Meet Kate. Kate write! Kate EAT! Eat Kate eat!
Travel Credo:"Let those who can cast their homeland behind them like a stone. Let those who cannot wear it around their neck like a gem!" - Nikos Kazantzakis
Archives (Which Comes from the Greek “ἀρχεῖον,” Naturally):
Now that I’ve been home for a month, I’ve had ample time to reflect on the things I miss most about Greece. It seems like every day I think of something new that I miss–but one of the greatest joys of coming home is figuring out how to work those things into your pre-travel life, and change your lifestyle for the better based on the new things you’ve seen and learned (and tasted!).
What do I miss most? You guessed it. The FOOD! I would do dastardly deeds for some authentic grilled kalamari, kolokithokeftedes (zucchini fritters), or taramasalata (dip made from fish roe).
But, on top of missing specific dishes (did I mention dakos? OK, I’m stopping now–this is torture!!), I’ve started to notice major changes in both my diet and eating habits in general. They’re all positive changes, and I credit them to my time spent in Greece.
The biggest change I’ve noticed is in my relationship with vegetables. The American diet is, of course, largely protein-centered; and, being from Montana, I do love a good steak or buffalo burger! However, like many Americans (I hope!), I’ve realized in recent years that I don’t agree with several of our meat industry practices. So, before I left for Greece, I was in a bind–I didn’t want to go vegetarian, but I’m not a hunter and never will be, and ethical meat can be so expensive. What’s a hungry girl to do?
Enter Greek food. While the Greeks love meat, they also do some really fantastic things with vegetables. There are so many flavorful, nutritious vegetable dishes in Greek cuisine. Before long, I found myself going days without eating meat, simply because I was craving those dishes!
What makes the difference?
1. Grilled vegetables. The Greeks can make a work of art out of a simple eggplant, mushroom or zucchini just by throwing it on the grill. Though this trend is changing, our standard conception of “things that go on the grill” in America is definitely meat. Now that my mind has been opened to the idea of grilled vegetables, my veggie world has been rocked.
2. Vegetable pastries and fritters. While less healthy than the other options, they’re still vegetables, so it still counts! I never thought about making or eating savory pastries until I went to Greece. Now, I’m absolutely in love with pitta, or savory pies made with everything from onion to leek to spinach. Vegetable keftedes are another favorite. They’re essentially fritters, again made with every vegetable under the sun. My favorites are made with zucchini and chickpeas!
3. Simplicity rules. Before going to Greece, I always felt like vegetables had to go with something. And even when I was eating vegetables by themselves, I always defaulted to having more than one kind of vegetable at once. Not so with Greek food. Several mezedes (the Greek version of tapas) are made up of just one vegetable, treated simply with delicious results. The key here is really good, fresh vegetables, served with basic flavor-enhancers like olive oil and lemon. What more do you need?
Now that I’m home, I find myself seeking out vegetarian dishes more often, and being more creative in my treatment of vegetables at home. It’s cheaper, tastier and healthier. What’s not to love?
In Greece, the usual style of eating (whether at home with family or out in a restaurant) is to make or order several dishes for the whole group to share. It took some getting used to, but I definitely prefer this way of eating now!
Why do I prefer it?
1. You get to taste more things. And when “taste” and “more” are in the same sentence, I’m in! Having a smaller amount of several different things is far more satisfying to me, and it’s also great to try that many more new dishes.
2. It promotes food talk. When you each order your own dish at a restaurant, you don’t really end up talking about the food much–who wants to hear so-and-so go on and on about their chicken? But when everyone is eating the same food, you can all talk together about the different tastes and textures. And on a more basic level, reveling in a “This is soooo good!!” is much more satisfying when there’s someone with you to back you up!
With this in mind, I’m cooking for friends and family a lot more regularly, as this naturally sets up a sharing situation. And when I go out to eat, I gravitate toward shared dishes like pizza, and propose splitting dishes with my friends much more often.
