Wishing you all the blessings of the New Year...the warmth of home, the love of family and the company of good friends. Happy New Year to all.
Wishing you all the blessings of the New Year...the warmth of home, the love of family and the company of good friends. Happy New Year to all.
Some of you may remember my Vasilopita recipe posted on December 29, 2009. In this reblog, I have added recent photos and measurements in grams and ounces.
Vasilopita is the Greek New Year's cake. Vasilopita is associated with Saint Basil's Day on January 1st in Greece. On New Year's Day families cut the Vasilopita to bless the house and bring good luck for the new year.It is traditional to bake a coin into the Vasilopita (St. Basil's cake). The one who receives the coin is considered to be especially blessed for the year. A piece of cake is sliced for each member of the family and any visitors present at the time. Slices are also cut for various other people or groups, depending on local and family tradition. They may include St. Basil and other saints, the Virgin Mary, the Church and the poor. In my family, slices are cut for Jesus Christ, for the poor and one slice for each member of the family. Vasilopita is made in honour of a beautiful act of charity by St. Basil to the poor and needy of his flock. In order to insure that the needy would have money for life's necessities, and knowing that the needy were also proud people, St. Basil had the ladies of his church bake sweet bread with coins baked into them. In this way, he could give them money without demeaning them at all. To this day, many wealthy families would place a gold coin in Vasilopita. It is meant as a gift to the lucky one since in Greece and Cyprus we exchange gifts on New Year’s Day as well! Saint Basil is our Santa Claus like Saint Nicholas in other countries.
Christmas at the Golden Bay Beach Hotel has always been a unique experience but it seems to me that this Christmas it's been the best ever in more ways than one. Everything was just perfect: the decor, the music, the joyful festive atmosphere and the food! My mother and I joined Alkis early in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, had a light snack and then went up to our rooms to take a nap and get ready for the Christmas Eve Gala Dinner while Alkis went back to work. After a hectic week at the school which ended merrily with the Christmas party on Friday afternoon, it was the best way for me to start my Christmas break.
The Christmas Eve menu was an amazing, gastronomic experience as the Executive Chef went out of his way to create .... works of art. Here's what the 6-course festive menu consisted of:
...followed by coffee and sweet bites
Apart from the food, I was particularly impressed by the Home Band who played Christmas melodies throughout this exquisite dinner and later helped us....burn some of the calories on the dance floor!
We even got Christmas weather and white Christmas for all those who celebrated high up in the mountains of Troodos. On Larnaca Bay, we got strong winds and downpours on Christmas Eve, overcast skies and some sunny intervals on Christmas Day.
How was your Christmas?
Christmas Eve invariably brings back happy memories of my childhood and adolescence. As a child, I remember Dad getting us a tall pine tree - there were hardly any artificial Christmas trees in those days - and all the family together would help to put it up and decorate it. In the evening, mum prepared a special dinner of various snacks which we all enjoyed by the fireplace while listening to Christmas carols, often singing along. At 10 o'clock, both my brother and I had to go to bed or else Santa wouldn't visit. Terrified at the thought, we both went to bed on time after making sure there was some milk and Mum's delicious Christmas cookies by the tree for Santa.
Then one rainy Christmas Eve, my five-year-old brother had a great idea: " How about waiting for Santa to come? It's raining and he might get wet. We can dry his boots and clothes by the ashes of the fireplace while he's enjoying the milk and cookies! " I was only eight but still believed in Santa... yet I had my doubts. " What if Santa doesn't visit? Mum and Dad said he'd never visit if we are awake!" "Yes, but Mum and Dad would be very proud of us when we explain that we just wanted Santa to leave us in dry clothes!" , my brother replied. That was the end of a dream. We hid behind the curtains only to find out that Santa was ...Mum and Dad! They didn't even drink the milk or eat the cookies!
As a teenager, I was weird! I sometimes loved Christmas and sometimes hated it! Yet on Christmas Eve, I'd always look forward to the pine tree, mum's cooking and the presents, of course. I was 14 years old when ....Santa brought me a typewriter!!! I used to type all my school work as well as my Diary entries. A few months later, on my birthday, my parents offered me a typing course. I never missed a lesson! To this day, I can type my posts without looking at the keyboard.
