Summers in Palm Beach… then and now

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

My Anna!

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

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

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

Summer in Palm Beach… outside our door

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

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

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

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

Two trees watching the sun rise in Palm Beach

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

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

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

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

On one of my walks on the beach

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

And much more.

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

MAD POTATO LEEK SOUP

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

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

Serve warm!

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

throwback thursday and mad guacamole

Thank you again to all of you for reaching out, whether on the blog or through email and messages!  It’s tough to write monologues without feedback, so I am really thankful for all the constructive comments and encouragement!

I’ve felt so inspired with the Women’s March this past weekend, especially with how my mom took the lead on going with me to the West Palm Beach rally.  She wasn’t sure how her knee would hold up, but she managed to put that aside and focus on the reason we were there.  “We have to do this for women,” she kept saying and even though my mom couldn’t last all day at the rally, our homemade signs were a big success!  Women and men were giving us high-fives and thumbs up and it was an amazing experience.  I specifically remember this one lady who took a photo of us with our signs to send to her friends in Germany, who were also holding a sister march.

Our signs from the women’s march rally

Since it’s throwback Thursday, I can’t help but think of a somewhat similar story, this time about my parents.  My mom and dad got married on November 4, 1973 here in Palm Beach, at the Breakers.  It had been a very difficult year for my mom until then.  She had just lost her father, Emmanuel, to colon cancer that summer, and her aunt Persephone had fallen ill with kidney disease.  My dad and my mom were in a long distance courtship for a year or so.  That fall he decided to travel to Palm Beach from Athens to see her, and ended up proposing to my mom.

They didn’t have much time to plan a wedding, because my dad had to return to Greece to his law practice, so within three weeks they were married!  They were both older, so they viewed marriage more sensibly, and far more as a partnership rather than love forever after.  So, how do you merge the life of a native Floridian who spoke little Greek, and a Greek lawyer who didn’t speak any English?  They managed pretty well, but had some funny stories in the beginning of their life together.

My mom agreed to move to Greece since my father’s work was established in Pireaus.  At the same time, she said that their children will be born Americans, which is at it happened.  My parents didn’t have a honeymoon after their wedding, they traveled to New York for a few days, bought their furniture and shipped it to Greece.  They first settled in my father’s bachelor apartment in Pireaus, which was walking distance from his office.

It’s important to mention that Greece was going through a major political transition right at that time. Since the spring of 1967, Greece had been under the military dictatorship, which essentially abolished civil rights, dissolved various political parties, while exiling, imprisoning and torturing politicians and citizens based on their political beliefs.

According to history, in 1973 the military junta leader, Giorgos Papadopoulos undertook a liberalization process of the dictatorship.  This apparently included the release of political prisoners and the partial lifting of censorship, as well as promises of a new constitution and new elections returning to civilian rule.  At that point, the opposition elements including Socialists had a window of opportunity to undertake political action against the junta.

So, as the story was told to me, the morning of November 13th my parents went to Athens to visit relatives.  The tensions had grown and the city had started to shut down.  On their way back there was no public transportation – it had been cut off from the city center.  People were stuck and couldn’t go anywhere.  Chaos ensued.  My parents tried to hail a cab but none were stopping.  At a red light, my mom stood in front of a cab and my dad opened the door and said, “You’re taking us to Pireaus.”  Yes, this is how things work in Greece sometimes!

My mom’s college graduation photo form the University of Florida. For those wondering, yes, it is her real hair and now you know where I get mine!

The next morning, my dad left for his office.  Within five minutes he was back home.  Surprised, my mom thought he forgot something.  He didn’t say anything and immediately started closing the window shutters.  Then he said to my mom that there was a military tank at the corner sending everyone back inside their homes.  My mom at first was excited!  She grabbed her camera ready to go outside to snap a photo of the tank.  Really taken aback by her excitement, my dad said she shouldn’t go as it was dangerous!  Instead, they turned on the TV – the military channel was the only one available – which was repeating, “We decide and we dictate…”

And just like that a 24-hour curfew had been imposed throughout the city.  My parents had just come from New York two days earlier and had been eating out.  At their apartment, they only had a can of tuna fish… and an onion.  Thankfully, they had a good attitude, too.

