The non-celebration of an unorthodox Greek Easter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kokoretsi on Easter Sunday! (source: pinterest)

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

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


Moussaka at the mad cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that was exactly 19 years ago today.

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


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


1 lb. of ground beef

2 medium size onions, finely chopped

3-4 garlic cloves, minced

1 12oz can crushed tomatoes

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

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

Olive oil – you’ll need a lot of it

1 tbsp butter

Dried oregano

1/4 tsp all spice

Salt and pepper to taste

For the bechamel:

4 cups of 2% milk

1/2 cup of butter

6-7 tablespoons of whole wheat flour

1/2 cup shredded Parmegiano Reggian or Pecorino Romano cheese


Preheat the oven 350F

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make your own memories.




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In deep thought (Botanical Garden, DC)

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

12 oz. of good feta cheese

2 tbsp butter, melted

1 cup of Panko bread crumbs

1 tbsp dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat the oven at 375F.

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

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

Using good feta will make all the difference in shrimp mykonos


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

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

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

Voila! Shrimp Mykonos with a seasonal salad and fresh bread

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

Here’s to half hour meals!





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!


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.



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


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


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  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!


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.


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.


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


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!





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:
Every Greek home has a batch of kourabiedes ready to share during the holidays! (photo credit:

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!


Prep Time: 35-40 Minutes – Cook Time: 15 Minutes per batch – Yields: About 45-50 cookies
  • 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
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!


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.

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.












why chestnuts taste better boiled

A very fond memory I have of my father this time of year is watching him shell chestnuts at the table.  Roasted chestnuts (or, kastana) are an old time favorite street food in Greece, and my father grew up with it.  Growing up in Athens, you would find roasted corn and sesame bread (koulouria) on the streets, but rarely chestnuts by the time my brother and I were older.

So, occasionally, around the holidays, my dad would come home from his office and show off a paper bag of chestnuts.  He would proudly announce it to my mom, and we all knew that meant he was taking over the kitchen.  My father had his own, specific way of cooking chestnuts.  I specifically remember that he would boil them.  I also remember asking him why he would not just roast them, like the street vendors did.  Since I don’t recall his response, it probably means there wasn’t one.  I was intrigued though, and very curiously followed the cooking process.

My favorite part was sitting at the kitchen table with my dad waiting for the chestnuts to finish boiling, and then watching him patiently clean them when they were ready.  To my 10-year old brain, what he was doing seemed like such a messy ordeal, trying to hold the chestnuts as they clearly burned his fingers while cleaning off the skin.  Was it worth the torture?  It felt as if it took forever just to enjoy one chestnut!  Apparently, it was.

Even though I didn’t like chestnuts at the time, some of our best conversations were at that table.  I would keep my dad company and listen to his thoughts or whatever story he was up for sharing with me.  My dad and I didn’t just talk to talk.  When we were both up for it we could really connect and discuss many topics.

A published poet himself, he introduced me to poetry.  When I felt discouraged in school for misinterpreting a poem that we read in class, he would tell me that there is never a wrong or right way to interpret a poem, because it comes from the heart.  That each person is different, and

If I can write a sentence that provokes any meaning, I owe it to my father. This is the first short story I wrote when I was 9. I called it... "The 3 scissors." He was so sweet, my dad had his office type up copies for me.
If I can write a sentence that provokes any meaning, I owe it to my father. This is the first short story I wrote when I was 9. I titled it… “The three scissors.” He was so sweet, my dad had his office type up copies for me.

ideally should connect with a poem differently… and that if everyone had the same exact reaction to a poem, then it would be boring.  And who wants to be boring in life?  Then we would both laugh and I felt better right away.

This was one example of what we would discuss as he would clean those pesky, time consuming chestnuts.  My dad would munch on them as they were ready to be eaten, and I remember how happy it would make him.  You could have offered him caviar and champagne and he would still choose the humble treat without hesitation.

My father's writings were reminiscent of painful times from his childhood during the war. This is one of his earliest writings that I found, titled, "Christmas eve of slavery."
My father’s writings were reminiscent of painful times from his childhood during the war. This is one of his earliest writings that I found, titled, “Christmas eve of slavery.”

