The Fearless Kalymnos Sponge Divers

The Life of the Fearless Kalymnos Sponge Divers

The small fishing boat carries the three men out to sea. There is a captain, a crew member, and a third passengerthe naked man preparing for his journey. The tanned leathery skin of the “chosen one” attaches the 15 kilogram skandalopetra (flat stone) to himself. A crew member clenches the harpoon and prods the ocean floor for treasures. Bingo. It looks like a good catch. There’s a motion with a finger signaling it’s time for the nude man to go under.

The waters around Kalymnos are warm, very warm and pleasing as the defenseless man is propelled overboard. The weight bound to the bare-skinned gentleman plummets him quickly to the bottom of the sea. He’s done this before but knows that his lung capacity 30 meters below the sea can only withstand the physical threat three to five minutes maximum.

Sponge from Kalymnos, Greece
Sponge from Kalymnos, Greece

The Risks of Sponge Diving

In the short time the excellent swimmer is underwater; he quickly cuts as many sponges as possible from the ocean bottom and then places a net around them. The diver often pushes himself, staying under as long as possible because this is the only way to make a living. Classroom diving training lessons wards against pushing the limits, though many divers did not heed the warnings.

During the early years, the male Kalymnos sponge divers did so without equipment, called “free diving” holding their breathe underwater as long as possible. Often the divers came up too fast from the deep waters causing decompression sickness (DCS) commonly called “the bends death”. The divers that survived often came to shore with severe foot injuries as their feet became tangled around the boat since they needed to ascend quickly. Despite the risks, the fearless sponge divers of Kalymnos continued their occupation.

Kalymnos, the Sponge Diving Capital

The mention of sponges for bathing dates as long ago as ancient writings of Plato and Homerus. Centuries later through trading, Europeans desire for sponge use increased. Natural sponges have been used for padding for helmets, cleaning, and even contraceptive use.

Aside from citrus fruits, the land on Kalymnos is rather barren so sponge diving was an obvious career choice which brought wealth and social-economic power to the island. Kalymnos was the center of the Greek sponge diving industry until the late 80s. In later years of the Kalymnos sponge diving heyday, proper equipment was used, but over-fishing and disease brought both the sponges and the industry close to extinction.

Journey from Greece to Florida

Today, there are a handful of Kalymnos divers and their families keeping the art of sponge diving and sponge processing alive mainly entertaining and informing Greek tourists.

Due to the decline of the sponge industry in Greece, in 1905 around 500 divers migrated to Tarpon Springs, Florida. Many of those who settled in the town south of St. Petersburg, Florida continued their trade of making diving helmets. Today, Tarpon Springs is the “sponge capital of the world,” alluring visitors to the largest community of Greek Americans in the United States.

The Kalymnians remember the essence of their past in the somber Greek sponge divers dance which is still performed today. Like the sponge, the dancers move slowly yet methodically dancing around the single Kalymnos sponge divers who represents those physical scarred by their fearlessness.

 




Experience an Indonesian Rijsttafel

Experience an Indonesian Rijsttafel, a Culinary Treat for the Senses

Love Dutch food? You know, pancakes, pea soup, pancakes, raw herring with onions, and more pancakes. If so, great! If not, think again because there’s more to Dutch food than you know and when you experience an Indonesian Rijsttafel, your senses will be open to a tongue tantalizing wow.

Indonesian Rijsttafel
Indonesian Rijsttafel. Wiki photo by Takeaway.

The History of Indonesian Rijsttafel Food in Holland

During the 17th and 18th centuries, thanks in large to the Dutch East India Company, the lush abundant area in Maluki Islands, known as Spice Islands supplied the world’s demand for spices. The new, unheard of spices such as nutmeg, mace, clove and black pepper were in high demand especially among high-ranking Dutch workers in the sea and trade industry.

Dutch colonials became enamored with the Indonesian seasonings and cuisine which was colorful, vibrant, delicious and far from what they had eaten in Holland.  The Dutch colonists and the Indonesian that migrated to Holland introduced an array of luscious foods namely the Indonesian Rijsttafel (literally means “rice table”).

Indonesian Rijsttafel
Rijsttafel in Dutch family in Bandung (West Java) in 1936. Wiki photo by Japing.

With around 17,000 islands in Indonesia the cuisine and recipes vary. So when Dutch officials decided to feast, they did so by having their servants prepare mini portions of the country’s top culinary dishes to highlight the best of Indonesian cuisine for their dinner guests.

What to Expect at an Indonesian Rijsttafel Feast

So what can you expect from a Rijsttafel? Well, how about magic in a dish. Actually more than 18 dishes in my experience. Think chicken satay in peanut sauce, curried meats and vegetables, roasted coconut, sweet-sour cucumber—all served with rice.