Needless to say, as an American, my mom was totally shocked that someone can just claim power and can dictate what the people could and could not do.  It stayed with her for a long time that basic rights could be abolished with such force.  Anyway, for the time being, they had to find food!  So, all the residents in their building came together and it was like stone soup… everyone shared what they had for two full days.  The city had been completely shut down – no phone lines, no mail.  Only the military radio and TV channel that was censoring everything.

Throwback Thursday: My parents years after the 1973 incident.

In the early morning of November 17, the protesting of students in Polytechneio took place.  Students took a stand against the junta dictators, protesting, and barricading themselves inside the University.  The students figured out a radio frequency that could be heard to the public and they were broadcasting live as the protest unfolded.  The transitional government sent a military tank to crash through the gates of the Polytechneio, killing several civilians.  November 17th has since become a national holiday that Greeks observe.

My parents definitely experienced a lot together in their first few months of marriage, forcing them to communicate as best they could.  I really enjoy it when my mom shares stories like these.  Hearing her experiences and insights are not only relevant today, but they help keep me grounded.  Basic rights can be taken for granted and we have to fight for them!

On that note, I’m sharing with you my favorite guacamole recipe to celebrate.  I don’t mind cilantro personally, but I know people who really don’t enjoy the flavor.  This recipe can be made without cilantro, and you won’t miss it!

MAD FIESTA GUACAMOLE

Prep time: 15 mins   Idle time: 1 hour  Yields: 3-4 servings

Ingredients

3 medium size haas avocados, ripe to the touch but not overly ripe

Juice of one lime (use two limes if the juice isn’t as much)

Guacamole, yum!

½ tsp cumin

A good pinch of sea salt

½ tsp cayenne pepper

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small tomato chopped, include the seeds and juices

3 tbsp of red onion finely chopped

2 tbsp of yellow or orange sweet bell pepper, chopped

4oz of fresh cilantro, finely chopped (optional)

Cracked pepper to taste

Directions
Slice lengthwise, remove the pits and smash avocados in a medium size bowl with a fork or potato masher.  Add lime juice, salt and pepper and set aside for 5-10 minutes for flavors to meld (about enough time as you chop the veggies).

Toss in everything else and mix well with a spoon.  Keep in mind, as with tzatziki, the flavors will come together during idle time, so don’t over season.  Cover with plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.  Mix the guacamole and adjust the seasoning to wake it up before serving.  I add in a little more lime juice to brighten up the flavors.

Fiesta time!

have a voice, make a difference

Today’s post is not a food one – sorry!  I’ve been inspired so much with the activism of the women in our country, and our respective local communities, that I feel compelled to express my support.  It’s easy, all you have to do is click away if you don’t want to read it.  Or, in the words of my father:  Να μη σώσεις! (er, a loose, polite translation: “may you never endeavor!”)

It has been an interesting month so far.  I still can’t believe the inauguration is tomorrow.  The media are on fire with news surrounding it, and focused even more on the day after the inauguration… when the Women’s March will take place in DC.  I was happy to see there are several sister marches happening, for those who can’t get to the main one.

There is a sister women’s march (rally) taking place in WPB that has thousands who are planning on protesting this Saturday at noon.  It’s a beautiful thing to see women (and those who support them) gather together to support being who we are.  We are women who not only have rights, but the right to make sensible choices.

Personally, I am getting tired.  Tired of having men in suits, with inflated egos and the need to control others dictate what we should do with our womb, our bodies and our minds.  Men who refuse or don’t have the ability empathize with women, and who simply don’t respect them.  Men who will never truly grasp the total pain of child labor (because it does hurt – oh yes, a lot) and all of its consequences.

