Summer of new discoveries

It’s been quite a summer!  I missed writing, and for the longest time I’ve had so many thoughts in my mind.  But, I was not necessarily in the frame of mind to share recipes and other goodies, even though we have traveled quite a bit this summer.

We’ve had our share of stresses at the mad cafe, mainly caused by an endless renovation project that has set us back a least two months due to inspection issues.  I may know how to swing a hammer now, but I have been clueless about paperwork and plans.  This was a new experience for Michael and me, but we’ve finally found a way to deal with it and get it done.  I’ve learned a lot of important lessons in the process.

Anna was focused a lot on her swimming this summer, and learning how to groom and ride a horse.

She’s wearing braces now, and I have to keep reminding myself that she’ll be 11 in a matter of weeks.  She’s finishing up elementary school this year and the pressure to ensure a good middle school fit for her is now becoming a reality.

Looking great on a horse!

That’s the problem with Florida schools — there aren’t many good options and many of them require relocation.  Then again, I guess that’s the case with a lot of neighborhoods.

On top of that, work continues to pile up even during off season.  That’s the one thing that is going really well.  I’m still amazed at how our business is growing in the right direction, even in the midst of traveling and life stress.

Someone close to me recently pointed out that I tend to take on too much because I’m very driven and that can get overwhelming at times.  Maybe he was trying to be polite to word it so well, but there’s a lot of truth to that observation.  Acknowledging that has helped me understand that I have to learn to pace myself, which is an ongoing challenge for me.  I generally try to pace myself, but at times I need the right support or outlet to slow down and align my focus.  There’s so much I want to do and try and experience.  So, in many ways, it’s no surprise that writing, cooking, traveling, talking to and learning from others is a big part of what makes me happy.

I saw this in San Francisco and it intrigued me

How do you handle negativity?  Especially when it comes in the form of stress that other people bring to you unexpectedly?  Over time, and through many painful circumstances, I’ve learned to accept and detach myself from things that stress me.  It’s a great exercise that helps maximize resilience… and one that takes a lot of practice.

By focusing on things that make me happy, I’m able to handle things better and find a balance.  It’s not always easy, in fact at times it’s very, very hard, but… I’m usually up for a challenge.

At Half Moon Bay, I love these cliffs… as long as I can admire them from a distance!

It doesn’t take much to guess that the summer was a little off this year.  It was actually amazing in some ways, filled with new discoveries that have changed my life forever.  In other ways, too, it’s been wonderful to connect with friends and family that I don’t get to see often.  And visiting LA, San Francisco and Denver in under three weeks with a ten year old was quite an adventure.

This one is ready for Hollywood!

Watching her reactions to all the places we visiting was fascinating.  Granted I know she was bored since we didn’t travel with a friend for her to keep entertained, but I think it helped her grow and see new things.

The famous cupcake ATM in Beverly Hills

Anna loved LA.  Loved it.  Strolling down Rodeo Drive and going in the shops on Beverly Drive was almost as much fun as getting her daily fix at the Cupcake ATM.  I worked hard to find local places for us to try out in Beverly Hills and Malibu, but in many cases, both Anna and Michael opted for the comfort of franchises… which didn’t exactly make the tiny chef (me) happy!  Still, the weather was fabulous, and the area reminds me so much of Kifissia.  And we all enjoyed the Santa Monica Pier.  I even made an attempt to conquer my fear of heights by going on the ferris wheel.  While I was smiling on the ride, the reality is that I’m still working on that fear!

Santa Monica pier is fun for locals and tourists alike

I especially enjoyed Venice Beach, though nearly everyone I spoke to thinks I’m crazy, we got to experience a different culture than we are used to in Palm Beach.

Having a heart to heart with Anna about homelessness while visiting Venice Beach. Behind us are the headquarters of Snapchat

I’m sorry, where do you get to enjoy an awesome brunch on the beach at 9am with live rock music coming from three very talented homeless musicians just across the street?  Anna was not particularly happy about walking around there, seeing the sadness around.  But I thought it was important for me as a parent to show her as much of the world as I can, and try to explain as much as best I can.

Anyway, we also got to experience the ultimate LA non-fun: traffic.  This is probably the chief reason why I would never move there.  The drive from Bel-Air to Laguna Beach to see a friend took us 3 hours… 60 miles.  Beyond frustrating.  After experiencing that awfulness, I was ready for our next destination…San Francisco.

We lucked out with the weather. This was about the most fog we saw during our visit in San Francisco

It wasn’t our first time in the Bay Area, but it was Anna’s and I was very interested to see what she would think.  She wasn’t as intrigued as I had expected.

And she actually didn’t mind the hills!  I guess when you can swim non-stop for two hours, a steep hill is a joke.  We spent a lot of time with Zoe and Antonio, since they are heading back to Greece at the end of this month.  Knowing this made our visit a little bittersweet for me.  Their place is near the Coit Tower in Telegraph Hill, a beautiful part of the city.

We took day trips to Half Moon Bay, which so much fun for all of us, especially for Anna who loved pushing me into the freezing water!  We also went to Muir Woods and Beach, and that was so much unexpected fun.

With Zoe at Muir Beach… and a very cute photo bomber!

It was a misty day, so no swimming, but there was so much to explore.  As we were walking, we saw mussels all over the rocks on the beach.  There were thousands of them!!!  And tons of campers around too, which made me wonder why no one was there with a plastic bag picking mussels?  In Greece, I would have taken a whole bagful without thinking… I was already dreaming of cooking seafood linguine in lemon garlic butter sauce…

Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure if doing so was prohibited since it was a state beach.  So, I marveled and took photos instead.  Sigh.

The tiny chef in seafood heaven!

We spent a little time in the city doing the normal tourist things… seeing Lombard Street, the Ferry Building, the Exploratorium, Pier 39, Ghirardelli, and the bread factory at Boudin.  I did my best to point out some landmarks and buildings to Anna, while driving across the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate.  On our last day, we were invited to take a tour of GooglePlex which was very fun, too.

At GooglePlex – so much fun!
Mt. Bierstadt just after sunrise

After five nights, it was time for our next stop in Denver.  We stayed at my brother’s house about 30 minutes away from downtown.  We were finally able to do some laundry, and I was finally in a kitchen where I could be creative!  The highlight of our stay, aside from visiting the Tattered Cover Bookstore downtown, was hiking Mt. Bierstadt.

Anna and theios at DIA!

We started before sunrise and the vistas were amazing.  Some of us fared better than others on the hike, but it was a very fun experience.  And we got to see mountain goats and deer!  We also went on shorter walks and spent a lot of time just catching up with family and some work.

