Longing for a Mediterranean Summer Escape

It’s hard not to get a little nostalgic at this time of the year – it’s cold and wet here in the eastern side of Australia and when photos of my beloved friends and relatives living it up in warmth in the Northern Hemisphere, in particular when Greece and Italy pop up, I can’t help but want to jump on a plane and join them.

I was born in Australia, raised in Australia but I can never appreciate our colder months – which logically when I think of my friends in Kamloops, Canada and how cold their winter months get, I've nothing to complain about!

But as each winter sets in, I'm dreaming of a holiday by the Mediterranean Sea, soaking in the sun and enjoying the Greek melodies in the background.

So after much imagining my dream is about to come true and I am off to the land of my ancestors for a four-week holiday soon! 

It’s more than 12 years since we last visited and the first time we will be going without our girls. It will be a little weird going and visiting my relatives without our daughters accompanying us – they were always the drawcard of course – just like my granddaughter is today.

When we first travelled in 2000, we'd set out for a three-month European holiday starting in Greece. The plan was to stay there for a week or two then start trekking across to Italy by ferry, hop on a train in Bari and just ‘wing it’ from country to country. Except for our hiccup - the “my wallet is gone” hiccup.

Let me start from the beginning. We had been saving for years – that’s what you do when you only have one wage earner in the family. Week after week, I would deposit a little here and a little there. My husband had said to me a few months earlier, “we could never save for a European holiday on one wage.” Poor guy still hadn’t learnt not to set a challenge before me!

Months later, he says to me, “see I told you we’d never save on one wage.” So he thought!! Oh don’t you love these moments ladies!! I sat him down and showed him the account I’d opened up in my name and had been slipping in various amounts of money week after week. Put it this way, I'd put away a lot of money. The man was speechless! Ah! Where there’s a will, there’s always a way!

So we head on over to Athens, Greece, venture out on our own (without our street-wise relatives) and by the end of the day, we were heartbroken! Greg had mistakenly put his wallet in his back pocket and the rest is history. By the time we reached my cousin’s apartment, the ratbags had helped themselves to $6,500AUD!!

Anyway, this set us up for some unfortunate awkward moments as we travelled around Europe with our credit card but we managed to overcome and by the time we returned back to Australia and being cautious not to overspend as we may have to pay the stolen money back to the bank, we ended up with enough leftover cash to book another trip a couple of years later. There is always a silver-lining somewhere, don’t you think? By the way, the bank realised it was theft so we didn't have to pay back anything...yay!

What I am looking forward to is the food! Really, it’s another dimension of flavoursome goodness in that part of the world. The cucumbers and tomatoes are mind-blowing, rich with taste and paired with olives and feta you have one fabulous salad!

Half of our time will be spent on the island of Crete, the largest island in Greece and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. This island has rugged mountains and endless beaches and the fresh produce… well let’s just say I am frothing already!

My plan is to swim everyday, eat something new everyday and search out recipes that are long forgotten. The Cretan diet is based mainly on eating vegetables and olive oil and shared with family and friends.

I really appreciate that part of my culture – sharing of food. I find it weird when people are gathered with others but don’t share what they have. I have never been comfortable with taking my own drinks or meat to a gathering and just keeping it all for myself! No, I am a sharer and always will be!

So in that spirit, I want to share a recipe with you, so you can then share with your family and friends.

Baklava Cheese Cake

Serves 12

Ingredients for the Crust

½ cup walnuts, roughly chopped

½ cup caster sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

8 sheets filo pastry

½ cup butter, melted

Ingredients for the Cheesecake

500g cream cheese, room temperature

½ cup sugar

¼ cup honey

1 tablespoon cornflour

pinch of salt

zest of 1 orange

juice of ½ orange

2 eggs

1 egg yolk

¼ cup thickened cream

¼ cup walnuts, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons caster sugar

 

6 sheets of filo pastry, individually buttered and ready to go on top

¼ cup syrup

¼ cup pistachios, roughly chopped

Method

1. Mix together walnuts, sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

2. Brush one sheet of pastry with butter and place inside of a 20cm spring form cake tin. Take it up the sides and over the edges. Sprinkle with some of the nut mixture. Repeat.

3. Preheat oven to 180*C.

4. In a large bowl, beat cheese, sugar, honey, cornflour, salt, zest, juice and whole eggs. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating in cream on low speed.

5. Pour half of the mixture in, sprinkle with nut mixture and pour remaining on top. Fold in filo overhanging tin and place remaining filo crumbled and placed on top around the edge.

6. Place cake on a pizza tray in oven. Bake for 20 minutes before lowering oven temperature to 170*C. Bake for another hour or until set turning oven off and leave in oven to cool slowly. Remove from oven and set aside for 2 hours before serving.

7. Unclip tin, place cheesecake on platter and drizzle with syrup and pistachios.

SYRUP: Place 1 cup sugar and ½ cup of water in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon rosewater and boil for 5 minutes. Lower heat and simmer for another few minutes. Turn heat off and allow to cool.