We all have opinions, which we have the ability to share and discuss freely – it’s the beautiful function of this country.  We find opportunities to debate, to organize, to argue, and to demonstrate.  And it gets ugly at times.  With peaceful protesting we are able to express our opinions and feelings.  That’s an amazing thing about democracy.

Still, I’ve never been able to understand one thing:  unless we have been through a specific experience, how can we understand how a person feels?  It could be anything, but assume major events like, the birth of a child, battling a terminal illness, the loss of a parent, surviving a terrible accident, being laid off suddenly, having an abortion, dealing with abuse or assault, grieving the loss of a loved one, coping with the empty nest or a painful divorce.  We’re always so quick to judge others.  Why?  I think it’s because what others do is often a threat to our comfortable bubble, isn’t it?  But, in reality, isn’t that’s the exact moment those need help, empathy, compassion and love?

So, stop being afraid.  Reach out.

I’m not forming this opinion just because I read a bunch of books on feminism.  During this inauguration, I can’t help but think of the strong women in my life that have come before me, and those who I hope will come after me.  My great grandmother from Karpathos, Anastasia, was a brave lady.  I never met her, but the stories I hear from various people are consistent.  She was a kind, hard working mother who supported her two daughters.  Her husband left her to go to the States and never really returned.  He hardly sent money.  Anastasia raised her daughters alone, and it was hard.  But, she had her own house (the one we have now) and her own land (our orchards) and she raised those girls well with dignity, love and a strong sense of self.

My great grandmother, Anastasia (my mom and daughter are named after her).  Brought by her daughters, she first came to the US as an Italian Citizen in 1944.

Persephone, the oldest by five years, and Aphrodite (my grandmother) were Anastasia’s two girls.  They were very different and very close.  Both were trained seamstresses and took in work to help support their tiny family, and also worked in the olive grove during picking season.  Persephone married a photographer, Basil, who had become a US citizen after fighting in WWI and they moved to Gary, Indiana.  Aphrodite, the more ambitious of the two, was left behind and waited impatiently for her sister to bring her to the US.  While she had several marriage proposals in the village, she declined all of them.  She had her eyes set to leave Karpathos and made that clear to her mother, who knew she had to let her go.

In July of 1938, that day finally came.  Determined to make the most of her life, at the ripe age of 27, Aphrodite left Greece as an Italian citizen, and traveled alone to Paris, and from Cherbourg she sailed to the US.

The two sisters in Karpathos. Persephone (left) was very close to her sister and was determined to help her have a chance to the life she had envisioned.

I’ll share this story, as it was told to me:

Persephone was a uniquely kind and compassionate lady, whereas my grandmother was also kind, but very firm and as tough as nails.  She never forgave her father for leaving her mother alone to raise them.  Years later, when both sisters were settled in the US, somehow their father heard about it, tracked down Persephone’s home address and showed up at the door.  Unfortunately for him It so happened that Aphrodite was visiting her sister for the summer from Florida.  And Persephone answered the door and saw her father after decades.  She may have felt a duty to take him in and care for him in his old age.  But, Aphrodite didn’t feel that way.  She finally had her say and told him he was not welcome.  From what I gather, he left and that was the last time they saw him.

And from my father’s side, in Asia Minor, it’s said that my great grandmother, Permanthoula, was very brave.  Apparently, she carried a pistol in her undergarments when walking alone to protect herself from the Turks, especially when the tensions started rising.

So, I try to tell Anna that she comes from a strong line of women.  Women who were independent, curious, brave, and found themselves strong enough to tackle unknowns even when they were scared.  And they sought a better life for their children’s children.  And then I hear ignorant people who say they hate feminists, when they don’t even understand what that means.

