Orthodox Iconography, Part 1

I did not write the below article, but it really expresses what I have learned in my walk through Orthodoxy as well. I am excited to share this with you and I would love to hear your thoughts as well. Here is the LINK to the original article written by Cindy Elgy, I have simply copied and pasted it below for ease to the viewer. 

“There are approximately five million Eastern Orthodox Christians in America (Nabil, 2000). A minority in a nation dominated by Protestants and Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox culture has maintained strong familial and cultural identities. Understanding something about them, being able to lay aside preconceptions and ethnocentricity to view life from the Orthodox Christian’s perspective will allow the onlooker an opportunity to increase in understanding not only of the Eastern Orthodox Christian but of human nature. It is this author’s intent to introduce the reader to an insider’s perspective of iconography in the life of an Orthodox Christian, in the hope that understanding will increase.
A legend passed down for nearly 2000 years describes the first icon. At the time when Christ was traveling to Jerusalem where He would experience the trial and crucifixion, King Abgar of Edessa sent for Jesus. Christ could not go to the King, so instead He sent a linen cloth on which He had dried His face. The story continues that the cloth carried to the King had an impression of Christ’s face on it. The King’s illness was healed when the cloth was taken to him. This first icon, “not made by human hands”, began a tradition of portraying Christ and the saints in pictorial fashion. (Benz, 1963). The entire town of Edessa treasured this first icon, that is the linen cloth with Christ’s face imprinted on it. It was widely acknowledged throughout out the East and still written about in the eighth century (Ouspensky, 1978).
So what is an icon? Webster defines an icon as an image (Webster, 1966). In the Orthodox Church an icon is a sacred image, a window into heaven. An image of another reality, of a person, time and place that is more real than here and now. More than art, icons have an important spiritual role. Michel Quenot says it well in his book, The Icon: Window on the Kingdom, an icon is “theology in imagery, the icon expresses through color what the Gospel proclaims in words”.
For this reason the rules regarding the creation of an icon are rigorous. The iconographer must prepare himself for the task of painting an icon by following a strict discipline of fasting and prayer. He must quiet his spirit and submit himself to God. The icon he creates will not be signed. He will not expect accolades or applause when the icon is completed. The icon will be created to inspire and lead others into worship. Painting the icon is not a use of imagination. Instead, the icon will be painted using the prescribed regimen and style that has been passed down through the centuries. Everything from the facial expressions to the colors used is predetermined. The following is a prayer recited by an iconographer prior to starting to work:
O Divine Master of all that exists, enlighten and direct the soul, the heart and the mind of your servant: guide my hands so that I might portray worthily and perfectly Your Image, that of Your Holy Mother and of all the Saints, for the glory, the joy, and the beautification of Your Holy Church. ( Quenot, p.13)
The primary purpose of the icon is to aid in worship. Its design follows that purpose. Through lines and color the iconographer conveys the awesomeness of the invisible, divine reality (Evdokimov, 1990). The creation of an icon is defined by tradition. That is a 21 st century iconographer would not decide to change the shape of Christ’s face. It is understood that a person who saw them in the flesh painted the first icon of an individual. St. Luke is accredited with painting the first icons of Christ and Mary the Blessed Virgin. Each subsequent iconographer will use the original icon as a guide. There is room for a small amount of stylistic change but tradition limits the options for that change ( Forest, 1997).
Icons are not created to force an emotional response. When portraying historical scenes the faces don’t show emotions but instead portray virtues such as purity, patience in suffering, forgiveness, compassion and love. An example of this would be the portrayal of Christ on the cross. Neither is the icon a sentimental picture. Christ is always shown as God. Even the icons of Christ seated on His mother’s lap show Him with an adult face, revealing that even though Christ lived as a child among us He was also God ( Forest,1997).
Icons depict silence. There are no actions displayed, no open mouths. The icon invites the Christian to enter into contemplation,prayer, and silence (Ware,1979). Space is not defined as three-dimensional and time is insignificant. The story told by the icon precludes time and space. An example would be the icon of the Nativity, which shows the cave where Christ was born in the background with those who came to adore in small vignettes. Lighting proceeds from the character portrayed in the icon. There are never shadows in icons. This shows us that the saint portrayed is “glorified” having completed the race and entered into heaven (Quenot,1991).
Symbolism is used in icons and details are used minimally. For example, when showing John the Baptist baptizing in the river the grown man he baptizes is shown as an infant because the baptism is a rebirth. Colors are also symbolic. Blue reveals heaven and mystery. Green is youth, fertility and the earth’s vegetation. Red, the color of blood, suggests life, vitality and beauty. White is purity, the divine world and innocence. Gold indicates sanctity, splendor, and the glory of God and life in the heavenly kingdom. Purple reveals wealth, power and authority.
First and foremost, icons are a constant reminder of the incarnation of Christ, that is to say, they remind us that God “sent His only begotten Son”(Bible, John 3:16) to rescue us from our sin and death. We cannot see God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, but, because Christ chose to take on human flesh, we can see Him. His face can be portrayed on wood with paint. We can also paint His Mother and other saints who have finished the race and gone on to heaven. The Orthodox believe that surrounding themselves with icons help them to acknowledge the constant presence of Christ and the saints in their lives.
