Hello Kitty makes a comeback

Hello Kitty makes a comeback

That heading was to get your attention – ‘comeback’ ? – she hasn’t gone away, in fact she’s more popular than ever. I felt like revisiting this posting from another blog I wrote a few years ago.

Please enjoy a re-read and discover my curiosity about this damn cat.

 

 

Miss itty bitty Kitty rules the rooms!

I don’t get Hello Kitty. I do get Hello Kitty. I get the merchandising, the appeal to pre-adolescent females and the cutesy factor that seems to adorn all young Asian girls and indeed little girls all over the shopping world. I get that it’s a character of fiction – I don’t get the look (Kitty is portrayed as a female white Japanese bobtail cat with a red bow), I don’t get why Kitty doesn’t have a mouth.

Researching the erstwhile feline, I found out she was created by Yuko Shimizu in 1974, and first appeared on a vinyl coin purse, introduced to the Japanese public and then Kitty went on to conquer the US in 1976.

The Hello Kitty character is a staple of the kawaii segment of Japanese popular culture. She is a Sanrio character (there are many Kitty family members – now I’m creeping myself out as I’d like to meet them), and Sanrio has groomed Hello Kitty into a global, marketing phenomenon worth $5 billion a year.

(In 1962, Shintaro Tsuji, founder of Sanrio, sold rubber sandals with flowers painted on them. He noted profits soared with the addition of cute designs on sandals and hired cartoonists to design cuties for his merchandise. )

Anyway, chubby kitty cat is all over the world now – and every little girl knows her. And surprisingly (not) many adults have embraced her too . . . I don’t get it. But I’m starting to . . .

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The target market for Hello Kitty broadened to include teens and grown-ups as a retro brand – for those who could not own her when they were young. In 1999, 12,000 different products had Kitty appearing on them worldwide.  And now it gets silly – in 2009, the Bank of America began offering Hello Kitty-themed cheque accounts, where the account holder can get cheques and a Visa debit card with Kitty’s mouthless face on it – MasterCard debit cards have featured Kitty as a design since 2004.

(Thanks to Wikipedia for some of this info – hope it’s correct.)

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And now to the Grand Hai-Lai hotel in Kaohsiung, Taiwan where I stayed a few years back. A wonderful hotel with elegant rooms and friendly staff AND a Hello Kitty Suite. It features a living room, dining room and a master bedroom, and it offers 50sq.m of space.

In the delightfully pink suite, decorated with sweet Hello Kitty miniature vases and paintings, residents will find a Hello Kitty mini-studio and a complete Hello Kitty tea set. The large bathroom has a jumbo sanded Kitty mirror – take your time and enjoy a Kitty bubble bath!
Grand Hai-Lai and Sanrio Corporation of Japan present the “Hai-Lai Kitty House” situated in the hotel lobby, where Hello Kitty limited editions and gifts are exclusively sold. Enjoy shopping in pink-decorated romance! All Hello Kitty amenities provided in the rooms are available in store.

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The Hello Kitty breakfast features a Kitty face stamped in the toast and a Kitty moulded sweet. There’s even a Hello Kitty face drizzled in tomato sauce on the fried egg.

Themed wedding are held here and there’s a Hello Kitty carriage and for the runaway bride there’s a Hello Kitty bicycle. (Fact: famous blogger theglobalgoddess.com was seen scooting around the parking lot on one of these bikes.)

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It was a Hello Kitty overload looking at the HK scene but one can’t be cynical or churlish while the young woman showing us with giggles and glee all the hotel has to show of Kitty – they softened all the kitsch blows and were delighted with my Hello Kitty slipper purchase – I would go so far to say they were impressed with me – and I got a discount.

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Writer, Bev Malzard has unintentionally gained a reputation for being a Hello Kitty fan, and friends and relatives send her Hello Kitty paraphernalia for her collection (which doesn’t exist). And she gets a kick out of it! So far she has bright pink HK toothpaste; HK pens and notebooks; a HK PEZ dispenser (remember PEZ); a HK mug and the classic is a pair of pillowcases of HK patterned material that her sister made for her. 

Bev Malzard is still bewildered by all things Hello Kitty but has dyed parts of her hair pink to stay in the game,

 

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AUSTRIA: I’m a Sacher for a good cake!

AUSTRIA: I’m a Sacher for a good cake!

