There are usually several highspeed and slow ferries per day in the summer, and at least one per day in the winter.  All the boats leave from Peiraias harbor.

Where should I stay?

There are three main places to stay:  the port town of Adamantas, the capital town of Plaka and its neighboring Tripiti, and the beach town of Pollonia.  I’d recommend either of the first two, especially Plaka.  Pollonia is far away from everything and although there is a nice beach there, it’s not as beautiful as several of the other beaches.

Adamantas

The port town has lots of restaurants, hotels, cafes, and shops.  Almost all ships dock here, the airport is nearby, and there are taxi stands and buses here in town.  This is probably the easiest place to stay, but it’s not the most beautiful.

Plaka

Plaka is where the archaeological museum, the Early Christian catacombs, the site of Ancient Milos, and lots of good restaurants and shops are located.  It’s also the most beautiful village on the island.  My recommendation for a place to eat is Archontoula, near the bus turn-around.

A street in Plaka.

An old Plaka house.

Archaeological Sites

The most important one, and the one you just can’t miss if you go to Milos, is the Bronze Age site of Phylakopi.   Built of volcanic stone, Phylakopi was the ancient center of obsidian production.  Obsidian (volcanic glass) was the best available material for cutting, so was sold all over the ancient Mediterranean world.  This allowed Phylakopi to develop into an important trading center, and the Archaeological Museum in Plaka has lots of examples of obsidian cutting tools, pottery, figurines, and other finds from the site.  It’s located near the beautiful Papafranga beach, so a visit to the one can easily include the other.

Phylakopi looking toward the sea.

A wall of volcanic stone.

Other important sites include the ancient theater of Milos (below Plaka) and the Early Christian catacombs (nearby).

Museums

There are three museums on the island but I’ve only been to two of them.  I didn’t go to the Ecclesiastical Museum as that’s not really my thing.  The Archaeological Museum in Plaka, though small, is one of the best local museums in the entire country (thanks to the finds from Phylakopi).  In case you’re wondering, it has a plaster cast of the statue of Aphrodite found on the island (the Venus di Milo) which is in the Louvre.

The Milos Minerological Museum in Adamantas is wonderful.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from this museum but it was a great surprise.  There are great teaching exhibitions on the life of miners and on the minerals themselves (the island, being volcanic, is full of them).  When I visited, there was also a great temporary exhibition on shells of the Mediterranean, which is now closed; and there’s a tiny bookstore that has some good stuff in it.

Rock formation in Milos.

Beaches

Milos’ biggest tourist draw is the beaches; they are beautiful… I’m not much of a beach person myself, but I’ll just post some photos from Papafranga to give you an idea.

Rock channel at Papafranga with hidden beach.

The water at Papafranga.

A popular way to get to many of the more remote beaches is by going on a one-day boat trip around the island, which stops at the really spectacular beaches.  This is possible in the summer in good weather (low wind).

When should I go?

The best time to go is May, June, September, and October, which holds true for most of the islands, because in the winter months, many of the hotels and rooms to rent are closed; and in July and August, prices are much, much higher for everything, and there are too many people around.

How much will it cost?

In May, June, September, or October, from Athens, ferry tickets about €15 per person, hotel about €35 for a double room, food about €20 for a restaurant meal for two people.   Four nights on the island, including hotel and ferry tickets and food, for two people, about €300 if you throw a few gyros in there and don’t eat at fancy restaurants twice a day.

Cooking on the island

I cook a lot here. Not just because I’m trying to use up all the stuff in the cupboard, or because it’s cheaper, or because I am an eager-to-please newlywed, but because I genuinely enjoy it. My mother was a great creator of food – I can’t call her just a cook, since most of her dishes started with a seed catalog. I have always been inspired to cook well because of her, and to start every dish as far back as possible: it’s better to make a pizza at home on purchased dough than to buy a pizza ready-made; it’s better to make the dough from flour than to buy dough; it’s better to have grown the toppings in your garden than to use storebought; it’s better to have milled the wheat yourself than to buy flour; it’s better to have grown the wheat than to have bought it… you can keep this game going for a long time.

I have no hopes of actually growing and milling wheat, but I would like, at least, to make the dough and grow the toppings, at some point in my life. For now, since I don’t have a garden of my own, I have to be satisfied with making the dough.

