Pull the rug, sweep the dust, then enjoy shrimp Mykonos style

I hope most of you are off in observation of the holiday, whether catching up on reading, chores, or just enjoying the day.  It’s another absolutely dreamy day here in Palm Beach, with a light breeze coming from the east and low humidity.  A fun day to talk a long walk, but we actually have tax work to do first before heading out to enjoy the outdoors.  On days like this, I like to read, clean and ease into the day – avoiding phone calls as much as possible.

I spoke to Anna this morning, who is with her father this weekend and she’s been productive too!  Per her request, we always set a specific time for our morning and evening call, and today it was 8:21am.  So, we chatted about her homework, Chinese work, the new cookbook she bought yesterday, the new math game they’re all into in school now, and how she’s going to handle swim practice now she has lightly sprained her ankle.  I don’t remember doing so much at her age.

My favorite part was when we talked about the South Florida Fair, which takes place here every January.  We’ve made it a tradition in our family!  I just love going to fairs and tasting the food, watching the shows and people’s reactions — it’s fascinating!  Aside from the pig race, they’ve added a dog trick show this year and it will be so much fun to see.  The dogs are rescued and trained, and rescuing animals is one of fair’s highlights every year.  I hope they will have the vintage candy store again this year!

Othos, Karpathos “tou Xristou” 1980 – on our verandah

And after I spoke to Anna and did some reading, I wondered what story I could share on the blog today.  Too many stories in my head, so I thought I would sweep the floor for some inspiration.  I always prefer a regular broom to vacuuming the floor, and it’s a cathartic experience for me.  Yes, it’s actually not only constructive, but very soothing to sweep away thoughts while revealing a clean surface.  I also rather lift the rugs and sweep underneath whenever possible, than just vacuum the top.

So, here’s a question: how often do you lift the rug and sweep the dust?

I’ve been doing that a lot lately.  It takes a lot of emotional strength and resilience and it isn’t easy, because as you reflect, you really do confront yourself.  My grandmother and I had that in common.  We shared a love for thinking, with a purpose, deeply and with meaning.  We both needed time on our own to center and reflect quietly.

I can still picture her sitting here in the living room (where I’m now writing away) with a very pensive look, her right hand placed on her face and her eyes fixed looking out the window.  You might think she was over analyzing things or overthinking the past, but her thoughts were specific and crystal clear.  She had the ability to zero in and focus with razor sharp precision, which helped her never feel stuck.

In deep thought (Botanical Garden, DC)

So, my yiayia and I would have endless conversations about life when I moved to the States for school.  She’d ask my opinion and then she would share hers, and we’d talk for hours.  I remember it was such a satisfying conversation every time, despite our age difference of nearly seven decades.

Yiayia Aphrodite had opinions about everything, and they had all been well thought out.  If she wasn’t ready to share, she’d be upfront and tell you that she needs to think about it first.  Boy, she was a blunt lady who knew how to set boundaries and was tough.  She knew how to say no, and mean it.  She taught me the importance of having a strong work ethic, respect, and setting limits and boundaries.  She would say that I should dream “with my head in the clouds and my feet planted on the ground.”  I always loved that reference.

And this is Anna’s take on deep thought.  Each generation improves!

So, I’ve taken that to mean imagination and reality are both necessary to live a fulfilling life.  One is meaningless without the other, and achieving balance is an ongoing process.  I’m no where near it, personally, since I still have so many questions and things I want to explore.  I can only hope that I’m constantly trying to improve, while setting a good example for Anna.

One of our favorite meals that my yiayia and I really enjoyed is Shrimp Mykonos style.  My mom actually makes a killer dish, as it falls under her extensive repertoire of her “half hour meals.”  This was always my favorite and I would request it every time I visited from school for a long weekend or spring break.  If you’re a seafood lover, you’ll enjoy this!

MAD SHRIMP MYKONOS STYLE

Prep time: 10-15 minutes  Cook time: 20-25 minutes  Yields: 5 individual servings

Ingredients

If you love shrimp and feta, you’ll instantly fall in love with this dishAbout 20 jumbo raw shrimp, peeled and devained

1 jar of Puttanesca sauce (you can make your own, my mom buys it!)

12 oz. of good feta cheese

2 tbsp butter, melted

1 cup of Panko bread crumbs

1 tbsp dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven at 375F.

You’ll oven safe dishes for this recipe, to fit about 4-5 shrimp in each one.

Using a spoon, put a layer of sauce in each of the baking dishes.  Dry the shrimp using paper towels and carefully layer 4-5 in each one – it’s fine if they touch each other.  Sprinkle with salt and cracked pepper.  Add another layer of sauce to cover the shrimp.

Using good feta will make all the difference in shrimp mykonos

 

Crumble the feta on top with the oregano.  Be generous with the feta!  In a bowl, mix the melted butter with the panko crumbs, add salt and pepper.  Layer the mixture at the top of each of the baking dishes, making sure each is well covered.

Place all the dishes on a large baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, until the panko topping is golden brown.

Let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.  This dish works well with fresh warm baguette to dip into the sauce.

