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Mounting biking over the trails of Cyprus July 27, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Limassol.
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Article by our special correspondent Gabriel Gabrielides in Cyprus. 

He’s an ex RAF physical education officer, an all-terrain survival instructor, ski, canoe, and windsurf instructor, mountain climber and mountain biker; he is also familiar with jumping out of planes. In other words, Adrian (Ade) Condren is the sort of chap I would happily follow into the jungle, such is his consummate professionalism and deeply comforting skill bank. So when my brother, Donald, announced he was flying over for a week’s holiday and could I arrange to fit in a spot of mountain biking, Ade was the automatic choice to ensure my sibling returned home minus an “asphalt face plant” (facial skin abrasions), “bacon rashers” (scabs on the knees and elbows) or indeed kept to the minimum any “involuntary dismounts” (crashes).

Yes, like everything else when it comes to guys and their toys, there is a whole language to accompany each different pursuit and mountain bikers are no different. But you must always remember they are definitely different from those road racing chaps with the ‘lunch box’ turquoise lycra pants bent over hoop handlebars.

I also learnt that those who indulge in top-class mountain biking consider it a very serious pursuit, not a sport to be pursued unless one is exceedingly confident and in a reasonable state of physical fitness.

That said, Ade does take out those who have just acquired a taste for the sport and will, through his patient coaching, always strive to improve his less experienced clients’ level of riding. The other great bonus is that Cyprus is sneakily catching up with other venues in Europe as the ‘in place’ to offer superb bike trails, with magnificent rides in and around Paphos and the Troodos.

Donald met up with Ade at 8.30am outside his Bike Trek Cyprus shop in Pissouri. With just a swift glance at the bikes on offer to the clients, Donald was able to tell that this guy was serious, not only about his sport, but about giving his clients the kind of ride they expected from such professional equipment. Ade later told me that real mountain bikers always ask first “What kind of bikes do you supply” – that’s the key. (more…)

Good and plenty July 27, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Greece, Greek Taste World.
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Under many names in many countries, anisette starts out with distilled spirits, preferably a brandy made from grapes, raisins or pomace. It can also be made from alcohol produced from sugar cane, sugar beets, figs or other fruit.

The special ingredient is anise, usually from aniseed, often distilled a second time with the brandy, sometimes in small-batch copper pot stills. The final product can be 25 to 45 percent alcohol.

Brands differ in the number of distillations, the aging, the other herbs used, the fruits in the brandy, and whether the grapes are fresh or raisinated.

Anise gives ouzo and raki their licorice sweetness and the etheric oils that create their magical clouds. The oils are soluble in alcohol but not in water. Add enough water, and the oils separate into tiny drops and refract the light. Chill the liqueur or add too much ice, and the etherics will condense into crystals.

Some anisettes can be taken neat as an aperitif. Most should not be consumed straight or alone. Add a pitcher of cool water, a plate of light snacks and a table of warm friends. Drink slowly in small glasses and fill a long afternoon or summer evening with talk, song and perhaps a dance with Zorba.

Ouzo, sambuca and pastis are the most readily available here, but we also found raki and arak to sample. (more…)

The spirit of relaxation July 27, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World, Wine And Spirits.
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Anisette, the sweet, candy-flavored drink, encourages us to pull up a chair and chat the afternoon away. What is it that makes anisette a perfect summer drink?

Not its color: It starts crystal clear, and quickly turns into sandstorm or dense fog and remains endlessly cloudy. Nor is it bracingly cold and invigorating. It is usually served just barely chilled, with rarely more than two or three modest ice cubes. No, the appeal is that anisettes are distilled idleness: our laziest, most sociable spirits in a bottle.

There is no more potent alcohol that is so easygoing. Taste it straight and you and the bottle breathe fire. Add water and the glass drifts into a cloud, so seemingly soft and friendly it begs to be drunk before lunch, and sometimes long after in one of the slowest rites of summer.

All around the Mediterranean, from the Riviera to the once-happy corniche of Beirut, summer idlers would spend long hours around small tables filled with tiny glasses, big talk and bigger dreams. Call it ouzo in Greece, raki in Turkey, arak in Lebanon, oghi in Armenia, anis in northern Spain or pastis in France. The infusion of anise and licorice into strong alcohol gives an adult drink the candy flavor of a childhood pleasure.

