Archives for January 2016

Karithata (Walnut Balls Covered in Confectioner’s Sugar)

Karithata

(Walnut Balls Covered in Confectioner’s Sugar)

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These walnut balls are an adaptation of an old traditional recipe of my hometown, Dimitsana. The region was not only rich with many walnut trees, but the walnuts themselves were of the best quality; plump and sweet, perfect and free of blemishes.

From October, the time of harvest, and throughout the year–if the walnuts lasted that long–women of many generations made these cookies for every special occasion and celebration. Name days, Christmas holidays, weddings, and baptisms would not meet the standards without them. 

The difference is that the women of the time did not make them into little bite-size balls, as I do, but shaped them in huge kourambiethes like an “S,” big enough for a dessert or salad plate. If my mother thinks it is disgraceful to make and serve these “skimpy” sweets, can you imagine how the women of years past would feel? I should have shaped one of that size so you could see what I mean. I did not think of it.

I remember when visitors came for my father’s Name-day celebration. If they had their fill of treats in other homes they had visited, they knew not to waste my mom’s kourambiethes and asked to take home. Being wise, my mother and other women, would meticulously fold many kourambiethes in glossy white paper and have them for those who did not want to eat them during their visit.

Choose the best walnuts you can find. Sort them out and grind them coarsely.

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Here are the remaining ingredients. You can use cream of wheat (semolina) or its Greek counterpart, coarse simigthali.

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In large mixer bowl, beat three eggs with ¾ cup sugar and ten drops bergamot oil, until light and creamy. Remove from the mixer. Add the walnut mixture and blend well with rubber spatula.

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With small melon scooper or a teaspoon, form round balls. Place on prepared cookie sheet. Bake 6-7 minutes in the middle of the oven. Remove even if they seem undone.

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Carefully dip karithata in the bowl with confectioner’s sugar, gently pressing sugar to adhere onto cookies. Transfer to an airtight container. No need to finish until ready to serve.

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Continue shaping, baking, and sugar-coating the remaining mixture. Transfer to the container, add more sugar, and store in a cool place.

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Ingredients

  • 6  Cups ground, sorted walnuts
  • ½ Cup cream of wheat or Greek simigthali
  • 1  Teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¾ Cup Granulated sugar
  • 3  Whole large eggs
  • 10 Drops of bergamot oil (found in natural food stores)
  • Confectioner’s sugar

60 Servings

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 4 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Fill a bowl with confectioner’s sugar. Set aside.
  1. Combine in another bowl the ground walnuts, cream of wheat, and ground cinnamon. Blend.
  1. In large mixer bowl, beat three eggs with ¾ cup sugar and 10 drops bergamot oil, until light and creamy. Remove from the mixer. Add the walnut mixture and blend well with rubber spatula.
  1. With small melon scooper or a teaspoon, form round balls. Place on prepared cookie sheet. Bake 6-7 minutes in the middle of the oven. Remove even if they seem undone.
  1. Carefully dip karithata in the bowl with confectioner’s sugar, gently pressing sugar to adhere onto cookies. Transfer to an airtight No need to finish until ready to serve.
  1. Continue shaping, baking, and sugar-coating the remaining mixture. Transfer to the container, add more sugar, and store in a cool place.
  1. Before serving, line karithata on parchment paper and sift a new coat of confectioner’s sugar over them. Place them in paper cups or arrange on a colorful dish dusted with sugar. They should look like snowballs.
  1. To eat, gently tap the walnut ball in the paper cup to dust off some of the sugar and enjoy.

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For variation, I dip cooled walnut balls into melted coating chocolate and sprinkle with a few ground walnuts and cinnamon. Delicious! Sorry! I did not have dipping chocolate in the house. 

Do you have a sweet that you love now as much as you did when you were a child? Please, share in the comments.

Dimitsana, My Home Town: Connecting to Roots

 

Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.

