Sunday, February 28, 2010

My week and welcome to it!

The week started out with a success in spite of myself...

Dear Cheryl from Rice, Beans and Pastichio awarded me the "Happy Cupcake Award"! Possibly because I'm such a fluffy thing (those 20 lbs I lost last summer, are trying desperately to insinuate themselves back into my life!), but probably because she's such a sweetheart herself. So.

I must sing for my supper, as it were, and comply with the terms of the award... and so Blog friends beware!

There are some rules with the award:

1. Copy the award image into a post.
2. List 10 things that make you happy.
3. Tag 10 bloggers who brighten your day.
4. Link to their blogs.
5. Notify the award recipients.
6. Award recipients link back to sender's blog

Ten things that make me happy:
My husband
My three sons and their mates
My three exceptional grandchildren
My home and what's inside it (ie: my kitchen, my computer, my pillow etc.)
Family (generic- ie mom, aunt, cousins, in-laws)
Color (Green is a particular favorite)
I could sum it up in one word... My life makes me happy.

As for my choices of who to pass the award on to, I would say that people who have blogs that are honest - really honest about themselves and their lives- makes me very happy when I read them.

Helena Halme is a wonderful blog and a really clever person. It's funny and sad and intimate and charming (and so are you Helena). She's my first pick.

My second is Life the universe and all that's in it. Wildernesschic (aka Ruth) lives in a most marvelous and beautful house. She visualizes her dream and makes it happen. Her blog makes me very happy, as if I couldn't live in my house, I would live in hers! If I wasn't an only child, I'd pick her for a sister.

Third, would be Ayak at Turkish Delight. But someone sent the award to her and beat me to the punch! Ayak's trials and tribulations along with her frustrations and happiness of life in Turkey with Mr Ayak are honest and true. (They also often remind me of when my husband and I lived in Turkey!) Ultimately you can read about what makes her happy in her latest post!

Next my award would go to the charming Bernie at Old? Who? Me? Her honesty and her stream of consciousness writing about everyday life and times are fun to read. She enjoys her life and always -ALWAYS- has the time to see the beauty in everyday things.

I will pass this award as well, to a most wonderful blog by Gaelikaa, (she has two blogs and it's difficult to decide which one!) I do get a lot of happiness and enjoyment from gaelikaa's diary Journal of an East/West Wife Gaelikaa, who is Irish, lives in India with her husband and children under the roof of her husband family. She faces countless differences in culture and lifestyle, and yet she embraces each day with joy and honesty. I truely enjoy her blog.

Ayla Central is a blog that always makes me smile. True it's about a baby named Ayla, but it's also peripherally about her family and her amazing mom, a scientist concerned about the earth . I love visiting the blog and seeing Ayla smile and everytime I visit I think of her mom and Grandmom who were my friends years ago when we all lived in Turkey. Many things changed with the years, but that baby's smile is soo familiar!!!

What can I say, I know that they probably don't "do" awards, but I have to say that if anything deserves a Happiness Award, Holy Cuteness is right up there at the top! A daily dose of wonderful funny pictures or great little videos of cute animals- what else do you need???

Savage Reflections is a wonderfully well written intelligent blog. Berowne writes because he enjoys writing and because he's good at it. Inherent though in everything he writes is care and truthfulness. (His hobby is also Shakespeare and he has an amazing series of posts titled "Laid Back Shakespeare" that are wonderfully fun to read.)
My last two choices are from Australia.

A marvelously intelligent but really fun blog is A Curate's Egg. Lee's blog is filled with the day to day irony that is universally understood. It is not the only blog produced by this witty blogger, but it was the first one I discovered and I still enjoy it regularly. He writes four other wonderful blogs and they are all worth a visit.

My last choice is a new find, but what I enjoy the most about the blog is her progress stats on the sidebar! Lacey Devlin is an aspiring romance writer. It makes me very happy to check her blog and see her bar graph grow as she completes more pages. I always wanted to write a romance novel, but I never pushed myself to do it. I admire her verve and writers guts. Good on you, Lacey!

So there it is.
As for my weeks highlights... I went into town (to the bank!) on the day of the Greek strikes. Not knowing how long they might last, we thought it would be best to have some cash on hand.

I am certain that strikes in other places are pretty much the same, but I was impressed by the music that was played pretty much constantly, with the odd microphone-d voice making speeches in San Rocco Square. There were a lot of people in town, and a light police presence from a group that is normally invisible.