Just in the past week, I’ve made the following completely from scratch:

– thyme-scented French bread
– chocolate chip cookies
– basil-infused orzo pasta
– basil-infused castellane pasta
– whole wheat fettucine
– whole wheat w/ honey pizza dough
– Mexican rice
– Chinese egg-fried whole grain rice
– feta-sesame saganaki
– black-eyed pea salad
– hummus from dried chickpeas

… and more. It may not sound that impressive, and maybe it isn’t, but I’m impressed with myself for doing it for two reasons:

1) This whole year, since September, I didn’t have a kitchen. I didn’t even have a microwave. I had a sink, a knife, and a cutting board, but no source of heat.

2) The kitchen that I cook in is small. Most people claim to have small kitchens, even people who manifestly do not. But I do, honestly. Today when I made the chocolate chip cookies, I didn’t have enough space to put the cookie sheet down, so I had to do it on the bed. My refrigerator is so small that it doesn’t have a freezer. My oven is so small that its stovetop only has two burners and the oven part is not much larger than an American toaster-oven.

I have a double sink for some reason, whoever designed the kitchen thought it made sense, but it doesn’t, because there’s no counter space as a result. Everything I do in the kitchen (unless I do it in the bed, which is not rare), I do by balancing a cutting board on the divider that separates the two sink sections, and working on the cutting board. The cutting board regularly flips to one side or the other, very often sending my food flying into the sink.

As for cupboard space… I store the water on the living room floor, and most of the dried goods like beans, rice, sugar are in jars lined up here and there.

What about equipment, you ask? Aside from the aforementioned refrigerator-sans-freezer, glorified toaster-oven / hot plate, and cutting board, I have one functional knife, a digital kitchen scale (one of my prized possessions), a Zyliss garlic press (another prized poss.), a colander, a large pot, a 9″ frying pan, and a tea kettle / hotpot.

There is no coffee maker, no food processor or blender, no microwave, no freezer (I just have to bring that up again), no garbage disposal, no toaster, no grill, no dishwasher (ha!).

The entire counter space consists of 3″ of space between the sink and the oven on the right, and 3″ of space between the sink and the wall on the other side. That’s it. So I work by balancing my cutting board on the sink divider, and with this setup, I cook two meals from scratch every day.

I do sometimes need some flat space, so I have a table that I temporarily steal when I need to roll out pasta dough or knead bread dough.

My mother has complained for decades about her kitchen: too small, bad appliances, not enough light, not enough air, old countertops, etc. But the truth is that you don’t need space or equipment to cook from scratch. In fact, I think that’s the real secret: the REAL “from scratch” stuff doesn’t call for equipment at all. If your great-grandmother made it, think about what she would have used. And the results are astounding. Everything I cook makes my husband very, very happy. I started a notebook to write down recipes that he loves, and I’ve been writing them at a rate of two per day for a while now.

It’s not all rosy, though. Almost my most common expression is “I want a kitchen!” Because the oven is balanced on top of the mini-fridge and the air vent is positioned directly above the oven, there’s so little space between the stove top and the air vent thingy that I can barely fit my pot on the stove. Stirring with a wooden spoon is tough, and forget about pouring anything into the pot. If I have beans ready to go into the pot, for example, instead of pouring them in with the pot on the stove, I remove the pot from the stove, balance it precariously on the sink divider, pour the beans in, and transfer it back to the stove.

My mother would say that I’m lucky because a small kitchen is easier to keep clean. I think this is true, but I really wouldn’t mind cleaning a massive kitchen – that would be a trade-off I’d be willing to make.

One of our closest friend-couples on the island own a gorgeous little house in the capital village (heh) of the island, which they renovated themselves. Their kitchen is gorgeous. We went there for dinner tonight (I brought the chocolate chip cookies) and when I came in, I just stood in the kitchen and watched her cook. She asked me what I was doing, and I said “I’m enjoying my jealousy.”

I’m American.  As an American who spent 11 years learning Greek and doing everything else humanly possible to flee the United States permanently, “my fellow Americans” don’t usually think of me as a particularly patriotic specimen, and they’d be right.  But just because I spend my time in the US whining about how much better things are in Greece (even when that’s blatantly not true), it doesn’t make me any less American.  Because you either are, or you aren’t.  I have a US passport, I was born in Washington, DC, and I pay taxes to the IRS.

I much prefer living in Greece.  I didn’t do this for any other reason than that I like it here.  But there are a few things that I genuinely miss.  Some of them can be sent over or brought over in a suitcase, some of them I just have to live without.  I decided to come up with a list of them, for your amusement.  Ask yourself:  could I live without these things?

