Merry Christmas 2013

Wishing all our friends all over the world
a very Happy and Merry Christmas!

from all your friends at the Nafsika Hotel
in Agios Stefanos Beach, Avliotes,
in Corfu, Greece.

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My mum’s Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι)

This is one of Greece’s most popular ‘Sunday roast’ and restaurant lamb dishes and yet many tourists that visit Greece each year don’t even know about it.  It is often on the menu in truly authentic Greek tavernas, but with the coming of mass tourism in Greece in the 1960’s, it’s now by passed by dishes such as Stifado and Kleftiko.  The dish is called Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) and it conjures to me fond and cherished memories, as with most Greeks, of my mother doing it for the Sunday table.  Incidentally, I had this dish on our hotel menu for 2 years but sadly it was not moving, so I decided to take it off.

Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) with shaved cheese - nothing better!

Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι) with shaved Kefalograviera cheese and orzo pasta (kritharaki) – one of last summer’s special dishes!

This dish is traditionally cooked in a clay earthenware casserole pot, a γάστρα (gastra) in Greek, which creates the distinct taste and nutritional value of food cooked in them.  For generations mothers used to wake up early on Sunday, the day of rest for most, to prepare this dish and take it to the baker where they would give him their ‘gastra’ to bake after he finished baking the bread, using the remains of their hot wood-burning brick oven.  In my mothers island of Ereikousa, they did not have a baker but each household had a brick oven in which they would take turns to bake the bread for that day.  In this way, the women would not need to heat their oven every day but only when it was their turn so that on each designated day the women would take their bread to the oven that was working.  After the bread was baked, they would put the ‘gastra’ in the oven and leave it cooking slowly until it was ready to have their lunchtime meal.

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Simmer the lamb shanks until they are tender in stainless steel pot, then bake them in a clay pot.

There is normally one pasta used for this dish,  it is orzo pasta (or in Greek ‘κριθαράκι – kritharaki’).  This rice shape pasta is traditional for Giouvetsi and many a people have confused it for rice but this time my mother used another Greek pasta called ‘κοφτό – kofto’ which is similar to the Italian pasta Ditalini.  She prefers this pasta since you use less of it and it absorbs more of the luscious sauce.  Most people can name quite a few Italian types of pasta but the Greeks have their own types which they use for their dishes and few people realize how many different Greek dishes are made with pasta. On the island of Corfu since it was under Venetian rule rather than under the Ottomans, pasta was often used, which is why we have many pasta dishes.  No one really knows where pasta originates but I would not be too surprised if the ancient Greeks had something to do with it!

After baking in the clay pot (gastra) for 40 minutes!

After baking in the clay pot (gastra) for 40 minutes!

Even though there are many British people who love pasta, I don’t think it is as popular as the mighty potato! This past summer, a person who stayed with us and loved the hotel, on a Tripadvisor review he wrote, ‘only complaint… there was quite a lot of pasta dishes’!   Which reminds me of the Spaghetti Harvest – April Fool’s Day Hoax in 1957 which generated an enormous response. Hundreds of people phoned the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree!

Giouvetsi (Γιουβέτσι)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3  lamb shanks
  • Extra Virgin Greek olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • 1 kg  chopped (puree) tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken stock (optional)
  • 3 cups of water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4-5 whole cloves
  • 4-5 whole allspice
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
  • 500 grams of Ditalini (κοφτό) or orzo pasta (κριθαράκι)

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Warm the olive oil in a deep casserole and brown the lamb shanks on all sides.
  2. Add the onion, garlic and leave until they are translucent.
  3. Pour the wine in and wait for 5 to 10 minutes with lid on.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes which my mother has blended in a food processor, tomato paste, stock and the water (until it covers the lamb).
  5. Add cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, whole cloves, whole allspice, freshly ground pepper and sweet paprika.
  6. Put the lid on and let simmer for 1h to 1 1/2h until the lamb shanks becomes tender. Replenish with water if it needs it.  Season with salt towards the end.
  7. Boil pasta for 2 minutes, drain and get it coated with a little olive oil. This is for it not to stick to each other.
  8. Add the cooked lamb shanks in the clay pot.
  9. Add pasta and pour the sauce over lamb and pasta.  This should cover the pasta, add water if not.
  10. Bake in preheated oven at 170ºC for 40 minutes until the pasta is cooked and there’s still some liquid sauce.
  11. Add plenty of cheese and serve.