For sure there was a crowd. Different groups massed in different parts of the city. We decided to leave though as the parade was starting to assemble. It turned a bit violent in Athens but all went well here in Corfu.

Wednesday evening we went to dinner at Bistro Boileau to celebrate friends finally getting official permission to build their house. Of course as with all things in Corfu, they still had to return for "one more" stamp, but in effect the celebration was due because it was all official! yay! I had a WONderful breast of chicken with fig and walnut sauce. Amazing. The dessert was incredible- homemade orange ice cream with dark chocolate sauce. (Alex said they had so many oranges he didn't know what to do with them, so he decided to try to make some ice cream! Great decision, Alex!) I would have provided pictures but we were all talking and eating from eachothers plates and poof- sadly I was too late because we'd eaten every crumb.

T finished his project on the stone entry posts... and also finished sealing the roof, and acid washed the pool tiles - we have a lot of mineral build up by the end of the season. Once it's all clean we can start thinking of spring again and filling it up for swimming!

I meanwhile experimented and made a really great leek and potato soup and a wonderful cauliflower gratin.

Cauliflower Gratin Recipe (based on Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa" recipe)

* 1 (3-pound) head cauliflower, cut into large florets
* salt

* 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided
* 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
* 2 cups hot milk
* 2 T cream cheese (MY secret ingredient)
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

* 1 1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyere, divided
* 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
* 1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Cook the cauliflower florets in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain. (Zap the milk in the microwave to warm it)

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and stir until it comes to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, nutmeg, 1cup of the Gruyere, 2 T cream cheese and the Parmesan. Mix all til well blended.

Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of an 8 by 11 by 2-inch baking dish. Place the drained cauliflower on top and then spread the rest of the sauce evenly on top. Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining 1/2 cup of Gruyere and sprinkle on top. Melt the remaining 2 (+) tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gratin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.

This is REALLY good.

So that about wraps up the week. There were a few other things that popped in and out- my addiction to facebook, a couple of scrabble games - I LOST (but they were close...)


Tomorrow is my 41st wedding anniversary. I can't believe so much time has passed. But he's still my best friend and we're still together for all the ups and downs 41 years of marriage has tossed our way.

I may even post a wedding picture tomorrow... you never know.

Have a great week!


Monday, February 22, 2010

A reblogged post from another blog...

Makes you think twice, doesn't it? At any rate, I love this blog and I read it pretty regularly. Still this one really rang a bell with me. I've been feeling a bit out of synch with my own blog for all sorts of reasons. On the other hand, I find everything I do lately makes me wonder if it's "Blog-worthy"!

Like my life is all that interesting...! Anyway, enjoy this post- from xkcd, the link is below the cartoon, and also in the sidebar under "they just make me laugh".

Bored with the Internet

Bored with the Internet

I love this blog...


Saturday, February 20, 2010

My new classic

Blue Cheese and Walnut Focaccia [Makes 1 flatbread]

2-3 cups all-purpose flour (start with 2 and work your way up)
1 envelope Rapid Rise Yeast
2 teaspoons dried Oregano (leaves)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup very warm water (120° to 130°F)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg

olive oil
1/2 cup roasted red peppers sliced
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup blue cheese crumbled
(sprinkle with some chopped black olives.)

Assemble your ingredients all measured out first. In large bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups flour, undissolved yeast, oregano, and salt. Stir very warm water and oil into dry ingredients. Stir in egg and enough remaining flour to make soft dough. (I used my hands to mix- but have a piece paper towel handy for when you're done with the dough- it's sticky.) Cover; let rest 10 minutes.

With lightly oiled hands, spread dough in oiled 13 x 9-inch baking pan (I used a deeper square dish that holds about the same amount).
Drizzle 1/4 cup olive oil over dough. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup roasted red peppers sliced thinly and 3/4 cup chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese; press nuts into dough
Cover loosely with plastic wrap (or a towel); let rise in warm, draft-free place until almost doubled in size, about 15 to 30 minutes. (I heated a cup of water in the microwave, took it out and let the dough rise in the microwave with the door shut).

Bake at 400°F for 25 minutes or until done. Let cool in pan on wire rack or serve warm, cut into squares.

