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Shrimp and Feta in a skillet December 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Recipes.
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Ingredients >
1/3 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 fresh chile pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
4 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
Pepper to taste
Greek oregano to taste
750 grams medium-size shrimp, de-veined but with shell intact
250 grams Greek Feta cheese
2-4 tablespoons milk

Method >
Heat the olive oil in a large, wide skillet and sauté the onion until wilted. Add the peppers. When they wilt, add the tomatoes, pepper and herbs and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes.

Add the shrimp, raise the heat a little, and cook the shrimp until bright pink. Crumble the feta, add it to the skillet together with the milk, lower heat to very low, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the cheese has almost completely melted. Makes 4 servings.


The Greek romance affair with the olive December 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology, Food Greece, Greece Mainland.
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Where the olive oil is used to nourish, to soothe, to light, to cure…

Homer called the oil “liquid gold” in the Odyssey; and it was under the shade of the olive tree that philosophers like Plato and Aristotle debated the meaning of life. But crossing over from Homer or Aristotle’s era to modern Greece, a visitor to this land is bound to be overwhelmed by the kind of love, passion, reverence and awe that the Greeks have for the olive tree… it’s almost a romance.

When Greeks say “I ate bread and olives with him”, it denotes an act of friendship; just as to extend the olive branch is to make peace with someone. In this country, around the olive are built legends and history, myths and poetry… and drama of course.

Before taking us on a conducted tour of Olympia and the sanctuary where the Olympic Games originally began around 776 BC, with a great flourish our guide Constantine breaks off a small branch from one of the hundreds of olive trees there, and expertly weaves it into a kind of olive “crown” that was placed on the heads of the winners in the Games. His narrative is evocative enough and brings to the mind’s eye the hundreds of male athletes, dressed in white tunics and sandals, participating in the event that was held every four years. This sanctuary contains the ruins of the temple of Zeus, which had housed a huge statue of Zeus made of ivory and gold and was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

The origin
Legend has it that over 3,500 years ago when Zeus
announced that the most important Greek city, now called Athens, would be given to the god or goddess who offered the most useful gift to the people, Poseidon gifted them a sea horse but Athena brought out an olive tree by striking the ground with her spear. Zeus named the city after Athena, the goddess who is often depicted with an olive branch, a symbol of peace and plenty. The Olympic winner was crowned with an olive branch to pass on its vitality to him.

Brigitta P. Papastavrou, President and CEO of Agrotouristiki, who specialises in organising tours to rural Greece, says proudly, “In Greece we say, every Greek owns at least one olive tree.” Quite possible for a population of only 11 million to share over 150 million olive trees! Even today a common blessing for married couples is: “May you always have bread and wine and olive oil in your house.”

The unique quality of this tree is that it grows even in mountainous rocky soil and can withstand scorching summers as well as harsh winters. In the Peloponnesse region that we visited, one could see thick groves of olive trees, some of them 2,000 years old, and with two trunks on one tree! Even though the landscape may appear dry and stark in the summer, the soil is deceptively rich in the kind of minerals required by the olive tree to flourish.

November-December is the harvest time in Greece and as you drive around the picturesque countryside, you find entire families engaged in picking the olive fruit. So attached are the Greeks to their olive groves that this is perhaps the only country in the world where civil servants are given special leave to pick olives during the harvesting. But as this entails a major portion of the expenditure, a recent innovation, particularly among owners of large olive groves, is to engage mechanical methods of picking the olive fruit.

But this can be done only for the variety that will be sent to the oil mills for crushing and conversion into olive oil.

Harvesting of table oils is another matter altogether and almost an art. Table olives have to be picked by hand as even a tiny scratch on the skin can mar the fruit, which will have to undergo a long sojourn in brine solution in huge containers buried in the earth to maintain the required temperature and guard it from the vagaries of the climate. In an olive grove we visited in Amfissia, near Delphi, the owner explained to us how he would have to harvest the crop of table olives in three cycles because olives ripened in different stages and had to be picked only when the colour turned the right hue of purple-black. This makes the picking process even more expensive.

The olive trees of Greece have been destroyed many times during its long history. During invasions the olive trees were targeted and attacked by the enemy, in a bid to starve the citizens. After the Greek War of Independence in 1821, and the World Wars I and II, whole groves had to be replanted all over the country. But an endearing characteristic of the olive tree is that almost as if by magic it can often spring back to life by itself, and such trees are almost worshipped by the Greek and treasured as monuments of nature.

According to the backgrounder provided by the International Olive Oil Council, which had organised the tour to popularise Greek olive oil in markets beyond its borders, one such tree is the 800-year-old “mother” olive tree in Kalamata, the black Kalamon or Kalamata olives grown here are considered the topmost in the table olive category, with a perimeter of 8 metres and bearing fruits without pits. Such trees “are treasured like the sacred Maria trees of classical Greek times, protected not so much by law but by the reverence and love of the people themselves.”

