Halcyon Days

20160129_143416

(Sorry, can’t get up a nice mountain to take a pic just yet so you’ll have to make do with Athens)

In Greece when we talk about Halcyon days, Alkyonides meres, we aren’t talking about the golden days of the past but a period of good weather mid-winter. Alkyonides meres are the days of warm sunny weather that occur every winter sometime from mid January to mid February. They always turn up too. Last week it was overcast and very cold and today is a glorious warm sunny day to remind us that spring is wending its merry way towards us.

If I wasn’t on some mad running bug and hadn’t foolishly signed myself up for the Athens half marathon, this weekend would be when I would literally head for the hills. Greece has some fantastic mountain regions that are great for winter holidays. Zagorchoria, Evrytania, or the mountains of Peloponisos are all fantastic places with great hiking routes and even skiing centres.

I, personally, like heading off to the area around Delphi. Eptalofos is especially nice. Or the mountains of the Peloponese, where I can easily go for a weekend away from Athens. Then I can enjoy a lovely stone house or chalet with an open fire and drink lots of tsipouro (think grappa but more peasanty) and I can stuff myself in local tavernas with great meat, lovely local sausages and delicious cheeses grilled over coals or melted in clay pots.

People tend to think of Greece as a summer beach place, yet some of its best regions are up in the mountains and best enjoyed in winter. You can get great cheap deals too. I’d recommend Greece for a winter break to anybody. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to get away until after my daft Marathon, so I’ll be escaping to the region around Kalayvrita for the long weekend for the Greek Independence day celebrations. Woo!

Stoking The Fires Of Extremism

20151218_101735

Depressing subject so another Kewt Kittehs pic

For five years the crisis mired country of Greece has had to single handedly deal with a refugee crisis that was always harrowing but which in the past year has turned into the greatest refugee crisis since the Holocaust and World War 2. The Greek people have, on the whole, responded with kindness and compassion. Despite the enormous economic turmoil the country has faced in the past five years many Greeks have either personal experience of being a refugee or come from a refugee family. So, though they are poor and under massive stress, they have done their best to help rescue those in peril at sea and feed, clothe and care for those who arrive exhausted on their shores. They have done this with almost no help from anyone. Not the Greek government, not the EU, not the UN, not NGOs. The extraordinary kindness of ordinary people has lead to a petition to get the islanders at the forefront of the crisis nominated for a Nobel Peace prize.

So what has the EU been doing in the past five years about this unprecedented humanitarian disaster? In the first place, nothing, they simply ignored it. They had other things to do. As the numbers of refugees began to rise they decided that the best way to deter them would be to withdraw rescue missions in the hope that people would not risk drowning. The numbers who drowned increased. But so did the number of refugees attempting to flee war and persecution.

Then, suddenly, at the beginning of last year the numbers arriving on the shores of Greece started to increase dramatically. The first reaction in the EU was that it was the responsibility of the Greek government to deal with its own borders. The British press meanwhile was horrified that British holiday makers would have to see refugees camped on the streets while they dined in Greek tavernas. So the Greeks struggled on alone. Some NGOs began to help a little. Then the numbers drowning and the numbers walking across Europe both got higher and Germany, after five years of inaction, decided to step in by promising to take in large numbers of refugees and bully small recalcitrant states to take them whether they liked it or not.

So, what was a huge influx, then almost doubled overnight. The Greek islands could barely cope. The Balkan and Eastern European countries couldn’t cope with the numbers passing through and the Northern European countries found themselves having to assimilate massive numbers of people while a huge anti refugee backlash was unleashed across the whole of Europe. So what does the EU do? Does it look for a solution? No. It gives a shed load of money to fascist Turkey and turns on Greece, blames it for the problem and threatens tiny crisis mired Greece with expulsion from Schengen if it doesn’t stem the flow.

