The non-celebration of an unorthodox Greek Easter

The countdown to tax day is officially on.  We are hardly sleeping well and just working and working non-stop – or what feels like non-stop.  One more week of this, and then the next wave of invoicing hundreds of clients will begin, as well as seeing Anna through the end of her 4th grade year, followed by a hands-on renovation project of one of our units upstairs.

I was thinking last night before falling asleep, which was well past midnight, how Easter was always my favorite holiday growing up in Greece.

Tsoureki is delicious with coffee and makes for awesome french toast.

We had two full weeks off from school and work, and things would just slow down around us.  I’m not religious, so for me personally it wasn’t so much about going to church and following strict rituals, but I was enamored with the cultural traditions and learned to look forward to them year after year.

Here we are trying to get organized for our Easter table at my brother house some years back… the soup (magiritsa) is served first

So, traditionally, this week is Holy Week for those observing Greek Orthodox Easter and it’s the last week of Lent, when mostly everyone fasts from meat and dairy.  I so enjoyed the tradition of eating so simply for a whole week, building up the anticipation of devouring roasted lamb with my family on Easter Sunday.  It forced us to be creative with food for a week, trying to think up many delicious recipes… except for my mom’s idea of boiled pasta with a jar of plain tomato sauce – yuck!

Just as we would get into a rhythm for Holy Week, Good Friday would come along, really restricting things!  On that day, we would also fast from oil.  Some people fast from water, too, which we never did, but there are various levels of fasting extremes practiced on this day.  And there were a lot of superstitions, too!  You were not supposed to take a bath, wash your hair or wear anything colorful on Good Friday, for obvious reasons.  I remember there was one Good Friday when I was in high school, when I did wash my hair and felt fine about it, so it really depends on each person’s convictions.  But, I still enjoyed the church service on that particular day, the chanting is amazing and the entire church lights up with candles making it truly magical to experience, regardless or not if you’re religious.

My brother and I cracking eggs many years ago. I wish I had photos from when we were little, but they might be in Greece.

On Holy Thursday, we would traditionally dye the eggs red, and there are tons of recipes out there on how to proportion the dye and the vinegar in such a way, so that the eggs really turn deep red, vs. pink.  That was always very funny for me!  We would prepare the eggs, shine them with a little bit of olive oil and crack them on Easter Sunday… that’s also tons of fun, especially if you choose a solid egg and crack everybody’s!

After the Good Friday evening service, the four of us would come home and my dad without saying a word to anyone would fry up the golden delicious potatoes.  He would justify that by saying, “it’s ok, the first resurrection happened!”  So, we’d break the fast from olive oil at least, which was a very delicious way to do so.  I remember he did that every year and it was funny every time.

I love this photo. I had just woken up after baking all into the evening the day before… Anna wants to do a craft and I’m thinking of everything need to finish!

On Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday, was basically a day of preparation.  This meant, making tsourekia (a sweet type of bread, similar to challah bread), baking Easter cookies, while the men would prepare the lamb to roast on the spit the next day.

Koulourakia is the traditional Easter cookie in Greece. Of course your mom bakes the best, and so on..

This involved using every part of the animal, which I personally appreciate, as much as disgusts many people.  So, all the organs were removed, cleaned with vinegar and would be used in a soup for that night or for frying into a meze.

While I loved watching my aunt bake, and setting the table and preparing the midnight soup (magiritsa), I was definitely curious as to what “the men” were doing.  So, one year I think I was about 15, my cousin Mary’s husband, George (they are

I’ve previously posted this, but it’s probably the same year we made the kokoretsi at the farm. Great times!

both like my second set of parents, since they are much older), wanted to make kokoretsi from scratch.  Now, that’s a Didi challenge!  Kokoretsi generally consists of lamb or goat intestines, tightly wrapped around seasoned offal, including heart, lungs, sweetbreads, spleen, kidneys, etc.  If you’re disgusted by now, feel free to go read something else, because my mouth is watering right now just thinking about it!  Specifically, the intestines of suckling lambs are preferred.

I really wanted to learn how to make kokoretsi and no one was helping George, so I volunteered.  Instead of pushing me away, he showed my how to clean the intestines, which was a fascinating experience.  You take a long metal spit and you flip each one inside out… which is a very delicate process and you really need to be careful.  Some people don’t turn the intestines inside out and that’s how food poisoning happens.  Anyway, once that’s done, we make a bath of vinegar and warm water and rinse them well.  Of course you see little parts of green residue washing away, which is no doubt from the grass that the animal was feeding on.  It was remarkable to experience how important it is to appreciate the animal… something we definitely don’t do here in the States.