The Greeks add lemon to almost everything! I’ve always loved what a little lemon or lime juice can do, but I never thought of sprinkling it on sausage or burgers like you see so often in Greece. I found that even just a little lemon livens up just about any dish, and makes it taste even more fresh. (In addition to the photos below, there’s a lemon in many of the photos above too!)
The other day, I made a pasta with roasted asparagus and fresh tomatoes, and instead of just my standard butter and parmesan cheese, I added a little lemon juice too. As always, it really brightened up the dish!
My first word was “chocolate.” I kid you not. My parents came into my room one morning, looked down at me in my crib, and said, “Good morning, Katie!” My response (logically) was, “Chocolate.”
Needless to say, I’ve grown up with a bit of a sweet tooth. I love pastries, cookies, caramels… you name it!
However, the go-to sweetener in Greece is honey. That’s not to say that they don’t use sugar–rather, it just means that honey is used to sweeten things much, much more often in Greece than in America. Not only is it more healthy, but it’s perfectly sweet enough, and can be used in a variety of situations.
Eating more vegetables and sweetening things with honey instead of sugar have inspired other changes along the road to eating healthier, like seeking out whole-grain products and (eureka!) stopping eating before I feel like I’m made out of bread/peanut butter/cheese/other culinary vice of choice.
Once again, I’m amazed by how contact with an “other” can affect the familiar. Here, being in Greece put into practice eating habits that I knew would make me feel better, but had yet to experience firsthand. Αγάπη μου Ελλάδα, ευχαριστώ για όλα!
At 11:20 yesterday morning, I was sitting with our dog, Abbie, knowing that the vet was going to come to our house at 4:30 that afternoon to put her to sleep after weeks of struggling with lymphoma. My mom and I had both stayed home with her that morning, and after a couple hours of sitting beside her and doing crosswords, I heard an odd little noise. Looking at her, we just knew it was time. We sat beside her, petting her gently–and within about a half a minute, her breathing changed, her little golden body shook slightly for a few seconds, and she was gone.
The differences between perceived reality and physical reality had never been so shocking. Looking at her, you’d think she was about to get up and give us that big, goofy smile of hers. But within ten minutes, she was cold, and later, stiff. The sight I recognized as the dog I have known and loved for 12 years was right before my eyes, but there was nothing beyond that sight to actually manifest my dog–the animating force that made her the friend I loved was no longer there. I’d never even seen a dead body, let alone an actual death. Nothing was ever so strange or powerful.
That night, Mom, Dad, Boyfriend and I went out to dinner to celebrate the life of Abbie. Loved by all, she was a remarkable creature, and I can’t think of anything better to do now than celebrate what a lovely little doggie life she lived.
Therefore: the tribute post.
After all, she was born to be a star.
This is a video I took on my phone of coming home to Abbie in March of 2010, and is the greeting we received every darn day!
People sometimes talk about dogs “watching TV,” but I doubt any dog has ever been as into a TV show as Abbie was when it came to “Meerkat Manor.” It’s what I can only describe as an animal reality show, and Abbie would sit front and center in front of the TV and watch whole episodes, raptly staring at the screen and perking up whenever they made their little meerkat noises.
Though unfailingly enthusiastic and charmingly klutzy, Abbie defied the dumb-dog stereotype by intuiting exactly what we needed with astonishing sensitivity. Once, she even managed to crack my mom’s neck on a terribly stressful day with a simple affectionate nuzzle.
She had a favorite toy, which we affectionately dubbed “The Flingball.” It was designed to be shot slingshot-style over long distances. Well, in our house, the Flingball actually ended up being held by the elastic in Abbie’s mouth, and forcefully shook back and forth so it hit her in the face repeatedly of her own free will.
We affectionately dubbed this process “bapping.”
On Christmas every year was “The Festival of the Flingballs.” Since they stopped carrying Flingballs in Bozeman, we had to order them online in bulk. When they arrived, we would save the package until Christmas morning, and then dump them all out at once in front of her. Panicked, she would back away slightly in sheer awe–and then, suddenly, she’d dart in and choose one Flingball for the new year. We’d pack up the rest and save them until she bapped the first one into oblivion.
