Mad Antipasti

I noticed that my posts have become fewer this time of year, but I’m glad to be back on!  Doing the math, it takes me an average of 1.5-2 hours per post, between writing, photography, formatting, etc.  Some posts are longer than others and I don’t really re-read them after I write them.  So, I’m sure there are loads of typos as my friend T had pointed out, but I have no interest in going back and fixing the errors.  It would feel like work and this is not supposed to be work..

This time has turned out to be a lot more stressful than I had anticipated, testing all kinds of limits and new ground for me.  I remain grounded, again with the help and support of the ones closest to me who understand — what would I do without you? — but it is a stressful time.  If it 10 is the most stress someone can feel, which I’ve only felt a couple of times in life so far, this is a ripe 8.

Time for a story.  It’s fiction.

Once upon a time, in a small island village in a tucked away corner of Greece lived a beautiful young girl with her very caring husband, who always said he loved her completely.  Many years earlier, they had met randomly at one of the island festivals when she accidentally spilled wine on his shirt.  Their chemistry was instant and after a short while, they chose to get married on their own – instead of following the usual custom of being set up by the village elders, much to their chagrin.  Marrying for love was unheard of in the village, since property was the only thing that mattered.

And since the girl was the largest land owner in her village, marrying on her own especially angered the family next door.  That family was known to be greedy and had plotted for their son to marry the girl as they had set eyes set on her property.  But, she always refused him.

Once the couple married on their own, the villagers saw how much they could do to benefit the tiny village.  As they started settling into their new life together, they shared their skills and talents to help others.  Very much in love, they worked and lived happily, tending to their farm and growing fruit and vegetables together.  They especially enjoyed their days working and trying to improve their tiny village with encouraging children to read and think for themselves.  They had a special type of intimacy that most people don’t find in a lifetime.

And when evenings rolled in, they’d spend time on their wide whitewashed veranda, gazing at the stars, eating great food, laughing with each other and making plans for their future.  Life couldn’t be better.

One night, after returning from a town meeting in the village square, they walked into their 300-year old home to find everything in shambles!  The curtains were ripped, some windows were broken, the furniture torn up and destroyed, the clay pots in the kitchen were tossed around and cracked open, with wine and olive oil flowing everywhere.  Their mattress had been sliced with a knife and every single glass and dish in their kitchen was  broken.  The only heirloom that mattered to her, the hand painted platter from her great-great grandmother… the one that had been passed on along with the land and house had been  shattered on the kitchen floor.  This was a well known heirloom in the village, because of its history and the way it was made.  Of all things broken, this devastated her the most.

Who could have done this?

The couple cried together in silence and after a while they rose up and started to clean up.  It took them days to pick up all the pieces, and salvage what they could.  She had managed to find every single piece of the broken platter that meant so much.  Her husband helped her and they put every piece back together.  It took them years to figure out the puzzle of how to make these pieces fit.  But, it was so important to her, that they stuck with it, and one day the platter was whole again.  The cracks were endless, and very obvious, but the platter was sturdy again and beautiful.  She placed it on the mantle, but never used it again.  A part of her heart was lost in silence and pain since then.

– AK, 2016

Many years went by, the couple grew older, even closer, had two wonderful children and continued to live happily and in peace.  The neighboring family had scattered and that son had left the island shortly after the incident and never found success or happiness anywhere he went.  It was never proven that he caused the destruction in the couple’s home.  That neighbor’s son was so focused on being jealous and angry that he destroyed everything in his path in every place he lived.

So, one afternoon, word in the village spread that the the angry son was back.  He hadn’t found fortune, happiness, or love and decided to return to the village and tend to his family’s farm.  This meant that he was the couple’s neighbor again.

One summer night, the couple decided to host a dinner party on their veranda to celebrate their 20th anniversary.  The girl, now well into her 40s, asked her husband to go ahead and invite the bitter son too -their neighbor- over as well.  He didn’t want to, but then again he didn’t want to displease his wife.  The neighbor thought it was odd to receive an invitation, especially for their anniversary.  With much arrogance he accepted.

The sun was making it’s way west and the air was dry and smelled of fresh soil.  The couple set a long table for about twenty people in the village who they had known for a long time.  Fresh linens adorned the table and red wine was ready to be poured out of the “new” clay pitchers.  Their guests started flowing in and soon all but one of the seats at the table were taken.  They were enjoying homemade antipasti.

The neighbor arrived rather late and very impolitely took a seat and poured his own wine.  Silence fell as he started off rambling stories of times past.  That seat had a wine glass and silverware neatly placed, but no plate.

Her husband was ready to get up and bring a clean plate over, but his wife gently stopped him.  She excused herself politely, went inside and a few moments later, she came out with a full plate of really cold antipasti and set it in front of the neighbor.  She took her seat and watched him.

As the neighbor was picking through the wild artichokes, the salami and the octopus, he could feel several cracks at the bottom of his very large plate.  Taking a closer look, he saw that the cracks were impossible to count and ultimately recognized the platter.  So did everyone else, who were shocked that it was pieced back together.  The couple stared at the neighbor in silence.

He growled, knowing he was guilty of the incident years ago.  Raising his arm with anger, he motioned to break the platter!  But, he looked at the couple that was just starting calmly, and in that moment, he realized that it would be pointless to break it.  He ran off instead.  The couple felt such relief.  They embraced and kissed, still glowing with the same feelings from the first day they met.  And everyone kept eating, drinking, singing and enjoying the beautiful evening…

The end.

MAD ANTIPASTI

  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 1/2 pound salami (hard Italian sausage), thinly sliced

Assemble a little bit of each ingredient on platters to share or individual plates.  Antipasti is best served really cold and with warm crostini or freshly baked bread.  Enjoy with those you love and serve it up to those who don’t – and keep them very far away.

 

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!