Tag Archives: winter

WELCOME BACK, PERSEPHONE!

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We were still in Austin when Persephone began her journey back from Hades to return to her grieving mother, so we missed the earliest signs celebrating the end of winter on the Pelion.

Winters here are typically mild with very occasional snowfall and rarely any frost, but the rainfall can be heavy and this past winter it certainly was. No complaints at all as we really needed it; many springs had dried up during the previous summer, causing considerable difficulty for those who depend upon them for their water supply.

The ancients would have attributed this generous rainfall to Zeus, god of rain, who reigned supreme on Mt Olympus. Good of him to spare the time from his lusty pursuit of young maidens! His daughter, Persephone, surely appreciated it for the wildflowers have done her proud, happy as we all are to welcome her back.

Greece is renowned for her wildflowers, and deservedly so for they are spectacular, not only in their beauty but also in their variety.
Habitats are many and diverse: sandy coastlines, pastureland and scrub, rocky ravines, wooded highlands and craggy mountains, saltwater, freshwater, well-watered lands and dry, wind-lashed and tightly sheltered, all with their particular plants adapted through the aeons to their conditions.

Man’s influence has inevitably been enormous. The maquis, which might at first glance seem untouched by man’s activities, will almost without exception have been affected in some way by previous populations and their lifestyles, stretching back into antiquity. The mountains of the Pelion region were once dense with native hardwoods; today only comparatively minute forested areas remain. Man is an innovative creature and where there is something – whatever it may be – to his advantage, he will make use of it.

Greece is a paradise for botanists professional and amateur alike, who may be seen, notebook in hand, hiking enthusiastically about as they spot and document plants. Several species are unique, found only in one particular location, such as an island. Many plants are rare, threatened, on the verge of extinction, others have already vanished, identified only in old engravings and drawings, the regrettable result of man’s impact on the environment.

Wildflowers of varying types appear throughout the year; some are tiny, almost invisible, others stand tall. Colour! Colour! Colour! The bees are frantically busy, knowing that warm days will inevitably end, while the beekeepers carefully tend their hives, moving them about to take advantage of the best nectar. Pelion honey, infused with flavour fit for the gods, is much sought after.

Spring and summer flowers retire, their seeds and bulbs lying peacefully dormant until Persephone calls to them again. Autumn arrives, throwing down dense carpets of cyclamen, welcoming the approach of winter, much as local residents roll out their rugs and kilims in preparation for the cool damp days ahead when more time must be spent indoors.

Look closely, remembering that the photos will enlarge when you click on them, and in some of the photos you’ll spot bugs, bees, butterflies  buzzing busily in the abundance! The cycle continues as birds and other wildlife feed, thus ensuring seed dispersal, and preparing the way for Persephone to return in all her ageless beauty.

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MAGIC BALL COWL

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The weather has indeed turned out exactly as forecast – snow, sleet, freezing rain, rain, and wind. The wind’s not pussyfooting about, making itself known with gales so bad that most of the ferries are docked and not permitted to sail. The gods are evidently much annoyed, and each is trying to outdo the other. The fireplace is doing a great job, the tea is hot and plentiful, and the banana loaf is down to its last little slice.

Colour! Lots of it has been needed these blustery days, with the wind roaring its way through grey cloud and snow flurries to rattle shutters and nerves. I turned to my magic balls of yarn for the perfect quick fix. Cheerful colours almost begging to become a circular knit cowl. Something so simple and easy, it feels like cheating.

Round and round I knit while the yarn colours changed enticingly, and after two evenings glued to the TV drama, it was finished. I gave my cowl a solid colour lining, did a three-needle bind off with the live stitches of the lining and the cast on stitches of the magic ball bit, and there – done! All the knots are neatly concealed, and the cowl is doubly warm.

