Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus and… Spanacouscous!

Before I continue with my post-Chelyabinsk travelling photos and thoughts here’s a recipe I tried back in August. It’s a traditional Greek dish from the mountainous region called Epirus and it’s perfect for vegetarians. And it looks like this pie is gluten-free too! Moreover, if you have some leftover rice or even cooked buckwheat groats on hand, why not adding it to the greens to make it more substantial for your meat-eating friends? And if you curious about Spanacouscous, we will come to it at the end of the post.

Blatsaria me kalambokalevro or Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus from www.dinanikolaou.gr

I haven’t contacted the author but I hope that my translation is not a bad way to popularize Greek cuisine! =) I have never tried this one in Greece, on the contrary cornmeal seemed to be quite not that very present in Thessaloniki or on the islands. Some people call this pie made with the seasonal greens blatsaria μπλατσαριά, others batsaria μπατσαριά and some batsina μπατσίνα. We will call it Cornmeal greens pie.

Blatsaria me kalambokalevro or Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus from www.dinanikolaou.gr

One year ago – Autumn Leaves and Karelian Pies

Two years ago - Khachapuri, I’m addicted!

Three years ago – My Sourdough Adventures, a New Start

Blatsaria me kalambokalevro or Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus (Μπλατσαριά με καλαμποκάλευρο (Ήπειρος)) translated and adapted from www.dinanikolaou.gr will make an unusual salty dish with greens in between chewy cornmeal layers. See my remarks in italics.

Ingredients

For the cornmeal batter:

  • 320 g finely ground cornmeal – I used a bit less
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3-4 Tbs olive oil (Greek, of course)
  • 420 g lukewarm water – I added around 400

For the filling:

  • 1 kg greens from the market, something seasonal like radishes (and here come some names of the Greek greens I have never heard of like Mediterranean hartwort and Chervil), cleaned and finely chopped – I defrosted 800 g of spinach + added fresh sage, sorrel and even leftover cooked buckwheat groats
  • 3-4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 bunch of dill or fennel, finely chopped - I used dill
  • 300 g of Feta, crumbled – you might have heard of our reaction to EU sanctions, so I used 350 g of Adygea cheese instead
  • 1/2 cup olive oil – I used pumpkin seed oil
  • salt, freshly ground pepper – I also added some Georgian herb mix called Khmeli-Suneli

Procedure

For the filling: Place all the greens plus salt and pepper in a bowl and mix for 4-5 minutes, working the mixture well with your hands, until they get all seasoned. Leave the mixture for 20 minutes aside and then drain from the liquid. Add the onions, the egg, dill or fennel, Feta and olive oil and mix everything well.

For the cornmeal batter: In a big bowl place the cornmeal and make a well in the center, then add the eggs, salt and oil. Mix well with a wooden spoon and gradually add the lukewarm water, mixing continuously, until you get a rather thick batter (you might not need all the water).

Bake the pie: Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Grease well the bottom and the sides of a round 32 cm baking dish. Pour half of the batter inside and level it up with a spoon. Put the greens filling on top and level it up too. Add 1 cup of lukewarm water to the remaining cornmeal batter (I added 100 ml) and drop tablespoons of it on top of the filling. Put the dish on the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 45 minutes until a golden crunchy crust creates on top of the pie.

Blatsaria me kalambokalevro or Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus from www.dinanikolaou.gr

Remarks: I did not a very crunchy crust as you can see from the photos. Also the colour was rather yellow than golden but I guess I just should have baked it some minutes longer. I added some leftover buckwheat groat (grechka as we call it in Russia) and I think it added some… body to the filling. It did not alter the taste though.

Blatsaria me kalambokalevro or Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus from www.dinanikolaou.gr

Result: The taste might appear weird at first – with all this cornmeal and greens… But this is exactly what this Greek pie is famous and loved for – the combination of the crunchy cornmeal crust with mashy greens. You could almost mistake this pie for an omelet with its yellow cornmeal top. I liked how the greens peeped through the sunny crust! Oh that was back in August…

Blatsaria me kalambokalevro or Cornmeal Greens Pie from Epirus from www.dinanikolaou.gr

 ***

This month I was more lucky with Feta. Shhhh… I found some real GREEK Feta in a supermarket… Won’t tell you the name of the shop so that it doesn’t get fined and shut down for selling cheese from EU in Russia! Guess how glad I was to sample the real Feta with sheep’s milk, oh-oh. Why do we only have super salty Bulgarian-brynza-like cheese around?

