Thursday, December 29, 2011

Margaret Stanton & the Miracle Cretan Diet.

Minoan House 3500-4000 BCE
The ancient Cretan used to eat snails thousands of year ago, with ill effect.,
Archaeological finds include ceramic vessels containing shells of snails," Offering to the gods of the underworld"

I first heard Margaret Stanton speaking about the "Mediterranean diet" about ten years ago, in fact she talked about the "Cretan diet" at an olive oil tasting night here in Hobart. To be truthfully, the spectacle of dozens of tumblers of olive oil waiting to be tasted was a little off putting, but i bravely put put on a good face and much to my surprise I started to understand the complexities  of different oils. Olive oil is central to the Cretan Diet and according to various International Health Organization reports suggests that morality from Coronary and Cancer are among the lowest in the world. The Allied Forces at the end of the 2nd World War were surprised to find that the Cretan population were in remarkable shape after being liberated from German occupation. During which time farm animals had been confiscated to feed the troops. How had the Cretan managed to survive in such a healthy state?

The last visit I made to Crete a few years ago, I decided to take a closer look at a few graveyards to check on the longevity rate.  One graveyard in Agia Galine Suggested that nearly everyone seemed to live into their 80s' and 90s'. The only ones who didn't make it were fishermen [drowning] or young women who died while giving birth to their off spring. There was also more than a sprinkling of centenarians. What was the secret? It seemed that everything was swimming in olive oil. They consumed little meat, maybe once a week , while the consumption of fish was a little more frequent in coastal villages. Cretans eat much bread wheat or barley, vegetables, pulses, greens and fruit. But , this surprised me they love snails, a cookbook I purchased in Irakleio had some eleven recipes! I had already noticed sacks of snails outside shops and had wondered who bought them.

View of Agia Galine from the western hillside

Aglia Galine Harbour
The Cretan partisans were surpplied from these southern harbours and beaches during the second world war.  

According to my landlady at the hotel I was staying at the best way to clean them was to place your snails in a lidded container with corn flour, changing the flour every two days or so until the flour is clean, then they were ready to cook. My cook book suggests the snails be cleaned with a knife removing the membrane covering the orifice. Then put them in water, as the snails are alive they will come out of their shells, make sure you discard any dead ones. Boil in salted water , removing the froth [which is their saliva] , remove any remaining membrane. They are now ready to cook.

When Cretans migrate to western countries like Australia, they often buy fish n' chip shops, hamburger outlets and so on resulting in a dramatic fall in their expected longevity. Whether this is due to stress or the change of diet it can not be said with certainty. But the evidence would suggest that collecting mountain vegetables, reducing meat intake and generally following a Cretan Diet is likely to improve your chances of a long and healthy life. Why not try some snails, I have but my wife thought they were rather textured!

Here is a recipe for snails, there a hundreds of them from all over Crete.

Snails with zucchini and garlic.
[5 to 6 persons]
1 kilo of large snails
1 kilo of zucchini
1 lb. potatoes
2 onions
large cup of olive oil
1 kilo of tomatoes
5 to 6 cloves garlic
salt, pepper.

This is a favourite summer dish all over Crete.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

English Boarding Schools.

When the 2nd World War in Europe finally ended in 1945 I was packed off to boarding school. My father had been killed several months before and my mother for one reason or another felt she wanted me out of the house. The main recollection I have of my time at this school was one of constant hunger and incredible cold. Rationing was still in full force and normal food supplies were not fully restored in Britain until the 1960's. One of the most memorable memories of my time there was the appearance of bacon one Sunday morning, something unheard of . Even now I have no idea where such a luxury come from, rumber had it that a staff member had run over a pig on the way to work. Sitting at my table in the large mess was a Jewish boy who burst into tears at the appearance of pork. Fortunately his table mates were only to happy to remove the offending bacon .

Often in the mornings we were locked out in the cold school yard to toughen  up. The temperature would be well below zero as we were required to play out there from 6.30 until breakfast at 8. We would gaze longingly at the apple tree in the headmaster garden ,while each of us examining our finger nails to see who had the most lucky white spots. The unfortunate one was then required to scale the fence, gather as many apples as possible, generally three to four minutes before a prefect or master on the prowl would spot you and march you off for another canning. Corporal punishment was the order of the day and played a major part in British education at the time.

The school was really a dismal affair, staffed mainly by Irish school teachers, who due to Eire neutrality were not called up for military service. Most nights they would return late at night from the pub drunk and start brawling on the stairs out side our dormitory, often falling halfway down the staircase. We would all put our heads under the pillow and hope they would not continue their fighting in our dorm. It seemed to us that the Irish found it necessary to carry out this ritual in order to bring the evening's entertainment to a close.

One small boy in our dormitory, we were all about eight or nine, claimed to live near Sherwood Forest and spent his holidays in Robin Hood's gang. Naturally we all thoughts this was wonderful and three of us decided to run away and join up immediately. Boys, because of the nature of the school were  always running away, so we had no trouble collecting funds for our attempt at finding freedom. Looking back I feel the older pupils encouraged the younger ones, so as to cause as much disturbance as possible to the school routine . What ever the reasons, we were presented with the princely sum of eight shillings and decided to make a run for it on our Sunday walk to church. This seemed to be a great plan as we would be able to slip away unnoticed during the one mile walk , particularly as the walk went down several country lanes.