Serve with a big salad (and a glass of wine!)

This recipe was so good! It was really quick to make- ie: putting the dough together took about 5 minutes... letting it rest took another 10; the assembly took 5 minutes as during the 10 minutes the dough rested, I assembled the rest of the ingredients and all I had to do was heat up the microwave with a cup of boiling water, spread the dough out in my oiled dish, strew the toppings about freely, cover with a tea towel and stick in the now humid and warm microwave for 30 minutes.

It took 25 minutes to cook almost on the nose. (I could have left it in a few minutes longer to get a bit browner I suppose, but the smell was awesome and neither T nor I could wait. (he fixed the salad while it baked.) all in all a nice meal with a real cool end product. (I had a piece this morning and it's even pretty good cold!)

As I dozed off last night I couldn't help but think up other wonderful toppings- like Brie and pecans and thin cut pieces of pears with crushed chilies as an added spice; or ham or bacon and small chunks of Swiss cheese with a touch of nutmeg in the dough... or even the next time I make those great spicy meatballs (I put on the blog the other day) - with basil and oregano seasoning the dough- those meatballs and a little bit of the sauce would be GREAT on top of the focaccia.
There are so many things you can do with this! You could slice some onions cook them gently in olive oil and put them on top with some Parmesan cheese and some black olives. You could use courgettes or aubergines or tomatoes as well with the onions and some Feta or Gouda cheese. Possibly the only caution would be don't add too much or it gets messy and the dough might not cook properly.

So there you have it- Something I never made when my children were growing up, but will probably become a great homemade family classic, as it was so easy, so "inexpensive" and SO GOOD. (maybe Baby grandson will grow up remembering it as a grandma classic???)

Friday, February 19, 2010

A very laid back week.

I suppose I should have posted a bit about Valentines Day, last Sunday but we were so laid back about it all- and we didn't really DO anything- that I never got around to it.

My darling T got me lovely flowers and my favorite chocolate covered biscuits (and two bottles of Prosecco!) along with the choice of dinner at the restaurant I preferred.

Instead of a restaurant, I decided my present would be fixing him his favorite Steak-Frites and a yummy dessert with raspberries (his fav- anything with raspberries)

I made up the potatoes and thickly sliced up a lovely fillet of beef I got on Friday, and we had nice fillet steaks sauteed in butter, and crisp golden french fries.

I also had made some applesauce on Saturday, so we had a lovely little side of cold applesauce with some hot buttered corn (T's fav).

The piece de resistance was my Australian inspired dessert (my micro- version of pavlova) which was frozen raspberries slightly thawed and some icing sugar with a little cointreau sprinkled over it all, left to sit for about 15 minutes.

Then I crumbled up some pre-made meringue shells in a margarita glass, poured in the berries and whipped up some cream (with a touch of creme de cassis and some icing sugar to get a lovely (and tasty!) mauve tinged whipped cream to go on top!

A scattering of a few more berries and voila! A really REALLY great dessert that won me rave reviews and a plaintive "Why haven't you ever fixed this before?"

The week seemingly went by very quickly filled with the everyday bits and pieces of life, like laundry and dishes and picking up and making beds, and going for walks with the dog (though, T is MUCH better at walking her when it's raining or cold or too early- than I am...)

Highlights of the week include, having our tech person Kostas back to fix the wireless internet connections which seemingly had decided for no apparent reason not to work at all for the weekend, but amazingly worked fine when Kostas put it all back together. (no idea. none.)

Me, finally making friends with my new shorter haircut (only took a week!).

T spending more time sealing the roof - and he starts a new project of remaking the entry gate posts re-enforcing them (and turning them to stone!) Finally something to do with all those rocks that are too big to be gravel and too small to be decorative!

I will add a picture of the finished project when it happens. (which depends on the weather...)

And last, the hint of spring in the yard with flowers blooming early!

I was very surprised by the wild iris and the little narcissus.

I suppose it's perfectly normal as we've had a rather warm winter- with the intermittent cold day or two here and there.

Mostly this year, our winter has been all about rain and lots of moss growing on the grass, on the walls, on the rocks, on the trees.

At times it's felt a bit like a rain forest, as we've had a lot of days of that fine misty rain that is a bit like being inside of a cloud.

Oh and speaking for clouds we've had an interesting few of those as well!