According to Father Nabil, priest of St. George Orthodox Church in Indianapolis, IN, the icon is a representation of the person portrayed upon it. The term used to describe this link is typology. Typology means that an event or item is somehow related to another event or person. An example of this would be the icon buttons on the computer tool bar. When a person uses the tool bar and clicks on the “print” button the user knows that the print button represents something else. That is, the print button will not cause itself to be duplicated on paper with ink but instead the user knows that the print button at that moment is a typology for the item on the screen. By interacting with the “print” icon the user expects the item the button represents to be printed. When an Orthodox Christian gives honor to an icon by kneeling or bowing before it or by kissing the icon the Christian is not paying respect to wood and paint. Instead he acknowledges that the icon represents much more and that the link between the icon and the person in the heaven is real. He believes that in some mystical fashion the veneration given to the icon will be received by the person it portrays.
As a recent convert to the Orthodox Christian faith this author has some experience on which to base an analysis of the use of icons. As a convert ten years ago icons were one of the additions to worship unfamiliar to me. I came from a protestant background and the worship I had been involved in up until this point involved sitting in a pew and repeating prayers, creeds and hymns when appropriate. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the Orthodox utilize all of their senses and beings in their worship. Incense floats through the air representing the prayers ascending into heaven. A bell is rung during the call to worship and at other key times in the worship. Altar boys, deacons and the priest serve in the altar area, chanting prayers and hymns, bowing, performing prostration, acknowledging the heavenly hosts of saints and angels whose worship we are entering into. Parishioners do not sit primly in the pews but may walk throughout the church lighting candles, venerating icons. The hands of parishioners are not quiet and closed but may be raised heavenward to show the lifting of the worshiper’s heart toward God or they may be making the sign of the cross, reminding the one who makes it that Christ loved us enough to die for us. Later communion will be available so that one can even utilize the sense of taste during worship. In those first weeks the activity of worship seemed almost distracting to me but as I have entered into the worship it has became natural. The Orthodox believes worship is ongoing in the heavenly kingdom. They believe heaven is a place where worship doesn’t cease, that those who have gone before and have been faithful are worshiping the Holy Trinity continuously. When earthly Christians join together to worship we join the heavenly throng and begin participating in that worship. For that reason the walls and ceilings of the church are decorated with icons of Christ, Mary the Blessed Virgin, saints and angels. When parishioners stand in the pew during worship they only need to look around to see the saints surrounding them. In this way the icon is a reminder of a larger reality. It reminds us that we have stepped out of one world and into another. It reminds us that though we struggle on a daily basis to remain faithful to our beliefs and our God there are many who have finished this life successfully and now dwell in a place were there is no more sorrow. We are encouraged to persevere, to set our eyes on the finish line, to continue to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Living as we do in a society that demands that our lives be lived at a fast pace and with very little quiet time the icon beckons to us to slow down. The stillness of the icon draws us into the quiet so that we can lay aside the cares of this world and meditate on the splendor of the next. The benefit of the icons is not so much in analyzing the style of painting, the iconographers name or even in knowing the individual representations in the icon. The benefit is in meditation, in quietness and in guiding the heart to prayer.
There are other components of the Eastern Orthodox culture that contribute to the use of the icon. It has been this author’s personal observation that the Orthodox culture values family. Aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, grandparents, cousins and so on worship together, live together and often even work together. A large number of Orthodox are immigrants who have been able to assimilate into the American culture due to a strong work ethic and a respect for the freedoms afforded a democratic society. Many have lived under Communist governments, some have suffered under the authority of anarchists. Strong family ties, even family businesses have helped to sustain these immigrants. This respect for unity and extended family goes beyond the earthly family and makes the recognition of the saints more acceptable. For example, if Aunt Sally prayed for us while she was on earth and we know that she has eternal life now, why would we expect her to stop praying for us now?
Also, I have found that the Orthodox are a very expressive people. If I meet an Orthodox friend at the grocery store or at church I have learned to expect that friend to drop whatever he is doing and come toward me with both arms reaching out. First he will embrace me, then give me a kiss on each check. This is called the kiss of peace. Often a greeting such as “Christ is Risen!” or “Thanks be to God” will accompany the kiss. It should be noted that this kiss of peace is shared among men and women equally. The greeting can be between two men, two women or a man and a woman. I have often wanted to follow a single person throughout a Sunday worship to tally the number of such greetings a person offers on such a day. If such a greeting is given to people who are simply acquaintances then the kissing of the icon is in keeping with the cultural practices.
In conclusion, viewing the use of icons from within the Orthodox culture has given the author the opportunity to develop an appreciation for icons. I have found that hanging an icon in my home reminds me that God is present in my home. When I pass the icon I remember that I am to be praying continuously. When life is just speeding by too quickly I know where to go to find some quiet and to pray for the peace that surpasses understanding. It is no longer surprising to me that the God who created humans would realize that sometimes in our crowded lives it is beneficial to have a “window on the kingdom” (Quenot, 1991).”