Voila! Shrimp Mykonos with a seasonal salad and fresh bread

Share only with your favorite people, especially with the ones you can have awesome conversations 🙂

Here’s to half hour meals!

 

 

 

 

EmKo… a unique dining spot in WPB

After changing our dinner reservation three times, when things kept popping up, we finally experienced EmKo last night.  Located in the newly developed Norton corridor in WPB, EmKo made such an impression on me.  Michael and I hate waste and find it rewarding to reuse materials, whether in renovations or artistic decor.  This place seems to agree… modern creativity is their vision.  And it’s obvious the moment you pull up to the valet.

Inside Jereve at EmKo. There is a market, a coffee bar a lounge and an art gallery. Modern creativity is abundant from the decor to the food.

We experienced dinner at Jereve, EmKo’s restaurant, and I remember being mesmerized the moment I walked in!  The restaurant, we were told by our host and sommelier, was uniquely designed and custom to fit a modern artistic vision.

Simplicity and modern creativity is everywhere at EmKo.  I enjoy relating to this yellow bird 🙂

Their beliefs: “Be all in or get all out.  There’s no half way..” resonated with me.  Simplicity is also embraced… “Overthinking kills creativity.”  Ditto.  And, my favorite, “Simplicity and modern ideas are the foundation for a creative process. There are no limitations to what you can do.  I instantly felt connected.

At this point,  I couldn’t wait to try the food.

This dish is probably the best photographed from the bunch…the corn and quinoa salad was fresh and delicious.

The menu was simple and easy to understand and we opted for dishes to share in order to try different flavors.  By the way, the staff was fabulous – the service was impeccable, and very helpful.  And the wine!  The selections were thoughtful and balanced.

 

 

 

We enjoyed everything we tried, though I’d like to highlight the shrimp toast… oh my, this dish was probably the best thing I’ve had in a long time.  The photo I took really doesn’t do the dish justice… but it reminds me of a french toast, crunchy and crispy, paired with

Shrimp toast, Jereve at EmKo PB – a must try dish

a delicious sweet glaze and picked radish and pickled cucumber to balance out the flavors.  Humble, artistic, flavorful and just exquisite!

My brother is in town and we may end up there again tonight – this time at the lounge!

 

 

So, I took the day off at the mad cafe… and I loved it!  Thank you Emko for such an amazing gastro experience.

Stay tuned for more recipes soon.

 

 

 

 

something’s fishy…

Gosh, this morning I opened up wordpress to find 51 spam comments.  Yuck!  I ran an update yesterday on the blog… it’s hard to believe this has been going strong for nearly two months!  Friends and family keep encouraging me, and some ask me where I want this to take me.  I really don’t have an answer.  The blog isn’t work and the best part is that there aren’t short and long term goals in place.  I do think it has it’s rhythm, and that may change.  Or not.  Who knows?  For now, I am enjoying sharing stories and just rambling while sharing some fun recipes.  I think today I’ll talk about fresh fish!

Fresh fish at the market in Athens, summer 2016

On an unrelated food note first: the PR person in me though is really disappointed with the crisis in the media and the political landscape at the moment.  With the inauguration just a week away, I’m noticing so many mistakes in how things are being handled to keep the public properly informed.  When I was in grad school, we were taught to think that PR is the communication process of establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and various segments of the public (including a key public, the media).  You simply don’t bicker with the media!  And we also learned that the complex PR process carried a heavy load of social responsibility.

Later on, I saw how that definition would evolve, just like play-doh, it would change into whatever shape “professionals” chose to make of PR.  I would read that, really, PR is a communication process that inspires action… or that it is all about managing perception.  Yes, this is true to an extent, and these are tactics of PR, however it’s much more of a “spin doctor” type of practice in my mind.  Communication is incredibly complex.  And the lack of it, like I am seeing these days, is very frustrating.

Once social media took over our world, I stopped actively practicing PR simply because I knew it would change the comm process entirely — and not necessarily for the better.  Not all is lost, though – my training and experience still help me think through things more deeply than most people and consider various angles.  Listening, absorbing and observing are still some of my favorite things to do 🙂

Moving on…

Are you a fish lover like me?  I am definitely not referring to the breaded fish sticks from the freezer, but the real deal.  Spoiled with fresh fish growing up, especially when we lived in the port city of Pireaus, I earned the name “psarou” from my family.  Ugh, that’s another term I can’t precisely translate… (fish lover? fish eater?).

Here I am in our apartment in Pireaus, where apparently I loved fish so much.

I vividly remember my dad coming home from his office for siesta time in the afternoon saying, “I saw these beautiful red mullets and thought we should have them for dinner.”  Or, “look at these gorgeous gilt-head breams!”  OK – finding the translations for both red mullet (Barbounia) and gilt-head bream (tsipoura) really, really made me laugh.  Anyway, I think you get the idea.

