Friday, January 30, 2009

Mmm, this toast tastes Divine!

I was at the bakery yesterday picking up a delicious loaf of country style bread with sesame to munch on with my lunch (those crusts are to DIE for!!!) when I noticed that on the shelf above the loaves were some rather pretty looking round loaves stamped with a nifty little design.

"What's that?" I asked the lady in the shop. "It's jksdyfdifypsomo" she replied. Some sort of bread is what I gathered, the actual name of which went right over my head. Anyway, it looked nice so I thought I'd have me one of those too and I bought a loaf. It smelt so nice and it was lovely and spongey feeling too. This was good bread, I thought, congratulating myself on my sure-to-be-delicious discovery.

When Mr Zeus came home I told him I'd found something really cool at the bakery today, some really snazzy looking bread which I'd never seen before and whipped the loaf out of its paper bag.

He looked at me and burst out laughing. "Do you realise what you've bought? That's prosphoro, they use it for holy communion in the Greek Orthodox church."

*Slaps forehead* damnation! It turns out this pretty bread is actually a quite holy offering to the Greek church. Those who bake it are meant to keep a candle lit nearby and say the Lord's prayer which they press the design-making stamp onto the loaf. The loaves are baked one on top of the other to represent Christ's human and divine nature. Sometimes holy water is used in the preparation.

During the divine liturgy, a square is cut from the bread to represent the Eucharist and the rest is cut into smaller pieces for holy communion. That pretty design I so admired in the bakery actually says IC XC NIKA - Jesus Christ conquers. And with that went my lunch plans.

Should I have suspected since the bakery was next door to a church and soon the Greek Orthodox calendar will start gearing up for Easter? Should the lady in the bakery have let me take the bread knowing full well I am a foreigner? Maybe she thought "Ahh bless her, she must have converted to Orthodoxy and is totally taking her new found religion seriously. Bless you!"

What am I supposed to do with the loaf now? I can't very well make toast out of it! How could I have not known about the holy bread!


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cooking with Granny

Every winter Mr Zeus's mother travels North and hauls their 95+ granny back to Athens, kicking and screaming, claiming she's too old to do the winters on her own. Naturally, Yiayia manages perfectly fine all year round in her little house, cooking and cleaning for herself and receiving visitors, despite barely being able to see and having two fake hips.

Since I'm also a fellow captive due to working from home, our winters are spent with her visiting me, gathering my laundry off the line and complaining about how bored she is. "I have nothing to do here, Maro, except move from chair to chair." She calls me Maria, nickname Maro.

She's an incredible woman. Not only does she manage perfectly fine on her own despite her age, but her mind is still 100% sharp as a pin. She claims she can't see any more but always notices when I left the bed unmade or dishes undone. At 14 she began training as a midwife under a doctor who fled Istanbul with the clothes he wore and a thermometer in his pocket. During the war, she wrestled her husband back from the Germans as they were about to execute him. All in all, not someone who can tolerate her winters cooped up and not allowed to lift a finger.

So I decided to put her to good use and learn Greek recipes from her, and I'm proud to say when anyone else asks her a recipe, she says "Oh I don't remember any more." but she quite happily gives me tutorials. Our latest project was laxanodolmades, parcels of meat and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves.


1 cabbage, roughly 2 kilos

1/2 kilo minced meat

1 cup of short grain rice. It's called glasse here, but I don't know what else it might be called

2 medium onions

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Olive oil

2 eggs

3 lemons

Salt and peper


Cut a cross into the bottom of the cabbage and boil whole until soft. Leave to cool. When cool enough to handle, begin separating the leaves and lay them one on top of the other for use. Don't throw away small pieces, hard cores or broken leaves. These can all be used.

While the leaves cool, grate the two onions. Fry in olive oil. Add the mince and parsley, salt and pepper. Stir until cooked. Wash the rice and add into the mince. Add a glass of water to help the rice absorb juices. Cook on a medium heat until most of the juice has evaporated. Add the juice of one lemon. Check for salt and add extra if necessary, as the rice and cabbage leaves will all drink up the salt. But you can always add more later. Leave to cool.

