Tag Archives: international food

Celebrate at the home of Carnival: Naxos and the Small Cyclades

Makes perfect sense why Naxos is home to Mardi Gras. Dionysus was its first Rex!

 

Naxos Carnival 2019

Venice, Rio de Jeneiro and New Orleans may capture headlines, but no destination other than Naxos and the Small Cyclades can claim Dionysus, the patron of Carnival, as their native son, as well as his father, Zeus.

The Carnival of Naxos 2019 (2 – 13 March) blends timeless Greek festive elements from ancient Dionysian spring rites through to the evolution of modern Mardi Gras. Tracing roots back to rituals of sowing winter crops and praying for the coming of spring through to the Christian celebration of Easter’s promise of rebirth, the Carnival of Naxos 2019 captures all – and their web site details all!

The Koudounatoi 

the Koudounatoi

The classic Koudounatoi  – based on ancient rituals during Dionysian celebrations – is a hallmark of the Naxos festival.  The Koudounatoi dance and rituals are performed by men dressed in traditional white costume bedecked with colorful ribbons and a belt of cowbells. Their dancing movement makes the bells create a very loud sound in order to clear away bad spirits that may bring plague and famine.

Temple to Demeter

The Temple to Demeter overlooks the productive agricultural land of Naxos Island. Agriculture had made Naxos wealthy and in the 6th century BCE the island erected this first all marble temple in the Greek world to Demeter, goddess of grain. Dionysus was the protector of Naxos and maintained one of his divine residences on the island.

Carnival Naxos 2019

In more traditional form the men are covered with a brown coat wearing a belt with hanging bells. Holding large sticks that symbolize the Dionysian phallus, the Koudounatoi challenge each other and anyone who interacts with them and the divine right to ensure a bountiful harvest.

 

 

 

 

Wedding of the century

On Friday March 8 at the Temple of Apollo’s Portara this fertility theme is dramatically recreated with a retelling of the arrival of Theseus and Ariadne, which through a series of complications worthy of Greek story telling (including pirates!) ends with her marriage to Dionysus, elevation as a goddess and blessings upon Naxos. Ritual weddings are a common theme during Carnival.

Portara of Temple of Apollo

Parades night and day

The island villages are studded with individual folkloric events during Carnival, the preparation and presentation of traditional foods, the beloved Torchlight Parade and the culminating Grand Carnival Parade on the Chora waterfront.

Torchlight Parade

The Greeks elevated revelry to divine status. Christianity added its themes to the pre-Spring/Lenten season, and Naxos’ several century occupation by Venice all embossed their personality on the Carnival of Naxos 2019. Travel to the heart of the Cyclades and experience three millenniums of Carnival.

The Grand Carnival Parade

When you go:

Naxos and the Small Cyclades are regularly served by air and ferry through Athens. Being the largest of the Cyclades islands, Naxos offers a wide range of accommodations.

 

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Carnival 2019

Puerto Vallarta lives on its streets

From food festivals and music on the Malecon to affordable week long book fairs, just walking Puerto Vallarta offers too many distractions from work.

aguachile festival

A recent email from a friend living in a popular south Florida destination praised its beauty but bemoaned a culture not interested in much more than lying around a pool or beach. Although that is fine for some, for others there’s vibrancy on Puerto Vallarta streets and beaches rare in North America. Whether it’s the riot of colorful craft stalls on the Isla de Cuale, neighborhood street festivals, processions, parades or oyster vendors on the beach, there’s no lack of stimulation.

Rio Cuale, Puerto Vallarta

Of course that’s all beyond the major events that attract locals, expats and visitors from vacationing Mexican families to gay singles. Food, naturally, is a major focus either as a side component or on the center stage. Northwestern Mexico with its Pacific waters teeming with sea life is a veritable food market.

It’s appropriate that Puerto Vallarta and a nice selection of its many restaurants annually honor aguachile with its own festival – a native dish that can define Mexican food in the northwest. Aguachile (chili water in Spanish) is a “cousin” to ceviche. Like most regional dishes, recipes do not believe in boundaries.

3 different aguachiles

Whereas both dishes include seafood and lime juice, aguachile infuses the lime juice with hot chilies. Both dishes also have variations from the most common, shrimp, to octopus, scallops, salmon or any combination of shell, seafood and fish. The single imperative is that these raw ingredients are as fresh as possible – sushi grade is not too extravagant.

Additional ingredients are both traditional and optional. Ceviche has a bit more onion and less chili. Both include cilantro, frequently other vegetables and even a combination of juices.  Aguachile always includes generous slices of cucumber for the soothing qualities that vegetable provides given the spicier nature of the dish – after all, it is called chili water.

If you happen to own a molcajete for preparation, it doubles as a beautiful bowl with its black basalt contrasting with the colors of the ingredients. A number of internet sites have recipes for aguachile. Hispanic Kitchen has a good basic shrimp aguachile recipe. America’s foremost chef on southwestern Hispanic cuisine, Rick Bayless, provides ideas outside the box.

The annual January Aguachile Festival was held in Parque Lazaro Cardenas, currently undergoing a transformation with stunning mosaics.

