Monday, September 24, 2012

Krinos Bakery, Athens

I lived in France for some time and, while I'm not sure if it is the contempt born of familiarity speaking, I really think that a lot of places in the world do a far better morning pastry than the French.  A croissant is fine. A pain au chocolat has the sort of suburban "oh I shouldn't, I'm so naughty" air that's made E.L. James the richest fanfic author in the universe, but the really cognoscenti of the early-morning filthy nibble will tell you that it's all about the bougatsa

We went to Krinos on our first morning hoping to share a plate of their legendary loukoumades - a sort of leavened, fried donut, drowned in light syrup and dusted with cinnamon, but we were too early in our desire to be up the Acropolis before the sun and the coach parties became too unbearable.

Instead we had to settle for some of their sweet pies. I say settle...
To call this "Apple Pie" and "Cream Puff" is like calling Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel "interior décor".

We tried the apple pie. You know the McDonald's deep fried apple pie. That is to this what an Elvis impersonator in a third-rate seaside resort is to the man himself in his G.I. days. One raises feelings of agonised pity, while the other exercises an irresistible compulsion.

But the Marilyn to this Elvis, the "gone too soon, desired to the end" pastry, is the bougatsa. To describe it as a "cream-filled puff" is to do a travesty to the English language. Warm, flaky, flavoured with the merest waft of cinnamon, this pastry, Krinos' bougatsa moved me to tears of rapture.

But my head was turned on the second day by an altogether simpler snack - a plate of the loukoumades.

Oh loukoumades, I would die for (and possibly of) you.

We began the week sharing one plate of six between us. That didn't last long. Had we stayed longer I think we might have ended up with multiple portions each. And adjoining intensive care beds.

Light and crispy, these delicacies will do a number first on your taste buds then on your pancreas. But who cares?  A diabetic coma is just nature's way of making you rest between portions.

We tried these in a café in Santorini but they really lacked the Krinos magic. From the photos on the wall at Krinos they've been around for a while (ironically as a pharmacy at first, then later as a dealer of diabetes) and they've got very good at it.

To see what I mean, look for the mannequin at 87 Aiolou!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ouzerie "Lesbos", Athens

A day of travelling, combined with the avowed intention to hit the Acropolis at the earliest possible moment the next day, meant that we didn't want to stray too far from our hotel on our first night in Athens. Thankfully, the mobile guide I had with me recommended a Lesviot Ouzerie practically around the corner on Εμμανουηλ Μπενακι (Emmanouil Benakis street, despite the way it is rendered by Google Maps!)

Our first impressions were promising: a neighbourhood bar with chain-smoking old geezers at the pavement tables; the city street obscured by climbers in pots; an exquisitely rendered octopus in the window:

I'm not sure about the size of that lobster. It worries me.

"Hoorah!" I thought. "Authentic spit and sawdust ouzerie, here we come!"

But our host didn't start out too genial. He gave us the menus with the cheery salutation, "Has English, otherwise I have to explain you..."

I had the feeling we weren't the first British customers to pass his way, and I'm not sure he had enjoyed the experience much. But once we had ordered in halting Greek (the seafood selection, plus some courgette croquettes) he seemed to consider us slightly less of a liability.

The food was good, cheap, seafood-centric meze. It wasn't particularly delicately prepared or presented but that's not what you come to a corner bar for. The chef seems to have decided that she was put on earth to fry sea creatures and so that's the note that the menu stresses:

"Is catfish. Dogfish maybe. One'a them, anyway" Our garrulous host: Greece's answer to David Attenborough.

The host on the other hand has decided it is his role in life to put food and drink in front of you on request then leave you the hell alone. After a week of Santorini's touts ("Dude!" I wanted to whisper to one of them, "You're coming off a bit...desperate,") his approach has my seal of approval.

After our second visit it's my impression that, much as the woman behind the counter seems to have set her face against frying the entire contents of the Aegean, she really comes alive when faced with pulses or a slab of cheese. The fried feta is most definitely her strong suit. 

But Mama's got fish to fry, to the strains of this spectacular jukebox.