In Part II, I will share more on my thoughts but until then I would love to hear yours! 

Presvitera’s Dolmades

Traditionally Greek
I must admit first that although I took the pictures, the dolmades below belong to my mother-in-law, “the expert dolmades maker”, hence the name! Her name is not Presvitera, rather this is a respectful and endearing name to call a priest’s wife. My father in law is a Greek Orthodox priest and I had the honor of him baptizing me (My Christian name is Styliani) and marrying us – actually we had a very blessed wedding with 6 priests, our marriage is bound to last until the end of time 🙂 

The (one) time that I tried to make dolmades, the taste was good but the aesthetics were terrible, so you did not get to see my first attempt. Over Easter break, I got to learn first hand the secrets to making perfect dolmades, do not overstuff them! Apparently, I was a little too eager and generous with my rice stuffing. Lesson learned! So, now I share with you the simple, yet delicious, vegetarian stuffed grape vine leaves recipe that many Greek families consider as a staple on their tables. 

Presvitera’s Dolmades Recipe: 

Printable Recipe
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
2-3 T. EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
1 medium white onion, chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp. salt
2 large lemons, juiced
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock, heated
30 grape leaves, rinsed and drained (from jar or use fresh but boil until tender)

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, saute the onion in 2 T. EVOO for a few minutes, then add the rice and herbs and continue stirring until the onion has softened. Slowly, pour in half the heated stock and reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until rice is almost cooked but still very al dente. You do not want to overcook your rice, but you do want it started! Stir in half the lemon juice and remove from heat, cool until easy enough to handle.

Line the bottom of your pot with a few extra vine leaves you have so the dolmades will not burn while cooking, I try to choose the broken or unusable ones from the jar. Take one leaf, place shiny side down, and spoon 1 teaspoon (only 1 tsp. or they will burst open and not be pretty at all) or more/less according to the size of the leaf itself, but you want to easily be able to tightly fold; remember that the rice will still expand more while cooking. Fold over both sides of the leaf towards the center, and begin to snuggly roll up from the bottom to top. You may have to slightly fold the top sides even more inwards (think slight triangle) to get a “prettier” roll. It is all in the practice, so just find what works best for you! Once you have finished rolling one, place it seam side down in the pot. Repeat placing the dolmades together so as to not leave any gaps and allowing the leaves to split open. Try to stack the first layer all facing the same direction and when you begin the 2nd layer, switch the direction for a kind of criss-cross pattern; repeat until finished. Sprinkle the top with remaining lemon juice and olive oil.

Gently, pour the remaining stock just enough to cover the top layer. Place a flat weight – like a small, upside down plate – on top of the vine leaves, cover the pot, and simmer for 45-60 minutes – making sure not to boil, because this will make the stuffing overflow from the leaves. When close to the time, check one to confirm that the rice is tender, take into account that they will also slightly cook a little more while cooling down. Remove from heat, remove cover, and let cool for another half hour. Transfer to a plate/dish and serve with lemon slices and greek yogurt if you choose! It is also very “Greek” to top them with a little white vinegar and some extra salt if needed. Try it all and decide for yourself!

There are many different versions of the stuffing for dolmades, the usual contains ground beef and sometimes even fish. There are also vegetable varieties, but the simplicity of fresh herbs and rice, in my opinion, is the perfect balance of flavor and lightness!

These are great as an appetizer or even as a healthy snack! Another similar and even more common vegetable to wrap the rice in is cabbage leaves. You should first boil the leaves until pliable and then stuff, but I will try to highlight that recipe some other time! Until then, enjoy these wonderful little treats and I will be sure to post a picture of my very own dolmades now that I have the official recipe and secrets! 

Kali Orexi my friends, and I hope you have the beautiful sunshine that we were blessed with today. The birds are singing and the temperature couldn’t be more perfect! 

Another Egg Salad Recipe…

Unique and Special
Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who not only is a mother (or has a bunt in the oven) but who has a mother or even hopes to become one! I am blessed to have 2 wonderful mothers, a mom and a step-mom and life couldn’t be better!!! 
I also wanted to share a simple, yet delicious egg salad recipe made with greek yogurt instead of only mayo. 
One thing I have really enjoyed about Greece is that almost everyone has chickens, and they aren’t the annoying roosters that wake you up at 4am either. They are just simple chickens that peck at the ground all day and lay you fresh eggs to enjoy! When we were back on the main land with the in-laws, I snapped a couple of pictures of the family chickens, and V’s mom sent us back with a sack full of fresh hard boiled eggs. What else can you do with so many eggs, make egg salad right?! 
Just knowing that the eggs come from clean, well taken care of free roaming chickens eating grass and grain is also very reassuring as well. Even here on the island you can find other fresh eggs for sale in bakeries, mini shops, and even the supermarket sometimes too. There is a big difference in how they look – the yolks are a darker, richer yellow, and the taste is somehow more delicious too! 
Now, it probably isn’t so healthy to eat egg salad sandwiches everyday, but if you find yourself with a dozen eggs and are worried about cholesterol, try using just the egg whites and maybe only one yolk! Feel free to change the recipe to fit your personal preferences, and maybe just try something new for a change – the greek yogurt is something I tried once and will continue to use forever, it gives the salad such a light and creamy texture! 
Egg Salad Recipe: Serves 4-6