Annual Book Fair in Plaza de Armas

On the same day, the annual Book Fair, a week long event, was taking place on Puerto Vallarta’s main Plaza de Armas. Dozens of book stalls sell new and used books in a variety of languages for all age levels. The prices are below reasonable.

Food for the stomach and the mind, stimulation for the eyes and the ears with enviable weather and fronting the Bahia de Banderas: no wonder Puerto Vallarta greets all with “Welcome to Paradise.”

Aguachile Festival n Parque Lazaro Cardenas

 

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La Fortuna: reverting to tradition in Puerto Vallarta

“A business we can do together; something we can grow together.” Alan Mundy

Drying the coffee “cherries” (ripe beans) at La Fortuna

Just imagine light, creamy, hand crafted peanut brittle and rich aromas of organically grown Mexican coffee. Alan Mundy and Ausel Diaz Arguello did, and in the process La Fortuna Organic Coffee and PVs Finest Peanut Brittle blended their lives. Yet when Alan and Ausel met just a few years ago they were both in flux.

The date “1985” on the package of PVs Finest Peanut Brittle means more than the start of a business. It wasn’t actually the start of a business. It was Alan’s stress therapy.

PVs Finest Peanut Brittle

In Louisiana Alan was in the real estate and electronics businesses. Yet in an urge to do something creative, he started making his grandmother’s peanut brittle in 1985 as gifts for friends. That soon turned into a marketing tool – gifts to clients at the holidays.

For thirty years Alan made upwards of 2,000 pounds of peanut brittle annually as gifts. Yet his life altered several years ago when his mother’s health started to decline. For a variety of reasons, relocating to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, was desirable for both Alan and his mother.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Ausel was fresh from culinary studies at Puerto Vallarta’s Casserole Instituto Gastronomico. He was also from Chiapas, the southwestern most state in Mexico, known for its lush tropical beauty, abundant agriculture and poverty.

Ausel’s grandfather had developed a 20 acre coffee farm nearly a century before. Despite the fact that it grew to 120 acres, like many small farmers, his grandfather and father sold the beans wholesale to coffee dealers. Profits were meager.

La Fortuna, Chipas, Mexico

A regional outbreak of Coffee Leaf Rust five years ago led to a downturn in both coffee production and prices, which resulted in the loss of the family farm. Prospects for Ausel’s family were dire. Then Allan and Ausel met in Puerto Vallarta and a plan that would benefit all developed.

With Ausel’s knowledge of Chiapas, family ties and traditional organic farming methods used for centuries, Alan’s entrepreneurial logic saw a way to revitalize the family by reverting to tradition. In the process they created La Fortuna Organic Coffee by elevating common Arabica beans to premium status.

Securing title to 200 acres for the family simply started the process. The densely planted acreage thrived in the mineral rich tropical mountains of Chiapas. The chaff from the roasted coffee beans was the only enrichment added back to the soil.

Fresh harvested Arabica coffee cherries (ripe beans)

Planting, maintaining and harvesting coffee have always been hands-on tasks due to necessity. During harvest season in 2017 (November to March) demand for workers exceeded the local supply. La Fortuna employed four workers from Guatemala.

Alan and Ausel created a business plan for La Fortuna that relied on personal attention to every detail by those involved. Traditional hands-on techniques from sorting, roasting, packing and marketing have been essential to ensure premium quality. “It’s a labor of love,” quipped Alan, and he was correct, but not just in the common understanding of that phrase applied to business.

Coffee beans are food, and the cooking method has a major influence on flavor. Using a clay oven, the beans are hand roasted in small batches in a heavy iron bowl topping the wood fire of Indigenous pine and robles. The beans are stirred with a wooden spoon.

Roasting coffee beans over a wood fire at La Fortuna

Subtle chocolate and spice undertones were enhanced by the gentle roasting process while hints of smoke from the pine and robles wood complimented rich, earthy notes in the beans. The coffee was smooth, medium bodied and light on acidity.

Hand packaging of the beans minimizes breakage that releases essential oils, which trap flavors. The packaged beans are shipped to Puerto Vallarta where Ausel and Alan take over marketing. Yet that’s not the end of the Chiapas connection – there are peanuts.

Peanut brittle was a Southern United States invention from the late 19th century. The South was awash with peanuts and sugar so their combination was to be expected. The recipe Alan grew up on was from his grandmother, who like many gleaned knowledge from regional variations.

(right) Alan Mundy

Alan had the idea that once in Puerto Vallarta the peanut brittle recipe he had used the past thirty years could be turned into an enterprise that involved his mother. Unfortunately, her health soon made that an unrealistic expectation. Then culinary trained Ausel entered Alan’s life along with peanuts from Chiapas.

What makes the superlative “finest” believable was not just the taste but also the texture. Having grown up on Northern versions where the caramelized sugar was truly brittle – like breaking glass – PVs Finest was creamy. The tan brittle crumbled in the mouth becoming a smooth caramel counterpoint to the deep flavors of roasted peanuts.

Sponge peanut brittle was one variation in Louisiana that existed for well over a century. Alan and Ausel have taken note that Canadians liken it to English sponge toffee. Considering Puerto Vallarta’s popularity among Canadian tourist, that’s a good marketing connection.