Being back in the Florida humidity hit me quickly.  But, I missed the palm trees and the beach, and my friends.  And it seems they missed me too, which makes me happy.

 

Marmalade

Eggs, bacon, sausage, crispy hash browns, grain cereal, strawberries and bananas.  Those are all delicious, but breakfast is still not my thing.  At 39, I’ll start the day with room temperature water and lemon, when I remember.  Right after my morning set of two-minute planks, it’s straight to coffee.

Over the years, the type of coffee I drink has changed dramatically… Greek coffee in my late teens, Nescafe during most of my twenties, then I loved drinking French press coffee for a good number of years.  Now, I’m officially addicted to Nespresso, which may be a combination of its terrific aroma and flavor as much as the convenience it brings to the morning routine.

Greek coffee is definitely an acquired taste!

To change things up, I tried opting for tea in the morning instead of coffee.  But that quickly became too boring and weak, so I save tea for afternoons, or for when I’m not feeling well when I get to pour my favorite Karpathian honey in it!

By 10-10:30am or so I’ll start getting hungry and start snacking until lunch.  I’ve been that way ever since I can remember.

Growing up, my grandmother used to yell at me if I didn’t have breakfast in the morning.  My mom was usually still in bed when it was time to head off to school, and my dad used to talk to me at the table and just leave me alone, which I appreciated.  Occasionally, I’d grab a warm croissant on my way out, or bite out of tiropita (cheese pie), but I was hardly ever in the mood for breakfast on weekdays.

Then I watch my daughter develop much better morning habits than her mom.  Anna will eat two eggs, an English muffin, three sausages and several cubes of cantaloupe as her “first” breakfast.  Then she goes for apples and oatmeal.  She’s a swimmer and is already four inches taller than me at age 10.  I’ll watch her eat with admiration as she washes everything down with milk or water.  Sometimes she’ll ask me why I’m only drinking coffee and only the occasional thin slice of my famous zucchini cake.  My answer is always the same, “I’m up, but still waking up.”

Weekends are a different story.  I feel more relaxed, and not on a schedule and will indulge in a morning breakfast of bacon and eggs or a warm chocolate croissant.  There’s nothing better than reading the Sunday paper sipping on delicious coffee and munching on a warm croissant!

Traditional Greek breakfast is very different than what we are used to here.  It’s mostly pastries or toast/rusks with butter and marmalade or honey or Merenda (the Greek Nutella).  Sometimes it’s a croissant or a spinach/cheese pie, and other times it’s just butter cookies dipped in milk or coffee.  No eggs, pancakes or waffles. No bacon, and definitely no sausages.  Hardly anyone actually lights up the stove to cook breakfast in Greece until it’s time to make lunch.

In London’s Hyde Park with my dad, summer 1981

In the spirit of Father’s Day, I’m thinking of my dad and the brief times we’d have in the morning together when no one else was ready.  He would be the first one to wake up every morning, and he’d wake me up at 6:45 and then wake my brother… who was grumpy and didn’t want to talk to anyone before 7:30.  I’d get ready fairly quickly and head into the kitchen and chat with my dad, who was enjoying a bite of breakfast before taking the train to his office in Pireaus.

Since I didn’t eat anything but drink milk or juice, it was the perfect time to check in about what each of us had to do that day.  I’d watch him spread his favorite orange or cherry Hero marmalade on lightly toasted bread with such precision and wondered how it almost never dripped on the plate as he took each bite.  I never liked marmalade much.  But it was a staple in our home.  Then he’d quickly finish his Greek coffee and off we were.  Usually, my dad was the one out of the house first and almost always the last to come home in the evening.

I’ve tried a few times to make marmalade with leftover berries that I didn’t want to go to waste and each time it was very tasty.  I don’t think I’m ready to share a recipe on that today, but I had started writing a poem inspired from those times.  It stayed unfinished for a few years, since I was wondering how it should end.  Recently, I’ve found unexpected and remarkable inspiration that somehow motivated me to finish it.  The formatting of the poem might be a bit off as I tried to write it here, but the essence is there.  Happy Father’s Day!

MARMALADE

Random gatherings of bitter citrus fruit
Plucked from every season
With haste, she tosses in a sizzling pan.
Bouquets of smells, some too familiar
Sluggishly
Permeate the kitchen.

She’s made excuses for those moments
Left unseized, abandoned, unmarked.
Experiences mustered like the fruit from every season
To eat?
To compost?
Or rot?

She adds sugar and more water
And raises the heat.
Time is such a charming swindler!
Memories irritate and console her spirit.
Are they glorified?  Watered down?

The kitchen fills with aromas
Unfamiliar, unknown, exciting.
Her taste buds swell in anticipation
Desire? Hunger? Zeal?
A new path – perhaps?

Stirring briskly with a whisk
The mixture bubbles up
She releases a long sigh –a soft smile appears.
It’s almost ready

The gripping monologue grows silent in her brain.
Her face, now – oh — so radiant.
With a quiver of delight

She turns off the stove.

It’s time.
The marmalade thickens…
(she lifts a spoon)

Summers in Palm Beach… then and now

And I’m back!  It has been a busy several weeks at the mad cafe.  Tax season is wrapping up and Anna is off for her summer vacation, after successfully finishing up 4th grade.  She’s earned more junior Olympic times at swimming, and is now a safety patrol!  Anna loves rules and order.  She also made it on the news crew for next year.  Most of all, she’s happy and learning to think for herself.

My Anna!

My mom is leaving for her three month trip to Greece this week… with two 70lb suitcases!  She’s packed not only gifts for everyone, but also the weird comforts of American products, including Krispy Kreme cake mix.  I didn’t know those existed!  I’m glad she’ll be going and spending some time out there with our family and friends.

That leaves us here working on tax returns, invoicing, and a big renovation project in one of the units.  It’s fun to watch the unit come together slowly.  I love how creative we can be with a tiny space of barely 400 sq feet.  But, I’ll admit it’s also exhausting and a challenge to stay focused on it 24/7, when there are other things to do.  And I know myself by now.  After every long day, I need some precious time on my own to just think.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the summers when we would travel from Athens to visit my grandmother here for two months.  She was so cute, she used to welcome us with her famous potato leek soup.  It tasted so different from the soups in Greece.