Printable Recipe
8 Large Fresh Eggs, boiled
1/3 cup greek yogurt (regular or low-fat)
1 T. mayo
1-2 tsp. mustard (or more) 
1/8 – 1/4 cup chopped green/purple onion, optional (for the husband) 
1 T. fresh dill or 1 tsp. dry dill
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
dash of cayenne, optional
Juice of half a small lemon

Chop or lightly process the boiled eggs and add to a medium bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients and gently fold together until blended well. Let chill in the fridge for half an hour or serve immediately on bread, pita, croissant, or even inside a tomato or on a bed of lettuce!

Now that it is Spring and the weather is quite perfect, it would be ideal for a picnic lunch! 
Wherever you are and whatever you are eating today, I hope that you are enjoying life to the fullest! There is always something to be thankful for, something I wish I could remember when down in the dumps! 
Besides, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Right?

Hebrews 11:1 

Beef Enchiladas…

Unique and Special
In honor of Cinco de Mayo, really because I look for any excuse to eat Mexican Food…. Let me introduce you to my Greek-Mex: Beef Enchiladas, Mexican Rice, Refried Black Eyed Peas, and Chips and Salsa!!!

First, I must give complete credit where credit is due too… there is a kindred blogger out there and she doesn’t even know it (or me). Maybe it is because we both adore Mexican Food Tex-Mex and have moved away from our home, the great country state of Texas! Anyway, she has a wonderful blog called, Homesick Texan, and shares some wonderful recipes, pictures, and stories! 

Unfortunately for me, I did not have quite a few of the ingredients called for, but with an ambitious heart and determined spirit I gave it my all. I followed each of her recipes as best as I was able and added a slight addition myself: Creamy Jalapeno Avocado Sauce. I simply blended some Greek yogurt, half and avocado, a couple of jared jalapenos, some lime juice, and salt and pepper! It. was. fantastically. wonderful! 

Actually, considering that I was missing the most beloved ingredient, fresh cilantro, I think things turned out as good as can be expected living in a foreign land where no other ethnic cuisine (except pizza and pasta, but even they have a Greek spin) is offered outside of the most major cities. 
As a Texan though, I must admit this was definitely more Greek-Mex than anything I have ever tasted. Practically just a tease of what I know to be the real, authentic Mexican food AND the also beloved Tex-Mex versions from each beloved city of: Dallas, Austin, or San Antonio! 
Short and sweet, it was a fun experience to make homemade enchiladas in Greece, but I think I will stick to only fajitas, quesadillas, and salsa while living abroad! 
I hope you ate/drank more than your share of Mexican food and margaritas for us today! 
Kali Orexi until next time! 

Walnut Syrup Cake with Vanilla Creme Filling

Greek Sweets
Yesterday was my husband’s birthday, and although Greeks don’t really celebrate birthdays, THIS American girl surely does!!! V requested strawberry cake but there were no strawberries to be found yet on the island, maybe in a couple of weeks. Instead, I made a double layer walnut cake and filled it with his favorite vanilla creme (instant and hassle free)!

In Greek this cake is called Καρυδόπιτα, pronounced Karidopita, and is very popular here in Greece. You can find it in any sweet shop and it is commonly served for dessert after a meal in a taverna. Most recipes do not call for any flour, but I used a cup of flour in place of a cup of the bread crumbs. I preferred a slightly smoother texture and it turned out wonderful. 
The addition of the vanilla creme was to fancy it up a bit and make it more special for the one I love. I also had been thinking of trying to create a new or slightly different recipe to highlight in another nice Greek blog, called Kopiaste, meaning “Come on in” or an invitation! There, she is hosting a “Creative Concoctions” for coming up with new or tweaked dessert recipes. I thought this cake would be just perfect!!! 

