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Greek blues > Seattle is host to a rebetika revival January 25, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas.
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Forget the tango, flamenco, bottom-dollar blues. Rebetika is the true music of passion. Its melodies have been known to make grown men weep and throw dishes.

A genre of music known popularly as “Greek blues,” rebetika was honed in the 1920s by outcasts whose underground lifestyle, drugs, crime and broken hearts, was reflected in their songs. Rebetika, once reviled, is now revived at the hands of some local musicians who have brought back songs of a refugee subculture born in an urban underbelly.

It started making a comeback a few years ago. But in Seattle, it percolates through musicians such as Christos Govetas, his wife, Ruth Hunter, and their band, Pasatempo, which will play rebetika, it’s also spelled rebetiko and rembetika, classics at The Triple Door on Saturday night.

But they’re not the only ones playing rebetika locally. There’s Takis Dotis, who used to play with some of rebetika’s greats in his younger days. Now, every Saturday night, Takis and the Mad Greeks play at his Ballard restaurant, Taki’s Mad Greek. There’s also the band To Kefi, Thomas and Fani Koltsidas, along with Pasatempo’s Hank Bradley and Cathie Whitesides. They play often at Georgia’s Greek Deli.

“It is, after all, a subculture, so it is surprising to have so many of us so near,” Hunter said. That subculture still rings true decades later, as Pasatempo resurrects songs made popular in the 1940s and ’50s.

At a recent rehearsal, Govetas translated some of the music they played: “When the bong smokes, you should keep your mouth shut. If you don’t, the cops will bust through the door.” So it’s a little melodramatic. It has a reason to be.

Govetas, 45, grew up learning about rebetika. As he understood it and as scholars generally agree, an estimated 2 million people from Asia Minor were displaced by the 1919-1922 Greek-Turkish War, also known as the Turkish-Greek Conflict. Many of them poured into Athens, where work was hard to get. The mythology and the facts merge at this point in the narrative as rebetes, a subculture of those refugees, fell into the city’s underworld.

Govetas’ wife, Hunter, 47, sees rebetika’s parallel with American blues, “marginalized, rural people without resources, abusing whatever is handy and singing songs of heartache, death, drug addiction and, at times, politics.” Drugs show up frequently because hashish dens in Athens housed early jam sessions.

Her husband said a typical rebetika jam session used to look something like this: “Four dudes would sit around a bong and smoke hash. When you’re stoned, you just grab an instrument and start strumming. Then someone in a stupor will start dancing and murmuring lyrics.”

But the songs don’t glorify the life as much as point out its harsh realities, including the downward spiral of those addictions. Again, Govetas helped translate: “The first time I started smoking junk the world had given up on me and my soul can’t take it anymore.”

The lyrics get more political post-prohibition and rebetika songs that make it to the mainstream become sanitized. Govetas and Pasatempo aren’t going to pass a joint at their Triple Door performance, but it will be reminiscent of the informal jam sessions that gave rise to their band.

Married for 12 years, Govetas and Hunter realized early they had a mutual love of this genre. Already accomplished musicians when they met at a music and dance camp 16 years ago, the two merged their personal passions into forming bands that played Greek and Balkan music.

Hunter, who grew up in Hawaii, was drawn early in life to folk music. She began playing rebetika in 1985, while her husband picked it up in 1982 as a student in Boston. She played the bouzouki in Hawaii and adapted to rebetika’s unusual 9/8 rhythms and exotic scales.

Govetas immigrated to the States when he was 15 and attended high school in Massachusetts. While he was in college, he waited tables at a restaurant in Boston called the Aegean Fair and, while modern Greeks had adapted a version of new wave to their music, he still stuck to rebetika.

Rebetika drums up all kinds of passionate responses, said Hunter, who once witnessed a wake at a restaurant where friends of the deceased smashed plates and danced in the throes of the pathos the music evoked.

