Saturday, January 30, 2016

Successful Soup Saturday

It occurred to me today that it's no longer terrifying to go to the grocery store. I had four separate half-Greek, half-English conversations with people. And it was fine.

In case you run away with ideas about my language skills, the Greek was entirely on their side. I still haven't learned enough. Sue me.

The woman at the deli counter gave me free slices of delicious-looking turkey with a napkin, so I could have theoretically shoved it in my face right then. Yes! Later, an older woman helped me unload my shopping cart at the register, gesturing at my inflated uterus while she did so. To cap the whole thing off, I was able to find and purchase every single thing on my list, which feels like a huge accomplishment. 

We've been here for seven months, so I guess I shouldn't be feeling too smug about my ability to adapt. But, I did it! I adapted! Let's go home now.

The real cause for my celebration today is that I successfully scaled down a family recipe that's historically been used to make a huge quantity for canning. I have proof. See below.

A peek inside the very-badly cared for pot reveals...

Grandma Dot's tomato soup!
Poor Phil came home from Albania yesterday with a cold.
Dinner tonight was the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on my sourdough.
I didn't make the butter or the cheese.
Give me time.

It's been a while since Bella's been featured on here. This is her "I won't look at the camera" face.

This is her "I'm still not going to look at the camera" face.
Happy Saturday!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Hardee's Cinnamon Raisin Biscuits

I wanted to show you what I've been baking lately, because I'm so excited to be baking again. I also want to hurry and post this, because I keep baking new things every few days, and they are really starting to pile up. Part of the problem is that I can't think of a dessert without wanting to bake it. I don't know what today's thoughts will bring me. I've been kicking around brownies and oatmeal cookies in my head for a while.

At the bottom of my deliciously blatant self-promotion is the recipe for a knockoff version of Hardee's Cinnamon Biscuits. I made mine without raisins, because I didn't have any. I used to love these biscuits when I was a kid, but Hardee's fled my home state out west, and left me with a hollow place in my heart. I had them a few times when we moved east, but I've been abandoned by Hardee's once again here in Greece. This recipe supposedly comes from a woman who used to work at Hardee's, and appropriated the secret formula for her own personal use. I believe it. They are pretty darn close to the restaurant version.

Okay, here are my brags:

Christmas cookies (I told you I was behind):

Aren't they so delightful? I'm really, really thrilled by them.
I feel like I need to make a couple real-world disclosures, though:
First, they took me an incredibly long time to decorate. My entire afternoon was shot.
Second, the powdered sugar I used is not my favorite, so the icing wasn't fabulous.
Has anyone else had problems with the bulk powdered sugar from Costco?

Sourdough starter, and the bread that came from it:

I'm proud of this starter. It's my first-ever. I used a recipe from my online recipe bible, Allrecipes.
It's great, but you have to feed the starter regularly.
I've had mine for about a month and a half now, and it's just starting to get nice. 

Look at this. Will you just look at this? It's amazing.
Maybe I'll give you the recipe in another post. Maybe I'll make you beg for it.


Cupcakes I made, and immediately devoured:

I'm not kidding. I frosted the one, took a picture for my friend, and then plowed it down my face.
I later frosted the rest, and systematically worked my way through them.
Maybe Phil had one.

Not Pictured (because I don't photograph everything I eat): Caramel Corn, Key Lime Pie, Spritzar, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and, I know this isn't "baking," Onion Rings. 


Hardee's Cinnamon Raisin Biscuits

Makes about 14.
Preheat the oven to 400F. 

The Mixing Part:
First:
Mix together:
2 cups self-rising flour*
1 teas. baking powder
1/2 teas. baking soda
1/6 cup sugar

*If you don't have self-rising flour (I definitely didn't), mix together 2 cups of regular flour with 3 teas of baking powder and 1/2 teas of salt. That whole mixture will count as your 2 cups of self-rising flour. 

Second:
With a fork, blend in:
6 TB shortening

Your dough should be powdery at this point.

Third:
Add:
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk

Stir the dough until the milk is just mixed in. Don't overmix it.

Fourth:
Mix in:
1/2 cup raisins

Swirl 1 and 1/2 teas. of cinnamon into your dough

The Cutting and Baking Part:
Dump it all out onto a floured counter. 
Cut biscuits so they're about 2 inches round, and 1/2 an inch thick. 
Bake for about 12 minutes on a well-greased pan, then pull them out and glaze them.