This tantalizing combination of tastes and spices are hot, cold, sweet, salty, sour, and bitter—and eaten in an orchestrated manner. Your wait staff will use every centimeter of table space to line up the colorful dishes and guide you through the recommended eating order. Then get ready to enjoy the taste explosion.

I’ve ordered Rijsttafel at various Indonesian restaurants such as Blauw in Holland where I had a positive eating experience. Do check the internet and hopefully you’ll find authentic Indonesian restaurants serving Rijsttafel near you.

If you’ve burnt out on hearty Dutch classics, head to an Indonesian Rijsttafel restaurant or try making Indonesian dishes at home. Once you do, you’ll be clicking your clogs for more.




The Reality of Glamping at Feather Down Farms Holland

The Reality of Glamping at Feather Down Farms Holland

The first day was exciting but brought some challenges, mainly the weather. It was 6 degrees Celsius (30 Fahrenheit) in our tent. That’s the reality of glamping at Feather Down Farms Holland or anywhere else for that matter. It was so cold I could see my breath as I grabbed my flashlight to head to the Honesty Shop to grab the coffee and fresh milk I had ordered the day before.

Spacious tent interior. © Feather Down Farms
Spacious tent interior, © Feather Down Farms

Around 7:00 AM on the way to the shop, I checked the chicken larder for farm fresh eggs, but I was not alone. Aside from the guinea pigs and rabbits, the most beautiful Dutch children were anxiously anticipating the arrival of fresh eggs. The egg-laying hens teased us as they jumped onto the back of the wood step. They turned their backs giving us the illusion they would soon lay eggs, but didn’t.

Considering some hens lay three eggs every four days then repeat the cycle again, I grabbed half a dozen eggs from the Honest Shop and noted my purchase. The kids were still waited disappointingly as I ducked through the petting barn for cover from the hard rain and strong winds.

Fresh eggs, © Feather Down Farms
Fresh eggs, © Feather Down Farms

By the time I returned to the tent, my husband had started the fire and gladly welcomed the mug of coffee and fresh raisin rolls. The next challenge would be to make a real meal on the wood burning stove.

That morning’s menu included, scrambled eggs with red peppers, onions, and garlic topped on a slice of buttered whole wheat toast. Our first glamping breakfast turned out well. The only trick is to control the wood burner temperature, so prep everything first before you start cooking.

Glamping bed and breakfast cooked on a wood-burning stove at Feather Down Farms
Glamping bed and breakfast cooked on a wood-burning stove at Feather Down Farms

Shower and Shave

There is yet another barn, this one with hot water, where you can shower and shave. Some people took advantage of it and it appeared others just went for a true camping experience by bemoaning a shower at the campground glampground. You’ll need to haul your towels, flip-flops, and bath items to the shower barn, to get fresh, sparkly, and squeaky clean.

The one thing I can’t refrain from is to brush my teeth at least twice daily, so I brought my toothbrush. At least my pearly whites were clean and my breath didn’t frighten the farms animals away. Ok, ok, so I cheated and glamped a bit.

Insider Tip #3

Many of the Feather Down Farms Holland offer services such as ready-made fires to welcome you and even a set of bath towels; I’d recommend you purchase the services if you aren’t ready to leave the comforts of home quite yet.

What’s on the Agenda?

Depending on your preferences and the weather, you can discover the farm and farm living. Take a farm tour, hike or bike ride in the forest, play with the kids in the barn, or just hang around and relax.

Our Feather Down Farm was located near some quaint villages in Holland. That gave us the chance to discover the area and visit a local restaurant. A great excuse to heat up and charge the mobile phone. Too bad we forgot the charger.

Friendly bull from Feather Down Farms Holland
Friendly bull from Feather Down Farms Holland

The End of a Unique Experience

Once we got the hang of glamping, we thoroughly enjoyed the Feather Down Farm Holland vacation concept and the surroundings—you leave the city madness and are welcomed into simple country ‘green’ living.

We slept comfortably in our tent which was under a tree with an owl above that cooed us at night. We enjoyed the sunrise holding a cup of coffee watching the cows graze across the meadow, and relished the moments with our furry little vacation pet Hasi.

Making our own fire to heat the tent and cook our food was very empowering and after the first attempt were able to make some decent meals. By the end of the trip I was whistling my way through the woods with my cart to pick up dry wood and thinking about returning to one of the many Feather Down Farm locations around the world very soon, but most certainly when the weather is warm and toasty.




