My Greece and Turkey Travels- Spring 2019

We started our trip flying out of Charlotte, North Carolina heading to Athens.  After 2 days of exploring the city, we traded the pavement for the sparkling, azure waters of the Aegean Sea. When we arrived at the Port of Piraeus we boarded a 148 passenger sailing yacht ready to explore the Islands of Greece.  I never thought I would travel on a sailing yacht ⛵ (I don’t know how to swim and a little hesitant!); however, it was an amazing way to travel the Greek Islands. Much to my surprise I didn’t get seasick or have to use the life jacket…what a relief! Each night we would sail to a new island, in the morning we enjoyed breakfast on the ship, then explored what each island had to offer for most of the day.

Our trip was wonderful and I’m happy to share with you some of our memorable outings and the best, authentic, Greek and Turkish food I was fortunate to sample!

We arrived in Athens to an overcast sky, but within a short time, the sun gave way to a beautiful day. On our way to the hotel, the St. George Lycabettus, our 35-minute ride from the airport took us through many narrow winding hilltop roads filled with motor scooters and small cars navigating like a symphony…it was seamless!  I was so pleased and surprised to see beautiful oleander flowers in every color growing on many sidewalks, lining so much of the pavement and bougainvillea hanging from balconies in rich deep fuschia pink. When I saw the beautiful, lush, lantana flowers displaying the most beautiful multi-colored blooms in massive plantings I thought I was back in North Carolina! I knew  I would love Greece and it’s people!

Once we settled into our room Jack and I met our friends to explore the panoramic view from the rooftop restaurant and bar at St. George Lycabettus…it did not disappoint!!! To see the Acropolis from an unobstructed vantage point was truly breathtaking!

There are many historical and places of antiquity to see in Athens but due to having only 1 ½ days, I had to narrow it down to just a few. First I arranged a private foodie tour with a local young woman, Marina Tsikou. She was so knowledgeable not only about food but very knowledgeable about Athens and it’s history. Our first stop was to the ERGON HOUSE located in the Syntagma district. Ergon House is a very unique Hotel, a cafe along with a butcher shop, bakery, deli, and groceries all in one place. Marina’s choice of mezes  (appetizers), was excellent… Dolmadakia (grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs), Bougiourdi (melted feta cheese, tomato, peppers), Melitzanosalata (eggplant), Tirokafteri (spicy feta dip), pita bread, and Pastourmadopitakia (little pies with highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef sausage known as pastourma).  From Ergon House, we were off to experience authentic Greek Souvlaki at STREET SOUVLAKI   (Kolokotroni 30, Athina 105 62, Greece).  We were served several different types of delicious souvlaki and as is custom in Greece,  French fries are served inside the pita.  To make our food tour even more memorable, Marina took us to the best small patisserie in the district of Psyrri,  Ta Serbetia Tou Psyrri (105 54, Eschilou 3, Athina 105 54) for delicious desserts!  None of us (except Jack – celiac) was able to resist trying each selection offered to us along with trying  Greek coffee. The owner brought us a large plate with several desserts, galaktoboureko, ekmek kataifi, and the ice cream is mastiha or kaimaki.  Galaktoboureko is a creamy custard made from semolina, wrapped in sheets of phyllo and soaked in syrup. It is delicate and sweet.  Ekmek  Kataifi is a pastry made from a shredded type of phyllo dough with a lemon syrup and whipped cream topped with chopped pistachios. Lastly, we had ice cream called mastiha or kaimaki ( made from resins of the mastic tree that give it a sort of stretchiness and a cedar or pine flavor. Marina made sure to accommodate Jack as he was only able to sit by and watch us devour the scrumptious pastries.  Having Celiac disease can be quite challenging when visiting abroad; however, much to his delight, she ordered ice cream for him. Marina shared with me one of her favorite Greek dishes; anything made with Avgolemono (egg and lemon sauce). She sent me the recipe of the way she likes it with chicken or pork and I’m happy to share it with all our followers. (We will be making it tonight so look for the recipe and photos tomorrow).  If you will be traveling to Athens I highly recommend you contact Marina to arrange a food tour…She is the best!

Marina Tsikou, food experience designer  +30 6946 907062

marina@greekality.com www.greekality.com

The next day we took a tour of the highlights of Athens: A Greek Mythology tour where we visited The Acropolis (Parthenon, Theater of Dionysus, Temple of Athena Nike, Temple of Erechtheion, Sanctuary of Asclepius), Olympian Zeus Temple, Ancient Agora, Temple of Hephaestus. We learned about Greek Gods and Heroes and discovered some of the reality behind the universal myths.  We enjoyed spectacular views and discovered that I was very capable of making it to the top of the Acropolis/Parthenon without much effort. True, it was very uneven and a little slippery at times, but I was careful.  Our tour guide found a nice quiet place for Jack & Steve to find shelter from the blazing sun while I journeyed to the top with my friend Heather! We took smiling selfies when we made it to the top!