Spanacouscous with Feta

In some earlier posts I shared with you my improvised vegetarian dishes – usually some baked or steamed veggies plus some grains or pasta. And cheese. Oh yes. This time I got something that I’ve christened Spanacouscous as it reminded me of Spanakorizo from Thessaloniki (a post on this city is coming!). It doesn’t necessarily look super sophisticated – and, well, it should not as it’s so easy. Here’s what I did:

Spanacouscous with (Real) Feta improvised by me will make a  combination of soup-like greens with salty cheese.

Ingredients

  • fresh / frozen spinach
  • some carrots
  • couscous
  • Feta or some salty white cheese (if you’re less lucky)
  • dried oregano
  • seasonings, salt

Procedure

I usually cook my veggies in water boiling in a pan under a cover (so they’re partially steamed I guess), adding some olive oil if I like to and salt plus some seasonings. When they are half ready I add some couscous as it cooks fast and absorbs the excess water. It usually ‘eats’ the salt too but don’t overdo the salt here – you will add the salty cheese later. I cover the pan and leave it on low heat for some time. Then I add some herbs like dried oregano and crumble some Feta on top. Dead easy.

Spanacouscous with Feta

Result: You will get a spoon of greens with a bite of Feta =)

Lots of posts crowding and waiting for the turn in my Drafts. But where shall I start?!

P.S. I have a neighbour who laughs loudly almost every evening at the same time. Same time same laugh. I wonder if you can laugh on a schedule?

G.

Rough and Tough Chelyabinsk – Legend or Truth?

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So let’s see… Here are some photos and we’ll figure out whether Chelyabinsk, this industrial heavy-metal city in the Urals, is so rough and tough as the legend goes. My first impressions – the Soviet airport with other uglier parts being hidden by ‘Chelyabinsk welcomes its Judo Championship guests’ posters and then this enormous puddle – if you can call this sea a puddle – in front of the exhibition center.

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And then I turned right and saw this hm park called Garden of Stones. I later discovered that the garden was moved to the territory of the Local History Museum. But I didn’t know it then – and this was what I thought was Garden of Stones:

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And when I was crossing the river Miass I felt that whatever that guy was trying to fish out of the waters full of bottles and smelling badly, well, even the most desperate cat would not eat.

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You wondering what’s that weird tower-like object in the background? Me too! Cause the gates have this M sign which can only make you think of Moscow metro. Still don’t know what it is.

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And just after this tower thing as I was going to my hotel, I came across this very old building made with such skill that I wanted to take pictures of every detail and told myself to try to find more of this.

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The door sign said there was a not that hospitable dog guarding the premises so there was only this wall along the street that you can get access to. Also, when I looked what’s behind the corner, I found this tree growing right in the middle of the stone wall:

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Each time I go to a new (or the same) place, I try to find there several essential – for me – things like a market, a post office, an ethnographic or local history museum. And of course I’m looking for the market the most =)

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Look at the face of the guy who is the owner of this bric-a-brac eeehm kiosk and you will get the idea that I was not welcome in that market with my camera.

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Yes, this is a general view of the city (as well as many more cities in Russia these days too) -something old planted right in the middle of something new and ugly. Actually it is vice versa – all these new additions grew around the old things. The church as far as I understood used to house the local history museum during the Soviet times. And now it’s just side by side with the Green Market. Obviously everything is painted in green.

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There were more curious things in that market which I will not publish here. After the market (where I failed to find the things I usually try in every new place – dairy products and baked goods) I went back to the lovely river and found out this Pink Floyd wall. How pretty I thought but then read the title of the song and understood that ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ (misspelled as Godbay) from the Wall album is not there just for fun. They mean it…

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I was moving to the city center in my search of more things left from the pre- and early industrial past of the city with merchant houses and wooden houses. But first I passed along this wall skillfully painted with Russian fairy tales and cartoons.

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This is the guy who always wins over rich and stupid. He also drives a Russian stove perfectly and a magical pike makes his wishes come true. And here’s a super-Soviet-man:

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And the stereotypical bear wearing shapka and playing on balalayka. Where’s his bottle of vodka I wonder? I yes, he doesn’t need it as vodka trickles down from the tap here in Russia.

