Greek life

Sea, my sea: Tell me your secrets

In January, the kindergarten began studying the sea.  Last week, they presented the project and a special play that incorporated pretty much everything they learned.  For the first 30 minutes, Kyria Anna and Kyria Amalia, the kindergarten teachers, talked with the parents/siblings/grandparents about everything they studied and incorporated into this expeditionary learning unit.  All of their reading, language arts, math and science centered around the sea. They read a book about a τριγoναψαρουλη (a triangle fish) and did a report on it.  They read another about a κοτουλα (chicken) named Karmela who wanted to see the sea so badly that she ran away from home.  And another about a φοκια (seal) who hated the way she looked so much that she cut her whiskers off only to find out she couldn’t hunt fish without them and learned to appreciate her face and body.  They built their own ferry (The Blue Star Kessaris) and christened it with a bottle of ‘champagne’ filled with confetti.  They built canoes and paddles.  They made dioramas.  They made clay sea animals.  They constructed lighthouses and key holders to sell at the Open Day Bazaar.  Peter drew sea scenes for weeks at home and at school.   And yesterday, he decided he’s going to live in Mexico when he grows up, because Mexico has bullfights AND sharks (καρχαγεια)  I mean, really, what could be better?

img_9444The field trips with this unit were awesome.  First, they went to a sea turtle refuge just down the road from our house and learned about how the refuge helps the turtles become healthy and able to go back into the sea. Our class adopted a χελωνα (turtle) named Nemo for a month, paying for all its medical needs and food.  In April, they collected recyclable materials all month in the classroom and then loaded it onto the school buses headed toward a recycling center.  The kids and staff talked there for more than an hour about how recycling is good for the earth … and the sea.

Last September’s oil spill provided a great teaching opportunity. During the play, half of the children played fish while the other half wore black capes (oil) and army crawled on the floor. The fish all died.  It was a very dramatic re-enactment.  They also did a couple of skits where they discussed the ‘rules’ of the sea and why we keep the beaches and water clean. They re-enacted the part of the chicken book where Karmela’s father grabs her wing and escorts her back to the coop because she’s too little to go to the sea by herself.  Each child had a part or two with a couple of lines. It was adorable.

img_9493Their final field trip was to the beach at Varkiza, where they picked up trash for a few hours.  Kyria Anna told us that the area they cleaned had not one speck of trash when they left.  Peter came home talking about all the kalamaki (straws) they found on the beach, and how his pal Demetri found a souvlaki kalamaki (bamboo skewer) and how dirty the beach was.  They learned how bad plastic is for our environment and each child got his/her own canvas bag to take things to the beach.  At the end of the performance, the kids sang two songs in English and two songs in Greek and received oceanographer diplomas, and then we got to walk through the halls and collect all of the masterpieces the kids made over the course of this unit.

This was the most perfect unit I could think of for this age.  I hope their discoveries turn them into the generation who will preserve the beautiful Greek environment.  The country desperately needs it.


Greek life


After the basketball game at the Olympic Hall two Saturdays ago, Papou took the kids and me to a pretty little monastery tucked into the side of Mount Imittos, one of the mountains that surrounds the city of Athens.  We walked through the grounds of the monastery – seeing the 11th century church, the living quarters, the kitchen and the olive press room, where donkeys used to pull the large rock wheel that crushed the olives into oil.  Then the boys climbed and rested in a huge sycamore just on the other side of the monastery wall.  We had a drink in the little snack bar, the boys explored the woods around, and we came home.

Though the church was built in the 11th century, the site itself in ancient times is thought to have been a temple or other monument to Aphrodite.  A gorgeous place for the fairest goddess.

