Shopping in the Springtime

I took Violet up to IKEA to get her a little table set and myself a new ceramic frying pan. No dice on the pan–I had to settle for Teflon–plus about five additional things I didn’t know I absolutely needed. IKEA is the Target of Greece.

One of my friends and her 2-year-old daughter joined us for our little shopping spree. As we both perused the tiny tables in the kids section, our little rascals wandered around amongst the toys. Violet is going through that wonderful stage where she thinks it’s hilarious to run off, giggling like mad. She nearly made it to the café with a push cart before I caught her! Thankfully, some Greek grannies came to the rescue. They fawned over the little ones while we continued our comparison shopping.

The kids were getting restless in the checkout, so I loaded them in the cart and took them to get ice cream. Which seemed like such a good idea at the time.

20170322_133059490_iOS

We moms had to quickly sneak in licks to keep the mess under control. I’m astonished my latest acquisitions didn’t end up covered in soft serve.

In other news…Spring is here! The lovely weather enticed me to get out and about today, where I was met with these little buggers:

They’re fuzzy little caterpillars, and they are EVERYWHERE this time of year. They form creepy little lines across any available surface, and if they are careless enough to march across a busy sidewalk…CARNAGE! I shot this video in a hurry because two ladies with hobo carts laden with recent Laiki purchases were just about to run them over. We were informed by the embassy not to touch these guys because they often cause an allergic reaction. Liam has no desire to touch a bug, but I’ve got to keep a close eye on his curious counter-part.

20170323_090224152_iOS

bakaliaros

Happy Independence Day, Greece! The holiday is actually on Saturday, but today I spotted several stands of huge Greek flags waving in the breeze. I read in the embassy newsletter that many small towns have parades, and it is customary to eat bakaliaros skordalia, a crispy, fried cod fish with garlic sauce. Now here’s a seafood dish that could satisfy our Midwestern palates! We’ll be visiting the Byzantine, walled city of Monemvasia on Saturday, so I’m sure we’ll see a parade or two while we’re there. And we’ll have to try the fish!

I passed through the Laiki where I had bought these awesome pants, and I thought I would try to find another pair. As I searched for the clothing vendor, I suddenly laid eyes on a set of ceramic frying pans. And they were purple! And only 16 Euros each! Perfect! But not a clothing vendor in sight. I guess that’s the ethereal nature of the Greek Laiki. Better luck next time.

No romance at the Laiki

It’s Valentine’s Day here in Greece! For me that means decorating a shoebox with my son and cutting out 18 colored squares for him to decorate. Back in the States I would have picked up a box of Valentines at the Dollar Store with his favorite Marvel character on them, but I’m not entirely sure where one gets Valentine’s Day cards here. I get the impression it’s not really a “thing” here. But it is at the American School! Liam scrawled “You are a good friend” and “You are a nice person” in different colored markers while I stapled KitKats to the corners. Not the prettiest valentines, but serviceable. And, hey, KitKats!

Tuesdays are my Laiki day, or at least they were until it got so damn cold here. I haven’t been back since December. But after getting such shoddy produce at the store last week, I decided to brave the cold, grab my hobo cart and all the change in my purse, and head on over.

It’s not even that cold…Greece has made me soft. It was in the upper 30s this morning and I’m dressing like a Sherpa. But it was worth it to get fresh oranges with the leaves still attached, and fresh dates that weren’t vacuum sealed. And the sights and sounds of the Laiki always put a smile on my face. Here, I made a video. Listen to the vendors shouting in Greek.

My children and husband are such picky eaters, oftentimes I’m just purchasing one small bunch of grapes, or one lone pepper. Many times the vendor will give me a sideways look, then insist I take it for free. And whenever I bring Liam, he always gets free samples…that he usually bites and then spits out. But still.

One thing I buy a ton of at the Laiki is eggs. I’ve gone full-native about eggs here. I used to dutifully wash them off and stick them in a container in the fridge. But I read that they actually keep longer if you leave them untouched and unrefrigerated. Plus, it’s so much easier to grab an egg from the counter than to fish one out of the fridge every morning. If one is particularly…um…chicken poopy…I’ll give it a quick rinse. Plus, I find that room temperature, older eggs hard boil best.

