the incredible value of timed breaks

Now officially in my fifth tax season, as the work keeps piling, I’m learning more about myself and those around me.  I notice that the work can keep coming in non-stop for two hours, and we need to be ready.  Tax season is so compressed that mistakes are not forgiving, so we have to be on top of things.

Anna and I painting the community art wall at the Norton Museum last year… a fun example of a timed break!

Since I’ve never been able to just sit at a desk for 8 hours straight and be productive, I’ve adopted the system of timed breaks.  I get a lot more done this way, and I’m noticing that it is helping me appreciate the little moments in life.  For example, while my schedule varies insanely, I might go to the gym early in the morning and then work for two hours.  But, I’ll work and be totally focused for that time and get a lot done.  After that, I might take a walk or grab a snack, catch up with my friends and loved ones, or read the news for a little while.  Then it’s back to work, then a break to cook something, pick up Anna from school, and so on.

So, this system of timed breaks is essentially forcing me to really be in the present.  Otherwise, I can see why tax season can drive not only CPAs bananas, but also the people who work with them.  For Michael, tax season is a way of life at this point, so he schedules everything around it – even jury duty has to wait!  I still don’t know how he is able to stay productive on three hours of sleep as the end of March approaches.  If that were me, I would crash and burn without my seven hours of sleep!

On a timed break with my dear friend T – we always have the best conversations!

I’m especially thankful for the people around me who are being supportive of me during this season of insanity.  They know who they are.  It’s my usual handful or so of people, and their support helps so much to stay motivated, happy and productive.  Whether it is seeing them for a quick coffee, or a dinner break or catching up on social media, I’m very appreciative of those little moments!

On the flip side, I also take note  in my own quiet way of those who are not supportive for one reason or another.  And noticing that I really don’t care anymore!  Wasted time is wasted energy and that’s become precious as we get older!

I’m almost 39…  and now is when it’s all starting to make sense.

To be honest, I have not been in the mad cafe for endless hours these days.  I simply can’t afford that creative luxury this time of year.  But, I will share with you one of my easy quick mad meals that keeps me healthy and focused!

MAD CEVICHE SALAD

Prep time: 15-20 minutes  –  Idle time:  1 hour  –  Yields: 2 servings

Ingredients

1/2 pound of wild salmon, cut into small chunks

1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped

It goes without question that you’ll want to use the freshest ingredients to make this at home

1 medium red onion, finely chopped

Juice of 2-3 limes

half of a sweet red pepper, cut into tiny cubes

1 mango, cut into tiny cubes

1 avocado (not too ripe), cut into cubes

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, optional

Salt to taste

Directions

The key to this recipe is in the knife cuts.  You need to make sure all the ingredients are neatly cut and about the same size.  The onion should be really small cubes.

In a bowl mix the raw salmon with the lime juice and set aside as you chop up everything else.  Mix everything into the bowl along with the seasonings.

Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the flavors to come together.

This tastes fantastic on crostini, especially on a timed break for lunch or with an aperitif later in the day!

 

tuesday motivation meal: mad chicken parmesan

Wham!  Tax season reality is certainly setting in quickly.  It’s amazing what two days can do in terms of workload.  We’re already busy with incoming clients now that e-filing has officially begun.  The best part is that the new clients coming in are overall the right ones for our business, making it that much more rewarding to see.

I’m tweaking our marketing efforts just a bit, and it seems we’re in really good shape to take on the season!  We’re really excited for the new interns that will be helping us this year.  And I can’t wait for my new computer to come in, finally, which will be faster that this laptop.

I also heard from my good friend Zoe out in San Francisco… her mom snail mailed some our old photos and I hadn’t seen them in so long.  We are both laughing so much.  Since we didn’t have them when I wrote the original post with Zoe and our culinary adventures with empanadas… we’re sharing a classic one here.  I don’t want these to be misplaced again!

Since it is Mardi Gras this photo is timely! Zoe and I at the IBM dance for families. I remember we both didn’t want to pose for that photo!

This time of year challenges me not only to discipline myself making meals for one or the two of us (when Anna is home), but also to find the time to cook food in a a healthy and tasty way.  One of the mad cafe’s favorite meals is chicken parmesan.