My most embarrassing Christmas Eve was in 1981. I was still a student in Geneva, Switzerland when I decided to invite a few friends over. I promised them all that I'd cook .... le canard à l'orange - a traditional French dish in which the duck is roasted and served with an orange sauce as well as with glazed chestnuts . Needless to say, I had no idea how to cook this and there was no Internet at the time. Alkis was just a student at the hotel school , then, but he saved my bacon ! He glazed the chestnuts and the carrots beautifully, roasted the duck in my mini oven stove and made me feel I was the queen of Swiss- French gastronomy! He also MADE a Christmas log for dessert! This Holiday Season , Alkis works on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day but I'm glad to spend these days with him at the hotel . Soon after the Holiday Season, we are going away on a short Winter holiday.
This is a repost - Christmas 2008. I don't think I'll have the time to make all our traditional Christmas sweets, this year, though.
The Christmas Cake is definitely not a traditional Greek cake but it was introduced to us when Cyprus was a British Colony in the 1950s. Since my childhood, I've always felt that Christmas lunch cannot be festive without Christmas Cake for dessert. I can't imagine Christmas lunch without the Christmas Cake! Unfortunately, I didn't have the time to make one this Christmas, so I bought one from the cake shop - photo above. You can eat the snowman as well!
My mother always prepares the Christmas cake at least one month before Christmas.It is preserved beause in a few days the frostings are added and keep the cake airtight and can last for a long time before cutting it and at least 3 weeks after you cut it For a few days until the first icing is placed the surface of the cake is wet with a couple of spoonfulls of brandy.
The Christmas Cake ( my mum's recipe)
250 gr. butter
1 cup of sugar
2 cups of self raising flour
1 cup of raisins, black currant (any combination, I use only sultanas)
1 cup of blanched almonds finely chopped,
2 cups of dried spoon sweets or dried fruit
1 cup of walnuts crumbled
1 spoonful of baking powder
4 -5 eggs
½ spoonful of freshly ground nutmeg
1 spoonful of cinnamon
½ spoonfuls of freshly ground cloves
1 spoonful of mixed spices
a pinch of salt
¼ glass of brandy
2 – 3 spoonfuls treacle or carob syrup
Apricot or wild berry jam
A few days before, we prepare the spoon sweets. In Greece and Cyprus we preserve fruit in heavy syrup and we do this with a variety of fruit so we use 3- 4 different kinds such as cherries, oranges, bitter oranges green, bitter orange peel, citrus, bergamot, walnut, etc., any type you prefer.
We wash out the syrup, strain them for 2 – 3 days and then cut them in small pieces. Otherwise use dried fruit.
Whisk the butter and sugar together until it’s light, pale and fluffy.
Add brandy and treacle or carob syrup.
If you don’t have any, just skip it. Sift the flour and add all the other ingredients to flour and mix well. Add to butter.
Line base of a buttered cake tin with parchment paper and using a large kitchen spoon, transfer the cake mixture into the prepared 28 cm. diameter tin, spread it out evenly with the back of a spoon. Pre-heat oven at 180o and bake the cake for about 1 hour or until after inserting a knife or a cocktail stick, it comes out dry and clean. Cool the cake for 30 minutes in the tin, and then remove it to a wire rack to finish cooling.
In a few days
Spread the apricot jam on top of the cake and prepare marzipan - almond paste
2 -3 days later
Finish with Royal frosting
We use this frosting not only because it gives a nice snowy look but it also keeps cake airtight and before we cut it we can preserve it for a very long time. Decorate your cake with Christmas ornaments.
THE EASY ALTERNATIVE
Just bake a fruit cake 2 days before Christmas and add the brandy (preferably Remy Martin) on Christmas Eve.
DO NOT CUT BEFORE CHRISTMAS !
Finally, I made time last night and baked my own Kourambiedes and melomakarona. Les voilà!
I have already given you the recipe for kourambiedes - the Greek Christmas cookies. Mine are stuffed with both almond and dates - the Greek Cypriot version.
As for my melomakarona, I think they're a hit! Not only in looks but also in taste. Here's the recipe.