My Small Slim English Wedding

This summer we did something that we had not done before, ever…..

Paul and Stevie's arrival at the Nafsika.

Paul and Stevie’s arrival at the Nafsika.

we catered for a small English wedding!  Here at the Hotel Nafsika we have catered for weddings before but they were Big, Fat and Greek!  So when Paul and Stevie first mentioned that they wanted to have their wedding at the Hotel Nafsika, I was really honoured that they would entrusted me and all at the Nafsika with this task.  I have known Paul and his family for the longest of time.  Paul was a youngster when he and his parents, Craig and Sandra first started coming here in the 1980’s along with his other siblings.  When he was older he would visit Corfu by himself and later with Stevie, the love of his life, and wherever he stayed on the island he would always come to say Hello! to us here in Agios Stefanos Beach where ever he might be staying on the island.  This shows you the type of person he is and his love for the Hotel Nafsika and the village!

Craig, Sandra and family by the pool during the cocktail hour!

Craig, Sandra and family by the pool during the cocktail hour!

Once they have secured the venue, Paul and Stevie needed help with the other wedding arrangements, so I sent them the San Stefanos Travel, as they were the wedding experts in the village.  They have done many weddings of this type and I knew that they would arrange everything without hitch!

Sealed with a loving kiss at the end of the ceremony!

Sealed with a loving kiss at the end of the ceremony!

As I said, we have catered for many Greek weddings from our very early years of our existence.  When the hotel was first built-in the late 1970’s my father purposely made the dining room large so that we could cater for weddings.  Only when the guest list began to be 300 and 400 plus people large did we decide to stop doing them.  Other reasons are that most weddings take place in the winter as in the summer it interferes with the running of the restaurant in the hotel and in the winter Agios Stefanos Beach is too cold and unreliable with the weather to guarantee a trouble-free wedding.

Wedding table arrangement!

This traditional centerpiece is simple but classic.

The weather of course can make or break a wedding, not only here in Corfu but anywhere in the world which is why all of the world most take place in June, a nice safe month!  Here we can have them all summer long!  My biggest fear though was having a Maestro, a fierce northerly wind blowing on the day of the wedding.  Not that this wind would have spoilt the wedding but it would not have been ideal.  But the actual wedding day was blessed and perfect in every respect!

The groom giving a speech at the beginning of the festivities!

Paul, the groom giving a speech at the beginning of the festivities!

Having been to an endless amounts of weddings in America I knew how to arrange this one along similar lines. Sandra, Paul’s mother and I were emailing each other all winter long deciding how to organize the reception.  We both agreed on having a cocktail hour beforehand at the Hotel’s pool bar, BarOne, only that we would serve Prosecco with cherries as they were in season instead of cocktails.  Sandra thinking small ordered 10 bottles for their humble group of 19!

The meal would consist of a medley of Greek Mezzes (starters) and a choice of 3 main courses: a fish dish, a chicken dish & a meat dish.  Being our first English wedding and wanting to please my long time friends, I might have gone a bit over board with the starters as I kicked off the wedding banquet with: bruschetta, taramasalata, tzatziki, hummus, ktipiti, meatballs and a few others dishes.  There were so many starters that I had to cancel a few that I have not mentioned as the wedding party were clearly defeated by my onslaught of Greek appetizers.

The main course meals consisted of Fennel Fillet of Sole, Rosemary Chicken, and as Craig and Sandra wished, Spit-Roast Leg of Lamb!

All this was followed by the wedding cake and fruit and of course, Greek dancing!  Sandra wanted to surprise the newlyweds with a live band and even though Paul and Stevie found this out as someone ‘let the cat was out of the bag’ but they took it in true fashion by asking me to teach them a few Greek dances.  The music all evening was all Greek, in fact, very traditional folk music at that, but went like a charm with everyone dancing to it regardless of nationality.  Sandra and I both agreed that the hotel guests should be considered as honoured guests and not be excluded from the festivities so what started out as a small English wedding, it turned out into a Big English Wedding!