This one came around sunset time, and had those odd little pointy bumps on the bottom - that while I was taking the picture decided to show its true nature and rained on me.

So that was a snapshot of my week.

I wish you all a good weekend and a very nice week!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Catch up post

Ah time just flies by when you're not paying attention!

This past week has been "computer connections issue week" On Saturday we had a lightening storm and a flash of lightening must have hit the telephone lines, as my router (which IS plugged into a UPS) nevertheless was fried dead in a little flash of oops. I happened to be online at the time and let out a big shriek when I saw the flash!

Fortunately I have a wireless connection so my computer wasn't hurt. But I was without the internet for most of the weekend. This was actually good as I have perfected my spicy meatball recipe, and also managed to clean up a large swathe of my piggy-ness in my study/library and small pockets of my careless mess-making throughout the house.

I was planning to make a post over the weekend and include a few pictures of "things we did in Corfu" So a couple of highlights:

The outdoor mask and costume market (a far cry from the one in Venice, but still fun and packed with odds and ends.)

There are masks and feather boas and plastic swords and hats with feathers. There are capes and confetti and noisemakers and streamers.

It's a hodgepodge of sillyness but fun to pick over. We bought stuff for a few of the favorite small children in our lives.

We also went to our favorite crepe restaurant, Crista's. It was all decorated for the carnival.

Of course we had dinner at about 9 pm, and it was mostly empty, but as we were getting ready to leave the crowds were beginning to arrive.

My leftovers were great the next day!

While waiting for our router to be tuned by our computer tech guy, we had lunch at our favorite little place on the end of the "cordon", The Nautilus which has a great view of Garitsa Bay and the old fortress from inside.

Usually in the summertime we sit outside and feed the fish or sit in the shade, but in the wintertime they have a small seating area that almost always is full of locals.

The treat here is the fresh seafood meze. Excellent pieces of fresh fish, octopus, cuttlefish, calamari, mussels, whitebait and a few whole shrimp very lightly battered and freshly deep fried crisp and hot piled together with a few black olives, tiny hot pickled peppers and a fresh lemon cut in quarters. With a cold beer it's heaven on earth.

And the view through the window of the old fortress and town is lovely no matter what the weather.

There have been a few carnival parties and charity functions for raising money for Haiti, and special needs children, but we have been caught up in the vortex of our own little world and its peripheral problems.

This weekend is the last of carnival for this year and Monday is the start of the drabness of Lent. There are many things planned for Sunday, and on top of Carnival it's also Valentines Day!

The good news is that spring is coming and Easter will be its official launch.

Spicy Meatball Recipe
(My take on a recipe by Romeo Salta and his Pleasures of Italian Cooking)

2 slices white bread
1 cup water
3 T dried onion flakes
3/4 lb ground beef (no fat)
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan
1/4 cup oatmeal
2 t salt
1 t pepper
1 t basil
1 t garlic powder
1/2 t celery seed
1/2 t oregano
1/2 t crushed dried red chili peppers
chopped fresh parsley (about 3 T. chopped)

Preheat the oven to 350F or 165C. I add the dried onion to the bread and water and soak it for about 10 minutes. Drain off the excess water and then add everything to a bowl, and mix with your hands. Roll the meatballs between your hands but make them small-ish (mine are about the size of a teaspoon.) Put the meatballs on a baking pan lightly brushed with olive oil and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and gently (with a spatula) make sure they're not sticking, and roll them over to bake for another 5 or 10 minutes. Drop them into your favorite red sauce.

(Keep it simple though. The meatballs have a lot of flavor. I use 2 jars of Barilla Basilico and 1 can of chopped tomatoes. I season it gently with the same seasonings as above only just a hint.)

You can also freeze the meatballs, and use them in your favorite recipes. Just cool them down when you take them out of the oven (and don't add them to a sauce) then bag them up well and put them in the freezer.

This recipe came out of a craving I had for a REAL street food meatball sandwich.  (and it's pretty good- just fresh soft bread or a roll from the bakery, some meatballs cut in half, sauce and some shredded mozzerella cheese!  Melt the cheese in the microwave and ta-da! homemade street food!  I just had one for lunch and it was totally yum.)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Carnival time in Corfu begins

Years ago, before I came to Corfu, I fell in love with Venice and spent several days there during Carnival.  One would think that February was not a great time to travel, but it was fantastic.  I loved Venice and the fact that everyone wore costumes every day and there was a marvelous atmosphere of "play" in the air. 