-Ziploc bags. All sizes and varieties. They are not sold in this country.

-Saccharin sweetener. I can’t use aspartame (which we do have here), because I lack the enzyme to detect its sweetness (or something like that), and saccharin, the oldest and most harmless of sweeteners, is classed as an illegal carcinogen here.

-Cellophane / plastic wrap. Yes, you can buy it here, but it’s crap. It sticks to itself when you don’t want it to. It’s like the plastic wrap we had in the US 20 years ago, that always left you with a weird feeling of angst and struggle.

-Tampons. Again, they are available, although they only represent about 2% of the “feminine care products” in any typical store’s selection (the 98% being made up of the old pantyliner thingies that we American girls have been shunning for at least two decades). The ones they sell here are the really old kind and are yucky.

-Fake maple syrup. You can get real maple syrup (it’s expensive, though) but sometimes I just want the fake low-sugar / low-calorie kind.

-Whole-berry cranberry sauce. I think I might start to cry if I don’t just move on.

-All those over-priced but low calorie and easy to prepare premade foods like VitaMuffins, BocaBurgers, and so on. I can’t even buy a frozen veggie burger here. I may need to get my mom’s 35-step veggie burger recipe.

-Bagels. Especially raisin bagels, but really, any bagels. They started selling chive and onion cream cheese and now I just put that on bread or crackers and pretend I’m eating an everything bagel with chive and onion cream cheese, and it’s okay.

-One-piece swimsuits. I had a severe sunburn on my stomach a few years ago, and that, combined with my surgery scars from this spring, make me happier covering up my midsection on the beach. But one-piece swimsuits, or even two-piece swimsuits with any kind of boob support, are not sold here. However, your triangle bikini needs will be met, and then some.

-Naked ginger. This is now almost impossible to find in the US as well, so I may have to give up on it. It is crystallized ginger without the sugar crystals, and is my favorite thing ever. Sob.

-More stuff: barbecue sauce, horseradish, sugar free stuff of all kinds, flavor extracts aside from vanilla.

Wow, I miss a lot of food items.

Things I miss that can’t be packed in a suitcase:

-Being able to flush toilet paper down the toilet. This is an annoying problem in Greece. You can’t actually flush the paper. You’re supposed to throw it in the trash. That means you have to take out the bathroom trash on a pretty much constant basis, and it’s also kind of gross. I’m totally used to it, but I wouldn’t say no if they said I could start flushing the stuff.

-Customer service. The whole idea of “the customer is always or at least sometimes right”. The concept of returning something you bought and decided you don’t want (even if you don’t have an extremely good reason).

-Buying things online. This has failed to take off in Greece, for unknown reasons, and I miss it. I miss Amazon so much. And it would be nice to be able to reserve a train ticket on the internet, instead of having to go to the train station.

-Lack of bureaucracy. Not until you’ve lived through the Greek bureaucracy (or died trying) do you have a concept of what it means to say “Greek red tape.” The US doesn’t have a bureaucracy at all (at least, not that we come into contact with as citizens), and a life lived without red tape is such blissful ignorance. I miss those days of changing my address with little more fanfare than a 20-second visit to the USPS website, or getting health insurance in under 3 weeks and visits with 17 different government officials.

-Items on sale. Things are always on sale in the US. Don’t believe me? Go to a place like Kohl’s or Best Buy. Look around. Chances are, almost everything in the store is marked down. In Greece, nothing is ever on sale, with the exception of an end-of-season sell-off in January and August for a limited time when they get rid of old stuff no one wants. At grocery stores, instead of finding your shampoo on sale, it will likely be bundled with a free conditioner bottle. What if you don’t want that conditioner? Too bad.

-Caffeine-free Diet Coke, Ginger Ale, and any other caffeine-free beverage. I’m allergic to caffeine, sort of. It makes me sick, but it doesn’t make me die. So when I go out and want something other than bottled water or tap water, I have to order … soda water. Because that’s all there is. I could get fresh squeezed orange juice but that shit is expensive here. I miss diet ginger ale and caffeine free diet coke and crystal light lemonade. It’s not realistic to pack things like this so I can’t consider this importable.

-Gyms for people who like to work out. Before I got really sick in 2008, I used to be involved in the sport of powerlifting, which meant I spent hours every day lifting weights. Now all my muscles have turned into flab from not being able to work out, but that’s for a different post. I have belonged to three gyms in Greece, and they all more or less sucked. The equipment is mediocre, the staff is trained up to the standard of about 1995, and the regulars are no better. I’ve never seen a power cage in Greece (that’s a weightlifting thing that weightlifting people like).