We also ate a lot baby fish, like smelt, usually fried or baked.  It was delicious!  We would eat them whole… yes the entire fish head to tail!  The tail was the crunchy part and so yummy.  The bones are so tiny, it’s much more fun to eat the whole fish than to sit there and pick at it.  On that note though, I really didn’t eat salmon until I moved here.  Large fish, like tuna, salmon or bass were not common.  Swordfish on occasion, chopped and grilled on skewers was a typical Greek favorite.

The best part about fish is that it doesn’t need much work.  The fresher it is, the less it needs.  And if it isn’t fresh, simply don’t eat it!  I’m going to share with you one of my favorite fish recipes that my grandparents made here in Florida, inspired by traditional Greek flavors: “Psari Plaki…”

MAD FISH BAKED IN TOMATO SAUCE  (PSARI PLAKI)

Prep time: 30 minutes  Cooking time (total): 45 minutes to an hour

Ingredients

The first thing to consider here is the fish itself.  This method can be done with a whole fish, like snapper, which makes a beautiful presentation.  For practical purposes, fillets that have been cleaned work very well.  I choose halibut, sea bass, corniva, or haddock for this recipe.  You can experiment with other white fish also.

My grandfather apparently made delicious fish, psari plaki, since he loved to fish. I’ve made small changes to this recipe.

4 fillets of fish

3 medium onions, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, smashed

2 stalks of celery, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

Half a bunch of parsley (fresh), chopped

1 can (28oz) of petite diced tomatoes

2 medium fresh tomatoes, finely diced

1 tbsp sugar

1/3 cup red wine (optional)

1/2 cup vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1/3 cup flour (for dredging)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Pat dry the fish fillets and season well with salt and pepper.  Dredge in flour and lay on a platter.  In a non-stick skillet, heat olive oil and fry the fillets on each side just enough so that they are lightly golden.  Remove and set on a clean plate.

Preheat the oven 350F

In the same skillet, add a little olive oil if needed and make the sauce:  on medium high heat the oil and saute the onions for 2-3 mins.  Add in the celery, carrots and garlic and continue cooking for a few minutes.  Lower the heat to medium and add the tomatoes (can and fresh), sugar, vinegar and wine (if using).  Sprinkle enough salt and pepper to taste.  Cook the sauce for about 10-12 mins.

This is what it will look like in the end! I don’t have my own photo of this dish yet, but now my mouth is watering! (photo credit: omgfood.com)

In a baking pan, drizzle some olive oil and layer half of the sauce.  Then add the fillets on top the sauce side by side touching each other slightly.  Evenly spread the rest of the sauce on top.  Sprinkle with parsley and add some cracked pepper.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 25 minutes.

Carefully remove the foil as steam will come out.  Let the fish cool for a few minutes before service.  A popular side dish is rice pilaf or boiled potatoes.

Enjoy!

 

 

orange pound cake in time for tax season

Ah, these are the days we love to be in South Florida.  It’s a beautiful day, 70 degrees and low humidity.  In Boston, where Michael is stationed during tax season for three months, it’s 21F and I’m sure he’s not looking forward to heading up there next week.  It’s hard to believe tax season is here already.  We have started getting calls and inquiries from new clients from our various locations looking for specialized tax professionals.

The tax work and everything that goes with it will only continue to mount from this point on.  While we have learned to roll with the punches and manage the stress, tax season is still a very challenging time.  When I first met Michael, he would tell me that he plans life around tax season and

Just in time for my birthday last year, my brother flew into PB! It was such a fun reprieve from tax season stress.

it’s just become a way of life for him.  At first, this took a lot of getting used to for me.  Winter is the best time of year to be in Florida and he’s meeting clients and shoveling snow in Boston.  And my end of March birthday is probably at the worst time of tax season!  I’m not complaining though.  Last year, my brother flew in just for my birthday and took me to see Sophia Loren at the Kravis Center.  It was such a fun night!

It’s helpful to be mindfully focused on the growth and the rewards of working in the business.  I admit some aspects of tax season are fun, but overall tasks tend to be repetitive while direct focus on them is crucial.  Since it is hard to stay inspired at times, the main reason I started the food and heart blog is to have a creative outlet to offset the mounting stress of tax season.  Let’s see how successful this experiment will be this year!

An orange a day keeps tax season away! Well, not quite, but these are gorgeous from the Green Market in WPB

Not sure about you, but I love the smell of oranges, orange zest and baking with fresh fruit!  I grabbed a bunch the other day and have been making fresh orange juice, grating the zest over yogurt and salads, and just enjoying the flavors.  Anna eats a lot of oranges since she swims and it’s great to share them at the meets with everyone under the tent.

I loooove pound cake… and I love oranges.  So, I married the two in this delicious recipe.  The experiment was a little risky, but like with most things… nothing ventured, nothing gained.  🙂

MAD ORANGE POUND CAKE

Prep time:  15 minutes   Baking time:  1 hour

Orange pound cake screams love!

Ingredients

3 cups of flour

5 large eggs

2 sticks of butter, softened

2 cups of sugar

1 tsp baking soda

3 tbsp orange zest

2/3 cup of milk

2 tbsp orange juice

1 tsp vanilla

For the glaze:

1 1/2 cup of powdered sugar

2 tbsp butter, softened

5 tbsp orange juice

1 tbsp orange zest

Directions

Preheat the oven at 350F

Sift the flour and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.  In another bowl mix by hand together the zest, juice, vanilla and milk together – set aside.

