Archive for January, 2012

Tears of Chios Cocktail

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

We love our bubbly, but when recently celebrating New Year’s Eve in Athens, our drink of choice was the Tears of Chios Cocktail served in the Roof Garden Bar atop the historic Hotel Grande Bretagne on Syntagma Square.

Day or night the view from the Hotel Grande Bretagne Garden Bar intoxicates

Hotel Grande Bretagne Roof Garden Bar with Acropolis view

At first sip we knew we were onto something special, but we were puzzled….

The cocktail menu itemized ingredients, but what accounted for that that elusive taste?

Luxury cocktail menu Hotel Grande Bretagne Athens

Was it the Skinos mastiha?

Tears of Chios Cocktail Hotel Grande Bretagne Athens

The Tears of Chios cocktail we sipped in Athens also featured muddled mint and grapes


In Greek,¬†mastiha¬†(pronounced MAHS-teeh-hah) is an aromatic resin harvested from a shrub in the pistachio family¬†that grows on the island of¬†Chios¬†in the northeast Aegean. When the bark of this shrub is slashed, globules of sap form the mastic ‘tears’ used by the makers of Skinos¬†mastiha.¬†In her encyclopedic journey of a book¬†The Glorious Foods of Greece,¬†Diane Kochilas¬†writes that “in a way, the trees have to ‘cry’ for mastic to be harvested.”

Mastic "tears" and shrub

Mastic 'tears' and shrub

Kochilas goes on to explain that in cooking, “the rock-hard, somewhat sticky crystals have to be pounded to a fine dust, usually with a bit of sugar, to keep them from sticking to the mortar and pestle or spice grinder.”

Anthropologist-author-cook Susanna Hoffmann also waxes poetic (without being “sappy”) on the topic of mastic resin. In¬†The Olive and the Caper: Adventures in Greek Cooking, she writes: “I place small open jars of the sap in my kitchen to scent the atmosphere…. Mastic tastes like lush piney vanilla. It smells like the perfume Shalimar, but with a conifer tinge. It is irresistible.”

Which brings us back to our¬†cocktail, because when mastiha is mixed into a refreshing beverage, “irresistable” says it all.

Made in Chios, available in U.S.

When we returned to Boston we placed¬†Skinos Mastiha¬†at the top of our shopping list because we knew that even without an Acropolis view Tears of Chios would taste pretty great. But the key ingredient wasn’t available! At least not at first try, when we stopped by our neighborhood store.

Greek tragedy? Not at all, thanks to the hugely helpful Jeff Dolin, a buyer at¬†Blanchard’s Liquors, in Allston.¬†On our behalf Jeff initiated some online research, placed a special order, stocked his shelves, and…voila!

Variation on Tears of Chios cocktail with muddled pomegranate seeds

A variation substitutes muddled pomegranate seeds for grapes

Tears of Chios Cocktail Recipe

2 ounces Skinos mastiha
2 ounces vodka
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 ounce agave (diluted 50/50 with water)
muddled grapes or pomegranate seeds and mint

  1. Dilute agave syrup by adding an equal part of boiled water. Stir.
  2. Muddle grapes or pomegranate seeds and mint leaves in a cocktail shaker.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and ice and shake.
  4. Serve on the rocks in a double Old Fashioned rocks glass.
  5. Garnish with bamboo skewer through a grape and mint leave, or–if you’re making the pomegranate variation–just the mint

Yield: Serves 2
Anita Baglaneas, Owner-Chef of Jules Catering, adapted this recipe from a cocktail menu at the Hotel Grande Bretagne in Athens, Greece

Not just for cocktails

In case you were wondering… The Greek origin of the word ‘masticate’¬†derives from¬†mastichan¬†(to gnash the teeth), which is related to¬†masasthai¬†(to chew). If you’re looking for something¬†tangible¬†to chew on and you happen to find yourself in Manhattan, head down to the Lower East Side and stop in the¬†mastihashop New York, where you can¬†purchase mastic chewing gum and other¬†mastiha¬†products from the island of Chios. And if you’re inclined to delve further, two books that features¬†mastiha¬†recipes are¬†Mastiha Cuisine Cookbook¬†and¬†The Greek Vegetarian.

Photo Credits:
Mastic ‘tears’ and shrub: Wikimedia Commons
All other photos: Liz Muir 

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“…dishes to whet the appetite”

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Athenaeus, a scholar of food history who lived around 200 AD, observed that¬†“the ancients employed many dishes to whet the appetite.Focusing now on actual dishes–i.e., plates–we couldn’t agree more.

Ancient vessels

On a recent visit to Athens’ other-wordly-wonderful¬†Museum of Cycladic Art,¬†we were fascinated and puzzled by a clay vessel labeled “Frying Pan” and dated¬†2800 to 2300 BC. Delving further we learned that the popular name of this beautiful object relates to the vessel’s shape, not its function. While most of these ancient objects have been discovered in graves, some have also been found in settlements where Cycladic Islanders lived. Many theories about the “frying pan’s” function have been put forth, including one that posits that these exquisitely crafted objects may have served as plates for food.

"Frying Pan" Museum of Cycladic Art Athens

Incised decorations on this "frying pan" are thought to represent the sun and the sea

Also from the Museum of Cycladic Art, but much more recent (dating back “only” to circa 350 B.C.) is a red-figure plate on which food would seem to be superfluous.

Red Figure Plate Museum of Cycladic Art Athens

There's no doubt about what the figures on this plate represent

Ancient recipes

Pondering plates created by people thousands of years ago got us thinking about ancient recipes. So we turned to our bookshelves to check things out. “Antique” cookbooks worth more than a browse include:

  • Ancient Dining¬†by chef, restaurateur, and consultant¬†Maria Loi¬†(described by some as “the Martha Stewart of Greece”) was selected as the official book for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. While Loi’s cookbook is now somewhat hard to find, her food can easily be located at Loi, a restaurant she opened in 2011 on New York’s Upper West Side.
  • The Classical Cookbook,¬†written by historian¬†Andrew Dalby and chef Sally Grainger and published by the J. Paul Getty Museum, is richly illustrated with scenes of food, hunters, and revelers depicted in ancient art.
  • The Glorious Foods of Greece, a compendium of recipes from many regions of Greece collected and described by chef-author Diane Kochilas, kicks off with a chapter on Greece’s culinary lineage that sheds light on the remote origins of Greek food and food lore.
  • The Philospher’s Kitchen: Recipes from Ancient Greece and Rome for the Modern Cook¬†by food historian Francine Segan offers modern adaptations of dishes originally recorded in ancient sources, including–among others–Plato, Aristotle, and Homer.

A page from Maria Loi's 'Ancient Dining'

 Photo Credits: Liz Muir

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