Monday, February 27, 2012

My Big Fat Clean Monday

Today, we decided to have a bit of a staycation and celebrate the Greek Eastern Orthodox Christian holiday that marks the first day of Lent, Clean Monday or Kathari Deftera. While other Christian denominations started their Lent seasons this past [Ash] Wednesday, many Greeks were cleaning house, preparing picnics, and packing their kites for a Monday that celebrates the beginning of the Easter season and honors the coming of spring.

The reason we decided not to venture out wasn't because we just HAD to show you our cozy attic kitchen; but, rather, we wanted to try our hand at baking Lagana, a traditional Greek bread only served on Clean Monday.

There are some hard and fast rules to what observers may eat on Kathari Deftera. For starters, any animal that bleeds is out. Dairy is out (this, sadly, means butter). Fish is out, though shellfish is fine (and quite popular). As for the Lagana, it is traditionally supposed to be unleavened, but I wasn't able to find any recipe that didn't include a little yeast.

This is the recipe that I ended up cobbling together from all of the top contenders out there in the foodiverse:
  • 3 envelopes active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 7 cups bread flour
  • 2 1/3 cups warm water
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Sesame seeds for sprinkling
And these are the ingredients I added to my (separate) focaccia-style Lagana:
  • Sub out evoo, for 5 tbsp. butter
  • 25 Kalamata olives, pitted
  • 1 1/2 tsp. rosemary
  • 3/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. sea salt + 1 tsp. sea salt sprinkled on top

  1. First, I combined the flour and salt. Then, I made a well for the evoo.
  2. Once the yeast started bubbling up (from the sugar/water mixture) and looking strangely like a cappuccino, I mixed it into the flour mixture.
  3. Next, I kneaded the dough for 5-10 minutes, rolled it into a ball, rubbed it with evoo and set it aside for 2 hours, under a tea towel, to double.
Of course, all of this was executed with one glass of Greek wine tied behind my back!

After the dough doubled and we'd had our fill of wine, it became clear that further bread making antics would have to wait until the morning. This included rolling both doughs out, as thin as possible. A little bit of a squishy affair when working with the olive-filled focaccia.

Now, watch and be amazed as the master bread maker perfectly executes her Lagana:

Once the bread was finished, we needed to prep the table for our Clean Monday feast. This meant setting out our favorite Greek spreads, olives, grilled octopus, and stuffed grape leaves.

Ain't no party like an octopodi...
Not sure how to tell your taramosalata from your melitzanosalata? Not to worry, Ed has all the answers!

Finally came the magical moment when I got to sample the Lagana. It truly was a labor of love and really drove the idea of Lent and family effort home for me.

Happy Kathari Deftera, everybody! (May you have great breezes for kite flying!)

And, here's to the beginning of a lovely spring,


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:

Monday, February 13, 2012

Black Noodles for My Black, Black Heart

Ah, Valentine’s Day……love notes…eating half of every chocolate candy and putting the rest back in the sampler box…lovers walking hand-in-hand…birds singing because spring is just around the corner…it’s a nice scene, isn’t it?

Then, why does it suck so bad?!

Try as I might to be perky about the mandated day of love, all I seem to see is flowers that cost 40% less last week…the marginalizing of lonely individuals…poor children laboring in chocolate factories…my favorite restaurants decidedly jamming 20 more tables and chairs into an already tight space…really, really bad movies with way too many celebrity cameos…being told I’m great because a day decrees it to be so.
(I know I’m great, tell me tomorrow.)

And, I know I’m not alone. Many people can’t stand Valentine’s Day.

Antivalentinism is an established movement and, while I don’t necessarily want to label myself as quite THAT committed to my distaste for the most unoriginal day of the year, it’s a surprisingly sensible criticism.

Anti-Valentine cards exist and they’re AWESOME!

So, as you might have guessed, I looked at all other possible world holidays being celebrated this week. But, with North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and even parts of the Middle East all drinking cupid’s Kool-Aid, Independence Day in Gambia just didn’t quite make the cut. 

As a result, I set out to find a custom somewhere on the planet that could save Valentine’s Day for me. Out of all of the countries that celebrate V-Day, there just had to be a tradition that didn’t make me want to choke on a box of Be Mine hearts.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Black Day:  the most excellent, South Korean (by way of China), Valentine’s ritual.

Here’s the deal, in South Korea, on February 14, folks are still actively engaging in the age-old tradition of exchanging candy – only it’s women who give candy to men. One month later, on March 14 (White Day), men return the favor by giving women non-chocolate or white chocolate tokens of their affection. Then, one more bumpy ride of a month down the Tunnel of Love, we find ourselves at April 14 – Black Day!

Reserved for the lonely hearts, Black Day is when those who didn’t exchange gifts on V-Day or White Day take themselves out to a restaurant and eat Jjajangmyun, Korean noodles with black bean sauce. The black sauce is what gives the day its name and apparently gives singles the strength to move on in their loveless world!

