Good Afternoon Getaway: A Trip to Greece in Under 10 Minutes

As you know we are BIG fans of The Spartan Table here on the blog. Not only did last November’s post and prizes spark a bevy of ideas and recipes but it also it got everyone daydreaming about escaping to Greece to work with Jehny and George underneath the olive trees.

This morning I was so excited to receive an email from Jehny in regards to a recent promotional video featuring the team behind The Spartan Table. Narrated by her husband George, the video takes you on a gorgeous journey around the Sparta countryside while explaining how their products are made, sourced and produced.

If you find yourself in need of a little getaway this afternoon look no further than this seven minute video.  So beautifully filmed it will make you want to abandon everything and hop on the next plane to Greece.

If you missed last year’s interview with George and Jehny, catch up here.

Culinary Creativity: Recipes From Our Prize Winner!

By day they are executives in New York City but by night (and most weekends too) they are culinary wizards adventuring their way around the inventive kitchen. Meet blog reader Michael, one of the winners in last month’s Spartan Souvenir giveaway and his lovely wife Renee.

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As soon as their prize of Greek olive oil and wild mountain oregano hit their mailbox they started day dreaming about what they could make. Possibilities abounded of course, but it didn’t take very long before they settled on two Mediterranean style dishes that highlighted their new winnings and captured the simple fresh flavors of their farmers market palates.  In a lovely spirit of community, these two home chefs not only sent back a follow-up note on their gift receipt but also included recipes and photos of everything they made with their Sparta samplings. Fantastic! Here is what they made…

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“The olive oil has such a nice  fruitiness and the oregano is slightly floral and delicate,” shared Renee. “We love it!”

Long-time connoisseurs of make-it-yourself pizza they first prepared a Mediterranean style Greek pizza with homemade dough and an inventive brussels sprout topping. Next, (just in time for Fish Friday) they made a simple Greek style baked cod using local fish and an array of herbs.

Michael and Renee’s recipes couldn’t have come at a better time in our calendar year. If you are still entertaining holiday house guests the Greek Pizza makes for a fun party pleaser and can be doubled or tripled in size to fit all appetites.  Or if you find yourself ready to put the heavy plates of the holiday season behind you then the Greek Baked Cod would be just the ticket for a light and refreshing meal. Both recipes highlight the unique flavor of the olive oil and oregano from Sparta, Greece which you can find at thespartantable.com All other ingredients can be locally sourced from your grocery or market.

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Greek Pizza

Note: Michael and Renee followed Jim Lahey’s lead on the pizza dough preparation. You can find a step by step guide here which includes a casual video on the making of it all. If you have never made homemade pizza dough before don’t feel intimidated, it’s very easy and this is a no-knead recipe which makes it even easier. If you can’t sacrifice the time for the dough, start out simple with a pre-raised dough ball from Trader Joe’s or the fresh bakery department at most supermarkets.

(for the dough)

3.5 cups all-purpose flour ( M&R veered slightly from the dough recipe and incorporated some whole wheat flour as well. This recipe reflects their version.)

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1 1/2 cups water

(for the topping)

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and placed in a bowl, covered with water for at least 30 minutes, then drained and dried

1 Serrano chili pepper, thinly sliced (remove the seeds and veins if you are adverse to heat or if your chili is super strong)

8-10 raw brussels sprouts, shaved

1/4- 1/3 cup (plus more for topping) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1/2 teaspoon Spartan Table wild mountain Greek Oregano

5 ounces Spartan Table Extra Virgin Greek olive oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Prepare dough as directed. Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Add pizza stone about one hour prior to baking. Mold the dough into a circle on a pizza peel lined with semolina flour to prevent sticking and for easy sliding.

Place all topping ingredients together in a bowl and mix in olive oil and salt and pepper to coat.

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Scatter your toppings evenly on top of the dough. Bake until bubbly and slightly browned about 10-12 minutes. Depending on your oven, this could take more or less time. Finish with olive oil,  sea salt and extra Parmesan cheese.

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Greek Baked Cod (serves 2)

Fresh, local cod  (enough for two portions)

1/2 teaspoon Spartan Table Greek oregano

5 ounces Spartan Table Greek olive oil for drizzling and finishing

1  quarter of a large organic lemon, thinly sliced

1 half of a medium shallot, thinly sliced

1/4 quarter cup of thinly sliced fresh fennel (from the bulb)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely minced, for finishing

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Add cod to two pieces of foil paper (doubled so that it doesn’t leak) placed on a baking sheet. Drizzle fish with the olive oil, oregano and salt and pepper. Arrange the shallot slices on the bottom of the foil, place the cod filet on top with the fennel and lemon slices.