Banish the prohibitionist woodcuts of the 18th century absinthe drinker paralyzed by the devilishly green liquor. That was the wormwood, which even the Gauls banned. But don’t forget that warning altogether, for anisettes remain the most deceptive of liquors. If you hate licorice, you might escape the temptation.

Despite its fuzzy sweetness, fans of ouzo, raki and its cousins never pretend that it’s weak. They take pride in its power, although by the sixth or seventh, they might forget. The next morning a velvet hammer may tattoo a reminder on the brain. Or not.

In Provence, remembers Dominic Christini of Cafe Largo, “I was born and raised with it. Where I come from we drink it by the meter,” although they start small. “Before lunch you go in and have one and meet your friends. Five or six, you can have a lot of friends,” he says, chuckling.

Greek bars and clubs make Tarpon Springs the ouzo capital of the Tampa Bay area. At B-21 liquor store in Tarpon, Bob Sprentall keeps the area’s largest stock, 11 labels, of which Ouzo 12 is the top, plus a full range of other anisettes, and sells 150 cases a year.

Former Tarpon Mayor Anita Protos is a big fan of Greek food but approaches ouzo with caution. “Take a drink of that stuff and light a cigarette, you could explode.”

Yet purists take their anisette slow, small, simple and diluted, even if the drinking can last hours. Bartenders have had fun with anisette: Galliano puts extra punch in Harvey Wallbangers, and ouzo makes the special effects in a Purple Cloud.

Ouzo and its cloudy ilk are not booming as the next tequila, vodka or rum, but many more are available through increased trade. The traditional format for almost every anisette is a small glass, often tubular, with a short pour of booze and a small pitcher, often branded with a distillery logo, of plain, pure springwater for a much longer pour. The ratio is at least twice as much water to anisette, sometimes five times as much.

Always there is food, more savory than sweet. With pastis it will be the dry salami called saucisson and perhaps cheese. With ouzo the Greeks might nibble on bread, olives, feta, stuffed grape leaves. Arak and raki are always taken with a meze of odd bits, grape leaves, falafel, nuts, kibbe; white cheese and melons. Everywhere, indoors and especially outdoors, pastis, ouzo and raki are served with friends and conversation.

Tradition without the time > Spanakopita July 27, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Recipes.
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Tradition without the time > Making spanakopita, that Greek concoction of feta cheese, chopped spinach and phyllo dough, in individual portions will get the dish on the table in less than a hour.

Spanakopita from scratch to finish in under an hour?

It didn’t seem likely. Most recipes for this savory “pie” (made from layer upon layer of feta cheese, chopped spinach and parchment-thin phyllo dough) take more than an hour of assembly and baking.

I wanted something a little more weeknight friendly. I’d recently been impressed by a technique that shaved time off a meatloaf recipe by baking it in muffin tins, rather than a slower-cooking loaf. Should work for spanakopita, too, I thought.

It did, though I learned a few lessons over the course of half-a-dozen batches. For my first attempt, I lined the muffin tins with phyllo, then heaped in the filling, capping it with several more sheets of phyllo.

It wasn’t a success. Traditional spanakopita has many layers of dough and filling. The lack of phyllo layered throughout the cheese and spinach produced a goopy, soggy mess. This was easily fixed.

I also learned that though standard muffin tins work, oversized tins are better. The spanakopita still cooks quickly, but the assembly is a little easier, and one “muffin” is large enough to make a meal.

This recipe makes enough for four oversized cups, or about six standard muffin tins.

Spanakopita

Olive oil cooking spray
10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed
1 1/2 cups (about 1/2 pound) crumbled feta cheese
3/4 cup cottage cheese
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dill seed
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
20 9- by 14-inch sheets phyllo dough

Preheat oven to 400. Liberally spray the muffin tins with olive oil. Set aside.

Place the spinach in a kitchen towel, wrap tightly and twist it over the sink to remove excess water. Transfer the spinach to a cutting board and finely chop.

In a large bowl, combine the spinach, cheeses, onion, eggs, parsley, lemon juice, dill seed, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside.

Unfold the phyllo sheets on a dry counter, leaving them stacked. Using a large knife or pastry scraper, cut the sheets into halves vertically. Gently press two or three pieces of the phyllo into each muffin cup. The edges of the dough should fold outward over the sides. Lightly spray the phyllo with olive oil.

Spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of the spinach mixture in each cup. Press another two pieces of phyllo into each cup over the spinach. Lightly spray the phyllo with oil.

Continue layering spinach mixture and phyllo, lightly spraying each with oil. Finish with a spoonful of spinach mixture, then fold the edges of phyllo over the top.

Spray each cup again with olive oil. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the edges of dough are lightly browned. If the phyllo browns too quickly, cover pan with foil.

Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Greek Architectural Styles July 27, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece.
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Timeless Architectural Reproductions, Inc.™, Introduces Product Line Embodying Classic Greek Architectural Styles.

Since the dawn of Greek culture, decorative column capitals have been the crowning glory of classic architectural styles, and used to accentuate temples, residences and government buildings. Four architecturally representative styles, including ionic column capitals, embody the Classic Greek collection of decorative capitals from Timeless Architectural Reproductions™ (www.timelessarchitectural.com).

The Classic Greek collection features decorative column capitals in four architectural styles—Doric, Greek Angular Ionic, Greek Erectheum, and Temple of Wind—that are available in sizes from 6” to 30” and in round, square and flat varieties*.

Virtually maintenance free Timeless capitals are impervious to insects and extreme weather conditions, they will not rot, split or crack and require no special handling or protective coating. The proprietary composite material offers the smooth consistency of natural marble and the structural strength of stone without the added weight.

Well known for their structural strength as well as their meticulous detailing and range of architectural styles, Doric and Ionic, column capitals manufactured by Timeless are as functional as they are beautiful and exhibit the load-bearing capacity of the columns they adorn. Backed by a lifetime-limited warranty, Timeless decorative capitals are finished with beautiful crisp detailing.

*Note; some styles and sizes may not be available at this printing.

About the Company
Timeless Architectural Reproductions was founded in 1996 and manufactures individually crafted and hand finished architectural products constructed from a proprietary formulation of cultured marble and fiberglass-reinforced resin. In 1999, the company moved to its current office and manufacturing facility in Cumming, Georgia, where it has expanded the initial product offering to include balustrades, spindles, architectural mouldings, decorative capitals as well as providing architectural columns and bases for luxury home building. Timeless products are available across North America. For more information call toll-free at 1.800.665.4341 or visit www.timelessarchitectural.com.

Cosmote orders IM platform July 27, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Internet & Web, Telecoms.
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Miyowa says that its newly released instant messaging technology (announced last May), MoveMessenger, is now available at the i-mode portal of Greece’s Cosmote.

Miyowa provided Cosmote with a turnkey solution, including the MSN messenger certified application both in Greek and English versions, billing connectivity and the design and build of the i-mode site where end-users download the messenger.

“We believe Instant Messaging on mobile phones is a promising service for the future, as a next step following SMS and chat, which our customers will definitely enjoy, specially the ones already using it on the internet. In cooperation with Miyowa, Cosmote offers the first official MSN instant messaging service in Greece through our i-mode Portal, which will allow our customers to seamlessly keep on messaging with their friends, from their mobile phones, simply as they do on their PCs. As we usually do, we offer it for free for an initial period, in order to have our users get used to the service, its advantages and user friendliness” said Mr. George Vorvis, Cosmote VAS Dep. Director and i-mode project manager.

MoveMessenger extends the familiar PC Instant Messenger service to the mobile environment and with more than 300 compatible handsets on offer. MoveMessenger can be deployed, at mobile carrier, in just seven weeks. MoveMessenger is compatible with all major instant brands.

Cosmote ended Q1 ’06 with just over 4.7 million customers, representing a 37% market share.

John Boyer sings Byzantine chant July 27, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas, Music Life.
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John Boyer sang before he spoke. Not much has changed, at 28, he’s helping to keep alive a rare form of chant that few can master.

As a teenager, John Boyer landed a featured part as the song-and-dance man Billy Faraday in the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” Boyer showed exceptional talent in music, but he also enjoyed competing in sports, playing varsity football at Grant High School in Portland, Ore. When Boyer turned 18, he received a scholarship to a summer church camp in an Ionian village in Greece. That’s when he became hooked on Byzantine chant.