The coldest spot on the island in winter, with a constant howling wind.

This little rock that we live on has an official population of 600, but there are only 31 students in the schools (one elementary school with doubled grades:  1st & 2nd, 3rd & 4th) and a combined middle/high school), and there are usually only about 300-350 people actually living here year round.  In January, that number goes down to about 100.  In August, the number is probably closer to 600 or more, but if you add the tourists, it reaches the inconceivably greater number of 15,000 people.

What is it like to live on an island with 100 people, in the coldest, windiest, rainiest month of the year?   The island doesn’t get snow or ice, and the temperature never drops below 45 F, but it gets battered by unrelenting winds and a suffocating humidity that makes mold grow on your shoes and destroys half of what’s in your pantry.  There’s not much sunlight, since the days are short in winter.  But the weather is only a sort of backdrop to everyday life.

With only 100 people, 31 of whom are schoolkids and 18 of whom are teachers (the balance is made up of the kids parents and grandparents, plus a few necessary services, like the island doctor, the island police officer, the island pharmacist, the island electricity company rep, and the island port authority man), the community pulls tightly around itself and everywhere you go, you’re greeted warmly.  Restaurants are mostly closed, but if you want to eat out, you can call them up and request what you’d like them to cook for you and your friends.

Pot-luck became a way of life for us.  It seemed like every night we were cooking for each other and eating together, enjoying the warm intellectual community that comes from having fully 1/5 of the population made up of educators.

There’s only one ATM (and no bank) on the island, and when it ran out of money or malfunctioned, we bought our groceries on credit.  We watched weather reports with real interest, because if the winds were high, the twice-weekly ferries could easily be cancelled, with no replacement, meaning that we were even more cut off than usual.  This happened frequently.

We went for long, long walks on beautiful hiking (donkey) trails to remote beaches, although it was too cold to swim.
The island is at its greenest in the winter, because in the summer the lack of rain and the unrelenting sunlight turns all this beautiful green to straw-yellow and brown.  All those thousands and thousands of tourists who come here in the summer see the island at its least beautiful, which makes it feel like a secret paradise for those of us who know it year-round.

I will admit, there is a fair amount of TV watching and internet surfing here as well.  Sometimes it’s just too windy and wet to do much of anything outdoors.  Doing laundry is a nightmare:  we have a washing machine but, like most Greek families, no clothes dryer.  We rely on good weather to dry our clothes.  In the summer, clothes drying on a line in Greece will be done in 10 minutes, but in the winter on the island, it can take days and days.

With almost nothing open, there is nowhere to spend money.  The only non-food/toiletry/pharmacy purchases we made on the island over the entire period from November to April were a set of three nesting bowls, two mugs, and … no, that’s it.

Although we started swimming in March (well, my husband did – I started in May), and now in June everything is open, my favorite time on the island is December, January, and February, because of the natural beauty, the quiet and solitude, and the sense of community.  I don’t even want to see the island in July and August, when the tourists come.

So how do we do it?  How do we survive now that we suddenly have no money?

Once you take out the €240 we spend for rent, the €200 for car payment, and the €50 for cell phones/electricity/whatever other unavoidable expenses, based solely on my husband’s frighteningly reduced income (and yes, in case you’re wondering, he still has to do the same amount of work plus extra now, and there’s no chance of an increase for a minimum of 4 years, even if there is inflation) – because we are saving my puny savings for emergencies – we have about €500 per month to survive on.

There are just two of us, no pets, and we both have health insurance (even me, now, thanks to the marriage) that supposedly covers us, so we use that money for everything else:  food, transportation/gas, entertainment, over the counter medicines/toiletries, household products, and whatever else we need in a given month.

It may sound like a lot, but let me remind you that things are really expensive here.  A packaged frozen two-pack of chicken breasts costs €9.00.

We aren’t getting any money from anywhere else, so we really have to make this work.  The following is an outline of what I’m doing to try to make this happen.

From the €500, subtract the likely extra expenses for that month.  At the end of the month, we’re moving off the island (our apartment needs to be rented to tourists who pay €120/night, not €240/month, so we aren’t able to stay on the island over the summer while school is out).  Moving expenses for us, all our stuff (we can’t leave it on the island in storage because we aren’t sure we’ll be coming back in the fall yet), and our car will be roughly €200 (including ferry tickets for two plus a car, train tickets, and sending a few boxes).  Gas, another €100 because of the driving we’ll have to do once we’re off the island.  That’s €300 out of the €500, leaving us with only €200 and we haven’t eaten a single meal.

