Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy Epiphany (with a lead in to Carnival!)

The word epiphany means “manifestation” or “revelation" and is commonly linked in Western Christianity with the visit of the wise men (Magi) to the Christ child.

Customs are unique in different parts of the world, but I'll give you my favorite ones from customs I am familiar with...


Little Christmas (Irish: Nollaig Bheag) is one of the traditional names in Ireland for January 6, more commonly known in the rest of the world as the Celebration of the Epiphany. It is so called because it was the day on which Christmas Day was celebrated under the Julian calendar, before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar. It is the traditional end of the Christmas season and the last day of the Christmas holidays for both primary and secondary schools in Ireland.

Little Christmas is also called Women's Christmas (Irish: Nollaig na mBan), and sometimes Women's Little Christmas. The tradition, still very strong in Cork and Kerry is so called because of the Irish men taking on all the household duties for the day. Most women hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts. Bars and restaurants serve mostly women and girls on this night. Children often buy presents for their mothers and grandmothers.

The Dutch and Flemish call this day Drie Koningen, German speakers call it "Dreikönigstag" (Three Kings' Day). In the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, children in groups of three (symbolising the three kings) proceed in costume from house to house while singing songs typical for the occasion, and receiving a coin or some sweets at each door. They may each carry a paper lantern symbolizing the star. [26] In some places, especially Holland, these troops gather for competitions and present their skits/songs for an audience. As in France, Koningentaart (Kings' tart), puff pastry with almond filling, is prepared with a bean or coin hidden inside. Whoever finds the bean in his or her piece is king or queen for the day. A more typically Dutch version is Koningenbrood, or Kings' bread. Another Low Countries tradition on Epiphany is to open up doors and windows to let good luck in for the coming year.

In Greece, Cyprus and the Greek diaspora throughout the world, the feast is colloquially called the "Phōta" (Greek: Φώτα, "Lights") and customs revolve around the Great Blessing of the Waters. It marks the end of the traditional ban on sailing, as the tumultuous winter seas are cleansed of the mischief-prone "kalikántzaroi", the goblins that try to torment God-fearing Christians through the festive season. At this ceremony, a cross is also thrown into the water, and the men present clamour to retrieve it for good luck. The Phota form the middle of another festive triduum, together with Epiphany Eve, January 6 (and eve of January 5), when children sing the Epiphany carols, and the great feast of St. John the Baptist on January 7 (and eve of January 6), when the numerous Johns and Joans celebrate their name-day.

In the USA:

There are many customs, but I like the one in Louisiana the best as it segues into my last bit of information on the holiday....

Epiphany is the beginning of the Carnival season, during which it is customary to bake King Cakes, similar to the Rosca. It is round in shaped, filled with cinnamon, glazed white, and coated in traditional carnival color sanding sugar. The person who finds the doll (or bean) must provide the next king cake. The interval between Epiphany and Mardi Gras is sometimes known as "king cake season", and many may be consumed during this period.

The Carnival season begins on King's Day (Epiphany), and there are many traditions associated with that day in Louisiana and along the Catholic coasts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. King cakes are first sold then, Carnival krewes begin having their balls on that date, and the first New Orleans krewe parades in street cars that night.

And, as a heads up to all of you out there, mark your calendars for making party plans!!

2011 Greek Carnival Dates

Triodion: Sunday, February 12th
Tsiknopempti or "Burnt Thursday": February 24th
Tsiknopempti Weekend: Friday, February 25th - Sunday, February 27th
Main Carnival Weekend: Friday, March 4th - Sunday, March 6th
Clean Monday: Monday, March 7th

March 9 - Ash Wednesday
April 17 - Palm Sunday
April 21 - Maundy (Holy) Thursday
April 22 - Good Friday
April 24 - Easter Sunday (Western Christianity - Roman Catholic, Anglican Communion, Protestant Churches, etc.)
April 24 - Easter Sunday (Orthodox Christianity - Eastern Orthodox Churches)

40 days before the beginning of Lent, Carnival begins on a Saturday evening with the opening of the Triodion, a book containing three sacred odes. This is a religious moment not generally observed outside of the church itself, so don't expect a sudden party to erupt.

The Friday, Saturday, and Sunday preceding "Clean Monday" usually offer vigorous parties, parades, and traditional events wherever Carnival is celebrated. In larger towns or cities "known" for Carnival, such as Rethimno or Patras, the previous weekend will also be filled with activities.

