vegetarian

Once, in Greece

29 January 2010


[Spetses, 2007

.]

If I were a better writer, I’d have some sort of lovely observation about this (endless) rain and how, if I didn’t have to work, I’d like to be sitting in the Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park watching puddles pile up near the coi pond and crunching away on that delicious (and probably msg-laden) snack mix while sipping on a cup of (jasmine-scented) green brew. Or I’d ruminate on how beautiful the ocean is in rain, hardly anyone else about, the beach deserted except for a few birds, and though it might be chilly and windy it’s quite bracing and refreshing and wonderful (darn it!).

But I am sorry to say tonight I cannot provide either of these things. Instead, I am thinking about Greece. I suppose that doesn’t much follow, but this afternoon on my (soaking) walk from office to the bus when I put the old ipod on shuffle to speed my way through the drops it gave me three Greek songs in a row — beginning with which sort of distracted me from the walk — and suddenly, there was Greece. I started thinking about a trip about five years ago, when it rained a lot just like it was currently. And then I was a little hungry, which made me remember a pizza I ate in a little village at night while that rain poured down in great spills (and how we even ended up at that little village) … and so there you go: Greece.

As this was only my second trip to Greece, and it was August, I was surprised at the rain. I’d had no idea about these fierce summer storms (the first time I went it was hotter than hot and bone dry and even escaping to the islands provided little relief): they weren’t cold really but full of thunder and occasional cracks of lightening. I was there with my best friend Simon and let me tell you about traveling with this guy. First, you will laugh a lot. A LOT. Second, third, and fourth: you may be tempted to smoke cigarettes again, though you won’t; you will drink a ridiculous amount of frappe; you will hike up a mountain to eat lunch with a bunch of old men. And fifth: You might do things you wouldn’t back in real life, like walk along a narrow country road in the swiftly-falling dark hoping against hope the mopeds won’t run you onto the nonexistent shoulder (don’t tell my mom. Um, oops.), which is how I came to be drinking retsina and eating salty, slippery pizza during a rainstorm in a tiny greek village on the Halkidiki peninsula.

I couldn’t tell you exactly where we were, but it felt as though we were in the middle of nowhere. We probably were. At least, we were hours from the city (the city in this case being Thessaloniki) and houses seemed few and far between. It was delicious. At night — almost every night — it rained. During the day the sun shone clear and hot and gorgeous, but at night it rained and rained. The Mediterranean was sometimes still muddy and churning in the morning. I could hardly get over it. Rain! In Greece!

(I suppose you could say the whole trip was an eye-opener in more ways than one.)

greece
[Greece, 2005.]

Anyway, the night in particular I am thinking of started out as the best nights do, with a solid run along a deserted country road. We were both training for marathons (him Toronto, me the Marine Corps) and for the few days we spent at the beach would tend to meander down to the bar for the day, sunning and swimming and reading, then go for a run (it was a hard life). That afternoon he’d heard there was going to be a concert at a nearby village and of course we had to go (but it might rain, I mentioned. No matter.) and so after running, we set off. We didn’t have a car, and I don’t think any buses ran out there, so we walked. It was near-dark and the road was overgrown but we walked — and walked . When we were nearly there the sky began to open up and I shut my mouth up tight so as not to ask How will we get back it’s raining it’s not supposed to rain in Greece etc. etc.!!

(We did eventually get back, because a nice guy at the restaurant took pity on us but that’s another story for another time.)

In the village we ate homemade cheese pizza and listened to the band. We ordered just another 1/2-carafe (and then another) of retsina. All the while the rain crashed down on the stone streets and it felt surreal, like a place you would see in a dream but never in reality. Yet to come was running along the fields in the hills for miles despite my aching knee, drinking loads of coffee (hot, small cups in the morning, frappe from noon on, hot coffee again after dinner), piles of the best tziki I’ve eaten before or since (thick, sweet, and and swollen with cucumbers), potatoes roasted in a wood-burning stove with a bit of salt (and also sugar). All this was ahead of me still, that rainy night when I finally just took another sip of wine and decided to not worry about the rain, the how-we-were-getting-home, the what-next to do in my life when I went back to the States. For that night I ate pizza with my best friend and listened to the rain fall in Greece, and it was just fine.

While my apartment is quite cozy and comfortable tonight with the rain falling very steadily outside and I have no complaints (my classical station has just informed me that it’s time to ‘stretch out a bit’ and am following those very wise instructions), I might just the littlest bit like to be in Greece. Surely you are not surprised. I wax on about Greece so much I nearly make myself sick except … except! How could I not?

I ask you. It’s been nearly since I’ve been and I’m due for a fix, rain or no rain. But alas … Instead I’ll go to Maine next month and hopefully eat locally-produced feta and it will have to be close enough.

Right now I’m feeling a bit like the weather myself — a little under it, to be honest. After I got home the rain stopped for a few hours and so I dragged myself out for a grumble-y run, the air cool against my aching head (it helped a little). While tziki might have been the perfect antidote I had neither cucumbers nor yogurt so instead made a tofu-udon noodle soup. It’s something I make when I feel on the edge of a cold — garlicky, salty, protein-rich, and delicious. I swear there’s healing properties in the broth; at least I like to think it’s doing me good when I slurp it up along with a cup of tea (coffee lately is tasteless which, warning sign). Plus, it’s really, really good for the last weekend of January, wherever you may be.

I should make this soup the next time I visit Spetses/etc., so I can write Simon to tell him, Once, in Greece, I made this noodle soup and wished for a rainy night in the mountains, remember …

soup2

Definitely not-Greek-at-all-but-still-delicious Noodle Soup

This is a pretty loose recipe comprised of what I had in my fridge. You could swap bok choy for the chard and spinach, use crimini or button mushrooms, omit the tofu, use rice noodles instead … You get the idea.

One bunch udon noodles
8 shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 block pre-matinated tofu, cut into medium-sized chunks
1 cup chopped chard
1 cups baby spinach
4 cups mushroom broth, plus two cups water

Sautee the mushooms and garlic in a little bit of olive oil and a splash of water in a large soup pot over medium heat. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add the broth and water and bring to a boil. Add the udon and cook for about 5-7 minutes. Add the tofu and greens. Season with soy sauce.

  • helen 1 February 2010 at 11:26 am

    oh….I want to experience Greece the way you do. Great post……keep writing…you are giving us snippets of stories that make us want more details. Feel good!

  • jessie schlosberg 1 February 2010 at 6:42 am

    I think we are going back to Greece this summer/fall. Wanna come with? I think the southern islands are calling to me, especially with all this snow, rain and cold winds. I need sun and sand! Oh well, I guess southern Spain will have to suffice for this week! We’ll call when we get home next week!
    Love you to bits!

  • John C Abell 30 January 2010 at 6:25 am

    Damn you. You’ve done it again. Now I must have soup, Greece — and endless rain.