Summer in Palm Beach… outside our door

I grew to really enjoy it.  Once I would finish my bowl, she’d tell me to go to the bedroom where I’d find some thoughtful gifts from her.  They were few and very thoughtful, which I loved.  Our summer routine in Palm Beach included summer camp, following my mom around from mall to mall to shop (yuck!), indulging in TV shows that we didn’t have in Greece, writing letters home and waiting for the mail every afternoon, and volunteering at the local Red Cross in West Palm Beach.

Volunteering was a lot of fun for me.  My brother and I were assigned in Disaster Services at the Red Cross, but worked in different offices.  Somehow, I ended up helping the Director of Disaster Services, Lucy, and still remember all her good business advice.  She commanded respect – I listened actively and watched her as she handled so much work and remember her office was full of papers everywhere.  I would try and organize it for her.  She really took a liking to me and when she was out of town for a training seminar on a Monday, she assigned me to be Director for a Day.  I was 13!  It was so much fun.  No such opportunities in Greece.

The best advice Lucy gave me was that I should refuse to do brainless work, because I’m capable of always doing more.  Some of the volunteers were stuck stuffing envelopes and stapling papers for hours.  I didn’t mind doing whatever needed to get done, but Lucy always took me away from that and had me either calling people to schedule meetings, which really helped me practice my English, or she would take me on the road with her to disaster sites.  I’ll never forget how kind she was to me!

Other than that, our times in Palm Beach during the summer were kind of boring.  My dad would stay in Athens to work and join us in August, when the courts are closed for summer vacation.  And I missed him so much!  In Palm Beach, it was hot and humid outside, with not much to do outdoors, except going to the beach.  But, that had to wait until my dad came to visit, because my mom did not enjoy the beach at all.  At least when he came, we went to the beach every morning and it was a lot of fun!

Two trees watching the sun rise in Palm Beach

So, we had no choice but to follow my mom around for the months of June and July… and I hate, hate, hate shopping.  And my mom’s favorite hobby is to bargain shop!  We would follow her for hours going from store to store where she could shop for clothes and whatever else for Greece.  I would so much want to stay home alone and write letters to my friends, but she wouldn’t let me.  The only productive thing I learned from all that is to quickly figure out the 75% off of this, or 90% off of that, which I suppose is generally helpful.

I did enjoy the evenings at our house though.  My mom would retreat to her room to go through all her shopping bargains, my brother was either reading airline timetables or financial news, and I had no interest in any of that so I’d walk into the living room where my grandmother quietly sat.  She would either read the newspaper or just sit and think intently.  I can still picture her sitting in the flamingo pink armchair with her hand on her face.  While she would appear lost in deep thought, her gorgeous green eyes were alert and usually fixated on a particular point in the room as she quietly examined things.

Without wanting to disturb her, and filled with endless curiosity, I would slowly walk into the room to see if she’d let me join her.  She’d break away from her thoughts and smile and invite me to sit with her.  Then she’d quickly let me in her thoughts and we would talk for hours… about anything, including life, love, marriage, ambitions, family.

Since we live in the same house now, I can’t help but think of these thoughts now that summer is here.  I am typing this post in the same room, where my grandmother and I would have these deep conversations and laugh for hours.  It is surreal at times.

On one of my walks on the beach

I loved it when she kept saying I remind her of herself.  And that when I say something I should mean it.  Or, that if I set my mind to do something I need to figure it out and get it done without complaining.  And that I should be proud to be a woman and not let anyone put me down.

And much more.

The room looks very different now, but her light still shines through at times, especially in the evenings…

MAD POTATO LEEK SOUP

I’ve made changes to my grandmother’s original recipe to make it a bit lighter.  It’s still a great recipe to welcome visitors in town and bring them together around the table.

Prep time: 30 minutes (soaking leeks included) Cooking time: 45 minutes  Yields: about 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 stick of butter
  • 2 leeks, thinly sliced up to where the green part starts (discard the upper leaves, or rinse and keep for stock)
  • 6 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 5-6 preferably Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced into small cubes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 1/2 cup of feta cheese, crumbled
  • s/p to taste

Directions

First, you have to make sure the leeks are clean from dirt and sand.  Once you’ve sliced them, add into a bowl with warm water and let soak for 10 minutes.  Repeat 2-3 times until no more dirt is in the bottom of the bowl.

In a large stock pot over medium heat, melt the butter.  Stir in the leeks and cook until they sweat and feel tender, about 12-15 minutes.  It’s important to stir frequently to ensure the leeks are evenly cooked. Add the potatoes and coat with the butter.  Lower the heat to medium low.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the cornstarch into the veggie broth in a separate bowl and stir well.  Slowly pour broth into pot with the leeks and potatoes.  Set to medium heat and gradually bring to a boil. Adjust the seasoning.  Once the mixture boils, add the cream and the milk and stir well.  Turn heat to simmer for about 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are tender to the touch.

Mad potato leek soup! I think I added a streak of balsamico for effect in this version, undoubtedly getting carried away in the creative process. Yum!

If you have an immersion blender, here’s your opportunity to use it.  BE CAREFUL and learn how to use it first to avoid splatter and getting burned.  If you know how to use it: turn off the heat and blend the mixture right in the stock pot until velvety and smooth.  Add the crumbled feta at the end and stir well until it’s melted.  You can garnish with sprigs of thyme or chives.

Serve warm!

 

 

 

Mad Tiramisu

How cool was it that sports personality, Mia Khalifa enjoyed and featured one of the mad cafe recipes yesterday on Twitter?  I never know where writing this blog will take the stories, recipes and moments shared in this odd space.  It is a fun discovery and becoming more interesting as time goes on.  Thank you, Mia, not only for sharing, but for appreciating what I’m doing!

My shrimp mykonos style recipe featured by Mia on her Twitter

 

So, I am preparing for our special guests to arrive tomorrow from San Francisco, Zoe and Antonio and one of the mad cafe favorite desserts here is tiramisu.  I’ve grown into enjoying this Italian staple, and have not always liked it.  It’s such a delicate balance of both gentle and bold flavors in the same bite.  From my experience tasting and making tiramisu, I have found that the main thing to be mindful of is that the bold flavors don’t overpower the delicacy of the dessert, while the gentle flavors don’t undermine its existence.

A couple of years ago when we visited Venice, and the highlight of that trip was spending quality time with my dear friend Marta from grad school and meeting her family.

My Millepiedi (as I call her) and I out on an afternoon walk in Venice

Anna and Nina, Marta’s daughter, became fast friends through the language of play.  It was amazing to see!  We spent time following their lead and experiencing how people actually live in Venice.  I loved it!  We cooked pasta, pizza at home, and occasionally ate out… which was a big mistake.  Our friends did warn us, but when you’re out and about it’s tempting to try some of the restaurants, even though they are tourist traps.