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Close the foil (like a packet) and bake for about 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven and size of the cod. Ours took about 20 minutes to cook. Finish with an extra drizzle of the oil, sea salt and parsley.
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In the land of Ms. Jeannie it is very exciting to have such an enthusiastic (and delicious!) response to a blog post. Hopefully Michael and Renee’s recipes will help pave the way for more culinary adventures discovered by our readers. Having come full circle with an interview that originated months ago in the faraway, mystical olive groves of Greece and ended up finally on the kitchen table of two New York foodies, this post feels a bit like magic. Even though a zillion miles separates us from Sparta and  Nashville and New York we now share a commonality in the history of a food. And our cross-culture community feels a bit more close-knit.  As Homer said “the journey is the thing.”

Again, a big thank you to Jehny and George for carrying on the family tradition of olive-growing in Greece and to Michael and Renee in New York for inspiring us with two new recipes fit for a feast.

If you missed the interview with Jehny and George from The Spartan Table find it here.  If you have any questions regarding Michael and Renee’s recipes post them in the comment box and we’ll get them answered ASAP.

Cheers or opa, as they say in Greece, to the final days of 2016. May they be both merry and bright.

kitchen prep

Stories & Souvenirs from Ancient Sparta: Enter to Win Olive Oil & Oregano from Greece!

Hello from Sparta, Greece!
Hello from Sparta, Greece!

There’s a passage from Homer’s The Iliad that reads:

“Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men. Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth, now the living timber bursts with the new buds and spring comes round again. And so with men: as one generation comes to life, another dies away.”

This is not only a great quote for Autumn, as the leaves color and float and fall to the ground reminding us all that change is natural and seasonality vital, but it is also a great introduction to the guiding principles behind our next interview.

In today’s post we are traveling 5,000 miles away crossing over Homer’s “roaring seas and many a dark mountain range” to the country of Greece to the historic city of Sparta where we are chatting for a bit underneath the olive trees with Jehny and George from The Spartan Table. Purveyors and producers of an assortment of agricultural delights in this Mediterranean section of the world, Jehny and George come from a small town that is very BIG on  ancient history.

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First having discovered these two by way of Etsy, Ms. Jeannie fell in love with the sights and sounds of Sparta on a field walk with Jehny and her family as they described picking herbs in the Taygetus Mountains via their newsletter…

“The talk stops and for the next couple of hours, we ‘re “lost” in a green and white sea” of wild oregano together with thousands of bees and relative insects. We ‘re all busy to get as much as we can from this amazing plant. We stop for few minutes from time to time just to lay our eyes on the surrounding mountainsides while the sun has starting to set. There  are so much peace and beauty and even some sounds of some sheep somewhere around echoing like an old song from the distance…”

It was a combination of their descriptive writing, their enthusiasm for the job at hand, their accented words, the beauty of their landscape and their deep-rooted love for their country that caught Ms. Jeannie’s heart.  As part of the American culture’s ideals of constantly being on the move, always next-best-thinging our way through life, it was refreshing to read about people who were so settled into their sense of place and so appreciative of their natural surroundings. And then there was their national pride. Read further to understand this.

View of the Taygetus Mountains
View of the Taygetus Mountains

We all know that Greece has had their hardships, most recently with the economy – but as you learn through Jehny’s newsletters the detailed account of her family’s history over the last one hundred years and that of the olive grove that she now cultivates, we begin to understand this extraordinary set of determined people passionate about seeking and seeing the positive, progressive side of life. “To plant an olive tree is to proclaim a faith in the future, for it will be the following generations that will benefit, will reap no matter drought or storm, dictator or revolution, once the olive has made its home,” said Jehny in her February 1st, 2016 newsletter.

Jehny's family photographed in the 1930's
Jehny’s family photographed in the 1930’s

The Spartan Table was born in 2013 after Jehny left behind an unfulfilling corporate job and discovered by way of a small series of realizations that her passions leaned more towards olives than offices. In the early days of shop-keeping, she first offered a selection of local wild herbs cultivated from the mountains around her.  Quickly her shop grew to include olives, olive oil and olive paste from her family’s olive trees. Each year added a new series of local products and a new level of ancient history to back it up. Today you can find an increasingly interesting array of Greek products in her shop including sea salt dried on the sun soaked rocks of Mani, traditional sweet treats baked in Jehny’s kitchen, honey from beekeeper Bill, handmade soap and cutting boards (from the olive trees!) all made and/or procured by Jehny, her family and her friends in their local environment.

