The ultimate cold dish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning to savor the present moment!

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

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

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

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

 

Thank you, Amanda for suggesting the ultimate cold dish!

MAD KOLYVA – THE ULTIMATE COLD DISH

(This is great!)

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

Ingredients 

1 lb wheat berries

Dash of salt

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

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

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

2 cups confectioners sugar, divided

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

March madness at the mad cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or something similar to that effect.

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

 

 

 

the handful makes all the difference

The tax workload is starting to drive us up the wall now.  While most people were probably enjoying a nice and quiet Valentine’s Day dinner, Michael and I were busy with new and existing clients.  We have started going out to client sites now in Boston, and I’m down here helping on the back end of things.  I’m noticing we have gotten busier earlier this season, though a lot of people still have not received all their tax documents… making it more challenging to get returns out the door.

Every year, about a month or so before my birthday, I think about the year that’s gone by, pondering on what I have gained/let go, learned/forgotten and where I can improve.  Now that 40 is pretty much staring at me intently, a lot of things are starting to make more sense now.  Age has never really scared me, in fact I’m proud of my years and will continue to do my best to be as healthy as possible.  Admittedly, it is annoying with technology at times and grasping new techie things, so instead of fighting it– I guess I just learn to accept and embrace change.  Good thing Anna helps me with tech issues!

So, some of you have asked me directly about the precious “handful” I keep talking about.  The handful is basically the people I feel most connected to, and for one reason or another, they have become very special to me.  Generally, as I’ve mentioned before, aside from my immediate family, I don’t let a lot of people in because I simply don’t want to.  It takes a lot to invest in human relationships and, personally, the meaningful ones are ultimately the ones worth it.  Yes, of course I have a network of acquaintances built-in like everyone else, for work, community, etc.  But, it’s the precious few that are special because I trust and go to them instinctively, and rely on their input and opinions.

Watching the waves crash in the Pacific.

I also feel connected to these people because I can just be… myself around them!  If someone makes it on the “handful,” then they stay there.  I’ve never really lost anyone… sometimes one of the fingers won’t move for a while, or it needs a mini cast, but it’s always there!

The handful has evolved with time somewhat in the sense that I’ve been lucky to meet some great people in my thirties.  So, basically, the handful from my twenties just carried forward… I suppose I’m up to two handfuls now, but the essence remains the same.  I also try to let those people know (in my own way for each person) how much they mean to me as part of my life.  Hopefully, when I reach that level of understanding with each one, I feel happy!

Who are on the handful?  It’s actually a variety of personalities!  Mainly confirmed introverts, like me, with a tremendous mental ability to process things and understand nuances.  All of them have incredible empathy and are generally very thoughtful.  And ultimately they are all very sensitive… some guard it more than others.  A couple are very practical in their thinking, and the others are hopeless romantics.  None of them has reached their potential yet, because they continue to show so much promise.  What I love about the handful is that when I spend time, or share things with each person, I feel uplifted and understood, not beaten down or filled with negativity.

Keep toxicity, jealousy and negativity away with love and humor.

Cheers to the handful 🙂

More recipes soon.  It was tacos at the mad cafe last night…

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!

 

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!

 

 

the power of being present

Wishing you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving, full of joy, lasting memories, and hopefully no family drama!  I’m enjoying our first turkey-free Thanksgiving this year.  We spoke to my mom in Greece, who laughed off my previous blog post on her Brussels sprouts, and then to my brother, who is spending the holiday in San Antonio with family there.

We also spoke to my mother in law, who lives in Northern Greece and she is coming to visit for six months this December.  She’s a very sweet lady and I’m looking forward to having her spend the holidays with us.  And praying for no additional family drama.  After that, Michael and I went to the gym and I was surprised to see it so crowded!  I guess everyone was trying to get their work out in before the big feast!  Still, it was great to exercise and then drive the s4 cabrio around town.  I love this car; and feel thankful that Michael takes care of it so well.

Here I am in Rye, NH, when we took the Audi S4 (aka, Ladybug) out for a first test drive. This car has been fabulous to drive around Palm Beach on a sunny day!
Here I am in Rye, NH, when we took the Audi S4 (aka, Ladybug) out for a first test drive. This car has been fabulous to drive around Palm Beach on a sunny day!

Thanksgiving this year has really made me think about family and how everything can shift over time.  It’s also taught me the importance of being in the moment and allowing myself to be present.  Easier said than done when you have a family and obligations.  Still, being present is a necessary exercise that fuels progress and growth.  This time of year, we’re often reminded of family stresses, and we have power to indulge in all that, or… not.

Needless to say, we don’t choose our family, and we do have the choice of who to include in our life, whether it’s family and/or friends.  What matters really, is being thankful, and I am finding that it is state of mind – not just on a day like today – and a way of life.  In many ways, it’s a daily exercise to mindfully make it a point every day to live with purpose, while being thankful for all the experiences we have that make up who we are.  That doesn’t mean only acknowledging all the “good” things, but learning to embrace the challenges, too.  That’s much harder.

These look fabulous, Amanda! Great job on the spices, too.
These look fabulous, Amanda! Great job on the spices, too.

No recipes today!  Although, I do want to give a shout out to my dear friend Amanda, who is celebrating with her family in Michigan now, and prepared what she calls “Didi’s Greek marinated potatoes.”  I promise to share this recipe soon, and I think you will appreciate how quick and easy these potatoes can be!

She just sent me a photo of them and they look delicious!  Enjoy the day, everyone 🙂