A roundup of our first Christmas and New Year in Athens: Since all of my antique and vintage Christmas decorations are back in the UK, it was IKEA for Christmas baubles – my first fake (flat pack – naturally) Christmas tree ever. Makes sense here in this slightly warm climate (20 degrees C on Christmas Day) – no needles dropping. Plus, handy battery operated lights. And, it is amazing what a can of gold spray paint can do. Things from the garden – pine cones, flower-like oleander leaves and box hedge sprigs – were covered with mettalic glitter. Bay leaves from recent pruning and cypress foliage provided the greenery.Orangey rosehips complemented the arrangements. A mini Christmas tree was made from folding a magazine (naturally spray painted gold) topped with a toothpick star. The latter is definitely a regression to childhood. I vividly remember making these from old telephone books back in primary school – too many years ago.
In the kitchen, there was a modest amount of baking. First, S made a huge double batch of melomakarona, one of the two traditional Greek Christmas cookies. The house was pleasantly scented with cinnamon for days after! We also discovered just how quick and easy it is to make florentines, although I would call these “cheat” florentines, not being a true chewy florentine, but more of a macaroon type of biscuit. We added chopped glacé cherries and candied citrus peel to the slivered almonds, confectioner’s sugar and egg white mixture. Dark chocolate drizzled on with the tines of a fork after baking adds the final “elegant touch”. Plus, my usual shortbread. The cookie stamps came with me – a little bit of home here in Greece.
Masses of mini nutty oat cakes were also made using the wonderful recipe from Sandra @ Please Pass the Recipe. They were topped with a smear of Stilton (direct from Britain) and a slice of ruby red quince (also a recipe from Sandra). These are now my favourite little finger foods to serve with drinks.
The American Farm School in Thessaloniki ships out their organic turkeys across the country for Christmas. However, I am still getting used to the monster catering oven – or blast furnace, more like – and the turkey was a tad bit on the brown side. Consequently, not entirely photo worthy, but still delicious. Our Christmas excursion made up for the turkey singeing – graceful Sounion by the Attic sea where we played spot the Byron graffiti on the temple. Little quails bobbed and scurried around the site reminding me that game – boar, venison, pheasant, and (yes) quail – also appear in the markets for the holiday season. Boar pot-roast soon…on the stove top, I think.
As a Christmas gift, we were presented with bottles of Greek wine for us to expand our knowledge of the wide variety of quality wine the country is producing. We’ve been enjoying it and I’ve been doing a bit of research into the ancient grape varieties. More, I hope, on this theme later.
For good luck, a friend gave us a Greek γούρι-γούρι (“gouri-gouri”) charm for 2016 to hang in the kitchen. Γούρι simply means luck and by repeating the word, it reinforces it – like the word for good, καλά, transforms into very good by uttering καλά-καλά. These little ornaments are everywhere, in all the shops, at this time of year.
We also participated in the ceremonial cutting of a massive Vasilopita, the New Year’s bread, and the smashing of a pomegranate on the door step at a friend’s house where we celebrated the New Year. A second pomegranate met our own doorstep when we returned home in the wee hours of the morning. Again for good luck in 2016. My lovely new ceramic pomegranate, however, will not be sacrificed. I’m thinking of starting a New Year collection.
Wishing everyone health, wealth and prosperity for 2016.