Fresh Fig Cheesecake with Greek Yogurt, Almonds & Honey (& Greece for rent)

It’s hard to believe the changes that have taken place in Athens since my last visit in June.  The whole city is for rent, prices of soft commodities are 3 times what they are in other countries (6 organic eggs €4.60 versus €1.55 in Berlin).  Tax after tax is thought up and levied, the newest one - a 4 per square meter property tax paid yearly, if your flat is 100 sqm, you pay 400.  That is on top of car taxes, pool taxes, VAT of 23%.  I’m even at a loss for my fictitious “if I lived here, I would open a…” scenarios.  Right now, there is nothing I can imagine opening.  Sure, every other shop is for rent but let’s say I opened a cake shop, a Victoria Sponge would cost me about €8 euros to make, if I were to then apply the industry standard mark up of 3x, I would have to sell it for €24.I invited my girlfriends over for lunch, like I always do.  The mood was sober, these are young, talented, intelligent women who went to the same international school as I did.  They were not / are not trying to cheat the system, a simplistic retort that people like to throw around in tandem with “Well, whatchadya expect?”, but they don’t have a single opportunity.  To the point that one even closed her Etsy shop because she couldn’t afford to pay the taxes, on her Etsy shop!  The mind boggles.

In the once boisterous coffee shops, people talk in hushed voices, even the motorcycles are quieter, it’s eerie.  I find the Greeks themselves softer, like they’ve spent an extended period of time being rolled back and forth in the waves until their sharp edges have been filed down to smooth curves, like a sea glass you want to run your fingers over.It’s only at the beach that the mood lightens up.  Avlaki beach, the same beach I’ve been going to since I was a little girl.  With a mountain range that looks like a reclining dog, minus its head.  Not a thing has changed in 25 years (except for the prices and that people now smoke rollies instead of Marlboro or Camels), they still sell greasy cheese pies and Frappés so strong they give me heart palpitations.  There are fat, thick legged children building sand castles as best as they can with the impediment of arm floaties.  Whole families show up, grandmothers with epic breasts and backsides and, if they’ve survived 50 years of hen picking, their usually emaciated husbands, a few sprightly hairs dancing around on their otherwise bald heads.  This is the Greece I remember growing up in.

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Figs wrapped with Serrano ham and filled with Anthotyro

I was a member of Slow Food UK some years back.  I didn’t attend many events but there was one in particular that caught my eye on Edible Flowers.  The lunch was being hosted at Petersham Nurseries, this was way before Australian chef Skye Gyngell rocketed to fame and penned three books (A Year in My Kitchen, My Favourite Ingredients and How I Cook). I remember being enchanted by the collection of odd and mismatched pastel coloured patio furniture. The glass house in which our lunch was served was like a small vase supporting a large bunch of flowers.

Because Petersham Nurseries was still relatively unknown, I had no expectations for the lunch.  It turned out the food was striking in its vibrant colours and bold in its simplicity.  One dish I remember was of a couple of figs, a dollop of ricotta and a slice of Parma ham languishing over the two.  There were probably some Nasturtium blossoms to make it relevant to our discussion that day but they were a unecessary embellishment.

I haven’t thought about that combination in years.  When my mother bought home a punnet of purple skinned figs so ripe they were beginning to crack in places, I instantly thought of that dish. Read more of this post


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