Dubai, city of the future

Keen-eyed regular readers of Green Path may have noticed that my recent posts about my European holiday were time-reversed as compared to the holiday itself. This post completes the sequence in that it begins in Dubai, the first stopover on the trip. However, it isn’t really about Dubai but about climate change and what it may mean to us in daily life. The connection is personal but direct.  Continue reading “Dubai, city of the future”

Athens

dry hills
The view from Athens airport

Flying into Athens for the first time felt a bit weird because the landscape was so much like that of Townsville: the bright sky, the nearly-bare hills and the parched vegetation we could see from the plane created a near-deja-vu experience: “We flew all this way and nothing has changed?” (The airport itself didn’t do much to alleviate that, either, since it was much more like ours than Dubai’s or Singapore’s.)

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Greece: Lefkada

village
The village of Karya, nestled in the hills of Lefkada

Lefkada is a large island just off the west coast of Greece. I hadn’t heard of it until friends moved there a couple of years ago, although I had known and loved its nearest neighbour, Corfu, ever since I read Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals as a child. Our friends settled in Karya, a village in the mountains above the island’s main town and we visited them there in late June before going on to Italy (previous posts).

The weather was gorgeous and we enjoyed a couple of long walks, one down the hill to visit their donkey and the other up the hill just because it was a nice thing to do. There were some spectacular views:

Meganisi
Looking south-east over the coastal village of Nydri to Meganisi and the mainland.
olive trees
Olives on the terraced hillside above Karya

Our host pointed out that what we were seeing was essentially a ‘man-made landscape’ after so long a period of human occupation. Olive trees dominate the vegetation, a pine forest on the mountain side was planted within living memory, watercourses have been channelled and diverted over the whole history of habitation, and every cultivated plant which the climate suits has gradually spread over the whole island while every useful or decorative local plant has been cultivated and bred for its fruit or flowers. The distinctions between ‘native’ and ‘exotic’, and between ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’, which are so clear in Australian landscapes, are almost invisible in Lefkada.

That’s largely true in the rest of Europe and large parts of Asia, too, of course, but particularly true in the eastern Mediterranean because of its very long period of continuous occupation – the archaeological museum in Lefkada, for instance, displays local finds which date back to the Paleolithic period.

The lovely early summer weather meant that I came back from our walks with a good collection of insect photos, some of which are now in an album on Flickr; clicking on the sample below will take you straight to it.

insect
A colourful katydid on Lefkada

Italy: Venice

Venice, with the bell tower, Piazza san Marco and the Doges' Palace in the foregound
Venice, with the bell tower, Piazza san Marco and the Doges’ Palace in the foregound

Venice was the first stop on our ten days in Italy, and one of the most remarkable. Everyone knows, of course, that ‘Venice is built on an island in a lagoon’ (or words to that effect) but in my mind, at least, the lagoon was relatively small and the island had some open spaces, perhaps even some high ground. I was wrong on all counts. Venice proper is a smallish, very low, island jam-packed with buildings and riddled with alleys (no real streets) and canals wide and narrow.

The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal

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Liguria: pesto

kitchen
Pesto class in Levanto

The day before we toured the Cinque Terre (previous post), we were treated to a brief foodie excursion: a talk about pesto and the chance to try making it. The venue was the back room of a classy, if touristy, fine-local-foods shop in Levanto and our teacher was its owner. We also sampled the local white wine, a variety which never makes it out of the region because the production is so small and the demand so high, and limoncello, a liqueur new to me but (apparently) not to the rest of the world.

Back to the pesto. Our teacher called it a regional classic and Claudia Roden (see Italian Delights) calls it “the prince of Ligurian dishes” so we were obviously in the right place. The recipe is quite simple: crush and mix pine nuts, salt, parmesan or pecorino, and basil; add olive oil and you’re done. Some versions, including Roden’s, add garlic as well but it is not traditional in all parts of Italy. (In fact, we discovered that garlic was not as prevalent in Italian food as we had expected from our Australian experiences. Then again, we were always in the North and perhaps it is used more commonly in the South.)

Recipes vary; of several I checked on the web, the closest to what we were taught is Jamie Oliver’s, here. His call for ‘handfuls’ of ingredients matches her style, too.

Traditional variations

  • Garlic: none, up to 3 or 4 cloves
  • Black pepper: not usually used
  • Cheese: parmesan, pecorino sardo or (for a stronger flavour) romano
  • Pine nuts: usually very lightly toasted, not browned; sometimes not toasted at all
  • Walnut or almond oil instead of olive oil

Varying the basil, cheese or oil doesn’t seem to make much difference to the end result as this (somewhat too exhaustive) blog post concludes. On the other hand, it did find a noticeable difference between the traditional mortar-and-pestle technique and the quick-and-easy blender method.

Non-traditional variations

  • Replace half of the basil with baby spinach to make a less full-flavoured pesto, or replace all of it with rocket, purple (Thai) basil, tomato or spinach; your favourite search engine will find lots of recipes.
  • Walnuts or cashews instead of pine nuts

One more thought, for the experimentalists in my audience: the basic pesto method is so adaptable that the list of pesto-like brews is potentially inexhaustible. Parsley and chickpeas? Coriander, Thai basil and cashew? Why not throw in a chilli or two while you’re at it? Serve it over rice or as side dish with curry? Have fun, but calling the result ‘pesto’ in front of a Ligurian chef may be dangerous to her/his health, or yours.