I can only assume that this is an attempt to stoke the fires of extremism in the one country where there hasn’t been any kind of anti-refugee backlash. However, if Greece is suddenly forced to assimilate tens of thousands of people when it cannot feed hundreds of thousands of its own civilians this will undoubtedly lead to a pressure cooker situation. If Greece is kicked out of Schengen and left, in its current state of near economic collapse, to deal with perhaps hundreds of thousands of refugees alone, I’m pretty sure this would be a massive boon to the Golden Dawn party that was hitherto diminishing in popularity.

I can find no other explanation for the logic of blaming Greece for a huge world crisis.

 

10 Reasons Why Nazis Are Now Mainstream

20160122_100814

(It’s a depressing subject so have a cute picture of my cat)

 

1 Trump is a serious candidate for the US President.

I don’t think I really need to add anything to this point. That a virulently racist populist bigot could be taken in anyways seriously is a massive indication of just how far and wide the new nazification has spread in the world. In the past, when I was very young and stupidly idealistic, I used to wonder how the German people could have fallen for an obviously hateful person like Hitler. The only explanation appeared to be that there was something wrong with them too. But the likes of Trump and Marie Le Pen put that myth to bed. Given the right circumstances, any people anywhere can succumb to hate, exploitation and manipulation. As we shall see below.

2 Merkel is seen as a humanitarian

This absolutely beggars belief to me. She has spent the past five years ensuring that crisis riddled Greece never freaking recovers and she has laid the blame for the worst refugee crisis since the Nazis last held sway on the world on the EZ’s most crisis ridden country when it was she, and she alone, that precipitated much of the worst excesses of the current situation by 1) ignoring the whole shitstorm for five years because she was kicking the shit out of Greece and 2) making a statement that basically turned a crisis into a full blown utter disaster by encouraging desperate people to risk all to reach Europe.

3 Refugees are not seen as human beings

The language used by politicians, many journalists and scores of people when talking about the refugees from the Middle East is utterly dehumanizing. That a mainstream newspaper columnist can refer to them as ‘cockroaches’ and hope they drown and neither lose her job nor be prosecuted for incitement to racial hatred shows just how far public discourse has fallen. Politicians deliberately use adjectives like tide and swarm in order to promote fear and hatred. It works. The anti-refugee sentiment is so virulent that neo Nazis going on the rampage against refugees is seen as understandable and even laudable – they are only protecting ‘our’ culture… right?

4 Removing property and belongings from refugees in order to pay their way.

Some of the richest countries in the world – Switzerland, Denmark, Germany have instigated a policy of removing valuables and money from refugees in order to pay their way. A large number of people seem to think this is fair. That those who have lost everything they own should have their very last valuables confiscated by force is EXACTLY what the Nazis did. Yet people accept it as right.

Does no one see that this is a way to force refugees into working for slave wages too?

5 Refugee Branding

Refugees and other asylum seekers are being forced to have markers that distinguish them as refugees or asylum seekers. Whether it’s making them all have red doors or wear rubber bracelets, they are being marked out as separate from others in society in ways that are obvious and noticeable. The private companies in charge of the contracts to feed and house refugees can claim all they like that it was for simple bureaucratic reasons that these policies were put in place and not a desire to create a ‘badge’ of distinction. But it shows just how dehumanised refugees are when people can’t even make the connection between noticeably branding refugees and Nazi policy!

6 Blaming the refugee crisis on Greece.

The most crisis riddled country in the EU, the one that has single-handedly and with very little support from anyone, had to cope with a massive influx of refugees in an unprecedented crisis is threatened with punishment and the expulsion from Schengen for not sorting it all out, while the fat bastards in Brussels play tiddly winks. And this is accepted as reasonable

7 Nazi loving Erdogan’s Turkey gets showered in money and praise.

You can be pretty much an out an out fascist, implicated in homegrown terrorism, the funding of Isis, atrocities against Kurds and have an abysmal human rights record but the EU will kiss your arse, sing your praises, throw tons of dosh at you and promise you EU membership while you merrily make a mint smuggling desperate Syrians into Greece in boats made for drowning people.

