Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dogs of Limnos

The dogs of Limnos are going through a transitional phase at the moment. No longer do scruffy, short-dog-syndrome terrier types run rampant on the streets, nor do the quieter, lanky types roam the alleys looking for food scraps. The only dogs you see now are either found in the arms of excited young Greek girls, or languishing in the heat tied to ropes in people's yards.

Some people attribute the change in dog presence on the island to tolerance levels for strays reaching saturation point. Stories of theatrical proportions were being told by neighbours about stray dogs being shot, poisoned and drowned, even claiming some people's pets were being killed, mistaken for strays.

However, at least one lucky stray dog has escaped the apparent culling. A large, dishevelled dog, "Beach Dog" as we called him, had the most gentle nature and spent most of his time wandering around by himself on the sand, not bothering anyone. At lunchtime and in the evenings he would be found at the seaside tavernas making his best puppy dog eyes to sympathetic diners for his daily meals. He would patiently sit by your table just quietly wagging his tail, hoping for a few scraps. Even if cats were around he would politely keep out of their way.

Beach Dog's good nature is probably what spared him from a poisonous fate, and it's probably what guarantees him a good feed every day. Hopefully one day a caring local will take him in and give him a home.

Another dog we met in Limnos, Rocky, isn't a stray but he is in the unfortunate situation of being tied to a rope all day. He is the pet of George the motor scooter hirer. The day we picked up our bike we fell in love with young Rocky. He's only a year old and is very energetic and excitable and we couldn't help but question George about the way he was keeping him. Rocky has shade, water, food and a kennel, but he needs exercise and the opportunity to explore his environment, he needs to be walked and needs space to run! "It's ok it's ok!!" George exclaimed. "People take him walk every day!" You take him! Take him now!!! You go walk, he loves walk!!"

George's proposal was quite unexpected but we thought "why not" and started unravelling Rocky's rope that had been wound around the pole several times. The excitement and energy in this dog once he realised a walk was imminent was really quite extraordinary. He was like a mad animal jumping up and down yelping, completely untrained for walking and extremely out of control. But we were determined to give Rocky a lovely half hour away from his confines and out into the wild world of Limnos.

The first ten minutes were excruciatingly challenging, with Rocky dragging Tony with all his strength and just generally being a CRAZY dog, but the heat and sun quickly brought him to exhaustion and having run out of pee (he was marking his territory on EVERYTHING) he soon realised lifting his leg every 2 seconds was pointless also. He settled down and was happy to just trot alongside us and stop for a few sniffs every now and then.

We took Rocky for a few walks, one time joined by a young boy named Mihalis. We were walking down a quiet street and out came this boy from nowhere wanting to help walk the dog with us. Our attempts to tell him in Greek that he should go back home were falling on deaf ears as he insisted he holds Rocky's lead with Tony. "I do this before" he said in English. Perhaps he's another one of Rocky's regular dog walkers? We decided there would be no harm allowing him to join us (and it also reaffirmed a growing theory that Tony is actually the Pied Piper ... )

And one more island dog that deserves a mention is the Pharmacist's immortal chow chow. Now that is a lucky dog indeed. He would have to be a thousand years old. Even the first time we met him in 2009 he looked a thousand years old. He certainly looks like he's been through the wringer that dog. He has no teeth, black testicles and a black tongue, can hardly walk and spends most of the day lying on the road looking dead. The only thing that seems to move on him is his animatronic tail as Tony calls it, mechanically moving up and down like a robotic part.

The "Walrus" as we've affectionately named him lies on the road outside his owner's shop all day, waiting for him to finish work and take him home. On a motor scooter. It really is a sight to see, this walrus lifting its dense body up off the ground and using every last bit of energy and effort to haul itself onto the platform of the motor scooter at his owner's feet, and watch them ride away. Last year Tony and I spent literally hours outside the shop one night, painstakingly waiting for the Pharmacist to close the shop and take his dog home, just so I could capture it on video.

Click here to see the video of Pharmacist Man taking Chow Chow for a ride.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Koula's Baklava Rolls

This is another one of Koula's amazing desserts that everyone is addicted to in the Limnos House. The baklava recipe was passed down to her by her mother, and Koula has now kindly allowed me to share her mother's secrets here with me.

I've tried making baklava many times, in many different ways. There are so many different recipes with such varying ingredients out there – I'm really not sure how they can all be called "baklava". It's obvious from the vastly different results I keep getting, from burnt nuts to soggy pastry, that none of the recipes I've been following have been accurate.

So finally I have been able to witness the Baklava Queen produce the perfect Greek baklava. I spent every minute with her, documenting and photographing her every move, listening to her instructions and watching her technique.

This is Koula's recipe to create a genuine, crispy, sticky, sweet baklava, guaranteed to drop you to your knees on first bite.

Koula's Baklava (makes 70 small portions)


300g walnuts
200g almonds
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
375g unsalted butter
1 packet of filo pastry (around 30 sheets)

2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups water
Juice of half a lemon
2 tablespoons Greek honey


Place the walnuts and almonds in a nut grinder or food processor and pulse until broken down to small pieces (around 2–3mm) with some coarse sandy-textured nuts at the bottom of the mixture. Don't allow the entire mixture to grind down to a powder.

Add the cinnamon to the nut mixture and mix well.

Melt the butter over low heat for brushing the filo pastry. In Greece the filo pastry sheets are huge – one sheet is twice the size of a standard filo pastry sheet you can buy in Australia. Because Greek filo is so big, Koula's method for creating her pastry layers for baklava is to fold each sheet in half. For this recipe, I will assume you are using standard-sized filo sheets (around 40cm x 30cm), therefore, we won't be folding the sheets.