The last Sunday of the Carnival period is known as "Cheese-eating Sunday" or Tyrofagos as no meat products are allowed at this time. Macaroni is often served on this day. Surprisingly enough, the word "macaroni" is not Italian, but comes from the Greek words macaria or "blessed", and aeronia or "eternal". Thus, "macaroni". The preceding day, Saturday, is a special service for the dead in Orthodox churches, and part of the rites includes the making of grain dishes, probably a survival of the ancient rites of Demeter. Thus, "macaroni".

"Clean Monday" or Kathari Deftera, is the actually the first day of Lent (Sarakosti). While a holiday atmosphere still prevails, the foods consumed are all "pure", without the shedding of blood. But this allows cuttlefish and squid, fish roe, and other items. "Lagana" is a flat bread traditionally served on this day.

"Burnt Thursday" or Tsiknopempti is celebrated eleven days before the start of Lent. The "Burnt" part refers to the grilling of meats, a big part of the celebration of this day. The weekend following "Burnt Thursday" will also have parties and other events; technically, that Sunday is the last allowable day for eating meat and is sometimes called "Meat-eating Sunday". The best Greek restaurants will be crowded on this day - but seafood places are a safe bet to have tables available!

In Greece, Carnival dates are tied to Greek Orthodox Easter, which is usually different from Western Easter. Every few years, both calendars will coincide, this seems to be one of those years!

The most vigorous Carnival partying is on the weekend prior to the end of the Carnival season. This is followed by Clean Monday or "Ash Monday", a generally family-oriented day where, picnics and kite-flying prevail. "Clean Monday" is the last day of Carnival for the Greeks. "Fat Tuesday" does not exist in Greece - Burnt Thursday is its closest parallel.

The Greeks pretty much invented Carnival. Most carnival-related events are connected with the ancient worship of the Greek god of wine and divine intoxication, Dionysus. The processions, costuming, and feasting all derive from ancient ceremonies honoring him and other Greek gods and goddesses, though some claim parts of it, including the carrying of models of ships in processions, date back to similar rites in Ancient Egypt.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

After the gorging- or what to do with leftovers...

So you decide to cook a ham.

But there's only 2 of you.

Still it tastes SO  good and it's a holiday and something special is in order.  On the other hand what do you DO with all that leftover ham???

Of course there's always the traditional ham and eggs for breakfast  ... or  maybe a nice ham and cheese quiche, with a couple left over to freeze...

Or sandwiches, with lettuce and tomato.... or  Ham and bean soup... OR BOTH!

Yes.  I made some great white bean and ham soup!  I sort of winged it, but of course that's the beauty of soup.

My white bean and ham soup

2 (15.5 ounce-ish) jars great northern beans, rinsed and drained
2 medium carrots, grated
2 celery branches small dice
1 parsnip grated
1 small onion, chopped
1 potato small dice
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 1/4 cups chicken broth (homemade)
1 1/2 cups cubed fully cooked ham
 salt & pepper
1 or 2 T green chili paste (or chopped green chilies in a jar or can- we like spicy so I added a smidge more.)

fresh chopped parsley

In a large saucepan, saute the carrots, celery, parsnip, potato and onion in butter. Stir in the chicken broth, ham, seasonings and the beans; bring to boil then simmer over medium-low heat about 1 hour. Add parsley the last 10 minutes before serving.  (of course you can totally do your beans from dried- soak over night and rinse and add to pot...)  This is VERY good.  It is also good for you.  (It's nice to eat something and feel all sanctimonious afterwards...)

and there is STILL a little bit of ham left.  (sigh)

Right.  Tomorrow it's Hoppin' John!! (black-eyed peas, ham and rice!) THAT should finish it off!

Do any of you have some good ideas of what to do with leftover ham??  I'd really love to hear!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

... Ham Stories

Sadly, this is not a post about crazy Uncle Cecil and his amazing family burlesque show ... rather this post is for my Corfu friends who were impressed with my ham wrangling.  It's a sort of 'photo doc' recipe for putting one together.  (for the sake of the blog, I made another one for Christmas... and it was wonderful.) 

So, here is the where, how, and what I did to make it happen.  (sort of like the olive harvest to the oil pressing post )

This is the place I go to pick it up.  (On the Paleocastritsa road, a little ways past the Casa Lucia sign, on the right hand side - with Town behind you- just next to the gas station.)

The interior of the place with the very nice gentleman (and his family) who run it.  Obviously he sells many other pork things.  He speaks a bit of English and he is charming. 