The Glazing Part:
Slowly add 3-4 TB milk and 2 teas. vanilla to 1 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Lovingly, generously, and gluttonously pour half the glaze over the still-warm biscuits. Let them cool for just a short while, then pour on the rest.


.......shoutout to Pam-I-Am for the original recipe, which makes a lot more biscuits, here........

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Christmas Card Challenge: An Update

Where are we at with this thing? I can't remember. Several of you have fallen at this point. We've also received several more cards in the mail. Something happened with the mail over the holiday season. They had a delay somewhere along the chain that backed up a lot of packages and letters. I want to say that KLM was involved in some capacity, but I'm not sure enough that I want to put any blame on them for fear of defamation.

I initially decided to add a second heat to the contest, to try to make it fair, but one of the second-heat cards fell off a day after I put it on the wall, so I decided it's probably fair enough. If you have any complaints about fairness, send me a letter (heh).


Here's the wall at present. We've lost a few, but we've gained a few.
Oh, the anticipation.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Nemea

We visited the ancient site of Nemea on the same day as our excursion to Mycenae. I was all photo-ed out by this point, but I still managed to grab a view for you intrepid followers.


Nemea, which definitely sounds biblical, is the mythological site where Hercules slayed a lion, or some crap like that. According to historical records that don't mislead you into thinking that Greek mythological figures were actual ruling kings of Mycenae, Nemea was a site for the Panhellenic Games. One of the other sites, as I'm sure you'll remember, was Delphi. UC Berkeley has really led the charge on excavating and restoring Nemea. I wanted to post this particular photo for my Cal relatives to show them what their alumni support is doing overseas. Something you should know about Berkeley is that they rejected both Phil and me from their graduate school programs. We will never forgive, and we will never forget.

Here's the old site of the games. We were the only ones there. We might have been the only ones who visited all day. The lady in the ticket booth was really pleased to see us. Shortly after we left the second Nemea site, it started snowing. It's really, really nice to see all these sites during the off season.

This tunnel brought the athletes from the locker rooms to the stadium. In the early 2000s, a big chunk of the tunnel's ceiling fell down. Fortunately, there was no one in the tunnel at the time, so they shut it down for a few years to restore the whole thing. Phil and I did not know about the ceiling falling until we were reading the magazine the ticket lady gave us on our way out of the site. We sauntered through this tunnel slowly. 

Here's the stadium! I'm about 70% sure that Phil is standing in front of the starting line. I don't want to make a declarative statement, because there's a chance that some of you might actually end up seeing this for yourselves, and I really hate being wrong. There were no seats found at this stadium. It's thought that the spectators sat on the hill to watch. There is a judges' bench. You can somewhat make it out about halfway down the stadium on the left-hand side. Right after I took this picture, Phil and I ran to the finish line. It was very painful. 

Down the road from the old stadium is the Temple of Zeus (those sad-looking columns in the distance). It was used in connection with the games. There's an ancient bathhouse off to the left of the temple. In front of the temple is a little box structure thing with an ancient skeleton inside. I wonder how I'd feel about my bones being on display like that. 

This is the Temple of Zeus up close. It's much more impressive from this angle. The three dirty columns on the left were the only ones that were standing when Berkeley came to town. Sometime around the low-hundred BCs, someone decided they'd had enough of pagan stuff, and started to tear down this temple. The big boulders in front of it are actually more column pieces. It's like a column graveyard there. Berkeley has gone through and tagged all the stones. They hope to erect more columns in the future, like they've done with the pretty-looking columns standing to the right. If they had admitted us to their grad school programs, we'd probably feel proud of them for their work. 

Nemea: 4 euros gets you a ticket into both sites, though you can buy a single ticket to each. There's not a lot to see at either beyond what's in these photos, but if you're in the area already, it might be worth a look. You can see the temple from the road. You can't see the old stadium unless you pay to get in. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mycenae Tomb Videos


Agamemnon's Tomb



Agamemnon's Wife's Tomb

Mycenae

(Finally)

Mycenae is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Greek history of the site dates to around 1600 BC, but it's probably been around a lot longer.
The site itself is not as nice as Delphi, but it is worth the trip. I'll show you why further down.
This is the Lion Gate. It is famous and well-preserved, and stuff.
Behind Phil is a big tour group of Greek high school kids.
We were all cold. It was a cold day.