—Victor Hugo

Dimitsana: Western Hill

Zeus, Pan, Muses, and Nymphs; rapids, rivers, and ravines; valleys and verdant mountains, monasteries hanging from cliffs, and towns of stone built on hills—this is what the mountainous Gortyna naturally is. Dimitsana, my hometown, built on the ruins of the ancient Teuthis, dominates the northwest center of Arcadia. I haven’t met Zeus, Pan, or any Nymphs yet. Still, no matter where I am, Pan’s flute keeps summoning me to this place where I was born and went to school and learned the values and ideals that have shaped me.

My siblings and I

Dimitsana is firmly tied to my entire being.

My husband, Spyros, and I left Athens three hours ago driving to Dimitsana. I had imagined and anticipated this homecoming for a year. The closer we move to our home, the faster my heart beats. The car cruises down the winding road along acacia trees and seasonal flower beds, exposing us to alpine sites of spruce-tree-mountain-side views.

The closer we get, the fuller my stomach is of butterflies but not from driving on winding roads. It never fails; not on the countless times we have taken this trip. Always the same anticipation and excitement arise as we draw near to Dimitsana, hidden by hills and mountains of fir, spruce, and pine trees.

I lower the window and feel the cool mountainous wind brushing my face. I enjoy the sensation and savor the site. O, here we go making the final sharp turn, and there she is. My Dimitsana! In all her grandeur, she spreads from east to west, on and between two beautiful hills.

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We stop for a few minutes to admire and marvel anew at this impressive, medieval town, whose existence goes back to prehistoric times. The enormous boulders on the ancient wall bear witness: Once upon a time… Cyclopes lived here.

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Dimitsana might be a typical example of Arcadian architecture, yet she has a character all her own. Evidence points to people living in Arcadia as early as the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries BC. Excavations and the gigantic slabs of stones of the Cyclopean Walls attest to its longevity. I cannot say this is the place where Odysseus blinded the Cyclops Polyphemus, the brother of Poseidon.

I can tell you, though, that both the god of the sea and Odysseus, as well as Athena and Penelope, were born in Arcadia, according to ancient Arcadian myths. The late Captain Nicholas Kostaras—a prolific and highly praised and awarded Greek author—shared with me many such myths and references from his book The Arcadian Odysseus. According to these myths, Odysseus was born and grew up by the headspring of Alalkomenes, near Orchomenos, not far from Dimitsana, where myths have him grazing his father’s horses. Being a wandering spirit, he married the partly-goddess Penelope and left for Ithaca.

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History never interrupts from the classical and Hellenistic periods to Byzantine and modern times. The renowned traveler Pausanias (300 AD) has left in his traveling journals information about the ancient Teuthis, its Acropolis, and the many Cyclopean walls in the area. Monasteries, churches, and schools date back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries AD. While early homes have crumbled with time, new houses have been built on the older foundations.

Beauty in age: Facade of old store

Dimitsana enchants and fascinates me. Every time I return, I see her with new eyes and a different perception. She captivates every traveler who visits. A surprise waits at every turn and around each corner; a moment steals one’s heart. Her tall traditional stone-built houses with the red clay roof tiles maintain their color and features in times of rapid change.

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Old, cubblestone street

Her narrow cobblestone streets bring one back to a time when animals and carts carried people and products high up into the neighborhoods of the hills. Her two old stone bridges with the three arches are works of art. Ancient churches and quaint Byzantine monasteries hang from the tall cliffs of the Lousios Ravine—live museums with superb iconography, frescos, and woodcut screens of exquisite craftsmanship. Here, Orthodoxy and people have walked hand in hand across the centuries.

While art and architecture draw people’s hearts to this place today, there is more. The recollection of a naïve, unsophisticated bucolic life and nostalgia for the unadulterated values of natural living has always been an attraction. The alpine and unspoiled landscapes—the serene paradise where people drank, danced, and harmoniously lived with Nature—were of interest to enlightened visitors way before classical times.