Haven’t heard of Sacher Torte? Have you been living on Mars or are completely oblivious to a good slice of cake? The history of the torte (cake) is a sweet one. It was created in Vienna (not Salzburg), by a young apprentice chef Franz Sacher in 1832. The delicious cake is traditionally served with a portion of unsweetened whipped cream and is complimented with a cup of tea or coffee. The cake has a mysterious air – covered in a shining, silky chocolate coat with a small round motif decorating the side, once bitten into, life takes on a grander meaning. The cake is chocolaty and has a robust texture divided by a sting of apricots glaze. (SEE recipe below)

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There are specialty shops all over Austria selling this indulgence, but you’ll find the sweetest prize at the Sacher Hotels. And adding to the pleasure of the Sacher Torte experience is the fact that is it always sitting on the breakfast table/buffet daring you to take a slice to begin the day . . .of course we did. At the elegant, traditional Sacher Hotel in Salzburg (below) , the Sacher Torte disappeared quickly and there appeared to be a rotating delivery of said sweetie at the breakfast table. Visit: www.sacher.com/hotel-sacher-salzburg

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Sacher Torte

Recipe courtesy of Wolfgang Puck

Total Time: 1 hr 42 min
Prep: 20 min
Inactive: 2 min
Cook: 1 hr 20 min
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Level: Intermediate

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
  • 3 ounces butter
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 ounce sugar, plus 3 ounces
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup flour, sifted

Apricot Filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups apricot preserves
  • 1 tablespoon apricot brandy

Glaze:

  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
  • 1 ounce butter
  • 2 ounces heavy cream
  • Whipped cream
Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9 by 2-inch cake pan.In a bowl, combine the chocolate and butter and melt over a double boiler. Set aside to cool. In a mixer, using a wire whisk, whip the egg yolks with 1 ounce sugar until light and ribbony. Beat in the chocolate mixture.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks. Slowly add the remaining 3 ounces of sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks. Fold in the flour and then fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in the remaining egg whites, gently but thoroughly. Pour into prepared cake pan.

Bake for 40 minutes or until done. To check for doneness, insert a paring knife in centre of cake. It should come out dry. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

To make the apricot filling: puree the apricot preserves. Stir in brandy.

Slice the cake into 3 equal layers. Spread half of the apricot filling on the bottom layer. Top with a second layer of cake. Spread the remaining apricot filling and top with the last layer of cake. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To make the glaze: in a bowl, combine the chocolate and butter. Melt over a double-boiler. Bring the cream to a boil. Stir into the melted chocolate. Cool until it reaches glazing consistency. Spread over and around the cake. Chill for another 30 minutes before serving. Serve a slice with whipped cream.

Writer, Bev Malzard, has eaten many slices of Sacher Torte and intends to eat more. 
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Art Deco capital of New Zealand (and possibly the planet)

Art Deco capital of New Zealand (and possibly the planet)

Not often you get to thank a natural disaster and community tragedy for a splendid architectural creation. In February 1931 a bastard of an earthquake rocked Napier, a town on Hawke’s Bay on the east coast of the north island of New Zealand. The ‘quake measured 7.9 on the Richter scale and rocked the Hawke’s Bay area for more than three long minutes. There were 260 lives lost and the vast majority of Napier’s town centre structures were destroyed, either by the earthquake of the following fires.

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It wasn’t long after the earthquake that the Kiwis rallied and do what they do best – got on with it! Rebuilding began and much of it was completed in two years. Architects were on the spectrum of quirky and ambitious and the new buildings reflected the architectural styles of the times – stripped classical, Spanish Mission and Art Deco.

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Local architect Louis Hay, an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, had his moment to shine! Maori motifs emerged to give the city an identifiable New Zealand character – just check out the ASB bank on the corner of Hastings and Emerson Streets that features Maori koru and zigzags.

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I recently visited Napier for the first time and driving into the city centre on a bright sunny day I was thrilled to be immersed in this stylish time capsule. And driving further afield around Hawke’s Bay (just out-of-town to find the cultish ice cream parlour Rush Munro’s, which has been here since 1926. And yes, I had a double scoop for research purposes, hokey pokey and vanilla, and yes, it was divine), you drive along a tree-lined boulevard waterfront. Marine Parade is where you drive slowly and capture the extent of the bay.

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Napier’s city centre displays a seamless line of 1930s architecture is quite extraordinary. Enjoy the streetscape via a self-guided walk – ask for a map at the information centre or at the Art Deco Trust. Guided walks around the city are also available every day rain or shine (except Christmas Day!).

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Every February, Napier celebrates its heritage with the Art Deco weekend – a stylish celebration of all things 1930’s, including vintage cars, fashion and music. So get your flapper on, tilt your boater at a rackish angle and do the Charleston, drink pink cocktails and throw caution to the wind.