Last Sunday, we took Demetri back there to hike the trails above the monastery.  We had a nice cloud cover so it didn’t feel too hot and we wandered in the woods for 4 hours.  The boys found 9 turtles along the way; they even fed one a full buffet of sumac (it looked like sumac) leaves.  Through the city haze, the views of Lycabbetus Hill, the Acropolis and even the Pireaus port were spectacular.   Athens looks huge – a sea of white buildings in the valley surrounded by the mountains.img_5424

After the hike, Thodoris and Mina met us for a late lunch in Zografou.  We found a fun little park, with a vine-covered fence that hid the playground from the surrounding streets.

img_9472Demetri’s final trip to Spain was awesome.  Based in Barcelona, the Race2Adventure crew saw  Barcelona, Costa Brava, Game of Thrones’ Girona, Ibiza … and then he and two friends saw the F1 race in Barcelona.  Demetri realized that he’s spent 25 of the last 40 days in Spain.  Never a bad thing.  He’s got fun pictures of his trip on his facebook page.  Tomorrow, he’s off to Monte Carlo for more F1 and then to Mugello Italy for MotoGP with Thodoris and Vasillis.

Greek life

Το Λαϊκή Αγορα

The laiki agora literally means “people’s market.” It is the farmers’ market that happens weekly in most neighborhoods around Athens. The laiki vendors sell fruit, vegetables, fish, eggs, olives, flowers, nuts … plus some household items like clothes line clips, laundry baskets, or mosquito battling supplies.

The Voula laiki happens on Thursdays.  The photo above is one I took in mid-March; just as the strawberries started to make their appearance.  ( I know! Strawberries in March! They were so fresh and ripe we could smell them as we walked by.) In the photos, you see tomatoes, asparagus, artichokes, pomegranate, persimmon, green beans — a mix of winter and spring produce. Greek food is local and seasonal, so the laiki won’t have things that are out of season … though we can get apples, bananas, cucumbers, oranges & greens all year long.  Tomatoes too, but truly the best ones are during the summer.img_8857

My first few times at laiki, I went (naturally) with Papou, who likes specific vendors for specific things. For example, the guy who sells the eggs Papou prefers also runs the souvlaki stand.  He may buy the eggs because of the souvlaki; I should ask.  In the supermarkets, eggs are €3-4 for six eggs.  At the laiki, eggs are fresh, fresh, fresh and €,20 each!

Last week, I was stoked to see summer fruit start to make an appearance.  First come the βερύκοκκο & φραολεσ (apricots & strawberries) and the πεπονι (melon — looks like honeydew, smells and tastes like canteloupe).  This week, I’m seeing cherries (κερασια) and watermelon (καρπουζι).  Which means the peaches (ροδακινα) and nectarines (νεκταρινια) are not far behind.  To Peter and me, peaches and nectarines define summer.  Then come the grapes (σταφυλια), the really good summer tomatoes (ντοματα), and … the figs (συκα).

There’s nothing like Greek watermelon.  In the summer, tavernas bring a big plate of sliced, cold watermelon after your meal.  It’s hard to describe how good it is.  Just what you want on a hot evening.

You have to remember to bring small euro notes and change to the laiki.  They will laugh you away if you hand them a €50 for €1,50 worth of something.  Last Thursday, I worried I didn’t have enough money for all the things on my list — I scraped together €15.  I had a buck leftover and was so weighed down I needed to readjust myself twice on the way back to the car.  I think my very favorite bargain is the herbs.  For €,50 each, you can get a huge (huge!) bunch of parsley (μανιταρια) or dill (ανηθοσ).  None of these little plastic boxes for $4 like in Denver.  For €,50, who cares if I don’t use it all before it goes bad.  (Papou taught me this trick.)

Prices change within the day.  We see higher prices in the morning, especially for things like fish. Prices –and where the item is from– are always written on cards or little chalkboards and also are announced verbally by the vendor.  The lowest prices seem to happen by mid-day, say 2 pm.  Last week, strawberries were almost half the original starting price.

The laiki is a social tradition; I see my neighbors at the laiki often.  Last week I followed Eva a bit just to see where she gets her things (she’s our downstairs neighbor who made the cake for the kids on the first day of school). Sometimes I see Labros from the 2nd floor or Mrs. Kastrioti from the 5th floor.  Sometimes Papou takes Mrs. K with him and they have a souvlaki together after they shop.

Athens has a big central market near Omonia square that is open every day of the week — there are permanent buildings that house it.  The buildings on one side of the street have meat and fish (including goat heads) and the other side is produce, olives, homemade wine and household items.   It’s cool to walk around in there and see it on your way back from say, the National Archaeological Museum.

