Sunday, November 15, 2015

Being An Expat in Greece ~ A piece of cake?

‘Do I have time to bake my cake before we leave?’ I called out to The Scout in the middle of an October afternoon. In a couple hours we were heading out to the village.
“How long will it take?” he replied.
“Well, I don’t know. I’ve never baked a cake in Greece before.”
 
The fact is, there are many routine things – as simple as baking a cake – that we’ve not done before in Greece. Simple things really but all which need to be mastered when you are an ex pat settling into the lifestyle of a new country.  Rethinking life’s routines. It is a challenge faced by all who venture to new countries and cultures whether for a few days, weeks, months or longer.

For the most part, our adjustment to daily life in the Greek Peloponnese has been remarkably easy. But still we have had to stretch ourselves out of that old staid state-of-being we’d slipped into back in the States. 

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My measuring spoons in Greece

Many contemporaries of ours - those of a ‘boomer-age’ – often sing the praises of apps and games on on their devices which they are using to keep their aging minds sharp. We’ve opted to do the same by experiencing a new culture and country. Our choice isn’t for everyone - It certainly isn’t always a piece of cake – but your brain will get exercised and the exercise often results in some good laughs. Both of which, research shows, helps keep you young!

That Piece of Cake

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Our lemon crop at The Stone House on the Hill

Somewhere in the ex pat fantasy world of mine (fueled by Frances Mayes in Tuscany and Julia Child in France), I’d envisioned myself creating culinary feasts in this new home of ours. It seemed that baking a cake would be a good start - not just any cake, mind you, but a lemon drizzle cake made from scratch with lemons plucked off the tree just outside the kitchen.  Doesn’t that just sound like a Julia and not a Jackie ambition?

In preparation, I signed up for Pinterest and for months collected recipes so that I could put my plan into action. Reality set in during the first few weeks last winter at our Stone House on the Hill. I discovered that the stove didn’t work nor did I have bake ware, measuring cups or mixing bowls. No cake baking that time. (When life gives you lemons, give them to a friend. We did and she baked us a cake in return!)

Logistics of Life

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New stove and granite counter tops were added in spring

During our spring stay we replaced the stove (and installed a new countertop), but it was off season for the lemons. The baking would have to wait for fall.

A few weeks ago at the start of our autumn stay here I bought a loaf pan. I’d found a small mixing bowl in the cupboard and had purchased related equipment like the measuring spoons and cups (shown in the first photo). The kindly ladies at the grocery store helped me when I couldn’t figure out which package was cake flour (they all have grain on the front but some is for bread) and which was sugar (they have brown, large crystal, small crystal and powdered in opaque packages and are labeled in Greek). Flour and sugar purchased and armed with baking powder and baking soda I’d brought from the States. . .I was ready!

I picked out the recipe I would use from the many I had collected. Of course it called for two loaf pans so I would just mentally divide it and make half the recipe. . .

As Easy as baking a cake!

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And so it began. . .
Set oven for 350-degrees. Whoops, it is centigrade here. Check the conversion chart: 350F is 180C. Turned the knob – temperature set. But minutes later the oven still was cold. Oh yes, like back in the States, you have to turn the oven on as well as set the temperature!

Cream half a cup of butter.  Hope I bought butter, it might be margarine. Oh well. Here goes: half cup is how many of those little lines on the butter package marked at 30 gram intervals? A tablespoon is 50 grams, isn’t it? Check the chart. Do some multiplication, divide than add a blob that looks like a half cup. Yes, I could have just used the measuring cup but remember, I am working at keeping my mind active – math equations do that. But why hadn’t I paid attention in school when they taught the metric system?

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Fresh lemon zest added to the batter

‘Mix the butter and milk and slowly add sugar.’ Now how did we used to do that? (I used cake mixes back in the States on the rare occasions that I made cakes). OMG! I don’t have an electric mixer, let alone a food processor, I have a hand beater. Awkward, but it worked. And upper arm muscles got a workout as well as the mind.

