holiday baking continued… melomakarona

Now that your kourabiedes are baked, it’s time to make the other Greek holiday favorite, honey-dipped melomakarona.  There are plenty of recipes out there for this Greek cookie, and I remember growing up being forced to eat them in every house we visited.  I’ll be honest – this is not my favorite holiday treat… mainly because getting the melomakarona dipped in just the right amount of honey syrup is a hit or miss process.

My mom liked her melomakarona very syrupy.  My brother likes them with just enough syrup, and Michael prefers them with the least amount of syrup.  Anna will pass on the melomakarona all together, and go for kourabiedes instead.  I am still stuck baking them anyway and end up making variations of the same batch.

My melomakarona this year. Quite frankly, I think we all get tired of eating these by the time the holidays are over!

I hope your preparations are going well for the holidays, whether you are hosting at home, traveling to family or visiting friends.  I’m finished with all my grocery shopping and outlined a timeline of what to make leading up to Christmas day.  The mad cafe is beautifully decorated and the tree is holding up nicely in the humid 80 degree weather we’ve been having this week.  I’m hoping it will cool off a little in the next few days, so that we can enjoy a holiday stroll on Worth Ave.

Thrilled to find this index of recipes in another old journal that my grandmother kept!

My favorite part of this week is baking and enjoying the lovely smells in the house.  There’s something so comforting and rewarding about making something from scratch.  Anyway, I like this rmelomakarona ecipe because it’s flavorful, and you can easily adjust how much syrup you want to add on yours.  Just like kourabiedes, you can bake melomakarona up to a week before Christmas and they’ll keep just fine covered in room temperature.

MAD MELOS

Prep time: 25 minutes – Cook time: 30 minutes – Yields: about 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

4 1/4 cups of all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp fresh baking soda

1/2 cup of sugar

3/4 extra virgin olive oil

1/2 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup of orange juice (try to use freshly squeezed, exclude the pulp)

2 tbsp orange zest

2 tbsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp cognac or brandy (I use Metaxa)

Nut mixture:  1 cup pecans, finely chopped, 1/2 tsp ground cloves, 2 tbsp of ground cinnamon

Syrup:  1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup good honey, 1 cinnamon stick

Directions

Preheat the oven at 350F

In a bowl, sift your the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda and set aside.

In a mixing bowl with attachment, cream the butter, sugar on medium high for 3-4 minutes.  Lower to medium and drizzle the oil.  Add the orange juice, orange zest, vanilla and brandy and beat together well.

Pour the wet mixture in the bowl with the dry ingredients.  Using your hands, gently form the dough.  It will be a bit sticky.  Don’t knead the dough, just enough until the dry and wet ingredients are incorporated.

On a parchment paper lined baking sheet, start forming the melomakarona with about 1 tbsp of dough into ovals.  Ovals are the traditional shape, but I’ve seen round shapes, too.  The dough won’t expand much in the oven, so you can leave about an inch between cookies on the baking sheet.

Using the tines of a fork, cross-stitch the top of the melomakarona.  Pierce the dough enough but not all the way.  The purpose of this is for the honey syrup to permeate and to hold the nut mixture.

Bake the melomakarona for about 25 minutes, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, you’ll want to prepare the nut mixture.  Place all the ingredients above in a bowl, mix well with a wooden spoon and set aside.  You can use walnuts if you don’t have pecans.

Make the syrup:  Bring 1 cup of water, 1 cup of honey, 1 cup of sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Add a cinnamon stick and simmer for a few minutes.  Try to take off the foam that will form with a spoon and discard.  Turn off the heat and set aside.

When the melomakarona are ready, while they are hot, use a large spoon and start pouring the syrup on top of the cookies.  This is where your taste guides you in terms of how much syrup to add.  I like mine with not too much syrup, so I add a tablespoon or so on top of the cookies.  Flip the cookies and pour some more syrup.  Let them cool and then flip them back and add the nut mixture over each one.  Place on a festive platter!

Happy baking!!!

 

 

 

 

 

a childhood friendship, silliness, love, and empanadas!

It’s really hard to believe the blog is almost a month old.  Given that it is a very busy time of year, I’ve come fairly close to my goal of posting once a day.  I wonder who reads anything my ramblings.  Throughout this process, I am learning that there is a strong, mindful connection between food, and various facets of life, including love, health, staying fit, family, drama, work, aging, stress, more drama, etc.

I’m missing my youngest childhood friend these days, Zoe.  We met at our apartment building in Kifissia in 1984.  We had just moved from Pireaus to our new apartment in the 4th floor, and Zoe’s family lived on the 3rd.  They were in the process of building a home in central Kifissia, and had been living in our building for a few years.  It was so great to have a friend that I could just go over and see at a moment’s notice.

Zoe and I in San Francisco! I’m looking for an old photo to post when we were little. Well, if she lets me, that is, I’ll post it 🙂

It was such a luxury to have that freedom compared to our other apartment in the busy port city of Pireaus.  We met when 6 and 5 and we’re only 10 months apart.  Since I was the oldest I always considered myself her older sister.  I guess I still do.

Zoe and I loved exploring a things together growing up.  I remember, aside from watching episodes of the famous Japanese manga, Candy Candy, we often created our own stories that we still laugh about over 30 years later.