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As I thought I was moving towards the pedestrian street they call ΄local Arbat‘ (after the famous pedestrian street in the heart of Moscow), I actually came to this place called Aloye pole (Scarlet Field). No idea of the name but it had this:

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And also this…

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And this – pioner‘s house. Where your babushka sees you off every other evening for your piano or young naturalist lessons. A huge building with all the Soviet symbols really well preserved. This is how a child was to get used to all things great and grand and better than in that rotten world of the West.

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In the middle of the park there’s this unknown artifact:

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hmmm… Right next to this circle is a church.

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You’re in the city of ore, mining and metal so do expect everything to be a little bit too black and too metal:

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And even Communist heroes (all were boys and girls) are all made of metal:

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A veeery sinister looking circle of boys and girls, the pionery. There’s one who betrayed his own father because he was not a communist… One of the most famous figures in the USSR history – that’s what the children were learning at school, their role model, khm.

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And this whole circle of young Communist heroes is crowned or presided by Lenin of course. Although his eehhh grotto looks so very new, I mean, it doesn’t even look that old… I wonder if that was one of the later Soviet additions. And guess what he’s looking at? The church built in Nicolas II times!

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After that I came across the local State Pedagogical Institute. With the tallest Stalinist columns I have ever seem. There’s an ATM built-in the wall, a total anachronism.

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And after seeing the rain pipe I was sort of puzzled what kind of RAIN they do get here from time to time… Serious rain. Heavy heavy rain.

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Some Soviet decorative art in a yard:

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The next day I did get to the local Arbat-like street called Kirova Street (ex-Ufa Street), obviously called after the communist Kirov. There I finally got the chance to see what I was looking for – the old buildings and a tiny bit of that old Chelyabinsk, a town that lay on the Silk Road.

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The biggest matreshka kiosk you have ever seen against red-brick houses that survived the Soviet era – namely Drug Store (Pharmacy) #1 which has a tiny museum inside. It’s a pity this kiosk was closed, I wonder what they sell there.

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Some more preserved wooden decorations with an ugly looking club. The street could have been much better if the owners of the shops and clubs could really see what damage they cause with their lack of any taste.

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Old school tram near Kirova Street. Very creaking.

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Walking across the bridge along the same Kirova street I walk past the Philharmonic hall and then I also spotted this – which is not at all rare in Chelyabinsk and in most of our cities with heavy Soviet heritage.

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I bet this is the best shot of all my Chelyabinsk albums. Seriously!

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But don’t think that these weird Russians can make only ugly things. Look what they decorate their beloved women with!

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I finally went to the Local History museum to try to understand the region better. There were several rooms dedicated to the local craftsmanship – precious and semi-precious stones are found in the Urals all over the place!

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Remember Chelyabinsk meteorite back in February 2013? Here’s a piece of it with the medals issued all over the globe to commemorate the event. I really do not wonder now why it fell in Chelyabinsk of all the cities.

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But the most warm and cozy room of the museum attracted much more of my attention – that was a room telling us about the peoples of the region and their traditional houses and clothes.

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The sewing machine was made by hand by some local peasant in the beginning of the 2oth century. We had and still have these marvels, these naturally gifted people – samorodok, as we call them in Russia (literally giving birth to itself). The problem is that they mostly remain in shadow.

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Kitchen – my favourite spot anywhere! This one recreates a traditional wooden house called izba. Wood just transmits warmth and comfort to you. See the brass samovar and this thing on the left to cut the cabbage and the pottery and of course the traditional white stove with the peel and the hook to get the pots out of the oven.

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I guess I’ve told you before that the traditional Russian pech (stove) was the first thing built in a house (hence the saying ‘dance from the stove’, begin from the very beginning, ab ovo) and the central piece in all times. People made food there, stored things there, washed themselves in there, gave birth to babies and slept on the upper warm part.

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I really liked this women’s traditional dress from Ryazan region, which is not in the Urals though but closer to Moscow. If I remember correctly these are from Oryol and some other places in Russia. These were worn in some villages up until mid 20th century, I guess. Love the embroidered blouse!

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Chelyabinsk footware industry going from this pair of metal-shod lapti (traditional peasant shoes made from birch tree bark usually)…

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…to these Soviet monsters. It’s up to you to decide whether the local shoe industry progressed or regressed. The same shoes were worn by many many many Soviet people living in all corners of our huge rodina (mother land) cause the same shoes were made everywhere.