Since back then, Arcadia was an idyllic destination for those who wanted to unlock the secrets of the divine, to understand the meaning of life, and be baptized into the Arcadian ideal. After all, this was the utopian view of life that inspired the European poets and artists of the Enlightenment Period during the eighteenth century to visit Arcadia and then paint and write about it.

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Lousios River

What’s more, the spirit that springs from the rocky earth, the rivers, and the springs, the eternal muses, the nymphs, and the souls of the preceding generations of saints and heroes, all summon, guide, and continuously inspire those who enter this sacred and eternal land.

Wherever the traveler turns, history meets the eyes. Here, the struggle for freedom before and around 1821 is evident no matter where you look. The spirits of heroes and saints permeate earth and air; their statues, homes, and personal articles, as well as their teachings and wisdom, are seen and felt everywhere.

Here is the house of Germanos, the bishop of the old city of Patras, standing almost at the top of the western hill, overlooking the whole town. He reminds people of the beginning of the Revolution and the War of Independence.

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The home of Patriarch Gregory the Firth

The home of St. Gregory, the fifth Patriarch of Constantinople, is now a museum displaying ethnic and religious objects, the relics of his time. Indignation for his unjust death on the scaffold is easy to rise. What lingers are awe, admiration, and deep respect for the man and his accomplishments, for the causes for which he fought and died.

Kolokotronis’s house as well is close by, high up on a mountain full of fir trees, reminding us of the victorious battles he and his family fought. We recall the battles that brought the much-desired freedom.

Far away from the town, in a school hidden high up on the cliffs of Lousios River (kryfo scholeio) we can still see and hear priests teach children reading, writing, history, and religion. In places such as this, the Greek language and Orthodoxy survived four hundred years of oppressive Turkish occupation. Many students went on to study in Dimitsana’s higher institution and from there to other European schools to become well-learned and accomplished individuals, good not only for their country but Europe as well.

IMG_3812Education has been greatly valued here for hundreds of years, making Dimitsana a very significant intellectual and religious center. Unfortunately, now only the primary school operates. Shame to those who closed the beautiful high school in the photograph for personal reasons!

This land that gets lost in history and myth is a place of limited resources, harshness, and austerity. In spite of that, this town gave birth to countless saints and heroes. Growing up here, one had to be strong and resilient, ingenious and disciplined; both physically and spiritually. To make life count, one had to survive, but more importantly, thrive. Knowing that I walk on the ground these great individuals roamed makes me instinctively stand tall and be honorable like them.

These heroes and saints are my guides and mentors—my heart and conscience that keep me accountable for my thoughts and actions, accomplishments and failures. They keep me aligned with my soul, taking no pity on my limitations. They inspire me to stay rooted to my true self, yet soar with the Spirit.

Not wanting to disappoint or embarrass them, I embrace my fears and handle whatever comes my way. Humbly, yet with a strong inner knowing, I follow their example and my own heart’s path with determination, love, vision, and integrity, being authentic and consistent with my words and deeds. Passionate enough to operate by a set of values, I draw on my heart’s vision to spiritually grow and make my life count and leave the world a little better place when I go.

It’s a heavy responsibility to be the descendant of great men and women. We cannot afford to ignore these ancestors; doing so would be to ignore our own heart as well as the wisdom and strength we carry both in our soul and genes. We owe it to ourselves and to them to take the staff a little farther, to bring a little more meaning and purpose to the world, for the sake of future generations.

My grandparents and great greandparents

Many of the ills that are pervasive in modern societies result from disregard for ancestral heritage and its traditions: disrespect for superior ideals, arrogant behavior, and lack of values. Inspiration comes from the spirit of the past as well as the present. Connecting to our roots can be grounding and uplifting.

 Do you identify at all with my love and pride for my motherland and its people? Please share in the comments your feelings about your native land and ancestors. What memories or which of your ancestors inspire you to be a better person? How?