Mycenae is an old citadel and military stronghold on top of a hill. Because of this, it's called an acropolis.
It's not the Acropolis, but it is an acropolis. Phil taught me this, when I was trying to figure out why some Spanish tourists in the Peloponnese were asking me where they could find the acropolis. At first I was like, "Get back in your car, and drive for an hour and a half into Athens," but then I was like, "Go climb that hill."
The views are gorgeous.

In the summertime, this hill is probably crawling with tourists. We came on a very cold, wintery day, so there were not many people around. It's really nice, because you can climb on old castle walls, and no one yells at you. We felt a little bit like Justin Bieber with his recent Mayan ruins escapades in Mexico, except we didn't pull our pants down and moon anyone. We're not that juvenile. The size of these rocks is really impressive. It's hard to imagine how anyone would have been able to haul them up the hill. The Greeks explained it by saying they had been built by cyclopes.

In Greek mythology, Mycenae is the site of King Agamemnon's castle. I was not aware that King Agamemnon was mythological. There is so much biblical history here, tied up with so much Greek mythology, and wrapped in factually corroborated records, that it's hard to know historicity from allegory. Also, I guess I just don't read enough. King Agamemnon was involved in all sorts of adventures, and featured prominently in the Iliad by Homer. The ending of his story is what I like to focus on, though. He came home and caught his wife with a lover. They murdered him in his room. His son sought vengeance for Agamemnon's death, and killed his mother, the queen, before fleeing the city through the back gate. 

Is this the back gate through which Agamemnon's son fled? I don't know. I really don't. I had a hard time following the map. I don't think it was, but it is a cool example of some of the earliest arches in building design. I'm not sure if you can see my winter style very well. It's absolutely atrocious. I was embarrassed to be seen with me, but I was also pretty comfortable.

Okay, this right here is why it's worth it to go to Mycenae. This is an old underground cistern that is tremendously well-preserved. You can actually walk down the stairs into the depths. You can't go all the way, but you can go far enough that you feel like your 8 euros was well spent. I also want to point out that even though it looks like Phil went down first, this is actually a photograph on the way out. I went first, and I terrified myself. 

This is why I terrified myself. These are the stairs leading further down into the cistern that are blocked off, so you can't actually use them. They're pitch black. This is what they look like with flash photography. I walked down the cistern steps while Phil stayed at the top to take some pictures. I made it all the way up to the rope blocking off these stairs. It was dark and earthy smelling. I stood there, peering into the blackness, when I heard a noise coming from these stairs! It sounded like someone kicking a small rock on the steps. I freaked out and ran back to Phil. He had to walk down first after that, and I made him leave last. 

Somewhere on the staircase down to the haunted cistern.

On the way out of the haunted cistern.

This is the last photo I took in Mycenae, but there are some videos that go along with it. I'll put those in a separate post, because we all know my track record with uploading videos. This photo is from inside a tomb. This is Agamemnon's wife's tomb, so who knows who it actually belonged to at the time. For this burial, they dug a giant, circular pit in the ground, then built a beehive structure over the top of it. The tomb was found during some routine looting by the local villagers sometime around the late 1800s or early 1900s. You'll have to fact check me on those dates, because I can't remember. They dug it out, and realized how cool it was. They probably still pulled a lot of neat crap from the inside of it, but at least they left the structure. It was really impressive, and is the second reason it's worth it to go see Mycenae. Agamemnon has a big one, too, just down the road from the citadel. The acoustics inside the tombs are amazing. This is looking up toward the ceiling.


Mycenae: Worth the trip, because it has a haunted cistern, and tomb acoustics.The museum also has some nice things, including a mask of Agamemnon's mythological face.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A January Letter to Readers

Dear Family, Friends, and Complete Internet Strangers Who Found This Blog Somewhere And Now Want To Imitate Our Lives Because We're Rad,

We're alive and well here in Athens. I haven't posted for a week and a half because I've been busy. Mind you, I did not say productive, just busy. The reality is that there are only about 4-5 hours in the day where I have the energy to get things done. If I have to travel somewhere outside the house to do those things, the traveling itself counts as at least an hour, one way, regardless of how long it actually takes. So, I end up getting one or two things done, and sometimes writing doesn't make the cut.

You'll be pleased to know that I did clean the bathrooms yesterday, though, so I've got that going for me.

Phil and I went to Mycenae earlier this week for the MLK Jr. holiday. It's another UNESCO site. We took some cool pictures (literally, because winter finally came earlier this week). I'll throw those up on here either tomorrow or Saturday.