Sorting fresh coffee beans (right) with Alan Mundy

Organic peanuts and small batch production are the hallmarks of PVs Finest Peanut Brittle. The peanuts are sourced from farms owned by Ausel’s extended family, which provide over 3,000 kilos (6,600 pounds) of roasted peanuts per season. No changes have been made to the recipe of Alan’s grandmother.

Enhancing the basic recipe though was always considered. Alan and Ausel are developing a recipe with the addition of coconut. Coating PVs Finest with chocolate would pair a Southern tradition with the birthplace of chocolate.

Made by Ausel in their climate-controlled kitchen, the week’s production sells out quickly. PVs Finest Peanut Brittle winter production coincides with the seasonal schedule of Puerto Vallarta farmer and craft markets. During the winter season Alan and Ausel work five major markets selling La Fortuna Organic Coffee and PVs Finest Peanut Brittle.

Riveria Market in Nuevo Vallarta (Tuesday)

Forever Spring Market in Bucerias, Puerto Vallarta (Wednesday)

Marina (Public Market) Puerto Vallarta (Thursday)

Marsol Market by the Pier (Los Muertos Pier –Friday)

Three Hens and a Rooster, Puerto Vallarta (Saturday)

Before meeting, Alan and Ausel had separate desires to make a difference in the lives of loved ones. Together they succeeded – a proud mother and a revitalized family – based on centuries of tradition. What they could not have foreseen was how candy and coffee would grow their own love.

(2nd from left) Ausel Diaz Arguello

 

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Autumn in the Pindus Mountains, Greece

Epirus is a rugged, heavily forested and mountainous region largely made up of the Pindus Mountains. Considered the “spine of Greece,” the Pindus Mountains separate Epirus from Macedonia and Thessaly to the east.

traditional crafts in Metsovo

Even though the clothing, architecture and food may have a Balkan feel, today generally older men and women gather on benches around Metsovo’s church of Agia Paraskevi to observe life on the Central Square and speak the ancient Aromanian dialect.

the park in Metsovo Central Square
Metsovone smoked cheese, Katogi Averoff Red, fresh figs

Livestock grazing on the green Pindus mountain slopes and crafts are still a part of life in Metsovo. To that foundation, tourism has had a significant impact over the past half century. Winter skiing, summer hiking, vineyards, unique foods, charming hotels and restaurants with a view add to the allure of this northwestern Greek enclave.

 

 

 

You can read more about the Pindus Mountains,  Metsovo and a recipe at the Hellenic News of America ….

Metsovo shimmers with Greek Autumn colors

 

Averofeios Garden, Metsovo, Greece

 

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Being a foodie on Naxos Island, Greece

Naxos is the most fertile island of the Cyclades. It has a large aquifer under the island in a region where water is usually inadequate. Mount Zeus at 1,004 meters (3,294 feet) tends to trap the clouds increasing rainfall. Agriculture is an important economic sector making Naxos the most self-sufficient island in the Cyclades.

Naxos Sweet Home candy

This abundance is obvious in Naxos restaurants, artisan food shops and food markets. Besides produce Naxos is famous throughout Greece for its cheese, meats, fish and seafood. Simply walking along the wide, beautiful, long, crescent, pedestrian friendly waterfront of Chora (Naxos Town) is a gastronomic delight. Some of the best cafes and tavernas in Naxos are sandwiched between shops offering Naxos crafts and food products – it’s the center of nighttime social life in town.

Chora waterfront, Naxos and the Small Cyclades

 

Read more on the Hellenic News of America …

The harvest of Naxos and the Small Cyclades

 

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Greek style at Marathia Restaurant, Tinos Island

Marathia Restaurant on Tinos Island aptly proves the superlatives you have heard on the creativity of Greek cuisine and the uncompromising beauty of Cyclades Island beach locations.

Partokali Beach Bar at Marathia Restaurant

Considering how many restaurants in Greece I have reviewed, Marathia is one of the more traditional yet modern you can visit.  Chef/owner Marinos Souranis opened Marathia Restaurant in 2002 in the renovated nine-room boutique hotel his parents constructed on Tinos Island 40 years before. He and his staff use ageless techniques crafting a menu firmly based on local products and traditional recipes.

antique plow as decoration at Marathia Restaurant

Yet the hook for the curious diner is in the knowledge that subtle personal touches (cinnamon added to homemade petroma cheese) and the imaginative presentations (marinated sardines served in sardine cans) set Marathia apart. That is a high compliment considering the exemplary level of Tinos gastronomy.

Both restaurant and hotel are open year round. The nine one and two bedroom apartments with kitchens are integrated within a design that’s traditional Greek village villa with 21st century amenities. The hotel includes the airy taverna style indoor dining room with many attractive antiques, tools especially, serving as sculptures against the white stucco walls.

Marathi Restaurant and Apartments

Across the street is the seasonal dining pavilion, Partokali Beach Bar, which itself languidly spreads down stunning Aghios Fokas Beach – the longest sand beach on the island. Besides the dining area, Marathia provides shaded lounge chairs for total enjoyment of this Blue Flag beach. All of this is within a ten minute drive from the center of Chora.

Cheese & Tomato pastry

Brunch at Marathia in general follows hotel patterns in so far as a buffet includes a variety of their cheeses, marinated fish, local sausages, yogurt, fruits and savory dishes. What from a distance could be mistaken for pastry layered with cream topped with strawberries was a baked savory pastry layered with cheese, herbs and topped with cherry tomatoes.