‘Half cup of shortening’ – I’d missed that part when preparing the shopping list but wouldn’t have known where to look for it. I threw caution to the wind and used a half cup lemon flavored yogurt in its place. What could it hurt?

Finally my creation was in the oven, counter was cleaned and I realized I hadn’t purchased a cake rack on which to set the cake to cool. Think. Cake rake. The solution wasn’t pretty but it worked:

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Good to have construction bricks laying around outside

There it was – a less-than-picture-perfect cake to be sure, but it tasted just as I had it envisioned. I’ve made another since this first attempt and have even expanded my culinary efforts to include an orange cake using fresh oranges my neighbor plucked from her tree and shared with us. I am still using the hand beater and whisk beater. I’ve purchased a glass cake pan. No use rushing into the culinary world.

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A piece of cake?

Ex pat life a piece of cake? Yes and we’ve only just sampled it!  Some are still wondering why anyone would give up ‘the comforts of home’ for something so new and different as living in a new country.

The writer Patrick Leigh Fermor best explained it in his observation:                                                   It is ‘a longing for the stimulus of the unfamiliar.’
 
Have you experienced such a longing? If so, what did you do to ease the longing? Did you find it stimulating?  Tell us about them in the comments below or send us an email, we’d love to hear your stories.

Thanks again for the time you spent with us today. Hope to see you back again and tell your friends to join us as well!  Until we are together again, safe travels to you and yours~

62 comments:

  1. This is so familiar! 18 years ago when I started my life as an expat in the Netherlands, I went through the same process! There are really useful conversion charts in Joy of Cooking that I used a lot. I've gotten good at figuring out substitute ingredients when I can't find a particular one.

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    1. I suspected you would understand Rachel! I've been glued to the conversion charts in my Greek cookbook, Olive and Caper. And it is amazing how I can improvise when I have to! Thanks for suggesting the Joy of Cooking. I may have to order that.

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  2. With all the housesitting we've done, it's been a challenge to find things in each new place so I can relate! Sometimes your substitutes work, and sometimes, well, they don't. ;-)

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    1. Oh Betsy, you'd really have cooking tales to tell with the vast amount of places you two have called home. It is rather fun trying to meet the challenge isn't it? Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Language has been my biggest challenge. After my first two weeks in Belgium I needed a haircut. Walked down the street and wondered into a salon with two young ladies cutting hair. I asked if anyone spoke English. A young man said yes. OK! One lady finished a cut and called me up, I sat down and she put the drape over me. The young man who spoke English got up, kissed the girl who would cut my hair and promptly walked out. I felt it was a little late for me to do the same. I ended up with a bad hair week but it grows back quickly.

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    1. Oh Tom your tale is too funny!! Joel has ventured in to get his haircut and I have not yet had the courage to do so. He's gotten excellent cuts (sometimes more taken off than he'd planned) but so far with a little pantomime and gesturing and finger measurements, he's come out okay. Nice to see a comment from you - hope to see more in the future!!

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  4. Jackie--you knew I would love this one, didn't you? Sounds to me like the first step in baking a cake is taking language lessons--or getting one of those super practical English-Greek dictionaries that helps with shopping, etc. I envy you the lemon tree. Although we can grow them in southern Arizona, I don't have one. When I get my hands on a bunch of lemons I make lemon pie--not custard pie--lemon pie made like a fruit pie--slices (rind and all) and some sugar and cornstarch or flour in a two-crust pie. Here's a recipe: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/shaker-lemon-pie-361949

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    1. Well, I did have some of my 'cook friends' like you in mind when I wrote it. Our lemons are finally getting more yellow than green so I suspect I will have plenty to tackle the pie that you've so kindly sent the recipe for!! We'll be eating lemons on and in everything for a few weeks.

