Thursday, July 27, 2017

Feta and Dill Savories

As we disembark the plane at the tiny Paros airport, I tuck my notebook and the pencil case into the purse, next to my camera. I carry them wherever I go; one never knows, photos and words are always around. Even though the notebook and the camera have been failing me recently; I have not photographed, nor I have written anything substantial in a while. A dozen or so pictures, and a random paragraph here and there -- which I am not happy with -- yet I keep on trying, dutifully, like a chore. Just like I would iron a shirt, or fold the laundry. I do not hate it, but I am not enjoying it either. I've been patient. Inspiration does not come with a push of a button. This has been a demanding year and there is very little inside left. I only want to sleep.

As soon as we arrive to the hotel, I forego the beach and dinner with friends and go to bed.

I sleep non-stop for almost five days; nights and days, mornings and evenings, and every moment in between. Until I feel like a human again. The first night is rough. I am trapped in the abyss between the conscious and unconscious worlds, recounting all the things I left unfinished at home and in the office. But gradually, over the following days, my mind empties. I sleep uninterrupted through the night and wake up without thoughts, without worries. I am suspended in time; there is no past and no future, only the present moment. I am not quite recovered yet, there is a long way to go, but I now see the path.

I go for a swim and then take a seat at the veranda. I turn the laptop on to check my emails -- they are piling up by the second -- but I can't bring myself to do it. I try. My hand reaches out and the fingers extend to press the button; one inch, two inches, and then there is a pause, and silent resistance, impenetrable, and the fingers retreat. I let go of the laptop, open up the notebook and try to write. But I am struggling. Words resist me and I do not feel like fighting them. Right now, they are my enemy and are winning the battle.

Instead of writing, I talk to Ana. "Kalimera," she says every morning when I walk onto the veranda and gives me a hug. Ana is a hugger. "I know what you want. Orange juice and frappe. Medium sugar and a lot of milk. Kalimera!" Ana speaks English wrapped in a jingle-bell-like Greek accent. She smiles a lot and her voice is bursting with joy, even though she has been up since dawn making breakfast and serving people, even though the kitchen is hot as hell and she still has another seven hours to go, even though the Cycladic heat is lurching behind the corner, waiting to hit hard and it is only going to get hotter behind the stove.

In the kitchen Ana is in charge of pies and pastries. Orange pie, chicken pie, spinach pie, dill savories, she turns pan after pan throughout the day. Her face lights up when I tell her that her orange pie is the best I ever had. So I make sure that I repeat it every morning. "I teach everyone on the island how to make it," she pulls me closer and confides, "I drive around and tell people, but they don't listen." I've been mastering her recipe for two years now, and even though it's now better than any other portokalopita I've tried, it still does not come close to Ana's. But I've nailed her feta and dill pastries, tyrompoukitses. "Make sure you put a lot of dill," she advises, "a generous handful, because one can never have enough of dill." I nod. Ana loves dill. I open up my notebook and show her the recipe we scribbled together two years ago. "Make sure you put a lot of dill," it says on the margin. Ana laughs.

Ana thinks that I speak Greek, so when we exchange recipes, she often switches to Greek convinced that I understand. I fail to correct her, afraid that she might be disappointed, so I write down the Greek words the best I can and later on translate to English. We are working on the chicken pie now, and it's complicated. The filling, sautéed chicken, is accompanied with a small Greek pantry of other ingredients that I cannot quite pinpoint. There is dill, of course. Spring onions. I can taste a faint smokiness. Ham? "Yes," Ana confirms, "but it's almost invisible." There is cheese, most definitely, but I am not sure which one. Feta or Manouri, or perhaps one the wonderful hard cheeses Greece excels at, grated and mixed with yogurt, because the cheesy flavor is accompanied with pleasant acidity. Ana is now speaking in Greek fast, and I cannot follow anymore.

Once Ana retreats back to the kitchen, I take another stab at writing, even though I know that it will be a futile effort. Words remain in hiding. I can feel them, lurching at me from the darkness of my recollection, appraising me cautiously, contemplating whether to submit or not. It's only when I close the notebook and go for a walk on the beach that they sneak out, shy and vulnerable.

I take long walks. I go down the dusty path to a neighboring village several times a day. I go for a swim to beaches I have not been to. I go to collect marbles and pick herbs. I tell friends that it's for exercise, but I know the truth. I am foraging for words.

They come to me, in fragments, in the strangest of places. In Antiparos, as we sit on a pier waiting for the ferry. Lone. Evoke. Tremble. At the Parikia market. Abundance. Fertility. As I watch the sun set behind the Old Port of Naousa. Solitude. Quaint. Unpretentious. As I drive around the island, chasing heat. Chryssi Akti. Golden Beach. They fly in with the wind, instilled with the scent of fig trees, geraniums, and oleander. Ephemeral.

Sometimes, when no one is watching, I write the words down on the palm of my hand, because they are precious and I am afraid of losing them again.

