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Greek translation Greek dictionariesEleni Vainas [ CV ]
Mandra: Village Life Today

It Mandra is a small village in Greece less than an hour's drive from Athens. To get there take the E-94 from Athens going toward Corinthos, exiting just before the toll booths, then continue driving north. From this point follow the road signs.
It is said there are many wealthy bachelors who live there. This information came, of course, from my kooky, marriage-mad friend, Irini, who was determined to marry me off when we traveled together recently. As we were about to visit her cousin and family, she had fairly up-to-date information on Mandra and its suitability as a possible nesting ground for me, which she delighted in detailing. Despite my laughter (was that a hoot coming out of my mouth or some strange bird calling its mate?) she continued her mission, being sure to inform me whenever an available man was nearby. Now the possibility of men-in-groups was even more exciting for her: I could almost see doors in her mind opening on greater prospects.

I'm not sure if it was my imagination or not, but there did seem to be many more men than is usual in a small village. A drive through the town square during both the noon hour and the later evening hours took me past countless Tavernas and psisteria and confirmed the presence of many men sitting alone or in convivial groups. Many, many men.

Whether they were bachelors or not it was impossible to tell, for almost every village in Greece is replete with men sitting outside of coffee houses and restaurants playing Tavli, clicking worry beads, or simply talking while passing time over an ouzo and mezze or small cups of thick Greek coffee.

Although I was not interested in the marital state of the men I saw, my presence in Mandra, through Irini's extended family, confirmed something more important for me: the Greek people I have met are exceedingly generous: kind, caring people whose lives encompass a richness and generosity of spirit I can only hope to achieve in my lifetime. Through them I was able to see how well a self-sufficient family functions on a daily basis, brushing texture and pattern onto mere existence.

Although Auranea's husband is the owner of a nightclub in Mandra and their home spacious and modern, indeed, full of the latest appliances, the family has not lost sight of the agrarian beginnings common to people living in villages: most of the food they eat is from their own soil, or the product of their toil and sweat.

The wealth I saw there in spirit and everyday living is available against a backdrop of continuous sunshine, with air sweet with the pungent scents of growth, and soil so full of minerals that the vegetables and fruits are of a different color and taste.

It was in Mandra that I ate Cholo, a macaroni product that is the specialty of that village.

Irini, originally from Greece and now New York City, had insisted Nana Loiselle, half-owner of Telly's Taverna of Astoria, New York, and I join her for a visit to her cousin, Auranea. An invitation to visit the horio, sample new experiences and visit a part of Greece I had never seen was welcome. She promised me an experience that I would remember, food I could never forget, and people whom I could easily grow to love. I was not disappointed in any of these areas.

Due to traffic conditions, and the reality of "Greek time," we were two hours late for our visit, yet we were welcomed warmly, scolded only slightly. Within twenty minutes we were invited into the kitchen where a table was set for seven. There was Auranea and her daughter, her sister and her daughter, and the three of us. On the table were two large platters of Cholo, two platters of roasted lamb, and two tomato cucumber salads, plus home-baked bread, home made Feta cheese and tsatziki, a yogurt-cucumber-garlic sauce. The cucumbers, the depth of their color always surprising me in Greece, were the richest green I had seen and were grown in the soil just behind their home.

I thought there was an excess of food for so few people. How wrong I was. After tasting the food, it astonished me that anything was left on any serving platter; everything was so tasty we all kept eating. We sat at the table for at least an hour after we consumed the bulk of the meal, picking away slowly at each platter as we conversed. Everything tasted better than good.

What I was to discover throughout the afternoon and evening of visiting was that, with the exception of growing the lamb and milling the flour, everything on the table, including the wine and Feta cheese, was made or grown at home.
The delights of the day continued even as we began our drive home. Auranea sent us back to Athens with fresh loaves of bread she had baked that morning and several pounds of her homemade feta cheese. Then, as we rounded the corner of the house on our departure, an open door displayed a large vintner's room where huge wooden barrels held the season's crop of home made wine, the very wine I had had with my lunch: a delicate white Retsina that is light on the tongue. A light, fruity wine, it was easy to drink, a perfect compliment to food. And what food!

The Cholo itself, a macaroni product, was simplicity itself, liberally covered with grated Mizithra (a Feta byproduct that has the whey removed. For making the version for grating, the curd that remains is collected and drained, then salted and pressed until it is rock-hard). Made locally, the flavor, mild with a delightful tang, was unique to cheeses of that area. The dish was also sprinkled with lamb cracklings: thin slices of lamb fat cooked until it is as crisp as bacon, then broken up into tiny, crispy crumbs that add much flavor to the dish.

A collector of unique and delicious recipes wherever I go, I sat Auranea down and requested a lesson in cooking her food. I ended up with recipes for two dishes: one for an unusual tyropita, and the other, the Cholo. A generous woman, she pulled out a supply of flour and demonstrated both recipes.

Cholo

1/2 kilo flour
salt
warm water


Make a well in the center of the flour.
Dissolve the salt in about 1/2 pint of warm water, then pour into the well.
Work the flour into the liquid to make a dough similar in consistency to bread dough, but just a little firmer. If necessary, add a little more warm water, but do not let the dough become too soft. Knead until smooth and elastic.
Break off pieces of the dough and roll into cylinders about 1 1/2 inches thick by 12 inches long. As soon as the cylinders are formed, cover them with a damp cloth to prevent them from drying out.
Cut each cylinder into inch-long pieces, shape them into balls, then roll them against the small holes on a grater to create a raised pattern on the surface of the dough.
Cook in lots of boiling, salted water for about one-half hour. Serve with grated Mizithra and sprinkle with lamb cracklings.

Tyropita

Dough as in recipe above
Feta cheese


Shape dough into balls about 3 inches in diameter. Place a portion of Feta cheese into the center of each piece of dough, re-forming the dough around the cheese, then roll out into a circular shape about 8 inches in diameter.
Make a hole in the center of the tyropita.
Be sure the Feta is completely covered by dough.
Fry in hot oil until the Feta is creamy and the dough is golden, turning once.

 
 
 

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