I'd definitely go back: it was cheap, local and had a pretty nifty ouzo list. Also, by our second visit the owner unbent enough to ask, "Where you from?"



"Are you from Lesbos?"

"Quarter."  Decisive nod. Exit stage left.

If you want to eat fried cheese and drink ouzo in piece - and who doesn't? - this is your place!

38 Emmanouil Benakis, Athens.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Auntie Em gets crafty...

My mother gave me her third-best sewing machine this Christmas (no really - my mother also has a Pfaff (a classic) and a heavy duty industrial leather sewing machine (a bizarre impulse purchase that even she can't explain!))

I'm slowly graduating from cushions and curtains (right angles are hard)  onto more exciting projects. Tonight I will be debuting this little number over dinner:

I look shocked - probably at the state of the bathroom mirror!

Made to this pattern:

Misses Dresses New Look Sewing Pattern No. 6000. Size 4-16.

Made from this lovely £5/m brocade that I bought when we went to Shrewsbury for Dan and Sarah's wedding. 

The pattern was surprisingly easy to make up, and the muslin prototype I made up was done in about an hour, The real dress took much longer, mainly because the brocade does tend to fray. My kingdom for an over-locker!

I thought the sun ray pleats and the stand up collar would fox me but they were very straightforward. It feels wonderful on - the ease given in the pattern isn't too generous so I don't feel swamped as I sometimes do with New Look patterns. All in all I rate this pattern very highly, even for a near novice. I'll be making it again soon - maybe in a wool crepe for winter.

(And for those of you who are more interested in the alcohol - the port is now at 7% PA which I reckon is 9% ABV. It's still bubbling away.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Any Port in a Storm, Part 2

I've picked the last of the plums from the garden and I think I'll have enough to make a second batch of port (if Dr D doesn't snaffle them all for jam first. Not that I'd complain...)

The first batch is looking fantastic.

Mmmm yeah - show me your potential!
This is the must pre pitching the yeast: 13% potential alcohol by volume, given the sugar content.  Given that this is a port it will end up stronger as I pitch some brandy in to end the fermentation. 

I pitched the yeast and left the must with the lid on loosely for 24 hours, stirring the the plum mash every couple of hours or so. There was mighty fizz overnight!

I strained and siphoned into a 5l demijohn the next day. (Siphons! Yay!) There are some small flecks of fruit solids but nothing larger than a breadcrumb. I brought the SG up again: my hydrometer said the potential alcohol was 10.5% (w00t! 2.5% alcohol already! That's right, yeah? Experienced homebrewers, to my aid, please!) so I brought it back up to 13% with a strong sugar syrup. 


It's bubbling away very happily to itself. I measured the potential alcohol again - 10.5. That's another 2.5% alcohol I reckon...  This is all very approximate you understand :) 

So 5l of liquid at 5% by volume is 250ml.

With this yeast I should be able to get to 14% ABV easily (700ml). Add a litre of 36% abv brandy and I have 6l of 18% port... in theory... If I have the maths right...

I may have to sweeten again after that but I'm assured that that is a legitimate approach. If someone could clue me in as to whether I should do that or whether I should add more sugar before fermentation stops that'd be great!

Watch this space!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Any Port in a Storm (part 1)

We moved into our current home just under a year ago, completely missing last summer, so we didn't realise that the giant overhanging tree from our neighbours was actually a plum. Despite the soggy weather (and the resulting brown rot taking about a third of the crop) we've had a glut of plums on our side of the fence.

Dr David has been making plum jam and, not to be outdone, I decided that I'd make alcohol! So here are my preparations for plum port:

I poured boiling water over some freshly picked fruit to kill some of the existing microflora. I then stoned and froze them 1l bags. 

1l of stoned, frozen fruit
I'm justifying the fact the approximate measurement of the plums with the fact that the plums themselves are so variable. What I'm going to control for later are liquid volume and specific gravity.

Defrosting and mashing

I defrosted the plums in a 5l bucket (from a homebrew shop on Amazon) standing the whole thing in a bain marie (the washing up bowl, full of warm water).  Not as fun as doing it the Lucille Ball way - but my bucket is too small for my feet!