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They cannot manage without me

GOING BANANAS

We’ve had quite a bit of unsettled weather this winter, including some heavy and very disruptive snowfall. Higher than usual temperatures in the last few days have been accompanied by strong winds from the south which bring us unwelcome Sahara dust. The resulting dense haze usually only dissipates when the wind changes direction, or when it’s finally washed out by rain. Yesterday we were suddenly walloped by a fierce gale out of the west which certainly took care of the dust, but also heralded a big change in the weather.

According to the forecasts, which are often about as accurate as my aim when throwing a ball for the dog, we can expect strong winds, heavy rain, sleet and some snow, starting tomorrow. Seems the really nasty conditions prevailing in Western Europe at the moment have set their sights on us again, as if we don’t have enough problems already with the severe flooding and damage in Northern Greece.

The gloomy weather outlook turned my fancy to thoughts of something sweet. Chocolate perhaps? A biscuit? My eye lit on the bananas in the fruit bowl which were starting to get over-ripe. Banana bread, of course – that sweet treat you can zap out with little fuss but big impact; quick and easy to make, simple and satisfying.

I got to work, first picking oranges and lemons from our laden trees to decide which I’d use for the zest. I’ve tried many recipes over the years; some were better than others. Banana cake is pretty basic, unless you’re really into a highfalutin version. I’m not. I can’t give due credit for the recipe that I finally settled on some years ago as it’s cobbled together from the efforts of many other bakers, but this is what works for me, and as I’ve said, simple banana bread recipes are of much the same ilk.

If you’re interested, here’s how I go about it, with a few hints first:

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The Basics

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Our own oil

I like to use oil rather than butter; orange or lemon zest really does give the loaf that extra something; nuts should be added sparingly and finely chopped if you use them; we don’t like raisins in banana loaf; I must be careful not to over beat the mixture or it gets gooey; it’s better to mash the bananas first.

Cathy’s banana loaf

INGREDIENTS
4 very ripe bananas – mashed (and obviously peeled!)
2 large eggs
½ cup vegetable oil (I use our own organic olive oil)
1 cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla essence
2 cups self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
¼ cup milk
and if desired:
¼ cup nuts, finely chopped (pecans are good)
and/or
the zest of an orange or lemon

METHOD
Cream the oil and sugar
Stir in the bananas and vanilla essence
Add the eggs and mix in well
Sift the dry ingredients together and add to the batter
Stir in the milk
If used, add the zest and/or nuts

When thoroughly mixed, pour the batter into a greased loaf pan
Bake at 350 deg F (180 deg C) for about an hour until well risen and browned.
Cool in the baking pan, turn out and …go bananas!

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Nutty and nice

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On guard duty

PERSEPHONE and POMEGRANATES

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The pomegranate – known since antiquity

The burial mound at Amphipolis, near Thessaloniki in Greece, has been very much in the news recently but now that an ancient skeleton has been found the excitement has reached peak levels. Thanks to modern science we’re accustomed to the fact that age, sex, height of skeletal remains can be determined, but it’s astonishing that scientists fully expect to learn details such as colour of hair and eyes of the person buried in this tomb. He or she was certainly of great importance as indicated by the splendour of the burial chambers, though the tomb has unfortunately long since been looted.

The mosaic floor is of superb quality. Only imagine the skill and expertise required to carry out the back-breaking work of assembling the scene. I wonder if the pebbles were collected and sorted for the artist by helpers? One would think so. This National Geographic article gives a brief description of the mosaic.

Persephone, daughter of Demeter and Zeus, featured prominently in Greek mythology, though the concept of a goddess responsible for the rebirth of plant growth in the spring has a history which predates the latest versions of the Greek myths; birth and death have always preoccupied Man’s mind.

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Winter fruits: Apples and pomegranates are frequently mentioned in the Greek myths

Needless to say, after all the skulduggery and trauma of being dragged underground, Persephone was more than a little anxious to return to her mother from the Underworld.  In one version of the Greek myth, Hades agreed to free her if she hadn’t eaten or drunk anything while in his underground kingdom.

But he tricked her, of course – Greek myths are big on tricks and treachery!