Enjoying a great view of the Grand Canal

After walking around Venice, taking lots of pictures, enjoying the piazza, appreciating the architecture and observing so many dynamics between locals and tourists, I understood that people must be so fed up with tourists every day invading their space.

Walking in Venice with Marta during heavy tourist traffic

Venice turns into a ghost town at night time, since most tourists can’t afford to stay at the fancy hotels.  Those evenings were so much fun, we would go out late for gelato and the kids would just play in the piazza.  The best part is that we didn’t have to worry about cars coming by, only which bridges we had to cross.  That was amazing.

Anna and her imagination at work at Piazza San Marco.  One of my favorite photos.

I remember our last day in Venice.  Michael really wanted to take a drive out to Maranello, near Modena, to see the Ferrari museum.  He says that when he passes away, his ghost will be at the Ferrari factory working on cars.  It was an interesting day, trying to get to Maranello.  Without GPS, and really bad road signs, we somehow got there with the little Italian we could manage.  The museums are very popular and there’s a lot for auto enthusiasts to enjoy.

Finally at Museo Ferrari!

So, after a long day driving in Marta and Emi’s VW Polo, we returned with the vaporetto to Venice starving.  As we were walking around, we came across this trendy looking restaurant on our way.  Based on the menu, the food looked typical Italian, so we went.

Anna and I starting to feel tired from a long day, and ready for the way back to Venice

Aside that the prices were insane, at the end of the meal the three of us figured we would share a tiramisu.  We hadn’t had one during the trip, and looking back I would have not chosen to enjoy one in Venice.  But 15 Euro later, the tiramisu is proudly served to our table by our chatty server.  “Bellissimo,” he tells me, and I gave him a look trying to communicate that I may be a tourist, but I’m not clueless.  I took a bite and it was awful!  I don’t know if it was stale or just that the flavors were totally off.

That inspired me to work on my own tiramisu recipe, which I’m near perfecting.  I made my version this past summer in Karpathos, at a large family gathering at our veranda and it was a huge success.  Even my uncle who never compliments, had three helpings and couldn’t stop talking about it!

So, I’m happy to share with you the recipe.  Remember, it takes patience, time, balance, quality ingredients, passion and lots of love to make it!

MAD TIRAMISU

Prep time: 30 minutes  Time in the refrigerator:  at least 5 hours, best to make it a day ahead  Yields: One 9×12″ pan

Ingredients

5 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese (room temperature)

1 & 3/4 cup of good heavy cream

2 packages of savogliardi  (Note: use the real deal, not those spongy lady fingers… go to a specialty market if you need to.)

2/3 cup cold, really strong espresso or good instant coffee (I use Nescafe)

1/4 cup of Kalua (optional, but not really!)

Loose cocoa powder for dusting

P.S:  I do not use marsala wine!

Directions

Start by making your zabaione, by setting up a double boiler on medium heat.  Add the egg yolks and sugar in the top of the double boiler, ideally as the water begins to boil.  Once this happens, reduce heat to low/sim, and cook for about 12 minutes.  Note:  You have to stir constantly during this time.  This will be the base of the tiramisu and the sugar must be well dissolved in this initial process.  Carefully remove the bowl from the heat.  Whisk yolks until the mixture is nice and thick with a light yellow color.

Add the mascarpone into the zabaione mixture and mix until very well combined.  You can use a mixer to do this, but I do it by hand with a wooden spoon.

OK, so I will need to post a photo of my own when I make the tiramisu again as I can’t find it my library. But this is very much what it looks like! (photo credit: RecipeTin Eats)

In a stand up mixer, you will now beat the heavy cream until stiff peaks form, about 3-4 minutes.  Don’t over beat, or the cream will turn into a form of butter!

Gently fold in the cream into the mascarpone mixture and set aside or place into the refrigerator as you prep the coffee mixture.

This is key: the coffee flavor needs to be intense.  The moment you think the coffee flavor of your espresso is strong, make it twice as strong.  This is why I choose instant coffee instead of cooled espresso.  Add in the Kalua and stir into a wide bowl.

Get your pan ready and quickly dip each savogliardi in the coffee mixture (don’t soak, it will get mushy, trust me) and lay one by one until the first layer is complete.  Take out the cream mixture and layer about an inch or so thick on top of the savogliardi.  Repeat one more layer of the savogliardi and then finish layering with the remaining mascarpone cream.

Gently sift cocoa power on top, or you can do this right before you serve.  I’ve done it both ways.

Chill for 5 hours at least or leave overnight to set.  Enjoy!

The ultimate cold dish

Finally, tax season is o-v-e-r!  This season was very challenging compared to years prior.  There were plenty of stressful moments, and a tremendous lack of sleep.

Michael trying to relax after tax season, usually with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc

We keep reminding ourselves why we go through these four months of hell year after year and it helps put some things in perspective… for example, upcoming renovation projects, giving back to our community, Anna’s college fund, travel, etc.., etc.

I have learned so much this season; about our clients, our employees, our process, our company culture and a lot about myself.  It’s a great feeling when you see progress in the right direction.  Great to see team members step up on their own to help exactly when and where it is needed.  It was a relief when all our client obligations were complete by the deadline, all at the cost of our time, lack of sleep and coffee intake.

Renovation mode after tax season.  We laid 1100 square feet of tile a few years ago all by ourselves.  By the 12th day, it was definitely time for a vacation.  On a positive note, renovations make my body feel super strong!

Michael was telling me that because he was working on adrenaline for the past two weeks, that coming of that now is always a weird feeling of “I don’t know what to do now that the deadline is over.”  There’s always plenty to do, of course, especially with extensions, expat deadlines, etc.   But not having tax day looming over you puts everything else on a different platform.   Learning to relax?  That’s something worth exploring these days for sure.

I’m very much looking forward to Zoe and Antonio who are coming out to visit from San Francisco.  I’m sad they are only staying for a quick weekend, but I intend to make it memorable!  They haven’t visited since Christmas of 2012, when they first moved here from Athens.  It’s particularly great for me to watch Zoe grow and flourish during this time… in her career and as a person learning to acclimate in a completely different environment than she’s used to.

Zoe and Antonio pictured here in Sausalito a few years ago.

And living in the Bay Area is not like any other city, yet, she’s done it well and from someone who has known her since we were 5 and 6, I’m so proud!  We will celebrate next weekend with an air boat ride out in the Everglades — something I’ve always wanted to do down here.