Speaking of throw up, and apologies for the grossest transition ever, Bella is sick again today. She's been moody this week because I had to bandage her foot to stop her from licking an itchy spot. In an act of defiance yesterday, she ate something unidentifiable and nasty while we were on a walk. After thoroughly eliminating the thing from her body this morning, she's been sleeping it off today. What a disgusting mammal.

I finally broke down and made birthday cupcakes today, after seeing a lot of cake pictures online over the past week. None of us are having a birthday, I just really needed cake. In rereading this particular part of my letter, it seems weird that I've decided to follow a story about my dog puking with a story about eating delicious birthday cake. Someone should study the neural pathways in my brain that make these connections.

Phil has unsuccessfully tried to get a new battery for his laptop three different times in the past week. He checked online to make sure what he needed was in stock at the store. When he went there for the first time on Saturday, they said it was in stock at their warehouse and told Phil to come back later. When he tried to go the other day after work, it was the one day during the week when they close at 3pm. He tried again today after work and they still didn't have it at the store. "Eh, it will come when it comes. What's your hurry? It's just a battery." They didn't actually say that, but I don't think I'm taking too much artistic license in suggesting it as a potential thought they might have (probably) had.

I saw my vendor friend at laiki agora today. I always buy my kiwis and bananas from him because he's so nice and didn't treat me like an idiot even when I was speaking Greek like an idiot during my first few times at the market. Last week, he asked me where Bella was, in Greek. I totally didn't understand the Greek, but I understood what he was saying because I know the Greek word for dog, and I know the Greeks' love for Bella. As you recall, if you're a devoted follower, I've decided to leave her out of my laiki adventures for a while. Maybe I shouldn't. Maybe I get better deals when she comes. This week, he asked me in the informal tense how I'm doing. I have a Greek friend! I don't know his name, or anything about him, and I have no knowledge of how to ask him these things, but I can already tell that we're going to be best friends for life. I mean, the man sells me kiwis.

Bella and Phil are passed out on their respective couches. I had a huge nap today after getting in a really good vicarious workout from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I may be up for several more hours, but it looks like it's time to put everyone else to bed.

We hope you are alive and well, wherever you are; and, most especially, that if you're in D.C., you made sure to buy a lot of chips and junk before the stores were raided in advance of Snowpocalypse, '16. Heaven help you if you didn't.

More later,
Jane

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Second Christmas

This is going to be a brief, photographic blog post. The best kind? Well, let's not debate that now. I don't have time. I'm making another attempt at sourdough. I will type your ear off again later in the week.

We had second Christmas tonight. A big box of gifts arrived from my family, and it was very exciting.

We opened it unsuspectingly. 

Wrapped Christmas presents!

Unwrapped Christmas presents!

This Moon Calendar is the coolest. It really is. It glows in the dark.

Everyone should have second Christmas. First you need to find a family that sends you a bunch of gifts. Thank you, family!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Christmas Card Challenge: Second Loss

Ouch. Better luck next year.

This one fell off in the middle of the night and woke me up.
2 down...

Friday, January 8, 2016

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Stories and Delphi

After the church bells woke us up yesterday, we went to Delphi. It's another short day trip from our house, about a 2 hour drive. I took a bunch of pictures for you, but before you see them, you have to sit through three of my stories.

The Story of Epiphany:
Epiphany is a Christian celebration that is sort of a bridge between Christmas and Easter. It's celebrated differently by different religious sects. Greek Orthodox celebrates the holiday, called Theophany, as a recognition of Christ's humanity through his baptism. It's the third biggest church day, after Easter and Pentecost. 

Aside from church, fasting, and feasting, one of the most significant traditions is the blessing of the waters. Priests travel to various bodies of water and pronounce a blessing. Worshipers are supposed to take some of the blessed water home with them, and bless their houses. They're also supposed to drink it. As part of the blessing of the waters, a priest throws a wooden cross into a lake, or harbor, and a bunch of young guys swim and fight their way to it. Whoever retrieves the cross is extra-blessed. All of this information is stuff I remember reading on Wikipedia yesterday, so it may not be completely accurate. It's probably close enough.

The Story of My Worst Nightmare:
I had a bad dream last night. In my dream, I invited a few friends over to hang out in my parents' backyard. More and more people started showing up. All of the guests were people I knew and liked, but I hadn't explicitly invited them. These people were extremely respectful. They brought their own food, tables, and dinnerware. They were washing dishes and cleaning up trash. They thanked me for hosting the event, and were all-around pleasant party guests. I was livid. I couldn't believe the nerve of all these people enjoying my party. I was so furious, I spent the entire dream trying to break it up forcefully.

