It All Begins Again & Orange Cranberry Biscotti

Once upon a time, I became partner in a small and hip little cafe on a touristy little island in the Aegean. I cooked my butt off  and helped make many people happy when they ate at Orpheas Cafe and Winebar .

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Years later, in a different part of that same sunny country, I designed, and operated a much larger cafe/bistro in a new marina. Office space was converted into Skipper’s Cafe.  It had gorgeous views and looked out over the Messinian Bay. Unfortunately I had really crappy business partners that were also members of my former husband’s family and I got out of that mess as soon as the place became established.

Having the need to finally run the game on my own terms without constantly justifying myself to misunderstanding partners, I set up another shop. I sold homemade meals-to-go, soups, salads, and sweets, mainly to busy professionals who had no time, or desire, to cook nutritious meals for themselves. They were tired of only having fast food options when they wanted to just pick up a meal and eat at home. So my new establishment didn’t have a lot of seating available because I made Slow Food To-Go.

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It was an unusual concept, but it worked. I made a fresh soup, and two specials every day. One with meat, one vegetarian. Also available were various salads, and sweets, and everything was written daily on chalkboards. The menu always changed. What I cooked depended on what was in season, what I liked at the Market, or some new inspiration that I wanted to try. I was building up a great clientele who walked into my shop, took a deep breath of home cooked aromas,  and said, “Anke, what’s for dinner?”(in Greek of course).

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Then the Greek financial crisis hit big time. Within a month, my trusting clientele who came a few times a week, dwindled down to a few times a month as fear spread throughout the country and everyone’s financial situations became more and more fragile. It was sad and tragic and to be honest, when I arrived back  in the States after over 24 years in Greece, I believed I would never cook again professionally. When people asked me what I did, I replied that I was a retired chef.

Making mosaics helped heal the wound and I entertained ideas of supporting myself as a mosaic artist, but Rochester isn’t really the ideal place for this art form. I also found a great part time job.
But retired? Really?
Something started to nag my conscious every time I heard someone complain that they just didn’t have time to cook…

It turns out that that funky little kitchen in the sun was the forerunner to what I am starting now, in an entirely different part of the world, in a hip and foodie city called Rochester; Anke’s Kitchen Personal Chef Service! I will once again cook for busy professionals, who have no time or desire to cook nutritious meals – all in the safety of their own kitchens. I can custom tweak all menus right down to every clients’ tastes and needs – something I couldn’t do in the shop. Their kitchen will be my kitchen.

I have made new friends here who agree that I need to get back to feeding people and making them happy, so they are having me cater a very important event of theirs. They just moved into a gorgeous Victorian house in the city, and their new home needs a roaring Housewarming Party. Their practically adult children are also gathering from far and wide for the holidays, so it is an absolutely ideal time to celebrate and be festive. We have all come so far!

This will be the menu for approximately 50 people:

Carrot Cumin Soup*
Pumpkin/Feta/Mint Pastry

3 kinds of Cocktail Sandwiches:
Austrian Style Roasted Pork Belly and Horseradish Sauce
Sauteed Mixed Mushrooms and Herbs with Goat Cheese
Mediterranean Vegetable and Meatball with Mozzarella

4 kinds of Salads:
Fennel/Orange/Caper Salad
Coleslaw with Apples and Dried Fruit
Mom’s Russian Chicken Salad
Mixed Fresh Greens

5 kinds of Sweets:
Orange Cranberry Macadamia Biscotti*
Salted Triple Chocolate Pistachio Cookies*
Greek Melomakarona
Chocolate Fudge Cake
Holiday Nutcracker Cake

* recipes can be found here on the blog

Today I started to shop and cook for this event. I will begin with the Biscotti. They contain no fat, other than what is in the eggs, and they are perfect for dipping into wine, coffee, tea, or hot chocolate… even when you claim you can’t eat another bite.

Orange Cranberry Macadamia Biscotti

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Makes approximately 2 dozen medium sized Biscotti.

135gr (2/3 cup) sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 teaspoon orange extract
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
245 gr (1 3/4 cups) flour
1/2 cup macadamia nuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350F (170C)

Prepare baking sheets by lining them with parchment paper and set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the sugar and the eggs on high speed until thick, pale, and fluffy. Add the orange and almond extracts, plus the orange zest. Beat until well combined.
In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and combine well. Fold in the whole nuts and cranberries.

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Dampen your hands with water (so the dough won’t stick to them), and form either one large log, or smaller logs (I find it easier to work with smaller sized because the dough is not very firm and quite sticky) and place them on the baking sheet.

Bake for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch and starting to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.

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Reduce oven temperature to 325F (165C).
Transfer the logs to a cutting board and cut diagonal slices about 1/2″  (1cm) thick. Place the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the slices over, then bake for another ten minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let them cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
(These make wonderful gifts!)