It is with sadness that you read how during World War II, when so many people were starving to death in Greek cities, people would trade property and fortunes for a few jars of olive oil to ward off starvation. “Olive oil companies destroyed their machinery in order to avoid having to cooperate with the occupation forces,” says the booklet.

Over 3,500 long years the olive tree and all it bears is not only revered, but used for important and routine occasions… from the christening of the child, lighting a lamp, for cooking, smearing on the body as a cosmetic, during marriages and even funerals… “to nourish, to soothe, to light, to cure”.

Extra virgin olive oil
The third-largest olive oil producing country in the world,
annual production about 430,000 tonnes, Greece has the highest per capita consumption at 23 kg per person per year. Producers here tell you with pride that it is the largest producer of extra virgin olive oil, and year after year over 80 per cent of its crop is classified as top quality extra virgin olive oil.

Our tour was an education in all things olive; and extra virgin oil was part of it. “This is a term used to describe olive oil obtained directly from the first pressing of the olive, exactly the way it is the moment it comes out of the olive press, that has a natural, strong taste, dark green colour and a very low level of acidity,” says a booklet on olive oil brought out by the Ministry of Economy and Finance. It adds that despite the highest per capita consumption Greece has enough olive oil to export to other markets, and other olive oil producing countries in the Mediterranean import Greek olive oil and mix it with their product to enhance the taste and aroma. Hence a frequent comment you’ll hear in Greece goes like this: “Even if you have never bought a Greek brand, it is possible that you too have benefited from the exceptional nutritive value of Greek olive oil.”

Olive oil in Greek religion
Ancient Greeks considered the olive tree sacred and revered it,
but the early Christian era recognised it too; olive oil is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments and the most sacred ritual of the Greek Orthodox Church, baptism, cannot be performed without olive oil; the infant is rubbed with olive oil from head to toe and dipped thrice in water. The non-baptised are referred to as “aladoti” or the “unoiled, unanointed”.

Quite often the Greek use the generic word oil to denote olive oil. “To oil your intestines” simply means to eat something nourishing. Interestingly, the Greek even consider olive oil as an aphrodisiac. An old folk saying goes thus: “Eat oil and come tonight, eat butter and sleep tight”!

Olive tree in poetry

“Wash him in the stream of the river,
Anoint him with immortal oil,
Put on him the divine tunic… ”
— Homer, Iliad

“I have carved the beloved name
In the shade of the grandmother olive tree.
In the roar of the lifelong sea.”
— Odysseus Elytis, Sun the First

“I hadn’t imagined grief and death would be life that;
I left and went back to sea.
That night, on the deck of the St. Nicholas,
I dreamt of a very old olive tree weeping.”
— George Seferis, Adolescent.

Trumpet master plays tonight December 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Music Life Live Gigs.
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Trumpet master moves between worlds of classical and jazz music

Rex Richardson plays the Guru Bar Jazz Upstairs tonight.

Born in 1969 in a town near San Francisco, trumpet player Rex Richardson, who studied anthropology and music, ranks as one of the USA’s most active crossover instrumentalists. Richardson doubles as a jazz and classical musician and he is often a soloist for symphony orchestras.

He is now preparing to release his fourth album, a live recording from the Guru Bar in downtown Athens last year, which is expected in March next year. This gifted musician has returned to the same Greek venue (10 Plateia Theatrou, Athens), where he played a show last night and will do a second this evening.

Auction raises £425,000 December 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Cyprus.
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An auction featuring the work of Cypriot and Greek artists this week fetched £425,000.

Organised by Cypria Auctions, a partnership between Athenian auctioneer Petros Vergos and Gallery K in London and Nicosia, it was, “a huge success,” according to its Chairman.

“There was a fantastic attendance by collectors and art lovers,” George Kyriacou said. “It is a sign that we have been welcomed.”

Cypria Auctions, announced back in September, is the island’s first major auction house specialising in fine art work.

“Obviously, auctions have taken place on the island before, but this was the first that can be compared to an international auction,” Kyriacou explained. “Previous auctions have been organised and held by art dealers who were selling their own work, meaning the possibility of manipulation of the process could not be ruled out.”

All work from Cypriot and Greek artists from the 19th and 20th centuries came from private individual collectors and from estates.

“We also had a couple of lots from foreign artists which depicted scenes from the island,” the Chairman said. “One was an 18th century work depicting Venetian and Ottoman fleets in Larnaca Marina which fetched £31,050, while the second was a view of the Larnaca Salt Lake by a well-know 19th century Belgian artist which went for £11,500.”

In total, 104 lots were offered, with 83 finding buyers. Two fetched a high of £34,500. “These were a 19th century portrait of a clergyman by Andreas Kriezis and a small oil painting by Pol Georgiou.”

Kyriacou attributed the lack of 100 per cent sales to, “the inexperience of Greek art lovers not conditioned to auctions or to auctions of this calibre.”

The biggest surprise revolved around an interior painting by Cypriot artist Solomos Frangoulides. It was valued between five and seven thousand pounds but went for £16,000.