During the evening Sandra had given all the guests a Thai Sky/Fire Lantern to let loose into the night sky.  It was very beautiful as it was as quite a few of the lanterns reached the heavens.  Personally, I prefer our old fashioned declaration of setting the wedding in progress by letting off fireworks or even the more traditional Corfiot custom of exploding dynamite!  All serve the same purpose, to announce to the world the joining of 2 people into a sacred bondage.  Needless to say, they did not burn half of Corfu doing it, though it did cross my mind!

What made this wedding so fabulous is that everyone participated in the festivities regardless of any cultural difference, you must remember the band was playing Greek folk music so when I asked them if they knew any modern English songs they told me that they knew how to play ‘O Sole Mio’ so they played it…  and guess what?  Everyone danced to it!

I would like to thank Paul, Stevie, Sandra, and Craig along with the rest of the family guests and honoured guests who all contributed to a magical summer’s evening, enjoyed by everyone!

Super Full Moon

One of the biggest celestial events of the year was upon us!

The biggest and brightest full moon of the year graced the Corfu sky early hours of Sunday night/Monday morning as our celestial neighbor swings closer to the Earth than usual. Here are some photos taken at Agios Stefanos Beach in Corfu, Kerkyra, Greece.

Super full moon shining over the Hotel Nafsika

Super full moon shining over the Hotel Nafsika

A Super Moon occurs when the Moon is at its closest approach to the Earth at the same time it is full or new. Super moons are caused by the shape of the Moon’s orbit, which is not a perfect circle, but an ellipse, or oval, shape. The Moon orbits the Earth once each month, and each month reaches a point farthest from the Earth, called apogee, and closest to the Earth, called perigee.

Super full moon shining over BarOne and the pool.

Super full moon shining over BarOne and the pool.

Moon watchers won’t be able to notice the difference with the naked eye. Still, experts say it’s worth looking up and appreciating the cosmos.

Super full moon... June 2013

Super full moon… June 2013

The moon will come within 222,000 miles (357,000 kilometers) of Earth making it a majestic celestial wonder.

Super full moon trying to get through some clouds

Super full moon trying to get through some clouds

Happy Super Moon gazing!

Avliotes Carnival 2013

This year’s carnival had its share of difficulties as it rained from the start of the day and did not finished until the start of the carnival.  The parade started late even by the normal Greek standards.  As is the custom, it would start at around 4 pm but it was well after 5 pm that the festivities began.  It was a wet, cold and windy day but ‘neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds’ of our annual carnival celebrations.  Normally on this day, we would have a live band playing but we had to cancel them as it would have been too cold for people to congregate in the village square.

The Avliotes carnival always tries to be current with all the news of the day and the election of the Pope is once such case in point. This may coincide with the hopes the Greeks have for a better tomorrow while satirizing the present.

The procession of cardinals in Avliotes!

The procession of cardinals in Avliotes!

The new Pope arrives in his bullet-proof pope-mobile!

The new Pope arrives in his bullet-proof pope-mobile!

Cleopatra and Mark Anthony were doomed partners as some of the European partners seem to be of late.

The love of Anthony and Cleopatra comes second to the love ot our Avliotes Carnival!

The love of Anthony and Cleopatra comes second to the love of our Avliotes Carnival!

Rebetika is one of those Greek words that has no translation in English. What started out as Greece’s underground music for the malcontent is has become Greece’s national music enjoyed by new and old alike.  The music was full of passion, melancholy tales of the hashish smoking habits that came with them from Smyrna, of love, death and of daily life.  The people who sang and danced rebetika lived their own lives, nobody owned them and nobody was going to own them.  They were free even if they were behind bars!

The original rebetika music was the laiki or popular music, the music of a new Greece, a Greece free of strife.

The original rebetika music was the laiki or popular music, the music of a new Greece, a Greece free of strife.

Times are harsh and with electricity becoming more and more unfordable people are going back to the old ways of cooking with wooden ovens and heating their house with fireplaces!

Back to the old fashion ovens.

Back to the old fashion ovens.