Chef Marinos wanted me to sample Marathia’s specialties from the a la carte menu. They are all meze, small plates that together with bread, salad and cheese frequently define a Greek meal. All were traditional centuries old preparations of local ingredients when preservation drove recipes. The dishes using riki, sardines, grazos and fish row are all uncooked salt cured.

Riki being salted for Lakerta

Lakerta appears throughout the Aegean and Adriatic coasts. It uses riki, cousin to bonito fish. The fish is soaked in two separate salt-water solutions each for 24 hours. This cleans the fish. It’s then cut into steaks, salted and weighted down for 3 to 4 days turning daily. The lakerta may then be thinly sliced and eaten or stored in olive oil.

Lakerta at Marathi Restaurant

The lakerta is tender with mild saltiness as if fresh from the sea. Serve thinly sliced drizzled with olive oil and lemon.

grazros in oil

Deboned grazros (cousin to sardines) sit in salt water for 90 minutes and in apple cider vinegar for 5 to 7 minutes. After the vinegar soak they’re placed in jars and covered with sunflower oil – important because sunflower oil imparts no flavor unlike olive and most other oils. The grazros can keep for three months.

Botargo – or avgotaraho – is a delicacy of cephalus or gray mullet fish row. The whole row sack is cured in sea salt for a few weeks, sundried and then encased in beeswax for preservation as it has been for over a thousand years. Traditionally served thinly sliced with some lemon juice and/or zest and white pepper either solo or with crusty bread and butter – the beeswax is removed before eating.

Botargo at Marathia: (top) sliced with beeswax still on, (bottom) whole gray mullet fish roe encased in beeswax – botargo

The botargo has a lightly chewy texture due to the process; yet its unique flavor is intense. Although like wine, flavors can very depending on the life-style and age of the cephalus, I detected hints of mango and sea urchin tongue. Allow the botargo to linger in your mouth to maximize the subtly sweet umami experience.

In preparing smoked white grouper the fish is covered in a mixture of sea salt, white pepper and sugar for 16 days before being smoked for two days. The moist, delicate silky fish is served thinly sliced with a garnish of pickled grapes as counterpoint.

Smoked white grouper

Marinated vegetables, including artichokes, are steamed in water with some vinegar, lemon juice and a little olive oil until just tender. Then they are drained and marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and herbs. The textural contrast of the piquant vegetables pairs well with rich cheeses and delicate fish.

All cheeses, except one, are made in-house from unpasteurized milk and are so labeled on the menu due to health restrictions for certain conditions such as pregnancy. The exception is graviera, which is locally made with pasteurized milk. It’s the second most popular and versatile Greek cheese after feta and similar to gruyère. A firm but creamy cheese with generally mild on the sweeter side taste notes, it’s often sliced and added to cheese trays, grated over pasta and fried as saganaki.

I was surprised to see dozens of kariki aging. Only one person on the island makes it commercially, chef Aggeliki Vidou, but in small batches that cannot satisfy demand. Marinos makes his own kariki – the very rare (in the 21st century) “pumpkin cheese” of Tinos.

sealed kariki gourds & aged kariki cheese

The name comes from the small gourd, a karika. Traditionally it was used to collect milk. Now metal milk containers are called kariki. It starts with petia a simple base cheese, that’s packed in the karika – the actual gourd. The gourd is sealed with a flour/water paste and aged for 2 to 3 months. The interaction with the gourd imparts both color and deep flavors with hints of caramel, mild gorganzola and dried figs.

His malathouni, also from the base petia (cone), is made with goat’s milk. On average malathouni is aged for about one month. At Marathia it’s aged six months intensifying the natural tang of the goat’s milk yet maintaining a creamy texture.

(clockwise) graviera wedge. petroma, dried figs, malathouni (& in middle) katmari

Petroma’s base cheese is freshly strained petia. The round of cheese is then weighted until most of the additional whey drains. At Marathia they add a bit of sea salt and cinnamon to the petia before straining.

The wood burning oven near the entrance to the hotel is for bread baking. Olive wood only is used for its high and uniform burning temperature. Breads are made from whole-wheat flour and the yeast from a starter dough. The breads have a touch of sourdough texture and aroma that compliments rich butter and cheeses.

Tinos Island’s own T-Oinos Winery  2013 Clos Stegasta Assyrtiko accompanied the main courses. It has a classic nose of dry summer grasses and vanilla. The tongue picked up fresh citrus zest, which lingered. The throat sensed a pleasant finish of dry grapefruit zest. Assyrtiko ought to be a Greek national treasure.

T–Oinos Winery’s 2013 Clos Stegasta Assyrtiko & Winery 10+12 Potamisi

With the cheese course, local Domaine de Kalathas’ Winery 10+12 late harvest 100% Tinos Island potamisi grape produces a fresh semi-dry white wine. It’s not aged and has subtle tones of honey and white currents with floral notes. Despite being semi-dry in the mouth it has a surprising dry smooth finish.

Tinos Island is a gastronomic destination of great physical beauty. Yet you could eat a convenience store hotdog on a Greek island beach and remember the beauty of the experience. At Marathia let’s just say the experience is raised far above sea level.

