Flavours of Christmas II: Kourambiedes

kourambiedes2_1

Hello my dear friends!

It is almost evening time here in Nicosia and we are getting ready to start cooking our Christmas dinner. Since we are expats, with no nearby family, this is generally a very quiet moment for us, far from the running, shopping and cooking craze that December generally brings.  Family is always missed, but there is comfort and joy in knowing that we are together is our hearts.

One of the advantages that I see in this way of living, is that we get to choose the traditions we love and we want to incorporate into our own celebrations as a little family, and to change them and adopt new ones as it pleases us. So, when it came to choosing how to spend our Christmases, we opted for a quiet dinner at home on the eve, and a bigger, yet intimate, celebration on the actual day of the holiday. Our kids are still rather small, and they haven’t started school yet, so they don’t have many expectations about these dates…so they are doubly surprised and overjoyed when they discovered their presents and special treats on the 25th!

One of the treats that I make since we live in Cyprus are some special Greek cookies called Kourambiedes. They were the first sweet I had when I arrived in Nicosia and I loved them immediately.  They are eaten on Christmas day, and at other celebrations, such as weddings. They have cinnamon, almonds and rose water, and they melt in your mouth!

So, if you feel like baking something different these days, do try them! They are very easy, and fun for baking with kids!

 

Here is the recipe:

Ingredients: 

{for the filling}

30grs almonds

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon sugar

 

{for the dough}

1 egg

1 teaspoon brandy/cognac

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

100grs butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup sugar

1 cups all purpose flour

 

{for dusting}

rose water (1/4 cup, approximately)

icing sugar  (approximately 3 tablespoons)

Diciembre 201068

 

1)Preheat the oven at 150C/300F

2) Process the almonds, sugar and cinnamon until the almonds are coarsely ground (do not over do it, you don’t want them to turn into powder)

3) Beat slightly the egg, vanilla and brandy. Cream butter and sugar with a wooden spoon and add it to the egg mixture. Once they are integrated, start adding flour 1 tablespoon at a time, until you have a workable dough (see picture 2)

4) Shape a piece of dough into an oval. Make a hole in the middle, put 1/4 teaspoon of the almond and cinnamon mixture in it and close it, as shown in  picture 3

4)Place the cookies on a baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes or until barely golden (Keyword: barely! Do not let them brown!)

5) Put the rose water on a glass and get a brush ready. As soon as you remove the cookies from the oven, paint them with rose water. (The difference in temperature will allow the rose water to be absorbed by the cookies, so do not let them cool down).

6)Let the cookies rest for about 3 to 4 hours. After they are dry, dust  icing sugar over them and they are ready!

They taste delicious with a cup of tea and they last for a couple of weeks if you keep them in an airtight container.

kourambiedes

 

May you have a wonderful Christmas, full of love, peace and joy.

 

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Este post está dedicado a mi amiga invisible, y compañera de andanzas fotográficas, María. Feliz navidad!!!!!!

Flavours of Christmas: Melomakarona

Melomakarona

Good afternoon dear friends!

I apologize for my silence over the past few weeks. I had originally intended to write a few posts before but, as it turns out, coming back home after a 7 week trip with twin toddlers required to readjust them to the old routine, to Nicosia’s  weather and time zone (there is a 5 hours difference between Argentina and Cyprus)  and to our normal life, in general.  So these days we have been juggling regular work and study schedules with middle-of-the-night wake-up episodes, piles and piles of clothes for washing, folding, ironing and putting away, and  a sort of  “pre-spring”clean (always due after such long trips).

In spite of all these adjustments, it is wonderful to be back home, and coming back in the middle of the Holiday Season makes it extra special. We arrived to a beautifully-decorated Nicosia, with the streets full of lights and Christmas markets, and people singing carols in the streets of downtown. And this, for a Christmas Elf such as myself, is enough reason to be happy.

Melomakarona2

On Christmas’ eve it will actually be 4 years since I arrived to Cyprus (my husband had been here for 6 months already), so this time of the year is always one of memories of years past, a time to reflect on how much our life has changed since that day.  Back in 2007 there was just the two of us, and an almost-empty apartment with a bed, a sofa, an outdoor table with 4 chairs for the balcony, and a Christmas Tree that my husband had arranged for me, to make me feel at home. In the year that followed we furnished our house, we had twins, we  met new people, we adapted, and Cyprus started becoming our home.

Melomakarona8

Making a place one’s home involves incorporating new habits and letting go of some others. We change, sometimes imperceptibly, with every new country we live in and those mutations are only perceived when contrasted with people and places that we have met before. As Nelson Mandela said in “A long walk to Freedom”: There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered”.

One of the ways in which we have changed is in the food we eat, particularly during holidays and other celebrations. We approach new places also through their food and, in the process of adapting, we incorporate new flavours, we make them our own, and they travel with us wherever we go. This is the case with the cookies I will share with you today, which have come to  mean Christmas to me, as much as  Panettone or Turrones (which are some of Argentina’s traditional holiday sweets ).

Melomakarona are, in fact, the cookies of advent. Greek Cypriots fast during this period (they adopt a vegan diet, eliminating all animal products) and, during that fast, they snack on these cookies, which are highly caloric. Everything in their flavour speaks of this season:  they take cinnamon, clove, orange,  honey and walnuts, and they are dipped in syrup for extra sweetness. If you are looking for a different cookie to bake these days, I highly recommend these ones. They will fill your home with true holiday cheer!