The first Greek rebetes were called Manges. The manges were seen as usually smartly dressed men and women who spent most of their time in ouzeris, cafes, brothels and even prisons. Fights were immanent as they were petty criminals, persons of the underworld. This all changed from the late 1950’s to become the main stream music of Greece.

Mπεκρήδες

Mπεκρήδες

Greece’s politicians have brought us into the crisis we are now facing though none of them have been brought to justice though some have but they have prison cells which are not the norm for all.

Some political prisoners have it easier than others.

Some political prisoners have it easier than others.

After the grand parade of masked troupes and floats the Karnabalos (King Carnival) is last to parade and it culminates in the ceremonial burning of the effigy of King Carnival in the village square. This year it has been symbolically portrayed as a rich Arab sheik  as they have been buying up Greek islands and Greek football teams as of late.  Mind you, the Arabs are not the only ones buying up Greek (and Cypriot) interests only!

Lets hope that 2013 will be a great year for all of us!!

‘King of the Carnival’

‘King of the Carnival’

Greek Lentil Soup (Fakes)

Theodora's Greek Lentil Soup, called Fakes in Greece!

Theodora’s Greek Lentil Soup, called Fakes in Greece!

Lentils have been eaten by mankind (women more than likely planted them, gathered them and cooked them in those early days) for over 10,000 years.  It was a very easy dish to prepare with very few ingredients and of course, it is loaded with protein and iron, so if the men came back from the hunt empty-handed at least they had a warm lentil soup waiting for them that was totally nutritious!  Another very Greek and traditional soup made from legumes is Fasoulada, Greek Bean Soup.

I owe this recipe to my friend Paul!  A very long time ago,  I made him a gift of a few bags of Greek lentils and promised to show how to cook them so it is about time I honored this vow! Greek Lentil Soup is called ‘Fakes’ in Greece, and is a very simple dish to make.  You may see it in other blogs as Faki but that is just one lentil which would make a very watery soup.

Some of the ingredients for Greek Lentil Soup

Some of the ingredients for Greek Lentil Soup

Traditionally this soup does not contain tomatoes as they were brought over to Europe at the time of Columbus, nor were the carrots and celery added, which is more than likely the reason why I did not eat it when I was young however much my mother tried to force it on me and my sister, she did not like them when she was young, as well.  In my village, most people still eat lentils this way! and some children will still say no to them.

Add the first ingredients and bring to boil.

Add the first ingredients and bring to boil.

The recipe below is a fairly modern version of the Greek traditional dish but I adore it non-the-less and I’m happy to say most of my hotel guests adore it as well regardless of whether or not they have tried the soup before.  It’s the kind of soup that you can add things to it and it will still work.  I know some people to have add bacon, chicken or just the broth, or many other types of vegetables and yet the soup is always delicious.

Most Greeks would add a few drops of red wine vinegar when they eat it and eat it with Kalamata Greek olives (Greek olives is a must!) and some fresh onions.  I prefer to add a few drops of Tabasco sauce which is mainly vinegar, plus I love the added kick that it gives to the soup.

Theodora’s Greek Lentil Soup (Fakes)

Ingredients:

1 bag of Greek brown lentils
1 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
1 large celery stick, diced
2 bay leaves
2 pinches of Greek oregano
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup chopped tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Prepare the lentils: Lentils may contain small rocks and irregular looking beans that you do not want in your soup. To check the lentils, pour them in small batches onto a plate so they are able to spread out. Once you checked all the lentils rinse your lentils to remove any dirt. Throw the lentils into a big soup pot with enough water to cover them over.
  2.  Add the chopped onion & garlic. Dice your carrots and celery and throw them into the pot as well. Add 2 bay leaves and 2 pinches of Greek oregano.  Bring to boil.
  3. Stir in tomato paste and the chopped tomatoes, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add additional water if the soup becomes too thick.
  4. Add olive oil, simmer for 15 minutes or more, until lentils are done.
  5. Serve with some red wine vinegar or Tabasco, fresh onions and black Greek olives.

Rainbow over Agios Stefanos Beach, Corfu, Greece.

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Πού ειναι το τέλος του ουράνιου τόξου,
στην ψυχή σας ή στον ορίζοντα; ”

Where does the rainbow end,
in your soul or on the horizon?”

Pablo Neruda, The Book of Questions