Greek life

Κολύμβηση ΕΞΠΟ

Today’s title says “Swimming EXPO.”  It seems at this time of year, many of the schools in & around Athens have “open days” of sorts; a combination of carnival and showcase of progress and projects around the school. Kessaris’ Open Day was April 28 — the kindergarten and pre-K hosted a Bazaar of various crafts and projects from their studies this Spring, Michael’s class performed a play, the basketball teams showed off their skills, the art program hosted a gallery and the robotics program had a lego display. This morning, the swim program at school held its own expo, where the students who participate in this elective (it’s held during the school day like an extra gym class) got to show their parents, grandparents and classmates what they have learned over the past 9 months.

img_9293Demetri is in Barcelona for Race2Adventure, so Papou and I went today.  The program started with the three year olds, then the Pre-K 4 kiddos. Nipio (kindergarten) was next.  Peter marched straight out of the locker room, cap on, kick board in hand, and climbed up to his starting block.  He and his friends Demetris, Gianni, Anastasia, Sylvia, Eva and others got in position and jumped in and swam the length.  They climbed out and did it again, this time doing one hand at a time on the kick board, freestyle. Then again on their backs.  The finale was a dive (kind of a flying leap for most of these little ones) through a hula hoop.  It was unbelievably cute.  They were all very serious and very good listeners.  Many of the kids waved to their parents; some even while they were in the water.

Michael’s class came next. The title picture above is his group: Michael is third from the left, with his pal Kostantinos and his classmates Demetris, Georgios, Haralabos, and Panagiotis. Penelope, Aphrodite and Marianiki are on the right.  Michael’s teacher brought the students who don’t swim or play tennis to the pool so they could cheer for their buddies.  Michael’s exercises were similar to Peter’s class: breast stroke, freestyle, and backstroke.  Michael is a little bullet  backstroker.  He and Kostantinos were neck in neck for a lot of it.  Kostantinos is in a different 2nd grade class, but he swims and plays basketball with Michael and they are in the same bilingual English class together.  The two boys are a lot alike: quiet, sweet, shy — so they liked each other immediately but it took them a while to form their friendship.  His bilingual English classmates were Michael’s first friends. There are only five of them in the class but they are all fluent in English so he could communicate with them from the first day.  Their finale also was a dive through a hula hoop and at this age the diving was terrific. They swam along the bottom of the pool across to the other ladder without a breath.img_9295

Papou was an excellent cheerleader.  Demetri talks about how his dad used to come to his highschool wrestling matches and yell “GOOOOOOOOO DEMETREEEEEEE!” loudly from the stands. He did the same thing today for the boys.  (Demetri says that his wrestling teammates liked Papou’s enthusiasm so much that they asked Demetri if maybe Papou could cheer for them, too.)

I’m glad the school staff knows me a little bit now and understands that I’m just an emotional mom.  The first day of school I was in tears out of fear.  Today my tears were different — from my exploding heart.  We stopped going to the beach (oil spill) about the time that swimming started at school, so Demetri and I haven’t really seen the boys’ much-improved skills.  They have become real swimmers!  It was a total thrill to watch.

The next end-of-year showcase will be next week when the Nipio presents their project on “The Secrets of the Sea,” along with a play that the drama department and kinder teachers wrote and directed.  We cannot wait.



Greek life

And just like that, they speak Greek

We’re proud to announce the kids have learned the language.

The weather has turned.  It’s summer all of the sudden – high 80s, ready-to-swim. The picture above is from a few days ago.  Last weekend, Demetri’s cousin Andreas (brother to Katerina) and his wife Zara were in town, so we all met for an afternoon coffee at Notos, a lovely restaurant on the water just a few blocks from us.  Michael and Georgios joined a soccer game with some big kids; Peter and Little Katerina played family and ran around, cracking each other up.  They invited me to play because they were baby kittens and they needed a mommy cat.  I was speaking in as much Greek as I can and saying things like “Let’s go for a walk.’ ‘Let’s go see the sea.”  Little K asked me a question and I turned to Peter and asked what she said.  He replied, “she wants to know if we’re going to get hurt.”  Po Po! as the Greeks say.  (Wow!)  I had him translate more just for grins.