2 cups olive oil
2 cups water
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup orange juice
7 cups flour
1/4 cup brandy
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups honey
1. In a mixing bowl, beat together olive oil, 1 cup sugar, orange juice and brandy
2. In another bowl mix flour, baking powder and baking soda.
3. Add the second mix to the first and stir well.
4. Grab small pieces of dough with your hands (about the size of a medium sized egg) and make patties of them.
5. Put patties on a baking sheet and bake at medium heat for half an hour.
6. In a medium pot boil 2 cups of water, 2 cups of honey and 2 sups of sugar, for aproximately 5 minutes to create syrup.
7. Once the patties are cooked in the oven take them out and pour the syrup on them.
8. Leave patties with syrup to soak for 20 minutes,
9. Remove patties from syrup and place them on a large dish.
10. Sprinkle some crushed walnuts over the patties.
In 1818, a roving band of actors was performing in towns throughout the Austrian Alps. On December 23 they arrived at Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg where they were to perform the story of Christ's birth in the small Church of St. Nicholas.
Unfortunately, the St. Nicholas' church organ wasn't working and would not be repaired before Christmas. (Note: some versions of the story point to mice as the problem; others say rust was the culprit) Because the church organ was out of commission, the actors presented their Christmas drama in a private home. Even so, that Christmas presentation put assistant pastor Josef Mohr in a meditative mood. Instead of walking straight to his house that night, Mohr took a longer way home. The longer path took him up over a hill overlooking the village.
From that hilltop, Mohr looked down on the peaceful snow-covered village. Reveling in majestic silence of the wintry night, Mohr gazed down at the glowing scene. His thoughts about the Christmas play suddenly made him remember a poem he had written a couple of years before. It was a poem about the night when angels announced the birth of the long-awaited Messiah to shepherds on a hillside.
Mohr decided those words would make a good carol for his congregation the following evening at their Christmas eve service. However, he didn't have any music to which that poem could be sung. So, the next day Mohr went to see the church organist, Franz Xaver Gruber. Gruber only had a few hours to come up with a melody which could be sung with a guitar. However, by that evening, Gruber had managed to compose a musical setting for the poem. It no longer mattered that their church organ was broken. They now had a Christmas carol they could sing without it.
On Christmas Eve, the little Oberndorf congregation heard Gruber and Mohr sing their new composition to the accompaniment of Gruber's guitar.
Weeks later, well-known organ builder Karl Mauracher arrived to fix the St. Nicholas church organ. When he finished, Mauracher stepped back to let Gruber test the instrument. When Gruber sat down, his fingers began playing the simple melody he had written for Mohr's Christmas poem. Deeply impressed, Mauracher took the music and words of "Silent Night" back to his own Alpine village, Kapfing. There, two well-known families of singers -- the Rainers and the Strassers -- heard it. Captivated by "Silent Night," both groups put the new song into their Christmas season repertoire.
Let's sing along with Neil Diamond!
Should you wish to watch this video and sing along, please click pause on my electronic ipod!
Christmas in Cyprus is traditionally a solemn, religious holiday. Throughout the festivities, there is no doubt that Cyprus honours our Lord. Beautiful carols called "kalanda" have been handed down from Byzantine times and add to the reverent quality of the celebration. On Christmas Eve children go from door to door with "triangles" and sometimes flutes and sing: "Christos Gennatai Simeron" (Christ is born today) They usually get some money or candies . Turkeys and the Christmas cake have invaded Greek Cypriot Christmas traditions since the British rule in the 1950s. For many Cypriots the holiday is preceded by a time of fasting.
Nowadays, most Cypriots celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at home with the family. We usually roast turkey stuffed with rice, raisins and chicken giblets and serve it with cranberry sauce, vegetables and potatoes. Then comes the Christmas Cake, Melomakarona , Kourabiedes and coffee with brandy or liqueur if desired.
How do you celebrate Christmas in your part of the world?
When I was a child, people in Cyprus celebrated Christmas quite differently from the way they celebrate today. In my family, just like in most Cypriot families, we'd put up our tree on Christmas Eve. Soon after lunch, on December 24, Dad would bring THE Christmas Tree - a pine tree. In those days, there were hardly any artificial Christmas trees in Cyprus or, if there were any, they were terribly expensive. In those days, fir trees were protected and no one had the right to cut them down for Christmas! There was a severe fine of 15 €, which was a lot of money then!
