I remember March on the island last year as being full or wildflowers, soft warm breezes, and lots of time spent outdoors. We even went swimming in the sea around the end of March. This time… not so much. Today we’re waiting for snow. I’ve never seen snow in Southern Greece except way up in the mountains, in the 12 years I’ve been in and out of this country. When I lived in Northern Greece (near Thessaloniki), we had snow a few times, even snow that would stick. Traveling through the very highest mountains in the Peloponnese, I have seen snow. Here on the island, it hasn’t even gone below freezing yet this year (although it sure feels like it when the humidity is very high and the cold north wind blows). However, it is currently snowing in Athens, and we have been hearing that snow is expected here as well.
Yesterday was Clean Monday – the day when Greek Orthodox Christians traditionally start their Lenten fast, which lasts for forty days until Easter, much like in the Catholic church, except the calendar is different. Clean Monday is traditionally a day for kite-flying, because it usually falls somewhere in mid to late March, when there is usually a lot of wind but also a lot of sun. Aside from the kite flying, there is the eating: despite the fact that it’s the first day of fasting, there is still a long list of foods (not particularly light, for that matter) which are usually consumed. I did my best to recreate this for my husband, who, while not a Greek Orthodox Christian, grew up with these traditions and wants to keep them alive.
The Clean Monday feast is called Koulouma, affectionately, and is primarily based on a type of bread called lagana. Lagana looks very much like focaccia, in that it is flat, squooshy-looking, and has lots of little holes. I thought about making lagana but decided to buy it at the local bakery, since it occurred to me that maybe they make it in some special local fashion that would be nice to try. It tasted exactly like normal bakery bread, while costing twice as much. Oh well.
We also had taramosalata, which is a dip made of running soaked bread, codfish eggs, and oil through a food processor. Pink food coloring is added in most commercial versions to make it more appealing to 1950s housewives.
We had fasolada, a very basic Greek bean soup made of navy beans, carrots, wild celery, potatoes, and tomatoes. This is one of my husband’s favorite foods, for some reason; it tastes fine but kills my stomach (I fell asleep at 6:00am, to give you an idea) and we eat beans at least 6 times per week. We even changed the cooking water. Oy.
We had olives, both Kalamata (his favorite) and Thassos (my favorite), and olive paste.
We had tsikoudia (well, he did – I think it tastes like rubbing alcohol) which is a Cretan drink much like raki.
We had halva, a sesame seed dessert popular during Lent because its extreme calorie content keeps you going when you’re fasting, I suppose.
End result: NOW I want to fast. NOW I don’t want to eat for forty days.
Oh…… I get it now!