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This one goes to my father, an active collector of mugs. Not everyone of us would love to take our morning tea in a mug with LENIN written in gold letters. And I’m sure my father would prefer something less chic.)

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Yes, we’ve moved to the USSR room which – since this time is too recent to evoke only positive nostalgic feelings – is rather like a reminder, hey, it’s just yesterday that these were a part of our lives and now what, they are in a museum?!

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Like this kitchen which you can still see in very many households all across Russia. I guess some people would just NOT understand why on earth this thing is considered and exhibit.

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Or this school things and the girls’ uniform (black apron for every day and a white apron plus white lace collar for holidays) – I remember them so vividly, although I never had to wear this dress or this bag…

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I don’t necessarily recall similar assaults of the vodka shops during the Soviet prohibition times (that was during Perestroyka) but I do remember standing in line to get some food. Lines are the things Russian people VOLUNTARILY and very eagerly start, join and skip and make a hassle about…

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Walking back from the museum to my hotel I came across some walls, one of which had this written: ‘Smile or I will bite your nose off’. And then there was this green something. God, I love Chelyabinsk! =)

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It’s definitely a very Soviet city and at the same time there’s a lot from the 90s – or rather ‘like in the 90s’. It seems to me that some of the most recent stuff in Chelyabinsk look as if it was built during the rough & tough 90s. And some objects did remind me of the early 2000s too :)

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And guess what? I was really glad to see the cloudy sky above St Pete. Yes, better clouds above your home town than Chelyabinsk =)

So… Do you think rough & tough Chelyabinsk is a myth after all?

G.

Chocolate-Chocolate Cookies for the First Snow

It’s snowing today. The first snow here in St Petersburg and my second first snow this autumn after Chelyabinsk. I will soon tell you all about this city and my attempt to find out whether the legend of rough & tough Chelyabinsk was a legend or sheer truth. You will learn about my adventures in the upcoming post.

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Before I leave for Kaliningrad, my next destination, and before we’re all snowed under here, just a tasty comforting recipe. Turn on your favourite music, pour yourself (‘another cup of coffee…’) something hot to drink and bite into this truly chocolaty cookie! The world will appear much better as the chocolate melts in your mouth : )

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A year ago – Autumn Leaves and Karelian Pies

Two years ago – Khachapuri, I’m addicted!

Three years ago – Some Soviet Things for a Change and Bread is the Head for Everything

Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Cookies from neohomesteading.com will make big chewy cookies with melting chocolate inside. Oh-oh-oh! Visit the website to get the entire recipe.

My changes: Mixed butter with some sunflower oil, used plain sugar instead of brown sugar and instead of chocolate chips crushed a chocolate bar. I thought about adding some cinnamon but in the end I added just the vanilla.

I made really big cookies and it took them more than 15 minutes to bake.

Remarks: The recipe can be doubled or tripled, says the author plus suggesting other options like freezing the cookies before they’re baked (actually I freeze just about everything…) or turning them into a cookie-cake or cookie-bars.

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Result: See this melting chocolate in the middle? That’s the main point! These cookies are chewy and even brownie-like. Perfect for the cold autumn.

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More melt-in-your-mouth and addictive chocolate recipes could be found here. But beware! : )

G.

An Autumn Day in Lappeenranta, Finland

where's St Pete, I say?

Where’s St Petersburg, I say? I thought it was somewhere in the North-West of Russia, right? Well I don’t see it! It’s been fun trying to distinguish the city in all this mist looking out from the 23rd floor in the morning – and to fail. =) This post will interrupt for a bit the Greece series and tell you about the autumn in … no, not in St Petersburg but in Finland. It’s my second time this year that I travel to one of the nearest cities in Finland (and the EU), Lappeenranta.

Lappeenranta

I was there in April when everything was decorated for the Easter. I think I liked the appearance of the city more in spring but this time I could also enjoy the trip. Notwithstanding the minor things like going there with a bus full of hard-core shoppers and seeing cars with St Pete numbers on their plates everywhere. I mean the nature, the port and the old fortress, the things that filled the three hours we had to spend in the city.