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A sampling of treasures from The Spartan Table!

How does she do it all you wonder? Can one woman’s love of her country and culture sustain a life worth living? You bet! Get to know more about Jehny and George and their storybook landscape in their interview here and then sign up below for a chance to win a complimentary souvenir from Sparta courtesy of Jehny and The Spartan Table.

Experience the flavor of Greece for yourself with these two special treats from The Spartan Table.
Experience the flavor of Greece for yourself with these two special treats from The Spartan Table.

Your location in Sparta is gorgeous! In your bio, you mention that it is your family’s region and that you have lived there a long time. In the United States families move around A LOT. So I am intrigued by your permanent sense of place in Sparta. What keeps (or has kept) your family there for all these generations?

Sparta is our homeland.It’s a mythical land with – perhaps – the most know Greek Ancient city (With Athens) The landscape is just beautiful. If you could see, even for a moment what we see every morning, the magnificent mountain Taygetus and the Spartan valley, you’d fell immediately in love with the place. Living in a place which great people once lived in, makes us feel truly blessed.

Sparti, Peloponnese, Greece. Photo courtesy of scout.com
Sparti, Peloponnese, Greece.

Tell us little bit about daily life in Sparta. Do you live in a farmhouse in the country or do you live in the city center in a more urban type dwelling?

Today the “modern Sparta” which has built in 1836, is a small town with near 20.000 inhabitants. We live just few blocks from the center and beside the Ancient Acropolis & Theater. Just 100 meters from our home, there are hundreds of very old olive trees amongst the Ancient ruins.

The ancient acroplis
The Acropolis in Ancient Sparta.

If we were to visit you in Sparta where are the first three places you would take us?

The Acropolis and the Ancient Theater. The Mystras Byzantine castle city, where the last emperor left to save the Konstantinople. (Like King Leonidas, the last emperor went to fight into a war, knowing in advance that everything had being lost). And the museum of the Olive Oil, which is unique in Greece.

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Clockwise from left to right: The Museum of Olive Oil, the Mystras Byzantine Castle City and the Ancient Theater.

So many people in life don’t appreciate the environment around them which is what makes The Spartan Table and all your lovely newsletters so refreshing. Your national pride is wonderful. What keeps you excited about your culture on an everyday basis?

As we mentioned before, living in a land of heroes, it’s impossible not to feel the “vibes” of their acts despite that hundreds of years have passed. We feel that we have to make something for the next generations and keep the spirit of dignity, pride and freedom alive.

King Leonides, Byzantine Church, Mystras
King Leonidas, the gorgeous indoor and outdoor architecture of Byzantine Church and Mystras.

From harvesting olives to farming sea salt to collecting herbs and honey and making soap – are you involved in all these endeavors personally or do you have a big team that helps you gather items for your shop?

Since we started from the scratch – after a stressed corporate life- we tried to make everything with our hands and our small team (our Family). Getting some big inquiries and interest about our humble treasures, we decided to add some more People in our small team. These are people with great passion and love about what they do and we are honored and proud having them with us!

In the olives!
In the olives!

Of all the items in your shop right now, which is your most favorite?

Jehny: wild walnuts with honey from wild flowers and herbs.

George: Sheperd’s tea with honey from wild flowers and herbs.

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Jehny’s favorite on the left, George’s on the right.

What are the differences between Greek olive oil and Italian olive oil? Do they contain different olive varieties or are they harvested in a different way? Does the different geographic landscape/environment affect the taste of olive oil?

First of all, remember that Greece is the 3rd biggest olive oil producer in the world with an average of 350.000tn annually. Italy is at 600.000 tons (when their internal consumption is 800.000tn – think about it) And Spain is more than 1.200.000tn. Greece produces mostly extra virgin olive oil (which Italy and Spain does not) Laconia, our regions produces ONLY extra virgin olive oil and it’s one of the 3 biggest producer regions in Greece. “Koroneiki” is one of the best and most well know varieties of Greece but we have one more unique one: “Athinoelia” (the tree of Goddess Athena). This is an exquisite EVOO and it’s the “first extra virgin olive oil” in Greece every year. This EVOO has a strong and spicy taste and almost all of the yearly production is going to abroad every year. It’ s the EVOO that everyone must try even for once in life!

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Extra virgin olive oil from The Spartan Table .

Which country do you ship your products to the most?

Mostly to U.S and secondly to Canada. We’ve met wonderful people in these first 3 years and we hope that one day we’ll have the honor and pleasure to welcome them in our home.