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Napier’s other special attractions include the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers and the many vineyards that make good use of the region’s alluvial soils. Pinot Gris and Syrah are the region’s signature drops. On Saturday mornings, the Napier farmers’ market is a chance to shop for artisan foods and fresh produce.

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Writer, Bev Malzard ate ice cream, had dinner at the Thirsty Whale Restaurant and Bar and stayed just outside of town at the Albatross Motel, Westshore Napier. She will learn to dance and hold a long cigarette holder before her next visit.

Visit: http://www.artdeconapier.com ; http://www.napiernz.com and get your art deco vibe happening n 2018!

 

It’s a Shire thing – real estate for Hobbits

It’s a Shire thing – real estate for Hobbits

Many decades after I first read J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit I was walking among the Hobbit homes (holes). And proving to myself that they were more than fictional little hairy-toed creatures.

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After immersing myself in the grand trilogy of New Zealander Peter Jackson’s stupendous movies effort of the Lord Of The Rings – yes – all three mighty movies (seen several times over), I had been intrigued by the art direction and the glorious locations throughout New Zealand (with a healthy LOTR geeky obsession). I had visited a few (outside Christchurch and near Wellington) and while strolling around the area acting quite ladylike – I was happily squealing on the inside.

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When I heard that Hobbiton was real real estate I was ecstatic.

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When location scouts found the Alexanders’ spectacular 1250-acre sheep and beef farm in 1998, just outside of the town of Matamata (90 minutes drive south of Auckland), it was clear this would be the perfect setting for Sir (he is now) Peter Jackson’s adaptation of these classic works by Tolkien.

This bucolic setting for The Shire, home of the Hobbits, including Bag End, was right there, and just waiting for the magical director’s touch – and the work of hundreds in building, creating, painting, designing and bringing to life the wondrous place.

Earth moving equipment provided by the New Zealand army came in to do the heavy lifting in 1999. The army built a 1.km road into the site and undertook initial set development.

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There were 39 Hobbit Holes created with untreated timber, ply and polystyrene. The oak tree that overlooks Bag End was cut down and transported in from near Matamata.

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Artificial leaves were brought in from Taiwan and individually wired onto the tree. Thatch for the roofs of the Green Dragon Inn and The Mill were cut from rushes around Alexander farm.

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When they were rebuilt for The Hobbit Trilogy in 2009,these structures were built out of permanent materials including an artificial tree made out of steel and silicon. This entire reconstruction process took two years.Today the set is maintained to keep the magic of The Shire alive.

If you believe all that, you’ll believe anything. Hobbiton is a real place where real Hobbits live, bake bread, eat cakes and drink wine and mead and tell fantastical tales of a time gone by about elves, orcs, wizards and brave knights . . .and jewellery . . .  especially some ring.

Writer Bev Malzard met several Hobbits in New Zealand but has kept them out of this post to respect their privacy.

It cost NZ$79 for the tour of Hobbiton (worth every dollar).

Visit: http://www.hobbitontours.com

Venice . . . as the day begins

Venice . . . as the day begins
Ah Venice, La Serenissima, you temptress, you beauty, you moody city on the water. It never loses its attraction – Venice is a living city that is hounded and trampled on by thousands of tourists every year, her waters are cruised by mega-liners that dwarf and threaten the low-rise city silhouette and the Grand Canal has so many boats washing the waters to the foundations of the ancient buildings that you would think the whole place would crumble in a minute.
Flooded by ‘aqua alta, a natural phenomenon that has occurred for centuries when especially high tides force water from the Adriatic into the Venetian lagoon. This happens about four times a year and especially during winter. (Walking platforms are erected and the water normally drains off by midday. Take your wellies.)
St Mark’s Square under water – extra hands on deck needed to keep the tourists dry.
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But not so. ‘Venice is sinking’; has been the harbinger of doom for a couple of centuries but she still stands. Admittedly, she’s high maintenance and her upkeep is costly – but – still standing.
And Venice is expensive and complicated. But let’s look away from the seductive beauty for a minute and peek beneath the practicalities of this city:
* All the food consumed on the islands has to be brought in from the mainland. Deliveries continue all day long with boats carrying crates of fruit and veg – and remember – this is Italy, and fresh food every day is on the table! The fish – and what a mighty fine display for piscatorial indulgence is being snapped up at the Rialto markets and being delivered at dawn each day.

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Top: best from the local market; early morning window cleaning – all the shops are spic and span; above: picking up the trash.