I’m sure this is a classic for many families, whether they enjoy this dish in a restaurant or at home.  Since this is heavy on sauce and cheese, I try to make it a little bit lighter.

 

 

MAD CHICKEN PARMESAN

Prep time: 20 minutes  Cooking time:  45 minutes  Yields:  4-6 servings

Ingredients

4 chicken breasts

It may be odd to substitute part of the panko with hemp seeds, but it gives the Chicken Parm really good texture and flavor

1 jar of spicy marinara (make your own, or your favorite brand)

3-4 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/2 cup hemp seeds

4 oz fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 tsp cayenne pepper

2 eggs, beaten in a bowl

2/3 cup shredded mozarella, part-skim

1/2 cup shredded Parmegiano cheese

Salt and Pepper

1 box of pasta, we prefer penne or ditalini – you can opt for whole grain… (to me it tastes like cardboard, so I go for the real thing!)

Directions

Preheat the oven 350F

Mix the whole wheat flour with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper in a bowl.  Also, mix the panko and hemp seeds in another bowl.

Wash the chicken breasts, dry with paper towels and lay flat on a glass or non-porous cutting board.  With a sharp knife, carefully cut the breasts horizontally – in half.  Dredge each breast in the flour mixture.  Next, dip into the beaten egg, and then coat well with the panko and hemp seeds.  Repeat the process for each chicken breast and set on a platter.

In a skillet heat the olive oil and cook the breasts just enough to turn lightly brown on each side.  Remove and set aside on paper towels.

Meanwhile, make the pasta.  Opt for al dente about 5-7 minutes of boiling in a pot with 1tbsp of olive oil and salt.  Drain.  Mix the pasta with the minced garlic and half of the spicy marinara and layer evenly in an oven safe dish.

Lay the chicken breasts on top of the pasta layer.  Add the rest of the sauce to cover the chicken.  You don’t have to drench it in sauce, just enough to cover it somewhat.  Sprinkle the parsley, mozzarella and parmesan cheese on top.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 45minutes.  Remove the cover and set to broil until cheese is brown and sauce is bubbling – about 3-4 minutes.

Serve immediately!

 

 

Roasted veggies and memories of Greek night in Boston

While I was initially hopeful for 2017, it has started off as a sidekick to 2017.  It’s only January 7th and already we had a mass shooting in Fort Lauderdale that’s left us so saddened.  We were all glued to Twitter, TV and any media available that had the latest info as the story was breaking.

The PR practitioner in me keeps revisiting the Creeping Cycle of Desensitization theory of our old beloved BU professor, Mel DeFleur (Amanda, weren’t you his grad assistant?).  Not going into too much detail, the theory predicts our behavior and tolerance to what is acceptable vs. not in the media.  For example, decades ago a steamy kiss in a movie was not acceptable whereas today we would hardly notice, much less be shocked.  So, our culture’s tolerance to what is acceptable or not has undergone a slow and steady pace over the years and this will not stop since the shock factor always has value in the media world.

I do have some fun food memories from Boston during my grad school days.  We were a small group of PR majors and it wasn’t a shock that we all communicated well and got along.  A favorite memory as a group was when I hosted Greek night at my tiny apartment in Allston (15 Carol Ave).  I cooked all day!  I can’t remember the whole menu, but it was a spread.  My friend Jill really loved the pastitsio, which I’ll share one day now that I’ve somewhat perfected the recipe.  My Italian friend Marta, who I swear is like a soul connection to me, felt like she was back home, and it was just a special evening.  We had little money and tons to do, but there was a sense of camaraderie with all of us as we plowed through projects and schoolwork.

Greek night with the BU PR clan, Boston 2001

So, I’m holding out that 2017 will gradually improve.  Or I’m realizing that we become desensitized to tragedies and constant bad news that make headlines.  And fake news has enabled our vulnerability to misinformation.  Do we shut off our laptops and phones and tv and live in our cocoon?  Do we stay connected 24/7 instead and drive ourselves mad with things that happen and out of our control?  Can we really achieve long-term balance?  And since balance is never, ever permanent, how do we win the daily battle?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the people I love and care about as we all continue to age.  Lucky enough, most of us are aging fairly well.  Aside from the physical outlook I’m much more interested in their take on things, their feelings, and their thought process as they consider life now… and all the choices that have come with it.  Do we run out of gas?  Do we switch gears?  Do we stay stuck in traffic?  Do we change direction?  Or, do we just ditch the car and walk freely?  Do you walk alone or always need a sidekick?  What are you trying to discover?  What are you learning?  So much symbolism, so many fascinating scenarios to examine.