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Lovin’ My Silveryness & Avgolemono (Egg Lemon) Chicken Soup

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Our laptop sits on a table that, if it could talk, could make me blush. This table is next to an antique buffet with an inlaid mirror. On the surface of the buffet, against most of that mirror, is our cookbook collection. From where I sit at this silent table laden with memories, I can see myself in the bit of mirror that isn’t covered by the cookbooks, and I like what I see.
As I’ve gotten older my hair has changed. The dull mousy dirty blond that I used to enhance with expensive highlights, has become a shimmery pewter with ever increasing streaks of pure silver. It is still as long as it always was and it is soft and silky and falling just the right way.
I have a lot to be grateful for; I have become a multi-skilled and multi-lingual globe trotting fandango. I have friends all over the world who I am proud to be connected with, and done pretty amazing stuff with some of them. It’s a great feeling to know that to so many places I could travel to, there are people looking forward to seeing me again as much as I am them. My child is beautiful and talented, and I am forever grateful that Mr. Fabelhaft and I love each other since High School.
I was sick recently with a horrible nasty cold, but as you can all see I am well again, singing the tunes of happy livin’ infected by the spirit of this next week of Thanksgiving. I am ever so grateful for my life, my loves, my family, my hair, and possessing the knowledge of making delicious soup (figuratively, theoretically, and practically), out of the simplest ingredients . I learned much of that from my mom, a warrior maiden with even more silvery hair than myself.

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Soothing Avgolemono (Egg Lemon) Chicken Soup
(You’re going to love this either before or after big Holiday meals.)

1 whole chicken OR what’s left of a roasted chicken, or other fowl (like turkey?!), plus some of the left over meat
3 large carrots
1 onion
3 celery stalks, OR 1/2 lb (1/4 kilo) celery root, OR two handfuls of celery leaves
1 garlic toe
1/2 cup of round grain rice (the kind you use for risotto or rice pudding)
two eggs
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon of flour (or corn flour)
fresh chopped dill or parsley (optional)
salt/pepper

Place the chicken (or bones & stuff), onion, garlic, celery, and carrots into a large pot. Cover with water no more than 1/2 inch (2 cm). Bring to a rolling boil, then  lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the chicken starts to fall apart (about 1.5- 2  hours).
Place a colander, or large sieve, over another pot and carefully pour chicken, vegetables and stock into the sieve. Let the stock  drain into the other pot.
When chicken is cool enough to comfortably touch, carefully empty the colander or sieve it on to a large cutting board or platter.
Place the stock in the pot over a  flame and bring to a boil. Add rice, salt, and pepper, stir, then lower the heat bring the soup to a low simmer. Cover and stir from time to time.
Gently separate the cooked chicken meat from the bones and gristle, and place the meat on a plate. Place the cooked vegetables on another plate.
Run a knife through the boiled vegetables to cut them into small pieces (this will be easy since they will have almost disintegrated in the stock) and add them to the simmering soup.
Tear 1/3 of the cooked chicken meat into shreds and add to the soup. Pack the rest in the freezer to use at a later date for chicken salad, or a chicken pastry, or whatever else you would like to add some cooked chicken to.

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When the rice is cooked, turn off the heat under the soup.
In a bowl, whisk the eggs, the lemon juice, and the cornstarch or flour until well blended and there are no lumps.
While whisking with one hand, slowly ladle (drizzling!) the hot broth into the egg/lemon mix as slowly as possible, whisking all the while. You want the soup to bind into the egg/lemon mix without curdling it. Slowly add another ladle full of broth while whisking. Add a third and fourth ladle.
Finally, pour all the contents of the bowl back into the soup pot and turn on the heat again to bring the soup to a simmer once more. It should thicken a bit at that point. Leave to simmer for one minute, then turn it off again.
If the soup is too thick, add a bit of water and season accordingly.
Garnish with freshly chopped herbs and serve with bread.

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Instructions for Next Year’s Hay/Straw Bale Gardners & Skordalia

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My blog subscriptions are piling up in my mailbox which sucks, because it makes me feel like I don’t post as often as I should. Maybe because everybody else who has been blogging so much longer than I have, has the rhythm down, and wham bam they press out their posts. I don’t have time to read all their posts, much less do more than I already am except constantly taking pictures of our food.
Who would have thunk that now every time before we can sit down to eat, I have to be all over it with a camera first.
Picture files are piling up and need sorting.

Lentil soup and fresh sesame and caraway rolls were last Friday's dinner

Lentil soup and fresh sesame and caraway rolls were last Friday’s dinner

Seriously, I see fabulously talented bloggers and as I have mentioned in an earlier post, I try not to become too overwhelmed.
I do think though that my last post was a bit on the too longish side, so I shall be brief this time.

Roasted turkey thighs with acorn squash and potatoes

For those of you who want to do a bale garden (like we have been doing for the last three years):

Bales laid out before planting. Ideally they will need to 'season' (decompose) for 3 -4 months.

Bales laid out before planting. Ideally they will need to ‘season’ (decompose) for 3 -4 months.

If you’re thinking of doing a hay or straw bale garden next year, AND are also using hay bales as autumn decorations on your front yard; you might want to consider buying enough hay or straw bales to fully complete next year’s garden IF you have a place to keep them covered (like under a weighted tarp) until February. This will be the time when you would take out the bales to start ‘seasoning’ them prior to being able to plant in them.

To establish how many bales (the small rectangle kind, not the large round massive ones) you will need, you will first need to consider what vegetables you want to plant and how much of them. If you are doing it for the first time, I suggest you stay within conservative amounts. Then, if you find you are really into it, like us, then you’ll feel more confident planning the following year’s even bigger garden.