When I woke up, I realized that my worst nightmare is having to socialize with more than 5 people at once. 

The Story of Bella at the Laiki
As you know, Thursdays are market days in our neighborhood. I've been sleeping away my mornings lately. I'm not exaggerating, I have, very literally, been sleeping through the entire morning. Laiki days are a particular challenge, though I've found there is no better way to wake up than to roll out of bed, throw on some stretchy pants, and buy a bunch of fruit from a crowded market where too many people are yelling loudly at you in a foreign language. That's not the point of my story, but I really thought you should know.  

I took Bella with me to the market today, and she was a huge hit. But, as some of you know, she's a nasty, pocket-sized dog, so she's petrified of most strangers. People reach down to pet her, and she tries to kill them. She's never bitten anyone, but she is exceptionally good at feinting. It's scary to be on the other end of her hysterics. Today, we were walking past an old Greek woman who took an interest in Bella and bent down to pet her. Bella lunged, and this sweet, kindly lady let out a hair-raising scream. I thought she was going to fall over. The old woman started laughing, along with the people around us. I chuckled, bought some carrots, and got the **** out of there.


Delphi: considered the center of the world in Greek Mythology.
Delphi was home to an oracle, a really rad woman who got high and gave advice.



Delphi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old stuff here dates from about 1400 B.C.
Check out the ancient carvings on the blocks behind my face.



This is the navel of the Earth. It has something to do with Zeus. Google it, I guess. 



When the oracle gave advice that turned out well, grateful people built big temples and treasuries around her hillside.
The buildings were packed full of statues, gold, and other expensive, nice things.
This is the Athenian Temple.



This is the rock where the first oracle gave her advice.
In mythology, Delphi is where Apollo slayed a dragon. He buried the carcass in a ravine.
The oracle would smoke or ingest something near the ravine, and make her pronouncements.
I think the dead dragon fumes had something to do with the prophecies.
Phil read about all of this beforehand. He should be the one writing the captions, darn it.



This is the Temple of Apollo, where the oracle prophesied later.



Delphi also has a really well preserved theatre.



Delphi was the site of the Pythian Games. These games were one of the four Panhellenic Games.
This photo is looking toward the entrance of the stadium. About halfway across is the judge's bench.



This is the finish line.
The winners in Delphi received laurel leaf wreaths. Hooray?



This is a spring below the main site.
People had to clean themselves before going to see the oracle.
I might be making all of this up. Phil? Help?



For 9 euros you can walk along the archeological site, and go inside the museum.
It's a great museum because, in Phil's words, "They have a lot of stuff, and it's short."
They don't let you pose with the statues, though. I'm still not sure why.
The very nice docent who told us not to do it explained that it's to show respect.
That doesn't make sense to me. It's been thousands of years since anyone felt a religious connection to these things.
I could understand if they were icons, but...I don't know. Is that a really American perspective? 



I mean, imagine the immature poses you could make with these.
I thought about doing it anyway, but then I thought,
"What would Rick Steves do?"



This is the sleeping baby Eros (a.k.a. Cupid). Now you know why your love life's been suffering.



This is The Charioteer. It's a famous bronze statue, according to Phil and the museum sign.
Look at its eyes, though.  



Another famous Delphi thing. By this point, my legs were seizing.
It's not a difficult hike around Delphi, I'm just unable to exert at my regular ability. 



We drove up to the ski resort on our way back to Athens. Look at all the snow!
We think there was probably snow up higher. You'd have to hop the lift to get to it.
There were people up there in ski clothes. Unclear whether they were skiing or not.
A lot of them looked like they came to see snow...



...and build little snowmen for their car. I wonder who started this trend? I wonder if we could monetize it?




This is a view of the ski town at the base of Mount Parnassus. It was like every other ski town in the world.
The buildings were in the style of Medieval castle/villa/chalets, and there were multiple fur and wood furniture stores.
Seriously, what is it about skiing and wanted to buy dead animals and trees?
The streets were narrow, and stupid, stupid tourists were standing in the middle of the road.
We almost ran over a group of them because they refused to move.
 Honest-to-goodness, we actually brushed a guy's coat sleeve with our side mirror because he refused to move.
I was still angry ten minutes later when we pulled off at an overlook to take this picture. 

Delphi: Worth it. Yes. Go. Fair warning, it's probably insanely crowded during the summer, along with the neighboring towns. What I'm saying is, you might be using other tourists as speed bumps.