Soap handmade by Jehny's mom!
Soap handmade by Jehny’s mom!

You mention in your olive oil listings that you can also use the oil as part of your beauty regiment. How would you recommend using it?

Simply by putting on the skin (massage). Or make “oil with herbs”.

Handmade Olive Paste
Handmade Olive Paste

What is one thing that has really surprised you this past year in regards to your business?

As we said before, through these 3 years since we started, we met wonderful people which not only supported us as with all their hearts but also shared few lines and messages with their beloved ones. This led to warm feedback and to a genuine interest from a company from Netherlands which asked for a big project for Christmas. Upon our first contact and we asked how they found us , they simply answered : “We read your story and every feedback about you”. Then we understood that the love and support of our Friends in the States (mostly), “drove” them to our door!

If you could invite five famous people (dead or alive) to dinner at your house whom would you choose and why?

Well, we can’t really choose. There are a lot of people which we’d love to invite. So instead of this option, we want to invite as many people as we can to share our table. You know, “common people” like us.

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A recent addition to the Jehny’s shop – Olive Wood Drink Coasters!

What is your most favorite meal to make in your kitchen?

Greek Salad (and many another kind of salads) and Meat (pork, chicken in the oven with EVOO, herbs, and different vegetables).

When you are not cooking or harvesting or collecting for business what hobbies do you enjoy? Reading and sharing moments with family and friends (and sometimes trying to get some decent sleep – cause we miss it often!)

On George's bookshelf...
On George’s bookshelf…

What book are you currently reading? What music are you currently listening to? Jehny : Reading books and articles about decorations (special events and weddings). Greek pop music. George: “I contain Multitudes” & “The secret life of plants”. Old Rock and classical music.

Do you ever dream about living somewhere else in the world? If so, where would you choose and why?

No, but we love to travel and meet new friends. Unfortunately due to the heavy crisis in Greece, we can’t afford to any trips but we hope that one day we ‘ll start traveling again.

What inspires you about your business?

The superb landscape. You can’t be “unaffected” when You see the mountains and the valley every morning!

View from the olive groves!
View from the olive groves!

Understandably so, with a  view like that! Throughout history, the olive branch has been a symbol of peace the world over.  Although they lead busy lives as blooming entrepreneurs, you can see how the olive trees have brought peace and fulfillment to the lives of Jehny and George. And you can taste it too. In the aromatic flavor of their olive oil, which is fresh and raw like newly cut grass. In the sweet, earthy smell of their wild mountain oregano. To breathe these two cooking staples in, is to breathe all the myths and legends and stories of a thousand centuries. It is to breathe in the sun and the sky and the windswept air of Sparta, where great men and women have dared to accomplish great feats.  But maybe most importantly you are breathing in generations of a country’s faith in itself and in it’s future.

giveaway from The Spartan Table

Jehny and Ms. Jeannie are so excited to offer three lucky readers the opportunity to sample the wild oregano cultivated from the Taygetus Mountains and the extra virgin olive oil from the family groves of The Spartan Table. Three winners will each receive one complimentary packet of oregano and two mini bottles of olive oil to test and  to try to experiment and to explore.

All you need to do is fill in the comment box below with your name and email address (so we can let you know who won!) and then answer the question: Who is your favorite author? in the comment box, so we can avoid spam messages. Winners will be picked at random and will be announced both here on the blog, on instagram and via email on Monday morning, November 21st, so please enter for your chance to win by midnight (11:59pm) on Sunday (11/20). Enter as many times as you like and please spread the word to fellow culinary lovers.

Please note, Ms. Jeannie totally respects your privacy. Your contact information will not be sold or shared and is simply used here for contest purposes only. If you are reading this post on your phone you may have trouble seeing the actual contact form box. Please visit msjeannieology.com to access the private and secure form which will send your entry directly to a private email account. Any troubles beyond this, please comment on the blog post and Ms. Jeannie will help you ASAP!

While you wait to find out if you are the lucky recipient of a Sparta souvenir peruse the lovely offerings of  The Spartan Table here .

{After a long nap in the question and answer department, Ms. Jeannie’s interview series is back in full swing, bringing you face to face with real-life creatives from around the globe. If you missed last week’s interview with museum director  Louise Van Tartwijk, from Washington, Connecticut’s Gunn Historical Museum find it here. If you are new to this series, catch up on a bevy of previous interviews here.}

Until Monday, cheers and good luck!

Photo credits: The Spartan Table, maranghuset.se