Monday, August 27, 2007
Caraya II in the Greek Isles
It was days before I was steady on land and not falling asleep and waking up to the rock of the boat. The beauty of the trip continues to show up as images dance before my mind’s eye. What a pleasure to have so many lovely “anchors” of experience to enjoy long after the boat put into dock in our final port as the group made its way back to Athens for various departure plans to return to our lives as American ex-pats.
After being transported from Athens airport to the waiting boat, (with a stop as we prepared to cross over the Corinthian Canal) we boarded Caraya II at the port of Nafplion for a tour of the boat and a deposit of bags into our selected cabins.
We were 5 with an additional two:
Skipper Stefan and
First Mate-Cook-and-Bottle-Washer, Soulis.
The aforementioned Charlotte
knew everyone of the five travellers and the three others knew one another as well. I was the unknown factor in the group. And frankly, I couldn’t have felt more welcomed.
Stefan had hoisted a small American Flag to represent our group. Indeed, we were all born and raised in the US, but each of us is now living abroad: Ukraine, Barcelona...and, of course, La Fourchette in the south of France.
As the week’s sailing plans and stops unfolded, each person seemed to find a rhythm on the boat. For five people to live on a sailboat for a week is a recipe with an unknown result...but this worked beautifully. Everyone seemed able to find a nice balance of alone and together time, sun and shade time, shower and bathroom time (hey...it’s all in the details!) Music, food, laughter, shade, sun and stories were all shared with pleasure.
As we began our adventure, the only collective request was that we sail to interesting places less known to (and populated by) tourists.
Out came the charts and after a brief planning session below deck, we were off. Dropping anchor an hour or so out of port, we took our first dip off the side of the boat...exquisitely cool on the skin, the mix of blue hues into which we were emerged calmed the spirit as well. (And who knew?!? Apparently, playing in the salty turquoise waters works up an appetite!)
Delicious and perfectly timed, the first of many snacks on deck followed as we headed on to our first port. (It came as no surprise that Soulis is in the process of opening his own restaurant in Athens.)
Each night would promise a new port for dinner...Portoheli would be the first. A “primer” of sorts, in which, with Soulis as our guide, the fish selected was first viewed before being chosen for preparation and a little history and culture lesson was included with the meal. Dishes were ordered, one after the next, until we begged for mercy and a stop to the feast. Albeit a bit overwhelming for the first night, it was fun. This was just the beginning!
Although I was so pleased to be in a place where I would have the nightly opportunity for a Greek salad and delicious calamari, I did, on a couple of occasions, break from my obsession and share in a traditional Greek-style meal of many little dishes ordered over the course of an evening depending on levels of dwindling hunger. (The Greek word “mezes” means “little plates”, which is how each order comes to the table.) Salads were filled with the bounty of the summer season, ingredients for each dish were simple and delicious, sauces were light and showed a definite Italian influence and the seafood fresh and outstanding...okay, I’ll admit, I’m still not a big fan of octopus but this was better than I had expected!
As the week unfolded, we would skirt winds and storms to find our way to obscure village ports that included: Spetses (where boats are still made by hand in the traditional fashion), Leonidio (where nightlife includes a rockin' reggae bar...from some reports!), Monemvassia (an ancient perched village of artists and cafés), Ermioni (where we walked off the boat into a taverna owned by friends of our skipper and first mate...I think they had done this before!), Gerakas (a small fishing village where tables are lined up at the edge of the dock under twinkling lights for evening diners), Hydra (a village of artists and anyone wanting to climb stairs...burros will carry your heavier items!), Poros (watched over by an ancient clock tower) and Aegina, where we would spend our final evening and dinner would be enjoyed at a little taverna owned by a local gentleman and his lovely wife, who had spent much of her childhood in Chicago! She welcomed us warmly and exchanged Chicago stories with the Chicagoan among us, comparing Greek Town in Chicago, then and now.
Well...see for yourself...grab a cup of tea (or glass of ouzo!), put your feet up and enjoy a bit of the adventure for yourself:
It was a delicious trip...okay, okay...it was also lovely to be sailing along on the azure waters with a salty mist kissing my face as I breathed in that specific fragrance that blends canvas sails, sun-baked wood, wet towels and sea as the boat's dance was choreographed expertly by our skipper...okay...and it was also lovely to be sailing past islands that rose majestically out of the sea, rich with history (and mystery)...and then being fed like royalty and informed on Greek culture by Soulis wasn't bad either! What an adventure...spending the week off the beaten path, just as we had asked...it wasn’t really all about the food.
If you can’t fit in a sailing expedition on Caraya II with Stefan (who also offers cruises for corporate incentive programs...what a prize!)and Soulis in the weeks ahead, you can certainly bring a bit of Greek cuisine to your table. In fact, you can start with my little obsession...which, yes, I have enjoyed more than once since I’ve been home.
The late days of summer are perfect for gathering up the salad ingredients and the fish monger at the market preps my squid for me with a couple of snips so it’s ready to go when I bring it home. Am I a lucky girl, or what?! I’ve even managed to score a bit of Greek olive oil (and yogurt for breakfast) at my local epicerie!
Try washing it down with something suggested by my friend, Jean-Marc Espinasse, at Rouge-Bleu. (Follow his journey as he builds his new bio-dynamic winery and makes renovations on a 400 year old French farmhouse!)
Coteaux de Pierrevert
Anjou (Which is where my own love affair with wine began many, many years ago...on a picnic...another story...)
A appreciative curtsy to my boat-mates and fellow adventurers for the Greek Island caper. Je suis contente de vous rencontrer! (Happy to meet you!)
And to Stefan and Soulis, mille fois merci! Encore, Encore! I’m ready to do it again!
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1 pound clean squid with tentacles, bodies cut into 1/3- to 1/2-inch-thick rings, rinsed and dried on a soft towel
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons dried herbs (a blend such as herbs de provence or simply some dried oregano)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, cut into wedges
Fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish)
Pour enough oil into a heavy large saucepan to reach the depth of 2 - 3 inches. Heat over medium heat to 350 degrees F. Mix the flour, herbs, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Working in small batches, toss the squid into the flour mixture to coat. Carefully add the squid to the oil and fry until crisp and very pale golden, about 1 minute per batch. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer the fried calamari to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Salt immediately to your taste.
Place the fried calamari and lemon wedges on a clean plate. Sprinkle with some chopped fresh parsley to garnish and serve.
Greek Country Salad (Horiatiki Salata
(Adapted from The Original Greek Cooking by Alexandros Valavanis)
1 lb. tomatoes
1 medium sized onion, finely sliced
1 cucumber, halved, seeded and sliced thin
Handful of black oil cured olives
180 gr. Feta cheese
80 gr. Olive oil
red wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste
Slice onions and place them in vinegar to marinate. (This softens their “punch” a bit.)
Slice tomatoes and cucumbers and arrange along with olives on a plate. Add marinated onions along with the vinegar as you approach serving time. Top with a slice of feta cheese and the dried oregano. Pour the olive oil over the top and serve.