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D'Youville Goes to the Mediterranean

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D'Youville dietetics majors pose in front of the Fontana Morosini in Crete

D'Youville Goes to the Mediterranean

Seeing the sights and eating good food are usually two things that people want most when traveling. That’s exactly what the cohort from D’Youville experienced on their study abroad trip to Crete of the Greek Islands.

As an extension of the “Food and Culture” course offered each spring, the trip was designed to provide an overview of the culture, local foods, and the Mediterranean diet. “The diet encourages consumption of healthier fats such as nuts, olives and olive oil and limited amounts of animal products such as meat, milk and eggs. It’s a very plant-focused diet,” said Kathy Border, assistant professor of dietetics, who led the trip.

The trip was made possible thanks to Crete Culinary Sanctuaries, an organization that focuses on interactive educational programs in Crete and focuses on culture, nature, sustainable organic agriculture, and traditional cuisine.

The group first landed in Heraklion – Crete’s largest city - and they got their first taste of the local cuisine with a welcome dinner. Above, the group poses in front of the “Fontana Morosini,” an ornate Venetian fountain in the square that features four lions gushing water from their mouths. 

A sample breakfast at the hotel in Heraklion included spinach pie, yogurt, honey, cherries, olives, tomatoes, and fresh mizithra cheese (goat cheese).
A sample breakfast at the hotel in Heraklion included spinach pie, yogurt, honey, cherries, olives, tomatoes, and fresh mizithra cheese (goat cheese).
Dakos is a traditional Cretan appetizer made with barley rusks, chopped tomatoes, feta cheese, oregano, and olive oil.
Dakos is a traditional Cretan appetizer made with barley rusks, chopped tomatoes, feta cheese, oregano, and olive oil.

After exploring Heraklion, the group then traveled in the village of Archanes which served as their “home base” for most of the trip. Everyone slept in traditional Cretan village homes - small, stone apartments which included bedrooms, small kitchens and fireplaces surrounding a large courtyard. Each morning the group would walk from their homes to the village square for breakfast.

Cretan cuisine includes snails such as these cooked with olive oil and rosemary.
Cretan cuisine includes snails such as these cooked with olive oil and rosemary.

Normally, I hate trying new foods and I rarely ever do. However, I tried almost everything on this trip. I was very skeptical about trying snails but they actually tasted good! — Hannah Baumgart '21

Cooking classes were held where students learned the essentials of the Mediterranean diet with a Cretan twist, focusing on the incorporation of wild greens, herbs, legumes, fish, and seasonal fruits. The students traveled to a local guide’s home and learned how to use common ingredients in their cooking, including lots of herbs, olive oil, honey, whole grains, and very little meat. Students were then assigned a classic Cretan recipe to prepare for all the others.

Katerina, a local chef, hosted the group inside her home for a cooking class.
Katerina, a local chef, hosted the group inside her home for a cooking class.
Cheese pies, usually with feta or Mizithra cheeses, are served for breakfast.
Cheese pies, usually with feta or Mizithra cheeses, are served for breakfast.
A Minoan cooking demonstration featured lentils cooked with coriander.
A Minoan cooking demonstration featured lentils cooked with coriander.

I made a cabbage slaw with shredded purple and green cabbage with arugula and dressed with red wine vinegar, olive oil and sea salt. It was a simple recipe, so I added my own flair with fresh lemon, honey, raisins, pistachios, and carrots.”  Josh Janson ’21 

Students picked up a few skills of the trade including learning how to fillet a fish.
Students picked up a few skills of the trade including learning how to fillet a fish.
Stuffed tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and zucchini prepared by the students.
Stuffed tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and zucchini prepared by the students.

With every great dish comes great ingredients so stops to farmer’s markets, seed farms, and an apothecary were in store. At the farmer’s markets, students could talk to each of the farmers and get to know them.

Lisa Rafalson, PhD, chair and associate professor of the Health Services Administration department, spoke with a farmer in Archanes who brought dried herbs such as oregano and lavender, raisins, plus donkey milk soap.
Lisa Rafalson, PhD, chair and associate professor of the Health Services Administration department, spoke with a farmer in Archanes who brought dried herbs such as oregano and lavender, raisins, plus donkey milk soap.
This farmer was selling sea salt, pickled vegetables and kritamon, also called "rock samphire," or sea fennel, as well as other wild edible plants.
This farmer was selling sea salt, pickled vegetables and kritamon, also called "rock samphire," or sea fennel, as well as other wild edible plants.
A woman at a market in Heraklion was selling organic hand creams, perfumes, and lotions that members of the group loved.
A woman at a market in Heraklion was selling organic hand creams, perfumes, and lotions that members of the group loved.
Students learn medicinal uses of natural herbs at an apothecary in Archanes.
Students learn medicinal uses of natural herbs at an apothecary in Archanes.