(far left) Chef/owner Marinos Souranis & Chef Stefanos (top right) “3 chefs” – Stefanos, d’Entremont & Marinos

When you go:

Marathia Restaurant and Apartments, Aghios Fokas, is just a short drive east of the center of Chora. Tinos Island is easily reached by ferries from the nearby Athens ports of Piraeus and Rafina.

Disclosure: The author was a guest of Marathia Restaurant and the Municipality of Tinos Island. Transportation was provided by Dellatolas Rent a Car and accommodations by Hotel Meltemi. Arrangements were facilitated by the MTCgroup.

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Greek magic at Chateau Nico Lazaridi


Inspired by the allegorical 1924 Thomas Mann novel The Magic Mountain, Frederico Lazaridis takes seriously the primal interplay of mythic forces and human reality. Wine was essential to the Greek psyche and had its own god, Dionysus. In everyday life Eastern Macedonia and Thrace was its motherland.

Mount Pangeon from the theater at Philippi, nearby Chateau Lazaridi

More to the point, Chateau Nico Lazaridi sits opposite Eastern Macedonia and Thrace’s own magic mountain – Mount Pangeon. Its magic was both mythic – a favorite party mountain for Dionysus – and tangible. Its vast gold deposits funded the empires of Philip II and Alexander the Great, paid for the construction of the nearby legendary city of Philippi and, sitting on the Via Egnatia, was at the crossroads between Eastern and Western cultures for centuries.

Chateau Lazaridi

During the Roman Empire era (100s BC – 500s AD) retired legionaries were often settled in the region producing high quality agricultural products shipped as far as Rome. The Via Egnatia spanned the length of today’s northern Greece from Thessaloniki to the Dardanelles. It was the “super highway” for the distribution of goods between the Mediterranean and Asia.

Frederico takes all of this personal. Nico Lazadidis, Frederico’s father,  is from the region – the  historic city of Drama. His mother was from Florence, Italy, which added a cultural influence already common in the lands along the Via Egnatia. Nico’s profession was also ancient – stone and marble purveyor. Their roots are, literally, in the building blocks of civilizations.

Nico learned to make wine during his years in Italy. In 1974 the family and business returned to Drama but continued perfecting their wine making techniques as a “garage art.” In the early 1980s Nico explored commercial possibilities and in 1987 established Chateau Nico Lazaridi.

ultra modern facilities but the labels are still placed by hand

They were one of the only wineries at the time in the Drama region of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace. It’s ironic that for seven millenniums, Thrace has been the mother terroir of wine grapes. Yet wine production virtually ended in the 15th century under Ottoman Islamic rule coupled with the phenomenal profits earned from “King Tobacco” followed then by the devastation of 20th century wars.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes

Of course it was precisely the devastation and upheavals of 20th century wars that ended the preeminence of tobacco as an economic engine. Macedonia and Eastern Macedonia and Thrace are once again regaining the wine reputations they held since ancient days. Eleven wineries dot the Drama area while seven labels are in the nearby Kavala region.

The Kingdom of Thasos, which the region was a part in the 1st millennium BC,  established the first quality control system for grapes, wine and olive oil. Today the Drama area is within the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) Agora.

Lazaridi wines

Chateau Nico Lazaridi is between three mountains, which funnel steady winds ventilating the grape vines helping to prevent mold. The vineyards lay on an ancient riverbed, which provides soil rich in minerals. The region’s flat riverbed land was made arable only as a result of 1930s drainage and land reclamation projects. The famous Battle of Philippi (1st century BC) fought nearby was on wetlands.

Chateau Lazaridi proves that bigger can be better. Its 1.1 million bottle production consists of over a dozen wines and tsipouro, the classic distillation from wine must. One hundred sixty acres in the Drama area (PGI –Agora) contain the main vineyards. Thirty-seven acres are contracted from area growers.

Their Mackedon Winery in Kavala is 25 acres and a new small  ten acre winery will soon open on Mykonos Island.

Neither bio-dynamic nor organic farming methods are used in the vineyards because Frederico feels they’re best in an enclosed growing environment such as the islands where it’s easiest to maintain proper conditions.

wine cellar, Chateau Lazaridi

The new wine cellar, for me, is the centerpiece. It has exposed earthen walls that maintain climate and temperature with 85% humidity. French and American oak barrels fill the vast room, but acacia wood is now being used especially for the whites. Acacia imparts a floral note. An impressive curved ceiling mural  looking upward at the sky through a grape arbor graces the length of the cellar.

Chateau Nico Lazaridi is a multidimensional company of several divisions today. A demo kitchen, which will feature area guest chefs, will offer cooking and wine classes. It will be the forerunner of a future restaurant on site.

A lab is on site to maintain quality control. They research developments in vinification in the quest for the next generation of Greek wine.

The Magic Mountain Art Gallery

The Magic Mountain Art Gallery is the family’s great pride. It is both the private collection of the Lazaridi family and, in many cases, the designs for wine labels. Twenty-five years ago Nico established an artist partnership to contemporize Greek wine marketing. The Magic Mountain Art Gallery works with and patronizes contemporary Greek and European artists who express interpretations of the primal link between this drink of the gods and its role in Greek life.

lunch at Chateau Lazaridi

Lunch with Frederico offered hearty northern Greek dishes and two of Chateau Lazaridi’s most popular wines both from the PGI-Agora. Cavalieri Lazaridi White (Assyrtiko 70%, Sauvignon Blanc 15%, Ugni Blanc 15%) has the dry yellow fruit notes with hints of honey emblematic of assyrtiko. It spends six months in acacia barrels adding floral accents.

F- EY, a dry red of the PGI-Agora (Merlot 85%, Grenache Rouge 15%).

Greek fashion designer Andria Thomais designed both labels for F- EY, a dry red of the PGI-Agora (Merlot 85%, Grenache Rouge 15%). The original paintings in the Magic Mountain collection are of two contented men and women. Ey (εὖ in Greek) is a descriptor for all that’s good and creative in a person’s life. It’s an apted descriptor for Chateau Nico Lazaridi and one that Dionysus sitting on his magic mountain would bestow.

 

The god would probably want his portrait on a label.

Mount Pangeon
Mount Pangeon from the vineyards of Chateau Nico Lazaridi, Drama, Greece

Disclaimer: The author was a guest of Chateau Nico Lazaridi and the Municipality of Drama.  All opinions are the author’s. Arrangements were facilitated by Pass Partout Tourism Marketing, DMC, Thessaloniki

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Villa life in Halkidiki with Ermia Resorts

It was difficult to get lost especially armed with the well-written and informative guide “Halkidiki Inside Your Dreams” by the Halkidiki Tourism Organization.

Aelia Beach BAr & Restaurant at Nefeli Villas & Suites

Yet even if one did take a wrong turn on the modern well-maintained roads that hug the coastline of the Halkidiki peninsulas of Greece you would be apt to discover a small Orthodox church on the side of the road, a centuries old Byzantine tower, an archeological site from antiquity in a field, another secluded beach and everywhere the sweeping vistas of farmland and blue water.

Capitan Taverna, Loutra, Kassandra, Halkidiki, Greece

At the photogenic seaside village of Loutra, close by Nefeli Villas & Suites, lunch at Capitan Taverna combined excellent traditional Greek cuisine with a classic atmosphere. Costas Vamvakas has maintained both its popularity and quality since 1977. An old grape arbor heavy with fruit covered the flower bedecked dining porch. Olive trees anchored the corners and a fountain burbled softly.

Just a few miles from Loutra was the Spa at Agia Paraskevi. Known for its hot sulfur springs, southern Kassandra has long been sought by people suffering bone and muscle disorders. With a commanding view of the sea, the modern spa facilities include pools, saunas, steam baths and hydro massage.

Nefeli Villas & Suites

Positioned on the west coast of Kassandra, Nefeli Villas & Suites offers spacious one to four bedroom villas in a village setting. Halkidiki’s three peninsulas – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos – have long been sun-kissed family oriented summer playgrounds. Easy access to dozens of public beaches, classic white washed villages climbing hillsides and the incomparable clear water of the Aegean attract tens of thousands of visitors annually.

Ermia Hotels and Resorts, a family owned real estate and hospitality company headquartered in Thessaloniki, develops resorts and manages villa rentals. Its portfolio includes the Premier Luxury Mountain Resort in Bansko, Bulgaria, Amaryllis Paros Beach Hotel on Paros Island and Sani Woods on Kassandra in Halkidiki. In Halkidiki as well they manage the Nefeli Villas & Suites, the Bellevue Villas and the unique Hastia Villa.

local Greek foods

Giorgos Tsalikis and the staff of Nefeli Villas & Suites run a double operation. The units in this Ermia built complex are privately owned with the option to offer the unit for seasonal rental. It’s a resort and condo. The reception office maintains a compact shop with a nice selection of local Greek foods from cheese and wine to thyme honey and mastic liquor – especially convenient as gifts.

Nefeli Villas & Suites , Kassandra, Halkidiki, Macedonia, Greece

The four-bedroom, two-floor townhouse I enjoyed during my stay was more than spacious for the normal maximum of eight people. Premium furnishings and kitchen appliances, Wi-Fi, outdoor barbecue, washing machine, pool and beach towels are all provided. Breakfast is available at Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant.

The compact beach and tree shaded grass lawn provides comfortable lounge chairs with service from the Aelia bar and restaurant and protected swimming in the clear Aegean.

As a chef I’m impressed when a fine dining restaurant accents the food with simplicity. Greek yogurt topped with a few almonds in a simple and attractive dedicated glass container with a serene Aegean sea view provided by nature defines chic at Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant.

Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant.

While a wedding reception was in the final stages of preparation, I was served an imaginative dinner starting with a salty white taramas mousse attractively arranged on crispy phyllo crackers. Meaty pleurotus mushrooms were marinated in vinaigrette of aged Kalamata vinegar and fresh herbs. Grilled on wood charcoal, the large mushrooms would please a vegetarian as a meat substitute.

preparations for a wedding receptio on the beachfront lawn, Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant at Nefeli Villas & Suites

Tender, savory lamb chops were bathed in a classic rosemary wine sauce. A rich but light chocolate soufflé rounded dinner. Thank you Maria Ntai for the warm Greek hospitality at Aelia Beach Bar & Restaurant.

