Thursday, October 17, 2013

Christine Presents: The Ancient Agora of Athens

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The journey began that day as the travelers walked through Monastraki Square and to the Ancient City of Agora.

Statue in Agora

For eight centuries Agora was the true meeting place of the city - a hive of commerce, politics, and everyday bustle. Everybody who was anybody in ancient Athens spent time here, from Socrates and Plato to a visiting missionary named Paul. 

A visit here lets you imagine in sparse remains sharing this hallowed space with the great minds of the ancient world.

From just about everywhere in Agora you can see the Parthenon which seems to be a landmark for the city. If one can see this, one knows where they are. I loved to watch the ever changing Parthenon. Through out the day and the evening, depending on cloud cover and lighting it seems to take on different facades.

Agora means gathering place but you could call this space by any of the name we typically give to the busiest part of a city:  downtown, main square, forum, market place, commons and so on. Agora was the real heart of ancient Athens. It was the hub of all commercial, political, and social life as well as home to much of its religious life.

Significance of the Olive Tree in Greek culture:

Greece is full of olive groves. The Olive Tree, "the tree that feeds the children" according to Sophocles, is the protagonist of the Greek nature and history as olive oil is the protagonist of the Greek diet.

The indigenous olive tree (wild olive tree) first appeared in the eastern Mediterranean but it was in Greece that it was first cultivated. Since then, the presence of the olive tree in the Greek region has been uninterrupted and closely connected with the traditions and the culture of the Greek people.

Olive oil, as it is testified by the fossilized olive trees which are 50,000-60,000 thousand years old and were found in the volcanic rocks of Santorini, has always been a distinctive element of the country. Its systematic cultivation started in the pre-historic times - the Stone and Bronze Age.

Olive oil production held a prominent position in the Cretan Minoan and the Mycenaean society and economy as it shown by excavations and findings (earthenware jars, recordings on tablets, remains of oil mills). During the Minoan Period, olives were treated and oil was produced which in turn was stored in earthenware jars and amphorae. Quite often it was exported to the Aegean islands and mainland Greece. Apart from the financial gains, though, the olive tree was worshipped as sacred and its oil, besides being offered to the Gods and the dead, was also used in the production of perfumes, medicine and in daily life as a basic product in diet, lighting and heating.

Recipe of the day: Moussaka
This is a Greek version of the Italian Lasagna. It is a great recipe.


2 medium eggplants
olive oil (as needed)
1-2 lbs lean ground beef (or can use ground lamb or chicken)
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
2-4 cloves fresh minced garlic (or to taste, I use lots!)
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or to taste)
1 teaspoon salt, divided (or to taste, I use seasoned salt)
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (or to taste)

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt (I don't use salt, but then I seldom cook with salt)
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (or to taste)
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup half-and-half cream
1 egg
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (can use more)


Grease a 9 x 9-inch baking pan although you could use a 13 x 9 pan using a smaller pan will result in a thicker casserole.
Peel the eggplants then slice 1/4-inch thick (or a little thicker won't hurt).
Brush cookie sheet with olive oil.
Coat each side of sliced eggplant with olive oil then season slices with salt and freshly ground pepper (I use seasoned salt for this and use as much pepper as desired).
Place the eggplant slices on cookie sheet; broil under the broiler until brown; turn and broil the other side, brushing with oil if needed; repeat with all eggplant slices.
In the bottom of the prepared baking dish arrange half of the eggplant slices.
In a large skillet, combine beef and onions; cook stirring until the beef is no longer pink and the onions are soft; drain fat.
Add in the garlic, tomato sauce, oregano, 1/2 tsp salt and black pepper to taste; pour mixture over eggplant slices.
Arrange the remaining eggplant slices over the beef mixture.
PREPARE THE CHEESE SAUCE: Melt the butter in a saucepan, whisk in flour, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper to taste; gradually stir in half and half or milk, cook and stir over medium heat until thick and bubbly.
In a small bowl, beat egg; stir in some of the hot sauce, then add egg to sauce mixture, mix well; add in Parmesan cheese, and stir again.
Pour the cheese sauce over mixture in baking dish.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 45 minutes.
Cut into squares.
Note: If doubling this recipe to serve 8 it is best to make two separate casseroles instead of one larger one.

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