Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Celebrations - Name Day & Recipe for Karythopitta

Today was hubby's name day. In Greece, name days are generally celebrated rather than birthdays, particularly after the age of 12. One's name day is determined based on which patron saint day it is. For children, this is a time to celebrate with gifts and sweets.

It is traditional to offer sweets and drinks to your friends and family as they drop by to celebrate one's name day. The person being celebrated is wished Kronia Pola! meaning "many years".

We celebrated by getting a platter of mezedes at a local Greek restaurant. Later, we shared traditional walnut cake with friends, as well as tried Ouzo after the girls went to bed. Find a list of North American names and their corresponding "name days" here.

Karythopitta, the walnut cake, has two versions: one with flour, and one with crumbled melba toast. I made the version with flour, and it is quite good. I don't love walnuts, but I really enjoyed this cake - though I may be partial to any dessert soaked in syrup.

Karythopitta - traditional name day cake
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated 
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 3/4 cup crushed walnuts
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 tbsp brandy
  • 2 tbsp orange flower water
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 375. Grease a 9 x 13in dish.
  2. Cream butter and sugar, until soft and light.
  3. Stir in egg yolks, one at a time. 
  4. Mix in walnuts and cinnamon.
  5. Sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder in a separate bowl
  6. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites and salt until peaks are stiff.
  7. Fold the whites and flour into the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the egg whites.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean
While baking, make the syrup:

Combine water and sugar in a small pot. Heat on medium heat while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil, lower the heat then add the rest of the syrup ingredients. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Once cake is cooked, cut into squares of diamonds, and pour the syrup over it. It can be stored at room temperature, covered in plastic wrap in order to ensure moistness.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Greek Festivals - Burnt Thursday (Tsiknopempti)

The carnival season has begun in Greece. After years of learning of the many different cultures that celebrate Carnival with such creativity and passion, I can't help but wish Carnival was celebrated in Canada. In Greece, parades and festivities last for weeks, with the most famous taking place in the city of Patras. This year, the main and last Carnival weekend before lent is from Friday 24th to Sunday 26th.

Grilling meat for Tsiknopempti
Photo Credit: Tomasz Huczek
Today is "Burn Thursday" -- Tsiknopempti: the tsikno means the smell of burnt and grilled meat and pempti means Thursday. It is held on the Thursday 11 days before Clean Monday, the beginning of Lent. The following quote from Nancy's Greek Food Blog encompasses what I've read about it:
"In the Greek tradition, Tsiknopempti (say: tseek-no-PEMP-tee) is a day celebrated with great gusto. City and town governments set up grills in central squares, musicians stroll around playing traditional instruments, and great quantities of roasted meats are consumed in the midst of the Carnival atmosphere. And it isn´t only central squares in cities and towns that will be filled with the smell of fabulous meats cooking over hot coals - our backyard grills and fireplaces will be fired up as well and the countryside fills with wonderful aromas." 
The simplest way to grill meat in the Greek fashion is to marinate a steak or a chop, whether of beef, veal or pork in a few tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of one lemon, garlic and oregano. Marinate for a few hours, turning the meat to coat both sides. Grill and enjoy!

Photo Credit: Tomasz Huczek

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Eros (aka Cupid) Inspired Valentines {Craft Round Up}

After reading the myth of Eros (aka Cupid) and Psyche, we made cupid arrows. Below is a round up of various tutorials and/or printables for cupid inspired valentines.

One Charming Party
One Charming Party offers free printable valentines and arrow labels.

Design Sponge
Design Sponge has a tutorial for these vintage arrow valentines using dowels, feathers, paint and printable decorative patterns that can be glued on the dowels. We followed this tutorial for our arrows, and they turned out great! Instead of wooden hearts at the tips, we cut hearts out of craft foam.

Two Shades of Pink
Two shades of pink made these arrows by painting dowels, and decorating them with yarn and remnant fabrics.

Design. Wash. Rinse. Repeat
Design Wash Rinse Repeat made arrow valentines with wood pencils. This tutorial includes printable pattern for the paper feathers, printable tags and decorative paper that can be glued around the pencil.

Muffin Grayson Delicious Design
Muffin Grayson offers free printables to make these sweet pencil arrow valentine cards (wouldn't these be great for school?)

Martha Stewart Craft Dept
The Martha Stewart Craft Department also has a tutorial for "love struck pencils" with feathers. 

I hope you get a chance to make some of these for your valentines!

Left: Arrow valentines found at Design, Wash, Rinse, Repeat
Right: Valentine Quiver with arrows found at Simple Simon & Co.

Greek Mythology - Eros & Psyche Book Recommendation

What better way to honor Valentine's day but through the Greek myth of Eros (aka Cupid) and Psyche.

Cupid & Psyche Statue at the Louvre
Photo Credit: Joseph Kranak
This is one of a very few myths that end in a happy ending. The god Eros falls in love with the mortal Psyche, which angers Aphrodite. After many challenges, the two are reunited.

