Food and culture – Eating Greek style

A country’s culture is embodied in its food and how the people eat. Nowhere was that more evident than on my recent trip to Greece.

When my friend Mary and I planned our trip, we factored in plenty of time between the major attractions to stop at any random spot if we saw something unexpected. What we didn’t know was that relaxing over a cup of coffee or a meal – sometimes for hours – is quintessentially Greek, and those activities would fill much of our open time.

We were encouraged in this by our driver, a Greek who owned a construction company prior to the economic crisis and who has driven a taxi since. We felt incredibly lucky to have teamed up with this amiable and knowledgeable traveling companion who signed on to drive and translate but also served as our guide into Greek history, the economy, customs, and food.

Greek meals are occasions for wide-ranging discussions. And good food.

As Americans, we tend to bolt food even in a good restaurant as the wait staff work to turn the table and we rush on to the next thing. In the Greek style, we ate fresh food slowly, savoring conversation and companionship as much as the food.

Two food favorites rose to the top during this trip: souvlaki and a classic country salad called a “Mani Plate.”

On our first full day in Athens, after we toured the Parthenon, our guide led us to a small restaurant in the Plaka and introduced us to souvlaki. Souvlaki is similar to a gyro – meat, tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki sauce wrapped up in pita bread. Often it comes with fries.

Already inexpensive at about two Euros, souvlaki is even less expensive if you take it ‘to go.’ We found the price to be about the same whether in Athens or the countryside. Souvlaki is what Greeks eat, and I can see why. A complete delicious, inexpensive meal. Can’t go wrong with that.

Our need to use ‘the facilities’ led us to our next food discovery. No, you can’t simply stop at a gas station for a toilet. In Greece, the gas stations sell gas and that’s it. Isn’t that a concept?

The Mani Plate is a classic ‘country salad’ also called xoriatiki.

Since it was time for an afternoon coffee break anyway, we found a restaurant to serve our needs. While there, our driver suggested we try tsipouro, an alcoholic beverage better imbibed with food in your stomach. He recommended the Mani Plate (named for the Mani Peninsula on which the town was located). We were already disposed to take his recommendations, and this was another good one.

The Mani Plate consisted of fresh tomatoes and cucumber slices, cheese, meat, and olives. With a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and oregano, it was magnificent.

In the same family as ouzo, tsipouro is a drink associated with hospitality and good company. A drink to linger over. So we did. For a couple of hours. Talking, nibbling at the salad, glowing as the tsipouro kicked in, absorbing Greek culture.

One hotel offered honey-flavored tsipouro as a welcome gift. Reason enough to relax with a bit of cheese and lots of conversation.

For us, this mid-afternoon repast was enough for the day. Greeks would eat again late in the evening, but late nights were a part of Greek culture that passed us by.

I haven’t made souvlaki since returning to the States, though I have the recipe on a refrigerator magnet. The Mani Plate, on the other hand, is a regular lunch treat, especially now that tomatoes and cucumbers are fresh from our garden. Sadly, the tsipouro I brought back from Greece is long gone.

The Greek culture was at its finest with souvlaki or the Mani Plate, a glass of tsipouro, and the long, relaxed conversations that accompanied every Greek meal and every cup of coffee.

What’s your favorite way to immerse in a country’s culture when you travel? Drop a note and share your favorite discoveries.

Haitus over …. Did you miss me?

I realize asking, “Did you miss me?” after such a long absence opens me to the possibility of all sorts of disappointing, maybe even disparaging, responses. All of which I’d deserve. I dropped out of sight without telling you I would. Truthfully, I didn’t know I was going to do it myself. It just happened.

Pastels provided a new kind of creative outlet.

But now I’m back and feeling good after a three-month hiatus. I didn’t realize how much I needed a break from writing. I’d worked hard to finish the manuscript of a new novel only to have it turned down by my publisher. Optimistically, I went in search of an agent only to hear, “No, thanks,” again and again. Maybe this novel was not meant to be published. Simultaneously, I cut back on blogging, and the longer I didn’t post, the easier it became.

As I let writing recede, I opened my  mental, physical, and emotional space to other adventures.

I dove deeper into the pastel pool, taking another class and gaining confidence.

Greece offered unbeatable light, color, and history.

A friend and I spent a sublime few weeks in Greece.

My new prairie patch (where I mostly pull weeds) offered solitude and a much-needed reminder to be patient because things come in their own time.

All of these events and more provided time to breathe, to reflect, to let my heart tell me what to do. Without conscious intent, time away from writing brought me back to writing.

Purple vervain helps me look past prolific weeds.

So, here I am once again. I’ll be writing and posting about the above topics and more in the weeks ahead. The time away also brought me to a decision about my manuscript. I’m moving forward on the route to indie publishing. One step at a time without certainty on the end game. You’ll hear more about that, too.

So, my friends. I’m grateful for each of you who waited patiently and are willing to read my ramblings once again.

I’d like to hear from you. Please drop a note about how you’ve spent the last several months. Or let me know how time away has helped you make a decision. Let’s reconnect.

 

Word of the year for 2017? – Wonder

Choosing a word of the year is popular. The Oxford Dictionaries chose ‘post-truth’ as their word in 2016, while Merriam-Webster settled on ‘surreal,’ and Dictionary.com tapped ‘xenophobia.’ All  good choices given the year’s events.

A number of my friends choose a word that focuses them for the coming year. Serenity and Mindfulness are some examples. As friends shared their words for the 2017, I wondered how they do it. There are so many words that might apply.

I am frequently in awe of nature. This full rainbow caused me to stand in wonder.

Immediately, I recognized ‘wonder’ as a good word of the year for me. Wonder has many meanings so I am not trapped in one idea for the entire year. And my life circumstances already tell me this year will be full of moments that will cause me to pause.

Wonder encompasses curiosity, amazement, awe.

  • I am in wonder at our granddaughters who bring such joy to our lives.
  • I wonder if our neighbors who raise Percheron horses will let us ride them sometime?
  • I wonder what it will be like to tour the ancient Greek monasteries, to stand in the middle of the 2500-year-old Parthenon, to ask the Oracle at Delphi my own questions?
  • When I travel to Greece, I imagine I’ll be in wonder at finally fulfilling the very first travel desire I ever articulated, in eighth grade when we studied the Greek gods and goddesses, and again in college when I studied Greek theatre.

Wonder leaves room for doubt and uncertainty.

  • I wonder what our country will be like under President Donald Trump?
  • I wonder if any of the agents I pitch my novel to will like it enough to represent me?
  • I wonder what I’ll do if they don’t?
  • Now that I’ve finished the manuscript that occupied my time for two years, I wonder what will rise up as my next project? A question for the Oracle, no?

Wonder encourages emotion excited by what is strange and surprising.

  • Standing in the midst of my prairie, I feel wonder that pioneers could actually cross through miles of tall grass.
  • It is a wonder that I like ouzo. (If I actually said this, it truly would be a wonder. But who knows? I’m open to the possibility.)

Having latched onto Wonder, I imagine I’ll find even more reasons to experience all facets of the word. Having chosen the word, I’ll be reminded to appreciate more deeply each of these moments. An added value to choosing a word.

Do you chose a word of the year? If you have, please share. If you don’t have one but find that Wonder resonates for you, be my guest. I’m sure there’s plenty of wonder around for all of us.