Saturday 31 December 2016

New Years's bread


All our taxes have been paid for 2016.   Another year is almost gone and we survived and thrived.

The year is almost over 
 Time to make 
-Vasilopita. The cake or pie of St Basil (Vasili) whose fiesta is on the 1st of January.

 In our area this is a sweet cake  with a coin in it.  Elsewhere it maybe a meat pie or a loaf of sweet plaited bread.  The coin is pressed in after making the sign of the cross.  Of course the person who finds it in their slice is the lucky one for the New Year.  

The coin used to be put 'naked' into the loaf.  Nowadays it is 'sanitised' and wrapped in a piece of silver paper first. 

At midnight on New Years Eve the Patriarch (head of the family)  takes the knife, scores a cross into the cake and starts to cut.  The first slice in our house is cut for the Virgin Mary, then there is a slice for the house, the land, the animals and then on down from the oldest to the youngest.

- secondly we make another big loaf of bread to be cut at the meal on New Year's Day.  This time I'll make sure the dough is slightly less so it doesn't rise  up to the top of the oven.  This too has a coin hidden in it and the same ceremony takes place as with the Vasilopita.  Plenty of chances for everyone to find this year's coin.

Little hands poke hopeful fingers through their piece trying to find the lucky coin.  A clever patriarch will poke about too...before cutting the bread.   As he cuts the bread he is always on the lookout for a flash of silver (or bronze) and a very clever father with two children will cut the portions so the coin is in the middle of  his two little darlings' pieces....

and there will be no cries of 'but he got it LAST year, it's not fair'.

My mother-in-law would take the coin (whoever won it) and place it on the shelf under the icons on wall of her house.

Usually the coin will be just a 20c piece.  I may put a two euro coin in ours this year.  Then the receiver will be truly blessed.  2 euros is not to be sneezed at these days.

We had small children banging on our door once again early in the morning and singing us the New Year's carol.  

Festivities have started.

My best wishes for all of you.  May you enjoy good health throughout the coming year.  If you have good health then anything is possible.  A little bit of wealth always helps.  I wish you love and warmth and the company of those most precious to you.  Cheers.

Friday 30 December 2016

Snow on the Acropolis??

The temperature forecast for Athens is 4oC. Cold, freezing cold.  The last time we had temperatures like that in the capitol there was also a problem with air pollution.  Heating oil is becoming a luxury item.  More and more households have wood burning stoves.  Like us.  We had central heating put in but haven't used it for a few years and bought ourselves a wood burning stove which heats the house and cooks our food as well.
In Athens they were burning any wood they could find and the fumes from burning furniture and treated wood became very dangerous.

The last time we used the central heating must have been two years ago when we had visitors from downunder in January.  We put two hundred euros of heating oil in the tank and kept the house warm, especially the bedrooms, while they were here. 

We also had the wood stove then because I remember it smoking.  They must have gone home with a suitcase of smoky clothes.  Lucky it was summer downunder and excellent weather for laundry.

This year we didn't have a white xmas but we could have a white New Year.  On Poros we have gale force winds, no boats running, except a few brave water taxis across to the mainland and now and again the car ferry when there is a lull in the storm.  

There is a good covering of snow on the hills opposite.

In Athens this morning there was a smattering of snow covering the Acropolis.  

The Parthenon of Athens on top of the hill called the Acropolis no longer under the summer sun


Some of my grandchildren are in Athens at the moment enjoying the Christmas fetsivities.  Most enjoyment came from a trip out into the suburbs beneath the mountains of Ymittos.  The outing of course was to throw snowballs at each other and make a snowman.  Snow.  Wow

Heavy snow all over Greece. Roads closed, villages cut off. Greek  Facebook full of snow photos. 

I thought today, Friday, would be worse but the sun has appeared and snow is melting fast. Darn.

Thursday 29 December 2016

Cold Spiced Camel

Spicy beef pie - also called Pie from Kesaria (recipe brought by refugees from this area of Turkey)

The photo above is pastourmadopitta.  Ha, try and say that after a New Years drink....or even before!

Pastourma -  is highly spiced dried and salt cured beef cut into very thin slices.   Some of the spices are cumin, fenugreek, garlic, hot paprika.

 The meat used to be camel but I rather think it is always beef nowadays, at least in Greece.  Is an Anatolian speciality.  Anatolia meaning Turkey, but it is popular all over the middle east.  It has a very strong smell and your sweat will stink of it for days, just like garlic!
The flavour is obviously quite strong and takes a bit of getting used goats feet or garden snails.

Pastourma is very expensive, something bought only for festive days (just about every day in Greece).  A kilo will cost 23 euros and maybe much much more.  We buy 100 grams very thinly sliced.  Usually it will be eaten  as-is with bread and cheese and an ouzo.  One other way of eating it is to make it into a pitta (pie) with filo pastry.

Our traditional cook made one for xmas eve and he'll be making another for New Year's Eve.  It is very hard to find pastourma at other times of the year unless you have a friend who will bring the best from a specialty shop in Athens called Miran.  They sell the best pastourma from the Kirkini area of northern Greece and soujouk from Armenia.

The pitta is made with layers of filo pastry, each one oiled and placed in a baking dish.  Then there are layers of thinly sliced pastourma, slices of a mild cheese and topped with slices of tomato.  More filo pastry and into the oven.

This is one of our family traditions.

Sunday 25 December 2016

Xmas Day in photos

Xmas day in a Greek home.  A sunny warm day.  The children roared around the neighbourhood burning off the extra sugar. Highlight of the day for them, a tortoise shell (sounds better than dead tortoise) which is now hanging in a tree to dry out.  Photo of that tomorrow.

11am a plate of tripe soup and a few glasses of wine.  The soup is the broth from a boiled goat's foot and stomach.  Just the thing to settle the stomach and prepare it for the feast to come

Chief cook and bottle washer.  We have a dish washer but Elli washed at least three loads by hand even before the battle began.  She's done her dish washing duty for 2016, '17 and '18........she says

The famous Christmas loaf just before it was 'broken'.  It rose and rose up in the pan but fortunately didn't fall over the sides and was perfectly baked.

Traditional Xmas fare .  Pork and celery with an egg and lemon sauce

Another popular greek winter festive dish.  Pieces of lamb, pork and chicken cooked in their own juices in a sealed clay pot. 

There were cabbage and lettuce salads, crispy potatoes, roast pumpkin, a stuffed chicken ( my prefered tradition) sprouts and loads of gravy with  a flavour boost from some English Bisto and Greek wine

Kronia polla, kali orexi and kala christoyenna

Santa arrives ringing his bell to share out the presents under the tree

Playing with our presents.  A selfie stick

A greek spelling game.  I discovered my greek wasn't quite as good as I thought it was and handed my turn over to my grandson and his sister

One of the desserts.  Ekmek.  Shredded pastry base with a nutty creamy topping.

We also had some individual chocolate souffles (from a packet, so much easier), a xmas log which teenage grandson ate all by himself.  All the food goes to his huge feet and he just grows taller.  The log was a dismal failure but even though the chocolate base was tough it was full of sweet strawberry jam and cream which he ate with gusto.

Happy name day to  Christos and Christina

Best wishes to all of you.

Kronia Polla kai kala Christoyenna

Saturday 24 December 2016

Christmas carolers

On the morning of Xmas Eve in Greece young children banging away at 'musical' triangles come knocking on your door with cries of

Na ta Poume  ............   Can we tell you?

The answer is (nearly ) always, 'come in,  come in and tell us'

They will trill away accompanied by their ringing triangles, little ones joining in when they know the words, the older children  often singing so fast you can hardly understand the words but every householder knows them off by heart anyway.

You must then give them a small amount of money and say Kronia Polla, Many Happy Returns.  It doesn't have to be a huge amount of money, 50 cents will do.  But, if they are children of  relatives, neighbours or  close friends then a little more is expected to be handed over.  Clever children will make sure they go first to the houses of their grandparents, godparents, aunts and next door neighbours.  A house visited by these young singers is a blessed house and most people are happy to have cute kids making early morning noises in their doorways and will hand over the reward with maybe a chocolate or small xmas biscuit.

This is an age old tradition, small children singing the 'kalanda' on Christmas Eve, New Years Eve and on the eve of the 6th January when the blessing of the waters takes place.

Our kalanda singers and a loose translation

Good evening, noble men
If this is what you wish
The Holy birth of Christ
I will tell you in your honourable house
Christ is born today
In Bethleham
Heavens rejoice
And all Nature celebrates

The xmas loaf ready to go in the oven. 