Thankfully, the birthday boy just loved it too! The combination of walnut and vanilla creme were perfect together. Walnut cake is also amazingly delicious when served with ice cream!!! Now that it is almost summer, maybe you could even add a scoop or two of your favorite ice cream! I served a slice with a cup of strong coffee to counter balance the sweetness and they also went hand in hand, for dessert or breakfast 🙂

Walnut Cake Recipe:
Printable Recipe
1 cup + 2 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar

6 eggs, separated, room temperature
zest and juice of 1 orange
1-2 T. brandy

3/4 – 1 cup farina (AP Flour or semolina)
1 cup fine bread crumbs
2 tsp. baking powder
1 T. cinnamon
1/2-1 tsp. clove, optional
1 1/2 cups chopped, toasted walnuts
Instant package of vanilla filling and needed milk, optional

Prepare the oven to 175°/350°. Prepare 2 small round cake pans: buttered and lined with parchment paper or one regular cake pan. Beat butter and sugar until fluffy and smooth. Continue mixing and add one yolk at a time, scraping the bowl and mixing after each addition until all 6 eggs are added. Stir in brandy, orange zest and juice, and mix until all combined. In a separate bowl combine flour, bread crumbs, b. powder, cinnamon, and walnuts. In another medium bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Slowly alternate combining the dry mix with the egg whites, mixing well after each addition. Evenly pour batter into the cake pan(s) and bake about 20-40 minutes depending on size of pan or until a knife comes out clean in the center of the cake. Cool on wire racks. Prepare the syrup mixture (below) and let boil for 5 minutes, remove from heat and cool slightly. Gently place the first cake layer on your platter and spoon a third of the syrup on until absorbed, add the vanilla creme and gently place on second layer, finally spoon another third of the remaining syrup onto the top cake. Reserve the remaining syrup to add just before serving or if you have a cake platter or dish with a lip to hold the syrup, continue to add all of it. If you are making one cake, simply add all the syrup at once. It works best if either your cake or syrup are hot/warm and the other has slightly cooled.

Simple Syrup Recipe:
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1 clove or nutmeg berry
1 lemon slice

Returning Home and a Cheesecake Recipe!

Unique and Special
We arrived back home at four o’clock this morning after a very long and somewhat perilous trip all around Greece! We took the ship last week (anywhere from 10-13 hours long) from Lesvos to Kavala, drove to Halkidiki (stayed  a week), drove all the way to Athens, and took the ship back to Mytilene, I think we covered some serious ground.
Everything went smoothly until Athens, the BIG city. It is about a 5-6 hour drive from north to south Greece, unless there is a detour like ours, then it is around 7 hours. Needless to say we ended up arriving around midnight and were trying to find our hotel. Including a little culture shock, this “village” girl was a bit overwhelmed when a dozen or more cops suddenly appeared out of nowhere to arrest a guy on a motorbike, directly in front of us. It was a surprise attack and I might have peed my pants a little.  The other interesting addition to our trip was the over an hour delay on our ship home when someone called in a bomb threat. I seemed to be the only one who felt nervous and anxious when they made the announcement, it didn’t even phase anyone else around me, they just continued being Greek smoking and chatting! Really people.?! Everything ended up fine (Praise the Lord), I guess someone was just going to be late for the boat and found an excuse to delay until they could make it.
All in all, we had a wonderful trip but are glad to be back in our own bed! After lots of laundry and getting things in order, we should be back in the swing of things by Monday. I wanted to share a recipe with you since it has been a while though. This is something I made a while ago and came across the pictures again. . . Chocolate Chip Cookie Cheesecake Cupcakes!

I had a bag of chocolate chip cookies left over from an experimental batch. They were delicious, but didn’t have enough flour and were a bit flat. Instead of throwing them out, I thought all of about 2 seconds before I decided to mix them into a scrumptious cheesecake. Philadelphia cream cheese can be kind of expensive here on the island if it is not on sale, so to mix things up a bit . . . I made individual cupcakes. The only thing missing were cupcake liners, they are also unaffordable for this island girl. Other than that, they were perfect! 
See for yourself that the results were delectable!!!!!

It was the same cheesecake recipe here, but only halved. I used the cookies with a little butter to make the crust and added a few in the middle with a handful of chocolate chips too. The melted chocolate was used to add a bit of decor to the tops.

This cheesecake recipe is a lush, thick, and super creamy one! Now that strawberries are in season I am dreaming of a strawberry cheesecake!!!!

Kali Orexi! 

Homemade Οrange Spoon Sweets

Greek Sweets
There is a (mostly) wonderful custom here in Greece that anytime you visit someone’s house, you should “arrive with your hands full and leave with your hands empty”! Basically, you should always bring something when visiting anyone, even if they are family. The exception to this is rule is only if you have already been to visit before in the previous days and took something with you then. Typical gifts are a box of delicious sweets, a bottle of wine, some flowers, or maybe even something you have prepared yourself.
On the other side of this custom, you too will always be served something when visiting a house as well. Even if you do not want something to drink or eat, you will be served graciously. An American friend of mine said it perfectly, “When you visit someone and they offer you something, it is never actually a question!” This is so true. I think these are mostly wonderful customs because sharing gifts and food/drinks does help to bond your friendship, alternatively though, it can get very expensive if YOU are the one always visiting and bring gifts to numerous family and friends! This is not usually a problem, except when you are a young married couple on Easter holiday and are expected to visit everyone and their donkey, then it takes its toll on you a bit. Thankfully, everyone we have visited so far are exceptional people and worth every penny and minute we’ve gotten to share with them! 
Usually, when you arrive in someone’s house for a short visit you will be served a combination from the following list:
To Drink-
Hot Tea
Fresh Juice
Homemade Liqueur
To Eat-
Spoon Sweets
Syrup Sweets
Homemade Cake
Or something according to the holiday and time if year, for example, during Easter you are sure to be served Tsoureki