He fooled her into eating some pomegranate seeds, with the result that her freedom came with certain conditions: six months on Earth, six months with him as Queen of the Underworld. Thus did the ancient Greeks explain the seasons.

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Jason’s quite cosy in warm winter colours


Some years ago I knitted my friend a shawl in what has become my signature style, using many colours and textures of yarn; the original shawl is featured in my first book (2000).

We were photographing this one in late Fall before Aeolus, that normally nimble god of the wind, had dispersed all the Bougainvillea blooms, and together with a bowl of pomegranates on the table – the colours were irresistible. So much fun setting up the pictures!

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Highlighting the colours

Persephone is a lovely classical name, not often heard nowadays; Persa is the common pet name. Persephone, a favourite subject of artists and sculptors, is frequently depicted delicately draped in floating wraps and shawls.

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Worn by an antique olive jar

Did she knit brightly coloured shawls to cheer her through the dark dismal days in Hades?

JASON DOES FLORAL

The sun has been making a tentative appearance today which is encouraging the Sternbergia buds to put on a growth spurt, so we’ll soon have these cheerful yellow flowers dotted about the Pelion again.

Jason was staring at me in his transparent manner these last few days, so I decided to brighten him up with a new hat.  He models it as silently as ever. I think I’ll wear it myself quite a bit in the greyest days of the coming winter when the dazzling gold of the Sternbergia fades into memory.

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Van Cat in the Long Grass

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Sneaking Up

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Under the Olives

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Cozying up to the Cyclamen

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Among the Wild Flowers

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In the Bushes

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Still in the Bushes

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Out of the Bushes

 

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Killing It!

Raki, always curious and ever convinced of his helpfulness, batted one of the Sternbergia gauge swatches off the coffee table and really got stuck into his prey.

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WHAT NEXT?!

TEMPER! TEMPER!

I have mentioned before that various Greek gods of mythology were said to be responsible for bad weather, and last night they outdid themselves. An almighty storm blew up out of nowhere as we were reading ourselves to sleep. It raced across the Pagasitic from Volos where torrential rain caused such flooding that news reports likened the streets of Volos to the canals of Venice, and had us scrambling out of bed, scattering indignant cats in our wake, as we rushed to secure the shutters. And did it rain! The water slammed against the shutters and the windows and thundered down on the roof, battering the garden as though driven by some fury of envy at the early autumn loveliness. The gods were certainly enraged. All of them were in on the act, but whose tantrum started it? Zeus flung his thunderbolts about in a frenzy, fuming at Aeolus to release the storm winds. Poseidon, not one to be outdone, shot up from the depths to make his menacing entrance. Talk about a tempest!

The rampage was shortlived, no damage, but a quick inspection this morning revealed that the Sternbergia had suffered. The delicate yellow flowers which are such a delight as winter approaches, were no match for the arrogant actors in this latest drama. P1230286 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768] P1230289 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768] P1230295 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768] P1230299 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]

WORDSWORTH HAD HIS DAFFODILS…..

But here on the Pelion Peninsula we have Sternbergia.

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The characteristic dark green leaves begin to appear from the bulbs in September at the beginning of Autumn, with the bright yellow flowers slowly unfolding soon after.

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They last into Winter, thriving in the stony ground, and although they are common in most parts of Greece, they are not widespread, growing in certain areas and not in others. These plants are popular with gardeners worldwide, and it’s easy to see why. They are known as Winter Daffodil or because the flower resembles a crocus, they are sometimes called Autumn Crocus. Another name for them is Lily of the Field, which is most appropriate for these lovely indigenous flowers growing wild and scattered through the rocky countryside.

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Wild fennel growing among the flowers

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The pictures were taken yesterday in terrain around our house. I could hardly believe my eyes when I spotted the praying mantis! Such a wily insect, waiting silent and still for an unsuspecting fly or bee to buzz on by.

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Raki, who is always convinced that he is indispensable to any activity he happens to witness, had to be removed as the mantis in turn became endangered, and when I returned, the mantis had flown off. Raki was most displeased!

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Keeping an eye on things