Later, they were playing bulls, and Katerina said she was a bull too.  In Greek, Peter said, “you can’t be a bull, you’re a girl.  You have to be a cow.”  Big Katerina was there to hear that one.  He and Little K talk exclusively in Greek. It is utterly amazing. Anna spoke to him in Greek and he responded to her.  I mean, I know this is what was supposed to happen, but to see it is so fantastic.

Michael too.  He understands what he reads for school and what the teachers say.  He doesn’t have the vocabulary of a Greek 8 year old, but his language arts teacher tells me that’s ok. He can join a soccer game and talk to kids in the square.  One night last week, there was a third-grade girl in the square who rides our bus.  Michael wanted to eat quickly and go back to her because she was playing alone.  I asked him if she spoke English and he said, “Um… I’m not sure.”  And he ran off. This was big.  Huge. Michael has been so shy to speak Greek, even though he knew what people were saying. There was a sad day in late February when he overheard a classmate say something unkind about him to another classmate.  He had tears when he told me about it, saying “I know more Greek than people think I do.”  I agreed with him and we encouraged him to speak more so that he doesn’t feel so isolated.  He recited part of a poem at the school’s independence day program and returned from Spring Break a new man.  He would have never joined a soccer game a couple of months ago, even though he really wanted to.  I think having his cousin with him Saturday made him a little braver (it made George braver too), but more than anything, Michael understood them.  Even better was that the soccer boys were all really nice.  They patted each other on the hip when someone scored and they helped each other off the ground. When Michael slid and fell, one of them walked Michael over to me and said to me in English, “he’s a great defender.”  That’s something coming from Greek kids who have had soccer balls since the minute they could stand.  Michael’s eyes lit up and he had a huge grin and suddenly his shoulder didn’t hurt.  (He did have a little road rash later, but he was pretty proud of it.). And he’s been practicing his ball skills ever since.  Never know when a game might pop up.

Going to a Greek school was really hard in September.  It’s hard to get along with people you don’t understand.  How they play is different, how they express themselves is different … what seems like mean or rude behavior to one culture is nothing of the sort in another.  Last summer, Demetri made up a story about two little boys who moved to a new place and didn’t know the language but after a while these little boys learned so much of the language that they helped their parents talk to people in the grocery store and at school and in restaurants or on the subway.  (Yes, really, this is total fiction, despite any similarities to our family.) Anyway, the story has come true.  Greek is a hard language to learn.  Not only are we not exposed to it like we are Spanish, the alphabet is completely different and that’s incredibly intimidating.  Learning Greek has been so empowering for both of them.  Now they can laugh at funny things that happen in the classroom.  And get a joke on a show. And recognize the Greek words for butt and fart.  And understand when adults rub the boys’ heads and say something to them. Or trash talk with a kid on the playground who insults you.  Case in point: one day before Spring Break we were at a park with Anna and the kids.  Peter and Georgios were riding scooters and some big kids were on skateboards.  One of those guys was coming down the hill right where Peter was coming up, and the kid waved his hand and said “Fige, moraki.” (Move, baby.  But in this case move is more like ‘scram.’)  Peter was incensed, dropped the scooter, clenched his fists, and yelled “I am NOT a BABY! YOU move!” I was really happy I knew enough Greek to understand that because I laughed for hours.

Happy birthday to me.  This has been the best gift … ever.

Greek life

48 Greek foods everyone should try

Everyone knows the gyro.   And the scene from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where Aunt Voula tells Ian, the non-Greek vegetarian fiancé, that lamb is not meat.  It’s like, beyond meat. Vegetarians can totally eat it.

Roberta’s visit last week — and our search for different foods as we tooled around — inspired me to make a list of our family’s favorite foods; the ones we think everyone ought to try.  Why 48?  The number is staring me down. My birthday is this week.

These are not ranked.  Trying to assign a position … a number … a grade … to these was pure agony.  So instead they’re sort of grouped together as you’d see on a menu: appetizers and salads, main dishes, sides/veggies, desserts.