When I was about seven, my family moved from Washington, DC to Bozeman, Montana.
That’s quite the change for a ripe young mind. And when you throw into the mix that my best friend at the time–who was pretty much my honorary big brother–had told me that Montana was an island in the middle of the ocean inhabited by cannibals, you can get a glimpse of how I felt about moving.
But once we settled in, I fell in love with our new home right away. I found a horseshoe on the lane next to our house, and once I was told it was good luck to find a horseshoe, well!! I knew I was set.
…Until we went to the museum. That was the day my fragile seven year-old psyche was positively shattered.
The museum in Bozeman is actually pretty well-known, as it houses world-famous paleontologist Dr. Jack Horner. If you don’t know who he is, rent “Jurassic Park” and watch the credits. We have the world’s first female T-Rex, and several other big-time paleontological finds.
As a small, aspiring intellectual on that fateful day in my seventh year, I had been impressed with our new museum–it was no Smithsonian, but it would do. I had been inside a real teepee, and had gotten to move a big metal thing back and forth while pumping make-believe gas from an old do-it-yourself gasoline pump. Those are pretty cool activities when you’re seven. I was stoked.
The last exhibit we would visit for the day was the temporary one, which changes every few months. As fate would have it, this season’s exhibit was on bears.
Bears are, no doubt, an important topic in Montana. They’re a part of life here. When camping, you have to store your food bag up in a tree. When hiking, you alwaysalwaysalways carry bear spray. Every Montanan needs to know the difference between a black bear and a grizzly, so they can act accordingly if need be. For all these reasons, educating the public is really important. Bear education has saved a lot of lives.
But this exhibit went beyond education.
In the corner of the last room, there was a looping tape of bear attacks.
It was the greatest mindf*ck my seven year-old self could have possibly encountered.
I watched in horror as an armless woman told the story of her attack, in which she mistook a black bear for a grizzly. You see, when dealing with black bears, you must jump and shout and try to scare them away; but when it comes to grizzlies, you have to get down on the ground and put your hands over your neck, with your elbows out, in hopes that it won’t be able to roll you over. So, when this woman rolled herself into a ball on the ground, the black bear assumed she had declared defeat, and proceeded to slowly eat off her arms.
Victim after victim told their gruesome stories, with occasional roars and screams for effect. I didn’t even cry; I was simply transfixed with terror.
Pale and shaking, I numbly walked out to the car with my parents, distracting myself from the certainty that a bear was about to pop out around every corner by mentally planning exactly how I would escape my second-floor bedroom if a bear ever came into it.
Since then, I’ve slowly regained at least a bit of rationality. But fears you develop during those formative years stay with you. Though I hike, backpack and ski, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still absolutely terrified of bears.
Most of the time, my interaction with bears isn’t even interaction. We rarely see them up at the house. For the most part, I see them in Yellowstone, and it’s always from a car with lots of other people around.
It’s when I’m hiking that the old fear kicks in. Most bear attack stories occur while the victim is hiking, and we just had that awful fatal mauling in the Park. (And all the ridiculously sensationalized reporting that went with it. Articles featured headlines like “Killer grizzly roams free in Yellowstone!” Well, Media, it may surprise you to know that ALL GRIZZLIES KILL THINGS. Yes, that’s right–every bear in Yellowstone is a killer. They may as well have titled the article “OHMYGAHIT’STHEBEARPOCALYPSE.”)
But, if I never bucked up & put my fear aside, how would I ever experience sights like this?
This weekend, I went for a hike into the Spanish Peaks with two friends of mine. We took the Pioneer Falls trail, which is about seven miles round-trip.
Before the hike, I was pretty nervous. I thought about doing a little research into bear danger in the area, or asking my friends (who know the area far better than me) what they thought the chances were that we’d see a bear.
Instead, I just decided to go with the flow.
(Thank you, Greece.)