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I had more luck with the weather for sure this time – now that I’m reviewing the photos from that day in April. This time I avoided even looking into the shops – to save some nerves when seeing the crazy Russian shoppers all over the place :) Well, I used to go to Finland for that purpose too (but at least not for the shopping ‘business’, when you buy things there and then resell them in Russia) but now that we have almost all the brands a common shopping mall would have in Europe…

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So we’re in the fortress now, the place which defended the city from Swedes and where there’s an Orthodox church. And lots of buildings converted into various art workshops, shops and museums. The fortress stretches down to the port where there are more of the disused buildings turned into restaurants and a pottery.

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The view from the place was especially… special that day as there were dark clouds in the sky with occasional sun peeping through them – and all that was hanging above the woods dressed in the already fading colours of autumn.

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Compared to St Petersburg and its region, Finland is a much more rocky place – some of its roads are literally cut into the stone. The nature is tough-looking with rough weather conditions but the particular clarity of the colours creates the sophisticated beauty of the place. Our region called Karelia has a similar landscape. And similar traditional rye pies : )

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And well you know, those Nordic people just KNOW how to fit in all these tiny details to make their rough-looking living place into their comfort zone. i don’t like the modern urban architecture anywhere in the Finnish cities but I do like how they reconverted all these old wooden and brick houses into a cozy art & culture center.

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As I said, Lappeenranta is just several hours away from St Pete so there’s no surprise when you see signs in Russian rather than in the second official language in Finland – the Swedish. I was glad to find another language in the city:

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 It’s from this ‘thingy’ in case you were wondering.

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The fortress has this very strange aura about it – it looks a bit abandoned and yet there are people working there, also constructing something. There are tables and chairs and there are essentially Russian tourists walking around at leisure.

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I probably have to explain to you that the Finnish visa is the easiest way to get to the EU (Shengen zone) countries. But in order to be on good terms with the country, you have to have Finnish customs stamps next to your visa. Otherwise you will have to find another EU country to get the access to travelling throughout Europe.

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Meanwhile I descended into the port area, enjoying the small boats and the view on the Saimaa lake. They say Finland rents a part of the lake which now belongs to Russia for over a million euro a year and it also assumes the responsibility to do all the road works. Ha, and then Russians go to Finland and spend all these euro in the malls and come back again.

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I like this boat – it even has a bike in the same dark blue and white colours.

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Lappeenranta means the shore of Lapps people. Yes, those who live in Laplandia, the land of Lapps (aka Sami).

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I was standing on top of a small look-out tower enjoying the sun, the view and home-made sandwich (rye bread seems very appropriate for these Nordic places).

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Reaching the other end of the port I decided to walk through the fortress once more.

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I like this large white house (compared to the rest of the buildings) and the tiny stone ‘tower’ on the ground.

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This building looks very Russian to me (and yes, we used to rule Finland…)

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In spring there were buckets of yellow flowers everywhere – this time there were brown leaves and pots with autumn plants.

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And there was this angel praying for something. I wonder what for exactly?

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Last glimpse of the city before we hopped on our bus and were off to the border, to get our exit stamp on the visa and enter the Russian territory rented by Finns. Such a globalised world we live in! : )

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I’m off to Chelyabinsk this time, that very meteorite city far away from St Petersburg. Let’s see what impression it will make on me!

G.

Aegina, Greece: Island of Enchanted Places

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Last time I told you about Aegina Island‘s village called Agia Marina and the warmest and dearest feelings I have towards this place. Someone might call it tourist-oriented, some might say it’s so deeply old-school they forgot it’s 21st century out there. But I don’t mind (and my family joins me here), on the contrary I just wish it would really go on like this: we would come back there and each time find the dear old details and people. As my sister has put it, there’ll be no other place like this for us anymore cause a child’s perception of the place is unique.