The "ham" (aka gammon)  Three kilos (+) was under 25 euros.

The before soaking and after soaking:  fill a big pot with apple juice and refill the carton with water.  Make sure the ham is covered completely.  (I'm sure you could use cider as well.  I have also just used water which works fine too)  Put it in the refrigerator and let it soak for about 24 hours.

Empty the pot and remove the ham.  Tie ham into a hamlike shape- don't use colored or plastic string.  (you might have to cut a few pieces off but LEAVE the skin on!)  Next put it back in the pot and refill with water.  Cover the ham.  Bring to a boil and skim.  Leave to very slow boil for about 90 minutes for a 3 + kilo (about 6.5 lbs) ham, roughly 10 minutes a pound.  Let cool and if not cooking refrigerate pot and all.    For all intents and purposes you now have a "cooked" ham, and you CAN eat it.

But, this is the best part;  take the ham out of its cooking juice (it will probably be a bit jellyfied, or at least thicker than water.  I keep about two cups back to make gravy).  Carefully cut the string off and very gently with a sharp knife cut the thick skin off the top of the fat, leaving the fat on the ham.

Turn the oven on at 160C/350F and preheat.  Put the ham in a casserole or baking dish.  Assemble the ingredients for the glaze.

For the glaze I used honey, dark brown sugar, seedy mustard, dijon mustard and soya sauce.  I don't have a recipe- sometimes I use marmalade instead of the seedy mustard and soya sauce, (use whatever tastes right to you....) Don't make too much of it, though. (based on previous experience...)

Bake ham in the oven for about an hour or so. (it's cooked, you just want to heat it up.) Slather the ham with glaze for the last 10 minutes.

Ta-da!  That was our Christmas dinner (which we actually had on Monday cause we both had a bad cold on Christmas Day...)

Happy birthday 2011!

broadbeans (fava) growing in the garden in January...

One of the very best things about living in Corfu is the mild winters.  The climate allows for a year round growing season.

In November T planted broadbeans (aka fava beans), and cauliflower, onions and chard, as well as parsley, parsnips and beets.  (The first year we lived here we made the mistake of planting them in the spring, of course the poor things bolted and died long before they matured or else they just stayed in the ground hiding from the really hot summer sun.)

This month he'll plant potatoes and garlic. I am really looking forward to that harvest in the spring time.  Nature always gives us something marvelous to look forward to.

We are also looking forward to our planned vacation at the end of February.  (Yes we ARE odd.) We are joining my brother-in-law and his delightful wife on a trip to Turkey!!

The timing worked out perfectly all of us.  My brother-in-law has a birthday on the last day of February and of course, it's our anniversary on the first of March... so we'll have a double celebration!  As his business is landscaping, the timing is geared for his "slow" time.  But it works out perfectly for us as we have always preferred to travel "off season".

There are so many things to see and do in Turkey and our fortnight visit will, of course, only scratch the surface... still it will be nice to see some favorite places again and share them with family.

We lived in Turkey for about 5 years, back in the 90's, so it will be interesting to see it again with fresh eyes.

We have all booked our flights but I am still hammering out, via the internet, our details of where to stay, how we're getting from point A to point B (and where point B is exactly...) as well as trying to discover "moderately priced" domestic Turkish travel that doesn't include expensive airline tickets and taxi rides nor leave us exclusively at the mercy of hostels and no star hotels. (It would be nice to be making this trip as a much younger person!!)

For sure we'll spend some time in Istanbul and then we'll be getting ourselves to Izmir.  Somewhere in there we'll probably rent a car (tho NOT in Istanbul!)  and try and visit some of our favorite places with Izmir as the jumping off point.

Meanwhile, we got lucky with the timing and a good friend (who knows the house and its foibles AND can deal with them!) will be staying in our house taking care of Balou -who can't come with us- and our friend fortunately also knows how to "herd" our cats without losing his mind.    All in all, a win-win situation!

We will also be having house guests before we go...

- The previous "father" of Balou will be visiting for about a week in January
- and a young friend who will be working in Italy will come and stay for a visit on the January-February cusp.

This feels like the best way to start out the new year... looking forward to travel and friends while at the same time grounding yourself in your own back yard. (or "ground", as it were...)

There are other nefarious happy things in the future, which I will no doubt share as we get closer to the timing of it all but for now 2011 is looking pretty good!  So again, I say "Happy Birthday, 2011!"


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