The rewards for this decision were tangible… and spectacularly gorgeous.
On top of the big-picture scenery, hikes are all about the little things for me. The air is so fresh and sweet-smelling, and the sounds of birds such a lovely way to break the silence. There’s beauty all around, from your eye-level to your feet.
And then, of course, there’s the destination. If a hike isn’t one giant metaphor, I don’t know what is.
As we wandered back down the trail, I couldn’t help but reflect on the very nature of fear. It’s one of the single most overpowering emotions, and yet the rewards one reaps for overcoming it are often some of the most precious rewards we could possibly gain. As a Montana citizen, if I let my fear of bears rule my life, I’d practically never be outside.
And as a Montana citizen, outside is where I want to be.
At the end of the day, there was one last reward waiting for me:
Who knows if I will ever fully overcome my fear of bears. I don’t even really know what it means to “fully overcome” a fear. But in the meantime, I’m trying. Just like Big Scary Life Changes, learning to set aside one’s fears is another part of progressing as a whole human being.
What are your fears, how do you cope with them, and what do you gain as a reward?
Last night, I found myself having a beer with a buddy and brooding over our mutual current state of Big Scary Life Changes. Having just moved away from Greece and sort of readjusted to being back in Montana, I’m now having to quickly transition to summer prep work for grad school, apartment-hunting in Boise, and in just four short weeks, actually moving down there and starting a whole new chapter of my life. Caught between three places, I can barely keep up with myself, and it’s only vigilant resolution to live in the present that keeps me from going off my rocker (if I ever had a rocker in the first place?). And I’m certainly not the only one. It seems like everyone I know–whether they’re in their twenties, like me, or not–is going through some sort of Big Scary Life Change, be it a new job, health issues, relationship woes or, however big or small, the dreaded identity crisis.
As well it should be! Though big, and scary, Big Scary Life Changes are the stuff of life. They keep our days interesting, help us shape the lifestyle we want to create, and force us to really figure out what we want. After all, it’s when we’re comfortable that we make the least progress as whole human beings. We seem to crave stability, but maybe that’s not really what we need. What can we learn from stagnation? Fight the current! Break away! Put your clothes on backwards!
Phew. Sorry. That fist pump got me a little hyped up. What I mean to say is, essentially, that change is good. Though it’s terrifying at first, good things await you at the bottom of a Big Scary Life Change. It just takes courage to get there.
So, as a fellow dog-paddler in the stormy ocean of Big Scary Life Changes, I offer the following tunes to help you navigate the waves.
“The Cave,” Mumford & Sons
This track is a veritable anthem for the Big Scary Life Changer. With great lines about knowing who you are, staying hopeful and creating good change out of what may seem hard or hurtful at first, this one is meant to be blasted after a BSLC freak-out.
“Angry Anymore,” Ani Difranco
I don’t know what the images are in this video (girl playing soccer on button?), but it was the best I could find. Anyway, this is one of my all-time favorites, forever and ever, amen. Ani’s lyrics are always jam-packed with wisdom and passion, but this track’s message is a universal and perpetually important reminder. Big Scary Life Changes bring knowledge and wisdom. We can all only hope that we, too, will have this kind of attitude when the storm has passed.
“Pursuit of Happiness,” cover by Lissie
(Note: strong language!) Somehow, when sung with that much more soul than the original by Kid Cudi, this song becomes about so much more. Watching this relatively random blonde girl throw her heart, soul and awesome pipes into belting it out always makes me want to toss it all to the wind and just enjoy the ride–and sometimes, that’s exactly what we need when a Big Scary Life Change is rocking our world.
“Lessons Learned,” Matt and Kim
Apparently, the official music video is “inappropriate,” so we have to settle for this version with the lyrics but–to my extreme disappointment–without the bouncing red ball! What is the point of having the lyrics but no fun bouncing red ball?! Anyway, I love this song. For me, the message is along the lines of the track above, but with the added bonuses of the great reminder to live in the present in the chorus and the awesome “tell me about your song” line. As a side note, this band’s unique, dynamic stuff is my favorite new running music!