I’m slowly warming up into cooking at home again after the tax season hiatus.  Anna has been helpful, moody and patient in her own 10 year old way, and I really appreciate her approach to tax season.

My Anna and me out for a horribly timed tax season birthday dinner!

She gave me a high five and we celebrated with donuts on the last day.  Then, she hit me up to adopt a dog.  Though tempted, I hinted that we can’t adopt right now… especially with summer coming up.  I admire her persistence and enthusiasm though, as I know this conversation is far from over!

Very pleased, too, that I’ve connected with my friends during this stressful time.  I’ve clearly identified who I can be with and reach out to, who can understand me and cares to listen – even when I am in a sour mood.  That’s exactly when you know someone loves and accepts you for who you are, without trying to change you, but trying to challenge your thinking instead.

Learning to savor the present moment!

With my 39th birthday now behind me, I’m gaining so much perspective on life, love, friendship and so many other elements, too, and feel thankful as I try to embrace and savor every moment.

So, as we enter outdoor grilling season, with renovation projects underway, I want to share a recipe for a very cold dish… this was Amanda’s suggestion and it was awesome.

Amanda happily joined us for Christmas eve this past holiday season. She easily put up with a bunch of Greeks that night!

It’s called “kolyva” and it’s really healthy and delicious, in fact.  Then again, it’s traditionally served during funerals and memorials in Greece.  I’m not hosting a memorial for anyone, but referencing back to cold dishes, this would be a fantastic option.  I can already think of a few people I would happily serve this to with a big smile.

 

Thank you, Amanda for suggesting the ultimate cold dish!

MAD KOLYVA – THE ULTIMATE COLD DISH

(This is great!)

Prep time:  at least 4-5 hours.  Servings: 5-6 (I adjusted the recipe for the number of people I could serve this to, so do the math accordingly)

Ingredients 

1 lb wheat berries

Dash of salt

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

1/2 cup of unpolished jordan almonds (white, not colored)

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

2 cups confectioners sugar, divided

Directions

The great aspect about kolyva is that while traditionally they are prepared the day before a memorial, the wheat berries will ferment when left at room temperature overnight.  This will allow the sugar to crystallize in the refrigerator. From what I’m reading, the best pre-preparation method is to boil and refrigerate the wheat berries way ahead of time, then add in the rest of the ingredients.  That’s what makes this an ultimate cold dish… it’s all in the prep!

First, you will want to carefully rinse the wheat berries and put them in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 3-4 inches, and add the dash of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the wheat berries are soft.  They should start to split a little but be careful that they don’t get mushy.  The boiling process will take up to 1.5 hours.  Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon so that the wheat berries are not stuck to the bottom of the saucepan.

Drain and set the strainer aside to cool and dry for at least 3-4 hours.

Once the berries have cooled down completely, place them a large bowl. Add in the rest of the ingredients: sesame seeds, walnuts, jordan almonds, golden raisins, cinnamon, and the pomegranate seeds until well mixed.

Kolyva decorated beautifully with jordan almonds and raisins (photo: Liturgical Recipes, St. John Greek Orthodox Church)

Add in 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar and mix all together.

Transfer the mixture to a large platter or tray.  Sift the remaining confectioners’ sugar over the top to coat it thickly, so it resembles icing.  You can opt to decorate the top with almonds for effect.  You will want to present the tray first when it looks pretty, and then, right before you serve in individual bowls, you will need to mix it up together.

It’s actually really tasty and healthy as a snack!

 

 

 

The non-celebration of an unorthodox Greek Easter

The countdown to tax day is officially on.  We are hardly sleeping well and just working and working non-stop – or what feels like non-stop.  One more week of this, and then the next wave of invoicing hundreds of clients will begin, as well as seeing Anna through the end of her 4th grade year, followed by a hands-on renovation project of one of our units upstairs.

I was thinking last night before falling asleep, which was well past midnight, how Easter was always my favorite holiday growing up in Greece.

Tsoureki is delicious with coffee and makes for awesome french toast.

We had two full weeks off from school and work, and things would just slow down around us.  I’m not religious, so for me personally it wasn’t so much about going to church and following strict rituals, but I was enamored with the cultural traditions and learned to look forward to them year after year.

Here we are trying to get organized for our Easter table at my brother house some years back… the soup (magiritsa) is served first

So, traditionally, this week is Holy Week for those observing Greek Orthodox Easter and it’s the last week of Lent, when mostly everyone fasts from meat and dairy.  I so enjoyed the tradition of eating so simply for a whole week, building up the anticipation of devouring roasted lamb with my family on Easter Sunday.  It forced us to be creative with food for a week, trying to think up many delicious recipes… except for my mom’s idea of boiled pasta with a jar of plain tomato sauce – yuck!

Just as we would get into a rhythm for Holy Week, Good Friday would come along, really restricting things!  On that day, we would also fast from oil.  Some people fast from water, too, which we never did, but there are various levels of fasting extremes practiced on this day.  And there were a lot of superstitions, too!  You were not supposed to take a bath, wash your hair or wear anything colorful on Good Friday, for obvious reasons.  I remember there was one Good Friday when I was in high school, when I did wash my hair and felt fine about it, so it really depends on each person’s convictions.  But, I still enjoyed the church service on that particular day, the chanting is amazing and the entire church lights up with candles making it truly magical to experience, regardless or not if you’re religious.

My brother and I cracking eggs many years ago. I wish I had photos from when we were little, but they might be in Greece.

On Holy Thursday, we would traditionally dye the eggs red, and there are tons of recipes out there on how to proportion the dye and the vinegar in such a way, so that the eggs really turn deep red, vs. pink.  That was always very funny for me!  We would prepare the eggs, shine them with a little bit of olive oil and crack them on Easter Sunday… that’s also tons of fun, especially if you choose a solid egg and crack everybody’s!

After the Good Friday evening service, the four of us would come home and my dad without saying a word to anyone would fry up the golden delicious potatoes.  He would justify that by saying, “it’s ok, the first resurrection happened!”  So, we’d break the fast from olive oil at least, which was a very delicious way to do so.  I remember he did that every year and it was funny every time.

I love this photo. I had just woken up after baking all into the evening the day before… Anna wants to do a craft and I’m thinking of everything need to finish!

On Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday, was basically a day of preparation.  This meant, making tsourekia (a sweet type of bread, similar to challah bread), baking Easter cookies, while the men would prepare the lamb to roast on the spit the next day.

Koulourakia is the traditional Easter cookie in Greece. Of course your mom bakes the best, and so on..

This involved using every part of the animal, which I personally appreciate, as much as disgusts many people.  So, all the organs were removed, cleaned with vinegar and would be used in a soup for that night or for frying into a meze.