Aphaia Temple, Aegina Island

We’re now heading from the small seaside village Agia Marina on top of the hill above – which houses on of the most visited and no less enchanted places of the island – the ancient temple of Aphaia, one of the best preserved ancient temples in Greece. Aphaia means transparent in Greek and there’s this beautiful (could it be ugly?) legend about the goddess fleeing from Minos’ lust. Anyway, the temple is very … I don’t know, I cannot call it beautiful but it is so much matching the place, standing on top of the hill from where one can see Piraeus and even Acropolis if the weather allows. They say that the temple creates a magical triangle with Parthenon and Sounion. You can take photos of the temple from all the angles and still its … beauty (for the lack of a more appropriate word) escapes you. I like the colour of the stone and the silence around it – even if the place is crowded with tourists, there’s this majesty and power about it, the silent knowledge and detachment. The sculptures from the temple are in Munich by the way.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

In fact Aegina has it all: beach, ancient temple and a column (ex-temple of Apollo), medieval fortress and a hill full of old churches, a house-size camera obscura, the monasteries (among which the one built by one of the most recent Greek Orthodox saints), the house of Kazantzakis (yes, the one who created Zorbas), the oldest trees in Europe (olives – still have to see them!), the mountain peaks, the wild-life hospital, ex-military base, pistachio & olive groves and what not, really! It even has its own pistachio festival to celebrate the tastiest pistachios in the world. A list can be found on this website.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

It also has the ruins of a wanna-be largest hotel on the island which was abandoned in 1974 and from then on has never been finished. Its ruins (cause it’s gradually dilapidating) can be seen close to Agia Marina and they make part of almost all the panorama photos of the village (see the first one). The taverna guy told me the hunta regime wanted to create a resort there for themselves but they never did. The hotel is gaping with its open windows and has a more powerful effect on me than any other building on the island. It’s surrounded by a (also dilapidating) wall which is covered with impressive graffiti. The church from the photo above is right at the wall.

Paleochora, Aegina Island

In this picture you can see both the medieval church and the most recent church built on the island – the ex-capital of the island called Paleochora (old town) and Agios Nektarios church. I love the fact that they are situated so close (although it takes some time and strength to get from one to the other on foot!), just opposite each other. From the monastery of Agios Nektarios (he died in 1920 and is considered to be saint, healing people and whispering them words from his shrine) you can see the imposing hill where Paeochora is (and it is essentially a hill with loads of old churches scattered around it + topped with a fortress and 2 churches), ochre in colour and as if made from ancient stones. From the hill itself the monastery looks like a ceramic house from a souvenir shop. They do match each other!

Paleochora, Aegina Island

Paleochora is a magic place. You need to go there in the morning before it gets too hot. Because I assure you you will regret it if you do not climb the slippery stones right there to the very top of the hill (at this point it will seem more like a mountain…) to feel the wind all around you and see this:

Paleochora, Aegina Island

And yes, do not step on the ruins! Although ruins are just everywhere :) The Greek phrase actually warns you against climbing on the ruins, which is just the same thing.

Paleochora, Aegina Island

Before you reach the top you will take several dead-ends, by this I mean quite dangerous paths that seem to be leading somewhere but in fact just ending sharply with no chance of getting further. Even the Greeks get lost there. We by chance found a ‘guide’ just when we arrived at the foot of the hill – he said his father found relics of three saints on Paleochora and then built a church there.

Paleochora, Aegina Island

And when you feel tired, take out that tiropita which has been emanating the delicious tiropita smell in your bag all the way up the hill and down, up and down! The view is amazing too.

Paleochora, Aegina Island

And if you’re in the mood for a Greek party – join in the festivities in the church yard, with considerable amounts of (obviously not vegetarian) food and wine to be expected once the mess is over. They all gathered round the loud speaker, listening to a transmission of some Greek Orthodox chants.

Paleochora, Aegina Island

We then went on to the monastery, which is another place of power on the island. This is actually a convent and it’s beautifully decorated with flowers. The church is still under construction.

Agios Nektarios Monastery, Aegina Island

The sisters of the monastery support the island people in need, they prepare food and also help at the old people hospital. Greeks from all over the country come to this place to ask Agios Nektarios for something. Once on a stormy day my father saw a bottle in the sea, reached it and found a note inside, asking to order some church service for someone. We did – we brought it to the monastery.

Agios Nektarios Monastery, Aegina Island

And if you’re more into town – then do visit Aegina’s capital – well, Aegina. It’s a place for those of you out there who enjoy Greek style and decadence : )

Aegina, Aegina Island

This cafe was closed on Monday so we sat there and ate our second Italian breakfast – bread with jam. Then we carefully placed the chairs back in order and went on to explore the narrow streets of the town.