  1.  Pies:  tyropita (cheese), spanikopita (spinach), loukaniko (sausage), kotopoulo (chicken), kolokythopita (zucchini), prasopita (leek) … the list goes on forever.  It’s phyllo wrapped around some sort of savory goodness with cheese and herbs.  It might be a triangle. Or round. Maybe square. Perhaps D-shaped. Or long and skinny.  You find them everywhere, thank heavens. Katerina taught me how to make a big batch of them in 2011.  Hers are better than mine.
  2. Pastourmadopitakia – Phyllo dough with cheese and pastourma (like pastrami).  Fried before serving for extra love.
  3. Koulouri: A round bread product covered in sesame seeds.  Looks like a lanky bagel. Michael in particular loves them.
  4. Kalamarakia: Lightly fried kalamari.  It’s so fresh and soft.
  5. Horiatiki salata: A salad of tomatoes, cucumber, onion, green pepper and olives with rectangular hunk of feta on top, dressed with olive oil, oregano and red wine vinegar.  Sometimes a few capers might be tossed in too.
  6. Horta: Boiled greens, e.g., chard, dandelions, purslane, fennel leaves, beetroot, etc.,  served with olive oil and lemon.  Horta literally means ‘weeds,’ though it’s nicer to say ‘wild mountain greens.’
  7. Fava: Not fava at all, but rather yellow split peas, pureed and topped with capers, scallions or red onions and olive oil.  It can be served cold; we like it warm.
  8. Fazolia: bean salad (black eyed peas are Demetri’s fave) with fresh dill and finely chopped red onion and dressed with olive oil.
  9. Spring salad:  Lettuce, scallions, and tons of dill with a lemon-olive oil dressing.  Bright spring flavors that are traditional for Easter.
  10. Dakos:  A Cretan salad with a crunchy rusk about the size of a hamburger bun, topped with a mixture of chopped tomato, olive oil and onion. A chunk of feta goes on top.  The tomato softens the rusk.
  11. Xtopodi: Octopus.  Often grilled and made into a salad with herbs and olive oil; also cooked with pasta in a red wine sauce. It’s better than you think it will be.
  12. Tzatziki:  yogurt with garlic and cucumber and sometimes dill.  It’s served on gyros, but my favorite application is french fries.  Demetri’s brilliant hack: use the juicer to grate the cucumber.  Saves hours of straining.
  13. Taramosalata:  a salty spread made from fish roe.  Usually served with grilled pita bread; also good with cut up veggies.
  14. Gigantes: Giant white beans in tomato sauce with a lot of dill.  Our man Manoulis makes them in an olive oil sauce with tons of different herbs.
  15. Panzaria with skordalia:  Boiled or roasted beets sliced (so sweet kids love ’em) and served as a salad with a garlic sauce made from potatoes or bread crumbs.  ‘Skorda’ is garlic in Greek.
  16. Spanakorizo: Spinach, rice, onions, dill and tomato paste cooked on the stove. Vegan comfort food.
  17. Fakes (say fahk-yes): Lentils.  Usually a soup, sometimes a salad.   They can be red, black or the traditional greenish-brown.
  18. Revithia:  Garbanzo beans in a savory broth.  It has lemon juice to give it a little brightness.
  19. Fazolakia: Green beans in tomato sauce.  I feel like I’m insulting this dish by describing it so simply.  It’s the BEST.  I love it every time I eat it, but nobody can hold a candle to Manoulis.
  20. Artichokes with peas: Lots of dill in this one, plus usually a potato.  Cooked and served at room temperature.
  21. Patates lemonates: Roasted potatoes covered in olive oil, oregano and lemon.  I haven’t yet cracked the secret of crisping them up.
  22. Tiganetes patates: French fries. Greece does them well.
  23. Soutzouki with avga:  Soutzouki is a super spicy sausage; our favorite way to eat is with fried eggs and potatoes (french fries) served in a tiny little skillet fresh from the oven.
  24. Souvlaki: Pork, chicken or lamb grilled on a ‘little’ skewer.  Fun fact: bamboo skewers and drinking straws are both called ‘kalamaki’. If you order a chicken skewer, you ask for a ‘kotopoulo kalamaki.’  We had a funny confusion one night where one of our waitress pals offered Peter a straw (saying ‘kalamaki’) and he said, “no I don’t want kalamaki tonight, I want a gyro.”