Well, I am always pondering similar questions, but meanwhile eating healthy helps!  Here’s one that I’ve embellished since Greek night 2001.

MAD ROASTED VEGGIE ENSEMBLE

Prep time:  15 minutes  Roasting time:  30-40 minutes

Ingredients

Turmeric is an awesome spice that I love on roasted veggies

2 parsnips, peeled and chopped

1 vidalia onion, roughly chopped

1 red pepper, julienned

2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes

about 15 cherry tomatoes, halved

1 box of mushrooms (whatever variety you like)

1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped into cubes

3 garlic cloves, halved

2 large carrots, peeled and chopped

Note: The best part is that you can use mostly any vegetable you like for this dish.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp oregano

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp turmeric

Juice of 1 lemon plus 1 tsp of zest

Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the over at 350F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  In a bowl toss all the veggies together and add the spices and olive oil.  You can add more olive oil too if you like, just make sure all the veggies are well coated and seasoned.  Even out the mixture on the baking sheet.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until potatoes are tender.  Sometimes I’ll place under the broiler for a couple of minutes, but this is optional.

Served best with tzatziki on the side!

 

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 twist on tuna melt for meatless monday

Today, felt like Christmas morning!  My mom came back last night from Greece and she said one of the two suitcases was basically for Anna, my brother and me.  She was too tired to organize everything by the time we came home, so I impatiently waited until this morning to knock on the door of her apartment.

Would this justify for meatless Monday? Loving my Greek treats :)
Would this justify for meatless Monday? Loving my Greek treats 🙂

I think I just barged in, actually!  My mom knows better, and wasn’t surprised by that at all.  In fact, as promised, everything had been separated in bags.  Just like a little kid I could not wait to see my treats.

So, I have laid them out on my work station at the mad cafe, and love looking at all the Greek goodies

George and I on Christmas morning, Pireaus, 1979... not sure who I am pointing to, but it looks exciting
George and I on Christmas morning, Pireaus, 1979… not sure who I am pointing to, but it looks exciting

that remind me of my childhood.

She also brought back a lot of old photos and I am looking forward to going through them.  Most of them are family photos, but some of them have food shots and birthday party photos that I’m sure will inspire plenty of stories.

 

It’s meatless Monday time

Meanwhile, I owe you a recipe!  Since it’s meatless Monday, I thought I would share with you a healthy twist on tuna melt that we enjoy making at the mad cafe.  It’s super tasty and easy to make.

MAD TUNA MELT

Prep time: 15 minutes  – Cook time: 10 minutes – Yields: 2 servings

Ingredients

2 cans of white albacore tuna in water, drained

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1 medium onion, finely chopped

5 tbsp light mayonnaise (we use the olive oil variety)

2-3 tbsp pickle relish

1 tsp horseradish

Juice of half a lemon

1 tsp sriracha

1/2 garlic powder

4 slices of aged cheddar, or sharp provolone

2 naan, regular size

Arugula, avocado slices and tomatoes for garnish

Salt/pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven 375F

In a large bowl, mash the drained tuna with a fork until fish is in small flakes.  Stir in the mayo, horseradish, lemon juice, sriracha, garlic powder, relish and chopped onion and mix well with a large spoon.  If you like more mayo, add to cater to your taste.  Sprinkle salt and cracked pepper to taste and mix until well combined.

This version is topped with black sesame seeds!
This version is topped with black sesame seeds!

Let mixture sit for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

On a baking sheet lined with foil, lay the two naan side by side.  Brush the edges of the naan with olive oil.  Divide the tuna mixture and spread evenly on each naan.  Top with slices of cheese, enough to cover the tuna.

Place in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes until cheese is melted.  Turn on the broiler for 2 minutes, until cheese turns lightly brown.  Serve immediately with arugula and tomatoes on the side.