Three generations on election day 2016

Character is built over time, by asking questions, by resolving problems reasonably, by making mistakes, by learning lessons and having experiences.  I’m not sure how you can build character by marinating in comfort or by surrendering to the status quo. It depends on what your goals are, I suppose.

We have a voice that can make a difference.

Last night, Anna designed a sign for the march for me.  I won’t tell you what it says.

It tells me she got the message 🙂

On the food front, I’m falling a bit short today.  And tax season is really picking up and I’m noticing my time is becoming more and more limited.  But, we actually went to the South Florida fair yesterday and tried a doughnut burger.  That part was disappointing!   Given the publicity of this fair delight, it was definitely not as good as I thought it would be.  The bacon was not crispy, the burger was overdone, the doughnut tasted stale…  So, we came home and I made pizza on naan bread for dinner.  Yum.  I’ll share my homemade pizza recipe sometime soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

throwback thursday inspires a humble recipe

First, thank you so much to those of you who have reached out to comment on the blog, or on social media!  Your encouragement and constructive feedback helps shape the mad cafe blog.  Hopefully, these stories and recipes are interesting to you and your families.  Since it’s Throwback Thursday, I’d like to share a story from my family’s history that always fascinates me.  It’s a love story, and those can be long, so I’ll try to keep it short for the purposes of this blog.

One of my favorite photos of my dad and me, this one at our first home in Pireaus
One of my favorite photos of my dad and me, this one at our first home in Pireaus

When I was little, I would beg my dad to share stories with me at bedtime.  I didn’t really enjoy boring lullabies at night.  In order to go to sleep, I would bargain with my dad for inspirational stories that would keep me fascinated and wanting to know more.  So, my father, a writer at heart and attorney by profession, happily indulged.  He would mix topics up a bit to keep my interest, and share stories about his family, focusing on their struggles, the war and times of famine, his own experience in the army, and many others.

I really cannot vouch for this story’s total accuracy, but I find that there is a special beauty in sharing a memory the way it was passed on as it was remembered.  This story was first told to me by my father when I was about 8 or 9.

My grandparents, Giorgios and Maria met in the most random way in the mid-1920’s in Greece.  Giorgios was originally from Ayvalik, from the village of Freneli in Asia Minor (today’s Havran area in Turkey).  He was among the hundreds of thousands of Greeks living in Asia Minor right before the slaughter of 1922.  Born in 1897, and the oldest of five, he had joined the Greek navy around age 15 or so.

As the tensions in Asia Minor increased, the Greeks living there did not feel they were in harm’s way, and had no idea what was coming.  You can read so many books on the Great Fire of Smyrna in 1922, and I highly recommend Paradise Lost.  But, that’s another, and very painful story…

ayvalik
Ayvalik port today. (Credit: I found this photo on Pinterest by lonelyplanet.com)

As the Greeks were trying to flee from the ports of Asia Minor, chaos ensued.  Apparently, since my grandfather was serving in the navy, he was allowed to take two of his family members with him to Greece.  They were a total of seven in his family, including his parents.  He could only take two…  An impossible choice.  In the end, as it was told to me, Giorgios brought with him his brother John, who was the next youngest, and their only sister, Sophia.  Tragically, little Sophia was lost at the port as they were trying to flee… never to be seen again.  Giorgios never saw his other siblings, his parents or his village again after that day.  We assume they were slaughtered and that their house was destroyed.

With the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, Giorgios and his brother settled in Perama at the outskirts of Pireaus port.  Not treated equally in many ways,  the Asia Minor refugees (Mikrasiates) were labeled and called horrible names by the indigenous Greeks, including “tourkosporoi” (of turkish seed), creating further conflict…

I know that my grandfather became a customs officer in Pireaus, and in little time he did quite well.  That was one of the traits of the Mikrasiates; they were educated, generally came from wealthy homes, were very resilient and efficient, and had excellent manners.  With a good job in place, Giorgios was now ready to get married.

Newly married, Giorgios and Maria with my father, Anthony
Giorgios and Maria pictured here with my father, Anthony

According to my father, Giorgios was seriously courting this young lady from a wealthy family in the area.  He would call on her, as they did in those days, in the afternoons and while he would wait for her to come into the room, Giorgios would chat with the seamstress, Maria.  Maria came from a poor family and learned the skill to support herself and her six siblings.  At this house she was there everyday in order to tailor the lady’s endless dresses.

The short of it is… with each daily interaction, however brief, Giorgios knew that they were meant to be.  Out of their control, he and Maria fell in love.  Giorgios broke off his engagement and married Maria right away.  From what I hear, they were a very connected couple, genuinely happily married and in love until her death in 1964.  They had two children; my father, Anthony (named after Giorgio’s father), and Sophia (named after his lost sister).  Anna’s middle name is Sophia as I continue her memory in my own family.

Hopefully you enjoyed this Throwback Thursday story, and with it I would like to share with you a favorite recipe from those times that I think you will enjoy.  Lentil soup is a favorite dish in my family.  Humble and tasty, it makes for a great, healthy choice.  It’s also the type of dish that tastes better the next day.

MAD LENTIL SOUP

Prep time: 15-20 minutes  –  Cook time: approx. 45 minutes

Ingredients

1 lb. brown lentils, rinsed well with cold water

This recipe has kale in it, but you can always add any other veggie you like. Lentils love vegetables :)
This recipe has kale in it, but you can always add any other veggie you like. Lentils love vegetables 🙂

2 medium very ripe fresh tomatoes, chopped (you can use 1 can of diced)

2 tbsp olive oil

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 medium onion, chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped

2 stalks of organic celery, chopped

(Optional: you can chop up a potato, too, or a parsnip, or toss in some kale, or even fennel, it will taste great!)

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

2 bay leaves

1 1/2 cubes of vegetable stock

6 cups of water

Crumbled feta (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

The time consuming part here is the chopping!  I chop everything by hand, but you can use a food chopper to get the job done.  Make sure the lentils are well rinsed in a colander.  Non-rinsed lentils will not be happy and will show it to you later in the form of gas!

In a medium stock pot, heat the olive oil over medium high.  Sweat the onions for about 2-3 minutes.  Add the lentils until they are well coated with the olive oil.  Stir in the garlic, carrots and celery (and other veggies you are using), and cook for about 3-5 minutes until the mixture is fragrant.  Add the tomato, salt and pepper, and pour in the water slowly into the pot.  Toss in the bay leaves and the vegetable stock cubes.  Bring to a boil and lower to medium, keeping the pot half covered.

The soup is ready when the lentils have softened up completely.  Some people like their lentils al dente, so this is really a preference.  Turn off the heat and pour in the vinegar and stir well.  Serve warm in a bowl and add the crumbled feta (if using).

Note: if the soup seems like it needs more liquid, add water to reach desired consistency.  If the soup is too watery, you can do this:  extract some of the liquid from the pot in a bowl and mix in 1 tbsp of corn starch until smooth.  Add into the pot and stir over medium heat – that should help thicken it up!

Happy Throwback Thursday!

 

 

 

 

 

improve the morning routine with a healthy breakfast

Every since I was little I remember not feeling hungry in the morning and very rarely eating anything for breakfast.  Growing up in Kifissia, a northern suburb of Athens, my father would be the one to wake up my brother, George, and me at 6:30am sharp.  My father was very Greek in many ways, but when it came to keeping a time schedule he was extremely disciplined.  He would always say, “go to your appointments five minutes early, it’s embarrassing to be late.”  We were brought up to respect people’s time and not waste it.  And to this day one of my pet peeves is when people are late for one reason or another… and make up excuses… I don’t mean to lose respect for them, but I do.