This Sherwood boy, I can't recall his name lived nearby, so he naturally took the lead as to the most direct route we needed to follow to reach Sherwood Forest. After a hour or so we became very hungry as breakfast seemed to have been light years way. Passing a fruit and vegetable shop the temptation to full our pockets with apples proved too great. Unfortunately ,Ginger and I did not know that the road we were in was a dead end with high stone walls on both sides. While Sherwood Forest was able to make a safe get away, Ginger and I were marched back to a cellar under the shop were we spent what seemed hours sitting on sacks of stale potatoes. Eventually the shopkeeper set us free without too many questions as to what we were doing running around on a Sunday morning.

We had no idea as to where we were. Ginger lived in London, so it was decided that as there was a train track near by, all trains must go to London so, if we followed the tracks we would eventually arrive at Ginger's house. I knew that I lived a long way away, as it had taken several hours by car to get to the school. We set off and eventually arrived at Windsor, we both knew it was Windsor because we recognised the Castle. Happily walking down Main street feeling pleased with ourselves we were suddenly grabbed from behind by one of our Irish master and marched off to a waiting car. Afterwards we discovered that the whole school staff had been out all day searching for us, so at least the senior boys would have been happy. The following day we were forced to wait several hours before being marched into the head master study, no doubt to enable us to get in the right frame of mind before receiving another trashing. It seemed that freedom would have to wait for another day.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Jollymont Vineyard & Olive Grove.

 Jollymont occupies the hilltop and as a result has a 360degree view of the surrounding countryside and Channel. The property has a northern slope and offered an opportunity to return the small scale grape growing, the perfect retirement. We had in our youth developed a large scale vineyard enterprise in NSW and had been forced to leave for it  economic reasons. This new venture offered a sort of closure. Our years here have been very happy ones and both of us enjoyed the development of the property.

Looking North.

Corner of house.

Terrace looking east.
The top of the hill has been cut off so as to create a flat area around the house. At the time of building I was making concrete sculpture, so the columns were all cast on site. The vine is a decorative one as we did not want fruit dropping in summer due to bird attack. This area has given us much pleasure over the years, we hold large harvest lunches for our friends who kindly help with the harvest. When we first arrived here I would trap rabbits for the lunch as my revenge for the yearly damage they cause.


Terrace at Jollymont

View towards the Channel

"Diana"  Ceramic sculpture by Heather Creet.

When Heather and I first moved here some twenty odd years ,we imagined that a five acre vineyard would be a fairly straight affair. Being a north facing slope we decided to plant Pinot Noir grapes as the most suitable variety for this exposed site. The locals at the time thought we were mad and felt the site was only suitable for a quarry. But personally I have always felt that a  rocky site would generate greater reflective heat, while respecting the old French adage that the poorest vine, makes the best wine. This has over the years proved to be correct, as we have won medals in every wine show we have exhibited in.

In many ways this was a retirement project, why we could not simply sit down and read or play golf, I still do not know. An added bonus however was the opportunity to return to creative work, as both Heather and myself have over the years worked on and off as artists. Over the years here we have established a haven for all sorts of wildlife, with our building of stone walls and the planting of hundreds of trees and shrubs. Jollymont, a half and half French/English name [the French don't like foreigners using French on their wine labels], so we decided to be somewhat bloody minded.

I have put together a few photographs of vineyard, olive grove and sculpture garden so as to give my readers some idea as to where we spend our days. I hope you will enjoy the feel of the place as much as I do.

                                                                      "Love seat"

looking towards the Channel

Back road to the eastern olive block

Giant standing in a burnt out tree.
We have an acre of native bush in the south east corner of Jollymont.

"Cat Chair" Heather Creet
They are portable cermaic parts that slot together on a metal frame.

View of the outdoor eating area in the autumn, on some days it is quite magical.

                                                               Eastern View
The sculpture is of Atlas after he has dropped the world. The piece has six vestal virgins who stand guard.

                                                                   Autumn Shadows

                                                                Memory of Knossos
Based on the throne of Minos at the Knossos Palace in Crete.

                                                               Through the Trees

                                                      Our bushy south east corner

                                                             Winter Almonds
Concrete tower sculpture some three to four metres high, the piece is made in moduas so the hight can be whatever you like.

                                                              Looking north west

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Beethoven's Mighty Fifth.

The TSO spring festival of Beethoven's symphonies continues. The Fifth was superb from the opening note that immediately introduces the unexpected. Sebastian Lang-Lessing's rending was mighty indeed with the TSO surpassing itself in the presentation of this crowd pleas er. The mood slowly builds to present that eternal and dynamic struggle between good and evil. Beethoven has set the bar very high as the listener is taken to total war. Beethoven's influence at times may be heard in Shostakovitch's Leningrad Symphony or Gorecki's No3.
This music moves through so many textures contrasting tones at times it is hard not to be carried away. The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra needs to be thoroughly congratulated for a superb performance well deserving four or five recalls Sebastian received and the audiences ecstatic reception