Zoe and I loved watching Candy Candy – dubbed into Greek of course

I fondly remember us trying to launch a community newsletter for the building… Zoe would do the illustrations and I wrote all the articles.  We then tried to sell subscriptions of this newsletter to all the condo owners and tenants… asking for the equivalent of 50 cents per issue on weekly circulation.

From the few subscriptions we tried to sell, we secured one loyal subscriber!  She was the lady who lived with her husband on the 5th floor, they didn’t have kids and was just lovely to us.  We kept to the newsletter for a while, until Zoe and I realized that there really wasn’t that much news happening at the building to report.  We eventually phased out “the News of the Building,” though the lady upstairs, who is now well into her eighties, still remembers those few issues!

I wish we had a copy of that newsletter to post here, but we wrote everything by hand back then.  Years later, we still wonder if it was a coincidence that Zoe is an architect now in the Bay Area, since she did all the illustrations, and that I became a public relations practitioner – trying to find a story even when it is challenging.

Since that time, we spent more days together and shared more experiences as we grew up.  She and I were apart for a while when she lived in Paris with her family for a few years.  For a few years, we weren’t super close, but we always shared a common bond that you just can’t have with most people.  After high school, she went to England and back to Greece to study, and I had already moved to Boston by then.

At times, we may go up to 2-3 months without talking and it will be like nothing happened when we connect on the phone.  What I love about my friendship with Zoe is that aside from love, there is respect and no competition.  We genuinely want to help each other by challenging our ideas and becoming better people.

Zoe and I in the rose garden at Golden Gate park… a classic shot when we’re both exploring, talking, and endlessly fascinated!

Today, nearly thirty three years later, I still consider Zoe my little sister.  Again, what does this have to do with food?  Well, if I just mention the word “empanadas,” Zoe would know exactly what I’m referring to!  When we were about 8-9 we were going through a cooking phase, and wanted to impress our parents by making them the most complex recipe in the Unicef Children’s Cookbook by Eve Tharlet called, “The Little Cooks.”  I loved that cookbook, I just looked it up on Amazon and the 1987 edition that I have is now $196.00… Anyway, it had popular recipes from all over the world, and we chose “Empanadas from Chile.”

It was the Greek version, but this was the 1987 cook book that had the famous empanadas recipe

Needless to say, we tried the recipe at least 5-6 times and always gave up in the end.  Our intentions were good, but there were just too many steps and components… then hunger would kick in and ruin everything!  Zoe’s mom would step in and finish the empanadas for us.

So, I won’t share my own unique recipe today, but I do recommend involving your kids in the kitchen if they are interested.  At this point, Anna is my official dessert taster and she’ll still occasionally get involved with presentation and plating.  She used to love creating table centerpieces at dinner.  I do think it makes sense to let kids be bored sometimes… it will force them to foster creativity and they might just surprise you.  Hopefully, by not burning down the kitchen.

Happy cooking!  More later.

 

 

 

 

 

holiday classic… baklava homemade recipe

Have you had enough sugar yet?  If you are Greek, have you had your fill of baklava, kourabiedes and melos?  It seems that each week lately is filled with one holiday event or another.

I somehow find myself immersed in my own world these days, the mad cafe, to find peace and harmony as the holidays ramp up.

the mad cafe
the mAd cafe

It’s fun creating memories and reconnecting with friends, sending Christmas cards and wrapping presents.

Anna is still trying to corner me about whether or not Santa is real.  Though I’m sure she knows the answer, she’s either hanging by a thread or is waiting for me to cut it.  I’m not falling for it.  My answer is always the same:  “Do you believe he’s real?” I know… answering a question with a question is reminiscent of my PR days, but it seems to work in this case.

Having holiday fun is a must each year
Having holiday fun is a must each year

The other day I felt so tired, I fell asleep and totally forgot to put money under Anna’s pillow when she lost one of her primary teeth.  I felt so badly in the morning, as the money was still on my nightstand and Anna just gave me a suspicious look.  I gave her a coy smile and said that the tooth fairy probably got mixed up.  She didn’t fall for it, but at least she smiled because I tried.

A favorite dessert we enjoy this time of year is the classic baklava.  It’s not my favorite, personally, but most of the family loves it and I don’t mind making it.  My mom still doesn’t get why I go into the trouble of making it from scratch, especially since you can find it very easily.  But, I don’t like the commercially prepared baklava at all.  I don’t trust the cheap ingredients and you can’t taste the love 🙂

So, if you are up for it, try out this recipe.  Of course, I know you have your own recipe and I’m sure your aunt, mom, yiayia, and sister make it better – and I don’t argue with that!  This recipe has my family eating the baklava out of the pan instead of waiting for a plate, so I take it as a good sign.  Happy holidays and baking!

MAD BAKLAVA

Prep time:  60 minutes  –  Cook time: 45 minutes  –  Yields: one 9×12″ pan.