While I loved watching my aunt bake, and setting the table and preparing the midnight soup (magiritsa), I was definitely curious as to what “the men” were doing.  So, one year I think I was about 15, my cousin Mary’s husband, George (they are

I’ve previously posted this, but it’s probably the same year we made the kokoretsi at the farm. Great times!

both like my second set of parents, since they are much older), wanted to make kokoretsi from scratch.  Now, that’s a Didi challenge!  Kokoretsi generally consists of lamb or goat intestines, tightly wrapped around seasoned offal, including heart, lungs, sweetbreads, spleen, kidneys, etc.  If you’re disgusted by now, feel free to go read something else, because my mouth is watering right now just thinking about it!  Specifically, the intestines of suckling lambs are preferred.

I really wanted to learn how to make kokoretsi and no one was helping George, so I volunteered.  Instead of pushing me away, he showed my how to clean the intestines, which was a fascinating experience.  You take a long metal spit and you flip each one inside out… which is a very delicate process and you really need to be careful.  Some people don’t turn the intestines inside out and that’s how food poisoning happens.  Anyway, once that’s done, we make a bath of vinegar and warm water and rinse them well.  Of course you see little parts of green residue washing away, which is no doubt from the grass that the animal was feeding on.  It was remarkable to experience how important it is to appreciate the animal… something we definitely don’t do here in the States.

Kokoretsi on Easter Sunday! (source: pinterest)

Anyway, after the vinegar bath, the next step was to season the offal with lots of oregano, salt and pepper.  We’d pass everything through onto large metal skewers and then very carefully wrap the clean intestines over the offal, nice and easy until complete.  We’d tie the ends so the kokoretsi would stay in place.  These typically grill outdoors next to the lamb or goat on Easter Sunday and it’s unbelievably good.  Yes, it’s high in cholesterol, but remember this was done once a year.  Before you complain with any disgust, just think about all the burgers you ate this past week.

I am grumpy today.  I’m chasing clients to e-file their returns and not paying any attention that it’s even Easter.  Far too absorbed with tax season, it’s also Anna’s FSA exams at school this week, further taking away my focus.  We’re barely fasting, if you consider my forgetting to eat lunch since I’m so busy these days.  My family is totally scattered this year, which is such a sharp contrast to how things were growing up.  So, I’m finding some comfort sharing these stories.  I hope one day I’ll get to celebrate Easter again in Greece and show Anna how it’s really done!  Though I highly doubt she’ll have any interest in making kokoretsi, but I guess there’s always hope!

 

Moussaka at the mad cafe

Thanks to all of you supporting me during this stressful, final stretch of tax season.  I’m glad to be writing again tonight, and feeling good about stealing a little bit of time for myself without client emails or invoicing or incoming requests for quotes.

A few people have wondered why I haven’t posted a recipe on moussaka yet.  If you have any clue about Greek food, then you’ve certainly heard about moussaka and all its variations.  While I enjoy it, it’s never been my favorite dish, but it was my brother’s, and my father used to make it about 2-3 times a year so.

There was a method to the madness of making moussaka in our household.  First, my parents would discuss when my dad would make it.  Then, my brother would get all excited.  I’d just listen and stare at them as they planned the ingredients, who would buy what, etc.  Back then, my dad would buy most of the vegetables from the open market in Pireaus, and my mom was in charge of buying proteins, dairy, etc.  So, in our house moussaka was made with the freshest ground beef (not lamb), zucchini instead of eggplants, and gold potatoes.

For those of you who aren’t aware of moussaka, it’s a dish of layers… the bottom is potato, then ground meat with spices and sauce, then eggplant (that’s the traditional recipe), then a thick layer of creamy bechamel sauce — all broiled to perfection!  It delicious, but rich and heavy.

This is a version of moussaka from Asia Minor with sliced tomatoes on top

So, typically on a Saturday morning around 6am, while the rest of us were still asleep, my dad would shut the hallway door that separated our apartment’s bedrooms with the rest of the space and begin the moussaka ritual.  That involved playing records of folk songs from the 40’s and 50’s on our living room stereo as he sliced the potatoes and zucchini in flat layers.  By 8am, my mom would join him, since her role was to make the bechamel sauce and pour it on top before the pan went into the oven.  By 1-2pm it was ready to enjoy!

That happened every year of my years in Kifissia from what I can remember now.

When I transferred to NY to finish up undergrad I remember meeting a lot of Greek Americans.  I found them so different from me and interesting and in some ways really aloof at same time.  They had clearly been brought up to adore Greece no matter what.  In many ways, I found them to be closed minded, which is probably why I don’t have many Greek American friends.  The only affectionate exception are my five cousins from Long Island, who have always been nothing but kind and supportive of me, especially once I moved to NY on my own.

So, that first semester when I moved from Greece to NY was tough.  I remember crying for a few days in the beginning, learning to adjust, understanding the slang, wondering why strangers would say hello to you when you passed them by… I learned so much those first months.  I had met a few Greek Americans, too, and they were planning an International night and asked me if I wanted to bring something to participate… so I offered to make my dad’s moussaka.  There was a common kitchen in our dorm’s lobby, so I was planning to use that and a couple of friends were going to help me out.

In the back of my mind, I kind of knew how to make it, but had never actually made moussaka.  It was a Tuesday morning, I remember, and I was in my dorm room in-between classes thinking now would be a good time to call Greece to speak to my dad and ask how about the recipe.  I knew he’d be excited to share his method with me!  So, I call and the phone rings, and rings… until the answering machine asks me to leave a message.  I try again a few minutes later, and no answer.  “That’s so odd,” I thought to myself, because my parents were always there at that specific time in the evening, mainly so they could watch their shows, news, etc.

I leave it alone and figure I should get ready for my next class… modern Greek.  As I’m about to leave the room, the phone rings.  It’s a double ring, so I automatically know it’s off campus and I pick up.  My brother is on the other end of the line — another odd phone call in the middle of the afternoon.  He asks if I’m sitting down.  I say yes, but I’m really still standing in front of my desk with my books in my arms.  He falls deadly silent, takes a breath with difficulty, and tells me that dad had suffered a heart attack earlier that morning… and that “unfortunately he did not survive.”  I still can’t remember at what point I actually sat down in shock and disbelief.  I do remember the calmness in my brother’s voice as he told me we were meeting in JFK the next day and flying back to Athens together.

Just moved into my dorm room, #300… January of 1998… I’ve searched and I believe this was our last photo together.