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  5. Hi Jackie! Thanks for the chuckle. Even after 15 years as an expat I still have experience things that would just never happen to me back in Canada or probably in any English speaking country. Koreans traditionally do not have ovens. I bought a great used one this year when I moved to Seoul. All the functions are written in Korean. I look at it everyday and think, yes must figure this out sometime soon :) Right now I am working on making a good loaf of bread in my "new to me 15 dollar bread maker". I can't quite get it to raise properly :) Your cake looks yummy. :)

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    1. Oh Nancie I did think of you and others who've so successfully made it as ex pats when I wrote this. I am glad to hear that you've still got unknowns yet to master as well. We've been lucky and had most of the directions for use come in multiple languages, including English. But we did buy some build-them-yourselves-shelves and it was all in Greek. Thank god for photos that came with it!

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  6. My hat is off to you for even trying. I am weak in math. But did face the challenge of cooking at high altitude. Cake looks really yummy.

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    1. I purchased a tape measure that has both metric and my 'feet and inches' on it. We'd measure things in feet and inches and then realized everything here is in the metric system so we are somewhat being forced into learning the new system and have finally quit asking, "Are you talking inches or centimeters?" It is centimeters. Period. Thanks for the comment ~

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  7. So many times we have wished that we had a kitchen while we are traveling. We love to check out local grocery stores and markets, but then have no way to cook the wonderful things we see. Looks like you have solved the problem, just move in a stay a while. Well done!

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    1. We've always opted for studio units in Europe when we could find them just so we could buy the breads, pastries, fruits and veggies at the markets and then eat 'at home'. But I am learning quickly that eating at home and cooking at home are two completely different concepts!!

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  8. Looks delicious and what a treat making a cake with your pwn lemons. Somehow that sounds so exotic! Although we're metric inn Canada I prefer to measure in Imperial. Do you have to weigh the flour - or are you guestimating? (Did I miss that?)

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    1. No, so far don't have to weigh it. I've used recipes that call for so many cups of dry or liquid ingredients and then just convert that to the metric measurements (thanks to the handy dandy chart in the back of my Greek cookbook).

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  9. Okay, Jackie - you know I am rolling! (Oops, might remind you to consider a rolling pin - ha!) But I made do here in Arizona using a wine bottle while making gingerbread men with my granddaughter last Christmas. That's easy compared to a foreign language!! Reminds me of times with you in Bucerius - big difference - you spoke Spanish! In a way, it's nice, going back to throwing caution to the wind - a little of this, guess about that! Your mom would be proud!!! Quite the endeavor and it sounds beyond yummy! Sweet village ladies will always help! xox Joanne

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    1. Now that wine bottle is a great idea! I will keep that one in mind! Hope you are baking gingerbread men again with her this year!

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  10. You made me smile so big today, Jackie. :-) Good for you pressing through and figuring things out to make your lovely cake. I love that quote, love it. I tried explaining that feeling to Bear awhile back, saying that I needed to see new things. It didn't need to be on the other side of the world, it could just be taking a new route to the grocery store or the city, stopping at a new park for lunch. The unfamiliar is what stimulates my soul and makes it fill with joy. :-) XO

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    1. Oh, isn't that the truth? Just trying some new route or coffee shop can make a routine outing into such a new adventure! I am so with you on that one and you are right, it doesn't need to be thousands of miles away. We walked to the local village water fountain (where we get our water for cooking/drinking) the other day and took a dirt road we'd never been on before through the neighboring olive grove; what a whole new perspective it gave us of the area literally right next door but which we've normally always driven past on a different road. Thanks for the comment - love hearing from you~ xoxo

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  11. Fun post. We've lived the expat life in several countries over the last 3 years and have had numerous kitchen, experiences, triumphs and mishaps. The most common problem seems to be finding the actual ingredients and we've had several dishes lacking up to 3 or 4 of the ingredients and some inventive substitutions like your yogurt. Your quote "...the stimulus of the unfamiliar" kind of sums it all up and makes baking a cake an adventure!

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    1. I thought you would be able to relate to this culinary adventure of mine. And I can so relate to the difficulties of finding the right product. Thanks for stopping by Anita!