More than that, however, eating chestnuts this time of year reminded my dad of how much he had been through as a young boy — it reminded him of the traumatic time of when food was scarce, when families and friends had to come together to barely survive, when the smell of death was common and filled the streets of Pireaus in 1941… and when having an ounce of olive oil was considered a tremendous luxury.  That will be another post for another day…

For now, I want to share with you this humble, and by the way super healthy, recipe to make chestnuts with your family.  Cleaning them is a pain, and you can’t do much to get around that, so embrace it as a time to bond with those who mean the most to you.


Cook time: about 40 minutes.   Cleaning time: it depends – it requires patience and motivation!


1 lb of chestnuts and cold water

If only chestnuts could talk!
If only chestnuts could talk!


In a stockpot with cold water add the chestnuts and cover.

Boil over medium high heat for about 40 minutes, or until the shell is cooked.  You can test it with a fork.  It should feel soft like piercing a mashed potato.  Remove from the heat, and let the chestnuts to rest in the water for about 15 minutes.  Drain well.

Unlike my dad, you should allow the chestnuts to cool for a bit before peeling the skin off!  These are awesome on their own, pr my favorite way to eat them is with honey, walnuts and yogurt.

Happy holidays!


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 port today. (Credit: I found this photo on Pinterest by

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.


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


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


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!






meatless mondays can be deliciously mad

Motivation Monday is surely setting the tone of the week for me!  Anna is already back to school and we are catching up with our tax clients, invoicing, and preparing for the upcoming tax season.  It’s my seventh tax season since I met Michael, and it will be the fourth one working officially as part of the firm.  While it is a stressful three months on mostly every level, it is very rewarding on mostly every level, too.  We get the question all the time, “how can you work with your spouse?”  Really, the answer is that our strengths lie in vastly different areas… if I were a CPA, for instance, I doubt we would be able to be in the same room together, much less own and operate a firm!

Sorting receipts during the 2014 tax season

Since my background is in marketing strategy and communications, we have been able to work efficiently and grow our business year after year.  I guess we like working together, too.  There’s an unmistakable feeling of accomplishment at the end of each tax season and knowing that I did my part to make it a success is pretty neat.

So, with the holidays rolling around so quickly, I’m reminded that tax season is basically around the corner.  It still feels like we just wrapped up the last one, and now we’re starting up again.  Part of the reason I started the mad cafe blog is to have a creative outlet that I’m clearly missing with all the tax business operations!  I was also inspired because eating well during tax season is truly a challenge, and implementing many of these recipes, whether on meatless Mondays or not, has helped us stay healthy and focused!

Let’s pay homage to meatless Mondays with these gorgeous zucchini patties.  Easy to make, I first tried these about a year ago and they taste awesome.  Perfect for a healthy lunch or brunch, or a snack.  Enjoy!


Prep time: 15-20 minutes  –  Cook time: about 25 minutes  – Yields: 6-8 patties

2 large zucchini, shredded

1 egg

I love the veggie colors of this meatless dish!
I love the veggie colors of this meatless dish!

2 tbsp hemp seeds

1/2 cup rolled oats

1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1 tbsp olive oil

1 cup bread crumbs – divided

Splash of red wine vinegar

2 scallions, chopped

2 tbsp of dill, chopped

2 oz of crumbled feta

1/2 tsp crushed chili pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 375F.  Line a cookie sheet and lightly grease with olive oil and set aside.

Squeeze the liquid from the shredded zucchini with paper towels.  The less liquid, the better your patties will turn out.

It's amazing what you can do with fresh ingredients and a lot of motivation!
It’s amazing what you can do with fresh ingredients and a lot of motivation!

In a large mixing bowl add the zucchini and all of the above ingredients together, EXCEPT for half the bread crumbs.  Mix well with your hands until everything is well incorporated.  Form into patties and dredge lightly each side with the rest of the bread crumbs and place onto the baking sheet – about an inch apart.  Drizzle with olive oil and bake for about 22-25 minutes or until the patties turn very lightly brown.  Let cool for a few minutes.

Serve warm.  By the way, this dish goes really well with the mad cafe tzatziki!