Aegina, Aegina Island

It’s the island’s most important port so what else would you expect to eat there rather than fish? Fish (and just) market is also famous for its mezedakia places where you can drink your ouzo and enjoy some saganaki…

Aegina, Aegina Island

The ever-present cats in Greece must be dreaming of this:

Aegina, Aegina Island

Once you got yourself loads of pistachios and pistachio brittle and pistachio honey, leave the market to see some of the old buildings and signs.

Aegina, Aegina Island

In Aegina the streets are narrow and winding as if trying to get all the pirates (who were never scarce on the island) lost and never found :)

Aegina, Aegina Island

I wish I had more time to walk up and down the streets. Decadence!

Aegina, Aegina Island

Decadence is more visible with every year, unfortunately. So when you get a bit stifled with it, go out in the open, to the port. There’s a tiny white-washed church and a new church and that imposing but now completely degraded building at the beginning of the port. There’s also a woman selling fruit right on the seafront. She once  had no change and so gave us a banana =)

Aegina, Aegina Island

I love the small boats, look so much better than the hi-tech yachts. And I love the blue colour in Greece. They just know how to use it!

Aegina, Aegina Island

Photography and art =)

Aegina, Aegina Island

And some more blue…

Aegina, Aegina Island

And then you get hungry before getting on the hydrofoil – and you eat your last gyros with Haloumi cheese (which is actually a Cypriot cheese). I’ve discovered this nutritious vegetarian version of the – usually – meat gyros and I loved it! Here’s the place on Tripadvisor, and here is Pita Tom, the best place for (vegetarian) gyros in Agia Marina, celebrating its 20 years this October!

Gyros me Haloumi, Aegina, Aegina Island

I couldn’t have NOT ended this post without food ,)

Love this island. Will come back.

That’s about it for today!

G.

Aegina, Greece: Island of Sea, Food and Sunrise

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

I think I’m going to have another post on Aegina, this one will just not fit in even few of the things this island means to me and evokes in me each time. In one of my previous posts I mentioned the pistachios from Aegina, the super-fragrant pistachios that are so addictive and create such warmth (!) you want travel to the place where they got all these wonderful flavours. Pistachios from Aegina are my ‘madeleine de Proust‘.

Arriving

This magic place is more than just sea & beach, although it was the first place I ever met these in my life.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Aegina is the first in lots of things. First foreign place, first restaurant, first hydrofoil, first pizza, first pistachios, first white wine, first time on motorcycle, first time in a hotel,… Well, all things considered, that was the first time I went abroad on a plane. And that was back in 1996.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

And back in 1996 the place was crowded like hell with tourists, especially the popular touristic village called Agia Marina where we stayed along with people from Germany, UK, Netherlands and Russia.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

When we came after an almost 10 year gap we discovered the village and its tourist places so much run down and deserted. Also the things seemed so much smaller (cause I visited the island first ‘when the trees were taller’).  Less than 20 years later and here I am coming there for the 6th time in my life.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Each time I come here I notice yet another hotel or shop shut down or the level of neglect the things are left in. Cause the locals (or those who run the hotels and shops) seem to be really Greek in the way they resist anything new.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

And I thank them for this decadence, although I can’t stop comparing it to what I recall from 1996, nor can I escape the thought that this just cannot continue too long.  This bar shut down for lots of years already has all the things abandoned there inside with an impressive wall of photos with the fading faces, smiles and memories.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

I recognize that Greek attitude even in the best and most brand new things they do. They always leave some space for letting the things flow and even better – stay as they are, the good ol’ way. The Greek way. It’s very-very close to our Russian heart, I guess.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Probably that’s why each time I think about Greece, I dream about the first place I went there (apart from the airport and seaport). And I do not regret coming to this place for the 6th time : )

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

And I already think about the seventh…

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

I just cannot stop taking photos of the same places on Aegina. And I hear Haris Alexiou in my head, cause that first time in Greece was when we first listened to her songs. And fell in love with Greece even more.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

This same rope on the rocky beach where we spent most of our time can be seen on our photos dating back to 1996. I just love this conservative attitude :)

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Thanks to which the sea is clean and there are no enormous all-inclusive hotels around. The largest hotel there should have been is the one that has never been finished and is left there in its unfinished state from 1974.

Tiropita and Ayran

And of course if you want the best good ol’ breakfast on the rocky beach of Agia Marina – get yourself a Tiropita (white cheese pastry) from my favourite bakery (ex-crafts shop where we used to get our souvenirs) an the magic (!) Greek milk (or Ayran, the substitute for kefir)!

