Monday, August 15, 2016

MELEKOUNI - Greek Candy Recipe


Sweet, crunchy MELEKOUNI is a wonderful Greek candy, popular on the island of Rhodes. (See Rhodes blog post below.) It is often served at Greek weddings, as a symbol of a sweet life with lots of kids. All you need is two ingredients – how easy is that?

MELEKOUNI

1 1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 cup thick honey

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the seeds into a shallow roasting pan, spreading them flat. Roast for approximately 5 minutes, stirring a couple of times. Boil the honey in a sauce pan over moderate heat. When it foams, remove it from the heat and add the roasted seeds. Cook for two or three minutes, stirring constantly. Place parchment paper on a large cookie sheet and pour the sesame/honey mixture onto it, patting down with a damp spatula to make the surface flat and even. Wet the edge of a sharp knife and cut into bars or diamond shapes, leaving them in place until cool. At this point, you can add a blanched almond to the middle of each bar (optional). Remove bars (you may have to cut through the knife marks again), peel off parchment, and store in a cool, dry place. These make a nice gift, too, especially if you wrap them in colored cellophane.

Monday, August 8, 2016

RHODES: LAND OF CASTLES, KNIGHTS & BEACHES




If you want the breathtaking beauty of a Greek Island combined with a medieval fantasy, Rhodes is the place. The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes, also known as the Kastello, was built by the Knights of St. John during the crusades (about 600 years ago). You can walk through the streets of this magnificent example of Gothic architecture, and dine and shop in the surrounding area.

This gorgeous island is said to be the birthplace of Helios, the sun god. Back in 305 BC the people of Rhodes built a giant bronze statue of Helios at the entrance of the harbor. Known as the Colossus of Rhodes, it stood 88 feet tall, but was eventually destroyed by an earthquake. 

So...what to do on Rhodes? Shop and dine around the castle - you'll find beautiful jewelry with the ancient Greek sun (the Sun of Vergina), as well as high quality leather goods. Take a tour of a ceraminc workshop if you can - Rhodes is famous for it's ceramics artisans. Buy some olive oil, too. Each island claims to produce the best!
 
When you're hungry or thirsty, try the wines, for which the island is famous, or the chick pea fritters called pittaroudia. Parrotfish is another island specialty. And when you're in the mood for something sweet, pick up some melekouni, a sesame-honey brittle.

Of course, like many of the Greek islands, Rhodes has golden sand beaches that will wrap you in sunshine, warmth, and the azure waters of the Aegean Sea. So go, if you can, for an amazing journey that will overflow your senses and leave you with beautiful memories.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Italian Amaretti Cookies

These simple and incredibly delicious cookies only contain three ingredients. If you love almonds, you're sure to be a fan of these macaroon-type cookies. They appear plain and dry, but are packed with flavor and chewiness. After you look at the recipe, check out the post on Agrigento, Sicily below!  

 

AMARETTI COOKIES

8 oz almond paste (can or tube)
1 cup superfine sugar (you can buy it or make your own by placing sugar in a food processor or Bullet for 25 seconds)
2 large egg whites

Preheat oven to 357 degrees and line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Place almond paste and sugar in bowl. Work it together with your fingertips, then mix with mixer until it resembles crumbles. Add egg whites in three batches and mix about 4 minutes until batter is very smooth.

Use pastry bag or tablespoon (I prefer spoon) to make 1 1/2" mounds on cookie sheet. At this point you can lightly sprinkle colored sugar, sliced or slivered almonds, or sprinkles.


If using colored sugar, go light because the cookies are already sweet. Bake for 14 minutes, or until cookies have risen and are a deep golden color with tiny cracks. Place cookie sheet on baking rack to cool for a few minutes, then very carefully remove from parchment. This part takes some care, as these cookies are fragile. Go slowly and use a metal spatula, if you have one. If the parchment sticks to the cookies, gently wipe the bottom of the parchment with a damp paper towel. Makes about 18-20 cookies, depending on size.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

VALLEY OF TEMPLES, SICILY


  If you want to feel like you are truly far, far away, without leaving our galaxy, go to the Valley of Temples in Agrigento, Sicily. Talk about a step back in time! We’re talkin’ 2,500 years back. Most of the Greek temples in Sicily were destroyed as the island was conquered again and again, but somehow these seven temples escaped demolition. The combination of natural and man-made beauty, with the sheer enormity of the ruins surrounded by hills and valleys as far as you can see, well…. it’s almost too much to take in. But take it in anyway, because the experience will never leave you.

Standing amidst the giant remnants of Greek temples, built to honor the mythical rulers of Mt. Olympus, will imprint surreal images in your memory that could never be duplicated in photos. From the Temple to Hera Lacinia (Juno) to the Temple of Concordia (one of the best preserved Doric temples in the world), you’ll walk a path that will take you past burial sites, picturesque flora and fauna, fascinating statues like the horrifically beautiful one at left (serpent children???), and of course, more temple ruins. I thought it a bit ironic that the Temple of Hercules had suffered the most damage over the years.

As you walk, you may ponder the question that plagued me throughout the journey: How on earth did ancient peoples, with none of our modern technology, build these massive structures? And moreover, build them so well, they are still standing after 2,500 years of attacks from humans and the environment? Well, that’s another of life’s great mysteries. I’m just grateful that they exist and I had the opportunity to see them. I hope you do, too!   