Note:  I insist that you use really good honey for the baklava syrup.  We are lucky because on our olive groves in Karpathos, we also

Organic honey from our farm in Karpathos is the best choice for making baklava syrup
Organic honey from our farm in Karpathos

have a beekeeper who stores honey in our old “stavlo” (hut).  He will give us some of the honey in exchange for allowing the storage and I am most grateful!  Exactly as I do with the salt and the olive oil I bring back, I treat this honey like gold and share it only with very special people in my life.

 

Ingredients

1 package of phyllo dough (thin sheets).  You can find at the freezer section at the supermarket – make sure you thaw out the phyllo before using.

2 cups of unsalted butter, melted (you will need for brushing)

2 cups of walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 cups of almonds, very coarsely chopped

2 tbsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves

Whole cloves – for decoration only

FOR THE SYRUP:

1/2 cup of good honey (if you are even thinking of using corn syrup instead, don’t call it baklava, please)

3 cups of sugar

2 cups of water

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Zest of 1 lemon

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a bowl, combine the walnuts, almonds and ground cloves.  Mix in the cinnamon.  Set aside.

You need some serious work space, so make sure you clear a table or counter space to have everything handy.

Measure the phyllo sheets to fit into the pan.  You may have to cut them to fit, or I just fold over the excess (just remember to brush with butter first before you fold).  You want to make sure the phyllo dough does not dry out in the air.  Have a damp dish towel handy to cover the laid out phyllo and lift up as you need each sheet to lay into the pan.

Using a pastry brush, start with brushing melted butter on the bottom of the pan.  You want a nice full layer, but don’t overload either.  Balance is key with baklava!  Carefully, lay one sheet avoiding air bubbles.  Spread with your hands gently.  Brush butter on the sheet, and repeat with 5 sheets. If you have excess phyllo each time, simple butter and fold over.

Pour the syrup right away and let cool for at least an hour
Pour the syrup right away and let cool for at least an hour

Once you’ve reached 5 sheets for the base, sprinkle some the nut mixture.  Sprinkle enough to cover the area, but don’t overdo it!  Then lay 1 sheet of phyllo gently and butter on top.  Sprinkle more of the nut mixture.  Repeat with laying 1 sheet of phyllo and sprinkling the nut mixture until mixture is done.  For the top layers of the baklava, you’ll want to have at least 5 sheets brushed heavily with butter in between.  Once you reach the top layer, brush with butter.

Very carefully, with a paring knife, cut through the top 5 sheets only – not all the way to the bottom.  See the photo for shape suggestion, though I’ve seen baklava cut in squares.  I get impatient with the cutting process, so I ask Michael to do it for me.  Add the cloves for decoration in between each piece.

Bake for about 45 minutes until the top layer is golden brown.

Meanwhile, while the baklava bakes, make the syrup.  In a medium sauce pan, simply stir in the water, sugar and honey until the sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil.  Simmer for 2-3 minutes and add the vanilla and lemon zest.  Turn of the heat and set aside.

Once the baklava is ready, take out of the oven and IMMEDIATELY pour over the syrup using a ladle (syrup will still be hot).  The sizzling sound is probably my favorite part of this recipe!  Make sure the syrup is evenly distributed.

Note: you will have heard that either the baklava should be cool, or the syrup should be cool — that one of the two needs to be cool before you pour on the syrup, but I disagree.  Having both warm makes for an instant crystallization of flavors.

Serve warm and only in awesome company!  Baklava keeps well at room temperature and you just need to cover it once it has completely cooled – no refrigeration required.

 

 

 

Soutzoukakia make an ideal Sunday Greek meal

Many of you have been waiting for my father’s soutzoukakia recipe!  I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone for being so incredibly supportive of foodandheart.com.  A few days ago, I received a really sweet note from a very dear family friend who was particularly encouraging… she said that this is probably the best gift I could give to Anna.  Not that Anna is interested in cooking much at this stage, but you never know.

Most of us become interested in our family’s history as we grow older.  It’s remarkable how many parallels exist from generation to generation, and the lessons learned (or not learned) in the discovery process.

The best part of writing this blog is that I don’t know who reads it until I see a comment, or an email from people who’ve read my posts.  Having written blogs in the past for business, it’s refreshing to not have to worry about ROI, meeting target

Going through photos of my family I had never seen before was amazing. Thank you, Mary!
Going through photos of my family I had never seen before was amazing. Thank you, Mary!

goals of impressions, etc.  If someone doesn’t care or like the blog…well, you know what to do!

So, my mom brought with her some old photos that I haven’t even seen from my cousin Mary in Athens.  She’s my only first cousin from my father’s side.  Mary is my aunt Sophia’s only child.

As I’ve mentioned, we’re a tiny family on that side due to the massacre of the 1920’s in Asia Minor.

Aunt Sophia and my father were very close, and our family spent many Sundays together
Aunt Sophia and my father were very close, and our family spent many Sundays together

 

Cousin Mary is about 21 years older than me, and got married pretty young to George, a military pilot of the Greek air force, who I’ve always adored!  I remember both of them babysitting us when we were little and I considered them as my second set of parents.  They have a son, Aki, who is 14 and helped facilitate the family photo sharing with my mom during this past

My cousin Mary was so beautiful!
My cousin Mary was so beautiful!

trip.

