In the five months of this blog’s life, it has sort of branded itself as an all (genre) inclusive, writer-friendly place, and I never felt that random musings or personal experiences would make a good fit. Therefore, this post is an exception.
This week (the week leading to the Greek Orthodox Easter) is the most spiritually and traditionally rich time of the year. My parents have always been big on upholding tradition. The problem was that they weren’t exactly democratic as to the extent my sister and I were supposed to be involved; it had to be all the way, no questions asked, or else they’d meticulously work on our guilt complex. Of course, growing into my own skin, I soon revolted, and ever since, I retain my respect but keep my distances from traditions. One instance when I’ll consciously bring them forward is when I feel that my octagenarian parents need some soothing. And that’s what made me bake the Saint Phanourios’ pie last week.
Saint Phanourios’ name means “the one who reveals” (the same etymology as “phenomenon”) and, according to the tradition, if you’ve lost something valuable and you’re in despair, all you have to do is bake his pie (which is more a cake than a pie) pray for his mother’s soul to find rest (there is no relevant evidence, but apparently she was sinful) and whatever you seek for will be revealed to you. In many occasions this has worked, but I was always skeptical, thinking that, of course, if you’ve exhausted all possible locations where you might have misplaced an item, you bake a pie, and resume searching, then the chances for the item to turn up afterwards are definitely better. Last week, though, I was forced to reconsider.
My dad is a prostate cancer patient and he has to have a very expensive shot twice a year. In spite of the recession, the state still provides for this particular shot. Last week, as he was going to visit his doctor for the shot, riding his antique motorbike (a wonderful conversation piece wherever he goes) the paper bag where he kept his insurance papers, the shot prescription with dozens of state stamps of approval, his cell phone and various documents, apparently slipped from the handle and he lost everything. No paperwork meant no shot. Reproducing it could take weeks. When I saw the state he was in, I thought he wouldn’t make it. To an eighty-six-year-old man, every little thing he owns is as valuable as a life line, not least the documentation that guaranteed his on-going treatment. Losing it equaled a small death. My sister and brother in law went out in a vain search, but I couldn’t do much as my little one was ill, plus I don’t own a car. Seeing my father white as a sheet, the only thing I thought of offering was the reassurance that I’d bake a Saint Phanourios pie, which I managed to put together in no time at all, hoping to assuage his fear.
And then, things started happening: a teenage girl called my mother, claiming to have found my dad’s cell phone. She’d gone through his contacts and located his home number. She hadn’t found anything else. My dad met up with her, got his phone back, and then together with my sister scanned the entire area, as the paperwork scattering near where the phone fell would make sense. They found nothing. When they returned empty-handed and desperate, my mom had another phone call. This time it was a man who had stopped at a red light and saw paper strewn on the street. He got off his motorcycle, thinking that someone was in need of those papers (because that’s how everybody thinks and acts, right?) picked everything up, went home, read through them, located a random phone number, called and got my dad’s home number from them. Every single item was retrieved.
Coincidence? You could say so. But check this out: the girl’s name was Io and the guy’s name was Ionas (both names are very rare in Greece)!! Well, I give up. The pie worked big time, and now I’m a convert.
The pie/cake is ridiculously simple to put together, delicious and also 100% vegan, so if I piqued your interest here is the recipe and the ritual:
- 2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup virgin olive oil
- 750 grams (1.65 pounds) self-raising flour
- 4 tablespoons cognac (brandy)
- 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 cup blonde raisins (sultanas) – roll them in flour first
- 1 tablespoon mixed cinnamon and clove (ground)
- icing sugar on top (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Mix sugar and oil well until sugar melts. Then add all ingredients apart from raisins and mix well. Add floured raisins and give batter a toss. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted at cake’s center comes out clean. Leave to cool. Sprinkle icing sugar on top if desired. Distribute to family members and pray that Saint Phanourios’ mother’s soul finds rest.
Sit back and wait. No, actually don’t. As with everything in life, divine intervention works best when you give a helping hand.