After dropping off the hobo cart with Evelyn, I drove up to the AB (pronounced Alpha Vita in Greece) for the rest of my groceries. I couldn’t resist documenting some interesting finds. For instance:

20170214_084909275_ios

Ok, this cracks me up. In high school we always called something…else…banana juice. If you get my drift.

20170214_090915522_ios

I spied this next to the milk. I guess people eat it? Apparently it has some health benefits, if you believe this product’s website. I’m sure the hippies have been eating it for years. What do I know?

Oh, and remember that time I saw the ad for these chips?

20170214_101010352_ios

I couldn’t resist picking some up. I tried them at lunch. Not bad, actually. Mayo flavor, for sure, but not overpowering. Course the bag is so small, I practically ate the whole thing in one sitting. Maybe I shouldn’t make a habit of buying these.

An Arabian Night

We’re so fortunate to live in such a vibrant area of Athens, in Halandri. We can simply walk a few blocks to some of the city’s best restaurants. One that caught our eye when we first moved here was Pars Persian Restaurant. I can’t believe it took us a year to finally try it! Actually, I can…it’s hard to get out to a romantic dinner when you’ve got to find and pay for a sitter in a foreign country. But I’ve decided this is no time to cheap out. We live in Greece, dammit! Let’s have some fun!

20170211_170348236_ios20170211_170024084_ios

So, with that attitude, we got our butts out of the house for a much needed date night. No excuses! And I have no regrets. The restaurant was FANTASTIC. The décor was ornate and interesting. The food was ethnic, but still familiar enough to be satisfying. In addition to Greek, the menu had an English section and what I can only assume was a Persian section. Many of dishes had lamb, beef or chicken served with tomato or yogurt-based sauces and rice. Definitely some Mediterranean influences.

20170211_171554252_ios

We picked two appetizers that paired perfectly — yogurt with dill and the kofte berenji. We also ordered Persian bread, and a pot of Persian tea to share. Perfect for a chilly February date night.

20170211_171315312_ios

As we waited for the rest of our meal, we gazed around the ornately decorated dining room. The ceiling was draped with cloth, making the room feel intimate and cozy. Heating lamps provided extra warmth. The walls were covered with interesting elements from the Middle East. Outside the dining room there was more décor as you walked in from outside. Landscapes hung on the walls, and these little dolls greeted you on your way to the restroom.

20170211_181834287_ios

Our food arrived without too much wait, and we dug in. I ordered the Chelo kabab, a lamb dish similar to the Greek cuisine we usually find. It was tasty, but James and I both preferred what he ordered more: the Khoreshte fesenjari.

20170211_173227638_ios

Mine made a prettier picture. Yum! James’ dish came in a bowl with sauce, which you spooned out over rice. The sauce was rich and sweet, made with pomegranates. He got it with beef meatballs, but it can also come with chicken.

After our meal we walked back to our house, dropped off the leftovers, and took the car to The Mall. Normally we would have elected to stroll around our neighborhood, but the wind and the cold made us think otherwise. I recently discovered The Mall’s VIP parking lot, which foreign embassy employees can use for free. At 8:45 it was almost completely empty. Score!

We soon realized why. Nearly all of the shops were closed! And it was still 10 to 9 when we got there. I guess closing time operates on “Greek Time” as well. Or maybe all the shops close at…8:30? On a busy Saturday night? I don’t get it. This mall has a huge movie theater. The place was teeming with people, presumably eating at the restaurants and waiting for movies to start. Seems like a good time to open up shop. Oh well. Still too full for dessert, we grabbed a hot chocolate and took a stroll. We talked. It was nice. This is why date night is imperative. Seems like we never have a chance to just talk at home. It may be pricy, but it’s worth it.

The good, the (not really) bad, and the smelly

It’s been hard not to get sucked down the rabbit hole of political news from the US this week. To keep my spirits up, I’m attempting to live in my little overseas bubble. So, here are some silly little things that happened to me in Athens this week.

First, the good. Remember how I have to stand in line at the post office every month to pay my housekeeper’s health insurance? I usually have to take a number, then wait around 45 minutes until they call my number, much like the DMV. Well, last week I found another post office at Avenue, a sleepy shopping mall only a 5-minute drive from my house. And there is never a line. Plus, there’s a huge Carrefour grocery store in the mall, so I can get all my household shopping done while I’m at it. And the mall has free parking. Fabulous! I tried it out on Tuesday, and I was in and out of the post office in less than 10 minutes. The Carrefour had a huge selection of booze…my kinda place…and on a whim I picked up this beer.