Our first garden. We had 20 bales in an E shape along a fence. The fence worked great for climbing beans. You need to be on good terms with your neighbor for this.

Our first garden. We had 20 bales in an E shape along a fence. The fence worked great for climbing beans. You need to be on good terms with your neighbor for this.

Each bales holds two (2) well established and fully grown plants. It might seem in the beginning like one could fit more, but the plants get big quick, and the bales also decompose more throughout the summer. By the end of the summer,when you will have two gigantic tomato plants in a bale, or two humungous zucchini plants, you will understand.

Mid summer bale garden.

Mid summer bale garden.

The things that we have found grow well in bales are:
tomatoes, basil, marigolds (those you plant all together), cucumbers, all kinds of squash, zucchini,cucumber, melons, beets, beans, and eggplants.  I haven’t tried leafy vegetables like lettuces or kale and cabbage, because they are for cooler weather and by that time I’ve lost my oomph.

Summer squash happy in a bale garden.

Summer squash happy in a bale garden.

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So, get your bales and think about how you will arrange them in the garden next year. After Halloween, if you don’t have a barn, stack them in a pile and cover them up with a tarp. I’ll tell you more when the time is right.

Skordalia (Greek garlic paste)
Great for serving with boiled, steamed, or roasted vegetables, grilled meats,  or as a dip.

Root vegetables roasted with olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper, and lemon.

Root vegetables roasted with olive oil, oregano, salt, pepper, and lemon.

When I first started this blog two months ago, I was asked by my virtual friend Harry (we met through friends on facebook) to post a recipe for skordalia. I immediately got to work. The reason it took so long is because there are three kinds of skordalia that I know of, and for each post I need to take a few pictures, don’t I?
There is also a limit as to how much skordalia one can eat in a month.

So sorry for the delay, Harry, and may you have as much fun trying these as we have had eating these!

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Skordalia 1 – with a walnut base
This is the most unusual version, but my favorite, so I will start with that one.

1 cup of walnut pieces
2-3 garlic cloves (depending on how potent you like it)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of breadcrumbs
1/4 cup (aproximately) lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
coarse sea salt
fresh parsley

Blend everything except parsley in blender until. If too thick, add a few teaspoons of water or lemon juice until it has the consistency of a thick dip. If too thin, add a little more breadcrumbs. Season with salt. Garnish with lots of roughly chopped parsley.

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Skordalia 2 – with potato base

1/2 pound of potatoes
2 -3 cloves of galic
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
coarse sea salt
fresh parsley

Peel and boil the potatoes. When they are soft; drain them, then mash them in a bowl with a fork or wooden spoon.
Press garlic through a garlic press and add with remaining ingredients to the potatoes. Season with salt. Garnish with roughly chopped fresh parsley.

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Skordalia 3 – with bread base
This recipe is great if you live in an area where you can easily get loaves of fresh bread from a bakery.  When this kind of bread is stale, it is the best for this. Otherwise, use breadcrumbs.

1 cup of breadcrumbs (with 3/4 cup of water) OR 3/4 lb of stale white or whole wheat bread slices
2- 3 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
coarse sea salt
fresh parsley

If you are using stale bread, cut it in slices, soak in water, and when soft, squeeze out the excess and place in food processor, then add other ingredients
If you are using bread crumbs, add them with the water directly to the food processor and combine with the other ingredients until smooth. If too thick, add a little more oil and water, if too thin, more breadcrumbs. season with salt and garnish with plenty of roughly chopped parsley.

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On Climbing Mount Olympus and Processing Pumpkins

I won’t do a post about fall colors and the sounds of rustling leaves as they are joyously walked through. I’ve read too many recently and I’m thinking about October in another way today.

Greece – October 1988

We were all extremely exhausted after a grueling seven month tourist season of 13 hour/seven day work weeks. We needed a change of scenery, some good food we didn’t necessarily have to cook ourselves, and a place to sleep uninterrupted until our systems got caught up again.

On the suggestion of one of our crew, we headed to northern Greece. Macedonia. Achilles’ and Alexander’s stomping grounds. Lands of fabled creatures; half man, half horse. Home of the twelve Gods. I had just finished reading Mary Renault’s Alexander trilogy so my mind was full of history and mythology. We would find a lazy route up Mount Olympus, numerous beautiful and inexpensive lodgings, a full service lodge for hikers with delicious food, and unparalleled scenery. Made to order.

We traveled by bus from Thessaloniki to Katerini, then on to the town of Litoxoro. From there, two helpful taxi drivers crammed us and all our stuff into their vehicles and drove us up higher into the forest to a trail that would lead us to the monastery of Agios Dionisiou built on a rock ledge over the Enipeas river and gorge. From there we would follow an official trail (E4) up towards the hikers lodge where we could sleep some more before we made the final assent to the top of Olympus.