“Helplessness Blues,” Fleet Foxes
The beginning of this track is an anthem for the best possible kind of chaos. Since I moved to Greece, chaos became a friend of mine, and–though I still color-code my readings for school, because that’s just fun–I’ve learned to love spontaneity, disorder, and uncertainty. I usually love the Fleet Foxes’ pattern of switching it up halfway through a song, bust sadly, the second half of this track is much less successful for me. But the first makes it worth it!
“Come on Up to the House,” Tom Waits
Ohhh, Mr. Waits. I’m a huge fan, and this might be my favorite track of his. I turn to this song when I’m feeling impossibly world-weary. There’s something about his soulful, bizarre vocals that both complements and contrasts the lyrics. Whatever you deem to be “the house” (I tend to think of it as simply “home”), this song is an immense comfort for anyone facing a Big Scary Life Change.
“Landed,” Ben Folds
I had the chance to see Ben Folds live last year, and he was just fabulous; in fact, he was making-up-a-birthday-song-for-an-audience-member, conducting-the-entire-audience-in-impromptu-three-part-harmony fabulous. Now, after listening to this song over and over in times of trouble, even the opening piano line helps ground me again. Thanks, Ben.
“Keep Breathing,” Ingrid Michaelson
This track is the very best in humbling reminders that you are a human being–nothing more, nothing less. Though we may crowd our brains with expectations, assumptions, continual analysis of perceived wins and losses, and to-do lists, all we really need do at any given moment is exist. If you can let go of everything else, just for a moment, that thought can be more comforting than anything in the world.
“Calendar Girl,” Stars
When I do yoga to music, this is my go-to savasana song. And for Big Scary Life Changes, “Calendar Girl” has it all–big-picture perspective, calming lyrics and style, wisdom, and inspiration. For me, the repetition of “I’m alive” really helps me simplify and restore my gratitude, no matter what BSLC I’m facing.
As a kid at the theatre camp I taught at for years once said, “Sometimes, you just have to jump in without your floaties on.” Here’s to the jump. May it be a swan dive!
I know what you’re thinking.
Guh! That’s alotta vowels!
Amazing, huh? I even got the guh! Turns out officially becoming a grad student–I’m all registered for classes and I even bought school supplies, which manifests itself in a few blissful hours at Staples and is pretty much on par with Christmas–endows me with all kinds of intellectual importantosity, like the ability to read minds and make up words like importantosity. AND USE THEM.
So, for those of you with Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia (that, actually, is a real word… look it up and bask in the irony!), let me break down the word spanakopitakia for you.
The first part of the word comes from spanaki, which is Greek for spinach.
In the middle is pita, which means pie.
In Greek, there are several suffixes that mean “little.” One of them is aki. So, here, we add aki to refer to the fact that these are little spinach pies themselves, as opposed to a whole pie tin of spanakopita cut up into pieces.
Last, the a at the end makes it plural. Instead of one little spinach pie, you get several. And several is always better when it comes to little spinach pies.
Now that we’ve gone all Schoolhouse-Rock (you know you heard all that as a song!) on the name, what the heck are spanakopitakia? They’re cute little phyllo triangles filled with spinach and feta. Crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and jam-packed with zesty flavor, these little guys will, as promised, rock your κάλτσες off.
Σπανακόπιτακια – Spanakopita Phyllo Triangles
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound fresh baby spinach
3/4 pound feta, crumbled
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
10 (17- by 12-inch) phyllo sheets, thawed if frozen
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
Melt one tablespoon butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat, add onions and garlic and saute for a minute, then cook spinach, stirring, until wilted and tender, an additional 4 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and cool, about 10 minutes.
Press mixture in mesh colander (or wring in cheesecloth) to remove as much liquid as possible (I find this more necessary with baby spinach than the heartier stuff, which left almost no excess liquid), then coarsely chop.