I brought the volume up to 4l with boiling water.

I squeezed the fruit between my fingers as soon as the must was cool enough to immerse my hands in. The must is pretty foamy but it didn't smell like fermentation and the foam appeared pretty much instantly, so my guess is that this is not the natural yeasts on the plums reacting with the sugars in the fruit - I think what we have here is a pectin foam...

Things I don't want - pectin, yeast or bacteria

Pectin makes jam all jammy but is no friend of wine so I had also ordered myself some pectolsae (an enzyme that breaks down pectin). Otherwise we'd be looking at a very cloudy batch of port. I also used campden tablets (sodium metabisulfate)  for two reasons - 1) to get rid of the residual chlorine in the good old London Tap I was using and 2) to kill off any remaining fungal spores or bacteria in the must.

Pitching the pectolase - foam disappears instantly!
As soon as I added the pectolase (made up in some warm water as per the instruction) the foam dissipated. More evidence in favour of the pectin foam hypothesis...

A slug of lemon juice - cargo cult...
I added a slug of lemon juice because several of the recipes I've read called for varying amounts. Some claimed the acidity is necessary (I'm not measuring acidity so I'm playing with a loose variable here!), others claimed that the ascorbic acid helps prevent oxidation. I must admit I have no idea why I am adding this. Any help?

The good chemists of Chipping Campden - I thank you

And so to add the crushed campden tablet as per the instructions. I'm covering with a clean tea towel so that the gasses released when the sulphur dioxide reacts with the chlorine can vent.

24 hours later...

The must looks ok - no nasty films, foams or colonies have formed overnight. Time to pitch the yeast. I've added some sugar and measured my SG at about 1.09 , but I will be adjusting it again before I decant into my secondary fermentation vessel (a 5l plastic jug!)

I want to give my yeast the best start in life. When I worked on the Robot Scientist we used to feed our yeast on Marmite (cannibals!) I've given mine a tablespoon and a half of sugar in half a pint of blood hot water.

Hello s.cerevisiae, my old friend

Happy happy colony...
An hour later and it's time to pitch the yeast into my must (at 1.09 sg)
Hopefully, over the next four days or so, my yeast will piss alcohol and crap CO2 until it's time to strain and put it in the demijohn! In the meantime, it's back on with the cloth - and hope!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

An open apology to @Glinner...

Well yesterday was a fun news cycle, wasn't it? What with Nadine Dorries deciding that young girls (only ever girls, apparently) are sexually abused because they just don't know how to say 'no'. *mouthretch*

And, it seems, that DSK appears to have past form but has been pandered to for years. One complainant's mother persuaded her not to press charges because DSK was a friend of the family and an important figure in French politics. *double mouth retch*

A triggery day indeed.

So my twitter feed was mainly full of Dorries rage as I bashed out retweet after retweet about the first story. I was feeling angry and heartsick and a little like I was turning into a cartoon screaming harpy.

Then I saw a tweet from the hugely talented Graham Linehan about the DSK story and I replied with a link to the Guardian piece (linked above) which he retweeted with outraged capslock.

Hard on the heels of my "I'm turning into a screaming harpy" moment, I worried that it looked like I assumed @Glinner was making the exact opposite point to the one he was making. So as I cleaned my teeth (always a great time to try to make yourself understood) I shot off two replies and a tweet:

And off I pop, merrily to bed.

I woke this morning to two replies from @Glinner:

Oh no. Oh no no no. Have I upset @Glinner? I replied saying " It's fine! I took it as one of those pub conversations full of vehement agreement & I appreciate your vehemence on this awful story."

To which @Glinner replied saying, "Yes but I wouldn't yell at someone in a pub either..."

At which point my heart sank. I'm so sorry, Graham. In the unlikely event that you ever read this I want to say that you seem like a thoroughly thoughtful and civilised person. I never thought you were shouting at me (despite the way I phrased it) and I'm sorry if yet another conversation with a random on Twitter has left you feeling a bit deflated with the state of the human race. Please never, ever, ever stop showing your outrage at outrageous things. And keep making the splendid telly.

Thank you.