Now people and shops decorate for Christmas as early as October! Most working girls, including myself, don't have the time to spend on baking kourabiedes and melomakarona and I do envy the women who will bake our traditional sweets as well as our traditional Christmas Cake!. A couple of years ago, I made time to bake my own kourabiedes and melomakarona When Alkis came back from work, he said: " I can smell...Christmas!"
What does Christmas smell like in your part of the world?
I've been looking forward to the first December weekend since mid-November. Decorating for Christmas has always been for me such an agreeable occupation! Oh, how I love this time of year when I put up my Christmas trees - two at the school and two at home. I used to put up six Christmas trees but due to lack of time PLUS the financial crisis, I've only put up four this year. Christmas decorations for me go far beyond putting up Christmas trees - it's all about spreading the magic of Christmas and decorating every single room.
On Saturday morning, I decorated the school. It took me about 6 hours but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I've still got to add the ... final touch for the Christmas party on December 23.
The pupils' board
Today, it took me all day to finish decorating home. I never decorate real trees. To me , it's like hunting animals for their fur. And just like I'd never wear real fur, I'd never cut down a tree to decorate it for Christmas and then throw it away!
What is ‘sentience’? When a person or animal is injured they react by experiencing pain, marshaling the body’s defense systems to repair the damage and begin the process of recovery. The question, surely, is whether we know enough about sentience to be quite certain that plant life does not have it.
Every ecologist out there, and even amateur gardeners, have been known to swear that plants, too, ‘feel’ things, but it is only recent research that has demonstrated just how ‘intelligent’ they really are. Plant life has a heritage far older than mankind, and in some respects, it makes we humans seem inadequate! Is it not about time to take more notice?
It is now known that plants have, admittedly in different forms, the same innate abilities as those with which animals and humans make sense of their environment. They see, smell, taste, feel and even listen to their surroundings. Even as seeds, ready to germinate, it’s been proven that they are sensitive to as many as twenty different factors – like the season of the year and where the light is coming from – information they need to decide the right time to start growing!
A truly remarkable ability to ‘smell’ their surroundings is vital for all plants. Even seeds can detect chemical components of smoke which prompt them to germinate – a natural way of replacing flora lost to forest fires, for example. Trees have defence mechanisms built around this ability. When one tree is attacked by pests, it emits chemical signals to nieghbouring trees, encouraging them to produce chemical deterrents to that pest, ensuring their own safety.
Dutch scientist Marcel Dicke, of the Agricultural University in Wageningen, Holland, found evidence that all plants perform similar actions to the trees, when under threat from predators. Indeed, the level of sophistication in this process is made all the more remarkable by the fact that the these ‘signals’ encourage production of substances tailored to specific pests!
An example of this would be the lima bean. When attacked by spider mites, the plant releases a chemical attractant for other types of mite, which prey on the attackers. Some plants help others, as in the case of cabbages, which release foul smelling isothiocyanates, discouraging aphids from attacking neighbouring plants like broad beans.
Research has also shown that plants actually ‘time’ the release of defensive chemicals, to correspond with the hours of the day when predators are most active. US Department of Agriculture studies in Gainesville, Florida, showed that maize and cotton plants, damaged by certain pests, increased output of chemical ‘help’ signals to pest-killing wasps at the time of day when the wasps are most active.
Do plants really know when something touches them? If you stroke the leaves of a mimosa plant, they react by closing up at once. Research has shown that in 17 different families of plant, over 1,000 varieties are very sensitive to touch – possibly an ancient inheritance from bacteria, which are known to be the ancestors of all plant life, responding to stimuli with minute electrical impulses.
The best known ‘touch sensitive’ plants are predators, like the Venus Fly-trap, but this sensitivity is, in some respects, common to all types of plant life, albeit in slower, less immediately noticeable ways. American research, by Professor Mordecai Jaffe in North Carolina, has shown that simply touching and stroking a plant stem, for a few seconds each day, will encourage a thickening of the stem.
The plant reacts as if it is being subjected to strong winds, and takes appropriate defensive measures. This reaction is used in Japan to ensure strong canes of sugar beet, by striking young plants with broom handles before transplanting them. Amateur gardeners can benefit, too, by stroking young seedlings before planting them out.
It was in the early years of the last decade that two British scientists, Norman Biddington and Tony Dearman, conducted tests in Warwickshire, proving that stroking young plants with bits of paper actually helped them to combat the effects of both drought and frost, when planted in the outside environment.