In stand up mixer, cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time.  Starting with the flour mixture, interchange with the milk mixture to add into the creamed butter – a bit at a time.  Your mixer should be on medium as you do this and finish with the flour mixture until everything is incorporate.  Beat on high for about two minutes.

In a greased and floured bundt pan, or ring pan, spread the cake mixture.  Bake for about 1 hour until tooth comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the orange glaze (yum, my favorite!).  You’ll need your mixer again.  Beat together the powdered sugar, juice, butter and zest until icing is formed.  If icing is too stiff, add a little more juice.  If icing is too watery, add a little more powdered sugar.

Once the cake is finished, let it cool in the pan for about 3-5 minutes.  Flip over onto a cake plate and try poking a few holes randomly on the top of the cake… immediately, using a spoon, start evenly spreading the icing on the warm cake.  The holes will allow some of the icing to seep in.  Enjoy!

Happy Baking 🙂

 

 

Roasted veggies and memories of Greek night in Boston

While I was initially hopeful for 2017, it has started off as a sidekick to 2017.  It’s only January 7th and already we had a mass shooting in Fort Lauderdale that’s left us so saddened.  We were all glued to Twitter, TV and any media available that had the latest info as the story was breaking.

The PR practitioner in me keeps revisiting the Creeping Cycle of Desensitization theory of our old beloved BU professor, Mel DeFleur (Amanda, weren’t you his grad assistant?).  Not going into too much detail, the theory predicts our behavior and tolerance to what is acceptable vs. not in the media.  For example, decades ago a steamy kiss in a movie was not acceptable whereas today we would hardly notice, much less be shocked.  So, our culture’s tolerance to what is acceptable or not has undergone a slow and steady pace over the years and this will not stop since the shock factor always has value in the media world.

I do have some fun food memories from Boston during my grad school days.  We were a small group of PR majors and it wasn’t a shock that we all communicated well and got along.  A favorite memory as a group was when I hosted Greek night at my tiny apartment in Allston (15 Carol Ave).  I cooked all day!  I can’t remember the whole menu, but it was a spread.  My friend Jill really loved the pastitsio, which I’ll share one day now that I’ve somewhat perfected the recipe.  My Italian friend Marta, who I swear is like a soul connection to me, felt like she was back home, and it was just a special evening.  We had little money and tons to do, but there was a sense of camaraderie with all of us as we plowed through projects and schoolwork.

Greek night with the BU PR clan, Boston 2001

So, I’m holding out that 2017 will gradually improve.  Or I’m realizing that we become desensitized to tragedies and constant bad news that make headlines.  And fake news has enabled our vulnerability to misinformation.  Do we shut off our laptops and phones and tv and live in our cocoon?  Do we stay connected 24/7 instead and drive ourselves mad with things that happen and out of our control?  Can we really achieve long-term balance?  And since balance is never, ever permanent, how do we win the daily battle?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the people I love and care about as we all continue to age.  Lucky enough, most of us are aging fairly well.  Aside from the physical outlook I’m much more interested in their take on things, their feelings, and their thought process as they consider life now… and all the choices that have come with it.  Do we run out of gas?  Do we switch gears?  Do we stay stuck in traffic?  Do we change direction?  Or, do we just ditch the car and walk freely?  Do you walk alone or always need a sidekick?  What are you trying to discover?  What are you learning?  So much symbolism, so many fascinating scenarios to examine.

Well, I am always pondering similar questions, but meanwhile eating healthy helps!  Here’s one that I’ve embellished since Greek night 2001.

MAD ROASTED VEGGIE ENSEMBLE

Prep time:  15 minutes  Roasting time:  30-40 minutes

Ingredients

Turmeric is an awesome spice that I love on roasted veggies

2 parsnips, peeled and chopped

1 vidalia onion, roughly chopped

1 red pepper, julienned

2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes

about 15 cherry tomatoes, halved

1 box of mushrooms (whatever variety you like)

1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped into cubes

3 garlic cloves, halved

2 large carrots, peeled and chopped

Note: The best part is that you can use mostly any vegetable you like for this dish.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp oregano

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp turmeric

Juice of 1 lemon plus 1 tsp of zest

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the over at 350F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  In a bowl toss all the veggies together and add the spices and olive oil.  You can add more olive oil too if you like, just make sure all the veggies are well coated and seasoned.  Even out the mixture on the baking sheet.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until potatoes are tender.  Sometimes I’ll place under the broiler for a couple of minutes, but this is optional.

Served best with tzatziki on the side!

 

veggie talk: cauliflower holds its own

I love how every year or two health experts, supported by chefs re-introduce the “in” veggie for the season.  In the past five years or so we went from sweet potato, to kale, to Brussels sprouts and most recently to cauliflower.  Thankfully, I’m noticing kale is being replaced slowly by chard and mustard greens.  I’ve also been reading that asparagus is coming to the forefront now and so are beets (two of my favorites).

A humble veggie, cauliflower has great flavor potential

However you slice the veggie, it’s just fun going produce shopping.  I remember growing up going to the “laiki agora,” the public local farmers market that shut down one of the main streets every Wednesday in Kifissia.  There were so many local markets and I recall the yelling, the negotiating, the curse words from the farmers to the shoppers.  I loved observing people at the farmers market.  And it always amazed me how, after yelling at one another in negotiating prices, at the end of the transaction both the shopper and farmer would be calm and thank one another till next week.  Fascinating.

Local farmers markets in Greece take place once or twice a week in most neighborhoods (photo: bestofathens.gr)

Later on, when I moved to Boston in 2001 for grad school, I would go to the Haymarket downtown on most Saturdays.  It’s not that it was the best produce, but I was on a budget and the Haymarket reminded me a lot of the markets I grew up with in Greece.  It was all very familiar to me.  I would sometimes negotiate, though it really depended on the person.  Since I don’t like getting yelled at, I would generally just pay the price if it was low enough.

I also noticed that a genuine smile went a long way back in those days.

One Saturday, I went to the Haymarket to buy tomatoes and remember that the farmer was smiling and staring at me as he just kept filling up the bag of tomatoes to the top.  It was really funny.  He only took $1.50 and I think I ended up with 15 delicious tomatoes!

The Haymarket near Government Square (photo: Destination Guides, Boston)

Like most of us, I had my share of not liking some veggies growing up.  Cauliflower? Yuck.  Okra?  Double yuck.  Sweet potato?  That was such a foreign vegetable to us in Greece and always tasted to me like a wannabe potato.  As I learned how to cook on my own, I realized that there wasn’t just one or two ways of preparing a vegetable.  What I love about cooking is the fundamentals are hard core strict, but creativity is endless.  No rules apply to the creative process of cooking… you can add and take away, explore as much as you want.  What’s not to love about that?

Anyway, specifically with cauliflower, I tried so many different recipes… I grilled, boiled, braised, broiled and sauteed the heck out of it.  I know many chefs cover up cauliflower with tons cheese and cream to make it into mashed or mac-n-cheese.  While delicious, for me that’s a cop out.  The cauliflower is not the star.  And if it can be yummy, why shouldn’t it be?  So, I’ve come up with a cauliflower recipe that I love and happy to share with you.  Warning: I constantly improvise this one, so… you can adjust the spices to your taste.

MAD CAULIFLOWER AND TOMATO RELISH

Prep time: 20 minutes  Cook time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 head of organic cauliflower

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 can of organic diced tomatoes (if using fresh, you’ll need at least 3 large tomatoes cut into small cubes)

2 scallions (green part only) or chives, diced up

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2 tsp crushed pepper flakes

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

Cut the cauliflower into florets.  I know it smells the kitchen, but I like to steam the cauliflower just enough so that the bite is gone – steam for 5 minutes and drain.

In an ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil on medium-high and toss in the chopped onion and saute for 2-3 minutes.  Add the garlic and crushed pepper and stir in for another minute.  Be careful not to burn the garlic.  Set skillet on medium heat and add in the steamed cauliflower.  Coat with the olive oil until it is lightly brown.   Stir in the tomato, turmeric and vinegar.

Semi-cover and cook for about 15 minutes or until cauliflower is tender to the fork.  Meanwhile, while the cauliflower is cooking, preheat the broiler.

This is one of my favorite ways to make cauliflower the star of the veggie dish

Uncover the skillet and place under the broiler just enough so that the cauliflower and tomato relish obtain a bit of color, no more than 2-3 minutes.  If you really want to add cheese, this is the time.  I would sprinkle feta or Gruyere before placing under the broiler.

Sprinkle the chopped chives or scallions for effect.

Serve warm and in only awesome company who appreciate you 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

simplicity is a mindset well worth exploring

Happy New Year to those near and far!  Wishing everyone health, happiness, love and peace.  One of my resolutions this year is to live more simply… not only on a material level, but as a mindset.  My husband doesn’t like this resolution much though as it reminds him of his early childhood in Northern Greece, where living more simply meant different things.  It’s also Michael’s birthday today, so I’m dedicating the first blog of the year to him.

Delicious heirloom tomato salad with a balsamic reduction by Daphne. And, yes, that is homemade bread in the background.

We were at our good friends last night for dinner, Daphne and Peter.  We have two annual dinners at least, and they are always a special time for us as we enjoy not only fabulous culinary creations together, but each others’ company.  Somehow during dinner we began discussing the idea of living more simply in a highly complex world and how that translates to each of us.  Daphne and I were on the same page; we envision an emotionally rich life wrapped around the simplicity of living on a Greek island with rustic beauty.  Indeed, there is much romanticism in that lifestyle vs. the realities of everyday living.  At the same time, I believe there is something magical about that level of simplicity, where you live with purpose and no clutter.  That takes tremendous discipline and commitment… but I can only imagine the rewards of living that way.

Simplicity set the tone of our meal last night. I loved this dessert – fruit and chocolate mousse made with avocado and a lot of inspiration by Daphne

For my husband however, living simply is a form of giving up working hard, which is far from my thinking.  I can understand where he is coming from.  Michael has accomplished so much as a first generation American.  He was thrown into the Boston public school system mid-year in first grade and he vividly remembers not understanding English.

The family immigrated from Thessaloniki in 1974 when Michael was six and first settled in Dorchester, then Quincy, and then in Randolph where they bought their first house.  Michael said he was twelve and he saw it in the paper and took his mom to see it.  He and his brother became responsible at a very young age and were the chief translators for their parents.  “We lived simply,” Michael would tell me, “and I knew early on I didn’t want that life for myself.”

The Greek mentality of the old country is for kids to grow up and not leave the nest to go too far away.  Michael wanted to go to school and make a career.  He became a CPA and took several assignments abroad, to the discouragement of his family.  Michael is probably as driven as I am, perhaps more in some ways, and I really appreciate this quality.  We both have an insatiable need for progress and growth.

But, when it comes to seeking simplicity our views remain different.  He thinks that simplicity means giving up on dreams of an ultra comfortable life, whereas for me it means achieving harmony and peace of mind.  For Michael peace of mind is achieved by making as much money as possible to enjoy life later on.  And I agree to a point, for sure.  Money is a very necessary tool, but overall it is not emotionally rewarding.  Don’t misunderstand, Michael is very persistent, patient and willing to wait for things — he is happy marinating in the dreams of delayed gratification. Our license plate reads “Turtle” symbolizing our slow but very steady approach.

This photo from Kifissia with the older couple in the background is one of my favorites. Simplicity is a mindset.

It’s Michael’s birthday today and I don’t even think we’re going out to dinner.  It will likely be a quiet evening, which is welcome after the insanity of the holidays.  Tax season is around the corner for us and this means in a couple of weeks we will be doing the Boston-PBI commute quite heavily for work.  And there’s nothing simple about that, let me tell you.  But, I’m finding that achieving simplicity is lifelong process and not one that can necessarily be discovered in a new year’s resolution.  It’s a slow start though, and for me it feels like a very healthy mindset that’s well worth it.

Or maybe I am morphing into a turtle.

More recipes tomorrow!

 

mad apple pie to welcome 2017!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I cannot wait for the last few hours of 2016.  It will be great to wake up tomorrow, after sleeping in a bit, to a fresh new year 2017!  At the market today, at the coffee shop and everywhere I was hearing people wish Happy New Year to complete strangers, their kids and their dogs.

 

Just look at these amazing, crusty breads!

This morning we took Michael’s mom out to the Green Market in WPB.  When I say today was an absolutely gorgeous day, it’s true!  In fact, I want to spend as much time outside today as possible.  There’s no humidity, the sun is bright and there’s a light breeze from the east.  I’m typing this blog outside on our bistro table (this was my Christmas gift from the mad cafe :).

At the Green Market I was in complete foodie heaven!  From pop-up bakeries to organic produce and Cuban coffee from Havana’s, it was just wonderful to walk around, look at everything and watch people as they walk by.

Serious eye candy for the mad cafe chef!

The highlight of the market this time of year is the Christmas tree made from sand.  It will be gone in a couple of days so everyone was snapping photos today.

Gorgeous day to enjoy the last days of the sand Christmas Tree in WPB

After staring, touching and buying some of the local produce, I felt inspired at home and decided to use up the honey crisp apples that have been in the fridge since last week.  I have been meaning to bake an apple pie for a while.  If you are anything like me, which most people aren’t, you take a bite of an apple pie and poke around the crust and leave the rest to waste.  That’s why I never buy or order apple pie… and I don’t make it.  Like, ever.

But, today was different!  Many of you have resolutions, etc… mine is to try to new things, to explore and learn more where I can.  So, yes, the apple pie is ready and out of the oven and cooling.  This experiment came about because I’ve ready SO many recipes and everyone’s is always the best.  Like with many of the Greek treats, pie is one that’s subjective since it’s tied with memories of childhood.

In my family, my mom would hardly ever bake pies, but my grandmother Aphrodite was very fond of apple pie.  In her food diary she was fair in giving recipes credit to those who shared them with her… “Mrs. Vans chicken… Mrs. Vans phinikia, etc.”  She eventually perfected her own apple pie recipe though and proudly called it “Mrs. Karatinos Apple Pie.”  And the crust was delicious.  And I still couldn’t eat the whole piece of pie because the filling was too sweet.  And I would always feel badly…

Mrs. Karatinos’ Apple Pie

So, over the years I studied tons of recipes for apple pie, with the hope that one day I would find one that was not too sweet, or mushy, or sour.  I didn’t find one specific recipe, and therefore I’ve formed my own that I’m happy to share with you: Mad Apple Pie… to welcome 2017!

 

 

 

MAD APPLE PIE

Prep time:  30 minutes  Baking time:  1 hour (convection oven)

Ingredients

About 8 cups of honey crisp apples, peeled, cored and quartered

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

Evening out the apple pie filling

1/4 whole wheat flour

2 tbsp butter

2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp mace

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp good salt

3 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp fresh orange juice

zest of a lemon

zest of an orange (or tangerine)

Eggwash (one egg with a little water, lightly beaten)

For the Dough (this is Mrs. Karatinos’ recipe):

3 cups all purpose flour, sifted

2 cups COLD crisco (you can use cold butter instead)

1 tbsp salt

3/4 cup COLD water

Directions

Make the dough first:  Mix the cold crisco and flour by working lightly with fingers into a large ball.  Dissolve the salt in the cold water and pour into the flour mixture all at once.  Work the dough with a large fork until the dough is formed… divide into 4 balls.  You’ll need two for this 9″ pie and you can freeze the rest for another pie.  Refrigerate the dough while you prepare the filling.

Preheat the oven at 400F

Make the filling:  cut thin slices of the quartered apples, about 2 mm thickness.  In a bowl, mix together everything else… sugars, salt, flour, spices, butter, juices, zest, etc. and toss the sliced apples until well incorporated.  You don’t have to cook the apples at all.

Mad apple pie… voila 🙂 Out with the old in with 2017!

Prepare the pie:  Take out the two balls of dough and roll out with a rolling pin (use flour as needed to roll out).  Lay the bottom dough in a 9″ deep dish pie pan enough so that there is excess dough over the sides.  Make sure no air bubbles at the bottom.  Pour in the filling and even out.  Lay the other layer of dough on top and work with your fingers to crimp the sides well.  You can use a fork to finish off the crimping.

Brush egg wash on top with a pastry brush.  Cut a few slits around the middle of the pie and sprinkle some coarse sugar on top (optional).

Bake for about 1 hour until the crust is golden brown and filling starts to bubble.  Let the apple pie cool.  Serve warm.

Happy 2017!

 

 

 

 

 

ring in 2017 with almond cake… and no superstitions!

Only two days after my previous post about how 2016 has been a very odd year, Carrie Fisher dies and her mom, the legend Debbie Reynolds follows just a day later.  Even though 2016 only has two more days in it, I’m still somewhat cautious until 2017 rings in!

I’ve always been ridiculously superstitious, and there’s no rhyme or reason as to why.  It makes for a very funny topic of conversation.  There are plenty of superstitions in cultures, and Greece certainly doesn’t lag in that department.

It’s so fascinating as many believe superstitions are for weak minds, but I beg to differ!  Personally, odd superstitions like this connect me to my culture and I enjoy that so much.  My father, who was highly educated and accomplished, was very superstitious and didn’t hide it either… I think I may have bonded with him on that growing up.

There were superstitions about nearly everything:  you didn’t make any important decisions of Tuesday the 13th. The first fall of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade occurred on Tuesday, April 13, 1204, and the ultimate fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, ironically also took place on a Tuesday… May 29, 1453.  Friday the 13th is like any other day, really.

Another example of a superstition that you shouldn’t walk under any scaffolding as it is very bad luck.  You can imagine how difficult that was for me when I lived in New York and worked in the city… which was always under some form of renovation and construction.  Walking in the street was not an option, so I found myself compromising my luck a great deal back then…

My favorite is the salt and broom in the kitchen, but it doesn’t work in modern open spaces anymore — you need a door.  The superstition says that if you have guests at home that have overstayed their welcome, you can sprinkle some salt on the floor and turn a broom upside down behind a door.  If you don’t have a door, try the pantry.  It worked every time!  Within half an hour guests would finally take their leave.

 

I’m not sure what people see here, but I just see a cup that needs washing!  It still looks mesmerizing though.  And Greek coffee pairs really well with the almond cake recipe below.

We have talked about Greek coffee and reading the grinds once the cup has been inverted.  I can’t say that the coffee reading was a popular one in our home, but it was always fun listening to the old ladies who took the time to read each others’ stories.

Another superstition that is followed fairly religiously in Greece is the idea of the “podariko” which I cannot really translate, but it takes place during the New Year.  Supposedly, once the New Year rings, you’re supposed to enter any home you visit with your right foot (i.e., best foot forward).  Oddly enough, I could care less about this superstition, probably since I am left handed and fed up with being right all the time.  So, I don’t follow this one much but it sure is popular throughout Greece from the most remote village to the city center of Athens.

There are others too that I admit are part of my daily life, like keeping all the closet doors shut before going to bed, because they resemble an open grave. It’s not that I can’t go to sleep if the closet door is open, but I will feel uneasy.  Poor Michael has gotten used to my silly quirks and already shuts everything for me before I head to bed.  Oh, and always make sure you keep scissors closed when you finish using them.  That one I learned from my neighbor Maria in Kifissia who used to say that open scissors are especially bad luck.

Some of my friends know of my superstitions and make fun of me, but later admit that it’s part of my charm.  Who knows?  Every quirk we have makes up who we are and there’s nothing wrong about being yourself and standing out 🙂

By request, I’m posting my grandmother’s recipe for Almond Cake.  Walnut cake (karydopita) is traditional for the New Year, but almond cake is one of my favorites!