Later that afternoon I headed to “The Greek Kitchen” for my much-anticipated cooking class. I must confess, taking the cooking class was the single most event I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in! I met my instructor, Vasia, a young Greek woman at the top of the stairs as she greeted us. The first order of business was a trip to the bustling central market, meat, fish, and produce where we picked up a few items for our post-tour dinner. We enjoyed the enthusiasm displayed by the vendors…each shouting out to direct you to them.  I must say the fish market was an assault on my olfactory senses…actually the “aroma” blew me out of the water😂! We were all happy to head back to class and start cooking.

First, we made Tzatziki which was so easy and the best I ever tasted. I learned that the key to good Tzatziki is shredding and squeezing all the liquid out of the cucumbers. The next dish we prepared was Spiral Spanakopita with sesame seeds. Spanakopita has always been a favorite dish of mine so I was happy learning to make it in a spiral shape.  All the same main ingredients: phyllo dough, spinach, and feta cheese…scrumptious! Dolmades, stuffed grape leaves, was the star of the cooking class for me. (Although in class we used fresh grape leaves, I was able to get them in a jar from California when I made them after returning home). I found the process of stuffing and rolling the grape leaves somewhat meditative…knowing that these little rolled up delights would be enjoyed by friends and family. Greek meals without an eggplant dish is unheard of…so when Vasia brought out the eggplants I couldn’t wait to hear about which eggplant dish we’d be making. Today it would be Imam Baildi from Crete aka Greek stuffed eggplants. This is a traditional Greek dish stuffed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, and feta cheese…absolutely delicious!

Vasia chose the most wonderful dessert for our class to make…Portokalopita from The Peloponnese – Greek Orange Phyllo Pie 😋😋😋 The version we made called for shredded phyllo dough instead of the more traditional phyllo sheets along with orange zest, fresh squeezed orange juice, eggs, and cinnamon. Surprisingly light, but rich and creamy.  Did I mention how delicious it was?  All these recipes are on the blog with many thanks to Vasia and The Greek Kitchen. Please look them up when you’re in Athens You’ll find them upstairs between the hat shop and the hardware store. Just follow the signs up to the second floor.

The Greek Kitchen

Athinas Street 36 2nd floor, 10551 Athens

www.greekkitchenathens.com or call +30 6993871820

I hope to return to Athens to explore more of this wonderful city. We said farewell to Athens in the morning as we set sail to the romantic, seaside city of Nafplio.  Nafplio is comprised of narrow cobblestone alleys in a medieval old town once under Venetian rule and later under Ottoman rule. Venetian architecture and Ottoman structures can be found throughout the city. While shopping in one of the local boutiques, “Mitsi’s Style”, I found a pair of earrings (costume) I couldn’t resist. Mitsi, the owner was very engaging and later gave us a recommendation to an authentic Italian gelato shop in the old town.

 

 

After leaving Nafplio we sailed that evening to the island of Mykonos… a classic Greek island dotted with hundreds of whitewashed churches and 16th-century thatch-roofed windmills sitting above the town. Our next stop is Ermoupoli, Syros. We traveled to many other islands; each with their own distinctive flavor, each beautiful, and each begging for you to stay longer. We had the pleasure of wading in the beautiful Aegean Sea while in Crete, saw the donkey walk on the streets of Fira in Santorini, went to Santos Winery and enjoyed grilled octopus for lunch while sipping wine and overlooking the spectacular view of the famous caldera.

One of the most memorable places we visited was the western coast of Turkey in the cities of Kusadasi and Ephesus.  Our guide, Taz, took us to many places of interest; however,  the outdoor luncheon he arranged for us was outstanding!  We enjoyed the hospitality of local Turkish people and delicious food, wine,  coffee, and baklava at a wonderful “farm-to-table” establishment in the city of Selcuk-Zeytinkoy.