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Anna Maria Island

-->
Just returned from an amazing, soul satisfying, week in Anna Maria Island, just off the coast of Sarasota, FL, where I stayed at the lovely Via Roma Beach Resort. You can fly into either Tampa International or Sarasota-Bradenton, but the latter is definitely easier (smaller and less crowded), as well as a shorter drive to the island. 

Anna Maria is as beautiful as it’s name, with long, uncrowded beaches edging most of it’s 7-mile length, and sunsets on the western side that will take your breath away. It’s definitely got that no-hurry-no-worry ambiance that you’ll find in the Keys. If you love nature and the ocean, this is the place to be. Leave your make-up and dressy clothes behind, and just immerse yourself in the Gulf. Go fishing, diving, or beachcombing. Take a dolphin watching catamaran tour or try parasailing. Flop down on the beach with a book, or just close your eyes and listen to the gulls. If you’re into photography, you’ll find no shortage of subjects, especially seabirds.
Just a short drive away are great places to visit, like Mote Marine Lab and Aquarium, and Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Love seafood? Try the Gulf Drive Café for beachside dining, or the super casual Starfish restaurant, where you’ll get delicious, fresh seafood in a box.

Oh, Anna Maria, I miss you already!  






Wednesday, May 4, 2016

SANTORINI

-->

SANTORINI, GREECE
I love the geological drama of Santorini, which may sound nerdy, but imagine a volcano eruption so massive it sunk half an island! Breathtaking Santorini, often high on the lists of most beautiful places in the world, was oval-shaped before the big eruption around 3,000 years ago. Now it’s a crescent, with whitewashed villages perched atop sheered cliffs. Getting to the top means taking a slightly harrowing bus or taxi ride up the narrow, winding, roads. Once there, prepare to be awed at the mind-blowing splendor of the island, and views that will leave you speechless. It was enough to cause Brad and Angelina to buy a cliff top house overlooking the sea in lovely Oia, the village from which many of those dramatic blue and white photos are taken (like mine, at left.) Oia is a photographer’s dream, but then again, from my perspective it would be anyone’s dream. The view of the sea and outlying islands is surreal enough to make the most pragmatic mind imagine mermaids lounging on the rocks. Meanwhile, the whitewashed houses, built into the cliff sides, certainly made me guilty of coveting.
 
Things to do in Santorini: Eat. Seriously. Some foods here cannot be found anywhere else, as Santorini’s unique climate and volcanic soil produces distinctive fruits and vegetables. If you like baklava - the crispy, sweet, nutty pastry that is paradise on a plate – order a piece at an open-air café, look out over the Aegean, and experience bliss. Try some wine, if you’re so inclined, as Santorini proclaims it makes the best in Greece.

Activities: Make sure you experience the sunset, best seen from Oia, or better yet, take a sunset cruise. Adventurous? Try the five-hour catamaran cruise, which includes hiking the volcano, swimming in the hot springs, exploring the shops and beaches of Thirassia (small island near Santorini) and swim, snorkel and eat lunch or dinner on board. Or try a half hour helicopter cruise.

Another option: just hang out and relax amidst all the wonder that is Santorini.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


CAMBODIA
The hiatus is over – time to start blogging again on travel and international cuisine, with a dash of book talk and something new: HOPE! Sometimes the ugliness in our world seems hopeless, but when determined people come together in love to help their fellow humans, miracles happen. So let’s start with Cambodia: the good, the bad…and the HOPE.

First, the good. Breathtaking beaches, temple ruins, lush jungles, fascinating wildlife, and cuisine bursting with flavor. Located in the southern portion of the Indochina peninsula, Cambodia provides an unforgettable travel experience. Visit Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, the largest religious monument in the world. It’s a great place to see the sunrise, but get there by 5:30 a.m. and expect a crowd. Dating back to the 11th century, Angkor Wat is now considered one of the Wonders f the World. Another temple in the area is Angkor Thom, with its entrance bridge flanked by 54 stone warriors. While in Siem Reap, try a meal at the New Hope Restaurant. Run by the former chef of a five-star hotel, this place serves as a trade school for those rescued from human trafficking. Love the beach?  Check out Koh Rong on the Gulf of Thailand for endless stretches of white sand, palms trees and turquoise waters.  Snorkelers will see an abundance of colorful marine creatures. For an otherworldly experience, visit Long Set Beach, also on Koh Rong, where you can swim at night amidst the phosphorescent glow of plankton.

Faith+Frogs=HOPE
Stunningly beautiful, Cambodia is still dealing with the aftermath of infamous former dictator, Pol Pot, whose communist regime destroyed more than a quarter of the population. Abject poverty is prolific here, as is disease, starvation and human trafficking. Enter Kone Kmeng, an organization started by a pastor who knew the miracle his country needed had to start with the children. So, long story short, Kone Kmeng equips churches with resources to educate kids and launch small businesses through micro loans and training. One of the most popular home-based businesses is FROG FARMS!  Frogs are cheap and multiply quickly. Families can eat what they need and sell the rest, which provides money for basic needs and school. For kids, an education lowers the risk of being trafficked, and greatly increases the chance of a brighter future.