AFTER THREE MONTHS….

Four weeks ago, we arrived back in Athens, after being gone for 3 months. This time I’ve brought  several tons of olives and cheeses, herbs, books and I managed to forget half my clothes.
What I miss while here:
The view from my sister’s kitchen window

 

view-from-the-kitchen-window

 

And the view from my balcony

view-from-balcony

 

Writing under the olive tree very early in the morning

under-the-tree

Weekends in Karranou

Wandering around Chania’s old town

chania1

 

 and harbour

old-harbour

 

I miss the sea….

sea

… always the sea.

And I miss the lazy summer noons

The first autumn rain

The smell of the herbs

My mother and my sister

Sunday morning chat over a cup of coffee

 The old women, who brought me food gifts saying: eat, in order to remember Chania.

Knowing that my friends are either a short drive or a phone call away…
…. always my friends.
Yes I miss my summer home.
However, I am back…
I am back in the swing.
But eating with friends lift my spirits. Oh yes, my Athenian friends….

dinner

Apaki is smoked pork meat. Zelokoumpe or zylokoumpi is a goat or sheep cheese.

Vinegar or lemon juice or fig juice is used instead of rennet

Lentils (fakes)

3 cups lentils

6 cups water

½ cup olive oil + 1tbs

1 medium onion chopped

15 baby onions

4 garlic teeth chopped

3 medium green bell peppers cut into pieces

2 tbs tomato paste

2 bay leaves

1/2 tsp grated orange peel

salt and pepper

3 tbs red wine

Rinse the lentils under running water and set aside to drain. Place the peppers and the baby onions in an olive oiled pan and roast them. Place the lentils in a casserole, add the chopped onion, cover with water and cook for 15 minutes. Add peppers and onions into the lentils, stir in the garlic and olive oil, season with salt. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and add the tomato paste, the bay leaves and the orange peel. Cook until thick (adding some water if necessary). Stir in the wine, remove the bay leaves, season with pepper. Serve hot or cold.

Trahanas

This pasta is one of the many recipes for thrahana that are found in Greece. It is made with flour, leaves of white beat, onion, garlic, leek and white fennel and comes from Chios island.

Stir in 2 cups trahana in 4 cups boiling water, add 2 tbs olive oil and cook about 10 minutes (add more water if necessary, to make a thick soup). Then add ½ cup strained yoghurt, ½ cup crumbled feta cheese and stir. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and serve.

 

 

 

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KARANOU…

 This place has stolen my heart.

1karano2

Karanou is the village where my father was born and lived until his twelfth birthday, and where my sister and I spent a part of our childhood’s and teenagehood’s summers….

When we were free spirits playing in the olive groves…..

 finding paths in the oak forest and sharing secrets with our friends.

3forest

In this land nature amalgamates with the dream and memories and makes the village the sort of place that a child remembers for the rest of its life.

4chestanut-tree

Moreover this magic land is highly fertile: olive groves, chestnut trees, fruit trees, grapevines, wild herbs, wild greens, vegetables, legumes grow in great abundance. In past wheat and barley were cultivated as well. Thus wild green, vegetables, legumes, cereals, olive oil, snails, black and semi- black bread, rusks, goat milk and goat cheese and lots of fruits had been the central part of the daily diet of the inhabitants until the early 1990s. A little fish (often dried), meat on days of religious celebration, weddings and baptisms as well as on every Sunday, one or two glasses of wine with the food, were also included.

Unfortunately, this diet has been changed in the two last decades. Younger people eat frequently and in large amounts animal base products, they seem to have replace the moderate use of wine with lots of tsikoudia and beer and they get less and less exercice. The change has already affected their general state of health. Overweight, heart attacks, cancers are not uncommon among them, while the older people live up 100 years.

The photo here is of my grandparents’s house.

5house

Four are the characteristics of it: its age (it was built in 1876), its position (it sits on the top of a rocky hill and yes, the view is amazing), its ovens and the wine cellar.
Wine production for home consumption is a traditional activity in this area. This is the reason why wine cellars are a must-have for the houses. The wine is stored and aged in wooden barrels.

6cellar

Directly fired wood –ovens (made with bricks or clay) are very common in the mountainous and semi-mountainous villages of Chania. However, the house has one of the largest in the area: its diameter is about 2,10 m. The entrance is above a double fire – place which is used as a source of heat, for roasting or for cooking in special occasions.

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Both cooking fires are used simultaneously for the most ambitious of meals.

The second wood –oven is under the exterior ladder and has been built poorly, just in one day.

8oven2

Its baking capacity is for one 40 cm baking pan. Its construction is simple: flat bricks were used for the floor and an igloo -shaped basket (gr. kofini) was covered with 3 different mixtures of clay (a:clay, lime and straws, b: broken bricks and clay, c: mixed clay with lime). Three- four days later, a large fire was built in the oven to dry it and burn the basket. After that, it was ready to cook for the first time. None-the-less, it lasts a good 30 years.

The third oven is an electric one.