At Sani Woods Anna Xafoudi, manages eleven architecturally stunning suites, apartments and a large villa. Set within a carefully landscaped yet natural arboretum the two buildings sit on a hillside that gently slopes down to the pool. Bicycles and a continental breakfast are included.

Sani Woods, Kassandra, Halkidiki Greece

A mini “supermart” is a five-minute drive at the entrance to the large Sani Resort complex, which has popular restaurants and a marina. Fokaies village is 6 km away and has larger stores. Yet If quiet is what you crave, Sani Woods is your refuge.

Bellevue Villas, Kassandra, Halkidiki, Greece

Closer to the popular summer resort town of Pefkoahori the Bellevue Villas sit on a promontory with a panoramic view of the Aegean and Sithonia peninsula. The large, sleek ultra modern multi level villas each have their own private pool.

Hestia Villa, Kassandra, Halkidiki, Greece

Nearby Hestia Villa is a large, unique late 20th century stand alone beach house. It has a 20th century mid-century modern look but it is of more recent construction. A long green front lawn spreads down to Hestia’s own entrance onto the beach.

Pefkoahori, Kassandra, Halkidiki, Greece

For vacation nightlife, the fishing town of Pefkoahori has become Kassandra’s most popular tourist destination. On the east coast of the peninsula it’s a mere 20-minute drive from Nefeli Villas & Suites and Sani Woods – closer Bellevue and Hastia villas. During the summer season this family oriented resort town is a marriage of sun, sea and Coney Island.

A lengthy beachfront pedestrian walkway becomes a carnival of street food and vendors selling everything one expects from sunglasses to helium balloons. A small amusement park will delight children. Shopaholics will be pleased with the number and diversity of stores. Bar and restaurant hoppers will be sated with dozens of attractive beach venues and music opportunities.

secluded beach, Capitan Taverna, spa at Agia Paraskevi

Ermia Hotels and Resorts villas offer the ideal luxury accommodations for an extended beach vacation. From enviable locations, premium furnishings, fine cuisine and unique architecture Ermia is simply offering Greek hospitality. As a bonus explore Kassandra, a storied finger of fabled Halkidiki.

When you go:

In general the summer season runs from May through mid-October. Pefkoahori is an easy and picturesque 50-mile drive on modern highways from Thessaloniki Airport “Makedonia.” The gateway city of Thessaloniki is served by direct flights from a number of European cities. Numerous flights from Athens are available and affordable for the short 35-minute journey.

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Ermia Hotels and Resorts and Nefeli Villas & Suites. Special thanks to Kiki Petridou (Ermia Resorts) for the villa tours. Arrangements were facilitated by Pass Partout Tourism Marketing, DMC, Thessaloniki.

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Lipsi Island: tranquility in the Dodecanese

From artisan cheeses and wood oven baked breads, handmade ecclesiastical beeswax candles, weaving on a century old loom, bathing at another secluded beach to leisurely sipping tsipouro while enjoying meze on the waterfront, Lispi is for seekers of tradition and tranquility.

Kairis Traditional Wood Oven Bakery

Lipsi is an island lover’s dream and a journey back to tradition.

please read my July article for the Hellenic News of America

Defining tradition on Lipsi Island, Greece   

 

Vendita cheese

 

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At the French House Party the pigeon has priority

Sure Moira Martingale, the doyenne of the French House Party,  wants her guests to relax. Yes the conversation among the international gathering of participants is often scintillating. Yet when you’ve just prepped your pigeon and are reaching for the brandy to marinate, neither hand is on a notebook or adjusting the voice recorder – the pigeon rules.

Domaine St. Raymond

As a travel journalist I like capturing the thoughts of others to illuminate articles. Yet as a chef, the pigeon held my full attention.

French House Party culinary workshops are not cooking demonstrations. They are hands-on learning experiences working alongside award winning chefs. The multi-course lunches and dinners guests enjoy are the dishes they are preparing.

Domaine St. Raymond

Moira Martingale, British novelist, transformed her eight-bedroom en suite villa, Domaine St. Raymond, outside the UNESCO World Heritage City of Carcassonne into the French House Party over a decade ago. Small group workshops (approximately 10 guests) are offered in singing/songwriting, creative writing and the culinary arts. The experience is all-inclusive with the workshop fee covering room, meals, wine, snacks, excursions and the villa’s facilities that make this a five star party (pool, tennis, bike riding…ask Moira.)

pigeon breasts, legs, wings

The pigeon is still in my hand. There are seven procedures in creating Chef Robert Abraham’s Young Lauragais pigeon with sweet clover, confit of shallots, carrots and honey. It was worth every time-consuming step and even better when paired with a Domaine Le Fort Malepere.

Young Lauragais pigeon with sweet clover, confit of shallots and grilled foie gras

Yet despite popular assumptions, French cuisine is rarely as complex as the pigeon. French recipes do not all ooze with butter and cream. They’re light, fresh with an emphasis on taste, texture and presentation.

Whereas it may not be easy to find pigeon in the local market, smoked haddock is in many fish markets or, as a last resort, in the refrigerated packaged fish section of larger supermarkets. If time does not allow for making the fresh buns, a good quality bakery will have a selection of soft buns – do not use a hard roll.