Transfer to a bowl and stir in feta and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let filling cool.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Melt butter in a small saucepan, then cool. Cover phyllo stack with 2 overlapping sheets of plastic wrap and then a dampened kitchen towel.
Take one phyllo sheet from stack and arrange on a work surface with a long side nearest you (keeping remaining sheets covered) and brush with some butter. Top with another phyllo sheet and brush with more butter. Cut buttered phyllo stack crosswise into 6 (roughly 12- by 2 3/4-inch) strips.
Put a heaping teaspoon of filling near one corner of a strip on end nearest you, then fold corner of phyllo over to enclose filling and form a triangle. Continue folding strip (like a flag), maintaining triangle shape.
Put triangle, seam side down, on a large baking sheet and brush top with butter. Make more triangles in same manner, using all of phyllo.
Bake triangles in middle of oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool slightly. Makes 30 pastries.
And the best part of this cooking experience? At one point, I was in the middle of wrapping up the filling inside the phyllo when my mom called for help with another dish. Without thinking, I said, “Just a minute, mom, I’m all tangled up in phyllo dough!” She instantly started laughing, and it took me a second to realize why:
I was literally wrapped in phyllo dough. 😀
Give this recipe a try, folks! It’s a great impressive-looking dish that, while time-consuming, is relatively easy to put together and tastes amazing.
That’s in quotation marks because it’s what I uncontrollably say out loud every time I see this dish.
For a small welcome-home shindig my parents and I hosted this week, we made up a menu of classic American grill food and Greek sides:
- The classic hamburger/cheeseburger
- That dynamite watermelon, feta and arugula salad
- Our old family favorite for Greek dinners–Artichokes & Rice, from Mani
- Spanakopita (Greek spinach pie) triangles (recipe coming to a post near you!)
- Greek fava(aaaaa!) dip
- And for dessert, Greek yogurt with honey… but my mom made a gorgeous strawberry & blueberry tart, and my friends brought cupcakes and Rocky Road bars (oh, how I missed my friends!), so the Greek yogurt was entirely forgotten about until a later date. Whoops.
A good time was had by all! (Especially our golden retriever, who not only loves all people, but frisbee-whores herself out to any and all men who come to our house with disgusting shamelessness. It would be embarrassing if she wasn’t so cute.)
I also came up with two Greece-related quizzes to play. The winners each received some Greek music. Feel free to print them out & test yourselves! 🙂
To no one’s surprise, everyone loved the Greek dishes. In fact, my pictures of them for this post and the upcoming spanakopita post are less than ideal, because I couldn’t even get to them for their close-up before they were almost all gone!
Up next will be the spanakopita triangles recipe, but for now, here’s the deal with favaaaaaaa!
(Just wait til you taste it. You’ll be yelling about it too.)
So, what is this fava of which I’m so triumphantly yelling? Vicia faba is a species of bean known as the broad bean. That’s not what we’re talking about. The Greek word Φάβα (fava) refers to green and yellow split peas. Greeks puree them into a scrumptious, healthy dip, eaten by itself or with bread. This recipe is a regional specialty of Santorini.
It’s so easy and so delicious, I now think of it as the perfect party appetizer! We served ours with pita bread, but you could get creative and serve it any number of other ways.
Φάβα – Fava Puree
1/2 pound yellow or green split peas, rinsed
5 cups water
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
In a saucepan, combine rinsed split peas and water, and season with salt and pepper. After bringing the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover the saucepan, and let it cook down until the peas have disintegrated into a puree. You may need to add more water during the cooking process, and you will definitely need to stir the mixture every now and then. Once the peas have cooked down, take the pot off the heat and cover it with a cloth for around twenty minutes. Mix in some olive oil (perhaps a quarter cup or so), top with chopped red onion and serve.
If you have trouble finding split peas, look for yellow daal in the Indian section of your grocery store.
And with that, καλή όρεξη! (Bon appetit! We really need a good English equivalent for that. Any suggestions?) Stay tuned for a post with the recipe we used for spanakopita triangles!
Ciao for niao,