20170126_132303675_ios

I love how the label says ALEXANDER the GREAT beer. Like you have to believe that this beer is GREAT. All caps. Mmmm…what do you know? It is indeed GREAT.

Now for the bad, which turned out okay in the end. I had a play date at the IKEA on Wednesday morning with my Greek-Irish friend Katy. As I sat in the café, she texted me to tell me she had arrived. But I couldn’t find her anywhere. Finally I called her…and she was at the other IKEA! Yes, Athens has two IKEAs! Such a foreign concept to me. Back in Wichita I had to drive 3 hours to the nearest IKEA, and the next nearest location was several hundred miles in another direction. At any rate, I drove about 30 minutes to the other IKEA, and it turns out I should have been going to this one all along. First of all, the cafeteria actually served mashed potatoes! Swoon! They also had a better play area for the kids, and it wasn’t nearly so crowded. After lunch and some shopping, Katy took me next door to another huge shopping center, where I had THE BEST hot chocolate at Coffeeway. They had a handful of options, and I picked white chocolate. There’s a Coffeeway in Halandri…this might just replace Chai Latte from Starbucks as my favorite wintertime drink. (On a side note, it’s interesting to me to see so many huge shopping centers here. I figured the US had pretty much cornered the market on these types of gigantic malls, but I guess Athens has recently jumped on the box store phenomenon, as well. It’s a welcome respite from the hectic traffic and medieval layout of my neighborhood.)

Finally, the smelly. Earlier in the week, after running errands, Violet and I returned home to a house that absolutely reeked of cat piss. I almost thought a cat got trapped in our house until I was able to narrow down the offending odor to our foyer. More specifically, our front door, which sported a HEE-UGE urine-stain at about medium-dog height. It must have seeped under the door or something. I scrubbed the heck out of the floor, but it still smelled the next day. Thankfully, our super hero housekeeper saved the day with some baking soda, vinegar, and a mop. One of the many nuisances of having a front door that just opens to a busy sidewalk. I sure hope it doesn’t happen again!

Where is my toaster?

Eleven days ago my toaster broke. Just quit working randomly. You push the little lever down, and it pops right back up. Just in case, because this has happened before, I plugged it into several outlets around the house. One never knows about the electricity situation here. Nope. It’s broke.

I bought the thing from an outfit called Vicko for a measly 15 Euros. Normally, I’d just toss something like that and buy a new one. You know, the American Way. But I remembered the clerk telling me all Vicko products come with a 1 year guarantee, and I’d remembered to keep the receipt, so I decided to take it in to the shop for a new one. Perhaps, like Walmart, they’d just toss it in the back and hand me a shiny new one right out of the box.

But, this is Greece.

First they had to test to see if it was really broken. Then she took my number and said she’d call me in 10 days or less after they’d sent it out to be fixed. Ok, so waste not, want not…I can live without a toaster for 10 days. She even intimated that it would take less time than that. It’s a 15 Euro toaster — how hard could it be to fix? I was also told if it couldn’t be fixed, they would be happy to give me a replacement. Swell!

Eleven days later, I called the shop. “Do you speak English? Where is my toaster?” She asked if she could please have…let’s see…five more days. Until next Monday. (Ummm..that’s actually seven more days.) Seriously?! All this for a 15 Euro toaster? Perhaps this is their way of not following through on their guarantee. They figure I’ll give up and buy a new one.

But, no. I’m an American. Sure, I probably would have just tossed it and bought a new one two weeks ago. But now we’re talking about the principle of the thing. If it’s not ready in another week, I’m going to demand another toaster!

In the meantime, I better not even utter the word “Eggo Waffle” in Liam’s presence. He hasn’t asked for one in weeks. Hopefully we can make it seven more days…

Thanksgiving in Athens

Thanksgiving and my birthday sort of go hand-in-hand. Every seven years it falls on Thanksgiving. That wasn’t the case this year, but I figured this would be a good day to finally update my wardrobe as a little gift to myself. The kids stayed with the sitter while I walked to some shops in my neighborhood. I knew I’d find something lovely at the H&M, a store I was already familiar with from the States. And I discovered Zara back in February when I had to buy a new dress while my clothes were still in transit to Athens. But this little gem, just a couple of blocks from my house, turned out to have the best and most affordable clothes of all.

