My mother often came to spend the holidays with us in Kea. After all, on the island we usually enjoyed better weather than in her suburban home in Kifisia, north of Athens, the first place in the city's outskirts to experience snow and frost. Once, she and my sister's family were stranded here for five days, as the whole region around Athens was under snow, the airport closed, and only the main roads cleared, while we enjoyed marvelous winter sun!
No matter that for the past 15 years I was officially the cooking expert of our family; my mother always came with heavy bags brimming with all sorts of seasonal food and sweets. She had spent days overseeing her companion and the lady who cleaned her house as they prepared, under her detailed instructions, melomakarona—the traditional orange, honey, and spice cookies; a big pot filled with her stuffed cabbage dolmades; pastitzio, macaroni and meat casserole; and, of course, her vassilopita, the New Year's cake we all loved.
According to our tradition, on New Year's Eve or after the family lunch on New Year's Day, the head of the family cuts into the rich and aromatic cake, which has the year written in almonds on top, and a lucky coin baked and hidden inside. A piece is distributed to each family member, starting with the eldest, and whoever gets the symbolic coin is rewarded with a gift of money and, according to superstition, good luck entering the new year.