We reached the monastery at dusk after a longer-than-expected haul through deep, thick, virgin forest. We were carrying too much unnecessary  junk (bread, cookies, a birthday cake, balloons, wine, tomato sauce, etc), had no proper shoes, and had no clue as to what we were getting ourselves into. Hungry, and even more exhausted than when we left Athens a few days earlier, we looked at the monastery in front of us with a mix of curiosity and dismay at the work we definitly needed to do in order to provide some basic comforts. What we found in front of us was a dilapidated old monastery with nothing cozy about it. Half the stone building around the courtyard had tumbled down after years of neglect, leaving a huge wall with arched openings where windows may once have been. We walked past them to the center of the courtyard where a small chapel remained with a sagging round roof; ceramic tiles missing in some places, patched in others.  A pot of fresh basil stood next to the low entrance of chiseled marble. Inside, a candle could be seen burning next to the icon of a saint. Amongst the fallen stones in the courtyard a path had been swept and cleared. We followed it to a more intact part of the old monastery which seemed to contain some creepy looking rooms.
Water from a re-routed spring dripped onto a marble trough built into the side of the rock wall. The monastery was built on the ledge of a steep cliff.

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From top left, clockwise: 1) me looking down to the gorge below the monastery, 2) the monastery, 3) hiking along the Enipeas River, 4) lighting a fire to add some heat to our celebrations, 4) the dilapidated center of the courtyard. (Click the picture to zoom in)

Suddenly we heard something stir and we looked up to the second floor and a balcony along which was a series of rooms, or cells. Two cells had no doors and out of one them appeared a tall grey figure. We instantly tensed and huddled. The figure came towards us out of the shadows he was standing in. It was a monk with a long scraggly beard and even longer hair tied back. He wore the black robes typical of orthodox priests; this one patched in places, actually more gray than black.
“Καλός ήλθατε (Welcome),” he said with the softest voice ever.
He moved to the other side of the balcony towards the stairs, opening the doors to two rooms as he passed. Then he returned to the room he had originally appeared from and brought out a large basket and a plastic bag.
“Ελάτε εδώ πάνω (Come up here),” he said moving into one of the rooms.
Nikos immediately sprang forward towards the stairs, followed by Petros. Ritsa explained to me that monks often lived in old monasteries like this, preferring a secluded life. They also played the role of guardians to valuable icons or relics of saints. She told me that they must also abide by the rules of hospitality to strangers and travelers by sharing whatever comforts they have.

Upstairs we found our two companions sitting on low stools lighting oil lamps while our new friend,  Papa Yiorgi, went about lighting a fire. He made tea, then pulled out cheeses, smoked meats, dried figs, and walnuts out of his basket. He cut up some tomatoes in a deep plate, added a handful of olives, then liberally poured olive oil over it all. He pulled some dried oregano out of the plastic bag and rubbed it between his large hands, sprinkling everything in the bowl with the dried herb. He had hands like a builder who worked with marble and stone and it made an impression on me because I had been expecting old, frail, hands. He explained to us how he kept a goat, made his own cheese, and was relatively self sufficient even though the villagers often came by bringing him bread and treats. The villagers also came to visit the chapel, he explained. Inside it was a very old box containing some of the saint’s bones. The villagers often came by to pray, and ask for the saint’s blessings and of course, leave provisions for the old priest who guarded him.
We pulled out our bread and cookies, and between us all we shared a great meal. When we had eaten, the priest went into his room one more time to bring us a bottle of tsipouro that he had received from some visitors earlier. He declined to join us, telling us that he wanted to rest. He wished us a good night, and left.

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Clockwise from top left: 1) waiting for the water to boil. 2) the view from the outhouse built directly over the gorge, 3) more dilapidated walls, 4) Petros with a well earned beer, 5) Hanging out at the Hiker’s Lodge.
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The room was warm, dry, and swept clean. Other than the low stools and a low table made out of what looked like a slice from an ancient column, the floor was covered by many thick hand woven rugs and blankets. More were folded in a corner in a tall stack. We found the same was in the other room where we lighted a second fire. Plastic covered the windows to keep out any drafts. We rolled out our sleeping bags and slept feeling happy, sated, and safe.

The next morning was misty and cool as a fog rolled off Olympus and down through the gorge. We could hear the river passing under the cliff that the monastery was built on, but we couldn’t see it, so we decided to rest and wait for better weather before climbing the mountain higher. We stayed at the monastery for two more days; eating, taking short walks through the woods, having a birthday party, sleeping, and drinking tsipouro. The old priest joined us often and told us stories about his visitors and some of the pilgrimages they had made in honor of the saint whose bones he guards.

When the weather cleared we laced our flimsy sneakers and pulled on our packs in preparation to tackle a small portion of the mountain, before reaching the Hiker’s Lodge. We followed gorgeous scenery along the Enipeas River, part of the E4 European hiking trail, until signs directed us to head up along an ever more narrowing and steeper path. I had to make myself go into a trance to forget the weight on my shoulders and the pain in my feet and legs. I had long conversations in my mind, berating myself for being such an idiot for thinking that Olympus could be climbed by a “lazy route”. We climbed for many, many hours.

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Sometimes the path was a series of steps chiseled out of the mountainside, other times, we were simply scrambling over stones; up, up, up, the signs kept saying.

My legs were like jelly when we reached the hiker’s lodge. I was too tired to appreciate the scenery. I didn’t see the huge outdoor patio amongst the fir trees. I honestly didn’t give a shit at that point. I was blind with exhaustion and my feet were blistered and in pain. We were served dinner by a huge fireplace. Huge portions of bean soup, thick slices of toasted bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, and wine. Lots of wine. Sitting on the wooden benches and leaning against the rug covered walls, I felt virtuous because I was climbing that mountain. Then I passed out.