Let Them Eat Gateau au Chocolat

In an embarrassing moment of weakness, I pressed my nose against the display window in awe of the puffy, flaky, chocolaty, fruity-filled delights. Each individual petite grandiose calorie-laden perfection of sweet goodness had me awe-struck. The goods were delicately placed in a box and ribbon-wrapped awaiting to tantalize some lucky dinner guest. Suddenly I found myself saying “Qu’ils mangent de la Gâteau au Chocolat.”

Delightful French pastries
Delightful French pastries in Alsatian pâtisserie

Let them eat cake” is the traditional translation of the French phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche“, supposedly spoken by Marie Antoinette when she learned that the peasants had no bread. The history of cake dates back to ancient times and the first cakes were very different from today, they were more like bread or what we know today as Kugelhopf (a yeasty cake).

During those days, cake or Brioche as it was called, was sweetened with honey, nuts and dried fruits were often added. For those times those ingredients were scarce and very expensive which meant making brioche was even more out of the reach for peasants than bread. Thank goodness those days are gone and we can rejoice knowing that with a few simple ingredients, we can make Gateau au Chocolat.

Kugelhopf, a Raisin-filled yeast bread popular in the Alsace region of France.
Kugelhopf, a raisin-filled yeast bread popular in the Alsace region of France.

Ever since vacationing in and around the Alsace region of France, I have a new appreciation for the chocolaty gooey goodness. While walking around French towns and villages, one can’t help but gaze into the windows of a pâtisserie, confectioners or chocolatiers. The lovely little goodies are calling me in, so I hear the request and follow. Before you know it, I’m walking out of the shop with an array of hand-crafted drool-worthy French pastries. Lavish indeed, but so worth it.

I wonder how many years of intense training I’d need to partially master baking and decorating those sweet squares of perfection let alone a Gateau au Chocolat. Probably a lifetime, but au contraire (the opposite). There is something magical about what a little gourmet chocolate, French butter, and a few eggs can do.

I could attempt to make the treats myself, but then I’d have no reason to travel to Alsace. Therefore, I’ll let the experts carry on baking more ultimate French pastries.

French Gateau au Chocolat
French Gateau au Chocolat from Alsatian pâtisserie

A molten cake oozing with warm chocolate.  A rich Gateau au Chocolat that melts in your mouth. A chocolate layer cake smothered with icing. I have no shame. I’m going to spend the holidays baking, buying, and eating rich deserts.

I don’t feel guilty indulging in a slice or two of chocolate heaven, because, if chocolate comes from cocoa beans, and all beans are a vegetable, then eating Gateau au Chocolat is like eating a salad 🙂




Get to Know Springerle and Speculaas

The Dutch call them Speculaas. The French call them Spéculoos. The Germans call them Spekulatius. I call the spiced holiday cookies simply delicious.

No matter how you spell them or call them, you’ll find many families baking spiced biscuits near the Christmas season. In Holland on December 5th, just before the Saint Nicholas celebration, Dutch families are busy baking Speculaas. In parts of German-speaking Europe, the Alsace region of France, and parts of Switzerland, families are rolling out lots of Speculaas dough.

By Andreas Bauerle (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons
(c) Photo by Andreas Bauerle (Wikimedia Commons)
The main ingredients in Speculaas are the spices of winter–pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, and nutmeg and when baked infuse the home with a warming wintry fragrance. The cookies are easy to make and if you use a mold, the impression forms a delicate looking cookie perfect for gift giving or enjoying with a cup of tea.

Springerle and Speculaas

Don’t get your Springerle mixed up with your Speculaas.

  • Springerle and Speculaas and are both cookie dough types.
  • Speculaas dough contains warm spices.
  • Springerle dough contains anise and when baked they seem to “spring up”.
  • The Springerle is not only a cookie, but a mold you can use to emboss designs on Springerle or Speculaas.

Once your Speculaas dough has been prepared, you can use a Springerle mold (press or a rolling pin) to emboss a design of choice on your cookie before baking.

Springerle History

Traditionally, the first Springerle mold designs were of horses and their riders. Hence the name “little jumper” or “little knight”. Many ancient molds have survived and can be found in museums such as the Musée des arts et traditions populaires Musée du Springerle in Alsace. The quaint folk art museum is devoted to the history of wooden molds and Christmas Springerle cookies. Now that sounds delicious.

At German Christmas markets you’ll find all types of Springerle impressions for sale from simple to intricate. The molds make lovely Christmas gifts that are functional for baking or can be used decoratively in your home. Keep in mind the more intricate the mold, the trickier they are to work with (at first).

After a bit of practice, you’ll have spicy Speculaas springing up all over the kitchen.