You can read the story here: The Story of Cupid & Psyche or listen to an audio theater version of it here: A reading of Eros & Psyche

Recommended Reading:

Cupid and Psyche by M.Charlotte Craft (affiliate link)

This story retells the myth in an engaging way, and the illustrations are lovely. Both of the girls enjoyed reading this book, despite being very frustrated with Aphrodite's unreasonable demands :)

After reading about Eros & Psyche, why not make your own love arrow? Find a round up here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Recipe - Avgolemono Soup

Lemon tree
Photo Credit:JetSetJim
Lemons are a defining flavor in Greek cuisine. It is commonly used on its own, squeezed over meat and fish, or combined with olive oil, oregano and garlic as a dressing, sauce or marinade. Lemons especially star in the classic Avgolemono soup.

The soup has a base of chicken stock, with rice or orzo pasta, and egg-lemon sauce. Some versions include pieces of shredded chicken, though ours does not. The key for this creamy, lemony soup is tempering eggs - or else you will end up with scrambled eggs in tangy broth. It's also important not to let the soup boil, either while cooking it, or if reheating it later. 

This soup was warming and refreshing at the same time. All four of us enjoyed it, and are looking forward to making it more often throughout the year.

Avgolemono Soup

Serves 4

  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • scant 1/2 cup uncooked long grain white rice
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Pour stock and rice in a large pot, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until the rice is just tender, approximately 12 minutes.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until frothy, then whisk in the lemon juice. Slowly add 1/3 cup of hot broth while whisking vigorously - this tempers the eggs, ensuring a smooth soup.
  3. Remove the pot of soup from the heat, and slowly and steadily pour in the egg mixture, while whisking. The soup should become creamy and lemon colored. Serve immediately, with salt and pepper. 
Pea, fancying herself the Greek matriarch of the family, and Elle rather dubious about the yellow soup.It turned out, she really liked it :)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Books - Exploring a Culture

Over the years, I have learned that the series: "Festivals of the World" and "A Taste of Culture" are great resources when learning about specific countries, and their Greece books have not disappointed. In fact, the girls each insist on reading through the chapters - whereas last year, they preferred an abridged version :)

Festivals of the World: Greece

Includes an overview of the main festivals over the year, broken up in seasons.
Takes five of the festivals, and explores them in more detail, with great photographs.

A Taste of Culture: Foods of Greece

Explores the foods and cooking traditions that encompass a culture. Great full color photographs, and recipes children can easily follow.

After reading about the importance of the olive, and olive oil, we went to a local store that offers samplings of dozens of olive oils - ironically, they do not carry any from Greece this time of the year in order to ensure all their oil is at it's freshest. We will have to stop by again and sample Greek olive oil. I never would have guessed it but the girls had a wonderful time sampling olive oil!

Books are a wonderful way to experience new worlds and ideas. Our house is filled with books, most of which are borrowed from our public library. Public libraries are an incredible resource, making books accessible to everyone, and we highly encourage everyone to discover theirs. If you are hoping to build your own home library, I've made it easy by including a search box for Amazon in the right sidebar. Please note that I have become affiliated with them, and would receive a small commission.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Recipe: Greek Sesame Bread Rings

Street Vendor
Photo Credit: Nate Gray

Sesame bread rings, or Koulouri Thessalonikis, are a popular street snack in Greece. Street vendors abound with this snack, and they can be found in every bakery. They are the choice breakfast in the morning rush when headed to work.

These bread rings are crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside. And they are coated in sesame seeds. They taste good eaten with cheese. Elle and I set about making a snack of these for ourselves.

Photo Credit: Robert Wallace

 Koulouri Thessalonikis

Adapted from "The Olive and The Caper" by Susanna Hoffman

We halved the recipe, because the original makes 16 rings, and since they are best eaten fresh, that would have been too much for the four of us.

1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp. sugar
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (1 pkg)
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 egg yolk for egg wash
1/3 cup sesame seeds 

First, stir the sugar into 1/8 cup of warm water (it should feel just warm to your pinky). Sprinkle with yeast and put it aside until it's frothy, about 15 minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and the salt. Add the yeast, the egg and the rest of the water. Mix it all together and knead on a lightly floured surface until it isn't sticky anymore, about 5 minutes.

Divide your dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece of dough to make a nice long rope. The book recommends ten inches, but ours were shorter. Honestly, it took a long time to get a good "rope" of dough, so we decided our rings would be a bit smaller :)

Pinch the ends of the ropes together, and put them on a baking sheet. We used a silpat, but a baking sheet greased with olive oil also works. Cover the dough rings with a cloth and let them rise in a warm place for 20 min.

Once risen, brush with an egg wash of one egg yolk and 1 tsp of water. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. You could also sprinkle some cumin seeds if you like the flavor. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 for 15-20 minutes.

Let the bread rings cool for 20-30 minutes before serving, and Enjoy!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Books - Greek Mythology

Below are our favorite books about Greek mythology in general. These books were used as reference and jumping off point to look deeper in any particular myth or mythological character. 