Cousin George on duty, circa 1972
Cousin George on duty, circa 1972

I have fond memories of our family spending Sundays together in Agia Marina, at the “ktima” (farm), where Mary’s parents had retired.  Sophia, my father’s sister, and her husband, Andreas, had acres and acres of land, with olive trees, artichokes, tomatoes, zucchini, fig trees, orange trees, and pomegranate trees (my aunt’s favorite… she would say that every house should have one).  They also had a chicken coop with fresh eggs available every day!

A typical Sunday at the farm growing up. My aunt Sophia and uncle Andreas in the background and cousin George on the right
A typical Sunday at the farm growing up. My aunt Sophia and uncle Andreas in the background and cousin George on the right

One of our family’s favorite dishes, inspired by our Asia Minor roots, is a meat dish called “soutzoukakia.”  The dish is basically meat balls slowly cooked in a delicious tomato sauce that is laced with rich spices of pepper and cumin.  My father usually made this dish and we all enjoyed it over fun family conversations, cracking jokes on each other and lots of teasing!  I don’t have the handwritten recipe, but I’ve watched my father make this countless times… it’s one of those recipes where you let your senses guide you… and one of those dishes that really doesn’t need much tweaking.

MAD SOUTZOUKAKIA

Prep time: 30 minutes – Cooking time: about 1.5 hours – Yields: 6-8 servings

Note: These taste best when made ahead of time… it’s best to let the flavors of the soutzoukakia meld for at least 1 hour before serving.

Ingredients

1 lb of ground beef (or ground lamb if you prefer)

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

Cumin is the highlight of this dish, don't be afraid to add more into the sauce if you can't taste it.
Cumin is the highlight of soutzoukakia, don’t be afraid to add more into the sauce if you can’t taste it. Some chefs add cinnamon, but I never ever recommend adding it.

2 medium onion, finely chopped – divided

1 bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 egg

2 tbsp red wine vinegar – divided

2 tbsp of ground cumin – divided

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tbsp butter

32oz can of petite diced tomatoes

Salt/pepper to taste

Directions

In a large bowl, mix by hand the ground beef, egg, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp vinegar, parsley, onion, garlic, half the cumin.  Sprinkle salt and pepper and mix until well incorporated.

On a platter with the flour spread out, start forming and laying out the soutzoukakia.  Form about 2-3 tbsp of the meat mixture into oval shaped balls and lightly flour each one.  Set aside.

In a non-stick large saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium high.  With care not get burned, start placing the soutzoukakia in one even layer and sear all sides by turning them once.  Lower the heat if you need to adjust, the soutzoukakia only need to obtain color at this point, they don’t need to cook through.  Once seared, take them out and place in a bowl and set aside.  Repeat the process until all the soutzoukakia are seared and out of the saucepan.

The “goodness” left in the pan from the meat drippings and the flour remnants is exactly what you want.  Add the other chopped onion and saute for about 3-4 minutes on medium heat.  Stir in the tomato and add the butter, and more salt and pepper.  Now, add the cumin and stir until well incorporated.

Slowly add the soutzoukakia into the pan with the sauce and try to even them in a layer where they are all covered with sauce.  They don’t have to be completely immersed, but need to have some contact with the sauce.  Once the sauce reached a low boil, set heat to medium-low and semi-cover the pot.  Cook for about 45 minutes – carefully stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Add the rest of the vinegar and turn off the heat and cover for 15 minutes.

Soutzoukakia make a perfect Greek Sunday meal.
Soutzoukakia make a perfect Greek Sunday meal.

Ideally, you will let the pot rest covered for an hour before serving.  This is best accompanied with tzatziki, mashed potatoes and a seasonal salad.  Serve this plate only to those you love 🙂

Kali orexi!

 

 

 

 

a twist on tuna melt for meatless monday

Today, felt like Christmas morning!  My mom came back last night from Greece and she said one of the two suitcases was basically for Anna, my brother and me.  She was too tired to organize everything by the time we came home, so I impatiently waited until this morning to knock on the door of her apartment.

Would this justify for meatless Monday? Loving my Greek treats :)
Would this justify for meatless Monday? Loving my Greek treats 🙂

I think I just barged in, actually!  My mom knows better, and wasn’t surprised by that at all.  In fact, as promised, everything had been separated in bags.  Just like a little kid I could not wait to see my treats.

So, I have laid them out on my work station at the mad cafe, and love looking at all the Greek goodies

George and I on Christmas morning, Pireaus, 1979... not sure who I am pointing to, but it looks exciting
George and I on Christmas morning, Pireaus, 1979… not sure who I am pointing to, but it looks exciting

that remind me of my childhood.

She also brought back a lot of old photos and I am looking forward to going through them.  Most of them are family photos, but some of them have food shots and birthday party photos that I’m sure will inspire plenty of stories.

 

It’s meatless Monday time

Meanwhile, I owe you a recipe!  Since it’s meatless Monday, I thought I would share with you a healthy twist on tuna melt that we enjoy making at the mad cafe.  It’s super tasty and easy to make.