Get a big pot and at the bottom add some oil and lay down a blanket of hard cabbage cores and some broken leaves. Once the meat mixture is cool, begin putting about a teaspoon of the mix in the middle of each cabbage leaf and fold up like a parcel. To make this easier, remove the stiff part of the cabbage leaf (the vein) and use only the floppy part. Keep the removed veins to one side. Pack the parcels close together as tight as you can into the pan, adding layers as you go.

Once you have made all your parcels, use the remaining cabbage veins and broken leaves to pack in between any gaps in the pan. Everything should be nice and tight so that the parcels don't open as they cook. If you have left over mix, remove the insides of a tomato and stuff it with the mix. You can bake this with some cheese on top or squash it into the pan with the laxanodolmades.

Press a plate down over the top of the laxanodolmades to keep them in place while they cook. Yiayia told me that they used to go fetch a big stone and put it on top of the plate to make sure it didn't float off and spoil the laxanodolmades cooking, but since we didn't have access to big stones, we used a small marble mortar instead.

Pour in enough water to just cover the laxanodolmades. Cover the pot and bring to a gentle boil. Leave to cook on a low heat for about an hour and a half, taste the juice and add salt if necessary.

Finally, make the avgolemono mix (eggs and lemon). Remove about 3 cups of liquid from the cooking pot and let it cool a bit.

Separate the two eggs and beat the whites until frothy. Yiayia amazed me by taking a shaking fork to the bowl and whipping up the whites in less time than it takes me to do it with an electric mixer. I popped next door for some corn flour and when I came back, poof! Frothy eggs. Add the yolks into the whites and keep beating. Juice the two lemons.

Take a cup of cooking liquid and dissolve two teaspoons of corn flour in it. Add to the eggs. Slowly start pouring the lemon juice into the eggs, stirring as you go. Pour all the cooking liquid into the eggs and lemons in a slow stream. Once incorporated, add this mix to the main cooking pot and give it a good shake. Set on a low heat until the juice thickens.

And there you have it! Not as hard as I thought it would be, and nothing went to waste. Just make sure you have friendly neighbours because to make this, a small cabbage won't do, it has to be a big one, so you will have plenty to give to friends and family.

As we cooked, Yiayia told me stories of her own newly married cooking disasters, and shared her various pearls of wisdom. "A woman should always have work, Maro, you should always have your own money. Make sure you pay attention to your job. I call you Maro, ha ha ha, it's not that far from your name, isn't it!"

"There's nothing to it, you'll learn. You're a smart girl. Women are smarter than men you know, men are stupid! They'll never admit it, but they are. They don't know anything."

Hey the woman made it through two wars, she must know something!!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Let's Not Be so SERIOUS

Time for a laugh. Little Bollybutton used to stand on top of a foot stool and give performances of this song to friends and family. Damn, 80s music videos of the Home Country... they really knew what they were doing.

Yesterday's News

I was trawling through my work yesterday when I looked at the time and realised that soon America would inaugrate it's first black president. So I switched on CNN.

If I'm honest I lost pretty much all respect for the country during the last eight years. I also know that promises can be made and broken, and that my first ever vote in my life was for Tony Blair on a wave of optimism that soon bit the dust. But even so, yesterday I felt hopeful. Barack Obama's speech was a step away from the usual self congratulating and trumpeting. I think it was an incredible speech to begin with the truth and say that basically our country is a stinking mess right now and it's not going to be easy to fix it, and to still end with people in tears of joy shouting his name.

Mr Zeus has had a tough life and this has made him cynical. I know he is going to be extremely critical of the president, and wasn't at all impressed by the magnitude of yesterday's events, saying that since African Americans have managed to reach such high positions in government, president is not that much of a big deal. But to me it's a huge deal, a gigantic deal. Maybe I am naive to say this, but one of the reasons I don't think it touched him the way it touched me is that he is not an ethnic minority.