 My favorite part of the apothecary was finding out that there are natural herbs I'm familiar with that have had research and testing to result in cures for everyday medical complications. —Eric Nowak ’20

While visiting the heirloom seed farm, the group heard from a farmer that is leading an initiative to encourage people to cultivate traditional Cretan grains like barley, wheat, and oats, as well as herbs and vegetables that are native to the land. 

A farmer explains the differences between wheat (left) and barley (right).
A farmer explains the differences between wheat (left) and barley (right).

The group was also treated to a tour and hike around parts of the island where a botanist would identify edible plants. Crete is home to a variety of edible plants such as Amaranth, a leaf used in vegetable stews; kafkalida, a green used for savory pie fillings; and mustard greens. One tour included seeing an organic olive oil company’s farmland. 

The tour allowed students to see the olive tree grove and insights on the process to make olive oil.
The tour allowed students to see the olive tree grove and insights on the process to make olive oil.
“Extending an olive branch” takes on a more of a literal meaning when you’re in Crete.
“Extending an olive branch” takes on a more of a literal meaning when you’re in Crete.
Crete is home to many historical sites including the Minoan Palace in Knossos. The Palace of Knossos became the ceremonial and political center of the Minoan civilization. The site has been reconstructed to demonstrate building design and palace layout.
Crete is home to many historical sites including the Minoan Palace in Knossos. The Palace of Knossos became the ceremonial and political center of the Minoan civilization. The site has been reconstructed to demonstrate building design and palace layout.

 If you’re on the fence about study abroad - just go for it. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a cultural experience.  Josh Janson ’21

These huge, decorative pots at the palace were used to store liquids such as wine or oil.
These huge, decorative pots at the palace were used to store liquids such as wine or oil.

Just a short drive from Knossos, Mount Juktas is home to a peak sanctuary that was one of the most important in the Minoan world. Greek legend states that Zeus himself is buried in a tomb in one of the four sacred caves on the mountain.

Climbing Mount Juktas.
Climbing Mount Juktas.
“Tou Zia to Mnima,” or “The Tomb of Zeus” sits at 720 meters above sea level.
“Tou Zia to Mnima,” or “The Tomb of Zeus” sits at 720 meters above sea level.
The group takes in the view at the top of Mount Juktas.
The group takes in the view at the top of Mount Juktas.

Located a short distance away from the beaches in the scenic town of Plaka, the island of Spinalonga is known for its abandoned leper colony and fortress. Originally a part of the Spinalonga Peninsula, it was dug out and the fortress was built there for defense purposes.

The leper’s entrance of Spinalonga, also known as "Dante's Gate,” received its name from the uncertainty of knowing what would happen after they passed through. But once inside, they received food, water, and medical attention.
The leper’s entrance of Spinalonga, also known as "Dante's Gate,” received its name from the uncertainty of knowing what would happen after they passed through. But once inside, they received food, water, and medical attention.
Located in Mirabello Bay opposite of Spinalonga, Plaka’s beaches allow for some fun in the sun.
Located in Mirabello Bay opposite of Spinalonga, Plaka’s beaches allow for some fun in the sun.

 My favorite parts about the trip was visiting Knossos and the island of Spinalonga to see these ruins that have been there for so many years. — Hannah Baumgart ’21

A boat anchors just off the picturesque coast of Elounda, a short distance from Plaka.
A boat anchors just off the picturesque coast of Elounda, a short distance from Plaka.
For lunch, the group was treated to three huge platters of seafood that included grilled octopus and sardines, fried calamari, red snappers, and gobies.
For lunch, the group was treated to three huge platters of seafood that included grilled octopus and sardines, fried calamari, red snappers, and gobies.

  The advice I would give to a fellow student contemplating studying abroad would be to just go for it. Not only is it a wonderful experience but it broadens your horizons when it comes to how people live in the world. — Eric Nowak ’20

D'Youville offers many other study abroad opportunities through the Center for Global Engagement. Study abroad experiences offer students the chance to see the world and discover new ways of learning. “The students from the trip are going to be more passionate about helping people make healthy diet changes,” said Border. “Many of the students who traveled to Crete came away with a higher confidence to explore new cultures which broadens a student’s knowledge base and teaches all to think and live differently. They really appreciated that authentic experience.”

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