A Look-it-Up Guide to the Gods of Mythology (Mythlopedia)All three of us really enjoyed these books.There are four in total (Oh My Gods, She's All That, All in the Family, What a Beast - gods, goddesses, heros, and mythical creatures, respectively). These books are humorous, with fun illustrations, quick facts and related myths. Great as a quick reference, and also a good read in short doses.

Update - we perused these books throughout the entire  year, and enjoyed them every time.

D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths  is a classic introduction to Greek mythology, and is beautifully illustrated.  Each god has his story told, as do various nymphs and minor gods.

Books are a wonderful way to experience new worlds and ideas. Our house is filled with books, most of which are borrowed from our public library. Public libraries are an incredible resource, making books accessible to everyone, and we highly encourage everyone to discover theirs. If you are hoping to build your own home library, I've made it easy by including a link to Amazon.com in the titles. Please note that I have become affiliated with them, and would receive a small commission.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Basic Greek Words & Greetings

It's fun to learn a few basic words of a new language. The Greek language is very different from English - written and spoken. Here's how you say the most basic of words, "yes" and "no" :

ne (neh)

ochi (oh-hee)

We tend to nod our heads when gesturing "yes", and shake our heads when gesturing "no". In Greece, gesturing "yes" is a slight downward nod. Gesturing "no" is an upward nod of the head.

The following video by Greek Pod 101 teaches how to greet others in Greece, whether in an informal situation (with friends and family) or a formal situation. Along with a hello, friends and family greet each other by kissing on both cheeks. 

hi, hello, goodbye
ya (yah)

good day, good morning, good afternoon
kalimera (kaa-lee-meh-rah)

You are now prepared to greet your friends and family in true Greek fashion.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Books - Exploring Greece

Once I have brainstormed about a country, I spend an inordinate amount of time on our public library web based catalogue. I try to restrain myself from maxing our library card limit (60 books), and I occasionally succeed.
Since the girls aren't interested in a school lesson at home, the books we look at are simple and full of images. If I've done my homework, I'll have learned a few facts and casually bring them up.

Here are a few books that retained the girls' interest (read: colorful, few words), despite being too young for Pea (13 years old):

Let's Visit Greece (Around the World)  by Susie Brooks

Again, it is a little juvenile. It has a simple, fun format with basic information for preliminary look at Greece with kids. It also mentions what one would need when visiting Greece, which is fun to imagine :) The girls and I like the basic Greek words it explores, with pronunciations.

Greece (We're From . . .) by Victoria Parker

For kids aged 6-8, this book introduces us to kids growing up in Greece, and their lifestyles. The girls' were appalled to read about 3 hours of homework each night! Photographs are washed out, but reading about other children never fails.

Books are a wonderful way to experience new worlds and ideas. Our house is filled with books, most of which are borrowed from our public library. Public libraries are an incredible resource, making books accessible to everyone, and we highly encourage everyone to discover theirs. If you are hoping to build your own home library, I've made it easy by including a link in the book title linked to Amazon.com. Please note that I have become affiliated with them, and would receive a small commission.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Flag of Greece

Blue and White are the traditional colors of Greece.
It is said these colors represent the mountains and the sea.
The cross symbolizes Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

You can find a printable full color Greek flag at Printer Projects, either as a full page flag, or a smaller two sided flag. You can find printable Greek flag coloring page at Coloring Castle and a flag and map at Crayola

Friday, January 6, 2012

Epiphany in Greece : The Blessing of the Waters

"The Blessing of the Waters"

The Greek Festival of Epiphany, or 'The Blessing of the Waters', is held every year on January 6 throughout all of Greece. Young Greek men dive for a cross after it has been blessed by a priest and thrown into the water. The first man to reach the cross is said to have good luck throughout the coming year.

Young men diving for the cross
Photo Credit: Robert Wallace
This festival lasts all day, and includes the blessing of small boats and ships, as well as entertainment, music, dancing and food. People take bottles of the blessed water home as a token of good fortune for the new year.

How do you celebrate Epiphany? 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Greece: Land of the Gods

Greece has over 1,400 islands.

It's climate is warm, it's land dry and mountainous. It has the longuest coastline in Europe.

Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis

Photo Credit: Paul Willkinson
Greece is an ancient land, with enduring temple ruins and olive trees that can live for 2000 years
Photo Credit: Roger Wollstadt
Photo Credit: Jay Bergesen
Greece is the cradle of democracy.
Photo Credit: Karen

Exploring Greece

When starting a new country, I like to brainstorm what comes immediately to mind when thinking of that country. It turns out, not as much as I would have expected for Greece.

Our city has an annual greek festival, which was an incentive to choose Greece - it's nice when virtual has a degree of first hand experience with that culture. I am also relieved that there are so many greek restaurants in the city, which is not always the case. Though cooking the traditional fares is as much part of the experience as tasting them, it is nice to get a break and let a professional do it :)

Preliminary internet search comes up with much more information about Ancient Greece. History is an important aspect of what shapes a culture, but I don't want to focus solely on history. In this case, I wonder if it will be difficult finding the right balance between past and present.

A new year begins, and as they say in Greece:

Eftikismenos o kenourisos kronos!
(Happy New Year!)

Wordle: Greece

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