9oven3

It cooks fast and is also necessary when the weather is windy and there is danger of fire. I think it’s an italian patent. It allows for some pleasures like small pies, stuffed vegetables, baked poultry or meatballs on a bed of sliced potatoes and zucchinis.
For the meatballs I used 800 gr minced meat (200 gr lamb, 300 gr pork, 300 gr beef), 250 gr stale bread, soaked in water and perfectly squeezed, 1 large onion finely chopped, ½ cup chopped tomato, 1 tbs red vinegar, salt and pepper.
The nature really offers a wide array of perfect options for flavoring: thymbre, thyme, oregano, fennel.
I chose to add leaves and flowers of fresh thyme.

wild-thyme

making-biftekia

 I dipped one of my hands in red wine while shaping the meatballs.

biftekia

baking-bifteks

The aroma was fantastic!

working

And this is my shelter next to the front yard, made from the branches of two tall and strong turpentine trees (Pistacia Terebinthus). Under these trees I played many of my childhood’s games.

talking

Their shade is perfect for morning coffee, writing and reading or spending relaxed time with family and friends.
By the way, the nuts of turpentines are almost ready for harvest.

dramithia

If they are roasted, they can be used in village bread.

Wild blackberies are almost ripen…

wild-grapes

 oregano is almost dried…

oregano

 but we patiently wait to have walnuts,

nut

 chestnuts…

chestnut

 and quinces….

quince

 in late September.

Tastes to Remember

Taste has the power to transport us somewhere magical. Sometimes even the sight of certain foods, the process of the preparation of a dish or a smell may awake memories and remind us people, occasions, even emotions. Taste is much more complex than smell, since includes the effects of heat, cooling and aroma. It is not strange then that the food can connect our past with present.

The connection of memories with taste is more apparent in childhood. Since kids tend to be seduced by the power of some tastes, the impact of a food that evokes our childhood is intense. I will never forget the summer evening I ate my first sea urchin roe straight from the shell. Every time I enjoy sea urchins their iodine taste reminds me of that summer I was 7 years old. The jasmine spoon sweet can also pictures me specific moments… my sister and me gathering the fresh jasmine flowers from my grandmothers garden, for making one of the most delicious spoon sweets. And I often recall the syruped orange flowers, one my grandmother’s specialities, arranged over a smooth and refreshing vanilla custard, the perfect dessert for me and my friends on warm summer days.

Blanched almonds remind me the preparation of sweets for feasts and my mother making delicate fingers with baklava phyllo and a filling of blanched almonds, lightly sweetened in syrup scented with bitter orange water. My childhood has also tastes of homemade ice cream, sweet watermelons and fresh greenish almonds served on a bed of fig leaves with ice cubes hidden underneath. My childhood’s tastes keep a place for small round pies filled with wild fennel, juicy grapes and tiny figs of late autumn, for snails gathered after the first rains of September, for winter cakes and warm freshly baked bread.

Region, social class, religion, culture and time may differentiate the foods that are linked with memorable events. Charcoal – grilled mushrooms, roasted chestnuts and figs dried in the sun were my father’s food highlights. Until the age of 11, my father had lived in a mountainous Cretan village built in an area full of ancient olive trees, chestnut trees, fig trees and wild mushrooms. Like many people born before 1940 he tended to recall the foods associated with nature more than people born in later decades. One of my mother’s most hated foods is cornmeal porridge, while my mother in law adores it. You see my mother comes from Crete where corn is eaten only boiled or charcoal – grilled. On the other hand my mother in law comes from Epirus where cornbread and corn porridge belong to the regional culinary tradition. Cornmeal porridge was consumed in Crete only during World War II, when my mother was 4 years old. This food recalls one of the worst memories of a child, that of a war. The foods that connect my mother with a calm childhood come after the War II. Fried slices of bread sprinkled with cinnamon and honey transport her to peaceful Sunday mornings. Acem pilafi, a complicated Ottoman lamb and rice dish, of iranian origin, which has been adopted by Greek cuisine, reminds of her mother’s big family dinners.

Childhood is the real home for all of us, apart from those who were unhappy as children. It is a magic land apart for those who have been lost in the forest. What taste can bring memories of a happy childhood to the children who starve not because dinner is late? What food can delete a child’s memories from a war? However, even under such conditions, most people draw inspiration from smells and tastes of what their childhood should have been. And whereas the smell and taste recall images of love, kindness, care and produce images of nostalgia and euphoria for these early years, there is also a bite of a little pity. We see ourselves in the distance of today the children we were, such innocent about the disappointments and enthusiasms, the troubles and pleasures of the adulthood.

So what is my strongest childhood food memory? I am going to tell you what is my favorite one. It is the almond cream that my mother used to make when my sister and I were sad. Until the age of 8 years old we both believed that this fine dessert had the magic power to drive the sorrow out of our lives.

Almond cream (Krema amigdalou)

almond-cream 

  5 cups milk

1/3 cup sugar

2/3 cup cornflour (cornstarch), diluted in 3/4 cup cold milk

1 cup finely ground blanched almonds

1/2 tsp. orange flower water (optional)

Put 4 1/4 cups milk into a heavy pan and add sugar. If you’re using a vanilla bean, split it in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into milk, then add pod. Bring to a boil and lower the heat. Discard the pod from the pot.

Pour cornflour mixture into warm milk, turn the heat to medium and stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Add almonds and simmer very gently, stirring occasionally. Add the lemon zest and stir well. (If you like orange flower water it’s time to add it) Spoon cream into individuals bowls or sweet dishes and decorate it with lemon zest. Its better if you cool completely before serving.

This recipe is for TASTES TO REMEMBER blogging event hosted by Sarah from Homemade Experiences in the Kitchen.