Above the dining area of the lodge, the attic space had been divided into two areas of open floor space, each capable of boarding at least 25 people. One area for the men, one for the women. In a corner of each space, were piles of foam mats that could be borrowed and lain on the wooden floor under ones’ sleeping bag. Somehow I managed to get up there because that’s where I woke up.

We had only one last leg to reach the top of the mountain.
Going up, and coming back down would be done in the same day since it was only a few hours each way. No trees, no lodges, no bean soup, no wine up there. I wasn’t the only one exhausted. Our friends from Thessaloniki decided that they would forsake this final privilege of hauling themselves up the mountain, promising they would attempt it again some other time. Petros and Nikos of course were going up, and me… well, let’s just say I felt challenged in spite of it all.
We set off after a fortifying breakfast. We left our packs behind with our friends, taking only a small day pack with water and dried figs – a gift from the priest.
We climbed and climbed and climbed, and soon we cleared the tree line. In front of us was a trail walked by thousands, a mere shade lighter than the terrain surrounding it, cleared of stones, and marked by the feet that had pressed it into being.

I was tiring faster than the boys who kept moving way ahead of me. At some point I lost them, but saw a vertical wall of stone to my right, which looked more fun than that slow and steady incline that was killing my legs. It didn’t look all that high and it was definitly a short cut. I decided to climb it. Looking back now, I am amazed at my audacity to climb that thing without ropes, without a helmet, or even a partner. I just climbed it and when I had reached about half way up, I looked down and realized that if I fell down, I would die. I hadn’t calculated how different the height would appear from the foot of the rock wall, and how big it would be when I was actually up on it. I saw Petros and Nikos, as they saw me from the snaking path that they were on.
“Keep going! Don’t look down! We’ll meet you at the top!”, they yelled into the warm southern wind which carried their voices to me.
I kept climbing, one move at a time. My arms and legs were straining but I didn’t have any more choice in the matter. I had to keep going and tried very hard not to look down. I reached the top and hauled myself over the edge and lay there until the boys caught up to me. I was completely done in and couldn’t get up. Maybe the air was thinner up there, maybe I had used the last of my resources, but I wasn’t going one more step.
The boys urged me to get up and join them for the last easy walk to the top. It did look easy. The path went up a short ways then along the top of a ridge, to another peak in easy distance. Maybe no more than a half hour’s walk. But I couldn’t. It took a lot of convincing to make them go and at last they did. With a few tears in my eyes I lay there and watched them as they reached top, then return to where I was lying. It was very beautiful up there. They helped me to my feet, and together we slowly hobbled down the path that led us back to the lodge. We stayed there another two days before we climbed back down the mountain.
One week later I flew home to my mom in Austria and slept for a week.

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In the fall I like to cook a lot of things that have pumpkin as an ingredient. I couldn’t find canned pumpkin in Greece because they don’t really cook with it as much as here in the states, so I taught myself how to process pumpkin. I hope to post many recipes that focus on this beautiful gourd, but before I can show you any of these, I need to first show all my friends in lands without canned pumpkin, how to have this ingredient at hand all throughout the year.

Processing Pumpkin for Later Use

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First you need to accumulate a few pumpkins designated for cooking. These you can usually get a bit cheaper than the pumpkins used for decorations. We just recently got a huge more box for $5 from a stand at the side of the road, because they were weird shapes, or maybe a tiny bit bruised, which is OK for processing/cooking. The riper, the better, the sweeter.

The Oven method is the easiest way to cook the pumpkin without them accumulating extra moisture – like from boiling or steaming.

An oven full of pumpkin halves.

An oven full of pumpkin halves.

Roast at 350F (170C) for about one hour, or when the pumpkin is soft. When done, empty the water that has accumulated in its center.

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Let everything cool and take some pictures because it looks impressive. 🙂

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On the table is my ceramic yard fairy. A gift from Ceramist Alma Moriah – Winik.

Scrape the cooked pumpkin into a sieve that has been placed into the sink. Allow it to strain (stirring it up every half hour or so) for about 4 hours.

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Line a cup container (a plastic yogurt container would do) with a sandwich bag, and fill with strained pumpkin goop. Twist and seal each bag. When done, place all small bags into a larger zip-loc bag to help prevent freezer burn. Place in freezer until ready to use. Cup sized portions are practical because they can easily follow smaller recipe amounts.

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How To Make The Pumpkin/Apple Butter That Snuck Into The Above Photograph:

When I start processing Pumpkins, then I also prepare something with it while I have it fresh. These days I had a bunch of apples that grew on an abandoned tree and of course had to pick some. Pesticide and fertilizer free apples! They had a few wasp stings, but nothing that a knife tip couldn’t get rid of.

So I peeled the apples [about 12 pounds (6 kilos)], and threw them in a huge pot with a little fresh apple cider on medium heat so they wouldn’t burn. When bottom half of the apples in the pot had turned to mush, I stirred it all up, then added some pumpkin chunks [about 6 pounds (3 kilos)] that I had previously peeled. About half the amount of apples in volume. I’m sorry, but I was totally playing it by ear. All guesswork and estimation. I lowered the heat and left it on a low slow simmer until the pumpkin cooked and some of the liquid cooked out.

