Kathari Deftera (Ash/Clean Monday)

1am - I just opened the fridge to find this! Tarama, octopus and beans with lovely love notes on them all! Thanks mom!

1am – I just opened the fridge to find this! Tarama, octopus and beans with lovely “love” notes on them all! Thanks mom! Greek “hospitality” at its best! Ha!

Kathari Deftera (Ash/Clean Monday) is already upon us. It is the start of Lent for the Greek Christian Orthodox religion and also marks the end of Apokries (the carnival festivities). It is usually a lovely day, spent with family and friends, which always reminds me that summer is just around the corner!

Even though this is supposed to be the start of our 40-day fast before Easter (where we “cleanse” our body and mind and aren’t supposed to eat anything that comes from an animal, or anything with blood), it seems more like a feast than a fast! It’s still all about the food, people! It is usually the deeply religious who fast properly for the whole 40-day period. Some people choose not to eat meat. Others find this to be a good opportunity to cut out something like chocolates or alcohol or fizzy drinks from their diet. It’s a good excuse to lose some weight before the summer, too! I have done the “no meat” thing a couple of times and found it quite easy to do since I don’t eat that much meat anyway.

One year, when I was a student in London, I decided to do the “real thing” – not because I am deeply religious, but because I wanted to see if I could do it and if I could lose some weight in the process. So, off I went to the supermarket and stocked up on bread, beans, pasta, rice, veggies etc. Great start! I eat everything, so I didn’t think it would be too difficult for me.

I love dairy products, so this was something I really missed very soon into the “fast” but being in London meant I could find alternatives to everything – almond milk instead of cow’s milk, for example. I found flavoured almond or rice milk. I didn’t even like it much, but because I was “allowed” to have it, it was quite exciting. It was not only “exciting” but it was also full of sugar! The other “brilliant” thing I did when eating cereal was substitute milk with fruit juice! Can you imagine the amount of sugar I was consuming? I generally have a very healthy appetite and when I was in London I ate. I ate A LOT. So during this “fast” I suddenly changed my diet quite drastically and because the salads and vegetables weren’t filling, I would eat a lot of bread and refined carbohydrates as well.

The end result? I managed to get through 40 days without eating cheese, eggs, fish or meat – and without drinking milk! I also managed to put ON weight! I’m pretty sure I am the only person who managed to put on weight while “fasting”!

Anyway, back to Kathari Deftera. Traditionally, it is a day of seafood and kite flying! People go out to the countryside, the seaside and the mountains and have picnics and fly kites. Some say the kite flying represents getting rid of whatever troubled people during the winter. Others write down their wishes on little pieces of paper and tie them to the ribbon on the kites’ tails. I am not quite sure how this tradition started but apparently it started in Athens. I remember going across the road to the beach and TRYING to fly our kite. For some reason, it usually got torn or got tangled with other kites! I don’t think my dad ever really got the hang of it! It was fun none-the-less!

Food-wise, it is a great day! From octopus, squid, prawns and shellfish in general (unlike fish, they don’t have blood) to fresh vegetables, salads, legumes and olives. However, THE most important dish of the day is, in my opinion without doubt, the tarama (with the lagana). Tarama or taramosalata is a creamy, thick spread or dip made of fish roe. It is delicious (my mom’s especially!) and I certainly associate Kathari Deftera with it! Lagana is the flat bread that is made specifically and only on this day. All this is accompanied by wine, ouzo or raki (also known as tsipouro and tsikoudia), which is a clear, strong spirit made of distilled grape skins. The dessert of the day is usually semolina or sesame-based halva.

If my memory serves me correctly (it usually doesn’t!) on this day, most years, the weather seems to be perfect for kite flying! It is usually windy enough to get lift-off and is clear, sunny and crisp!

I am a sucker for tradition. Not ALL traditions, of course, but the nice, fun ones that actually make sense to me!

So, Kali Sarakosti (have a good 40-day Lent until Easter) and Kala Koulouma (have a good feast today)!