 Bread making has been going on all day.  I started reviving the sourdough sponge last night and at midday began adding the flour and kneading the dough.  It will go in the oven around 8 tonight and be eaten with our midday meal on Christmas day, sliced by the eldest male in the family.

Thursday 22 December 2016

psarosoupa - fish soup a la grece

Fish soup - greek style

A simple soup with all the flavour of the fish, enhanced only with carrot, celery and a little lemon juice.

Take a variety of fresh fish.    Any nice fleshy fish with no bones is my favourite. Today we have 2 fish called 'pontikia'. 

Scale the fish, take out the guts.  Sprinkle the clean fish with salt and lemon juice.  Leave the head, don't de-bone.  The whole fish is tastier than the fillet.

Peel and cut into large chunks a few potatoes and a carrot or two.  Chop some celery and an onion.  I also used a leek in this soup. 

Boil a pot of water and add the vegetables.  Cook till soft, around half and hour.  Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and keep them warm in the oven.

Bring the water back to the boil and now add the fish.  If they don't fit into the pot whole then cut into 2 or three big pieces.
Add salt and some olive oil, about a small wine glass.

The fish need to cook for 10 to 15 minutes.  Lift them very carefully without the fish breaking up and add them to the dish of vegetables.  Pour over both a little fresh olive oil and lemon juice.

To the remaining soup add half a small wine glass of rice and more water if it has reduced too much.   Boil slowly for 20 minutes till the rice is soft.  Add the juice of one lemon.

And it is ready to eat.

Ladle the soup into a plate and put in a piece or two of carrot and potato.  Now take the head and the backbone off the fish and serve chunks either in the soup or on a separate plate.  Watch out for bones.

We usually eat the soup with a little fish, potato and carrot.  Then we finish off with more potato and fish with a little mayonnaise.

Kali Orexi

Wednesday 21 December 2016

a la Grece

When preparing to post a recipe 'a la Grec' I googled to check on the spelling.  And another post was born.

  Every country has a name, a name which they call themselves in their own language and often another name which everyone else uses. The list for Greece was quite interesting.

I had thought the title of my recipe would be
a la Grec   or even   a la Greque
but in French 'Greece' is written Grece with an accent of some sort on the first 'e'.


 Maori   -  Kirihi
Irish      -  An Ghreig
German -  Greichenland
Cornish  -  Pow Grek

The Greeks on the other hand call their country 'Ellada' or 'Hellas'.  Its official name is the Hellenic Republic.

'Greece' came from the latin 'Graecia' and means 'the land of the Greeks.

The recipe is coming tomorrow.

Kali nichta from Ellada

Monday 19 December 2016

melomakarouna and kourabiethes - Xmas treats

Greek Christmas sweet making

The two 'cookies' that you will find in every greek house at Christmas are melomakarouna (honey biscuits) and kourabiethes (almond biscuits)

We make mounds of them before Christmas and give them away to friends, neighbours and visitors.  Neighbours and friends do the same so we end up with a selection of  sweets baked by local housewives.  I prefer our neighbour Fani's biscuits.  She uses only the best local honey and her almond biscuits are so sweet and delicate they almost fall apart before you get them into your mouth.

The almond biscuits are full of butter.  Sheep's butter.  Sometimes a little too 'sheepy'.  The best butter comes from Kerkyra (Corfu) .  It is a very pale yellow with a grainy texture and is very obviously straight from the stable.  

I prefer Lurpak.  Traditional people however buy their butter by the kilo from the grocer, great spoonfuls squashed into a plastic container.  It must be used as soon as possible before it goes off.

The almonds must be local, even better if they are still in their shells and have to be smashed open.  Only then are you sure they are fresh.  Same with walnuts.   Local runny dark brown honey is used in the syrup of the honey biscuits.  These should be made using only fresh local oil and can be eaten during the Fast.

If you had a death in the family in the last year you should not be doing any baking or fancy cooking.   Friends and family make extra and give them to those in mourning to 'sweeten' the sorrowful house.

