10/06/2009

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Making Coffee: Greek Coffee Greek coffee is intensely flavored, rich, dark coffee made in small batches, and served immediately in demitasse cups. The coffee is best sipped while it's almost too hot to bear (there's a reason Greek coffee is traditionally accompanied by a glass of cold water and a small plate of sweet cookies). In Greece, you will often see men, especially early in the morning, gathered in small groups by the local coffee shop, where they sip two or three cups of this amazing brew while discussing politics or soccer, before heading off to the boats or other work. Coffee and something to nibble is also often served after the mid-day break as well. The coffee must be made in small batches; usually two demitasse cups at a time, but rarely more than four. You use a small copper or steel cylindrical pan with a lip but no lid called a briki to brew the coffee. Part of the enjoyment in the coffee is that the fine grind, and the rapid brewing, create a rich creamy foam on the top. Your host or brewer will inquire how you want your coffee, unsweetened or slightly sweet, or very sweet. To make the coffee, fresh and very cold water is measured (using one of the demitasse cups) and poured into the briki. The specially ground Greek coffee is added, one heaping teaspoon per cup, with an appropriate amount of sugar; the coffee may be unsweetened (sketos), slightly sweetened, by the addition of a teaspoon of sugar (metrios), or very sweet, with the addition of two teaspoons of sugar (glykos). The briki is put on the burner, with the heat set to medium low. The coffee is stirred just until the coffee dissolves (and never, ever stirred again). Allow the coffee to heat, slowly, until foam starts to appear. The foam (crema to you espresso drinkers) is exceedingly important; traditionally the quality of the foam is associated with the richness and quality of the coffee. Once the foam has risen to the top of the briki (this happens very quickly once it starts), the coffee is removed, carefully, from the heat. The foam is poured off first, gently, and shared between the cups. Then, top the cups off with the rest of the coffee, being careful to preserve the foam in the cups. Serve the coffee immediately, with a glass of cold water, and perhaps a small plate of biscotti, like paximathi, or melomekarena (especially at Christmas, but really anytime of year) or possibly amygdalota, koulourakia, or the traditional baklava. You will notice that the grounds have settled to the bottom of your cup of coffee; you might be tempted to practice the art of kafemandeia, or reading coffee grounds. Originally written for Klat.
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A Rant In Honor of Saint Patrick's Day Every year around the middle of March I have to prepare myself for an onslaught of Irish pop-culture that, while it's pop-culture, is more American than Irish. For instance, until recently, when St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Ireland have begun to garner American tourist dollars, St. Patrick's day was a day for Catholics to go to Mass and have a dinner at home with their families as one does on Sunday. But thanks to American popular culture, and the Internet, we've ended up with a lot of assumptions about what it means to be Irish in America on the 17th of March. To Wit: Corned beef; it's not Irish as much as Irish American. A nice piece of bacon, cooked with cabbage and praties (potatoes) would be more traditional, or Irish bacon with Colcannon. Shamrocks are not four-leaved clovers. They are in fact one of two varieties of a three-leafed old white clover. Traditionally, and in the medieval context, the Shamrock was a member of the the clover species Trifolium repens (in Irish seamair bhán). In more recent times, the shamrock marketed in March is often a member of the Trifolium dubium species (in Irish: seamair bhuí). The shamrock became a symbol of Ireland because (according to eighteenth century folklore) St. Patrick used a shamrock to explain the nature of the Christian trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to the Pre-Christian Irish. Shamrock is an Anglicization of Irish seamróg, a medieval Irish diminutive form of the word for clover, seamair bhán. Green beer is a violation of all that sacred in beer. If you want something Irish, have a pint or three of Guinness. If you get it on tap, for heaven's sake, make sure the barkeep knows how to pour Guinness properly. I note that St. Patrick's Day usually falls during Lent, when in Medieval Ireland, brewers made a "small beer" from malted barley. There is, by the way, good reason to associate St. Patrick's feast day with beer consumption, since we are told in the compilation of laws that St. Patrick ordered, the Seanchus Mor, that he himself had a personal brewer on his staff. The Leprechaun, or Irish leipreachán, is a creature from medieval Irish mythology texts, where they are known as luchrupán in Middle Irish, derived from Old Irish luchorpán, itself a compound of lú (small) and corp (body), a Latin loan-word. In medieval Irish, luchorpán are small but mighty warriors living underwater, with strong associations with fertility, and known for their sexual capacity (yes, the stories are very bawdy), rather than their avarice. Originally posted at: http://history-talk.com/article/irish-rant-honor-saint-patrick