It wasn’t a long phone call.  Meanwhile, my roommate, Iva, had come back from class and must have noticed how pale I looked, and when I told her, she started hugging me and crying.  I was so happy that someone could cry for me, because I didn’t know how, or have the courage to do that at the time.

And that was exactly 19 years ago today.

Since then, I have enjoyed a full life that I am often sad he’s missed out on.  I’ve made moussaka a good number of times, while creating my own ritual and adding to his recipe. Sometimes, if I’m up for it, I’ll play 40’s songs while peeling the potatoes.  And that’s about as close I will ever feel him near me these days – probably trying to tell me, in a commanding voice, not to slice the potatoes too thin…

MAD MOUSSAKA

Prep time: 1 hour  Cook time: About 1:15minutes  Yields:  one 9×12 pan

Ingredients:

1 lb. of ground beef

2 medium size onions, finely chopped

3-4 garlic cloves, minced

1 12oz can crushed tomatoes

About 5-6 large potatoes (Yukon gold work great) peeled and sliced in 1/4 inch layers

About 6-7 zucchini, sliced in 1/4 inch flat layers (not round)

Olive oil – you’ll need a lot of it

1 tbsp butter

Dried oregano

1/4 tsp all spice

Salt and pepper to taste

For the bechamel:

4 cups of 2% milk

1/2 cup of butter

6-7 tablespoons of whole wheat flour

1/2 cup shredded Parmegiano Reggian or Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions:

Preheat the oven 350F

In a large skillet, heat about 5 tbsp of olive oil on high heat.  I recommend using a non-stick skillet or a well seasoned cast iron pan.  Quickly fry each one of the potato layers so that they are crispy on each side.  Repeat until done and layer directly onto the pan, as evenly as possible so that it fills the bottom of the pan.

Meanwhile, you’ll want to sautee the onions in a separate skillet with olive oil until they are lightly brown.  Toss in the garlic and stir for a 1-2 minutes before adding the ground beef to brown over medium high heat.  Once the meat has browned, add the crushed tomatoes, salt/pepper, the butter and all the spices.  If the sauce tastes a bit tangy, you can sprinkle a little sugar.  If it tastes too sweet, splash a bit of red vinegar.  You’ll find the balance in taste, I promise!  (Note: This is actually fine to make from the night before, which will give the flavors an opportunity to really come together.)

Layer the sauce evenly on top of the potatoes.  Add the sliced zucchini.  I don’t personally think you have to fry the zucchini because it’s thin enough to cook and steam in the heat of the oven.  You can certainly opt to fry the slices if you like.  Layer the raw zucchini on top of the meat sauce and then sprinkle with good salt (Karpathian flaky salt, if you have it!).

Make the bechamel sauce:  In a medium saucepan, start by scalding the milk.  Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat, and then whisk in the flour until combined.  Cook on low heat, careful not to burn the lumps for a few minutes.  Gradually pour the hot milk into the skillet, leaving the heat on low, and whisking constantly until it thickens.  Add the cheese. Season with salt, and white pepper.  You don’t want it too thick or too thin!  Pour over the moussaka.

Bake uncovered for about 1 hour and then broil until the bechamel is golden brown.

Share with love.  Don’t live out someone else’s story.

Make your own memories.

 

 

 

Springing forward

It feels nice to take a small break and write for a bit.  With less than a month away from April 17th, tax season is reaching its peak for us now.  More clients, more work, more returns to wrap up and get out the door.  So thankful for our solid team, but I think we are all feeling the pressure these days.

This past week has been a crazy one for me.  I went up to Boston for a few days for work while Anna was her part of spring break with her dad.  It was difficult to take off and go while she was competing in her very first Junior Olympics.

Our Junior Olympic swimmer with two of her cheerleaders!

She did so well and dropped time in all her events, while her swim team as a whole came first in South Florida.  I did talk to her after each one of her events, and I was thankful that my good friend Sarah and her daughters surprised Anna on one of the days.

Boston was insane this past weekend with the usual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.  Given our office/condo is right in the heart of downtown, the noise is awful from the area bars.  But, since Michael and I were working late every night anyway, the noise and music wasn’t as distracting as I thought it would.

Green snow for St. Patrick’s Day in Boston

I had forgotten how seriously Boston takes this holiday… aside from funky costumes and hats, I even saw green snow in front of one of the bars.  By Sunday, the celebrations had finally died down.

On my way back to FL, I stopped by DC to visit our new office in Georgetown.  Located right on the towpath it’s not only a convenient location, but I was very happy meeting the staff there and working out of the co-sharing space for the day.  I met with a good friend of ours for lunch and then I mostly enjoyed unfolding at the Watergate for the evening.  The hotel exceeded my expectations, the view was awesome and the service was spot on.

The renovated Watergate hotel is incredible!

Staying there for the night was such a special treat, and I especially enjoyed my time at The Next Whiskey Bar, located right at the lobby.  The time just flew by that night.  My flight was super early the next morning and heading back to Florida was  tough.

This weekend, Anna, my mom and I are visiting George and Jim in their Denver home.  While I have to work everyday, it’s nice to take timed breaks to enjoy hiking and trips to downtown.  I especially enjoyed yesterday’s hike in Cherry Creek by the highland canal and the three ponds.  It was only about 2 mile hike, but the vistas of the front range were breathtaking.

Some photos from our Denver hike

One of my favorite parts of the hike was when we walked around one of the ponds… it was so peaceful and reminded me how much I miss sketching.  I have some really beautiful images in my mind now.  And it was really inspiring when we came across a very interesting piece of outdoor art in the middle of a meadow.  An artist apparently was interested in making sharp contrasts in meaning with scrambling and unscrambling letters.  Named “The Beauty of Perspective,” when you first encounter the art piece it’s a group of letters that make no sense… if you’re curious… you start walking into a circle and powerful words are formed.  It really caught my attention.

Enjoying the fresh mountain air!

And so it was so sweet because George and Jim grilled last night and we just enjoyed each other’s company.  Tomorrow I’ve been tasked to make dinner though… one of our childhood favorite dishes which reminds more of a beef ragu dish with handmade pasta.  I’m really looking forward to that and will share the recipe when I have some more time.

TGIF!

 

Mad honeycomb candy

Thank you again to those of you who have reached out with encouragement and understanding!  Yes, the blog is definitely proving to be a cathartic writing experience, marrying stories and food and everything in between.  We are nearly at the very peak of tax season now so this is about as stressful as it will get.  Compared to last year, I am noticing that while we are working on a lot more projects that are deadline driven, our communication as a team has improved greatly.