Spoon Sweets (γλυκό του κουταλιού) are very common to serve to a guest. They are always served with a glass of water and maybe another beverage too. They are perfect for offering someone for three reasons: 1) they are sweet yet also nice and fruity 2) they look lovely and a little fancy 3) they are something very unique and can easily be homemade and kept for months at a time. It is called a “spoon sweet” because it is literally served with a small spoon and on a glass or crystal plate (unlike mine because I didn’t have any glass or crystal)!

They can be made from almost any kind of fruit, although sour and bitter fruits are particularly used. Sometimes they use just the rind of the fruit and other times the whole fruit may be used. Some popular spoon sweets are made from oranges, watermelon, cherries, kumquats, quinces, figs, lemons, pomegranates, or various berries. It is also common to use unripe nuts, flower petals, or even olives! A well-made spoon sweet retains the original color, aroma, and taste of the fruit only sweeter, softer, and slightly chewy.

To be completely honest, the only spoon sweet I actually enjoy has been made of orange rind. I have tasted a few others and am not crazy about them, although when the sweet, soured cherries are served over yogurt or simple ice cream,  it combines for a wonderful combination! Maybe that recipe will follow someday too, I actually forgot that I liked it 🙂 
The recipe is simple but takes a few days to complete. I recommend starting with oranges and moving on to other fruits of your choice. 
Orange Spoon Sweets Recipe:
For every pound of oranges, you will use:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. lemon juice
I used 3 small-medium oranges and it filled one medium jar with about 12-16 pieces. 
First, wash and zest each orange, keeping intact. Slice the orange into half and then each half into half again, totaling 4 pieces per orange. Carefully remove the insides, leaving only the rind itself (using the zest and actual orange flesh for another purpose). Either thread a needle and thick string or use tooth picks to spiral and secure each slice. Soak in a large bowl of fresh, cool water for 24 hours, changing the water 3-4 times. 
Drain oranges and place in a deep pot and fill with cool water until just covered, bring to a slight boil. Drain and repeat the same process this time letting boil for about 6-8 minutes or until the oranges are soft/tender but not falling apart. In a separate pot, make your simple syrup recipe using a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water. Let boil for a couple of minutes and remove from heat. Remove the string or toothpicks and add the oranges to the syrup letting sit again overnight. In the morning, return to a simmer and leave for 5-10 minutes until you have a thick syrup. Turn off heat and let the pot slight cool while you prepare your jars. If you are making multiple jars, you will need to boil them in order to create a good seal; if you are preparing only 1 jar, then you only need to add the sweets and keep refrigerated (will keep 4-6 months). Stir in a little fresh lemon juice and add to your jars. 
Serve on a small spoon and plate with a little of the syrup and always with a glass of water. 
There are many different recipes for many various spoon sweets, this one is mine and I think for oranges at least it worked very well!!! Any fruit or nut that you choose to make into a sweet will require slightly different sugar and cooking amounts. 
Kali Orexi and I hope you enjoy this classic spoonful of hospitality! 

Easter continued…

Unlike, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” the movie, my husband’s family is quite small and intimate. A brother and sister were missing, but even when the whole family is all together it is a very tame function; I cannot however say the same for my side of the family. My family in Texas must have some a lot of Greek spirit in them, because THEY are MY big fat Greek family. All of my aunts and cousins come over and are shouting all at the same time to be heard, everyone is in everyone else’s private business, and it is not a family get together if someone doesn’t cry or leave abruptly. You probably think I am exaggerating, I am not 🙂 But enough about my family holidays, I don’t want to scare my Greek husband too much, he has only been around his in-laws for a while and still adores them all! What’s not to love about full blown honesty and letting someone know when they have gained a few pounds, right?

Easter in Greece is very different for me. Besides the wonderful church celebrations and emphasis on Christ, there is also a huge stress on family and spending time celebrating all together, I just love that! We have eaten so much since Saturday night that I think it might be time for another brief fast. Here are our lunch tables: 1) Prepared my my wonderful mother-in-law, anything she makes turns into gold, seriously, she makes the most authentic and homemade Greek food I could ever imagine; 2) prepared by our only living yiayia (grandmother), she too has a great talent in the kitchen. I try to get them to teach me how to cook, but they insist that I will learn better then them, I only hope to become as great of a cook as either one of these wonderful ladies. 

Just some Greek coffee and fresh juice on a typical visit to yiayia’s house.