Chef Robert Abraham’s Smoked Haddock Burger with lime cream

Smoked Haddock Burger with lime cream

A light, savory alternative on a warm summer day.

Ingredients for 6 servings:

Buns:

  • 400 gr (14 ounces) bread flour
  • 1 egg
  • 20 gr (4 teaspoons) sugar
  • 7 gr (1 teaspoon) salt
  • 25 cl (8 ounces) warm milk (43°C/110°F)
  • 12 gr. (1¾ package) active dry yeast
  • 40 gr (3 tablespoons) soft unsalted butter
  • golden or black sesame seeds
buns

Preperation:

  1. Warm the milk, remove from heat and add the yeast.
  2. In a mixing bowl slowly blend the flour, sugar, egg and salt. (Either use a mixer with a dough hook or stir by hand)
  3. Add the milk/yeast mixture and the soft butter slightly increasing mixer’s speed (or stir harder).
  4. Knead the dough in the mixer for approximately 5 minutes, or remove to a lightly floured board and knead by hand. Either method the dough should be smooth and springs back when lightly indented by a finger.
  5. Cover the bowl with a slightly damp cloth and allow it to rise for 50 to 60 minutes.
  6. Weigh out balls of dough: 50gr/2 ounces for small rolls, 90gr/3 ounces for large.
  7. Place on a baking sheet and cover with a cloth. Allow to rise 60 minutes. Brush lightly with an egg wash (1 egg white/1 teaspoon water beaten) and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  8. Place a pan of hot water on the bottom rack of a preheated oven and the baking sheet on the middle rack. Bake at 180°C/350°F for 10 – 15 minutes until golden brown.

Shallot Confit

  • 4 shallots
  • 10 cl (3 ounces) white wine
  • 5 cl (1½ ounces) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Preparation:

  1. Peal and chop the shallots.
  2. Place in a saucepan with all the ingredients.
  3. Cook on low heat stirring occasionally until nearly all liquid is evaporated.

Lime Cream

  • Zest from 2 limes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 25 cl (8 ounces) heavy whipping cream

Preparation:

  1. Heat the cream with the lime zest and salt until cream just begins to steam.
  2. Turn off heat and infuse for 30 minutes. Chill in refrigerator 30 to 60 minutes.
  3. If you are familiar with a siphon, add the strained cream and follow directions. If not familiar with a siphon, whip the chilled cream with a beater until soft peaks form just before serving the burgers.

Haddock

slicing smoked haddock
  • 400 – 450 gr (14 – 16 ounces) smoked haddock fillet
  • 25 cl (8 ounces) milk
  • handful of mixed fresh herbs – dill, parsley, basil, lemon thyme
haddock poaching in herb milk

Preparation:

  1. Using a fish fillet knife – and I’d recommend gloves if not used to slicing potentially slippery fish – thinly slice wide haddock no larger than a couple inches in size.
  2. Heat the milk with the herbs until steaming. Add the haddock, reduce heat and gently poach for 10 minutes. Drain.

To serve:

  1. Cut the rolls in half, lightly brush with extra virgin olive oil, return to baking sheet and heat for 5 minutes.
  2. Place a roll on a plate and spread with a little lime cream, a dap of shallot confit, some haddock slices, more lime cream and then top with the bun.
  3. You may garnish with baby greens, drizzle of oil, sprinkle of sea salt and a dab of lime cream.
smoked sliced haddock wrapped for future use

There are several steps, but the buns can be made earlier in the day or store bought. The confit and the lime cream could be made a day in advance, just do not whip the cream until ready to assemble the burgers. The haddock can also be prepared a day in advance, arranged on plastic wrap in single layers and refrigerated.

At the French House Party creativity not time is of the essence. With two 3-hour workshops sandwiching a delicious lunch, the pool is inviting at the end of the day. A relaxing multi course dinner that you worked on will top the evening  with scintillating conversation, laughter and remind you that, yes, you are a guest at a French House Party.

Pyrenees Mountain view from the French House Party

When you go:

The 2018 schedule of the French House Party runs from May 5 through October 1.

The French House Party, Domaine St. Raymond, is less than 50 miles (77 km) southeast from the Toulouse-Blagnac Airport and the rail station Gare de Toulouse-Matabiau. The Gare de Carcassonne is 16 miles (27 km) west. Transportation is provided for guests arriving by air or train from either Toulouse or Carcassonne to Domaine St. Raymond.

Contact:

Moira Martingale, French House Party, Domaine St. Raymond, 11150 Pexiora, Languedoc, France.
Tel: +33 4 68 94 98 16
Email: enquiries@frenchhouseparty.co.uk

The French House Party: http://www.frenchhouseparty.eu/

Location: http://www.frenchhouseparty.eu/about-us/location/

Course dates: http://www.frenchhouseparty.eu/how-to-book/course-dates/

Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the French House Party for three separate workshops – Song Writing with Dean Friedman and two Gourmet Explorer courses.

Recent French House Party articles by Marc d’Entremont

Being Creative at the French House Party

French cuisine demystified at the French House Party

A French House Party for the intellectually curious

 

Moira Martingale, Ph.D., châtelaine de Domaine St. Raymond et French House Party

 

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