Now at age 28, John Boyer is one of the youngest singers in the world to have established himself as an expert in the art of Byzantine chant, the traditional liturgical music of the Greek Orthodox Church. Boyer has already coached Grammy Award-winning Chanticleer and acclaimed soprano Patricia Rosario. He has recently recorded with the English Chamber Choir and is a core member of Cappella Romana, the only professional chorus in the world that sings the music of the Byzantine Empire.

Now Boyer has added to his resume. He’s the newly appointed protopsaltis (first cantor) of the Metropolis of San Francisco (the Greek Orthodox diocese), and he often can be heard chanting this music, whose earliest manuscripts date to the 7th century, at Annunciation Cathedral in the Mission.

“Byzantine music is a whole different sound world that makes people think differently about music,” says Boyer. “It’s soothing to people who live hectic lives, and they want something that has a timeless quality.”

Boyer and Cappella Romana maintain a busy schedule with stops in Italy, London, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., scheduled for this year as well as recording a CD. The Pacific Northwest group will appear in the Bay Area in March. Boyer learned the basics of Byzantine chant from Cappella Romana director and musicologist Alexander Lingas, who conducted Boyer in a children’s choir at Holy Trinity Church in Portland. His mother, Maria Boyer, says her son liked to sing before he could talk. She taught him Greek as his first language, and he was interested in chant from the time he was in middle school. That interest took off after he received the camp scholarship from Holy Trinity Church.

“That camp was such a great experience, that I decided to stay in Greece for a couple extra months,” Boyer says. “I stayed in Athens and studied with Lycourgos Angelopoulos, the director of the Byzantine Choir there. I had lessons with him every day, and I’d follow him to all of his rehearsals and everywhere he sang. … He is a wonderful teacher, constantly moving and constantly working. Sometimes he gets very tired and falls asleep during the lesson he’s giving.”

When Boyer began his undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley, he continued to devote his musical gift to Byzantine music. Every chance he got he would chant at the nearest Orthodox church.

“Byzantine chant involves moving the larynx in a way that is not customary for Western singers,” says Boyer. “This style of singing produces a slightly nasal tone, somewhat like a drone, with a full, round vibrato. It shouldn’t be a thin nasal voice, but a richer tone with a lot of space behind it. It’s a vocal technique that allows for flexibility to sing in the cracks, microtonal intervals or ornaments that you can achieve by moving the larynx. It also allows you to sing for long periods of time without tiring, and that helps with Greek Orthodox services, which often last a long time.”

Byzantine chant has ties to ancient Greek music as well as to the psalmody of the ancient Jewish temple. You can also think of it as a distant cousin to Gregorian chant, but it sounds distinctly different. Byzantine chant dates to the time of the Byzantine Empire, which was centered in Constantinople (present day Istanbul) and ended in 1453 after a 1,000-year existence. Even though Byzantium ended, its musical tradition kept developing and stayed alive within the Greek Orthodox Church.

How esoteric is this music? Well, first of all, you have to be able to read it, and that’s a for- midable challenge. Even if you can read Western music, your knowledge won’t help you much because Byzantine music doesn’t have lines across the page with notes written down and treble and bass clef symbols. Instead, you see squiggly lines, which to the untrained eye look like Arabic. As Boyer carefully points out, the squiggles are phonetic symbols that indicate when to move up or down and how long to hold the note. It’s all very confusing and, frankly, Byzantine, unless you’ve committed yourself to years of study as Boyer has done.

Although Boyer primarily involves himself in the world of Byzantine chant, he always keeps one foot in the door of Western music. He is the assistant director of BACH (Bay Area Classical Harmonies), a professional music organization that presents a variety of concerts primarily in the Bay Area.

“It’s an organization that gives young professionals a good place to anchor themselves,” says Boyer. “We’ve done chamber works, symphonies, operas and recitals of all types, including some Byzantine chant. But almost all of my work in Byzantine music involves the Orthodox Church and Cappella Romana. Byzantine music is a gift that I identify with. I’m looking forward to more concerts, recordings, and teaching others this beautiful and rich form of music.”

To attend a service in which John Boyer sings Byzantine chant, contact the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco. From Aug. 6-12, he will teach a workshop on Byzantine chant at the St. Nicholas Ranch and Retreat Center in Dunlap, near Yosemite National Park.

To listen to John Boyer sing Byzantine chant, go to www.sfgate.com/blogs/podcasts and www.cappellaromana.org/musicbyz.