8 Cities can be put in complete lock down

Without a peep form the press or anyone. All it takes is for the govt of Germany or Belgium is to mention some nebulous threat as ‘credible’ and they can entirely lock down a city without a freaking ‘hang on?’ from anyone anywhere. Apparently, ‘security’ is such a major issue that all rights, movement and business can cease to function, on order, with immediate effect and no need to prove afterwards that there was any credible reason to do so. As if shutting a city down will protect against security threats. Hello morons, you are being trained to obey.

9 Use sexual threat to incite hatred.

Just as the Klan did in the Southern states, if you want to incite racial hatred and get everyone enjoying a good lynching, just say that ‘they’, the ‘other’, are sexually attacking ‘our’ women. I don’t doubt that there have been many sexual attacks on women all over Europe every single damned day. But why is it that only one type, a type that is by definition entirely a tiny minority of sexual attacks, makes the front page? Hhhhmm?

10 Racist comments from EU leaders are supported.

It’s not only Trump who can get away with and be lauded for downright bigotry and racism. Try the leaders of Czechia, Slovakia, Finland, Poland and Hungary to name a few. Lord knows why anyone would want to incite racial hatred in Balkan countries or stir up nationalistic feeling by bullying poor little countries. No historical precedents there.

Running Fuel

20160116_151030

I’ve gone and done something a bit hatstand and signed myself up for the Athens Half Marathon which takes place on March the 20th. At the moment I’m running about 20 miles a week divided over 5 days with 2 rest days. I will need to increase the distance by about a mile a week for the next 8 weeks in order to get up to the distance required. My long runs are on a Sunday and boy am I starving after doing it. So here is one nice recipe for hungry runners and other carb loading fans – stuffed baked potatoes. I had them last weekend with some buttered spinach and sweetcorn. As per usual, the recipe can be endlessly messed with. You can pretty much add anything you fancy and bacon bits are always a nice addition.

For two

2 – 4 medium sized potatoes, scrubbed

150g mature cheddar grated (or more if you like)

half a small onion finely chopped

half a romano red pepper finely chopped

1 or 2 tbs of greek yoghurt or cream

1 tbs butter

a good pinch of smoked paprika

salt and pepper

Pre-heat the  oven to medium hot. Make an incision lengthways down one side of each potato just enough to go through the skin but not too deep into the flesh. Bake the potatoes until the flesh is soft. You can also rub a little salt into the skin before baking if you wish. Meanwhile, put half the cheese and all the other ingredients in a good sized bowl. Once the potatoes are done place on a board to cool a little. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle (a clean tea towel in the hand that holds the potato helps) cut the potato in half starting along the incision you made pre-baking. Arrange the potatoes in a lightly greased pyrex dish. Then, using a teaspoon, scoop the flesh from each potato into the bowl with the other ingredients. Don’t take all the flesh from the sides of the jackets, leave a thin rim of flesh, or the skins will collapse. Place each scooped jacket back in the pyrex dish. Thoroughly mash the scooped flesh with the other ingredients using a fork and taste to check for seasoning. Adjust to taste. Use the teaspoon again to refill each jacket with the mash mixture. Top each jacket with a little (or a lot!) of the remaining cheese. Bake in a medium hot oven for about 25 minutes or until the tops are golden and bubbling.

These go nice with a good pork chop or if you want to do the buttered spinach then trim and carefully wash 500g of fresh spinach. Put it in a good sized pot with a big tablespoon of butter, cover with a lid and wilt over a low heat til soft and creamy.

 

Tsipras The Failure

20160115_135805

A year ago Greece was in a buoyant mood despite 5 years of devastating crisis that had destroyed nearly all the progress made in Greece since joining the EU in 1981. The reason was hope. The hope that, finally, the old politics of nepotism, corruption, clientelism and bribery could be swept away forever by voting in Syriza, who promised to tax the rich and destroy the old political patronage system forever. Tsipras was a hero from the age of the Olympians. A man of great charm and energy. A great speech maker. A man with many promises. We knew that some of the promises would be hard to bring about but most Greeks felt that if he could just bring about one tenth of what he promised there would be a massive sea change in Greek political life. All Greeks really wanted was that he tax the rich, prosecute the criminal elite and tell the EZ it wasn’t going to play ball anymore and that the crushing of the poorest for their pleasure needed to stop.