“This music unites every part of Greece,” Govetas said. “Greece is this huge cauldron from village to village with different instruments and styles of playing, dialects.”

And years later, in America, rebetika is the common link through generations and cultures, a bridge to the homeland. Pasatempo see their recordings as clean and updated versions of the crackling records that inspired them.

“We’ll have one of these parties and the young guys know it. It makes them feel their heritage,” Hunter said. “This is the music that pulls people together.”

CHRISTOS GOVETAS AND PASATEMPO
Christos Govetas and Pasatempo bring you back to the old-time clubs in Athens with an authentic and passionate presentation of Greek rebetika. Christos and his wife, Ruth Hunter, are joined by Dave Bartley (guitar), Steve Ramsey (baghlama), Hank Bradley (bouzouki) and Bill Lanphier (acoustic bass).
Sunday, 7 p.m., $15 advance / $18 day of The Triple Door, Mainstage 216 Union St.
For ticket information go to: www.tripledoor.com/tickets.aspx or call The Triple Door at 206-838-4333.

Big Fat Greek Fun > It’s Greek to Me! January 25, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.
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It’s Greek to Me!  Pre-occupied drivers heading north on University Avenue can look to their right just before reaching the loop and see the words “It’s Greek to Me!” blaring from one end of a small plaza. The phrase is not a slogan for confused physics students, but the name of one of Lubbock’s family-owned restaurants.

A few things caught my eye when I entered It’s Greek to Me! > bright colors, Greek murals on the walls and a poster for Cheryl the Belly Dancer.

When my friend and I ordered our meals, the manager taking our order joked with us, smiled with us and complained about the cold weather outside. The staff at the restaurant have a talent for making customers feel at home. I must confess that not far into my first visit to It’s Greek to Me, scenes from the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” began running through my mind.

It’s Greek to Me!’s menu contains almost as many American selections as it does Greek. Greek choices include appetizers of humus dip, dolmathes, salad options, sandwiches and three platter choices. For those unfamiliar with Greek food, some of the menu’s American tastes include: hamburgers, chili cheese dogs, turkey melts and cheese sticks served with ranch. If you are not being overly familiar with Greek food, you may decide to go with the item you best recognize: the gyro. While chicken was offered, I chose the traditional beef and lamb.

I sat down at a table and watched TV, waiting 15 to 20 minutes before one of the owners emerged from the back and served me my gyro and fries. Well, what can I say? The food was hot and fresh and tasted wonderful! While one might leave Spanky’s feeling he or she had just eaten a hamburger comparable to those served at a number of other restaurants, It’s Greek to Me!’s gyros are memorable. The gyro is described in the menu as: “Broiled sliced strips of gyro meat, stuffed in a fresh pita bread, topped with tomatoes, lettuce and sour cream-cucumber sauce.” The meat had great flavor and the homemade dressing made the difference between It’s Greek to Me’s gyros and other restaurant gyros.

It’s Greek to Me! gets my bonus points because not only is the food fresh and tasty, but the atmosphere is excellent. Workers are conversational and friendly, and the restaurant has a family-owned feel. If customers want a particularly memorable and entertaining experience, the restaurant even showcases a belly dancer every other Friday. In my opinion, the experience, the food and the people are all worth it. The restaurant is located at 7006 University Ave.

It’s Greek to Me! garners an extreme thumbs up.

Seoul’s Santorini offers finest Greek Cuisine January 25, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.
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santorinimenue.jpg  Left: Pork souvlaki, a popular Greek dish of small pieces of meat and vegetables on a skewer Top right: Greek salad mixed with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and feta cheese with fresh olives Bottom right: Tzatziki, left, a yogurt sauce or dip, and taramosalata, a caviar spread.

If you feel enough is enough in nearby restaurants to refresh your tastes, just turn your eyes to Greek dishes.

When it comes to Greece, visual images come first to mind with cobalt-blue skies and dazzling sunshine on the Mediterranean coastal areas, rather than its tastes which are still unfamiliar with many gourmets in Korea.