  25. Kotosouvli: larger pieces of pork or chicken cooked on the souvla – the large metal skewer.
  26. Paidakia – grilled lamb chops.  Peter’s fave.
  27. Arni: Lamb in general; from the spit.  Little pieces of lamb are called ‘arnaki.’
  28. Kleftiko: Also called ‘lamb in the oven.’  Slow cooked in parchment; sometimes with vegetables.  Fantastic.
  29. Kebab:  Beef and spices rolled into a log and cooked on the grill.  My kids would eat them every night.  Sometimes they do eat them every night.
  30. Gyro (say ‘yee-roh’):  Shaved pork or chicken placed in a pita bread with tzatziki, tomatoes, onions and french fries (yep, inside).  Can be served deconstructed on a plate too; called a ‘portion.’  The gyros in Greece are so good. We like the gyros in the US with their beef/lamb meatloaf mixture, but the real thing is so much better.
  31. Moussaka: Layered casserole with eggplant, ground beef and tomato sauce and topped with bechamel.
  32. Giouvetsi: Oven baked dish with pasta and meat.  While it could be chicken, beef or pork, and the noodle can be any short one, the most traditional is beef and orzo.
  33. Pastitsio:  Hollow, thick spaghetti with ground beef and tomato sauce (that contains a hint of cinnamon), also topped with bechamel.  This was Demetri’s favorite food as a kid; his grandmother gave it to him as an after school snack.
  34. Gemista: Means ‘stuffed.’ Usually this is tomatoes and peppers stuffed with rice and then roasted in the oven until the vegetable is soft. Could be zucchini or eggplant too.
  35. Laxanadolmades: Cabbage leaves stuffed with ground beef and served in avgolemono (egg-lemon) sauce.  Zucchini can be served like this too.  This might be my favorite dinner.
  36. Papoutsakia:  Ground beef and cheese stuffed eggplants with either potato puree or bechamel on top. ‘Papoutsia’ is the word for shoes … and these kinda look like ’em.
  37. Soutzoukakia: log-shaped meatballs with hints of cumin and mint and sometimes ouzo in tomato sauce. Usually served over rice.  Once I grabbed what I thought was leftover spaghetti sauce from the freezer for dinner.  When it defrosted, I was beside myself with delight to discover it was Papou’s soutzoukakia made during his last visit.  I also think this is the only Greek meal my dad ever had.
  38. Keftedes: Lamb or beef or chicken or maybe pork meatballs.  Tiny ones are ‘keftedakia.’
  39. Giovarlakia: Meatballs with rice and herbs in avgolemono sauce.  Lovely.
  40. Psarosoupa: A hearty fish soup that’s filling but light at the same time.  Eat this for lunch in November when the weather turns.
  41. Greek yogurt:  10% fat.  It’s just that much better.  Best topped with honey and walnuts, not stirred around.
  42. Mezithropitakia: Pictured above.  Pastry stuffed with a sweetened mezithra cheese mixture and topped with a little cinnamon. Perfect with coffee.  Go for a run and bank some calories first.
  43. Portokalopita:  Yogurt cake with orange syrup.
  44. Spoon sweets: Fruit preserved in syrup … and there are hundreds of these. Eat solo on a spoon (duh) or over yogurt.  Papou’s favorite is quince, followed by sour cherry.  Katerina makes a mean one with grapes and almonds.
  45. Baklava: Layers of phyllo with walnuts and honey tucked inside. Kataifi is phyllo that looks like string with the same stuffing; just rolled up instead of layered.
  46. Bougatsa:  Phyllo with sweet cream inside, topped with powdered sugar.  If you come from Thessaloniki, ‘bougatsa’ means anything wrapped in phyllo; savory or sweet.  In Athens, bougatsa is only this sweet pie.
  47. Galaktoboureko: Sweet custard in phyllo in syrup. The Athens pastry shop, Kosmikon, makes theirs in kataifi dough.  Tyler loves this one so much that Papou bought a whole cake for only Tyler last year, and left a note saying so.
  48. Loukoumades:  In a word, donut.  Fried dough with sugar or powdered sugar.