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

And then saganaki (fried / grilled) cheese with Greek salad for dinner, oooh! I think I liked it more than the Bulgarian Kashkaval version. Out of the limited number of tavernas that I think I already know by heart this time we chose On the Rocks, right in the port of Agia Marina:

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Next to it is another tasty place – Lighthouse taverna. There usually all the ducks gather to get their traditional meze of the day =)

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

I took photos of  these tavernas at the sunrise, the most emotional time of the day. Just before the sun rises there are small insects buzzing frantically around white flowers, there is this freshness in the air, the changing light. Love those moments.

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

With the sunrise and sunset photos you never know which one is which. These are all of the most impressive sunrise – when the bright golden disk of the sun appears somewhere from the sea behind the rock. With all my inclination towards decadence I prefer this special time just before the sunrise… or before breakfast ,)

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

I made my sunrise walk each morning, getting early thanks to the hour difference with Greece. And as soon as the sun rises, the world around – as if it was just holding its breath – gets on its usual carousel ride, the sun gets so hot, the crazy cicadas start ‘singing’ with maddening volume and… the shops open.)

Agia Marina, Aegina Island

Next time will surely do two things – swim before the sunrise and after the sunset when the sea is dark and a bit menacing.

Part two with shots of the rest of the enchanting places we managed to visit within the three days on Aegina is coming soon.

G.

Layered Applesauce Walnut Cake

Super-ripe apples from dacha

Apples, apples, apples, well, you know! The neverending story of this autumn. My Mother is making apple puree and apple varenye and I’m baking apples raw or in cakes, muffins and scones because my teeth just wouldn’t take it anymore. =)

Autumn in Kolpino

Before sharing with you yet another apple recipe, here are some more shots from that misty-morning-turning-into-a-sunny-day. When I walk past all these colourful leaves I want to seize the moment and get this decadent beauty on my camera but it just wouldn’t work. It’s all about this fleeting autumnal light:

Autumn in Kolpino

And now on to apples and walnuts. There was a jar of leftover apple jam gone-not-the-way-it-was-planned on the table so I had to use it in baking. There was also a bowl of freshly made apple puree and lots of raw apples. Plus some toasted walnuts were waiting for their turn… I’ve decided to use them with the jam and the puree so my choice fell on this recipe:

Applesauce Walnut Cake from heatherchristo.com

A year ago – Cinnamon-Roll Pull-Apart Loaf with Apples

Two years ago – Autumn Colours and Karelia (with another misty picture)

Three years ago – Creamy Peach Tart and Kitchen Reborn

Applesauce Walnut Cake adapted from heatherchristo.com will suddenly make a full-fledged layered cake, super-soft and super-walnut-fragrant! Follow the link for the recipe.

My changes to ingredients: As I had that super-sweet apple jam (with apple bits) instead of applesauce I actually did not add any sugar to the batter at all. I mixed in some white rice flour and used considerably less nutmeg for sure. Instead of buttermilk I mixed some milk with sour cream. I used apple puree to fill and top the cake.

Applesauce Walnut Cake from heatherchristo.com

My changes to procedure: The recipe will actually make two cakes. So when I ended up with two round cakes they were just asking to get turned into a nice layered cake. With all the apple puree that we have (we’re running low on glass jars, who would believe that?), that was just the most appropriate idea – to cut each cake in two and then fill and glaze the cake with lots of apple puree. I also decorated the cake with walnut pieces.

I had to bake the cakes longer than 30 minutes.

Applesauce Walnut Cake from heatherchristo.com

Remarks: If you don’t like the taste of walnuts or would rather have it less distinct, add some other nuts cause WALNUTS! is what every bit of the cake is screaming : ) I don’t know how this recipe will work with other sorts of filling / glazing, I just find this apple puree a perfect filling for lots of cakes (see some of them here).

Applesauce Walnut Cake from heatherchristo.com

Result: The walnuts are chewy and the cake is soft. Cool! A very fragrant cake even if you leave it as it is, without building up the layers. The author suggests dusting the tops with powdered sugar. And yes, the fact that my cake had no sugar added to its batter and still was sweet proves that you can use the leftover apple jam in baking alright!

Applesauce Walnut Cake from heatherchristo.com

Will soon get back to my Greece shots and memories.

G.

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