Santorini, a Greek restaurant located in Itaewon, Seoul, offers mild but special Greek dishes, also creating an exotic atmosphere inside its interior.

Many diners are increasingly enjoying Greek cuisine because they are a mixture of cuisines which share a common Mediterranean flavor. Almost every Greek dish is usually cooked with olive oil. Greek dishes are traditionally served warm rather than hot.

Take a seat beside the balcony-like sidewall with cobalt-blue colored window frames at the restaurant adorned with some Greek items and paintings. Order a Greek salad, a mix four-spread combo for an appetizer and a pork souvlaki for a main dish.

The Greek salad is mixed with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and feta cheese with fresh olives. The topping of olives and feta cheese are a wonderful combination without the strong flavors associated with some vegetables or sauce in other salads.

The mix combo consists of four colorful spreads; tzatziki, a Greek sauce or dip made of strainted yogurt flavored with garlic and onion, taramosalata, a Greek caviar spread with pale pink color, eggplant spread and skordalia, a Greek garlic potato sauce. Taste the spreads on fresh bread for tastes that range from sweet to fresh sour white sauce, which stimulated the appetites before digging into the main dish.

Souvlaki, is a popular Greek fast food consisting of small pieces of meat and sometimes vegetables served on a skewer. The dish that we recommend to order is two skewers of porks, along with various vegetables, a scoop of rice, tzatziki sauce and fried potatoes. The skewered meat and vegetables, which are similar with Korean street skewers, are baked and so are not greasy. If you don’t want to venture too far into new food, it is recommendable to order gyros and pita bread. The baked bread, stuffed with tzatziki, feta cheese, pork and salted potatoes tastes like a kebab sandwich. But tzatziki gives a fresh taste to roasted chopped meats, which are harmonized with onions, cucumbers and vegetables, along with a heap of fried potatoes on the plate.

Also, you can taste a variety of assorted Greek wines, which are rarely served in Korea. The restaurant serves Greek signature wines such as Cava Cambas, Naoussa Boutari and Mavrodaphne. White wines such as Santorini are also served.

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Baklava > yummy! January 25, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Recipes.
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Ingredients >
For the Sugar Syrup >
3 cups sugar
11/2 cups water
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cinnamon stick

For the Pastry and Filling >
4 cups fine-chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup sugar
40 frozen phyllo pastry sheets, thawed according to package directions
11/2 cups unsalted butter, clarified

Method >
To make syrup:
Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Once mixture boils and sugar is dissolved, do not stir or syrup may cloud or crystallize.

Reduce heat to medium low and cook, uncovered, until a candy thermometer registers 212 to 218 degrees. Remove from heat. Remove the cinnamon stick. Cool. (Use immediately or refrigerate in a plastic container with lid. May be refrigerated up to 1 month.)

To make pastry: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine walnuts, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves and sugar. Set aside.

Unroll phyllo sheets on a flat surface. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent drying out.

Layer 1 sheet in pan and brush with butter. Repeat until 12 sheets are stacked in pan. Spread 1 cup nut mixture over layered phyllo sheets. Top with 1 phyllo sheet and brush with butter. Repeat until 8 sheets are stacked and brushed with butter.

Spread with 1 cup nut mixture over phyllo. Layer and butter 8 more phyllo sheets. Spread with remaining nut mixture. Top with 12 remaining filo sheets, brushing each with butter. Brush top sheet with remaining butter or margarine.

Cutting all the way through pastry, cut into 1-inch diamond shapes without removing from pan. Bake 30 minutes.

Reduce heat to 200 degrees and bake 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven. Pour cooled syrup over warm pastry. Let stand several hours before serving. Makes about 60 pieces.