To keep one tenth of his promises was all he really needed to ensure he remain a hugely popular leader. But in the end, he didn’t achieve any of them. He backed down. He gave up. He reverted to type – the same as ALL Greek politicians of every other party. He proved he was no different from ND, Pasok, Dimar, To Potami or any of the other utterly corrupt politicians willing to sell out their country folk for a few shillings to keep the oligarchs and elites happy at home and in the EU. In short. He’s a liar. He betrayed his principles and his country in order to keep power and continue to sit at high table with the elites of the world political stage.

He has proved he is as mendacious as Samaras and Venizelos, willing to manipulate the Greek public with lies and distortions to keep people quiet. Just look how he has promised Greeks this week that Greece will be out of the crisis this year while overseeing further cuts in pensions and wages, and hikes in taxes. Samaras used the same trick to keep people quiet in 2014, while also cutting pensions and hiking taxes. Tsipras is simply using the tried and tested methods that have worked for generations in Greece. Only, they don’t work any more on a nation crushed by its elites and utterly disillusioned with every aspect of national and political life. That old adage about how you can fool some of the people most of the time springs to mind. Greeks don’t like or believe any of their politicians. Full stop.

To be a little tiny itsy bit fair, Tsipras was put under enormous pressure by the EZ and Germany, and the knowledge that the Greek people didn’t want to leave the euro –  as they regard it as the last hope they have for retaining any private wealth whatsoever (I think they’re wrong but I’m in the minority). The EZ elites were well aware that the Greek people are pro EZ and I’m pretty sure that the ‘fiscal waterboarding’ Tsipras received at the hands of the Eurogroup (which right wing Slovak  Fin Min, Peter Kazimir, described as the unfortunate response to the Syriza Spring) was basically a threat to crush Greece in much the same way as the Russian tanks crushed the Prague Spring.

So you can add cowardice, political cowardice, to the list of crimes I lay at Tsipras’ door along with betrayal, hypocrisy, self interest and being a big fat liar. The very very best you can say about Alexis is that the alternatives are so unbelievably dire (cypto fascist ND, Corrupt Pasok, Oligarch owned To Potami) that he is the least satanic of all. That’s how bad Greek politics is. I would rather have a lying, hypocritical, self aggrandizing, political coward than any of the other lot. That’s the best I can do as praise.

A Rant And A Recipe

20160113_135507

The Rant

Yiannis Stournaras, the ex fin min who made sure the unemployed lost access to health care and the current Governor of the Bank of Greece, is a mendacious and disgusting propagandist that Goebbels would be proud of.

Yesterday, in an interview with Papachelas, the Editor in Chief of oligarch owned broadsheet Kathemerini, he told a very scurrilous lie about the current government. I am no longer much of a fan of Syriza and their turncoat ways, but Stournaras remarks were outrageous political propaganda against the current government and made just as a new leader of the opposition party has just been elected. It is not his job to interfere in politics as the Bank of Greece Governor. He should be sacked.

So, what did he say that has so infuriated me. Well… he said that last year he had had to warn the President of Greece that ‘someone’ in the Syriza government had a plan to ‘invade’ the National Mint in order to start printing drachmas and he had had to prevent a ‘coup’ on Greek Democracy.

The fact is that if Syriza did not have some kind of back up plan in the event that Germany had stuck to its word to oust Greece from the Euro it would have been very remiss of them. That they did not publicise the plan was the correct thing to do in order to prevent it becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. Any government under threat of being removed from a common currency absolutely should have a Plan B. Ask any economist anywhere in the world of any political leaning. Stournaras knows this. So what’s his game? Political propaganda designed to give the idea that the ‘left’ (Syriza aren’t even really left any more) are traitorous and only the right, even when they’re a flat out corrupt and only lead by dynasties, can be trusted with the ‘nation’.