* Much of the breads and pastries are made in-house – but all the ingredients have a high price as they are delivered by hand after a journey from all over the country.
* Those crisp linen towels, tablecloths and napkins that we enjoy in hotels and restaurants are all taken off the islands to laundries for cleaning – imagine the number of items that leave here and have to be delivered back again to the restaurants and hotels.
* And the garbage. Large bags have to be transported every day off the island – and there’s a lot of it. Interesting is the fact that the locals – and there are 60,000 residents here, who lower their bags down on little pulleys as there are rarely any lifts (elevators) in any of the buildings except the big hotels. Men, running through the tiny lanes with carts, pick the bags up and take them to the boats. And the empty bottles – not all mine either.

Bagsdropped down over night to be picked up by the garbos.

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When you leave the touristy areas of Venice – and discover the life of the city beyond a gondola ride and an aperitif on a balcony overlooking the Grand Canal – there’s the domestic hum and buzz like any other city,.
And the locals! Someone said that if anyone is seen running or jogging around Venice, they are tourists. Venetians and all who work here do not need to do this. Because all of Venice is walkways and canals – there is no transport at all – except for the feet. You don’t see any overweight Venetians, they are lean and wiry. The older folk here, with or without walking sticks, tread slowly, firmly and determinedly as they stick to the right sides of the walls of the lanes and alleys; younger people with high heels, or flat shoes, walk everywhere briskly, and anyone delivering or removing anything by cart – runs.

Morning delivery.

I had two days of blinding beauty under an unseasonal bright blue autumn sky in the city and was fortunate enough to head out early in the morning as Venice was waking up. Start your walk early in the morning and you’ll feel the rhythm of the streets and lanes start to crank up. The side of the city that we don’t see is working hard to give the visitors the true elegant, charming, Venetian experience.

So where do you think those pristine sheets came from, who ironed your pillow cases, who delivered the wine, and who is taking out the trash today?
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Writer Bev Malzard first visited Venice in a misty, cold February years ago and likes to go back in autumn or winter to avoid the crazy crowds and the stifling heat contained within the lanes. A journey across the lagoon through the moody blues of the winter day will take you to the pretty islands – yet again, without the crowds.
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How to make cheese, the easy whey!

How to make cheese, the easy whey!

I like cheese. Cheese is my hero. Cheese is my friend. As a friend it introduces me to the world. Certain tastes send me to Provence in France, a dry parmesan cut from a huge, aged wheel takes me to a remembered trattoria in Perugia, Italy, a large slice of room temperature manchego transports me back to Spain and has me singing ‘the man from La Mancha’. My relationship with cheese had been rather shallow, but last year I saw my first cheese master (mistress) at work creating heaven. (See blog post In Praise of Cheeses, posted 29 April, 2017). Narcissi Municio was making a raw milk cheese that I can only describe after eating far too much of it – if that’s a thing – as life-changing – Torta del Casar.

Absolutely nothing to do with cheese making, but look at these pretty eggs that came from the chooks at Franklin Gardens.

And to see the workings on a biggish scale opened my eyes to the creation from whoa to go! Well, not quite. I didn’t meet the animals from whence the mighty milk came from.

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Recently I had the opportunity to make cheese! I’m not now going into full artisan cheese making in my postage stamp size kitchen, but it was a wonderful experience and made me more appreciative of what went into my indulgences.

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An old friend of mine who I used to party hard with many moons ago now lives in New Zealand on a little farm where six goats (three pregnant), two dogs (rescue cuties), three cats (one a mongrel thief), 12 sociable chooks and several ducks and geese that scurry, and a husband reside.

Jas milking, me stirring, one dog staring . . .

My mate Jasmin learned to make cheese when she acquired the goats. She travelled to Italy to take master classes and now does modest cheesemaking courses for keen enthusiasts – what are they called? Formagios, Cheddarists? She lives in Paparoa, Northland New Zealand, a couple of hours drive north of Auckland, on a drive through an impossibly beautiful green landscape.

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So time for me to don the apron and learn how to make cheese – today it will be haloumi. The goat was milked the day before and the fresh, creamy, raw, organic milk was refrigerated overnight. Next morning, three litres of the milk were strained into a vat and then heated til temp. reached 32deg. exactly, and kid rennet was added to set the curd.

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This was serious, it was all about the temperature.

Straining the milk. This cat was nowhere near the cheesemaking, even though he would like to be – just thought he would add to the ambience of the post! (His name is Roo.)

The milk cooled and I could see it separating away from the edge of the vat. Just looked like junket – back to curds and whey again! (After production the whey went to the chooks for happy hour.) The curd is soft because it is goat’s milk and doesn’t have a lot of fat. The long spatula was inserted and I began the process of slicing through the curd in lines, crisscrossing in an even measurement.