I hear them the loudest in the silence of Lefkes. They greet me as I sit down on the warm marble steps in front of the church, and then follow me around as I walk the quiet maze of narrow white streets towards the main square. Once upon a time, Lefkes was the capitol and economic center of Paros, with population of over 3000. Today fewer than 500 residents remain and many houses are deserted. Yet there is a sense of purpose lingering in these abandoned spaces. Emptiness is dense here, it has weight, the weight of history, embossed with the footsteps of strangers and travelers who walked this tiny path. Imprints. Traces. Narration. Epoch.

Miss Pain and I take a seat at the village cafe. It's just us and a couple of locals, sipping ouzo and praying the rosary. As I study the men carefully, intensely jealous of their surroundings, their simple lives and simple existence, my daughter is busy trying to convince the owner of the cafe to sell her a plate of loukoumades. "Not now," the man says. "I will be serving them at seven." Here, the folks are proud of their craft and their trade. There is no insta-food, nor there are insta-moments in the Greek countryside; everything takes time and effort, everything is made by hand and entirely from scratch. To be enjoyed slowly and with a thought. It's something we, the New York City folk need getting used to. We leave the tavern and take another stroll around the village, up and down, down and up, and along the Byzantine path. We go back to the church and light the candles. Visit the cemetery. At 7pm sharp we are back at the tavern. "Where have you been," the owner scolds us, "I've been waiting for you to make the sweets. Now you have to wait for another 15 minutes, because they need to be fresh." And we wait again, until it comes, the plate of loukoumades worth waiting for, piping hot, drunken with honey, and merry with cinnamon dust.

We rush back to the hotel, to catch the last swim of the day. It's a long one, towards the edge of the sunset, towards infinity. Mauve. Crimson. Iridescent. Sun worshippers are gone for the day and the beach is empty. It's just us, the southern wind, the last sparkles of the golden sand surrendering to the sea foam, and shadows that are slowly creeping in. Reflect. Ruminate. And then, in a split of a second, the sparkles are gone, the shadows have taken over and it's dark. Nocturnal. Indigo. Obsidian. Someone has lit a campfire at the beach and we sit next to it, still wet and barefooted. Incandescence. "Would you care to eat here," our friends from the hotel ask. We nod a shy "yes" and all of a sudden there is a table set for us, a lamp, and a bowl of mussels cooked in nothing but their own brine, intensely salty, yet sweet at the same time. I order a small carafe of souma, because these mussels are pure, like ocean -- I have not eaten anything like that in a long time -- and souma is just the right drink to accompany them; silky and smooth, like silver lining. Like ether. Like a moonshine canopy we sit under. Ethereal. 

Moonshine follows us to the room. We cuddle in bed. Our sheets are full of sand and the bed is crusted with pebbles, but we don't mind. A faint herbal scent joins us, and I realize that the room is covered in vines, grapes, seashells and flowers; Miss Pain is building a temple. Our own private shrine, adorned with objects found on the foraging excursions, protected with dozens of evil eyes. She has painted them on round marbles from the beach, and they are everywhere: on the nightstand, scattered on the floor, inside the drawers, on the balcony. "You should write your words on the back of these stones, instead on your hands, Mama," Miss Pain says, "so that you can have them forever."

Love. Ineffable. 

Feta and Dill Savories

* 12 oz all-purpose flour
* 2 tsp baking powder
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 8 oz cold butter
* 8 oz sheep's milk feta cheese
* 1 egg, beaten
* 3/4 cup Greek yogurt
* 1/3 cup chopped dill
* 1 egg yolk beaten with a splash of milk for an egg wash

Preheat oven to 375°F convection (400°F regular bake). 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Sift into a large bowl. Grate the butter and feta on a coarse grater. Add to the flour and mix until incorporated. Be careful not to over mix.

In a separate bowl, combine the egg, yogurt and dill. Add to the flour mixture and stir just until the dough comes together into a ball. Be careful not to over mix. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.

Place the dough onto a generously floured surface. Roll the dough into a disk about 1/2-inch thick. Fold the dough back into a ball, then roll it again into a 1-inch thick disk. Use a cookie cutter to cut the dough into desired shapes. Place the savories on the baking sheet. Brush the tops with the egg wash. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the savories are deep golden.


  1. Fotografije su Vam toliko divne, nestvarne! Pritom mislim ne samo na ovaj post, već i inače - uživam da ih gledam, analiziram, da uronim u njih! Jedno sasvim prizemno pitanje: koju kameru koristite? Veliki pozdrav iz Beograda!

    1. Hvala puno i veliki pozdrav iz Beograda, posto smo na proputovanju. Ovaj post sam snimila sa Fuji X100F. To je kamera koju koristim kada putujem. Kod kuce (sto je vecina postova na blogu) koristim Canon 5D Mark III, sa 50mm socivom.

  2. I love this post and your blog. From a fellow food and travel blogger, this is true inspiration of taking our travel culture and transferring into the kitchen! The recipe looks divine as well ;) Check for some great recipes and travel guides over on for some more destination inspiration!

  3. Excellent post. Please keep writing. Amazing posts!
    Infact I have found this similar to

  4. Mesmerising photos and thoughtfully picked words, thank you! I am now eager to bring a bite of Greece to my own kitchen, if only could the amount of feta be specified.

    1. Oh, oh, recipe writing has never been my favorite activity :) THANK YOU for pointing this out, and for stopping by the blog. I updated the quantities and I hope that you will enjoy them!


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