Looking at Barack Obama, I wondered all the times in his life he had heard the word "nigger" and now that same man who people scornfully spat such a hateful word at is going to be "Mr. President". That to me is incredible.

Unless you are an ethnic minority, it really is hard to imagine how difficult his road was. Unless you yourself have turned up to job interviews and watched the door mentally close as soon as your ethnicity is registered, you don't know what that feels like, or been asked ridiculous and irrelevant questions like is there a chance you might be married soon, because, you know, that's what you do in your culture and we're really looking for someone long-term. Or spoken to IN V-E-R-Y SLOW AND LOUD ENG-LISH BECAUSE YOU LOOK LIKE IT MAY NOT BE YOUR FIRST L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E, the answer to which should always be F-U-C-K Y-O-U but sadly is usually an embarrassed "Um, I speak English as a first language."

Whatever may happen next, at least it can be said that Barack Obama earned his place. He worked for it from the ground up, unlike George W Bush who treated the presidency like some family dry cleaning business and took over because Daddy was the last boss.

How did Earth manage to get through eight years of that guy? There will always be bad presidents, but he was the first completely incompetent and stupid president, which made him lethal. Watching the guy you'd think he believed he was Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Oh how good it feels to be talking about him in the past tense. People, we made it. It's over. Dubya is gone. He may have shat all over the world before he left, but he's gone.

Poke your heads out of the steaming piles of bullshit and observe, and hope.

On another theme yesterday was a crappy day for me as you can judge from my previous post. Just last week I was about to write a post about how great it feels to have my Greek up to a level where I can give directions to lost Greeks and make jokes. Then a day like yesterday comes around.

We got a puppy two months ago and the puppy decided to make Scooby Snacks out of our printer cable. So I went to Plasio to see if they sell replacements. I was instructed up to the third floor where I muddled about for a while trying to catch a sales assistant's eye. Finally a girl spun around and asked me what I needed. And then it happened. The words crashed into each other in my head and some unidentifiable nonsense poured out of my mouth. Her face screwed up in a look of disgust and she said "Ti????"

My face flushed and I began to sweat. Defeated, I shakily held out the chewed printer cable. Feeling like a graduate of the School of Morons, I watched as she waved her hands about and said in pidgen Greek so that I, the dumb Greekless foreigner would understand YOU MUST CALL HP, NOT HERE, WE NO HAVE HERE, CALL THE COMPANY ON THE TELEPHONE (make exaggerated phone gesture) T-E-L-E-P-H-O-N-O, NOT HERE, to which I should have said FUCK YOU, but asked meekly if I could get HP's telephone from the internet, only I kept saying Apa to internet and when I tried to correct myself I got caught in a loop like some malfunctioning robot Apa..Apo...Apa..Apo.

Why why whyyyyy?!?!?!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ok, I need help

There was a big wedding expo in Athens this weekend which I missed because I was out of town, but anyway I doubt it would have been much use to me since none of the businesses there were likely to just let me have their venue and nothing else in the package, no catering, no decorations, no DJ, since I can get all that done through friends for nothing.

On top of this all three of my sisters won't be able to come if the wedding is in September, and we can't move it to August because then none of Mr Zeus's pals will even be in Athens. As those who live in Athens know, the city empties in August as everybody heads to the islands.

So that leaves me with the end of July, and even less time than I had planned. Most of my friends live overseas in non-EU countries and the pressure is mounting to find a venue and give them a date so that they can secure their visas and tickets in time.

I'm getting desperate! I currently don't have enough free time to go coasting along the beach hunting for somewhere to host a party for cheaps. Also, I'd probably get properly robbed with my rickety Greek. So I need your help, my dear little buttercups! Help me find a venue that is simple, no strings, has a bathroom and a roof and some space for dancing, and is either on the beach or has a nice view wherever it is. Just send me suggestions, maybe you have an aunty or uncle who runs a beach taverna in Athens in the area between the centre and Glyfada.