My husband has uber-sensitive teeth and has to use some special (not covered by insurance) dental products that add up to about €60/month.  I have a few prescriptions I have to use every month, even with insurance it’s still around €20/month.  So we’re down to €120, or 13 two-packs of chicken breasts.

We spend roughly €60 per month on the cheapest available bottled water because of the severe health risks of using the local water.   So now we’re down to €60 for actual food, for two people who are trying not to die of an early heart attack or diabetes.

€60/month is €15/week on food.  I hope I don’t need to tell you that, at the end of the month, we do not have money left over to put into savings.

This is what I do:

1)  Use up stores of food already in the house.  We’re moving soon (at this point it’s less than 20 days away), so what better way to reduce moving stress than by getting rid of consumables?  Back in our wealthier days (not so long ago) we bought things like rice and pasta and dried beans, but we ate things like cereal, fresh fruits and vegetables, and potatoes.  Well, now we are eating the rice and pasta and dried beans.  I have put all of our dried food stores into clear glass bottles and have lined them up on the kitchen counter.  This way, I can easily see how much we have of everything.  Keep in mind that it’s not that cheap to cook dried beans and rice, even if you already own the foods, because it takes so much bottled water to cook them.  But I’m finding ways to reduce the water and it still saves money overall to use up stuff we already have.

2)  Handmaking everything.  I bought flour back in February, when we still had money.  It came in a package of three 2-kg bags, so a total of 6.6 lbs of flour.  I bought it because I wanted to make bread but I never got around to actually making the bread.  Well you’d better believe I make bread now.  I have almost seven pounds of flour to use up!  Not only have I baked amazing French bread, but also homemade pasta (without a pasta machine – in fact, without even a rolling pin – I used a glass jar).  I bought a bag (2.2 lbs) of whole wheat flour at some point too, and I made whole wheat pasta and also whole wheat pizza dough with that.  I still have about 1 lb of whole wheat flour and 3 lbs of white flour to use!  Bread is cheap to make, because the only thing you need aside from flour and a little bit of water and salt, is yeast.  So yes, I have had to buy yeast (once I ran out of the yeast I bought back in February), but it’s not that expensive considering how much food you can make out of it.

3)  Relentlessly seasonal shopping.  I don’t care if it’s cherry season in the rest of Greece; if the apricots are cheaper per kilo than the cherries this week, we’re getting apricots.

4)  Substitutions.  You don’t have to use butter or sesame oil if all you have is olive oil.  Just use the freaking olive oil.  Olive oil burns?  Turn the heat down.  It’s not perfect?  So what, you already have it sitting on your shelf, and you don’t want to carry it in your suitcase, now do you.  This is what I tell myself when I look at a recipe that calls for something I don’t have.

5)  Absolutely no meat whatsoever.  Per gram of protein, meat isn’t that expensive in most places, but here on the island, I could buy about 80 eggs for the price of those two damn chicken breasts.  So we eat eggs and beans, which are great sources of protein.

6)  Never eat out unless someone else is paying.  I hate to say this because it sounds like we’re taking advantage of others, but we’ve been invited twice this month to go out as a treat, and we accepted both times, happily and gratefully.  One of those times I was able to cook a homemade meal for our friend who took us out; the other one was our landlord who wanted to treat us before we left.

7)  When you run out of something, don’t buy more.  I can only drink decaf coffee, and I love it, but when I run out (which will happen in the next 5 days), I’ll be switching to caffeine free teas and hot chocolate, both of which I have on hand.

8)  Put water on cereal (if you have cereal – the stuff is crazy expensive but we still had some left over) because it actually tastes almost the same as milk, and I can’t even tell the difference if I don’t think about it too hard.

9) Eat all of everything.  I don’t mean eat the apricot pit, but eat the peel of carrots, potatoes, and cucumbers, don’t throw away a lemon without zesting it first, and don’t core or seed anything (you can pull the green stem part off a tomato without cutting into it at all); there’s nothing deadly about the end of a cucumber.

10) Rehydrate dried fruit by soaking in warm water before eating (it will seem like more food that way).

11) Use spices liberally if you have a lot of them on hand and wouldn’t mind using them up, to make up for bland ingredients or for a lack of sauces:  for example, the other day I wanted to make feta saganaki, a lovely Greek dish, but I didn’t want to use flour to coat it (too boring); I found a recipe that suggested to use sesame seeds to coat it instead.  Far more nutritious, far more delicious, and how else am I going to use up a huge jar of sesame seeds in 20 days?