Of course I decided at that point I wanted to live in Venice so I could enjoy Carnival for several weeks instead of just for a one time shot of "mardi gras"!

Then we found Corfu. 

Corfu owes its particular spin on Carnival more to years of history as part of the Venetian Republic. From 1386 to 1797, Corfu was ruled by Venetian nobility.  Still the island is a part of Greece so traditions are lifted from many sources and unique to the island alone.

Mixed in with the wonderful and sometimes wacky view of Carnival is of course the traditional religious overtones of Lent.  Harbored deep underneath all of that though is a long tradition in ancient times of the festivals of Dionysis. 

Friday evening we happened to be downtown and came across a marvelous launching party at the city hall of Carnival on Corfu.

Costumes and masks that would be familiar in Venice are seen on the streets here.  The people in costume pose as well, and they go about their business as if you were invisible. (It's like being inside of a play!)  There are also of course processions and fanfares and marching bands.

For the next three weeks Corfu will be a magical place where children will walk though the downtown wearing masks and capes and brandish plastic swords along side of ghosts and princesses.  It's a much happier and sillier celebration that Halloween ever can be.

small child in San Marco Square Venice- he was so cute I couldn't resist!

In Greek Carnival is called Apokries, referring to Lent and the abstention from eating meat.

Carnival here covers four Sunday's but only on the second (the Sunday of the Prodigal Son), third (couldn't find a name for this one - but I'm sure there is one!) and last are there public celebrations.  The final Sunday (called Tyrofagos or Tyrini - also called Cheese-eating Sunday) is a riot of color and confetti, a grand parade of church and people with the priests and the costumed school children and adults, and floats, all together,  to process along with marching band music and celebration.  At night - weather permitting- is a great fireworks display.

"Tsiknopempti" is the equivalent of Pancake Day and loosely translates as barbecue Thursday.  This is the Thursday of, as it's called in Greece, Meatfare Week.  Tsiknopempti is the evening that everyone is obliged to eat meat because the forty days of Lent are about to start.  Restaurants closed for the season, reopen for this day all over the island and families and friends gather round for a lovely eating and drinking spree usually to the sounds of live music. Wandering musicians play Kantades and Mantolinates in the streets of the old city of Corfu.

In Corfu there is a unique custom called "the Corfiot Petegoletsia" or "Petegolia"on the last Thursday of Carnival.  It translates to Gossip, which is actually related more to the old tradition of street theatre.  In the narrow streets of old town- called "kantounia" lined by ancient houses, women standing in their windows exchange scurrilous gossip about local affairs in an authentic Corfiot dialect.  Nothing is sacred, and everything is funny. (IF you understand the local Corfiot dialect!)  The performance ends with traditional songs and mandolin music. 

The climax of the celebration is the final parade and King Carnival is responsible for whatever bad things happened during the previous year.  He's brought to trial and sentenced to death by fire so all evil spirit are burnt with him.  At the end of the procession king Carnival is cremated, his will is read and a big party, with singing and dancing, begins. 

Finally the day after the excesses of Carnival is called "Clean Monday" (which is also the first day of Lent) The foods allowed must all be "pure" (without shedding blood).  Still this allows cuttlefish and squid and fish roe as well as beans and pulses. "Lagana" is a flat bread traditionally served on this day. 

(I love Clean Monday as, weather permitting, everyone goes to the beach to have a picnic, and fly kites!)

So the important Carnival/Easter dates for this year...

Easter is the same this year for both the Orthodox and the Christian Church.  April 4, 2010.

40 days before the beginning of Lent, Carnival begins on Saturday evening with the opening of the "Triodion", a book containing sacred odes.  This is a religious moment and not usually observed outside of the church (so no party!) Triodion Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tsiknopempti or Burnt Thursday, February 4, 2010.
Tsiknopempti Weekend: Friday, February 5th through Sunday February 7, 2010
Main Carnival Weekend: Friday February 12th through Sunday February 14, 2010.
Clean Monday (or Ash Monday): February 15
[Ash Wednesday: February 17, 2010.]
Palm Sunday: March 28, 2010.
Maundy (Holy)Thursday: April 1, 2010
Good Friday: April 2, 2010
Easter Sunday April 4, 2010.

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