August 28, 2007

Help! Bougatsa!

Bougatsa is a sweet Greek pastry, made of phyllo dough wrapped around a nice custard-y interior and sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar. It is one of my favorite foods on earth, and I'm planning on writing on it soon, but first I'd like to make it myself! Recipes are hard to come by- I've found a few on the internet, but they vary widely and most seem like they wouldn't produce the authentic item. So I'm asking for help: Does anyone have a recipe for bougatsa? Send it my way, and I'll share some with you (in spirit, anyways). Thanks!

Note: the bougatsa pictured above wasn't very good...but it was the only picture I had!

August 26, 2007

Greece, part 3: A Day in the Life

Sometimes archaeology is not entirely logical. Since many archaeological projects in the Mediterranean are run by American and European universities, and since they therefore must be done during these universities' summer vacations, most projects are done during the summer months, the hottest time of the year. And it gets insanely hot in Greece, which means that if you’re working outside all day like we were, it’s a good idea to get most of your work done before the hottest part of the day.

All of this means that our work day started at 6:00 AM, and I needed to be up at 5:15 in order to get to the site on time. Now, I have never been a morning person, which made this a truly painful experience. However, the first few hours of work were in fact always the most pleasant, once the shock of waking up wore off. I got to watch the sun rise over the mountains every day, and the Greek countryside in the early morning is truly beautiful. By about 9:00 AM, however, the magic was gone and the heat really kicked in.

We were working in a rural part of Greece, and the land was primarily agricultural. We spent our time in olive groves, apricot orchards, vineyards, and open fields. Once we even surveyed in a field that was home to about 2 dozen beehives! The beekeeper met us in the field before sunrise, while the bees were still asleep, and gave us some protective clothing, which consisted of long-sleeved shirts and a straw hat...but, as it turns out, the bees didn't seem to mind our presence at all, and went about their pollen-gathering business.

Occasionally, we wound up close to the village and found ourselves surveying in someone’s backyard, which could be a little awkward. While most of the locals were fine with what we were doing as once we explained it to them, occasionally they could get very angry (understandably so, as we were in effect tresspassing on their property).

We ate lunch in the field at 11:30, and work stopped at 1:30. The project followed the Mediterranean custom of the siesta, or afternoon break, essential in such a hot climate. We had the afternoons free from 1:30 until 5:00 or 6:00. Most often we’d either nap or head to the beach, or both.

Ah, the beach. Archaeologists are only being somewhat facetious when they tell you that the most important factor to consider when choosing a site to study is its proximity to the beach. There’s really nothing like a dip in the ocean after a long, sweaty day’s work.

Kiato’s beach is a rocky beach, but the water is shallow, warm, and relatively clean. On a clear day, you can see across the Corinthian gulf to the mountains of Boeotia. The waterfront is lined with cafes and restaurants, which provide customers with beach chairs and shade. We would gather every afternoon at one particular spot, an Italian restaurant, which had been the prefered gathering spot of project archaeologists for years, for reasons I still don’t entirely understand….the food was bad, the service was worse, and they made weak frappés (the prefered summer drink of Greeks- Nescafe whipped into a foam, then mixed with milk, sugar and ice. Pretty vile, but hey, you gotta get your caffeine somehow). However, the poor food and service ensured that the place was almost always empty, with plenty of beach chairs and umbrellas waiting for us.

After siesta, we would reconvene in the apothiki (pottery shed) for afternoon work. For student volunteers, this meant washing the pottery that they had gathered that day. For staff, this time was spent downloading data from equipment, inventorying artifacts, and inputting forms into the database. In the beginning of the season, when the work load was still small, this was followed by a beer or two at the local café before dinner.

We ate dinner at 8:00. This was the main social event of the day, when everyone could gather to relax and talk, and drink, and maybe cause some mischief. Sometimes dinner was followed by a game of volleyball or soccer, sometimes an impromptu dance party, while sometimes the evening was pretty laid back, but there was always plenty of beer, and we always stayed up much later than most reasonable people would if they had to get up at 5:15 the next morning. And so forth, for 4 weeks.

Next: Field trips- Stymphalos, Nemea, Nafplio.

See the other installments in this series:

August 23, 2007

Greece, part 2

So who goes on an archaeological project like this one? Well, like most projects, this one relied on student volunteers. Some, like me, were graduate students and had plenty of experience, while others were college students looking either to gain experience in archaeology, or just to party in Greece for a month (this misapprehension was soon corrected). A few experts were brought in to fulfill specific tasks, like ceramic analysis.

Most of the student volunteers lived in a schoolhouse in a tiny village close to our survey site. They slept in cots, 5 or so to a room, and had access to a sink and some really unpleasant toilets.

I, however, stayed with several other people in an apartment in Kiato, a larger town several miles from the site and right on the sea. Even though I slept in the living room, I can’t complain too much, because we had a functional toilet and shower (no hot water though). Plus, it was 2 blocks from the beach…and 3 blocks from a really nice bakery.

Since none of our accommodations had a functional kitchen, food was provided for us by the project. We were on our own for breakfast, and lunch consisted of a nasty sandwich in the field…but dinner made up for all of this, as it was catered by a local restaurant and was consistently fantastic. Every night it was something different- roasted chicken and lemony potatoes, moussaka, meatballs, fassoulia (bean stew with tomatoes and zucchini), roast pork…and my favorite- pastitsio.

Pastitsio is a layered pasta dish, often compared to lasagna, although it’s a bit different. It typically consists of a layer of ground beef or lamb cooked with tomato, followed by a layer of long tubular pasta, and topped with a thick layer of béchamel sauce and a bit of cheese on the very top, which gets crusty and delicious in the oven. Often the béchamel contains nutmeg or cinnamon, which gives it a distinct taste. This is, in my opinion, one of the best things in the world when it’s done well- the ultimate comfort food...meaty, creamy, and so rich that afterwards it feels like you've eaten a (delicious) brick. I’ve never made pastitsio, but it’s certainly on my “to cook” list.

Feeding your crew well is essential on projects like this- but not all project directors realize it. Think about it- you have a fairly large group of people (25 in our case), many of whom have come from far away to work FOR FREE on your project. And the work is not easy- it’s a lot of physical labor, unpleasant working conditions, and often very long work days (9-12 hours a day, 6 days a week). If you don’t take good care of your crew, you’ll have a mutiny on your hands in no time, or at the very least they will do a half-assed job. It’s amazing what an effect food can have on morale. Oh, and beer....archaeologists need lots of beer.

Next: A day in the life…

See the other installments in this series:

August 17, 2007


The Munich International Airport is fantastic. I say that with confidence, because I spent 9 hours there on the way to Greece, after a long chain of flight delays and missed connections. They provide free coffee, tea, and newspapers (English language!) for passengers, and amazingly generous gesture at a time when many (particularly American) airlines are cutting every corner they can to save money, without taking into consideration the comfort or convenience of their passengers.

Anyways…I finally arrived in Athens at 12:30 AM, 8 hours late and jetlagged beyond belief. I took a taxi to my hotel, where thanks to jetlag and a loud bar next door, I got about 2 hours of sleep before I had to meet up with a friend for our journey to the archaeological site. Athens is an interesting city…it's loud, dirty, for the most part really ugly, and during the summer it's unbearably hot. And yet it has a certain charm that's hard to explain. Don’t get me wrong, I love the city, and I even lived there for a short time, but this time around I saw no reason to spend more time there then I had to, especially in the middle of summer.

I was in Greece to work on an archaeological survey. For those of you unfamiliar with this, unlike excavation, which is when archaeologists dig in the ground, a survey is a type of research conducted purely on the surface. A chunk of land, in this case a triangular-shaped plateau that was once a Greek and Roman urban center, is divided into smaller areas. Archaeologists then systematically scan the surface of the ground for architectural remains and for artifacts, counting them and collecting some for analysis. Once many of these smaller areas have been surveyed, the distribution of artifacts and architecture can be plotted, which helps us to understand where people lived and worked in the past. For more information about this survey, have a look at the official website.

For the next few days I will be posting about my experiences in Greece this summer, about my travel, my work, daily life on an archaeological project, and hopefully Greek food as well. Stay tuned!

See the other installments in this series:

August 13, 2007

Posts about Greece are in the works, but meanwhile I've been spending some time catching up on what I have been missing in all of my favorite food blogs over the past month. There were tons of fantastic recipes that I can't wait to try, but when I saw these cookies at Foodbeam (and then the original recipe here at Loveschool) I knew I had to make them ASAP. As I read more blogs, I saw that they had been very popular with food bloggers this summer, but never having been one to avoid the bandwagon, I hopped right on.

These cookies were fantastic- great tea flavor, nice texture and not too sweet. You can find Kelli's original recipe here.

August 12, 2007

Back soon!

I'm back from Greece, and just want to assure my loyal audience (hi mom and dad!) that I will be posting some new entries soon, once I get my photos and my kitchen sorted out.