We have to celebrate small victories!

Now if only this mini-cold can let go of me.  I must have gotten it from Anna, who probably caught it at school or at the pool.  Thankfully, she’s feeling better and I’m at that in between stage of… I’ll either feel better, or feel much worse by the end of the day.  The magic of Karpathian honey is helping me for sure… spoonfuls at a time.  Having no signs fever helps, especially since I’m heading up to Boston later this week to help Michael with work.  I’ll definitely get to see snow this weekend, even if it’s from our busy office!

Speaking of honey… there are so many varieties and for those who use it often I’m sure you’ve developed a flavor that you enjoy.  For example, Anna will gobble down clover honey sticks right before a race, but those are more for fun.  She actually likes the classic “teddy bear” honey.  Hello, Anna?  We have the best honey produced from our land that is floral and delicious, yet she’ll take the teddy bear that has so little flavor.  I admit buying the clover honey sticks online at Amazon since Anna and her swim friends fuel on those during swim meets (thanks Amanda for suggesting honey stix to me!).  But there’s something unique about enjoying tea with a spoonful of honey that is from a place you know…

Honeycombs (melissia) stored on our olive grove in Stes.

The Karpathian honey from our land is called “thimarisio,” which is from thyme and wildflowers.  It’s rich in color and flavor with a gentle tang.  It’s part of my private stash here in the kitchen… just like the Karpathian salt and olive oil, the honey is also hard for me to share.  I wish I could just bring more with me.  Generally, the way you can test pure honey is with a spoon… I love doing this, it’s mesmerizing!  Just lift a spoon slowly up from the honey until there is a single thin line.  It will get thinner and thinner as you pull the spoon higher.  If the flow is steady, the honey is pure.  If it separates or drags then it’s been mixed with sugar.

Ahhhh, my happy place! I need the inspiration these days 🙂

So, one of my favorite fun recipes that I enjoy doing on my own and with Anna (kids love this!) is honeycomb candy, or sponge candy.  You can make this with maple syrup too, but good honey works the best I think.  Easy and fun to make, honeycomb treats are tasty and fun to share!

MAD HONEYCOMB CANDY

Prep time: 5 minutes  – Cook time:  10 minutes –  Yields:  1 batch of candy

Ingredients

1.5 cups of sugar

1/3 cup of dark corn syrup

1/3 cup of your favorite honey

1/3 cup of water

2 tsp of baking soda, SIFTED into a small bowl (have this ready before you start)

4 oz of semi-sweet chocolate, melted (optional for coating)

Directions

Have a lightly greased baking sheet ready on the counter.

Over low heat, combine the sugar, corn syrup, honey, and water in a large saucepan.  Using a wooden spoon, stir constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved in the mixture.  Place a candy thermometer in the mixture (affixing it on the side of the pot to secure it) and increase the heat slightly.  The mixture should boil at about 270F.  LOWER HEAT as soon as the temp is 270F.

The key here is to maintain the temp at 270F so this  means lowering the heat as much as possible.  At this point you don’t have to keep stirring… just maintain the temp at 270F for about 13 minutes.  Keep a watchful eye on the thermometer.

Once 13 minutes are up, be ready to stir quickly as you can as you toss into the mixture the baking soda.  This will look like a science experiment!  The more you stir fast the more the mixture will bubble!  Take off from the heat and IMMEDIATELY spread the hot liquid onto the baking sheet.  BE CAREFUL and don’t let kids do this part as the mixture will be super hot and can cause some serious burns if not handled correctly.

Mad honeycomb candy with chocolate coating. You can see it is darker because the honey is a deep caramel color

When the mixture is spread out, let it cool until hard to the touch.  Break apart with your hands.  Once completely cooled, you can dip one of the flat sides into the chocolate.  Yummy!

 

 

 

March madness at the mad cafe

What a whirlwind these last two weeks have been!  Between tax work, Anna’s swim meets out of town and other stresses, it’s been a heavy load.  The good news is that work is being streamlined relatively well given the amount, Anna has reached three Junior Olympic times and competing in a couple of weeks, and the other stresses have been worked out fairly well.

I haven’t posted anything in nearly two weeks mainly because I find having very little time to myself.  I also haven’t been cooking much and therefore sharing recipes isn’t as inspirational at the moment!  But, having said that, I know this will shift once tax season is over when I’ll be more active in mad cafe!

March has always been a very reflective month for me.  Growing up in Greece, people celebrate namedays much more than birthdays… So, tradition has it that on the day of your nameday you have to take people out to treat them, or you host a party at home to receive friends and family who want to wish you well.  For example, if you know someone who celebrates their nameday as George or John (very common names in Greece), then you better call them to wish them Xronia Polla (“Many Years of Life”).  If you don’t call, or forget you are in big trouble because people literally get offended if you didn’t think of them.  It causes stupid drama that’s unnecessary in my opinion.

I have always always been absolutely horrible with namedays.  First, I’m not religious so I don’t keep track of the Saints Calendar, and unless someone tells me about a nameday I won’t think of calling those who I know are celebrating.  I think my close friends know that about me, because for some reason I remember birthdays.  Those are more important to me than namedays.  It probably doesn’t help that there is no nameday for Aphrodite!  She’s clumped in with other obscure and classical Greek names that celebrate on some made up day of September 1st for “All Other Saints Day.”  It’s the stupidest thing, in my opinion, and thankfully not many people wish me happy nameday, as it would only annoy me!

Now that we’re grown up, more people than I expected will wish me happy birthday, undoubtedly prompted by LinkedIn or Facebook.  But, there’s always a few I can count on to think of me without those reminders.

My father, Anthony, around age 21.. yes, I know, I look a lot like him

So, I think of March as a very transitional month.  It used to be when Daylight savings time would be around my birthday at the end of the month… now it’s closer to the middle of the month.  My father passed away on March 31st 1998, so my birthday has generally been a bittersweet celebration since.  Finally, March generally shows the first signs of spring (well, depending on where you live), which is always a hint of warmer and longer days.

Some of my closest friends from growing up to now… from all over have March birthdays, including: March 1, March 8, March 11, March 13, March 20, and March 29.  I have a unique connection each one of them, I think we all kind of relate and understand each other’s miseries.

In Greece, March is notorious for unpredictable and inconsistent weather… natives say “Μάρτης, γδάρτης και κακός παλουκοκαυτης,” which I really have no clue how to translate.  Basically, it refers to March as bloodsucking cold and dreary, forcing people to burn more logs than they have.

Or something similar to that effect.

Now I need to think of a recipe that will match that!