Kokoretsi on Easter Sunday! (source: pinterest)

Anyway, after the vinegar bath, the next step was to season the offal with lots of oregano, salt and pepper.  We’d pass everything through onto large metal skewers and then very carefully wrap the clean intestines over the offal, nice and easy until complete.  We’d tie the ends so the kokoretsi would stay in place.  These typically grill outdoors next to the lamb or goat on Easter Sunday and it’s unbelievably good.  Yes, it’s high in cholesterol, but remember this was done once a year.  Before you complain with any disgust, just think about all the burgers you ate this past week.

I am grumpy today.  I’m chasing clients to e-file their returns and not paying any attention that it’s even Easter.  Far too absorbed with tax season, it’s also Anna’s FSA exams at school this week, further taking away my focus.  We’re barely fasting, if you consider my forgetting to eat lunch since I’m so busy these days.  My family is totally scattered this year, which is such a sharp contrast to how things were growing up.  So, I’m finding some comfort sharing these stories.  I hope one day I’ll get to celebrate Easter again in Greece and show Anna how it’s really done!  Though I highly doubt she’ll have any interest in making kokoretsi, but I guess there’s always hope!

 

throwback thursday and mad guacamole

Thank you again to all of you for reaching out, whether on the blog or through email and messages!  It’s tough to write monologues without feedback, so I am really thankful for all the constructive comments and encouragement!

I’ve felt so inspired with the Women’s March this past weekend, especially with how my mom took the lead on going with me to the West Palm Beach rally.  She wasn’t sure how her knee would hold up, but she managed to put that aside and focus on the reason we were there.  “We have to do this for women,” she kept saying and even though my mom couldn’t last all day at the rally, our homemade signs were a big success!  Women and men were giving us high-fives and thumbs up and it was an amazing experience.  I specifically remember this one lady who took a photo of us with our signs to send to her friends in Germany, who were also holding a sister march.

Our signs from the women’s march rally

Since it’s throwback Thursday, I can’t help but think of a somewhat similar story, this time about my parents.  My mom and dad got married on November 4, 1973 here in Palm Beach, at the Breakers.  It had been a very difficult year for my mom until then.  She had just lost her father, Emmanuel, to colon cancer that summer, and her aunt Persephone had fallen ill with kidney disease.  My dad and my mom were in a long distance courtship for a year or so.  That fall he decided to travel to Palm Beach from Athens to see her, and ended up proposing to my mom.

They didn’t have much time to plan a wedding, because my dad had to return to Greece to his law practice, so within three weeks they were married!  They were both older, so they viewed marriage more sensibly, and far more as a partnership rather than love forever after.  So, how do you merge the life of a native Floridian who spoke little Greek, and a Greek lawyer who didn’t speak any English?  They managed pretty well, but had some funny stories in the beginning of their life together.

My mom agreed to move to Greece since my father’s work was established in Pireaus.  At the same time, she said that their children will be born Americans, which is at it happened.  My parents didn’t have a honeymoon after their wedding, they traveled to New York for a few days, bought their furniture and shipped it to Greece.  They first settled in my father’s bachelor apartment in Pireaus, which was walking distance from his office.

It’s important to mention that Greece was going through a major political transition right at that time. Since the spring of 1967, Greece had been under the military dictatorship, which essentially abolished civil rights, dissolved various political parties, while exiling, imprisoning and torturing politicians and citizens based on their political beliefs.

According to history, in 1973 the military junta leader, Giorgos Papadopoulos undertook a liberalization process of the dictatorship.  This apparently included the release of political prisoners and the partial lifting of censorship, as well as promises of a new constitution and new elections returning to civilian rule.  At that point, the opposition elements including Socialists had a window of opportunity to undertake political action against the junta.

So, as the story was told to me, the morning of November 13th my parents went to Athens to visit relatives.  The tensions had grown and the city had started to shut down.  On their way back there was no public transportation – it had been cut off from the city center.  People were stuck and couldn’t go anywhere.  Chaos ensued.  My parents tried to hail a cab but none were stopping.  At a red light, my mom stood in front of a cab and my dad opened the door and said, “You’re taking us to Pireaus.”  Yes, this is how things work in Greece sometimes!

My mom’s college graduation photo form the University of Florida. For those wondering, yes, it is her real hair and now you know where I get mine!

