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.
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