Unconventional vasilopita for an unconventional year
Purists and traditionalists may cringe at this post, and we’re prepared for the fall out. We know that there are certain things that are sacred and should not be tampered with. Like garlic in tzatziki or bechamel on pastitsio. We get it, we really do!
But let’s face it guys, 2020 has been a very unusual and unconventional year and 2021 is starting off that way as well. In our part of the world we are in the midst of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the implications are huge. Restaurants remain closed except for take-out, retail shops are now closed, schools are either closed or via distance learning, and gatherings of any kind are prohibited. For those who prefer to ring in the new year in the comfort of their bed, sleeping, this is great! For many others, this sucks – big time!
A soft centered ginger molasses cookie with a hint of orange
You may recall us telling you that growing up we didn’t know what gingerbread cookies were. Ginger, in any form, was not an ingredient used in our childhood Greek kitchen. When one of us was a teenager, rebelling against traditional Greek cuisine (what were we thinking?!), we purchased the Better Homes and Gardens Cookies for Christmas Cookbook. We still have that book and its stained, dog-eared and kind of smelly pages are a testament to just how much we use it when holiday baking season arrives. In that book we discovered a whole new world of cookie goodness that went well beyond melomakarona, kourabiethes and koulourakia . In that book we were introduced to florentines, and shortbread, and gingerbread men, gingerbread houses, and gingersnaps. Ginger became a new fascination, and obsession.
Remember when you were a kid and you made someone that you loved a card, or a macaroni Christmas tree ornament, or a finger painting of what was clearly an abstract masterpiece? Remember how excited you were to offer your gift and to sit back and listen to the accolades? Remember the pride, the joy, the downright glee? We really, really hope that you do.
We remember that feeling, and frankly, we’re having the same kind of feels right now. But now it’s not about art, or arts and crafts…it’s about baking and we are practically bursting to finally be able to share with you our recipe for amygdalota. Youppi!!
November 15 marks the beginning of the Nativity Fast for Orthodox Christians, a period of fasting which prepares us for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ on December 25th. This is one of four major fast periods observed during the ecclesiastical calendar and although there is an important focus on abstaining from certain drink (wine) and food (meat, dairy, eggs, fish and oil) there is equal emphasis, if not a larger emphasis, on prayer and almsgiving.
Almsgiving is the giving of alms; money and physical gifts offered to the needy or the poor. It is meant to change the giver, encouraging us to detach from physical comforts and excesses, and it reminds us that giving is a social act, which places us in a relationship with others. It is an act of solidarity with those who are struggling, and can be a show of support to those who are facing seemingly insurmountable odds and life challenges.
Cranberry sauce that is not from a can…. you can do it!
We believe that there are three types of cranberry sauce people in the world. The first are those who like to open up a can and plop the contents onto a dish to be sliced and served. We are not those people, although we 100% respect and adore that many canned cranberry sauce friends tell us that the sight of the unmolded can of sauce, complete with rings from the can, reminds them of home and their childhoods. You know, we are all for that! The second class of cranberry sauce people are those who realize that making fresh cranberry sauce may be the easiest culinary feat possible, and so they do. We have become those people, but the truth is, for most of our lives, we fell into category three. This last group of sad, deprived folks are those who never knew of cranberry sauce growing up, because holiday turkey was lamb and it was served with tzatziki.
A layered Christmas bread with the most unbelievable texture and flavour
Christmas traditions certainly vary across cultures, regions and families; some are embedded within religious traditions while others are developed through years of “that’s just the way we do things”. One tradition which our family shares with many other Orthodox families is the baking of the traditional christopsomo, which literally translates to Christ’s bread. This bread is typically baked on Christmas Eve and eaten on Christmas Day and is replete with symbolism and meaning.
Summer is coming, and with it, wedding season. We love everything about weddings; the blissful couple, the beautiful dress, the personal touches which permeate the entire event. There is so much to appreciate! What we love most however are the traditions. Whether they are cultural or religious or simply familial, these traditions situate the nuptials within something larger than the day itself. How lovely!
Within our family, and Greek culture, we have our own set of traditions. Some of these, of course, revolve around food. In the Messinia region of the Peloponnese, which is where our parents and grandparents (and great-grand parents) are from, one of these sweet traditions is diples.Offering diples at weddings represents a wish that as two individuals become one couple and one family, their joys and blessings double.
Greek Pascha is the holiday which keeps on giving…leftovers. One of the things that our Easter season seems to leave us with plenty of is tsoureki, and we’re thrilled. It seems that most Greek homes bake a huge number of these sweet loaves during this holiday season, many of which are then are gifted to family and friends. If you are Greek however, you usually end up receiving as many tsourekia as you give away; you end up breaking even! Good problems to have!
If you have been following our blog and reading our stories, then you may know that we Greek Canadian sisters are both married to Xeni (if you are Greek, you know exactly what this means…and if you are not Greek, well, Xeni is you). One of us is married to a man who is of Irish and Scottish descent, and so it seemed fitting to share a recipe from his original neck of the woods, especially with St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner.
Irish soda bread is classified as a quick bread because it does not include yeast, hence there is no proofing time where the dough rises, and then rises again. Here, baking soda and buttermilk combine to do all the work. The result is a bread which goes from flour in a bowl to warm bread in your mouth in about 45 minutes. The Irish know that sometimes, there are more important things to do than spend hours in the kitchen.
This is probably one of our favourite times of year. In Greece, carnival season is ending and Monday marks the beginning of lent for Greek Orthodox Easter (Pascha). Although we live in Canada, and there are no such Carnivals, we do what we can to keep with some of the Greek traditions and customs. Many people have abstained from eating meat this past week and will now continue to abstain from meat, eggs and dairy until Easter Sunday. Whether you are fasting entirely, partially, or not at all, is of course a personal decision. Throughout our lives, for various reasons, we have fasted in the ways which were most appropriate for us at the time. One thing that has always remained constant however is that on Kathara Deftera (Clean Monday), we eat lagana.