The next morning, my dad left for his office.  Within five minutes he was back home.  Surprised, my mom thought he forgot something.  He didn’t say anything and immediately started closing the window shutters.  Then he said to my mom that there was a military tank at the corner sending everyone back inside their homes.  My mom at first was excited!  She grabbed her camera ready to go outside to snap a photo of the tank.  Really taken aback by her excitement, my dad said she shouldn’t go as it was dangerous!  Instead, they turned on the TV – the military channel was the only one available – which was repeating, “We decide and we dictate…”

And just like that a 24-hour curfew had been imposed throughout the city.  My parents had just come from New York two days earlier and had been eating out.  At their apartment, they only had a can of tuna fish… and an onion.  Thankfully, they had a good attitude, too.

Needless to say, as an American, my mom was totally shocked that someone can just claim power and can dictate what the people could and could not do.  It stayed with her for a long time that basic rights could be abolished with such force.  Anyway, for the time being, they had to find food!  So, all the residents in their building came together and it was like stone soup… everyone shared what they had for two full days.  The city had been completely shut down – no phone lines, no mail.  Only the military radio and TV channel that was censoring everything.

Throwback Thursday: My parents years after the 1973 incident.

In the early morning of November 17, the protesting of students in Polytechneio took place.  Students took a stand against the junta dictators, protesting, and barricading themselves inside the University.  The students figured out a radio frequency that could be heard to the public and they were broadcasting live as the protest unfolded.  The transitional government sent a military tank to crash through the gates of the Polytechneio, killing several civilians.  November 17th has since become a national holiday that Greeks observe.

My parents definitely experienced a lot together in their first few months of marriage, forcing them to communicate as best they could.  I really enjoy it when my mom shares stories like these.  Hearing her experiences and insights are not only relevant today, but they help keep me grounded.  Basic rights can be taken for granted and we have to fight for them!

On that note, I’m sharing with you my favorite guacamole recipe to celebrate.  I don’t mind cilantro personally, but I know people who really don’t enjoy the flavor.  This recipe can be made without cilantro, and you won’t miss it!

MAD FIESTA GUACAMOLE

Prep time: 15 mins   Idle time: 1 hour  Yields: 3-4 servings

Ingredients

3 medium size haas avocados, ripe to the touch but not overly ripe

Juice of one lime (use two limes if the juice isn’t as much)

Guacamole, yum!

½ tsp cumin

A good pinch of sea salt

½ tsp cayenne pepper

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small tomato chopped, include the seeds and juices

3 tbsp of red onion finely chopped

2 tbsp of yellow or orange sweet bell pepper, chopped

4oz of fresh cilantro, finely chopped (optional)

Cracked pepper to taste

Directions
Slice lengthwise, remove the pits and smash avocados in a medium size bowl with a fork or potato masher.  Add lime juice, salt and pepper and set aside for 5-10 minutes for flavors to meld (about enough time as you chop the veggies).

Toss in everything else and mix well with a spoon.  Keep in mind, as with tzatziki, the flavors will come together during idle time, so don’t over season.  Cover with plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.  Mix the guacamole and adjust the seasoning to wake it up before serving.  I add in a little more lime juice to brighten up the flavors.

Fiesta time!

have a voice, make a difference

Today’s post is not a food one – sorry!  I’ve been inspired so much with the activism of the women in our country, and our respective local communities, that I feel compelled to express my support.  It’s easy, all you have to do is click away if you don’t want to read it.  Or, in the words of my father:  Να μη σώσεις! (er, a loose, polite translation: “may you never endeavor!”)

It has been an interesting month so far.  I still can’t believe the inauguration is tomorrow.  The media are on fire with news surrounding it, and focused even more on the day after the inauguration… when the Women’s March will take place in DC.  I was happy to see there are several sister marches happening, for those who can’t get to the main one.

There is a sister women’s march (rally) taking place in WPB that has thousands who are planning on protesting this Saturday at noon.  It’s a beautiful thing to see women (and those who support them) gather together to support being who we are.  We are women who not only have rights, but the right to make sensible choices.

Personally, I am getting tired.  Tired of having men in suits, with inflated egos and the need to control others dictate what we should do with our womb, our bodies and our minds.  Men who refuse or don’t have the ability empathize with women, and who simply don’t respect them.  Men who will never truly grasp the total pain of child labor (because it does hurt – oh yes, a lot) and all of its consequences.