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Cutting the strained curd. There’s that damn cat again – he was not in the cheese making room, I promise!

I lifted the mixture out and placed it in square plastic tubs, evenly packing it so the whey would drain into a tray beneath. The little containers were left for a while until all the whey had disappeared down the whey way! Turning the blocks of dry cheese out onto a board I then sliced through the squares in reasonably straight lines to create rectangles of haloumi.

The (almost perfect, if I do say so myself) rectangles, that had been salted on both sides were then dropped into the whey that had been heated up ,and let cook for a few minutes until the pieces floated to the top.

They were then removed from the whey and set aside to cool. When cool the slices were gently placed in a storage box destined to become dinner that night.

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All in all it was the best experience and even though it looks like I’m the Cheese Whisperer, the real champion of this venture was the Big Cheese Jasmin Futter in the background guiding me every step of the way.

We ate the cheese that night (little olive oil in pan – cook one minute each side), had it with salad and thought it ever so fine.

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We took several slices back to Auckland to have the next night. Same drill and it was better than the night before. I can honestly say I have eaten my share of haloumi over the years but this was the best squeaky haloumi I ever tasted. So thank you Jasmin and thank you goats.

Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey . . . what the heck is a tuffet?

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Cheesy grins from the Big Cheese and The Cheese Whisperer.

If you are interested in learning the dark arts of cheese making have a look at @Fromage at Franklin in Paparoa Cheesemaking Classes on Facebook or email Jasmin Futter jasfutter14@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Take me to the Greek!

Take me to the Greek!

The journey began in Athens. SeaDream 1 was waiting for us in Piraeus and it wasn’t too long before we had stowed our gear in elegant staterooms. Up on deck, guests were catching the last of summer’s bright rays. (SeaDream yachts chase the sun, and after the Mediterranean, the Caribbean was the ships next playground for November to March.)

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We departed Piraeus on an afternoon, fresh from summer in October through a flint-like clarity of light.

BUT this is about food – before we took off on our cruise from Greece to Italy, we had two days in Athens. So, this posting is pictures of food – which we ate lots of.

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More cats on Hydra and a splendid lunch of bread, maridaki (white bait), Greek salad and Greek beer. Nothing could be finer.

 

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Now, being a Greek tragic (I claim it as my spiritual home) I wanted to show off to my travelling companion. I wanted to drop in a few words from the language (which I was trying to remember), point out the ancient tiles along the footpath, order a diabolical ‘cafe metreo’, find the best baklava in town and generally want her to fall as much in love with the capital city as I was.

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This cat on the island of Hydra is not edible.

I had lived in Greece many years ago. I came here for three months and ended up staying intermittently over a period of three years. It was love at first step off the plane. I embraced the lifestyle and took to the afternoon siesta like a sloth in syrup.

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There are many nuts in Greece!

I worked at anything (almost) to keep me here and found a perverse joy in lugging watermelons, picking oranges, cooking in restaurants (yep, don’t know how that happened), cleaning houses, running holiday villas for English tourists and hosting (with a couple of other Aussie mates), barbecues on remote beaches to make money. It was the time of my life and there are so many stories to still tell.

I love the food, and as an-on-the-cheap traveller, a fresh salad, a pot of divine yoghurt, honey, bread straight from the bakery and a coffee was always affordable.

I wanted to revisit the food and markets – and my mate Jane Hodges took these images as mine have gone the way of an unnatural cyber disaster. The markets in Athens are a marvellous introduction to the variety of fresh produce to be had here. The fish selection is splendid, the cheeses astounding and the fruit and veg crying out to be cooked! And the sweets. The history of honey being used in sweets for thousands of years blows the mind. Some things never change

Thanks for the pics Jane and your company on the cruise and our visits to Athens, and the Greeks islands. Yassou filos mou!

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TIPS: Eat everything.

Food generally in villages is served warm not hot, and it’s quite OK to ask to see what’s cooking in the kitchen. Beware of Ouzo – you’ll think it’s your fiend, but trust me, it’s not.

When in Athens, check out all the museums but get to the new Acropolis Museum as it is beautiful and as the name explains, the artefacts and pieces in the museum have all been found in and around the acropolis. Acropolis means a rocky mound or hill constructed in many Greek cities where their temples were to be built (e.g.the Parthenon) and it was a place for the people to retreat to if they were under attack.

The writer, Bev Malzard loves Greece and intends to head back there again in 2018. In the meantime, she’ll drag out some of the old Greek-days stories for this blog until her readers protest and say: “No more”.

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