I'll pay you your weight in chicken curry!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Look Up

túrána hott kurdís by hasta la otra méxico! from Till Credner on Vimeo.

I don't have much time to blog at the moment so I will leave you for a while to ponder this video which is nice, because it reminds you that in the end, you're just a little dot.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Something to Smile About

With a war in Gaza, economic misery and unrest in Athens, good news seems in very short supply. So here is a sweet little story from yesterday's Guardian that put a smile on my face:

German lovers – aged six and five – try to elope to Africa
Mika and his girlfriend Anna-Bell found on way to airport with lilo, swimming trunks and a witness for the wedding in tow

It is a dream that has been shared by lovers across the centuries – the chance to elope to exotic lands. But few would have been as bold and spontaneous as six-year-old Mika and his five-year-old sweetheart Anna-Bell who, after mulling over their options in secret, packed their suitcases on New Year's Eve and set off from the German city of Hanover to tie the knot under the heat of the African sun.

The children left their homes at dawn while their unwitting parents were apparently sleeping, and took along Mika's seven-year-old sister, Anna-Lena, as a witness to the wedding.

Donning sunglasses, swimming armbands and dragging a pink blow-up lilo and suitcases on wheels packed with summer clothes, cuddly toys and a few provisions, they walked a kilometre up the road, boarded a tram to Hanover train station and got as far as the express train that would take them to the airport before a suspicious station guard alerted police.

"What struck us was that the little ones were completely on their own and that they had lots of swimming gear with them," said Holger Jureczko, a police spokesman. He described Mika and Anna-Bell as "sweethearts" who had "decided to get married in Africa where it is warm, taking with them as a witness Mika's sister".

Anna-Bell told the German television station RTL: "We wanted to get married and so we just thought: 'Let's go there.' "

Mika said: "We wanted to take the train to the airport, then we wanted to get on a plane and when we arrived we wanted to unpack the summer things and then we wanted to go for a bit of a stroll in the sun."

Mika and Anna-Lena's mother, who was not identified, said she had known nothing of her children's plan. "I'm still in a state of shock. I thought 'I'm playing a part in a bad movie.' When we realised the kids were missing we went looking for them." But only when the police called did they realise what had happened.

Asked why they failed to let their parents know, the children said they thought they would not be gone for long.

Mika told police he instigated the plan having been inspired by a winter holiday with his family in Italy. "Based on this the children began to make plans for the future," Jureczko said.

To allay their disappointment at being caught, Hanover police gave them a tour of the police headquarters. Jureczko said: "They'll have the chance to put their plan into action at a later date".

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Back on the Other Side

Well my sheepish silence probably tells you I never did make it to Exarcheia, because at the last minute family from England decided to spend Christmas with me and everything passed in a blur of shopping and eating.

But I'm still thinking about the Episodes, as they're referred to. What have I observed on repeat visits to the city centre, Omonia and Athinas street? Total normality, people just going about their day to day business. All of this makes me feel that the media have hyped things up to hysterical proportions, thus scaring the local population into staying away from the city centre and resulting in businesses losing money because of the media, not because of actual events.

Coverage has died off somewhat only to be rekindled by the shooting of a policeman a few days back who is now in hospital recovering. Where events will go from here is anyone's guess.

As I come into this fresh new year, my third year in Athens, there is a lot to reflect upon and a lot to be hopeful for. My aims for this year are to learn how to play the lyra and take up the tango. These aside, things I have to do are study for and get a financial qualification that would make my job less of a confusing blur and try not to get fired, both of with will require every ounce of my will power.

I also have to find a beachside venue (bar/scrap of beach/beach house) to book for a late August, early September beach wedding party. Anyone know anybody who lives on the beach and would let me rent their house for a night or two?

I'm not worried about Athens. This is a spontaneous city and whatever happens, we'll take it in our stride. What I don't want to see is the momentum of the protests fade away and have all been for nothing.