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.

Advertisements

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.

IMG_3503

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.

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’

Erinaceus Europaeus

In the many years after opening BarOne, the outdoor pool bar at the Nafsika Hotel, we have been frequented by many two-legged friends and on some rare occasions by a few four-legged friends and even some legless ones!  I can envisage what you’re all thinking… yes, we have had a few guests that have left legless from the bar but none that have come to the bar legless!

Last night, we were visited by Hobart, the Hedgehog.  He was rather shy at first but he soon opened up to us (sorry, for the pun)!  In fact, he so much liked to have his picture taken that he did not want to roll up into a ball again and return to his home in the wild!  I must admit, BarOne has this effect on all species – not wanting to leave.

Hobart the Hedgehog

As some of you know the Hotel is situated in the ‘old part of town’ which has the green belt area behind it. This is one of the reasons why there is even a ‘new part of town’ since no one can build anything on ‘forest land’ which is what the Land Registry calls it, but that will be another story. In reality there’s not much forest but more wild shrubs, especially the kind that can resist the sea elements as it is blasted by both the northwest wind, the Maestro and the southeastern wind, the Ostria.

There are many wild animals living in this very green patch of Agios Stefanos Beach, some existing there with the help of us humans since with the help of my friend Carole, a holiday rep, that lives on the island permanently; we liberated 7 tortoises in the hope that they would be fruitful and multiply. I would also be very wary to stray from the path as there are many snakes lurking in the bushes one of which, the Nose-Horned Viper, is very dangerous and Corfu’s only poisonous snake. Although this species is poisonous it won’t attack unless provoked and in fact it shuns human contact. We have had 2 snakes visit BarOne in the past, both times as it happens during the day and they seem to like wondering underneath women’s beach bags!

We have had other visitors such as Harold the owl and Ernie the eagle, but those are other stories and will be told on other occasions.

Greek Easter Eggs

A few days before Greek Easter,  my mother would be dyeing eggs red to have them ready for our Easter table.  This would be one of her chores to prepare for our Greek Orthodox Easter celebrations.  This year as I am alone in the house and as I was kindly given some fresh eggs by a neighbour,  I thought I would dye them myself,  I mean,  how hard can it be?

After the midnight resurrection Mass and on Easter Sunday, children and adults would ask the question, “Na tsoungrisoume?” meaning, “Shall we crack them?”.   These freshly boiled and painted eggs which would be laying in a basket from Holy Thursday when they are traditionally made.  Unfortunately, these eggs could not be eaten until after the church service on Saturday night, due to the observation of Lent, and consequently they would be a welcome treat after our fasting.  The ritual would be as follows, one person would hold his egg in a fist with the pointy end exposed while the other taps it while saying the words, “Christós Anésti!” meaning “Christ has arisen!”  The other would reply, “Alithós Anésti!” meaning “Surely he has arisen!”  The same would be done on the other end.  The one who would have his egg whole and not cracked would be assured one year’s worth of good luck!  The other would have a cracked egg and possibly high cholesterol!

The dyeing of the egg red has many symbolic connotations and using the egg as a medium for this symbolism has a history as old as man himself.  The egg represents among other things a rebirth of the earth during springtime just as the resurrection of the Jesus represents the promise of everlasting life.  First used as a religious symbol in Persia in about 500 BC, noblemen would carry painted eggs to celebrate the spring equinox. The deep red color symbolizes the blood of Christ shed on the Holy Cross while the hard shell of the egg symbolizes the tomb of Christ.  Thus cracking it represents his resurrection.

Another reason I was told for the eggs being red when I was young was that when Mary Magdalene visits a Roman emperor and greets him with “Christ has risen”.  The emperor replied that Christ can no more rise again than this egg can turn red.  At that point the egg in his hand turned blood-red.

How to Make Greek Easter Eggs

Although many use red onions to dye the eggs I will cop out for a more easier and reliable method.  The Greek red egg dye can be purchased at any store that sells Greek items.

Things You’ll Need:

  • 1 Packet Greek Red Egg Dye
  • 10- To 12-quart Cooking Pots
  • 8 to 10 quarts water
  • Red wine vinegar

Instructions:

  1. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil over medium heat. Add the eggs and cook, stirring gently with a wooden spoon, for 10 minutes (this will center the egg yolks as they cook). Drain.
  2. Place dye powder and 2 tbsp of the warm water in a large glass bowl and stir until dye dissolves. Add vinegar and the remaining warm water and stir to combine. Add the hard-boiled eggs to the dye mixture and set aside for 3 minutes to soak. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the eggs to a plate and set aside for 40 minutes to dry.
  3. Place a little oil on paper towel and wipe each egg until shiny.

Carnival in Avliotes, 2012

The royal wedding of William & Kate.

Every year for the last 160 or so years,  Avliotes has been holding a carnival to bring some joy to the long sullen winter and make fun of life’s ‘slings and arrows’.  The day this occurs is on ‘Kathari Deftera’, Clean Monday which is the first day of lent in the Greek Orthodox church.  This day falls 7 weeks before Greek Easter.  The period of 4 days before ‘Clean Monday’ are filled with lively parties, parades, and other traditional festivities wherever Carnivals in Corfu are celebrated.

Carnival in Avliotes, 2012

Most people would never associate the Greeks with carnival but in truth they invented it!… Yes, I know what you are thinking, ‘not carnival as well!’, but just think about it.  Most carnival related festivities are associated with the ancient worship of the Greek god of wine and intoxication, Dionysus.  The processions, costuming, and feasting all derive from ancient ceremonies honoring him.  The Dionysian rites were based on a seasonal death-rebirth theme and the cleansing of the spirit through intoxication, dance and music to liberate the individual from inhibitions and social constraints.

Friendly Witches

After carnival , Greeks follow a strict 40 day of fasting plus the final holy week of Easter to prepare the themselves for the celebration of the death and resurrection of the Christ.  I have always wondered to myself why such a long period of fasting and tried to answer it without thinking about the religious aspect of the answer.  The reason I came up with was more of bare necessity than any spiritual reasoning.  Winter can be long and cruel especially in a world without any refrigeration. People needed a time of grace to allow animals to raise their young without the treat of slaughter or else they would be too young to kill.

Golden Boys

Our carnival in Avliotes is hosted by the town’s very own inhabitants.  All the outlandish costumes are made by the locals and everyone tries to outdo the other in presentation and style sometimes to the point of obscenity.  One would think there is much rivalry between the parading groups but in truth there is much camaraderie between everyone! Most of the themes are politically related or something current in the news.  The week before we parade through the main street there is a buzz of activity with people planning, groups ironing out their details, while the town is decorated, and carnival music is blasting through the streets.  This year, 2012, we had a few topics that concerned themselves with the unjust loans Greece was given.  One example to this: Germany would borrow money at a low rate of half a percent then lent it back to Greece for as much a 6 percent.  Through similar topics the ordinary town’s people would be able to release their stress and show their displeasure over daily circumstances.

King Carnival (Basilias Carnavalos)

At the end of the parade, there follows the burning of the Karnavalos (King Carnival), which is said to carry all the troubles of the locals. There is a will read which normally contains all the grievances and bad things that have happened during the previous year.   The will is normally in couplets and it contains many puns, innuendos and double entendres. The Karnavalos is burnt in a bonfire among great partying and dancing around it.

Of course this signifies the banishment of all our problems and the beginning of life anew… sadly, if it could only be that easy!!