Black Bean Sauce, made from a base of
fermented black bean paste, potatoes, and onions.

Homemade Korean Noodles.

Mix the two and thank me later.

A little digging revealed that the best black bean noodles in the New York metro area can be found at Mandarin restaurant, in Palisades Park, New Jersey. They make their own noodles in-house and serve Chinese food in the Korean style.

Palisades Park's Koreatown has the highest concentration
of Korean restaurants within a one-mile radius in the U.S.
The main red characters spell Mandarin in Korean.
The smaller, red characters say su ta gook su (hand made noodles).

That's right! Ed wins a gold star (covered in black bean sauce) for giving his order clearly and properly.

Show off.
Though, things started to look up really quickly when I tucked into my seafood soup!

I even (generously) let Ed suck the prawn head.


And, if there's one final, loving nugget that we would like to leave you with, it's this -- when dining out on Jjajangmyun, DO NOT sample the dessert gum.
You've been warned.
Well, I’m off to get my Antivalentinist card laminated.

Until next week,


Whilst doing research on this entry, I happened upon a couple of additional, particularly awesome items:
  • The first insulting Valentine’s cards surfaced in the 1850s and were known as Vinegar Valentines or Penny Dreadfuls. They were usually poorly printed and sent anonymously. The post office sometimes confiscated these cards as unfit to be mailed.
  • The abbreviation for Singles Awareness Day is SAD

The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following:

Friday, February 3, 2012

Soybeans, Demons, and a Giant Tube of Sushi

Hi World! Welcome to the holidays & holiDAYtrips video blog! (It’s lovely to make your acquaintance.)

Every day, on Twitter, I post a new world holiday; but, I also wanted to create a forum where I could post a weekly video.

The format is definitely new for me, as this is my first stab at blogging; but, I’m a quick study, so I think things will get slicker as we go! I’m also really open to feedback and any hints that you might want to share.

Today’s video holiDAYtrip is Setsubun, the Japanese festival that marks the beginning of spring.

For centuries, on the day before spring (according to the Japanese lunar calendar), the Japanese have performed certain rituals in order to chase away evil spirits and prepare for the new year. (One of my favorites, from the 1200s, involved burning dried sardine heads and using the smell to keep bad energy at bay.) Nowadays, the most popular custom associated with Setsubun is mamemaki, or bean throwing.

Of course, there are many variations on mamemaki throughout Japan; but, in a nutshell, families throw roasted soybeans out of their house via the front door (or at a willing volunteer in a devil mask) and shout: "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!" (Demons out, happiness in!) Afterward, everyone picks up and eats the number of beans, which corresponds to their age.

Roasted soybeans...reminded me of Corn Nuts
So, for our first order of Setsubun business, Ed (my husband) and I headed to the one place we knew wouldn’t disappoint us, Mitsuwa Marketplace. For those of you who aren’t crazy foodies, like us, Mitsuwa is the largest Japanese supermarket in the U.S. and has most Japanese specialty items a person could want.

For those of you that are foodies, it turns out that the best time to go to Mitsuwa is at 1:40pm on a Monday.

Once inside, while on the hunt for beans, we were promptly asked to stop filming. (Aww, fuku mame!) Though, we did find the small Setsubun section – where all the packets of soybeans had a little devil head on the outside. So, we picked up some of those as well as a devil mask and were on our way…

Ed, with Sapporo and Demon Mask (Our usual date tools)

Now, gaining popularity in some parts of Japan is another Setsubun tradition that we were most excited to try – eating a “Lucky Direction” roll, or Eho-Maki. It’s customary to eat this sushi in a very specific way. First of all, the roll must stay uncut (mmm…sushi tube!) and it must contain 7 ingredients (mmm…fat sushi tube!) and you must eat it in silence while facing the yearly lucky compass direction, determined by the zodiac symbol of that year.

As this year is the Year of the Dragon, the lucky direction is NNW.

Now, all of this would have been fine; however, Ed and I unknowingly stumbled into a sushi restaurant near us that didn’t have a single Japanese person working there! (Aww, makizushi!) So, we ended up schooling the sushi chefs on how to perfectly craft our Lucky Direction rolls – though, this also meant that we were able to build our own.

We decided on: yellowtail, mango (yellow is a lucky color), avocado, cucumber,
spicy red remoulade, tempura flake, and brown rice.

Setsubun was a truly great time. We laughed A LOT and were really excited that this was the first holiDAYtrip that we committed to video! Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!

And, it seems only fitting to leave you with the following…

Ready for the new year and all that comes with it,


The “Packing List”
(This section should grow fairly regularly, as we add to/upgrade our arsenal of equipment.)

This week, we were rocking the following: