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!

 

 

 

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!

 

March madness at the mad cafe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or something similar to that effect.

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