12) Use fresh herbs that grow nearby:  we have a mint plant growing outside our house.  We didn’t put it there, our landlord did, but no one ever uses it for anything.  I put it in salads, in tzatziki, in whatever I think it would be good in.  Not only does it taste great, but it saved me buying fresh herbs (something you absolutely can’t do on this budget).

13) Absolutely no alcohol or tobacco.  My husband and I are both hard-core non-smokers, the kind who roll our eyes at each other when someone lights up 9 tables away in a restaurant, so this is nothing to us.  Alcohol:  I don’t drink it at all, as it makes my heart beat weird, but my husband does, so we basically just stopped buying any kind of wine, beer, or spirits.  There is still some brandy in the house in a bottle, but only a little bit; he’d better finish that before we leave because I don’t want to carry that damn bottle.

14) Don’t just throw stuff away.  If a vegetable looks like it’s going to go bad, use it in a sauce, don’t throw it away.  I am careful not to cook too much of anything in the fear that it won’t keep (we don’t have a freezer – I’m not kidding, we have a tiny fridge that doesn’t have a freezer at all!).

15)  Buy often, in small amounts, things that are sold by weight.  Fresh fruit and vegetables are a gamble on this island.  I have been known to buy a single lemon or a single pepper, because that’s what I needed, and didn’t want to risk the rest going bad.  I can walk to a market here so there’s no added expense (gas) in doing that.

16)  Buy cheese only on sale.  Luckily for us, our favorite cheese, Milner’s low fat feta cheese, has had a buy-one get-one free deal going on for a few weeks.  We bought two and got four.  This is the basis of many of our meals lately.  Feta isn’t cheap, but at half-price, it’s doable.  Since we don’t do meat or fish, we really enjoy this.

17)  No canned or frozen foods.  Canned goods are insanely expensive here.  Maybe it’s the weight, maybe it’s the fact that most people don’t buy them and prefer fresh, but a can of tuna costs the equivalent of $3-4 dollars – for a normal sized can!  Since I used to buy those for $0.50 in the US, I do not like this at all.  Frozen foods are also insanely expensive – even worse than canned – but I can’t buy them anyway since I have no freezer.  The only exception to this rule is that I will sometimes get canned chopped tomatoes and tomato paste when the price is reasonable.

18)  To save water, I’ve found that cooking fresh homemade pasta takes almost no water to boil, since they are finished in such a short time (2-3 minutes).  Since I have the flour and the eggs, this one is a no-brainer.

Here’s a sample menu of what we ate yesterday:

Breakfast

Husband:  chocolate-milk made from powder we’ve had for months
Me:  cereal with water

Lunch

Both of us:  handmade white-flour orzo infused with rehydrated dried basil served cold and tossed with sliced black olives, small-chopped cucumber and tomato, a bit of red wine vinegar, the juice of half a lemon, a bit of olive oil, and about 10 large leaves of fresh mint, chopped.

Snack

Husband:  several fresh apricots, Greek coffee (no milk or sugar)
Me:  several fresh apricots

Dinner

Both:  the rest of the basil-pasta dough rolled into handmade penne, cooked in a light tomato sauce left over from my homemade pizza last week; a salad with lettuce, sliced olives, finely sliced cucumber, and an entire can of water-packed tuna (left over from several months ago), with a drizzle of olive oil.

Out of ALL the ingredients, the only things that had been purchased in the entire previous month were:

– milk for his chocolate milk (€0.25)
– fresh apricots (in season at the moment) (€0.50)
– the black olives (these are quite cheap in Greece) (€0.40)
– the cucumber (€0.10)
– the tomato (€0.10)
– the lemon (€0.10)

As you can see, it comes to €1.45 for both of us.  Now, we really need to be spending €2.15 per day for both of us, since we only have €15 for the whole week, but it’s not easy and most days, I don’t actually make it.  But I’m trying REALLY hard.

And if you think about it, yesterday we had two delicious hand-made home-cooked meals with some fresh fruit and dairy, plenty of protein and healthy fat, and it was interesting, not bland or boring.

This is really hard.  The worst part is that we are living in Athens over the summer for my summer job, and it’s going to cost us a lot more money.  We really wanted to save that money and get by on his salary (luckily, teachers in Greece get paid 12 months/year) but I realize that it will be impossible.