This image is the closest I could find that looks like a "htipito aygo," though this one isn't... (photo credit drhyman.com)
This image is the closest I could find that looks like a “htipito aygo,” though this one isn’t… (photo found on drhyman.com)

Anyway, back to breakfast!  Memories of “proino” from my father included something called, “htipito avgo” which was a fresh raw egg beaten with sugar in a tea cup until it became batter.  That would bring awful thirst and force us to hydrate really well in the morning.  Since I didn’t really like the plain egg beaten, my dad would add cocoa powder in mine and I remember it was like liking the bowl from a cake mix!  Other fast healthy breakfast options in the morning included toasted bread or yogurt with honey and nuts with milk on the side.

My mom’s approach to breakfast was vastly different from my dad’s.  As a second generation American, my mom grew up in West Palm Beach, FL and considers herself a Florida native since there are so many transplants in the area.  She married my father in 1973 and they moved to Greece since his law practice was in Pireaus.  With her she brought the American influence to our home and our friends’ homes.  I’m grateful for the party favors she made at our birthday parties, and the decadent brownies and all the Betty Crocker recipes for cakes that wowed our guests!

 

My brother and I on the balcony of our first apartment in Pireaus, circa 1981
My brother and I on the balcony of our first apartment in Pireaus, circa 1981

So, at our home for breakfast on weekends, my mom would make the occasional bacon and scrambled eggs, or stacks of pancakes with maple syrup that was shipped from the US (no one knew what maple syrup was in 80s in Greece), and sometimes waffles.  Warm croissants with seasonal fruit were a staple, too.  But, eating breakfast on weekends was easy, we could sleep in and be a little lazy, contrary to the strict routine of the school week.

 

I still struggle with eating a good breakfast to this day.  In the mornings, I push myself to eat something with my coffee and it is still hard.  I wake up early to make breakfast for Anna, who is a pro at eating in the morning, and I’m trying to be inspired and follow suit.

But, she likes waffles and sausages and pancakes or cereal… and the occasional pop-tart (they make maple bacon flavor now, seriously?)… none of these appeal to me.

"AnnaFood" for breakfast
Typical “AnnaFood” for breakfast

So, I made an effort to build a healthy morning breakfast routine.  I made some homemade granola to store in a jar, and before I knew it, I could make bowls like the one below!

I’m sure you see tons of recipes for breakfast everywhere, and I’m only adding to the heap that is out there… but I think you will enjoy this healthy option!

MAD POWER BREAKFAST BOWL

You can make endless variations with seasonal fruit, the more colors, the better!

Prep time per bowl: 10 minutes –  Cook time (for granola): 1 hour and 20 mins.

Make the mad granola first. Makes 6-8 servings (store and use as you need)

Ingredients:

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1 cup walnuts
1/4 cup sesame, toasted
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey (here is where I will say that Greek honey is awesome!)
1 cup dry cranberries or raisins, or any dried fruit you like
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the over to 250F.  You’ll want to mix the wet and dry ingredients separately first and then combine them.  First, in a bowl mix the oats, nuts, sesame, shredded coconut, brown sugar, and salt.  In another bowl, mix together by hand the honey and oil until well blended.  Combine both mixtures and spread onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, about an inch thick.

Instead of salt, you can try adding pretzel pieces, like I have done in this batch
Instead of salt, you can try adding pretzel pieces like I have done in this batch

Bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes – you may want to stir the mixture occasionally  throughout the baking process to ensure an even color.  Once nice and brown take out and mix in the dried fruit.  Let cool and store into a jar to use as needed.

 

 

 

To assemble the MAD POWER BOWL:

  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt (please use Fage!)
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Handful of blueberries, blackberries or strawberries (you can use any fruit, it’s tasty with green and red apples, too!)
  • Honey to drizzle on top
  • Granola

Add the yogurt in a bowl, top with granola, berries and sprinkle pomegranate seeds.  Drizzle with honey for extra flavor.  This will power you well for the morning and keep you full for a while!

Enjoy!  Kali orexi (Greek for bon appetit!)