Sailing on a small ship definitely has many perks and one of the best is its  “Destination Discovery Event” in Ephesus, Turkey. What an amazing, memorable event it was. After a long day of exploring the ancient outdoor museum, we headed back to the ship to rejuvenate ourselves for a very special evening. Windstar arranged for all the passengers to go back to Ephesus by motor coach and there treated us to the most wonderful moonlight dinner and concert at the Celsus Library.  The evening was perfect, the picture-perfect sky, a soft breeze, and dining with our friends where once over 12,000 ancient scrolls of manuscripts were housed in niches on the wall and where the tomb of Gaius Julius Celsus is buried beneath the ground floor. What a perfect way to bring our travels to a close.  I hope someday to return to Greece and Turkey…history, culture, food, and people; so much more to explore and fall in love with!

 

 

 

 

 

Portokalopita from The Peloponnese – Greek Orange Phyllo Pie


  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: Basic Skills

Amazing, Delicious, Heavenly, Impressive are just a few words to describe this mouthwatering dessert! I had the pleasure of learning to make this creamy custard dessert at THE GREEK KITCHEN while in Athens. If working with phyllo was ever intimidating to you then this is the specialty dessert you will love to make to impress your family and friends...the phyllo is shredded and you cannot make a mistake. Imagine mistake proof and impressive! 😋😋😋

Ingredients

Cake Ingredients:

  • 500g Phyllo Sheets (18-20 sheets)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 200g sugar (1 cup)
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • 300g fresh Greek Yogurt-full fat (1.057 cups or 10.7 ounces)
  • 2 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 200 ml Sunflower oil (7 ounces)
  • sunflower oil for greasing

Syrup Ingredients:

  • 200g Sugar (1 cup)
  • 1.5 cups room temperature water
  • Juice of 2 oranges
  • 1 Cinnamon stick                                                                                                                                       

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 360 F.
  2. Remove the phyllo dough sheets from packaging and shred into small tears using a knife or your hands.
  3. Grease an 8″ or 9″ baking dish or cake pan with sunflower oil.
  4. In a large mixing bowl combine the eggs and sugar with a whisk. Beat until the mixture is pale and frothy.
  5. Add the orange zest, Greek yogurt, vanilla extract, and baking powder and continue to beat until well combined.
  6. While beating, slowly add the sunflower oil.
  7. Gradually put the shredded phyllo into the bowl and combine with a spatula until everything is fully incorporated.
  8. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking pan and place in the oven for 45 minutes-1 hour or until the cake has risen and is golden brown.
  9. When the cake is ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan. You will need to let the cake cool completely before adding the syrup.
  10. To make the syrup: bring the water, sugar, orange juice, and cinnamon stick to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes.
  11. Pour the hot syrup over the cold portokalopita and set aside for approximately 1 hour until the syrup has been completely absorbed by the cake.
  12. Slice and serve. It’s amazing on its own but adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream is Divine!

Notes:

“The Greek Kitchen”

Athens, Athinas 36, Athina 105  51, Greece

+306978464701

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Memories of Rome, Italy April 28, 2018

Being identical twins, one would think we experience the world exactly the same… False! One of the fondest memories Teresa has upon our arrival in Rome is that of an undeniable fragrance in the air, a subtle almost citrus scent everywhere we walked. Probably because she’s a romantic. Contrary to her experience I saw all the graffiti on the buildings along the way from the airport to the hotel! So much for being identical. 😂

Our first two nights in Rome were spent at the lovely hotel Romanico Palace on Via Boncompagni 37. We felt like we were back in ancient times with all the decor reminiscent of that era. It was romantic with a rooftop bar & restaurant with a panoramic view. From that vantage point, you could see all across the magnificent city.

We decided to take a walk and look for a local restaurant for dinner. We discovered Piccolo Abruzzo, a charming little restaurant on Via Sicilia. This restaurant is a local GEM! From the moment we walked down the few steps into the restaurant we were welcomed by Massimiliano who made us feel like family and right at home. His Bolognese sauce (Fettuccine alla Bolognese) is the best we ever tasted. It was served over fettuccine in the personal size fry pan it was cooked in.  Absolutely amazing. Massimiliano has a beautiful red prosciutto hand-shaving machine that slices the meat paper-thin. As soon as he shaved it from the ham it was brought to our table. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!

The Limoncello served after dinner inspired us to make our own homemade limoncello when we returned. It’s time to make some more!

The service was fantastic and the staff was so accommodating. They even have gluten-free options that Jack was thrilled about.

If you have the opportunity to be in Rome, don’t miss this jewel! Go and experience Piccolo Abruzzo. You’ll be glad you did. Say hi to Massimiliano for us.

 

Piccolo Abruzzo

Via Sicilia, 237
Rome, Italy 00187

Tel .: (+39) 06 42820176
Cell .: (+39) 347 6408309

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