Buyers were institutions and private individuals. “The money raised was more or less what we anticipated.”

The next auction is scheduled to be held on May 23 next year, with work accepted up to March 31.

Cyprus, a novel inspiration December 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life.
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Woodham, UK author Peter Cullis spends his free time in a converted garage with his computer, his Irish setter, Seamus and a coffee machine. And that is all Peter needs to let his imagination run wild as he sits and writes.

He is now celebrating the publication of Instruments of War, a novel that depicts Cyprus at the time of the English revolt.

Retired industrial chemist, Peter, said: “The book is set in 1947 and two young boys, Savvas, a Greek Cypriot and Chris, a British boy, become friends. Eventually Chris returns to England to Sandhurst to join the army and Savvas joins the EOKA movement, led by General George Grivas.” The boys later cross paths during the Cypriot and English revolt and the book follows their lives in the army and the troubles they encounter.

Peter said: “I started researching the book in 1999 and it was really about three years of research. I travelled to Cyprus a lot and had a lot of help from the Cypriot government. I finished the book about 18 months ago but it is very difficult to get a publisher.” Peter said that he did approach some larger publishing houses but then some smaller companies before his book was accepted by Exposure Publishing, part of Meadow Books.

Peter’s inspiration for his book began when he was visiting Cyprus in 1988 for a wedding. In the small village of Mammari, Peter saw a statue of a village hero who had fought in the war of independence. Peter said: “I was just a child when all this was happening but I do have vague memories of General George Grivas. At school my essays went into the form magazine and I always had a very fertile imagination.

“When I was about 40 I was living in County Kildare in Dublin  and I went to the local radio station where the author Maeve Binchy was giving a writing workshop. She came up to me in the break and said I should write a novel but I said that I did not think I had the stamina to write one. She asked me when the last time was that I had written a novel and I said never, so I thought I would try.”

Peter certainly likes a challenge. When he was 60 he moved to Leeds University for a year to complete a Masters in Creative Writing and lived in the halls of residence with the other students. He said: “It worked out well, I helped them with their essays and they dragged me out drinking.”

Writing a book cannot be easy but Peter has trained himself to work strict hours, either in his converted garage or while on holiday in Florida. He said: “About 90% of the work is done before you start writing because of the research.”

Peter said that even though the book was “a lot of hard work”, he enjoyed writing it.
Instruments of War is not the first book that Peter has written, but is the first he has had published. He has written two other books and is currently working on his next book, The Room of Mirrors, which he expects to finish in the summer.

The book was launched in the USA in October in Lakeland in Florida and was positively reviewed by Books-A-Million, the third largest book retailer in the USA.

Instruments of War had its UK launch in West Byfleet’s Sidewalk Café in Station Approach earlier this month. The book can be ordered from Amazon or at leading bookshops.

Architect’s work in art December 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece, Books Life Greek.
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Digitally processed images of pictures collected from the press and media are a large portion of Lazaridis’s work

Since the late 1960s, architecture Professor Pantelis Lazaridis has built a huge archive of photographs and documents that have appeared in the press and the media and are related to urban life and a city’s landscape. As an architect, his interest lies in the built environment. As a visual artist, which he is also known as, he has used the images he has collected in powerful, strange collages that capture the frenzy of contemporary urban life and reflect his interest in the political.

His work as a visual artist is the focus of “Pantelis Lazaridis: Negotiating the Ephemeral” a recent, large publication edited by Yiorgos Tzirtzilakis and released by Futura and the Benaki Museum. The powerful, unusual images he has produced help balance the book’s specialized, theoretical content. The artist’s recent series of digitally processed images of urban scenes make up one of the sections. They are semi-abstracted images that compress fleeting and fragmentary views of city life in a combination of high-tech fluorescent colors together with black and white.

Both his translations in Greek of important architectural essays and his work in establishing the University of Thessaly, he was professor at the Universities of Lausanne and Geneva and the Thessaloniki Aristotle University, have enriched the study of architecture in Greece.

New architects, new ideas December 15, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Greece.
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Vassilis Kassandras and Leonidas Bonis, winners of the original architectural competition for the construction of the Army Pension Fund building, both studied at Paris’s Ecole des Beaux Arts. Born at the turn of the 20th century, both wanted to do something to change what was then an aging world, a crumbling world that staggered until World War I and seemed to those coming of age at the time to be devoid of meaning and purpose.

Bonis and Kassandras not only won first prize but were able to see their building rise from its foundations to completion. In fact they went on to become fashionable architects with a wide clientele.

During the 1930s they build the Rex Theater on Panepistimiou Street, also a symbol of a cosmopolitan urban world, at least to the Athenians of its day.

One of the most interesting findings in Kolonas’s research was the discovery in Paris of similar buildings dating from between the two World Wars. Kassandras and Bonis integrated the relationships, roots and aesthetics of this old European world into the building that was erected in that huge empty lot between Stadiou and Panepistimiou streets in Athens. It was just one chapter in the history of a city that is constantly changing, often in unexpected ways.