Ikaria has a mild climate, and the winters are generally short. Because the village of Magganitis is on the south side of the island, it can be as much as ten degrees warmer in winter than the villages on the other side of the mountain.
Winter is also when Magganitis receives most of its rain. However, it tends to rain in small bursts and not constantly. There are also sporadic lightning storms and high winds. The warmer winds, “Notyas,” originate in Africa, while the colder winds and storms, “Voryas,” come from Northern Europe. There is also occasional hail, which can occur during otherwise pleasant weather.
We lose power and/or internet about once a week. If the lights don’t come back on by nightfall, we light a candle and go to bed early.
The winter weather in Magganitis is extremely changeable, which makes it imperative to seize the moment when there is a period of warmth and sunshine.
On every good weather day in December, the villagers continue busily harvesting olives. Mikalis is sorting through the last of his crop in order to separate the good and bad olives. It is later in the season and many of the olives have tiny holes where olive maggots have made their homes. The bad olives can still go to the olive press for oil, but cannot be preserved whole because they will rot.
We are out walking one day, and stop to help one of the villagers, Nikki, load her olive sacks into her vehicle.
Nikki and her sister Mersina are on their way to the oil press today. Nikki is a widow, and her five children all live in the United States or Canada. Like many others here, she calls her home in Ikaria “paradise,” but is also lonely for her family. She tries to stay busy here in the village.
On any given day, there is a very smoky fire going somewhere in the village or in the surrounding areas. But strangely enough, there never seems to be more than one at a time, which keeps the air in the village somewhat breathable.
The importance of these gardens should not be underestimated. Most Greeks who live in the city do not have access to their own fresh food and must buy everything. Here in Ikaria, people are able to gather vegetables and fruit from their garden year-round, so they are always guaranteed to have a plate of food on their table, even when money gets tight.
In past years, when Magganitis was even more isolated and received no imports, families had to gather and produce everything they needed. This is changing now, as imports and infrastructure increase.
We have a bit of trouble getting greens, due to the fact that we don’t have our own garden here. Ironically, since most people have vegetables and fruits at their homes, the cafes don’t even bother to stock them.
The cafe brought in a crate of lemons to sell, but they went moldy because no one was buying them. Everyone has too many lemons of their own!
Just taking a short walk in Magganitis can easily result in several dinner invitations. Tonight, Kostas invites us over to BouBoukakia for a fish meal.
The next night, at Cafe Pantepoleion, a fisherman named Giorgos very generously sends us home with two kilos of raw squid.
In the United States, when buying seafood such as squid, there is usually a certain amount of processing that has occurred before the consumer takes the product home. This is not the case in rural Greek villages.
Being novices to the cooking of squid, preparing the kalamari consumed the better part of a day. I should say that most of the day was actually spent staring at the leaking 2-kilo bag of squid, wondering what to do. And in the end, it was definitely one of the more time-consuming meals we’ve ever prepared.
We finally tackle it, but it is a two-person job.
The innards of the squid must be removed, including the rigid pen.
The sheath of speckled exterior flesh must be peeled off carefully and discarded. Otherwise the kalamari becomes tough while cooking.
Squid is extremely slippery, and we drop it multiple times while attempting to process it.
The “wings” and the ink sacs can be optionally retained for cooking, but since these are large squid, we choose not to use the wings, which can be tougher to prepare. And we accidentally puncture the ink sacs while pulling the entrails out. In the end, we have a good number of squid trimmings -the heads, eyes, hard pieces, beak, skin, and other inedible bits – which the cats are more than happy to eat for us.
What is left after our laborious effort: the smooth white ring-like exterior of the squid.
Our kitchen is covered in squid juice. We can’t get the smell off our hands, and we feel like we may never be clean again.
But…some onions, red wine, tomatoes, lemon and parsley…and a few hours later…
We have a delicious dinner! Thank you Giorgo!
Kalamari will always be a bit chewy, but if is cooked either very fast under high heat, or long and slow, it will eventually become quite tender as well. Anything in between these two cooking methods will result in a rubbery texture.
We get up early on the shortest day of the year and watch the sun come up over the sea.
This period of winter gets very quiet in the village, as many people head back to Athens until Easter. Nightlife is centered around the few cafes that are open for the locals. There are almost no tourists here at this time of year. The cozy and warm Cafe Doriforos is reliably open every evening – with drinks, small plates of food, and sometimes live music.
“Doriforos” means ‘satellite’ in English. The name of the cafe is used infrequently – instead, the locals say they are going to “Christina” – the name of the woman who runs the small taverna.
Christina is from the United States, born to a Greek family. She speaks fluent Greek and English. Now she lives here in Magganitis and runs the cafe.
Panagiotis has played the violin for years and seems to know an infinite number of songs. His repertoire includes traditional songs from the Aegean area and Greek islands: wedding songs, dances such as zeibetiko, rembetiko music, and even the occasional tango.
Panagiotis is playing the concert with a friend from Evdilos. Cafe Pantepoleion welcomes visitors from all over the island, who crowd in to hear good music, eat special food, and drink until all hours.
When the Greeks say the music goes all night, they aren’t kidding. Mid-morning, it is time to get a ride home with several other people. As it turns out, they are not going home to bed yet! Instead, they are going over to drink coffee at Vasso’s house.
Vasso sends cookies home with us. It is almost time for the sun to come up!