Around six weeks ago my dad Takis and his wife Julia left Melbourne for another 9-month stint in Limnos, Greece. For the last ten years they have been making this annual pilgrimage to spend their retirement years slowly restoring our old family house and generally enjoying the relaxed Limnian lifestyle.
I've previously written a little bit about the Limnos family house here on the blog and thought I would talk some more about this very special place, especially given that Tony and I will soon be back in Limnos ourselves.
I was a young teenager the first time I visited Limnos, way back in 1983. The house was then used as a holiday house during the summer months by my dad's sister Efterpi and her husband Andreas. For the rest of the year the house was occupied by families of mice and cats, and in winter was subjected to the many damages that ice and snow can bring to an old uninhabited house (yes, it actually snows in Limnos!).
For many decades, the 150-year-old house had survived earthquakes, inclement weather, bad renovations and neglect, but ten years ago my dad and Julia started the process of bringing the house back to its former glory.
Unforgiving winters still present problems for the old house during the months that dad and Julia aren't there. The mice and cats still take residence during that time and things deteriorate rapidly. So when dad and Julia come back to Limnos each year in early Spring, the first jobs usually involve repairing cracked pipes, drying out damp rooms, sweeping up mouse poo and rejuvenating garden beds.
This year's Limnian winter was not so harsh, and tasks around the house and garden were kept to a minimum. This allowed my dad to focus on the things he really loves – tinkering around in his workshop, mastering the art of cappuccino-making, or cooking up a storm in the kitchen. With the help of his trusty little helper, Anesti, he also loves to get involved in larger projects around the house like bathroom renovations and out-house constructions. My dad turns 81 this year and yes, he still renovates bathrooms.
Below: The site of dad's workshop, before reconstruction. September 2004.
The new workshop, reconstructed entirely from stone found on the property.
My dad in his element, woodworking in his workshop.
Bathroom renovations underway.
Reconstructing the laundry house with Tony (centre) and Anesti (right). August 2009.
The finished laundry house (and my proud dad!)
Julia is dedicated to maintaining and constantly improving the garden of the property. Ten years ago she transformed the plot of weeds and rubbish into a flourishing quarter acre of beautiful landscaped gardens and vegetable beds. There are some original 100-year-old olive, fig and almond trees that still bear fruit and nuts, and recently planted pear, peach and apple trees provide an abundance of fruit each year.
Every meal that is cooked in the house sources a bunch of ingredients from the garden, from garlic, onions, herbs and salad leaves, to peppers, tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant. There's an old well in the middle of the garden that supplies plentiful water for the garden, and an outside wood oven called a "furno" that has been restored from a pile of rubble.
Below: Julia enjoying her daily garden potterings. That's a genuine Hills Hoist washing line in the background, brought over to Greece from Australia – Julia couldn't live without one!
The house and garden, before any renovations or landscaping. September 2004.
House and garden today.
The outdoor furno (wood-fired oven) before reconstruction. September 2004.
Restored furno, ready for wood-fired pizza!
Tony and I have been visiting Limnos together every year for the last four years. Airfares from Australia to Europe are not cheap but this annual holiday is the one thing that I would gladly spend my last pennies on to ensure that we make it to Limnos each year.
Dad and Julia have put so much work and money into making this house the beautiful structure it is today. Sadly though, this is a large, high-maintenance house that they can't look after for ever. One day the responsibility of maintaining the house will be left in the hands of the willing and able. Tony and I are more than willing, but at this stage, not able. We both have work commitments here in Australia, and the expenses involved with keeping a house of this size are substantial. Unfortunately, there are no other family members interested enough to take on the financial and physical responsibilities of the house so my dad is now considering options to rent it out in the future, find someone who might want to turn it into a bed and breakfast, or, as a last resort, he might have to sell it.
But my dad isn't doing anything yet. His connection with the island and his country is stronger now than it ever has been and he will move mountains to make sure the house stays a part of the family for as long as possible. At the same time, Tony and I make the most of every one of our visits to Limnos.
We keep hoping for a miracle that one day we might be able to take over the responsibilities of the house, but for now we are looking forward to going back to the island next month – to spend time with family, cook in the Limnos kitchen, eat at the sea-side tavernas, swim in warm shallow waters, pat some cats, feed the stray dogs and of course take millions of photos.
Below: Riha Nera beach, walking distance from the house. Riha Nera is Greek for "shallow waters".
Gorgeous Greek kitten at a taverna.
Wind-surfing at Riha Nera beach.
My recipe for today is a simple Kalamata Olive and Walnut dip. It can be made up in a few minutes and is the perfect appetiser to enjoy with crusty bread, crackers, or celery and carrot sticks.
Kalamata Olive and Walnut Dip
Makes about 1 cup
- 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata* olives
- 1/2 cup shelled walnuts
- 1 tablespoon good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 3–4 teaspoons plain Greek yoghurt**
* Kalamata olives are grown in the city of the same name in Southern Greece. They have Protected Designation of Origin status in the EU and are available at good delicatessens world wide.
** To veganise, soy yoghurt can be used. The role of the yoghurt is to smooth down the consistency of the dip so you could also use a liquid such as soy milk, almond milk, olive oil, or even water to replace the yoghurt.
- Pulse the olives, nuts and olive oil in a food processor until a paste is formed. This can be used as is, similar to how you would use pesto.
- To turn the paste into a dip, add 3 to 4 teaspoons of yoghurt and continue to pulse until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Told you it was easy!