Tips >
We used Athens brand frozen phyllo dough that comes 2 (20-sheet) fresh pack rolls to a 16-ounce box. These are made to fit a 14-by-9-inch pan (they work fine with a 13-by-9-inch pan too) and are very easy to use. We let them defrost overnight in the refrigerator.

To clarify butter: Melt butter and pour into a glass measuring cup. Let settle. Remove the foam that floats to the top. Pour off clear yellow liquid (this is the clarified butter). Discard watery white liquid at bottom (these are milk solids).

Greek Marinade January 25, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Recipes.
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Use with chicken, beef, lamb or pork. Let the meat marinate overnight then grill.

Ingredients >
1 cup vegetable oil or olive oil
1/2 head garlic, cloves peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons dried Greek or Italian oregano
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 lemon

Method >
Combine oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Squeeze half lemon to add the juice and then add the lemon half itself. Makes about 1 cup.

Pastitsio with Bechamel January 25, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Recipes.
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Ingredients >
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds ground beef
2 teaspoons salt plus more for cooking macaroni and to taste
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper plus more to taste
1 onion, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon plus a dash nutmeg
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup water plus more for cooking macaroni
1 pound pastitsio No. 2 macaroni (Misko brand recommended)
2 cups grated romano cheese
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk (1 quart)
6 eggs, lightly beaten

Method >
In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the beef, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook meat until it begins to turn brown. Add onions, cinnamon stick and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. Cook until meat is browned well. Add tomatoes and 1/2 cup water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick.

Meanwhile, cook macaroni in salted, boiling water 10 minutes; do not overcook. (If using ziti, cook about 7 minutes.) Rinse and drain well. Toss with 2 tablespoons oil.

Arrange half the macaroni in an 11-by-15-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup grated cheese and cover with meat mixture, spreading evenly over entire surface. Cover with remaining pasta. If using the pastitsio macaroni, arrange it so all the strands line up lengthwise and carefully place them in the pan (this will make the dish look attractive when cut). Sprinkle with 3/4 cup grated cheese.

Melt 1/2 cup butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir until golden. Add milk gradually, stirring constantly, until smooth and slightly thickened. Slowly add the eggs, whisking constantly. Cook over very low heat, whisking, about 10 minutes until very thick. Add a dash nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Spread evenly over macaroni. Sprinkle with remaining grated cheese.

Bake in 350-degree oven 50 minutes until cream sauce is thick enough to form a top layer (this may cook over so you may want to place it on a baking sheet or strip of heavy-duty foil to protect your oven). Makes 20 servings.

Moussaka with Bechamel January 25, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Recipes.
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Ingredients >
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
2 pounds ground beef
2 teaspoons salt plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper plus more to taste
1 onion, chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg plus a dash
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup water
3 eggplants, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick lengthwise (3 pounds)
2 cups grated romano cheese
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk (1 quart)
6 eggs

Method >
In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the beef, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook meat until it begins to turn brown. Add onion, cinnamon stick and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. Cook until meat is browned well. Add tomatoes and 1/2 cup water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick.

In a skillet over medium heat, heat 1/4 cup oil. Cook the eggplant until tender; do not overcook. This will have to be done in batches adding more oil as needed. Place on paper towels to drain.

In a 11-by-15-inch baking dish, arrange half the eggplant slices in a layer. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup cheese and cover with the meat mixture spreading over entire surface. Cover with remaining eggplant slices and sprinkle with 3/4 cup cheese.

Melt 1/2 cup butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir until slightly brown. Add milk gradually, stirring constantly, until smooth and slightly thickened. Slowly add the eggs, whisking constantly. Cook over very low heat, whisking, about 10 minutes until very thickened. Add a dash nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Spread evenly over eggplant. Sprinkle with remaining grated cheese.

Bake in a 350-degree oven 50 minutes until cream sauce is thick enough to form a top layer (this may cook over so you may want to place it on a baking sheet or strip of heavy duty foil to protect your oven). Makes 20 servings.