 Our Easter lunch at home in my husband’s parent’s house. Stuffed beefteki, lamb meat skewers, traditional Easter soups, salad, lots of wonderful cheeses and sauces, wine, and of course red eggs to hit together!

A wonderful spread of homemade Easter lunch with my most favorite yiayia around! We ate a wonderful baked chicken with potatoes in a delicious red sauce (I must learn this sauce!), baked goat with greens, the best homemade tyropita, salad, sauces and cheeses, white wine and ouzo, and again some red eggs to crack all together before eating. 

 Even Meli has enjoyed the benefits of the sacrificed lamb and RISEN KING. I am sure she loves being here more now with a garden to run in, chickens to chase, and bones to hide and eat!

We have had our fill of amazing desserts too: chocolate and strawberry cake, syrup sweets, ice creams, rizogalo, chocolate biscuit pudding, ect. . . 
Let’s just say that we are not going without here! Typically, all the families join together outside and roast either a whole lamb or goat and play loud music, lots of drinking, and eat until there is no more room – because Greeks always prepare more than enough food, they will never run out of food! It is even common to join your neighbors or friends throughout Easter Sunday or even Monday for a drink and some meat! 
An incredible way to celebrate with lavish food, drinks, sweets, and surrounded by great company!!!  

Hope you are still enjoying this wonderful holiday season!

Χριστός Ανέστη!
Christ is Risen!

Good Friday to Easter Sunday

On Holy Friday evening, the theme is Christ’s descent into Hades during which the Gospel of repentance and reconciliation with God is shared for all. The service begins by singing lamentations as we stand before the tomb of Christ remembering His unjust punishment and the shedding of His innocent blood. But the service will end with a joy and hope from the reading of Prophet Ezekiel in which he describes his vision of the resurrection yet to come. In the midst of despair, we are told there is hope, for not even death can separate us from the unfailing love and power of God. Death will be conquered and faithfulness rewarded.

The unique traditions of the Greek church are not only a sincere and humble focus on the true meaning of Easter, but a deep concentration on what the actual story of Easter and what this means today for us as believers. Today and tomorrow are a deep mourning time and this is represented through each act of the service. A highlight and something special that I enjoy is carrying the bier (tomb) and επιτάφιος (pronounced epi-TA-fi-os) around the village. This symbolizes the funeral of Christ and the epitaphios is above his tomb, decorated with many, many beautiful flowers. 

A band/choir playing and singing solemn music precedes the procession; they are followed by all the church and its surrounding neighbors. All along its route, people scatter flowers and perfume on the epitaphios, holding lighted candles in their hands. Upon returning to the church, the bier is held up high by some strong men of the church and all the parishioners walk underneath, either touching or kissing as they pass. SPRING is in the air, and Greeks worldwide are preparing to celebrate their pascha or Greek Orthodox Easter.

 Another one of my favorite moments is tomorrow (Saturday night), the service begins at around 10pm and around midnight the lights will all be off and the church will be quiet. At this point, the priest will bring out a single lit candle (the HOLY light) and announce, CHRIST IS RISEN!!! He will then share the Holy light to everyone around and the church slowly becomes bright and glowing from everyone holding candles! This light will be carried to their houses and kept for as long as possible. It is a truly magical feeling and everyone is smiling and greeting one another saying, Χριστός Ανέστη “Christos Anesti” (Christ is Risen) and they will reply, Αληθώς ανέστη “Alithos Anesti” (Truly He is Risen)!!!

As you leave the church and even when you arrive home, sometimes around 1am, you celebrate and crack an egg with your family and friends. This not only represents Christ breaking out the grave and rising to life after three days, but it represents the NEW LIFE you walk in Christ as a believer! The spirit will be joyful and festive for at least the next 40 days as Greeks continue to celebrate with food, family, wine, dancing, music, and all around merriment!

The food traditions of celebrating Easter are rich and full. Besides the sweet tsoureki breads that are made, there is a popular Easter soup called, Magiritsa. It is made from various parts (not typically eaten like the intestines and liver, blech) and an egg/lemon sauce; it is supposed to be a gentle way to reintroduce meat back into the diet after fasting for about 50 days. Personally, I have never tried this soup and I may or may not this year… only time will tell.

The following Sunday morning, everyone returns to church for one last service and communion before going back home and having massive outdoor feasts with their family and friends, usually with each family roasting a whole lamb. The celebrations will not stop until Monday which is also a national holiday in Greece. There will be literally a smorgasbord of meats, cheeses, sauces, and sweets galore. I will be sure to take some pictures if we attend any barbecues this year.

I hope wherever you are for this Easter that it may open your eyes even wider to the love of Christ and that you would understand how much He loves you and draw closer to Him.