Happy meatless Monday!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

When the day is off, bite into a rainbow chard pie

Not sure how to title this post, but now it does feels like a rainbow chard day.  I woke up happy this morning and excited since today is the annual Christmas tree lighting on Worth Avenue, where Santa parades down the beautifully lit street, passing the holiday decorated windows of Valentino, Cartier and Tiffany’s – usually in a Lamborghini.  Last year, he came through in a Rolls.  I guess it depends on the sponsor every year.  Palm Beach is la-la land for sure.  Where else can Santa ride in a sled like that?

santa
Santa coming down Worth Ave in a Lamborghini during the 2014 Christmas tree lighting

My morning wasn’t planned to continue so well though…  Usually, I’ll walk to school with Anna, but today we drove the few blocks and since I like to walk her up to the gate, I parked the car for five minutes in an empty parking lot of one of the private client banks that was still closed.  I should note two things: 1) that I was not comfortable doing that, and literally I was only going to be five minutes, and 2) there is zero parking for parents at Anna’s school… just a helplessly long drop off line that simply creates a ridiculous traffic pattern.

Are you an introvert like me? Loving this view of the Pacific a few years back.
Are you an introvert like me?  Loving this view of the Pacific a few years back.

So, as soon as I turned off the engine of my SQ5, this gentleman walks over and I knew what was coming.  He said, “Can I help you?”  Apologetically, I mentioned that I will literally be driving away in a five minutes just so that I can walk my daughter to school.  I’m sure he anticipated that answer, and rudely snapped, and said “Uh, ok and no more.”

The interesting part is that this was maybe the third time I’ve done this in six months.  It’s one of those moments I guess when, yes, I’ve done something I am not technically supposed to, but for heaven’s sake, it’s five minutes in an empty lot… some people have no empathy!  And not that I’m a wealthy private client, but what if I were, or what if I become?  Would I give my business to an office like this?  Ugh – I took a long morning walk to let it go…

From the posts of the last ten days, I’ve noticed from your feedback that many of you seem to enjoy not only the recipes but also the stories.  I’m not sure how you liked this one today, hopefully  you will excuse me as it has been one of “those” mornings!  Nonetheless, I do have a really awesome healthy recipe that I wanted to share that always brings a smile on my face when I’m feeling a bit… well, off kilter.

MAD RAINBOW CHARD PIE

Prep time: 20 minutes  Cook time: 30-35 minutes

Ingredients

1 pie crust for a 9″ pie pan – you can make it or I just buy it from the store if I’m in a rush

2 bunches of rainbow chard (or Swiss chard), washed and roughly chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

Saute the chard and greens handful at a time
Saute the chard and greens handful at a time until liquid is absorbed and the quinoa is cooked

1 bunch of kale or spinach, washed and chopped (remove ribs from kale)

1 medium onion, chopped

1/4 cup chopped chives (optional)

1/4 cup quinoa

2 eggs

3/4 cup of milk

2tbs olive oil

1/2 tsp crushed pepper flakes

Salt and Pepper

1/2 cup shredded Asiago or Romano cheese (you can also use aged cheddar or Parmigiano)

Extra cheese to sprinkle on top

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325F.  Spread the dough in a 9″ pie pan and crimp the sides.  Smooth it out so there are no air bubbles on the bottom or the sides of the pie dish.  You can add pie weights so that the dough doesn’t bubble up.  Poke with a form randomly and bake for about 15 minutes.  Take out and set aside to cool.

Make the rainbow chard filling:  make sure all the greens are well washed and chopped accordingly.  Chop the rainbow chard all the way down to stems and keep them.  Only discard the rough kale stems.  On medium heat in a skillet or wok, heat the olive oil and saute the chopped onions, about 4-5 minutes so that they are lightly brown.  Stir in the quinoa, add garlic and pepper flakes and saute for another minute.  Add the chopped chard, stems first, and then the kale or spinach, handful at a time.   Lower the heat to medium, semi cover and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and quinoa starts to “open up.”  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Once filling is ready let it rest to cool for about 15 minutes.

Delicious and healthy, this pie makes great use of greens that you have in the refrigerator just calling out to be cooked!
Delicious and healthy, this pie makes great use of greens that you have in the refrigerator just calling out to be cooked!

Set the oven to 400F.