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That enamel lard pot (schmalztopf) was my grandmother’s. It now serves as our Kitchen Compost Collector. 🙂

Then I added to the pot of thick bubbly mush:
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon clove
1 teaspoon allspice

I brought it to a full boil then added 6 cups of sugar to what appeared to be almost 2 gallons of mush. I kept stirring (you will need to protect yourself from burns at this point because the mush will be thick and sputtering out glops of very hot stuff until the sugar is dissolved) and brought it to a rolling boil again.
I added 4 packages of low sugar pectin and and kept stirring at a low boil until it was completely dissolved.

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In the meantime, jars had been sterilized, which I filled with the Pumpkin/Apple Butter. They were canned in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.

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How To Not Become Overwhelmed by The Excellence of Other Bloggers & Vegetarian Moussaka

I’m navigating the blogging scene. As a personal creative outlet and as an accompaniment to my forming Personal Chef business, I must research other bloggers and their craft, in order to learn to appear like I know what I’m doing.
So far so good.
I’m learning photography and all kinds of hip stuff from Movita and Lan. Not that they are the only talented people with probably  great cameras out there, but one can only concentrate on so many research subjects at a time. Excellence must be studied in order to fully appreciate how much work is involved. And these ladies make it seem easy! Then there is Poppy, the first blogger that clicked “like” on my first blog posting. She is teaching me about the diligence involved to make a blog successful.
Thank you, Poppy.

I’d love to have a dinner party with these ladies, everyone bringing a dish or three. And their cameras. But they are very busy (reading blogs makes one kind of involved in the author’s life). Lan is doing pre-honeymoon preparations, Movita is going into Nutcracker mode, and Poppy keeps finding creative and delicious ways for Vegans to be able to deal with being Vegans. I’m just teasing, Poppy. Your enthusiasm and the skill in your craft are eminent and you must tell me how you manage to keep the weight off while cooking so many wonderful things.

I’m roasting some turkey thighs right now (cover your eyes, Poppy!) for a future post, so until that is done, I’ll post the recipe for my Vegetarian Moussaka  (you can uncover them now). I’d love to learn how to make vegan Bechamel…

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This was the only recipe I ever got a bad review on, by a customer who had come by and bought some of this Moussaka for himself and his wife during the pre-Easter fasting period (Greeks like to use these 40-day-long fasting periods that fall on their religious calendar just before Easter, Christmas, and the 15th of August, for periods of healthier eating, detox, or actually fasting because they feel they have to).
When I had packaged his two portions of Vegetarian Moussaka for him to take home, he repeatedly asked me whether I was sure it contained no meat. I assured him that since I myself was involved in the cooking process, I could testify that no, this special pre-Easter Moussaka, contained absolutely no meat, but that it did contain milk and eggs and cheese.

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This did not concern him. I explained how soya granules absorbed the flavors of whatever you gave it to absorb and what with the wine, herbs, spices, and vegetables the soya was sauteed with, it may resemble the flavors that ground meat was normally cooked with, but of course will not taste of the meat itself.
“Of course,” he replied.

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So he left, and other customers came and left the shop; the moussaka was doing quite well that day, and I wished as I always did when something went well, that I had made more. As I was packaging the last three pieces of the Moussaka and some salads, the phone rang, and I answered it cradling the phone between my shoulder and my ear, while I kept packing the food up.
“Hello! Anke’s Kitchen. Can I help you? (in Greek)”
“You lied to me!(ψέματα μου είπες)”, an enraged voice coming out of the phone and made me wish my hands were free.
“Who is this? What are you talking about? (ΤΙ;)” as I quickly tried to hurry packing the food, salads and desserts into the carrier bag. The waiting customer has realized something is wrong.
“I’m sitting here with my wife who is an expert and she knows! She can tell! (Ξέρει! Ξέρει!)”
“Ποιός ξερεί τι; (who knows what?!)”
“This vegetarian meal you sold us! Do you think we are fools?! Foreigners! We take our fasting seriously! You can’t just sell us this and think we won’t notice! MY WIFE KNOWS! YOU CAN’T FOOL HER! THERE IS MEAT IN THIS DISH! (blablabla in Greek)”

At this point I don’t know what to say. Do I insist and explain, making him, the honorable customer, wrong? Do I up the level of my voice that will also certainly make my present customer flinch and insist that NO, it is SOYA GRANULES!?
Before I had the chance to decide, he yells a final “WE WON’T BE BACK!” and hangs up loudly causing me to almost drop the phone.
I must have looked pale because my waiting customer looked concerned and asked me whether I was alright. I explained what had just happened and how it was the most bizarre complement that I have ever received.She thought it was rather amusing.

“Are you fasting?” I ask her as I filled the bag with the final four pieces of egg-less desserts, taking care that none of the packages leaked cinnamon flavored sugar syrup.
“Oh yes. We find this time of the year very beneficial for eating lighter, healthier, and less. Not because we don’t like meat.”
“I see”, I said as I heaved the carrier bag over the counter with that day’s fasting provisions, hoping it wouldn’t break.

