simplicity is a mindset well worth exploring

Happy New Year to those near and far!  Wishing everyone health, happiness, love and peace.  One of my resolutions this year is to live more simply… not only on a material level, but as a mindset.  My husband doesn’t like this resolution much though as it reminds him of his early childhood in Northern Greece, where living more simply meant different things.  It’s also Michael’s birthday today, so I’m dedicating the first blog of the year to him.

Delicious heirloom tomato salad with a balsamic reduction by Daphne. And, yes, that is homemade bread in the background.

We were at our good friends last night for dinner, Daphne and Peter.  We have two annual dinners at least, and they are always a special time for us as we enjoy not only fabulous culinary creations together, but each others’ company.  Somehow during dinner we began discussing the idea of living more simply in a highly complex world and how that translates to each of us.  Daphne and I were on the same page; we envision an emotionally rich life wrapped around the simplicity of living on a Greek island with rustic beauty.  Indeed, there is much romanticism in that lifestyle vs. the realities of everyday living.  At the same time, I believe there is something magical about that level of simplicity, where you live with purpose and no clutter.  That takes tremendous discipline and commitment… but I can only imagine the rewards of living that way.

Simplicity set the tone of our meal last night. I loved this dessert – fruit and chocolate mousse made with avocado and a lot of inspiration by Daphne

For my husband however, living simply is a form of giving up working hard, which is far from my thinking.  I can understand where he is coming from.  Michael has accomplished so much as a first generation American.  He was thrown into the Boston public school system mid-year in first grade and he vividly remembers not understanding English.

The family immigrated from Thessaloniki in 1974 when Michael was six and first settled in Dorchester, then Quincy, and then in Randolph where they bought their first house.  Michael said he was twelve and he saw it in the paper and took his mom to see it.  He and his brother became responsible at a very young age and were the chief translators for their parents.  “We lived simply,” Michael would tell me, “and I knew early on I didn’t want that life for myself.”

The Greek mentality of the old country is for kids to grow up and not leave the nest to go too far away.  Michael wanted to go to school and make a career.  He became a CPA and took several assignments abroad, to the discouragement of his family.  Michael is probably as driven as I am, perhaps more in some ways, and I really appreciate this quality.  We both have an insatiable need for progress and growth.

But, when it comes to seeking simplicity our views remain different.  He thinks that simplicity means giving up on dreams of an ultra comfortable life, whereas for me it means achieving harmony and peace of mind.  For Michael peace of mind is achieved by making as much money as possible to enjoy life later on.  And I agree to a point, for sure.  Money is a very necessary tool, but overall it is not emotionally rewarding.  Don’t misunderstand, Michael is very persistent, patient and willing to wait for things — he is happy marinating in the dreams of delayed gratification. Our license plate reads “Turtle” symbolizing our slow but very steady approach.

This photo from Kifissia with the older couple in the background is one of my favorites. Simplicity is a mindset.

It’s Michael’s birthday today and I don’t even think we’re going out to dinner.  It will likely be a quiet evening, which is welcome after the insanity of the holidays.  Tax season is around the corner for us and this means in a couple of weeks we will be doing the Boston-PBI commute quite heavily for work.  And there’s nothing simple about that, let me tell you.  But, I’m finding that achieving simplicity is lifelong process and not one that can necessarily be discovered in a new year’s resolution.  It’s a slow start though, and for me it feels like a very healthy mindset that’s well worth it.

Or maybe I am morphing into a turtle.

More recipes tomorrow!

 

ring in 2017 with almond cake… and no superstitions!

Only two days after my previous post about how 2016 has been a very odd year, Carrie Fisher dies and her mom, the legend Debbie Reynolds follows just a day later.  Even though 2016 only has two more days in it, I’m still somewhat cautious until 2017 rings in!

I’ve always been ridiculously superstitious, and there’s no rhyme or reason as to why.  It makes for a very funny topic of conversation.  There are plenty of superstitions in cultures, and Greece certainly doesn’t lag in that department.

It’s so fascinating as many believe superstitions are for weak minds, but I beg to differ!  Personally, odd superstitions like this connect me to my culture and I enjoy that so much.  My father, who was highly educated and accomplished, was very superstitious and didn’t hide it either… I think I may have bonded with him on that growing up.

There were superstitions about nearly everything:  you didn’t make any important decisions of Tuesday the 13th. The first fall of Constantinople to the 4th Crusade occurred on Tuesday, April 13, 1204, and the ultimate fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, ironically also took place on a Tuesday… May 29, 1453.  Friday the 13th is like any other day, really.

Another example of a superstition that you shouldn’t walk under any scaffolding as it is very bad luck.  You can imagine how difficult that was for me when I lived in New York and worked in the city… which was always under some form of renovation and construction.  Walking in the street was not an option, so I found myself compromising my luck a great deal back then…

My favorite is the salt and broom in the kitchen, but it doesn’t work in modern open spaces anymore — you need a door.  The superstition says that if you have guests at home that have overstayed their welcome, you can sprinkle some salt on the floor and turn a broom upside down behind a door.  If you don’t have a door, try the pantry.  It worked every time!  Within half an hour guests would finally take their leave.

 

I’m not sure what people see here, but I just see a cup that needs washing!  It still looks mesmerizing though.  And Greek coffee pairs really well with the almond cake recipe below.

We have talked about Greek coffee and reading the grinds once the cup has been inverted.  I can’t say that the coffee reading was a popular one in our home, but it was always fun listening to the old ladies who took the time to read each others’ stories.

Another superstition that is followed fairly religiously in Greece is the idea of the “podariko” which I cannot really translate, but it takes place during the New Year.  Supposedly, once the New Year rings, you’re supposed to enter any home you visit with your right foot (i.e., best foot forward).  Oddly enough, I could care less about this superstition, probably since I am left handed and fed up with being right all the time.  So, I don’t follow this one much but it sure is popular throughout Greece from the most remote village to the city center of Athens.

There are others too that I admit are part of my daily life, like keeping all the closet doors shut before going to bed, because they resemble an open grave. It’s not that I can’t go to sleep if the closet door is open, but I will feel uneasy.  Poor Michael has gotten used to my silly quirks and already shuts everything for me before I head to bed.  Oh, and always make sure you keep scissors closed when you finish using them.  That one I learned from my neighbor Maria in Kifissia who used to say that open scissors are especially bad luck.

Some of my friends know of my superstitions and make fun of me, but later admit that it’s part of my charm.  Who knows?  Every quirk we have makes up who we are and there’s nothing wrong about being yourself and standing out 🙂

By request, I’m posting my grandmother’s recipe for Almond Cake.  Walnut cake (karydopita) is traditional for the New Year, but almond cake is one of my favorites!

MAD ALMOND CAKE

Prep time: 25 minutes  –  Cook time:  45 minutes  –  Yields: 1 cake

Ingredients

12 eggs, separated 

3 cups superfine sugar

The no-flour almond cake is a relatively healthy dessert to celebrate the New Year! (photo credit: gastronomersguide.com)

2 cups ground almond flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 lb almonds, finely chopped or slivered

1/2 tsp almond extract

1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven at 350F

In a bowl, mix the baking powder and almond flour and set aside.

Beat egg yolks with sugar until lemon colored.  In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold the egg whites in the yolk mixture and add the extracts.  Using a wooden spoon, mix in the crumbs and 3/4 of the almonds (save the rest).

Prepare a 9×12 pan by greasing and flouring it and pouring in the mixture.  Sprinkle the rest of the almonds on top and bake for about 45 minutes.  Let cook and cut into squares.  Serve with sprinkled powdered sugar if you like.

Happy New Year!