20161124_081210655_ios

Clothes by the kilo! Genius! Turns out it’s a second-hand store, but the clothes were all top quality. I bought three tops, a super cute skirt and a scarf for under 35 Euros. A steal for Greece, where many shops in my neighborhood charge double that price or more. And much less sketchy than rooting through the tables at the Laiki. They had kids clothes, too.

It was interesting to see clothing trends this year, as I’m so out of touch these days. Ponchos are in again. Lucky my I’ve got some from the last time they were in style. And I’ve got one from my mother’s 1970s wardrobe. I keep everything. Well, almost everything. I was a bit horrified to see these were back in fashion.

20161124_105820882_ios

I’ll admit, there was a time in the mid-90s when I wore these. When I was 16 and had the body for it. Wouldn’t be caught dead in one now.

After a productive day of shopping, it was time for some eating! We loaded up in a taxi with a couple of pies and headed to our friends’ house in Agia Paraskevi. They had a lovely spread, lots of wine, and wonderful company for adults and kids alike.

20161124_143002215_ios

Sadly James had a last minute trip to Morocco, so he missed this little gathering. It’s so nice to have a group of friends from the embassy who we can get together with when our family isn’t around. Most of us stick around for Thanksgiving, so hopefully we can do this again next year.

Modeling my outfit bought by the kilo.

And the sweet potato pie was amazing! I have to say, I liked it even better with the white sweet potatoes that I ended up using. I don’t recall ever seeing them in the States, but I’ll have to look.

20161124_143014199_ios

Adorable little Violet just sat herself at the head of the table like a little lady, spooning her own mashed potatoes without even wearing a bib. She ate turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and even some carrots. Liam had a slice of turkey and a banana. No interest in anything else except dessert. They both scarfed the sweet potato pie. We all did.

You say potato, I say potato

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a decidedly NOT Greek holiday. Nonetheless, Liam has the rest of the week off, and the American embassy will be closed. I’m not much of a cook, so thankfully a family we’re close with invited us over for a traditional Thanksgiving feast. I offered to bake my two favorite pies: Pecan and Sweet Potato.

Securing the ingredients was a bit of a challenge. When I asked about vanilla extract, the store clerk said, “Vanillia, like for cakes?” and then put a bag full of small vials in my hand. The vials had some sort of powder in them…not really what I was after. Then in the produce section I had to ask someone if these unusually-shaped potatoes were sweet potatoes. They looked to be the right shape, but the skins were browner. He shouted something in Greek to another clerk, then nodded that yes, these were sweet potatoes. I didn’t even bother looking for pecans. Luckily, the NEX at the embassy had gotten in a huge shipment of Thanksgiving-related food items, and I was able to get everything else on my list. Even eggnog! (Incidentally, I hate the stuff, but it’s a key ingredient in the sweet potato pie. And James will drink it. Blech!)

Once I had Violet down for her afternoon nap, I rolled up my sleeves, pulled over a stool for my little helper, and got to work on my pies.

Except…

One swipe with the potato peeler revealed that my sweet potatoes were snowy white on the inside. These must not have been sweet potatoes after all! Liam, ever the helper, offered to stay home by himself for the very first time while I ran down to the fruit stand to get the right potatoes. He’s nearly 8, I didn’t want to wake Violet, and the stand is just a few blocks away, so I decided to go for it. Again I asked the clerk, which of these are the sweet potatoes? He pointed to the oddly-shaped ones, the same ones I had in my kitchen.

“These potatoes, they are sweet,” he said.

“But, are they sweet potatoes,” I asked, pronouncing it “puh-tay-tas.”

“Yes. They are potatoes that are sweet.”

We went round and round on this a couple of times before I decided I didn’t have much choice either way, so I might as well just give this a whirl.

Back at home I chopped and boiled my sweet (period) potatoes (period).

20161123_132430091_ios

They actually seemed to have the consistency of the yams I’m used to, and they did taste a little sweet, so I was hopeful this would all work out. Still, the color was a bit disconcerting. And they didn’t mash very well, either.

20161123_135236520_ios

But once I got all the sugar and cream and eggnog and spices all mixed in, you could hardly tell the difference. And once it finished baking, it pretty much looked like it was supposed to.

20161123_152545782_ios

We’ll find out tomorrow how it tastes.