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  12. That is delicious cake. I like your kitchen.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to stop by Rajesh. It was a good cake, if I say so myself. :-)

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  13. Loved reading your thoughts on being an expat and trying something you've always done in a different country. My parents are considering living in another country and I hope they take the chance to do it because I think it would be a wonderful experience for them, not matter what their age is!
    http://passportcouture.com

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  14. I am so loving your Greek escapades and this cake one is no different. You were very patient waiting for Stove, Implements, and lemons to all come together. I bet it tasted wonderful. I made an orange cake in Spain and it was superb. It doesn't taste as good in Australia. :)

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    1. Thanks Jan. Glad you are enjoying our tales from Greece. My orange cake did turn out well, but the glaze that was supposed to top it was a disaster so instead of ruining the cake, we have used honey as its topping and I dumped my other 'creation'! More to come. . .thanks for the visit!

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  15. I get what you are saying. I returned to Europe recently after many years and a lot of things were confusing. For once, I never knew what the temperature was. They use what we consider military time and the month and days are in a different order in dates. Takes time to get used to all those little things.

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    1. Yes Ruth, telling time, determining temperatures and measuring things have been a challenge; but a fun one and one I wouldn't trade for the world! Thanks for stopping by~

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  16. hahhaa...I just delight in your cute personality...and I would love to have a piece of your fresh Lemon Cake...my favorite.
    xoxo

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    1. BJ, if you were closer, I'd bake you a whole cake! Thanks for the lovely comment. Xoxo J.

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  17. ...back again to leave this link...
    http://sweetnothingsbj.blogspot.com/2012/02/another-awesome-movie.html

    thought you might like reading it...:)
    xo

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  18. When I started baking in Malaysia, I found an online butter converter. Imagine that! http://www.onlineconversion.com/cooking_butter.htm I visited this site many times. One of the best comments that I read was "What in the world is a stick of butter? How is that a common measurement? Sticks are all different sizes?" It doesn't seem strange to we Americans who are accustomed to the term, but I can understand how others are puzzled. I remember how happy I was when I found blocks of butter that were 127 grams -- the equivalent of one stick. Now, I am craving lemon cake.

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    1. Who would have thought there would be an online butter conversion! And what a great observation about butter 'sticks' - I've never seen a 'stick' but in America! Thanks for the information in this comment I plan to use it. (I tried commenting on your post and Discus told me I was using some incompatible something - I am able to use it on everyone else's. Just wanted you to know I am reading your posts!)

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  19. Isn't it funny before we set off for our big adventures we imagine this idyllist life. It may not have been how you imagined but it still worked.

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    1. The devil is in the details goes the old saying and when it comes to this ex pat adventure I would have to agree. Sometimes though reality is even better than I imagined it, so I really can't complain! Thanks much for your visit!

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  20. I'm glad your prolonged adventure has worked well for you... and enjoy the cake! It looks quite good.
    I hope you'll come link up at http://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2015/11/sunset-on-bay.html

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    1. I will try and do that Sue. I've not yet gotten down scheduling of linkup as I am 10 hours ahead of most of you and when I think I am going to linkup I find the day to do so hasn't even arrived in your part of the world. Another bit of learning curve here!

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  21. life certainly isn't a piece of cake, and it seems that baking a cake in your Greek house was not an easy task. I do hope you are including all these pieces of writing about your Stone House on the Hill into a book. Have a wonderful weekend ahead, and I hope it includes cake. Lemon cake - yum!

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    1. I will have to ponder the possibility of a book. . .at least for my own reading entertainment. Have a great weekend yourself! See you soon at 'your place' or here!

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  22. I would have never thought about those kinds of challenges when moving to a different country. I know that the US is one of the only places in the world NOT on the metric system, so it makes sense.

    thank you for sharing with us at Photo Friday!

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    1. And as always, thanks for hosting Photo Friday! One of my challenges here is remembering what day it is so that I can linkup with you all!

