Food I
Greece: Olives for Breakfast, Goat Soup for Lunch

Breakfasts in Greece were usually light--mostly toast or bread and jam, sometimes wonderful rich yogurt or hard boiled eggs -- and olives. At first the olives seemed really strange, but we got to really enjoy it, especially Sam. We, like most Greeks, had our main meal mid-afternoon (in Crete shops closed from 2 or 2:30 until 4:30 or 5 every day) , and perhaps a light supper around 9 or so at night.

Greek culture is more integrated than the culture I am used to. The food changes with the seasons, the celebrations and somewhat, the location. It was early spring when we reached Greece and, particularly in Crete, the foods were changing with the season. The fields were heavy with anemones of every hue and the fragrant narcissus was in bloom. Lambs were being foaled, and the sheep not yet sheared.

Each spring, Cretan women go to their favorite spots to gather wild greens which are lightly boiled and served with olive oil and lemon in a dish called chorta (horta). I had horta every time I could, and each time it was different. The first was several different kinds of dandelion greens and spinach, the second was mostly Swiss chard, another time it was something that tasted like brussels sprouts but was leafy, and another I simply didn't recognize. Women that I spoke with regarded the gathering of horta as a special, and social, occasion. Most had their own particular --sometimes secret-- spots where growing conditions were good, and they could be sure that what they picked was free of pesticides. Often these locations were shared among the women in the family.

Another sign of spring were the soups made from young goat or lamb always simmering on stoves in the tavernas. These strong, slightly salty broths were served with big hunks of meat simmered until soft and still on the bone.

The beginning of Greek Orthodox Lent brought special foods and rituals. In Rethymno we watched a "Mardi Gras" parade as Brazilian music wafted from loudspeakers, revelers in costumes threw confetti and streamers, and intricate floats and costumes floated by (and nearly away as a cyclone settled in). Stores were selling the special foods for the occasion -- flat braided breads covered with poppy seeds, olives, feta cheese, a sweet made from ground sesame seeds called halvah. Families took grateful and cheerful refuge from the storm in restaurants -- eating, drinking wine and singing. The streets were soon rivers of water and the tables of the town were awash in good food and spirits.

No matter what the season, the pride and generosity of Greek cooks and hosts showed at their tables.

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