Here is the recipe I use, as was given to me by my neighbour (and adapted by her  from the book “Cyprus cooking for friends“, by Sandra Lysandrou)

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

1 cup orange juice

3 cups vegetable oil (canola)

1/2 cup brandy

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon salt

8 1/2 cups self raising flour

5 teaspoons baking powder

{For the syrup}

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup honey

1 1/2 cup water

{For topping}

1 cup finely ground walnuts mixed with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon (I like to mix walnuts and almonds)

Preparation: 

a-Preheat the oven at 140 C/ 284F

b- In a large bowl, mix sugar, oil, juice, brandy, spices, 7 cups of flour, baking powder and salt. Work the dough, adding the extra flour as needed, until it becomes fluffy. The dough must be oily, not dry, so stop adding flour when it becomes just workable.

b- Form the melomakaronas by taking small pieces of dough and shaping them into ovals with your hands.  Note that this is a dough made with self-raising flour and a fair amount of baking powder as well, so the cookies will expand in the oven. It is consequently better to make them rather small, and to place them in an ungreased baking tray  separated from each other, to give them place for growth. Bake them until  the bottom is golden brown (approximately 30 minutes).

c- Allow the cookies to cool down completely and prepare the syrup by mixing sugar, water and honey and bringing them to the boil. Once the syrup boils, remove it from the heat and dip the cookies in it, soaking them for a few seconds.  Note that it is very important that the cookies are completely cool when you do this, otherwise they will not absorb the syrup! For the same reason, you will need to reheat the syrup if it cools down before you are finished dipping the cookies.

d- Place the cookies on a wire rack to drain the excess syrup and sprinkle the crushed nuts mixture over them.

I hope you will like them !

Melomakarona6-1

Our family trip Part I: Autumn in Belgrade

Autumn in downtown Belgrade

 

Good morning dear friends!

I’m sorry for the delay in posting this week: we arrived in Argentina last Tuesday after a grueling travel experience, and we have been enjoying some wonderful family time, greeting friends, walking around, re-discovering (for me) and discovering (for my husband and my children) my home of city, Cordoba. This week, I have been fully immersed in the preparation of my children’s belated birthday party, which will take place next Saturday. So it has been hard to keep the blog updated!

Today, however, I won’t talk to you about Cordoba, but about Belgrade, Serbia, which is the city where my husband’s family is, and where we spent one week before flying to Argentina. I had been to Belgrade many times in the past, but this was my first time in Autumn (my favourite season) and I must say that I found it particularly stunning. The trees of Belgrade’s many parks were gloriously red, orange and yellow, and the streets were covered in dead leaves, which crunched under our steps. The weather was fresh, but not yet completely cold, which allowed us to walk along its streets with ease, with our children comfortably sitting in their double stroller.

Knez Mihailjova
Autumn in BEG

 

Walking is actually one of the things I enjoy doing in Belgrade the most, because it is a very walkable and walked city. I love its parks and its cafes (they say the coffee house tradition was born in Belgrade, before Paris and Rome) and, of course, its poslasticarnica, or traditional pastry shops. Actually, one of the city’s oldest Poslasticarnica, dating from 1936, belongs to one of my husband’s brother in law, Max (whom you can see in the picture below, making the decorations for a traditional Serbian bread, traditionally served during the Family’s Saint’s day).

Traditional pastry shops are generally small, with just a few tables, where you can sit and enjoy a cup of strong Serbian/Turkish Coffee with delicious pastries which denote Serbia’s mixed past: traditional European cakes and oriental delicacies such as baklava. Regarding baklava, for example, you can have it in three different ways: Turkish Baklava (with home-made phyllo pastry), Greek Baklava, and Baklava with Plazma (a Serbian variation, characterized by the inclusion in the filling of a the crumbs of Plazma cookies)

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Another favourite spot in the city is Kalemegdan, the old fortress with its beautiful surrounding parks, that overlook the confluence of the rivers Savva and Danube.

Diptico para LVM

Kalemegdan is a great place to walk and, if you have children, you may want to know that the local zoo is located there too. It is also a very common spot for retired people, who play chess in the chess tables located there, a tradition that seems to exist since the times of Tito.

Chess players

The Danube, the Savva, and Belgrade from afar

The Danube from Kalemegdan

 

Overlooking the Danube on a cold autumn day

At the entrance to the Park (coming from downtown’s main shopping street, Knez Mihaijlova), one can find small shops selling handicraft goods such as copper pots for making coffee, lace works, knits in traditional patterns, militar memorabilia, etcetera.

Kalemegdan shops

Copper

The picture below is of a type of street shop that is very common in the city and that I haven’t seen elsewhere: a place where one can find shoe laces of all types and colors. These shops were one of the first things I noticed when I visited Belgrade for the first time-and the variety they offer is deeply missed by my husband when we are abroad!

laces, laces, everywhere
I hope you enjoyed this small tour of Belgrade! I will be back next week with pictures from Cordoba- and from Luka and Zoe’s birthday party!

Have a great week and weekend!

 

 

 

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