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  23. I just loved this post! I so admire that you have taken on this challenge, exercising your mind, every day. Your new kitchen looks lovely--a perfect classroom on the virtual campus.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed this post Irene. It has been a great brain workout and one I wouldn't trade for any app, anywhere!

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  24. Your post made me chuckle. It reminded me of my first baking experience after I returned to Jamaica where I had to convert everything to metric, even the temperature on my oven. I did a traditional Christmas cake, which didn't turn out badly considering how nervous I was. I kept thinking I should have tried the oven before so I'd know if it was heating at the right temperature. I baked and broiled a lot after that.
    Kudos to you for venturing outside your comfort zone and making life there as normal as it would be in the States - well, except for the olive and lemon trees in your backyard.

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    1. I do think I was so nervous that I made it far more difficult than it should have been. Loved your story of the traditional Christmas Cake!

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  25. My favourite kind of cake, Lemon drizzle! Love anything lemon flavoured.
    I thought your improvise on the cooling rack was ingenious, love it!
    Here's to many more cakes.
    Susan. xxx

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  26. Hello, I would love to have a lemon tree. Your cake looks delicious. I like your new kitchen, it is pretty. Have a happy new week ahead!

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    1. Happy week to you Eileen and Happy Thanksgiving. Wish you were here - I'd give you some lemons, they are again ripe!

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  27. yes it does take a while if you move to a differetn culture but you seem to be managing well

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    1. We wanted a new challenge Margaret and we certainly got it. All in all, it has been a very pleasant experience and we are amazed our first year is coming to an end already!

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  28. That looks so GOOD!!!! I liked "when life gives you lemons, give them to a friend and she will bake you a cake in return." :-)

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    1. Thanks! It was and almost time to make another. And yes my friend Sue came tot he rescue and brought us a marvelous cake! Thanks for the visit - hope to see you back again soon!

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  29. Great post - and having just returned from a trip to Cyprus, I'm somewhat jealous of your lemon tree! I also had a lot of trouble cooking when I moved to Canada - getting baking soda and baking powder mixed up made for some 'interesting' dishes that of course, were completely inedible.

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    1. Cyprus, I am the one who is jealous! We've been saying that Cyprus is worthy of a visit. And yes, those baking soda/powder issues can derail the best of intentions. Thanks so much for commenting Ruth!

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  30. Oh my, quite the experience baking your cake - no English on the packages in the store? It would be interesting having to convert your oven temperatures, well I'm just not comfortable myself using metric. :-)
    I'm sure with time you'll be whipping up various goodies in your new oven Jackie and you can think back to this cake and wonder why you worried about it.

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    1. No, no English. Same with the white rice. I was trying to make rice the other night and kept saying is it one cup rice and one cup water or one cup rice and two cups water and don't you just bring it to a boil and then steam - have a nice bowl of 'wallpaper paste' that I will mix with some leftovers and hopefully the cats will eat it!

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  31. Yes, I definitely long to spend extended periods of time in Europe, but it can't happen for at least a few years, and it's a real longshot, at that. So, I live vicariously through those who do it, which is why I love reading your posts! Your story reminds me of my friend's experience when trying to make a Thanksgiving dinner when they lived in Israel! Glad your cake was a success - how could it not be with fresh lemons!

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    1. Cooking can be a challenge to your old routines and approaches to life's duties like shopping, reading recipes, etc. As long as you serve them with a good sense of humor the dishes all turn out! Happy Thanksgiving Amy~

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  32. Jackie and Joel I'm so happy you found my blog. I also live in Peloponnesos. near Patra. I lived in the US for many years and resettled here 20 years ago. Althought I am a native Greek, I always felt like a fish out of water because things are very different here and never what they seem. But that is another story. Congratulations on your lemon cake. Now you'll have to try a carrot cake using fresh olive oil. That is one delicious cake. I hope we can keep in touch and share our thoughts and advantures.

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So happy to see you took the time to comment. We read them all - and each is much appreciated. We hope you will be a regular here and comment often!

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