Our grandchildren made the sweets this year.  It was all hands in.  The eggs and sugar are beaten with an electric mixer but when the flour is added the volume is too much for  the mixer and it all gets tipped into a big bowl to get worked by hand

These are the honey biscuits.  They are really quite plain when first baked

Then they are dipped into a big pot of honey syrup and come out sweet and syrupy,  to be topped by a mix of nuts and cinnamon.

                           Now they are irresistible  

After four big trays of honey biscuits, melomakarouna, it is time for the almond ones, kourabiethes.

Greek vanilla.  The vanilla is a powder which always comes in these white plastic containers with the red lid which will never come off and has to be pulled off with your teeth

Almond biscuits just out of the oven.  Next they are sprinkled with rose water.  Rose water has the most delcious fragrance which wafts around the house and perfumes every corner.  The almond biscuits are then drenched in icing sugar and then it is eating time!  These are my favourite, full of butter, sugar and that seductive rose water scent

This is about half of what we actually made.  Each family took home a mound.  We gave a big plateful to Vaso this morning in return for a bag of big lemons, mandarines and lotus fruit. K has already taken another container full to his widowed friend and another will go tonight to a family down the road.  More will disappear  as I give a few to our english friends and also to the 'carol' singers on Christams Eve.

Saturday 17 December 2016

a little bit xmas

Putting up the Christmas star.  No decorations in our neighbourhood at all so far this year.  From tonight our house will have a star flashing red and green on the roof and some lights along the fence.   This yuletide sight will be for us and the goats and Vaso if she pokes her head out of the gate on these freezing winter nights.

Not a great photo.  Too much going on up there.  Looks impressive in the dark of the night

One of the family houses down on Poros.  A typical island house I would say.  Not much room so the tree is stuck into a small alcove.  The wiring is typical as well.  Wires for the TV, lights, computer, telephone all coming out of the same socket.

Our own tree. Pity it doesn't show all the small hanging bits and pieces. Looks better at night with the glow of flashing multi-coloured lights

Xmas cards from New Zealand. Surfin Santa and pukekos, cards saved over the years

Merry Christmas in Maori. 

Thanks Tony and Susi for these glimpses of Xmas in another world

Homemade decorations.  A painted tile and stone.

Thanks Jan

Grandchildren's contributions, from years gone by.

I knitted 60 of these xmas stockings one year.  These are the first experimental ones that didn't turn out quite so well, the ones I got to keep

A friend of ours had this fantastic idea to use these as knife and fork holders and each person got to take theirs home.  She wanted 40 of them. 

The grandchildren's Christmas stockings.  The ones they hang up at our house.  The two boys have enormous stockings, the girls slightly daintier. My very rustic home knitting. The kids love and recognise them as their own. That's all that matters.

Kalo christoyenna

Friday 16 December 2016

athens central

Our trip to the Christmas bazaar meant a short walk through the central Athens Syntagma Square and on up through the National Gardens.

Syntagma (Constitution) Square on one side of the road.  Now in peaceful Sunday outing-with-the-family mode.  This is often the scene of fierce fighting, stone throwing and skirmishes between police swat teams and local hooligans (koukoulofori - hoodie-wearers)

On the other side of the road Parliament buildings and the Evzone guards who stand at attention next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Evzone Guard in front of the memorial to the Unknown Soldier.

This is one of the soldiers of the elite Presidential Guard.  On Sunday at 11am they hold a ceremonial changing of the guard and the Evzones (guards) wear traditional dress, the skirt of  400 pleats (some say, to represent the 400 years of slavery under the Ottoman Turks) and the red clogs with black pompoms.

We walk on through the koulouri sellers (sesame roll)

The sesame roll so loved by greeks for a snack usually in the morning but at any time for a cheap tasty take away

And the sellers of hot baked chestnuts.  A few chestnuts are plopped into the cone of paper and you walk away with  hot chestnuts to peel and chew.  In the summer time they will be selling grilled cobs of corn.

A few metres along we can turn into the tranquility and beauty of the National gardens, down this aisle and through the row of beautiful palm trees below

Ending up outside the Zappeion where the Prime Minister meets his foreign visitors and gives press conferences.  We went in to use the toilets.  

On our way home we go back to Piraeus by metro.  When the Athens metro was being dug archeologists worked along side the engineers.  They dug up thousands of ancient artifacts and many of them are displayed behind glass at the Syntagma Square Station.

We've been into the big city twice in one week.  I got my big-smoke dose for 2016.