Καλό Πάσχα & δόξα στον Θεό, 
(Happy Easter & Glory to God),


Homemade Tsoureki "Easter Bread"

Greek Holiday Foods
Easter is right around the corner, and today in the Orthodox church we remember the crucifixion of Christ. The church always holds services the previous night for the actual day that the events will occur. Today, this morning actually, is the remembering of the last supper. We ascend to Mt. Zion with Christ and the chosen twelve to enter into the upper room for a special gathering. Once there, we witness the example of Christ abolishing the practice of the Old Covenant and establishing the ritual of the New Covenant, prophesied by Jeremiah, through the Mystery of Holy Communion. The faithful who have prepared also partake in communion during tonight’s evening service. This also will include the memorial of the underserved suffering of Jesus Christ, endured for our sake, so that we might be reconciled anew to God the Father. The Gospel readings go through each account of his arrest, his trial, his conviction, and finally his torture, crucifixion and death at the hands of sinful humanity. Tonight ends with a very heavy heart and understanding of the crucified Christ. Below are the icons of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion of Christ. I hope to make a blog dedicated to the explanation of Byzantine icons and what they represent; I have come a long way from being confused and irritated by the veneration of icons to finally understanding their meaning and place in the church. More on that later though. 
Thankfully though, we know what is coming on Saturday evening/Sunday morning. . . Christ WILL and HAS ALREADY risen!!! With this is mind, we continue to prepare for the great feast of Easter. We dye eggs, we make tsoureki, and we continue to prepare our spirits and minds for a new awakening and celebration of the truly Risen King. 
I made tsoureki before we left the island and will share with you the recipe I used. Although it was my first time and I combined a few different recipes, the bread turned out quite beautiful and tasty, if I do say so myself … and I do! 
Before the recipe, let me tell you what I have learned about the history and meaning of this wonderful Easter Bread. Τσουρέκι (pronounced tsou-RE-ki) is also called Λαμπρόψωμο (proniunced lam-BRO-pso-mo) meaning the “Bright or Shining Bread” named after “Bright Easter Sunday” when Christ Rises!!! It is made to symbolize the light given to Christians by Christ’s resurrection and the passing from what we are to what the Risen Lord wants us to be: “partakers of the divine nature”. It is braided with three strands to represent the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Typically, it is decorated with brightly dyed eggs and sliced blanched almonds, but sometimes you can even find chocolate covered! The dyed eggs represent the blood that Christ has shed for us and the new life we begin at the resurrection, and well, the almonds and chocolate, they just look and taste great 🙂 
Tsoureki is a rich, sweet, brioche-like bread that is traditionally flavored with an essence drawn from the seeds of Mediterranean wild cherries, called μαχλέπι (Maxlepi, pronounced mahk-LE-pi). The combination of maxlepi, Chios mastic, cardamom, and either vanilla or orange zest makes for an incomparable sweet bread. Greece also celebrates Christmas with a similar type of bread called, Christopsomos, meaning literally Christ bread. Sometimes the New Year’s coin is also hidden inside of a sweet bread instead of a cake too. 
I used a combination of 2-3 different recipes, and the end result was beautiful and tasted good. The only fault I made was not adding enough sugar. I ended up covering it in chocolate and it was PERFECT!!! Lesson learned = add more sugar if you will be serving plain or use less sugar if you plan to cover in chocolate!  
Okay, Okay… finally to the recipe 🙂 
Greek Easter “Tsoureki” Bread Recipe: Makes 1 loaf
1/2 cup more milk (about 100-110°)
1 T. sugar + 1/2 – 3/4 cup if you want sweet bread
1 1/2 T. active dry yeast 
1/2 – 1 cup bread flour + 3-4 cups more to make dough
2 eggs + 1 to brush on dough
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1-2 tsp. maxlepi*, optional
1 tsp. mastic, optional
1-2 tsp. cardamom*
1-2 T. brandy*
1 T. orange zest*
dash of salt
1 tsp. vanilla* (or more if not using zest or spices) 

*The spices I used

Mix 1/2 – 1 cup flour, yeast, 1 T. sugar, and warm milk together until a thick, wet batter is formed, rest 30-60 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and enough flour to form a dough. Knead for 5-8 minutes and cover to rise for 1-2 hours, until doubled or almost tripled in size. Punch down dough and divide into 3 equal parts. Using as little flour as necessary, roll the dough into about 12-14″ long ropes. Gently braid the ropes together forming a loaf and tuck under the ends making sure to seal them well. Preheat your oven to 400°, let braid rise for 20-30 minutes, then brush with your beaten egg: use the egg white for a light colored bread, use the whole egg (I did) for a medium colored bread, or use only the yolk for a deep brown colored bread. Place sliced almonds all over your bread and strategically position your eggs! Bake for 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 350° and bake for another 25-35 minutes or until golden brown and hallow when tapped on the bottom.

PS. A trick used to make and keep the bright red eggs shiny is to rub them with olive oil!!!

We are now in Halkidiki with the in-laws and the sun is shining and Meli is barking 🙂 This is the first time our inside pup will experience the joy of being an outside dog! She has already made the garden chickens her friends, and I use the term friends very loosely…. she observes them more from afar and barks when they come too close!

Kali Anastasi (Good Resurrection) is a common greeting over the next few days!