MAD TUNA MELT

Prep time: 15 minutes  – Cook time: 10 minutes – Yields: 2 servings

Ingredients

2 cans of white albacore tuna in water, drained

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1 medium onion, finely chopped

5 tbsp light mayonnaise (we use the olive oil variety)

2-3 tbsp pickle relish

1 tsp horseradish

Juice of half a lemon

1 tsp sriracha

1/2 garlic powder

4 slices of aged cheddar, or sharp provolone

2 naan, regular size

Arugula, avocado slices and tomatoes for garnish

Salt/pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven 375F

In a large bowl, mash the drained tuna with a fork until fish is in small flakes.  Stir in the mayo, horseradish, lemon juice, sriracha, garlic powder, relish and chopped onion and mix well with a large spoon.  If you like more mayo, add to cater to your taste.  Sprinkle salt and cracked pepper to taste and mix until well combined.

This version is topped with black sesame seeds!
This version is topped with black sesame seeds!

Let mixture sit for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

On a baking sheet lined with foil, lay the two naan side by side.  Brush the edges of the naan with olive oil.  Divide the tuna mixture and spread evenly on each naan.  Top with slices of cheese, enough to cover the tuna.

Place in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes until cheese is melted.  Turn on the broiler for 2 minutes, until cheese turns lightly brown.  Serve immediately with arugula and tomatoes on the side.

Happy meatless Monday!

 

 

fascinating perspectives on life, art and food

Anna's ornament from 2013... a gingerbread cookie from IKEA that had been decorated with tons of icing and sugar (polyurethaned)
Anna’s ornament from 2013… a gingerbread cookie from IKEA that had been decorated with tons of icing and sugar (polyurethaned)

One of the reasons I love the holidays is because I get to see my friends for our various “annuals.”  For instance, my friend Sarah came over last week with her daughters to decorate the Christmas tree and holiday cookies with Anna.

They have been doing this since they were 3 and 4 years old so it’s a big deal at the mad cafe!  It is always so fun watching them decorate and how they develop their own perspectives of holiday traditions.  Seeing their handmade ornaments hanging and recalling the memory year after year is priceless.  I hope they will continue this tradition with their own families one day.

We call them the three musketeers!
We call them the three musketeers!

I also get to have an annual “holiday tea” with my dear friend Teresa, who is a former colleague.  We went to lunch one day outside the office a while back and just hit it off!  She’s one of those people I enjoy talking to because she shares with me a different perspective on things that I always find so helpful.

Specifically, we had a spontaneous discussion yesterday about personality traits and characteristics and how best to reach each person in a way that will have an impact and be effective.  She had this exercise at work, and it applies to everyday contact with people.  I won’t go into all the details, but it’s fascinating to learn how best to get through someone who is a distracted extrovert, let’s say,  vs. an introspective deep thinker.  Who knew sharing a pot of white spiced pear tea could spark such interesting conversation!

T and me having tea
T and me having tea!

There are other annual holiday gatherings scheduled and I remind myself how grateful I am for the friends in my life.  What’s especially interesting is that many of my friends don’t necessarily know one another, which makes it that more fascinating to get to spend time with them one on one.  Honestly, I love listening to my friends’ stories and getting their perspective on various topics.  Many of them have called me their therapist.  I don’t know about that, but it’s great to see my friends feel better once they’ve shared something that preoccupies or interests them.  To have a good friend you need to be a friend… and personally I’ve been very selective with mine.

 

Michael and Anna sketching at the Norton in 2013
Michael and Anna sketching at the Norton in 2013

Speaking of perspectives, Teresa mentioned that it really made an impression on her when she saw in our living room three sketches that Michael, Anna and I did a couple of years ago at the Norton Museum.  We love going to Art After Dark where they have a family art do-it-yourself activity.  I especially enjoy Sketchbook Thursdays when there is a live model to sketch on timed poses.

So, a while back the three of us attended one of those live model workshops and instead of using a pencil, the medium was blank ink.  Of course, that means you can’t made corrections.  We sketched out about 3-4 poses of the same model and at the end we compared our work and it was fascinating to see how differently we perceived each pose.

Anna's perspective
Anna’s perspective – I love the detail on the buttons and the wacky eyes!
Didi
Didi – I didn’t have enough time to finish his left arm!  In middle school I’d sketch spiked balls on a chain, so this was new material for me!
Michael
Michael’s has strong, confident brushstrokes and we laughed about proportions

Naturally, Anna was only 8 at the time of this workshop,  I hadn’t sketched anything since high school, and Michael is basically great at nearly everything he puts his hands on, so each piece was very different.

Now the challenge… what does this have to do with food?  Everything!  We all have different perspectives and thoughts about food, recipes and what we enjoy.

My mom heads back from Greece today so I can’t wait to see what photos she is bringing with her along with tons of Greek treats.  I’ll do my best to post a recipe tomorrow when I have more time.

Happy Sunday!

 

 

happiness is an action… make healthy choices

Yesterday, I came across an article of incredible insights that Warren Buffet shared with business students.  Apparently, he does this a couple of times a year to help enthusiastic business minds frame their perspective on work and life.  He had some interesting food for thought, especially about how happiness is an action.  Warren buffet suggests that where we are born, geographically, is a lottery.  Place of birth dictates our start in life, but that if we are unhappy after that, it’s on us and our choices.

I love the simplicity of this photo that Michael took in CA. So much is dictated before we are born.
I love the simplicity of this photo that Michael took in Malibu a few years back.  So much is dictated before we are born.

So, I was reflecting on that and thinking about how important it is to make changes when they are needed.  Whether it’s taking control of our physical health by changing our diet or sticking with an exercise plan, or it may be a bigger life change that is stressful in the short term, but the right choice regardless.  Whatever change it may be, we talked previously about the importance of being present, and how that is an ongoing challenge for many of us.  And sometimes we find ourselves in a position where we have no choice but to make decisions based on imperfect information.

I think with age, we realize that being ourselves can be so fun and liberating at the same time.

Anna being funny at a metro station in Dusseldorf. Laughing with yourself can be inspiring!
Anna being funny at a metro station in Dusseldorf. Laughing with yourself can be inspiring!

Personally, I have a lot of fun embarrassing Anna when I drop her off at school in the mornings.  Many times, I’ll slowly drive by as she’s walking on and blare Blitzkrieg Bop or Rock you Like a Hurricane – it depends on the mood.  She’ll give me a look and pretend I’m not there.  The other day, she said that The Scorpions were embarrassing!  Ugh… just another sign that Generation Z is taking over.

This mom I know from Greece, who grew up in my hometown, now lives here with her family.  She wanted to be in a warmer climate.  Yet, every time I see her at school now, she is miserable.  It’s as if it’s written all over her face that she hates living here and everything about Florida and the US.  Her goal apparently is to move her family back to Greece, and raise her child there… in five years.  We used to be friends a while back, but have clearly outgrown each other and while it makes me sad, I know I’ve tried everything.

As Anna's artwork from second grade suggests... don't be a Copy Cat, be yourself.
As Anna’s artwork from second grade suggests… don’t be a Copy Cat, be yourself.

While we’ve made attempts to be friends, I sense the toxicity and the misery each time I see her.  I think at this point in life it’s just automatic for me to wall up and sever ties.  Sometimes if a person is miserable you can’t do much to help them.  In her case, I’ve tried to

listen and give my perspective, but she’s so fixated on the negatives that there’s is no interest in finding anything positive about living here.

It has taken years, but I do realize that all of us need to learn our own lessons, and the toughest part at times is being open to that process.  Change is scary, sure.  It’s necessary sometimes.  If something isn’t working, fix it.  Chasing your dreams?  Wake up and make them happen.

So, one of the several changes I’ve made in my life is a commitment to eating well, balanced and healthy.  Eating at home is a big part of that change.  One of our favorite recipes at the mad cafe is shrimp and baby bok choy.  I’m looking forward to sharing this recipe with fellow seafood lovers.  Try it out and set a tasty and healthy tone for your weekend!

MAD SHRIMP WITH BABY BOK CHOY

Prep time: 15 minutes  –  Cook time:  20 minutes –  Yields: 4 servings

Ingredients

1lb jumbo raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

2016-12-02-19-02-04
Baby bok choy are delicious in a broth on their own, too.

2 cloves of garlic

6-7 baby bulbs of bok choy

1 tbsp black sesame seeds (you can substitute with plain sesame, just make sure it’s toasted)

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp fresh ginger minced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 bunch of scallions, finely chopped – keep separate the green and white parts

1 tbsp canola oil

1 tsp red pepper flakes, crushed

1 tbsp corn starch (or flour)

Salt / Pepper to taste

Directions

Once the shrimp is cleaned, toss into a stainless steel bowl with corn starch, sprinkle salt and pepper and add the red pepper flakes.  Set aside.

happiness is an action! See how some shrimp and veggies can do to bring a smile at dinner?
happiness is an action! See how some shrimp and veggies can do to bring a smile at dinner?

Meanwhile, chop up the bok choy about an inch thick, leaving out the top leafy part and discard.  In a large skillet, on medium high heat the oil and add the garlic, white part of the scallions and ginger – saute for about 1 minute until fragrant.  Don’t burn the garlic!

Add in the baby bok choy and saute for about 3-4 minutes until slightly softened.  Stir in the soy sauce until combined.  The mixture should have some liquid coming out from the bok choy at this point.

Lower the heat to medium and add the shrimp.  Stir until shrimp are well coated and let cook for 10 minutes or until the shrimp turn pink and cooked through.

Add the green part of the scallions at the last five minutes of cooking and sprinkle the sesame seeds.  Adjust the seasoning.

Serve warm over white rice or noodles or as is.  Happy healthy cooking!

 

 

 

 

 

Greek Christmas cookies… kourabiedes

As I’ve shared previously, my yiayia Aphrodite and I would bake a lot of Greek Christmas cookies together during the holidays.  I remember she would turn into this strict baker and was very methodical with Greek Christmas cookies, and especially, kourabiedes.  This type of cookie looks like a wedding cookie, and dusted with powdered sugar and has a buttery, nutty flavor.  I loved kourabiedes growing up, and now these are Anna’s favorite Christmas cookies.

Every Greek home has a batch of these ready to share during the holidays! (photo credit: greece-is.com)
Every Greek home has a batch of kourabiedes ready to share during the holidays! (photo credit: www.greece-is.com)

Greek Christmas cookies

A must in every Greek inspired home, kourabiedes often make for animated comparisons between men and women as to who bakes the best.  No one can convince the others as to why their mom’s or aunt’s cookie is the best, but I have a simple theory about Greek Christmas cookies that I generally don’t care to share in public.

The way I see it, food is attached to long term memory, and when the memory is positive and evokes love, family, etc., it tends to taste great, because eating it makes us feel good.  However, if the memory is traumatic, we don’t want to have anything to do with that food… for instance, my father absolutely hated olives.  Whether in a salad, or in bread or served with feta, he would not go near them.  When I asked, he said that olives were all they ate during the war, so he had attached horrible memories of the war with eating olives.

My grandmother apparently added nutmeg to her kourabiedes
Among her Greek Christmas cookie recipes, my grandmother’s kourabiedes recipe is very interesting.  She apparently added nutmeg to her kourabiedes!

Anyway, enough with the psychology lesson for today!  The recipe below is one that I’ve tweaked from my yiayia Aphrodite.  So, instead of vanilla extract, I use almond extract.  I use pecans instead of almonds and I bake at 350F not 375F.  The best thing you can do is try out making these for yourself, and see what you like or what you would improve upon.  And of course, your cookie with end up being the talking point for your kids one day when the topic of kourabiedes is bought up.  Happy baking!

MAD HOLIDAY KOURABIEDES

Prep Time: 35-40 Minutes – Cook Time: 15 Minutes per batch – Yields: About 45-50 cookies
Ingredients
  • 5-6 cups of all purpose flour (you can opt for whole wheat)
  • 1 lb. unsalted butter (softened to room temperature)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, lightly toasted  (you can use almonds or walnuts)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp almond extract
Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Prepare two cookie sheets lined with parchment paper for the batches that will go into the oven (middle rack)
In a stand-up mixer beat the softened butter alone on medium high speed for 15-20 minutes.  It is really important for the butter to be softened at room temperature and not in the microwave.
Once butter is ready, add the egg until incorporated.  Lower the speed to medium and add the almond extract.

In a separate bowl, it’s best if you sift the confectioner’s sugar.  Slowly add with a spoon into the butter mixture and beat for another 5-8 minutes on

I love using my grandmother's old sifter!
I love using my grandmother’s old sifter!

medium.

Meanwhile, you will have sifted the flour, baking sofa and salt together in a another bowl.  Take care as you do this: on low speed, add the flour mixture into the butter mixture with a large spoon a little bit at a time until all ingredients are completely blended together.   Should the dough be too wet and sticky, add 1/4 cup flour.  You should be able to form the dough, that’s the consistency you want.
Stir in the pecans (or whatever nuts you are using).
A note on toasting:  you don’t have to toast the pecans, it’s a matter of personal taste!  Just make sure you don’t burn them… with toasting, it literally takes  a second to go from toasting aroma, to a burnt smell that will linger in your kitchen!
The cookies won’t rise much, so you can place them about an inch or so apart.  Form about 2 tablespoons or so of dough into circles (you can shape into crescents if you prefer) and lay out of the sheet.
Bake for 15-17 minutes until the color is light gold.
Allow the cookies to cool on a rack for half hour and cover with powdered sugar.  Once completely cooked, dust with more powdered sugar!  These taste best when served in great company 🙂

 

two countries, one heart

I saw my good friend Amanda on Sunday and it was great to catch up with her after nearly a month.  She’s one of my friends from graduate school, but as it often happens, we didn’t really know each other in Boston that well.  She visited me down in Florida at least once a year since 2009, and our friendship has grown since!.  We are happy at the mad cafe, because recently she moved from Michigan in the area, so it’s a treat to see her more often.

As we were chatting on Sunday, Amanda made a curious observation that I found interesting to share.  She mentioned that through the blog she’s realized how I grew up with plenty of American influence.  Specifically, she pointed out that my friends in Greece considered me pretty much their friend with the American mom, who always went to the States in the summer.  Yet she’s always known me as her friend from Greece who lives here now.  I guess both statements are true.

ahata
Beautiful beach at Ahata, Karpathos

One of the most annoying questions I eventually learned how to answer as a child was which country I preferred more.  Really, the best I can compare this question to is asking a child of divorced parents which parent they like better.  When I couldn’t avoid the question, and I was among hard core Greeks, I felt that I had to put on a face and answer the obvious.  Looking back I can’t believe I felt forced to do that… it wasn’t true and I never felt as if I belonged.

On the flip side, when I was in the US in the summers growing up, people would ask me how I like it here compared to Greece. The questions came from genuine curiosity, and it was with a smile and with much more acceptance.  “I’m equally grateful to both countries,” is my answer now.  Then I usually change the subject, depending on who is asking the question.

Michel took this photo of us enjoying the breathtaking view from the Acropolis - it was Anna's first time there.
Michael took this photo of us enjoying the breathtaking view from the Acropolis – it was Anna’s first time there.

Reflecting on that some more, my brother and I do feel lucky.  We were able to grow up in the 80s when Greece was doing relatively well socially and economically.  We enjoyed a mild Mediterranean climate, experienced a solid culture with great food and music, and rested on glorious beaches and overall had little stress.

I try to explain to Anna what it was like growing up with few choices in Greece.  For example, in the early 80s we only had two TV channels; the military channel, and the National Radio Network (EPT).  And there were hardly any cartoons.  We listened to a lot of radio, and it wasn’t digital.  And when kids went to public school it was much different then.  Some kids went to school in the morning, and some went in the evening depending on the schedule.  And the phone couldn’t go with you wherever you went.  And we had to stand up when a teacher entered the classroom.  She doesn’t understand, and now everything has changed but it is important to go back and become familiar with your roots.

Anna and Michael at the waterfront in Karpathos. Now you can find a full American breakfast there.
Anna and Michael at the waterfront in Karpathos. Now you can find a full American breakfast there.

 

There were plenty of drawbacks growing up in Greece.  Gender inequality was one, not on paper, but in everyday life.  It still is the case and whoever says it isn’t is probably male. But, there were other dumb questions that magnified silly differences that were not generally accepted with ease in Greece like “oh, are you left handed?”  I mean, really.

I think this was preK in 1982... the paintbrush was place in my right hand for the pose, though I'm clearly left handed.
I think this was pre-K in 1982… the paintbrush was placed in my right hand for the pose, though I’m clearly left handed.

I remember in high school the chief principal would argue in a class filled with 2/3 female students that while girls need caring and protection, it’s the boys who need to get ahead and should be treated with more importance.

If I remember correctly, all the girls in the class felt like throwing tomatoes to the principal as  we kept trying to argue back with him, but he just wasn’t getting it.  I went to a private school that had been founded by strong women from Smyrna in Asia Minor, and had traditionally been an all-girls school until recently…  Still, the overall perception towards women was astonishing.  Ironically,  and undoubtedly inspired by Wellesley, my high school’s motto is Non Ministrari sed Ministrare

I think when I moved here in 1998, as a college transfer, the transition was challenging, but definitely not as challenging as some people from Greece I’ve met over the years.  I credit my mom’s influence for making the transition easier.

Personally, unlike many Greeks, I wanted to assimilate and learn from other people.  I didn’t just want to be around the Greek culture, as it seemed a bit pointless.  While it took some time to understand some of the nuances and the slang (example: once someone asked me, “Do you know where I’m coming from?” and I thought he meant a location, which forced a very funny and confused look on my face)… I am happy that home is here now.

With this memory, an awesome Greek salad comes to mind!

More recipes tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

it’s not Christmas without holiday punch

Is it really less than three weeks until Christmas?  I’m a bit behind this year on decorations, and plan to have the tree up by Wednesday.  It’s always fun to have Anna’s friends over every year to decorate our Christmas tree.  Last year was the first year when no one broke an ornament… except for me.  I broke the pickle, of all ornaments, as I was trying to hide it so the kids wouldn’t find it.  Supposedly, whoever finds the pickle ornament on the tree wins a prize.  There is no prize for when you accidentally break it though, just the honor of clean up.

A South Florida Christmas requires flip flops.
A South Florida Christmas requires flip flops.

My mom always calls December “happy month.”  For the life of me, I don’t agree with her.  The juggling, the stress of preparing, and keeping everything to some perfect timeline that I already not is just not going to happen.  And even if everything does go as planned, for some bizarre reason, I’m still waiting for that one moment when it will all turn awry… and it usually does, especially when it involves awkward moments at extended family holiday gatherings.  Then again, I also look at it as another way to make interesting and amusing holiday memories!

How do you keep sane when you are hosting Christmas eve?  I turn to the mad cafe and keep as busy as I can with preparing food.  Michael and Anna are great with welcoming people at home and keeping the conversation going.  This year, my plan is to not have anything formal for Christmas.  Instead, I think it will be best to have stations with different hors d’oeuvres, seasonal bites, and sweets so that guests can just help themselves whenever they like.  I may even make a holiday punch to narrow down the choices of drinks.

I love this 60s punch bowl! Time to put it to good use.
I love this 60s punch bowl! Time to put it to good use.

Actually, that’s a good idea, and now I know what recipe I’m going to share with you.  I started this post without one specific recipe in mind, so this is perfect!

I do have my grandmother’s punch bowl and have hardly used it the past several years, so it will be a great opportunity to bring it out.  She has a recipe for punch in her notebook, to which I have added my own holiday twist.  Enjoy!

MAD HOLIDAY PUNCH

Prep time: 15 minutes –  Chill time:  1 hour minimum – Yields: 1 punch bowl and a lot of laughs
Ingredients
4 tbsp. sugar

Prosecco from the Italian region of Valdobbiadene is my favorite!
Prosecco from the Italian region of Valdobbiadene is my favorite!
1 cup pomegranate juice
2  bottles chilled Prosecco
1 cup of Riesling (or similar – a sweet white wine)
2-3 medium oranges
Seeds of 1 pomegranate
1 cup fresh pineapple, diced
Note: Have plenty of ice available
Directions
Well, you basically combine all the ingredients in a punch bowl, with the exception of the ice, and still well until sugar is dissolved.  Let the mixture chill in the refrigerator for about an hour before serving over ice cubes.
A little goes a long way, so please drink responsibly!