While the oven is preheating again, in a bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork and add the milk and chopped chives.  Add the 1/2 cup of Asiago cheese (or whatever you are prefer).  Note: you can always use feta… too 🙂

By now, the chard filling should be cooled and you can spread it into the pie pan, making sure it’s even.  Don’t over fill.  Slowly pour over the egg, milk and cheese mixture and gently fold it in so that it coats the greens.  Sprinkle shredded cheese on top.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until sides are brown and cheese bubbles up.

Enjoy a bite of a rainbow that you make yourself today.  I know I need to smile!

 

 

 

 

 

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!

tax-season
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!

MEATLESS MONDAYS: MAD ZUCCHINI PATTIES

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

Directions

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!

 

 

are you stuck eating leftovers?

Are you so done with cooking, cleaning and listening to everyone’s stories already?  Hopefully, you’re spending the day out and about, whether Black Friday shopping is for you or not.  I don’t mind doing some online shopping that I’ve planned for a while, but avoid the malls entirely today!  Michael and I had a productive day so far though.  We took a drive at a landscape depot and purchased some new fox tail ferns for the front of the building!

It was fun doing some gardening today, the weather is absolutely beautiful here and the more we can be outdoors, the better!  I spoke to Anna earlier this morning and she had a fun Thanksgiving with her cousin in NC and she was going to a community pool to practice her swimming strokes this afternoon for the upcoming swim meet in Fort Lauderdale next weekend.  She’s been trying to add more strokes to hit the junior Olympic time for her age.  So far she has 50m freestyle, and I know she will achieve some of the others soon!

Fox tail fern is super vibrant and made for a great choice to plant for the holidays! Now I just need to get on a watering schedule.
Fox tail fern is super vibrant and made for a great choice to plant for the holidays! Now I just need to get on a watering schedule.

I remember when I first started the mAd cafe… which is, essentially, my traveling kitchen.  I say traveling, because wherever I go, my cooking skills and curiosity follow me.  Specifically, I remember when Michael had received his blood work results and his cholesterol was borderline… if it continued this way, the doctor said we’d have to discuss medication.  So, I made it a point to re-focus not only what we ate, but everything from portions, to frequency of meals, leaner ingredients, etc.  We also made a commitment to go to the gym every other day.

This was about a year and a half ago, and I’m happy that we stuck with that routine, even through tax season (Michael is in Boston, and I’m here working remotely…) and I worry about what he eats in order to stay productive.

This is one of my favorite dishes to make, because you don't need anything to pair it with! It has all you need.
This is one of my favorite dishes to make, because you don’t need anything to pair it with! It has all you need.

Usually, his tax season meal routine includes a can of tuna and non-rinsed black beans out of a can, or boiled cauliflower, ugh).  However, when the most recent blood results came back a month ago, it was great news that Michael had dropped over 10 cholesterol points!

I’m not saying that eating this salad below will achieve those results, but I do believe that a routine combining exercise, a balanced lifestyle that includes a healthy mindset with a positive outlook, and a healthy diet… we can definitely help prevent or delay plenty of health problems as we age.

After enjoying a delightful Thanksgiving feast, I’m sure you’re ready for something fresh and crunchy, and most of all healthy and EASY to make.  Happy to share with you my recipe for black bean veggie salad.  It’s simple, colorful, and delicious!

MAD BLACK BEAN SEASONAL SALAD

Prep time: 10 minutes  –  Yields: 4-6 servings

This is a version with feta :)
I love the version with feta 🙂

1 can of black beans, rinsed

2 cobs of fresh corn, roasted or grilled and cut off the cob

2 heads of romaine lettuce, rinsed, spun to dry, and chopped

1 medium hot house cucumber

2-3 heirloom tomatoes

3-4 radishes cut in circles

1-2 scallions chopped

2 tbsp fresh dill

Crumbled feta (optional)

For the dressing:

2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp chili flakes (optional)

good pinch of oregano

good pinch of garlic powder

chopped fresh parsley (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Assemble, in a large salad bowl, the lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, scallions, and top with the black beans.

I love the colors of this salad!
I love the colors of this salad!

In a medium bowl, mix the oil, vinegar, chili flakes, garlic power, s/p and oregano… keep mixing with a spoon until well incorporated.  Toss in the corn and mix well.  Pour on top of the salad and mix together.

Add crumbled feta if using… it’s a must in the mad cage!

Great to serve with warm crostini, naan bread or on its own 🙂

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!)