It’s not his job to engineer falsehoods for propaganda purposes. He’s another odious little crypto nazi.

The Recipe

I had loads of things to use up in the fridge, some bits of peppers, some toms, a batch of portobello mushrooms and bacon I’d fried off, some creme fraiche and, due to my running training program, I’m now constantly starving, so I needed a pasta bake. Needed. Not wanted. This recipe is one I made at work, so its a quickie work-style lunch one. I appreciate that not everyone has a microwave at work or bosses that will let them do food assembly stuff. But, if you do, then this is quick, easy and really very nice.

a handful of thinly sliced red and green peppers

1/2 a small onion thinly sliced

a handful of cherry toms sliced.

a handful or so of sliced portobello mushrooms fried off with a few bits of bacon

4 0r 5 nests of fresh tagliatelle soaked in boiling water for a minute or 2 and drained

1 tbs of creme fraiche

some slices of cheese (enough to cover the pasta)

a little evo oil

salt and pepper to taste.

 

The only thing I prepared at home in this recipe was the mushrooms and bacon. The rest I did in our little work kitchen. After I’d drained the tagliatelle, I tossed it in a little evo oil and seasoning. Then I spread the uncooked veg over the tagliatelle, then a layer of mushrooms and bacon. The creme fraiche I spread thinly over the top with the back of a spoon and then covered the top with a layer of cheese slices. Then I nuked it for 4 mins on med high in the microwave or until the cheese is all runny and a bit bubbly but hasn’t started to turn into petrified charcoal. It was pretty good for a work lunch.

Slow Cooker Chicken Korma

20160112_090957

When ‘Santa’ mentioned that Morrison’s had slow cookers going for twenty quid, I asked if I could have one as a stocking filler. The idea was that I’d no longer have to wait up for hours when cooking stews, curries and pulse dishes but could leave them all night and they’d be ready in the morning to take to work in a tupper. But its taken me a couple of failures to start to get the hang of using it. The lentil soup last week was vile. This weeks chicken Korma seems to have come together quite nicely and its great not having to watch over a pot.

This korma is a pretty mild one as I shared it with a Greek friend. Some Greeks don’t get the British love of extra hot curries so you can always add more chillies if you like. I also found when I got home that I didn’t have any cardamoms. Normally, I would have crushed four up in a pestle and mortar before adding to the other spices. But as I didn’t have them, the recipe is without. If you don’t have a slow cooker you can cook this on a gentle simmer for about an hour till all the flavours meld and the chicken is cooked. You will probably need to add more stock than the recipe gives if using an ordinary pan. I made this for 2 people.

500g of chicken thighs cut into nice chunky pieces

1 large onion quartered

5 baby plum toms sliced (you could just use some tinned tom instead)

2 cloves of garlic

3 green chillies deseeded

a chunk of peeled ginger about the size of half a thumb

1 small piece of cinnamon stick

4 cloves

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

1 teaspoon of ground coriander

1 tbs of creme fraiche

2 tbs of EVO oil

a knob of butter

250 ml of chicken stock

a pinch of salt

a pinch of sugar

 

Put the slow cooker on the high setting to warm up for 20 minutes while you prepare the curry. Put the ginger, garlic, chillies and onion in a blender or food chopper and whizz until minced or chop very very finely by hand. Set aside. Heat a heavy bottomed skillet with the oil and then fry off the chicken pieces until brown all over. Set the chicken pieces aside. Melt the knob of butter in the pan and add the ginger, garlic, chillies and onion mixture. Fry gently for a minute or so and then add the other spices and fry for another minute or so until all the spices smell fragrant. Add the chicken stock and tomatoes and a pinch of salt and sugar. Do not over-salt as the chicken stock gives a fair bit of seasoning. Bring to the boil. Put the chicken and the spice stock in the slow cooker. Stir. Put on lid and turn down to the low setting. Forget about it for 7 – 8 hours. Turn off the slow cooker and stir in the creme fraiche.