MAD ALMOND CAKE

Prep time: 25 minutes  –  Cook time:  45 minutes  –  Yields: 1 cake

Ingredients

12 eggs, separated 

3 cups superfine sugar

The no-flour almond cake is a relatively healthy dessert to celebrate the New Year! (photo credit: gastronomersguide.com)

2 cups ground almond flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 lb almonds, finely chopped or slivered

1/2 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven at 350F

In a bowl, mix the baking powder and almond flour and set aside.

Beat egg yolks with sugar until lemon colored.  In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold the egg whites in the yolk mixture and add the extracts.  Using a wooden spoon, mix in the crumbs and 3/4 of the almonds (save the rest).

Prepare a 9×12 pan by greasing and flouring it and pouring in the mixture.  Sprinkle the rest of the almonds on top and bake for about 45 minutes.  Let cook and cut into squares.  Serve with sprinkled powdered sugar if you like.

Happy New Year!

 

 

Good Riddance 2016 with mAd Spicy Feta Dip

It’s finally evening and I have stolen a few moments to relax and gather my thoughts after a very busy Christmas weekend.  It was very fun this year at the mad cafe.  My uncle Nick and aunt Jill drove across the state from Tampa, my brother and Jim came from Denver and my mother in law is visiting from Northern Greece.  Our friends, Lia and Amanda also joined our festivities and it was just relaxing and happy.  Aside from all the finger food and cookies and sweets, we enjoyed delicious wine, bubbly and each others’ company.

Wishing you and your family peace, love, health and happiness

I’d say the highlight of the cooking was roasted veggies with garlic and turmeric along with the spicy feta dip and the au jus roasted pork loin.  The main topic of culinary discussion this year was over the desserts and specifically, Amanda’s first (and successful) attempt to a chocolate ombre cake!  It was such a thoughtful surprise dessert to bring, and it was so sweet of her to mention that I inspired her to make it.  This is why I love my friends so much 🙂

Reflecting on 2016, so much has happened and not all of it was great.  In fact, many in our circle suffered a great deal; some lost family or friends to illness or accidents, others lost their jobs and had to move.  Two who are my age bravely worked through serious health problems, including surgery and forms of chemo.  And others in our circle lost their spouse to death or divorce.  Some sounded so stressed out because of the economy in Greece.  Most recently, a dear friend on the east coast was so upset because she realized the person she loved so much didn’t feel the same – and wouldn’t be upfront with her.  2016 is one of those years that has left me wondering about all the challenges the people I care about were facing and thinking of ways I can help bring a smile to their face.

Personally, 2016 has been overall an ok year.  From a business perspective, it’s been hugely successful and rewarding on many levels.  Watching Anna grow into a fun, quirky 10 year old, who is taller than her mom, has been such a privilege.  I’m blessed to have peace and love in my tiny family as we continue to mindfully work together towards common goals.  And it hasn’t been without personal challenges and struggles.  I am happy to reconnect with people who I realized mattered to me, and at the same time I’ve chosen to let go of those who don’t want to be happy.  It’s one thing when you don’t know how to be happy… it’s another when you don’t want to be.

If I have a wish for 2017 it is to be more human; to learn, to appreciate, to not be afraid to try new things, and to refuse to sit idly in contentment.  I have such dislike for the word contentment.  Feeling content is responsible for so much inaction, and lack of enthusiasm.  It feeds off of fear, insecurity and a sense of dependence.  Being content is feeling not quite happy, but not unhappy either.  It’s that limbo state of “happy enough.”  Who sets the “happy enough” standard, if it’s not you?

Make it count in 2017:  cherish your loved ones, appreciate your blessings, hold onto a solid support system with people who cheer you forward and reach higher!

The mad cafe Christmas Eve spread! Anna circled the spicy feta dip to help out 🙂

On the food front, I have several recipes lined up to share with you.  Since it was a success at the mad cafe, the spicy feta cheese dip makes for a special treat anytime.  A note about feta: we can have a lot debates about feta, but as with most ingredients, the quality of cheese makes all the difference.  Opt for the real deal… Dodoni is my favorite feta and Kolios is a close second.

MAD SPICY FETA DIP (TYROKAFTERI)

Prep time:  15 minutes   Idle time:  at least 1 hour refrigeration before serving

Ingredients

1/2 lb Greek feta

Tyrokafteri (spicy feta dip) can be really spicy so make sure you warn your guests (photo credit: brittneyg.typepad.com)

3/4 cup of Greek yogurt

1 small hot pepper, finely chopped (size depends on how spicy you want the dip!)

1 tbsp paprika

1/2 tsp crushed pepper flakes

1 tsp of red wine vinegar

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

Salt/pepper to taste

Serving suggestions: warm pita bread, raw veggies, olives

Directions

Mash the feta in a bowl with a fork and mix in the yogurt.  Add the rest of the ingredients until well combined.  Adjust the seasoning as needed.  If the mixture is too solid, add more yogurt and olive oil.  Like the tzatziki, don’t be fooled with the garlic… a little goes a long way and will taste stronger as the flavors work together.  Cover the mixture and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.