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Vegetarian Moussaka

serves 8

4 medium sized eggplants, sliced about 1/2″ (1cm) thick
2lbs (1 kilo) of potatoes, sliced 1/2″ (1cm) thick
2lbs (1 kilo) zucchini or mixed types of squash, slice 1/2″ (1cm) thick
olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

For fake meat filling:
1 cup dried soya granules
3 cups hot water
1/2 cup olive oil
2 medium sized onions, chopped
2 carrots, grated
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
1lb (1/2 kilo) vine ripened tomatoes grated, OR 5 tablespoons tomato paste diluted in  1 1/2 cups of water, OR 14.5oz (411g) can of chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 cups (1/4 liter) of dry red wine
2 teaspoons dried oregano, or 1 handful fresh oregano
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For Bechamel Sauce:
1 double batch as listed here (Faith has done a wonderful job here describing, as well as photographing, the Bechamel making process), plus:
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
two pinches of coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, or Gruyere cheese
Breadcrumbs (for sprinkling)
a few small pats of butter

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1) Place sliced eggplant slices in a colander and rub them with salt (I use sea salt for everything). Leave them be for about an hour so they can sweat out whatever bitterness they may contain. Rinse, then pat dry.

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2) Pour the soya granules in a bowl after you have rubbed salt on the eggplant slices and cover with  the hot water. Let soak it soak while you prep the remaining ingredients. Afetr soaking, drain and squeeze out excess water. It will have the consistency of cooked rice, but it will not get any mushier by extra cooking, as rice would do. It will soak up flavorful goodness later, so squeeze out as much water as you can.

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Making the fake meat filling:
Saute the onion, celery, carrot, and pepper in olive oil, in a largish casserole dish, until the onions are glassy.
Add the soaked, drained, and squeezed granules. Keep stirring so it doesn’t stick.

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Add the red wine, the tomatoes, and the spices. Lower the heat and let simmer until the most of the liquid had evaporated, stirring occasionally. Set aside when done.
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In a pan, fry until golden, then drain on paper: the potato slices, the zucchini (or mixed squash) slices, and then the eggplant slices.

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After they have cooled a bit, layer them into a baking dish, starting with the potato, then the eggplant, then the zuchini and/or squash slices. I divided everything into two baking dishes so that I could freeze one before baking, for some gloomy time in the winter when I want to be reminded of summer.

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Spoon a thick layer of soya /veggie mix onto the fried slice layers

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Make the double Bechamel batch by following Faith’s  instructions, then add the nutmeg, white pepper, garlic powder, a little more sea salt, and eggs. Mix well with a whisk, then pour the sauce over the soya/veggie mix, making sure you leave just a tad of room so it doesn’t run over the edge while baking. Sprinkle with grated cheese, breadcrumbs, and small pats of butter.

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Bake in a 360F (180C) Oven for about an hour, or until the top of the Bechamel is browned and bubbly. Let stand until almost room temperature. Serve in large slices, or wedges. It will all hold together if it has had a chance to cool, otherwise you risk a baking dish full of swimming ingredients.

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Do a little like Zorba and dance a little Sirtaki.

Putting The Garden To Bed & Carrot Cumin Soup

Last night Mr Fabelhaft and I behaved in bed. We did not play tug-o-war with the sheet and comforter because we wore pajamas. But I did find myself being soothed as I realized that the anguished guttural sound I was hearing was coming out of my own throat. The picture I was seeing in my dream was that of a tomato. I don’t remember anything having to do with this tomato; whether it was hunting me, or I it, or whether I was drowning in its juices. All I know is that it’s over. The bale garden has been put to bed for the coming winter.

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Those bushes still protruding from the bales are basil plants that will wilt when the regular nightly frost hits. In the meantime enough basil must be picked and frozen.

First we had to take everything off the vines that could still ripen indoors. Then the plants got cut back and yanked.

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Some of these semi decomposed bales will go into the raised beds for next year. Others will be used as mulch around flower beds. What’s left over gets mixed with the compost and becomes the Most Amazing Growing Compound. I’m curious what kind of rogue vegetable will shoot out of it next year.

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Not that there isn’t any work left to do.

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Maybe that’s what that dream was telling me.
That I should cook something far related from tomatoes.
Something fall colored.
Something that would look cool on a Halloween dinner table.

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Carrot Cumin Soup

serves 6

1/4 cup (50 ml) olive oil
1lb carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
3 medium sized potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 medium sized onions, peeled and quartered
3 cloves of garlic, cut in half
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons almond butter (peanut butter is also good, but use only 2 tablespoons)
full fat Greek yogurt  (for dolloping)
toasted black sesame seeds (for sprinkling)
cold pressed pumpkin seed oil (for drizzling)

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Saute the carrot, onion, and potato chunks in the olive oil over medium heat.

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After blending and pounding the spices and seeds in a mortar , add them to sauteing vegetables. Add the garlic and a pinch of salt, then just cover everything with water.

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When everything is thoroughly cooked, blend with an electric blending wand until smooth.

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Lastly, when you have turned off the heat under the pot, but the soup is still hot, blend in the nut butter. Don’t worry if the nut butter is slightly crunchy. This will add a nice texture to the soup. Adjust seasonings, add more salt if necessary.

