Friday, April 29, 2016

Greek Easter--The Drama Begins

I first posted this in April of 2010, when Orthodox Easter and Catholic Easter happened to fall on the same day.  This year they are more than a month apart and we're gearing up for a big Greek Easter on Sunday, May 1.  Now we're headed off to Bahnan's market to pick up the lamb, and I'm sure the visit will be much the same as it was in 2010.  Happy May Day to all and to our Greek friends, Kahlo Pascha!

Today is Good Friday and in a Greek household that means we can’t eat dairy or meat (that’s been going on for 40 days) and also today we can’t eat oil, so on Good Fridays we usually end up surviving on things like plain baked potatoes and peanut butter on crackers.

But today the Big Eleni, who lives with us and is the best cook in the world, has all sorts of “fasting” Good Friday food ready – Halvah, stuffed grape leaves, rice-stuffed tomatoes, taramasalata (made from fish roe) and some sort of artichoke/spinach/ hummus concoction. And boiled shrimp.
Today was also the annual dramatic journey into Worcester to collect the lamb which we had ordered far ahead from Bahnan’s Market on 344 Pleasant Street. As you can see from the first sign below, the people at Bahnan’s are ready to sell you your Easter needs in four languages: English, Greek, Turkish and Arabic.

(And they now have a café where, according to local Greeks, you can get the only authentic gyros for miles around.)

Shopping at Bahnan’s is like a visit to the United Nations, but on Easter week it’s like several festivals rolled into one.

There was a considerable line of people waiting to get into the refrigerated back room to receive the lamb they had ordered and have it cut up to their specifications. And this was in the morning, before church let out. I imagine by afternoon the line was out the door.

I didn’t last long in the refrigerated room, because of the cold and the proximity of all those lamb corpses, some of which looked the size of a small horse. (Our lamb was very small—I believe 27 pounds.)

I had to escape before the butcher started sawing, I couldn't take it, but this process is still easier than some early Easters in Nick’s Northern Greek village when the adorable baby goats were tied to each house’s front door knob and my offspring loved petting them. Then I had to drag the children, (all three under  ageten) out of town on Holy Saturday to prevent them seeing the general bloodshed as the baby goats were slaughtered and the blood ran in the street.

In the village on Easter Sunday you see spits outside every house, each one tended by the patriarch who is drinking homemade moonshine called Raki and having a good time. We sometimes do the lamb on the spit outside in Grafton, but not when Easter comes this early.

By the way, this was a rare year (2010) when Orthodox Easter and everyone else’s Easter are on the same day. Usually we Greeks are later because Orthodox Easter has to be after Passover. It’s complicated.
In the photos above you see the Big Eleni shopping for Greek cheese at Bahnan’s. We already have our large round Tsoureki bread with the red egg in the middle. And on Holy Thursday, as always, we dyed dozens of eggs red for the Saturday-night egg-cracking duel when you challenge everyone – saying “Christ is risen” “Indeed he is risen”. Crack! And whoever’s egg comes out the winner gets the other guy’s egg.

Tomorrow—Holy Saturday—we will all go to church very early and without consuming as much as a drop of water beforehand. We line up to take communion and then are free for the first time in seven weeks to eat dairy (not meat. Not yet. But we are free to rush to the Pancake House where we traditionally stuff ourselves with high-calorie breakfast treats that have been forbidden for weeks.)

Then it’s back to church again at midnight.—for the dramatic Midnight Mass on Saturday night when the church is plunged into darkness and the priest comes out at the exact stroke of midnight with a single candle and announces ‘Christ is risen!” Then the flame passes from his candle to everyone else’s and the church fills with light as we sing the Resurrection hymn: “Christos anesti!” We try to keep our candles lit as we drive home to break the Lenten fast by cracking eggs and eating the delicate dill-and-egg-lemon soup made by the Big Eleni out of the lambs intestines.

(Actually, she doesn’t put in the intestines because she knows that our kids would never eat it. In fact one is a vegetarian. And after my visit to the market today, I understand perfectly.)

I hope wherever you are celebrating Easter or Passover -- in any language – you are enjoying warm spring weather. Here in Massachusetts it has finally stopped raining and will be a beautiful weekend. Kalo Pascha!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Nicolas’s First Birthday--Fun to Be One

When a baby turns one year old, as grandson Nicolas did on April 2, the ensuing birthday party is really for the rest of the family.  All the one-year-old wants to do is rip the paper off the gifts, play with the empty boxes, and smash the cake with his little fists. Fancy bakeries even offer to sell a “smash cake” for that purpose along with the “real” cake.   

  We said no thanks to the smash cake, but the carrot cake that we ordered from Yummy Mummy in Westboro was beyond delicious and, for some of the Greek relatives, their first encounter with carrot cake.

Mother Nature pulled an April Fool’s trick of producing a snowstorm the night before the party, leaving everything looking like a winter wonderland.  Meanwhile the blossoms on my magnolia tree froze.
While Mommy and Yiayia were decorating, Papou entertained the birthday boy by showing him photos on his I-phone.
“Tell me a story about that one!”

“You expect me to believe that? Do you think I was born yesterday?”

The decorating theme of the party was “It’s fun to be one”, with a jolly group of circus animals including a huge balloon of a lion that became the star of the show (because it was both terrifying and fascinating to Nicolas, who, by the end of the party, could imitate the lion’s imaginary ROAR.)
Here’s everyone ready for the party, including Amalia in her gold and white dress.

People came and they got food buffet-style, and then it was time to blow out the candle on the cake.

Nicolas didn’t understand the protocol, so Amalia moved in to help.

After cake and ice cream, according to Amalia, it was time for the PINATA.  (She also insisted on making goodie bags for the three kids at the party: herself, Nicolas, and five-month-old cousin Stone.)

Amalia tried valiantly to smash the piñata, with Papi’s help, but no luck.

When Papou took over, the piñata was soon in pieces.

Amalia and helpers scooped up the loot.

And after everyone left, Nicolas still had hours  of fun with that scary lion balloon, creeping up to it and then pushing it away.  Just like it said on the napkins, tablecloth and balloons, he concluded, it’s fun to be one!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

One Sunday on Lincoln Road, South Beach, Miami

Lincoln Road in South Beach is the capital of strangeness every day, but on weekends the antique dealers and food sellers and purveyors of art and eccentricity come out, and you can see and buy some interesting things.  Here are a few photos I took on a Sunday not so long ago.
You can buy Barbie and Ken porn.

And Sanders and Trump caricatures.

I had to buy this wonderful pop art jacket for daughter Marina...You see, her boyfriend's name is Jeff.

 Many are offering a healthy life style.

Juice therapy...

And exotic fruits I cannot identify.

Not to mention a variety of dishes for dogs.

A former Cadillac dealership now offers leisure wear

A sinister face looms over a door to a store that's for rent.

You might want to take in "The Golem of Havana"

This lady has a warning for the people of Lincoln Road.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Mezcal & My Favorite Mexican Photos

 I keep reading articles about how mezcal is becoming the trendy drink, for instance "Mezcal Sunrise" by Dana Goodyear in the current New Yorker.  That inspired me to look up and re-post this photo essay from five years ago.  I really miss my annual cooking tours to Mexico with Susana Trilling and her "Seasons of the Heart" and the painting and photography classes in Oaxaca with my friend Mari Seder, but nowadays my travel lust takes me just to Manhattan and my grandkids.  When I turned 75, Nick said to me, "What do you want for your birthday?  A trip to Mexico?" and I instantly replied, "No, a trip to Disney World in Orlando with Amalia and Nicolas!"  So that's happening during the last week in April.  And of course I'll blog about it.