Honorable mention: cheese

Cheese has ancient roots. Strainers have been found all over the country starting in the Neolithic period.  Carvings in the Minoan palace of Knossos on the island of Crete depict men making cheese from goat milk.  Most Greek cheese is made from goat or sheep milk. These animals are native to Greece; the rugged landscape isn’t very conducive for cow pastures.

Each island boasts its own special cheese, e.g., San Mixalis only comes from Syros; Graviera is ubiquitous but Naxos has its own.  Kefalograviera is different than just Graviera.  And there are tons of feta varieties; be decisive when at the cheese counter. Halloumi is grilled and placed atop salads. It squeaks on your teeth. Cheeses are are salty, creamy or nutty. They can be grilled, flambe, mixed together in a pie or eaten as an appetizer with olives. Some are sweetened up for desserts. It’s fun to travel and sample cheeses special to that region.

Extra credit: drinks

  1. Ouzo: Aperitif liquor made from grapes with anise added, giving it a liquorice flavor. Try it on a really hot day in a glass of ice water.
  2. Masticha: Digestif liquor made from the ‘tears’ of masticha trees, found only on the island of Chios.
  3. Tsipouro:  Digestif liquor made from grapes.
  4. Raki, from Crete, is similar to tsipouro.  Also a digestif.
  5. CoffeeGreek coffee (ellinikos kafes) is specially made in a briki – a little pot with a long handle.  The coffee is boiled with sugar and served thick and dark. These days, the coffee shops always make greek coffee, but more popular are the espresso drinks, especially the cold ones.  Baristas mix the sugar (most Greeks put sugar in their coffee) into the espresso and give it a healthy stir so it all dissolves. Drink it plain over ice and you have a freddo espresso.  Add whipped milk or whipped krema (cream) and you’ve got a freddo cappucino. Nurse it for more than an hour and you are a true Greek.

I’d love to hear your favorites.  Did I miss anything you love?

photo from

Greek life, Travels


My friend Roberta – we met in junior high soccer – came for a visit last week.  All by herself, which disappointed Michael and Peter since she and her husband have three fabulous daughters who both my boys adore.  Since Roberta had been to Athens before, we decided on a few ‘second visit’ things to do, like the Elias Lalaounis jewelry museum (a fave), and the Benizelos (Μπενιζελωσ — not to be confused with Venizelos) mansion, a quick trip to Nafplio, Epidaurus and Mycenae.

The Benizelos mansion is really neat.  Nestled in between shops and tavernas on Adrianou Street, it sits just in front of the Roman Agora.  Built in the 16th century, it’s the oldest surviving house in Athens.  It’s a typical urban nobility house from the Ottoman period. The upper floor is sort of a labyrinth made of timber.  The home’s most famous inhabitant was Revoula Benizelos, later martyred as St. Philothei, a woman who after being widowed very young, started a monastery that gave shelter, food and care to the poor and also provided refuge to slaves and Muslim women who had converted to Christianity. The Turks killed her for that in the late 1500s; she is one of the only saints to have been martyred during Ottoman rule.

Our next stop was Mycenae, home to the ancient civilization renowned for its technical advancements as well as artistic wealth — which played an important role in the development of classical Greece and its culture.  The ruins of this fortified citadel date back to 1600 BC and the most impressive element of Mycenae are its tombs, in which archaeologists found jewelry, weapons and tools, plus things that came from other parts of the world: ivory, tin, even lapis. The Myceneans were among the first to use bronze and it was here that the first pieces of the Greek language, preserved on Linear B tables, were discovered.  Mythology says Mycenae was founded by Perseus who employed the Cyclopes to build the city walls from rocks that no human could lift.  It’s also said to be the inspiration for Homer’s epic poem. Its most famous king was Agamemnon, who helped his brother Menelaus rescue Menelaus’ wife Helen, during the Trojan War (yes, that Helen).  Agamemnon and his wife Clytemnestra had two children, Orestes and Electra.  After Clytemnestra and her lover murdered Agamemnon in the bathtub, Electra and Orestes spent years working to avenge their father’s death.  I think I have this right.

Now, I knew this story from high school English class and the great play by Euripides.  In the 19th century, archaeologists found the bronze burial mask of King Agamemnon … and they excavated the bathtub he died in.  Turns out Agamemnon may not have been a fictional character at all.  You can find this mask in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.