Lay one sheet of pastry on a flat surface and butter liberally. Lay a second sheet over the top, butter again, and sprinkle a handful of the nut mixture evenly over the pastry. Repeat two more times so there are a total of 6 sheets used, finishing with the nut mixture.

Carefully begin to roll the pastry to create a log, but before completing the roll, brush some more butter on the underside of the first part of the pastry roll. Continue to slowly roll the pastry, not too tightly, until you have a log shape. Place with seal side down in a large buttered baking dish.

Create four more rolls and lay side by side in the baking dish. You should still have at least a 1/4 cup of melted butter left. Reserve this butter for the final brushing.

Using a sharp knife, cut the baklava rolls diagonally, almost all the way down to the bottom of the dish, but not touching the bottom, to create 70 portions.

Brush the baklava with the remaining butter until it is absolutely drenched (trust me, this is very important), and place in a preheated, fan-forced oven set to 175 degrees celsius for one hour.

While the baklava is cooking, create the syrup. Combine the water, sugar and lemon juice in a pan and heat until boiling. Allow to boil for 10 minutes without stirring. Add the honey and continue to boil until it starts to thicken.

Similar to Koula's Galaktoboureko recipe, the syrup must be the perfect consistency to ensure the pastry doesn't become soggy. The syrup needs to slowly drop from a teaspoon, leaving a thin thread behind for a few seconds after the drop has fallen. Because there is honey added to this syrup, it will be slightly thicker than the syrup made for galaktoboureko and will have a slight golden tinge to it.

Click here to see details for Koula's Galaktoboureko recipe.

Once the syrup has reached the correct consistency, remove from the heat. Remove baklava from the oven and pour hot syrup directly over the hot baklava.

As delicious as your baklava looks, you will need to allow it to sit, uncovered, for at least an hour before eating. The syrup needs time to penetrate the pastry and do its crisping-up thing. The crisping-up thing is the magical part of the process, and it happens all by itself. Amazing, and so very yum!

Monday, September 3, 2012

O Platanos Taverna, Myrina

A Limnian institution, family-owned O Platanos Taverna has been around for decades. I remember eating there in the early '80s with my dad – the giant plane trees out the front seemingly even larger back then than they are now. Many Greek tavernas are named after the vegetation that grows around them and "O Platanos" is Greek for The Plane Tree.

The menu hasn't changed at O Platanos for at least 30 years. Traditional oven-baked dishes are cooked fresh daily ranging from Moussaka and Pastitsio to Yemista and Lamb Youvetsi. But perusing the menu is not the way to choose your meal at O Platanos because as with most Limnian tavernas, less than half of the listed dishes will be available. "Doesn't matter!" as the Greeks would say, "Come see what we have!" It is customary to make your way into the kitchen and view the dishes that are available for the day displayed in large oven trays, and reassures you that what you will be eating will be fresh.

The service is probably the best you'll find on Limnos, with dedicated family members doing all the work and food being brought to your table minutes after placing your order. The prices are also very reasonable, around 5 or 6 euros per main dish.

Lunch time is the best time to dine at this conveniently located taverna, in the middle of the main shopping strip of Myrina, Limnos. O Platanos is open for dinner but expect to be served reheated left-overs from the lunch-time menu.

We'd spent the morning tackling the rocky slopes of Myrina's fortress, Castro (more on that in a separate blog entry to come), and had just completed our second lap of the 1.5km "Agora", which is the affectionate name given to the shopping strip of Myrina, meaning "market street". We were tired and hungry and the aromas from O Platanos were beckoning.

Cold beer in frosty glasses were the first requirement, followed by some fresh crusty bread and "horiatiki salata" (village salad). Greek salads in Greece are great value. For around 4 or 5 euros you are presented with the sweetest tomatoes and cucumber (yes, even the cucumber is sweet), big juicy olives, and on top of the salad will sit a whole slab of feta cheese – a piece this big of genuine Greek feta in Australia costs $8 alone. While the slab of cheese at Platanos was a decent size, it's probably not the biggest one we've seen on a Greek salad. One thing you can be sure of with a Greek salad in Limnos though, is that the feta is made on the island.

Having recently experimented with a Greek meatball recipe of his own, Tony decided to order the keftethakia to make comparisons. He claims his were better but the meatballs at O Platanos came a close second. He thought they were missing the mint and were a little dry. The chips were surprisingly ok, for Greek chips.

I ordered the yemista which consisted of a stuffed tomato and a stuffed yellow pepper. The pepper was a little on the small side (I think I must have got the last one!), but overall the dish was very tasty, using a variety of herbs like mint, dill and oregano to flavour the perfectly cooked rice filling. There were also plenty of yummy juices in the dish for bread soaking.

During our meal we were joined by a Greek man from Thessaloniki travelling on his own and grabbing a quick bite before making his way down to the port to take a ferry back to his homeland. Greek people are so friendly. We were taken by surprise at first that he just sat right at our table and started talking to us, but quickly warmed to him and the interesting conversation. He was a professional musician and music teacher on holiday in Limnos. It was a lovely way to spend the rest of the afternoon, talking to our friend about his travels under the shade of the plane trees after enjoying a very satisfying meal at O Platanos.

O Platanos Taverna doesn't have a website but can be found at:
Half-way down Kytha Street (the "Agora"), Myrina, Limnos
Phone: +30 225 402 2070
Rating: 7.5/10