We all have opinions, which we have the ability to share and discuss freely – it’s the beautiful function of this country.  We find opportunities to debate, to organize, to argue, and to demonstrate.  And it gets ugly at times.  With peaceful protesting we are able to express our opinions and feelings.  That’s an amazing thing about democracy.

Still, I’ve never been able to understand one thing:  unless we have been through a specific experience, how can we understand how a person feels?  It could be anything, but assume major events like, the birth of a child, battling a terminal illness, the loss of a parent, surviving a terrible accident, being laid off suddenly, having an abortion, dealing with abuse or assault, grieving the loss of a loved one, coping with the empty nest or a painful divorce.  We’re always so quick to judge others.  Why?  I think it’s because what others do is often a threat to our comfortable bubble, isn’t it?  But, in reality, isn’t that’s the exact moment those need help, empathy, compassion and love?

So, stop being afraid.  Reach out.

I’m not forming this opinion just because I read a bunch of books on feminism.  During this inauguration, I can’t help but think of the strong women in my life that have come before me, and those who I hope will come after me.  My great grandmother from Karpathos, Anastasia, was a brave lady.  I never met her, but the stories I hear from various people are consistent.  She was a kind, hard working mother who supported her two daughters.  Her husband left her to go to the States and never really returned.  He hardly sent money.  Anastasia raised her daughters alone, and it was hard.  But, she had her own house (the one we have now) and her own land (our orchards) and she raised those girls well with dignity, love and a strong sense of self.

My great grandmother, Anastasia (my mom and daughter are named after her).  Brought by her daughters, she first came to the US as an Italian Citizen in 1944.

Persephone, the oldest by five years, and Aphrodite (my grandmother) were Anastasia’s two girls.  They were very different and very close.  Both were trained seamstresses and took in work to help support their tiny family, and also worked in the olive grove during picking season.  Persephone married a photographer, Basil, who had become a US citizen after fighting in WWI and they moved to Gary, Indiana.  Aphrodite, the more ambitious of the two, was left behind and waited impatiently for her sister to bring her to the US.  While she had several marriage proposals in the village, she declined all of them.  She had her eyes set to leave Karpathos and made that clear to her mother, who knew she had to let her go.

In July of 1938, that day finally came.  Determined to make the most of her life, at the ripe age of 27, Aphrodite left Greece as an Italian citizen, and traveled alone to Paris, and from Cherbourg she sailed to the US.

The two sisters in Karpathos. Persephone (left) was very close to her sister and was determined to help her have a chance to the life she had envisioned.

I’ll share this story, as it was told to me:

Persephone was a uniquely kind and compassionate lady, whereas my grandmother was also kind, but very firm and as tough as nails.  She never forgave her father for leaving her mother alone to raise them.  Years later, when both sisters were settled in the US, somehow their father heard about it, tracked down Persephone’s home address and showed up at the door.  Unfortunately for him It so happened that Aphrodite was visiting her sister for the summer from Florida.  And Persephone answered the door and saw her father after decades.  She may have felt a duty to take him in and care for him in his old age.  But, Aphrodite didn’t feel that way.  She finally had her say and told him he was not welcome.  From what I gather, he left and that was the last time they saw him.

And from my father’s side, in Asia Minor, it’s said that my great grandmother, Permanthoula, was very brave.  Apparently, she carried a pistol in her undergarments when walking alone to protect herself from the Turks, especially when the tensions started rising.

So, I try to tell Anna that she comes from a strong line of women.  Women who were independent, curious, brave, and found themselves strong enough to tackle unknowns even when they were scared.  And they sought a better life for their children’s children.  And then I hear ignorant people who say they hate feminists, when they don’t even understand what that means.

Three generations on election day 2016

Character is built over time, by asking questions, by resolving problems reasonably, by making mistakes, by learning lessons and having experiences.  I’m not sure how you can build character by marinating in comfort or by surrendering to the status quo. It depends on what your goals are, I suppose.

We have a voice that can make a difference.

Last night, Anna designed a sign for the march for me.  I won’t tell you what it says.

It tells me she got the message 🙂

On the food front, I’m falling a bit short today.  And tax season is really picking up and I’m noticing my time is becoming more and more limited.  But, we actually went to the South Florida fair yesterday and tried a doughnut burger.  That part was disappointing!   Given the publicity of this fair delight, it was definitely not as good as I thought it would be.  The bacon was not crispy, the burger was overdone, the doughnut tasted stale…  So, we came home and I made pizza on naan bread for dinner.  Yum.  I’ll share my homemade pizza recipe sometime soon.