Professor Jaffe says, laughing, that one would have to talk to one's plants for weeks before noticing any results, but there is no doubt that plants are very sensitive to sound. They respond best to noises just outside the volume of the human voice, at 70 to 80 decibels. If subjected to regular bursts of sound at this level, some plants can actually double their rate of growth, and some seeds will germinate as much as 80 to 90% faster.
The most amazing thing about plants is their ability to ‘see’. So sensitive to light are they that even the colour of their surroundings can affect their growth and taste! A molecular biologist at Glasgow University, Gareth Jenkins, ran tests proving that proteins within plant cells – called cryptochromes and phytochromes – are extremely light sensitive. So much so, that their ‘sight’ encompasses wavelengths well beyond the range of human vision.
The plants sense also the direction of the light source, and when the Sun comes up, enhance production of the colourless pigments – quercetin and kaempferol – which help screen them from the more harmful effects of sunlight. Remarkably, the work of Michael J Kasperbauer, US plant physiologist – he’s spent thirty years researching light sensitivity in plants – is causing a real stir among the farming communities.
Kasperbauer found that the phytochrome protein is colour sensitive to a degree possibly far beyond that of animals and humans. So much so, that the minute variations in the wavelengths of different colours can make a big difference to plant yields.
In more recent times, many growers plant crops atop great swathes of black plastic sheeting – to retain moisture, discourage weeds and insulate young roots. This has the beneficial effects of reducing the waxiness of plant leaves – thus helping them to retain water more easily, and encouraging the plant to develop resistance to pests.
The professor showed that changing the colour of the sheeting really can improve both quantity and quality of yield, and even affect the flavour! The secret lies in the fact that the phytochromes in the plants are especially sensitive to the red and ‘far red’ wavelengths.
If they detect these, they signal that the plant must grow faster and stronger – competing for space because the light makes them respond as if they are hemmed in by other plants, competing for the nutrients. To improve their own chances of dispersing seed for the next generation, they grow taller, and develop more fruit. The tests showed that yields increased by between 20 and 50% when red sheeting was used instead of black.
Kasperbauer even showed that different coloured sheetings can actually affect the taste of the crop. Turnips were grown on blue, white and green sheeting, and testers reported that the resultant vegetables tasted ‘sharp’, ‘bland’ or ‘almost sweet’ according to the colour. It would seem that the right approach to the planting of crops, in colour terms, could be of enormous benefit to humanity.
It is now believed that plants have an ability to ‘taste’ their surroundings. Research at the Institute of Arable Crops, in Hertfordshire, England, has revealed a particular gene in plants, which enables root systems to taste the surrounding soil – moving in the direction of the richest sources of nutrition and ammonia, which they need for ‘fixing’ nitrogen. This taste ability is also used in self defence. When a plant ‘tastes’ the secretions of a parasite, it immediately begins to produce defensive substances.
Prince Charles, heir to the English throne, has long been an outspoken supporter of organic farming methods, and indeed studies have shown – particularly in third world countries – that far less use of pesticides leads not only to healthier and more nutritious crops, but in many cases to a large improvement in the crop yields that such farming produces. It now seems abundantly clear that, in centuries past, when farmers had no choice but the organic route, sustainable growing areas were much easier to retain over long periods
There is no doubt that plants are far more adaptable than people might ever have believed, nor that they are well equipped to deal with the difficulties that nature might place before them. They have superb defensive mechanisms, respond positively to the right stimuli, and will, if treated properly, yield food and pleasure in great quantities. If sentience were to be measured by the ability to react to the outside world, then surely they would have to qualify?
As professor Anthony Trewavas, of Edinburgh University, put it: ‘Plants are not as stupid as people think... in fact, in some ways their intelligence exceeds that of humans.’ Perhaps, one day, we will be able to fully comprehend the ways in which plants communicate, and even open up dialogue with them. In the meantime, it would be in our own best interests to remember that plants, like ourselves, really do have ‘feelings’, and that we should give them the respect they truly deserve.
Written by tonyleather
That's why I prefer artificial trees to real ones. I personally think that it's a crime to cut down trees just for Christmas! To me it's an ecological crime which is not different from killing animals to get their fur!
The fireplace - my favourite!
........AND I can't live without candles at Christmas!
Now YOUR turn! Do you decorate for Christmas?