Toast the sesame seeds in a pan on medium heat, until they give off a nice aroma. Remove from heat immediately.

Before serving the soup, give the yogurt a quick whip with a spoon or fork for maximum dolloping effect.

Serve soup with small dollops of yogurt, sprinkled with the sesame seeds, and drizzled with the pumpkin seed oil. Serve with a crusty bread, a salad of your choice (beets with skordalia?), and a nicely chilled semi-dry white wine. We had ours with a wonderful Gewurztraminer from the newly discovered Victorianbourg Wine Estate which lies along the Niagara wine trail.
Enjoy!

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September & Fried Green Tomatoes

September is glorious, no matter where I’ve lived. The heavy heat of summer is gone, the days are still warm and lovely, and the nights a pleasure to sleep through. I’m a big fan of wide open windows, curtains blowing in breezes, and the sounds of country living.
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In the northern States and in Austria, fall colors are telling us that summer will soon be over, and that we should probably start collecting firewood. In Mykonos, the masses of charter tourists are gone and are replaced by hip independent travelers who can travel when the kids can’t. In Kalamata, where every kind of tourist season has ended, and the beaches are marvelously empty, many locals start wearing their fall boots, even when the weather still calls for bikinis. I would normally say their new fall boots because Greeks are very fashion conscious people, but what with the ongoing financial crisis, they probably have to make do with older models.

Mr. Fabelhaft and myself are taking advantage of our lovely outdoor deck as much as we still can. We were sitting out there, having an early evening glass of wine, when I reminisced how I used to have this weird obsession with living in really old, whitewashed, Mykonian houses. These were usually single roomed, rectangular,  very thick walled structures, with small windows that helped control the temperature. In the summer the houses were cool, and in the winters they helped keep the interior warm.

View from inside Pigados, 1987.

View from inside Pigados, 1987.

They often had small unused fireplaces in a corner that were once used for cooking. Rarely did they have formal bathrooms.

I preferred these houses out in the middle of nowhere. My excuse was that I had grown up in suburban New Jersey and was therefor used to living at a distance from the downtown happenings in NYC. In Venice, California, I had been at a distance from downtown, LA (even though Venice was pretty damn cool itself), so of course, on Mykonos, my living out in some fields, or near the light house, was totally justified.
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Often these houses lacked some kind of basic utility. In one, there was no electricity, but it did have a nice clean well I could haul water out of (and warm in a black bucket in the sun), for my daily ablutions.
In another, I had electricity but no well. That was solved by a cleverly built tank that was built on to the top of the house. It was filled by having one of the four noisy and leaking water trucks that roamed the island  come by and drive down my dirt road to do its job.

In this house, the water tank was hidden in the curved structure attached to the house. It was adorned with arches, which also served as steps to the top of the house.

In this house, the water tank was hidden in the curved structure attached to the house. It was adorned with arches, which also served as steps to the top of the house.

The best house of all that I lived in back then, belonged to a Mykonian fashion designer named Yiannis Galatis. He was also well known at the time for trying to preserve these gems of Cycladic architecture.

It was a  small home built onto the side of a steep hill, composed out of single roomed rectangular structures, either on top of, or next to each other. There was a beautiful downward sloping garden and a lovely entrance gate.

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Between the white sugar coated cubes (that’s what they always reminded me of) was a small courtyard with a fireplace and two perfectly placed pine trees (they smelled so GOOD) between which I could hang my hammock.
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The view, of course, was unadulterated Mediterranean-ness; the sea, the island’s hills, stone walls and fig trees, a few houses scattered amongst the fields of dried grass. One of my favorite afternoon nap locations.

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Mr. Fabelhaft poured me another glass of wine and asked me what we’ll be cooking the next day. I turned my head to see what the garden dictated.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Spicy (If You Like) Pink Sauce

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This dish is far from Greek, but it would fit beautifully on a table decked with appetizers, mezes, and tapas. Fried tomatoes can accompany ouzo as well as a steak, and when leftover and cold, make filling and delicious vegetarian sandwiches. If you eat them on their own (which I also highly recommend), make more.

Serves 4

4-5 medium sized roundly shaped very green tomatoes (you want to avoid any ripeness as this will only lead to mushiness)

1 1/2 cup of buttermilk OR 1 cup of thick Greek yogurt (I prefer full fat) with just enough milk to make it just a tad runnier – about 1/4 cup

2 cups of cornmeal

1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground sweet red pepper
1 tsp coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
dash of Cayenne pepper (optional)

oil for frying

Cut the tomatoes into 1/2″ (or 1cm) slices. Place them in the bowl with the buttermilk or yogurt/milk mix and let them marinate for at least a half hour.

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While they are marinating, mix the cornmeal with the spices.

Dredge the tomato slices through the cornmeal mix, then fry to golden brown in medium to hot oil. Drain on paper, cool to almost room temperature, then serve with the spicy (if you like) pink sauce.

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Spicy (If You Like) Pink Sauce

3/4 mayonnaise
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce
2 tablespoons of sweet pickle relish
small amounts of your favorite spicy red pepper sauce
(you’ll know best what amount suits you best – if at all)

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Blend all ingredients except hot pepper sauce together well. Serve with Fried Green Tomatoes, using hot sauce as an added garnish where desired.

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