Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mont Saint Michel- Normandy, France

Ever since I bought a French cookbook, "France and its Cuisine," with a photo of the Gothic abbey of Mont Saint Michel accompanying a recipe for Chicken Liver Pate, I dreamed of visiting Mont Saint Michel.

Decades later, in 2012, Stelios and I planned an extensive trip to France. We were to fly to Paris and then drive North to Normandy, then South to the Loire Valley, the Perigord Noire, and finally to Cannes and Monte Carlo.

Mont Saint Michel is a French island commune, and the seat of an 8th century Gothic Abbey dedicated to Saint Michael. It is a fortified with ramparts, and one of it's main features is the tides that go in and out at great height. When the tide is out it is possible to walk to the island across the flats that surround it. When the tides are in, then one is either trapped on the island or is in danger of drowning.

Here is the road that visitors can walk to the island. No cars are allowed, so visitors must park on the road and walk to the island. It reminds me of Monemvasia in the Greek Peloponnese, except it's smaller and there are no tides.

La Mere Poulard is rumored to make the best omelettes, and I must confess that I remembered this visit because of David Lebovitz's recent post about the isle.
 Stelios and I, on the ramparts
 View of the flats at low tide
 Can you spot the horseback riders?

 Inside the Abbey
 Detail( I almost used this photograph in my book cover for my novel Archangel)
The Cloister

 The tide is coming!!!!

 Saint Michel, the Archangel
I have to share here that as a child I spent of a few years growing up in the shadow of the Church of Archangel Michael, in the now Turkish occupied city of Kerynia, in Cyprus. I played in the courtyard, worshiped in the churand after the Turkish invasion, it was one of the places where I found myself in my dreams. I was very moved when we came upon this depiction of Archangel Michael.

As we were leaving I looked back at the magnificent mount, wondering if I was ever going to be back again.

It was the trip of a lifetime and the trip to Mont Saint Michel was every bit as magical as I had imagined all those years staring at the photograph.



Friday, March 17, 2017

Greek Chick Pea Soup-Revithada

It's that time of the year when it's cold outside, we never seem to feel warm enough, even inside the house and look for meals that give us that bowl of comfort and warmth.
Soups are a great antidote for the winter chills and today I made us a delicious, nutritious chick pea soup, or as the Greeks call it, Revithada.

It is inspired by the lemony, Greek chick pea soup that is made of the Greek Island of Sifnos. I've tweaked it a little by adding more vegetables bu,t for the most part, this is a very authentic, Greek meal.

The soup is easy enough to make. It just takes a little planning ahead, so you can soak the beans the night before you want to cook them. Also, you need two hours of simmering time before you can put a bowl in front of anyone, so do plan ahead.

I might say that this soup gets better by the day. So, if you want to make it ahead a day or two, so much the better!

Chickpea Soup From Sifnos (Ρεβιθάδα Σιφνέικη)
(Serves 6)
One pound of dry chick peas
1/2 cup of olive oil

2 large onions, diced

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 carrot, finely diced
2 stalk of celery, finely diced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 lemon, sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
8 cups of chicken or vegetable stock or water
salt and pepper to taste
wedge of lemon and dried Greek oregano for garnish
  1. The night before, place your dried chickpeas in a pot with enough water to cover the chickpeas by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil and turn off. The next morning, strain and rinse your chickpeas and reserve.
  2. Into a large pot, add your olive oil over medium heat and throw in your onions, celery, carrots, bay leaf and paprika and simmer on medium low for about 15 minutes for the vegetables to soften.
  3. Now add your chickpeas, parsley, stock or water and slices of lemon bring to a boil and simmer medium-low heat with the lid slightly ajar for 2 hours or until thick and the chickpeas are fork-tender. By this time you should have a thick, chunky chick pea soup with some liquid still evident.
  4. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, serve in bowls. Add some chopped parsley, a drizzle of Greek extra virgin olive oil and serve with a wedge of lemon.



Saturday, January 7, 2017

Egyptian Wing-Metropolitan Museum of Art

No need to say, again, how much the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City means to me. It's such an oasis of culture where I've come to enrich myself since my college years.

 The Egyptian wing is one of the iconic permanent exhibits of the Museum.
The Ancient Egyptian preoccupation with death has always fascinated me. The mummies and the process of creating them is all laid out in the Museum's storied halls in the expansive Egyptian wing.
One of the most beautifully somber exhibits is the hall with the Fayum mummy face masks. The mummy masks are named after the Fayum Basin where most of them were found. The style dates to the Coptic period and belongs to the tradition of panel painting.
What always impresses me is how young the subjects of these paintings are, and knowing that they are dead, I wonder whether they were idealized in death or whether they indeed had died so young and beautiful.

The Greek lettering on the mummy attests to how important the Greek language and culture were in the entire region at the time. It was called the Ptolemaic period and was created after the death of Alexander the Great by Ptolemy I. The Ptolemaic Kingdom fell to the Romans after the death of Kleopatra VII in 30 BC.

The small masks and statue are made in the style of Faience, which is this distinct shade of blue colored ceramics. Amazingly vivid after so many centuries!

The big brown eyes are alive and seem to be looking directly at me. I did not see any artist signature but the unknown artists of Egypt's death culture were some of the most talented portrait painters I have seen.

This artful gold jewelry is also part of the display in that hall. I am awed at the mastery of those ancient artisans who created these masterpieces that survived time and could very easily be worn today, as their style is also eternal.

I guess eternal is the important concept here, because through this massive industry of death-art the people in these death portraits are forever enshrined in our minds.

It doesn't feel gloomy at all when I walk through those halls, it is more a celebration of the circle of life and death. I come here again and again and gaze into those brown eyes wondering who they were.