Marmalade

Eggs, bacon, sausage, crispy hash browns, grain cereal, strawberries and bananas.  Those are all delicious, but breakfast is still not my thing.  At 39, I’ll start the day with room temperature water and lemon, when I remember.  Right after my morning set of two-minute planks, it’s straight to coffee.

Over the years, the type of coffee I drink has changed dramatically… Greek coffee in my late teens, Nescafe during most of my twenties, then I loved drinking French press coffee for a good number of years.  Now, I’m officially addicted to Nespresso, which may be a combination of its terrific aroma and flavor as much as the convenience it brings to the morning routine.

Greek coffee is definitely an acquired taste!

To change things up, I tried opting for tea in the morning instead of coffee.  But that quickly became too boring and weak, so I save tea for afternoons, or for when I’m not feeling well when I get to pour my favorite Karpathian honey in it!

By 10-10:30am or so I’ll start getting hungry and start snacking until lunch.  I’ve been that way ever since I can remember.

Growing up, my grandmother used to yell at me if I didn’t have breakfast in the morning.  My mom was usually still in bed when it was time to head off to school, and my dad used to talk to me at the table and just leave me alone, which I appreciated.  Occasionally, I’d grab a warm croissant on my way out, or bite out of tiropita (cheese pie), but I was hardly ever in the mood for breakfast on weekdays.

Then I watch my daughter develop much better morning habits than her mom.  Anna will eat two eggs, an English muffin, three sausages and several cubes of cantaloupe as her “first” breakfast.  Then she goes for apples and oatmeal.  She’s a swimmer and is already four inches taller than me at age 10.  I’ll watch her eat with admiration as she washes everything down with milk or water.  Sometimes she’ll ask me why I’m only drinking coffee and only the occasional thin slice of my famous zucchini cake.  My answer is always the same, “I’m up, but still waking up.”

Weekends are a different story.  I feel more relaxed, and not on a schedule and will indulge in a morning breakfast of bacon and eggs or a warm chocolate croissant.  There’s nothing better than reading the Sunday paper sipping on delicious coffee and munching on a warm croissant!

Traditional Greek breakfast is very different than what we are used to here.  It’s mostly pastries or toast/rusks with butter and marmalade or honey or Merenda (the Greek Nutella).  Sometimes it’s a croissant or a spinach/cheese pie, and other times it’s just butter cookies dipped in milk or coffee.  No eggs, pancakes or waffles. No bacon, and definitely no sausages.  Hardly anyone actually lights up the stove to cook breakfast in Greece until it’s time to make lunch.

In London’s Hyde Park with my dad, summer 1981

In the spirit of Father’s Day, I’m thinking of my dad and the brief times we’d have in the morning together when no one else was ready.  He would be the first one to wake up every morning, and he’d wake me up at 6:45 and then wake my brother… who was grumpy and didn’t want to talk to anyone before 7:30.  I’d get ready fairly quickly and head into the kitchen and chat with my dad, who was enjoying a bite of breakfast before taking the train to his office in Pireaus.

Since I didn’t eat anything but drink milk or juice, it was the perfect time to check in about what each of us had to do that day.  I’d watch him spread his favorite orange or cherry Hero marmalade on lightly toasted bread with such precision and wondered how it almost never dripped on the plate as he took each bite.  I never liked marmalade much.  But it was a staple in our home.  Then he’d quickly finish his Greek coffee and off we were.  Usually, my dad was the one out of the house first and almost always the last to come home in the evening.

I’ve tried a few times to make marmalade with leftover berries that I didn’t want to go to waste and each time it was very tasty.  I don’t think I’m ready to share a recipe on that today, but I had started writing a poem inspired from those times.  It stayed unfinished for a few years, since I was wondering how it should end.  Recently, I’ve found unexpected and remarkable inspiration that somehow motivated me to finish it.  The formatting of the poem might be a bit off as I tried to write it here, but the essence is there.  Happy Father’s Day!

MARMALADE

Random gatherings of bitter citrus fruit
Plucked from every season
With haste, she tosses in a sizzling pan.
Bouquets of smells, some too familiar
Sluggishly
Permeate the kitchen.

She’s made excuses for those moments
Left unseized, abandoned, unmarked.
Experiences mustered like the fruit from every season
To eat?
To compost?
Or rot?

She adds sugar and more water
And raises the heat.
Time is such a charming swindler!
Memories irritate and console her spirit.
Are they glorified?  Watered down?

The kitchen fills with aromas
Unfamiliar, unknown, exciting.
Her taste buds swell in anticipation
Desire? Hunger? Zeal?
A new path – perhaps?

Stirring briskly with a whisk
The mixture bubbles up
She releases a long sigh –a soft smile appears.
It’s almost ready

The gripping monologue grows silent in her brain.
Her face, now – oh — so radiant.
With a quiver of delight

She turns off the stove.

It’s time.
The marmalade thickens…
(she lifts a spoon)

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.

 

the handful makes all the difference

The tax workload is starting to drive us up the wall now.  While most people were probably enjoying a nice and quiet Valentine’s Day dinner, Michael and I were busy with new and existing clients.  We have started going out to client sites now in Boston, and I’m down here helping on the back end of things.  I’m noticing we have gotten busier earlier this season, though a lot of people still have not received all their tax documents… making it more challenging to get returns out the door.

Every year, about a month or so before my birthday, I think about the year that’s gone by, pondering on what I have gained/let go, learned/forgotten and where I can improve.  Now that 40 is pretty much staring at me intently, a lot of things are starting to make more sense now.  Age has never really scared me, in fact I’m proud of my years and will continue to do my best to be as healthy as possible.  Admittedly, it is annoying with technology at times and grasping new techie things, so instead of fighting it– I guess I just learn to accept and embrace change.  Good thing Anna helps me with tech issues!

So, some of you have asked me directly about the precious “handful” I keep talking about.  The handful is basically the people I feel most connected to, and for one reason or another, they have become very special to me.  Generally, as I’ve mentioned before, aside from my immediate family, I don’t let a lot of people in because I simply don’t want to.  It takes a lot to invest in human relationships and, personally, the meaningful ones are ultimately the ones worth it.  Yes, of course I have a network of acquaintances built-in like everyone else, for work, community, etc.  But, it’s the precious few that are special because I trust and go to them instinctively, and rely on their input and opinions.

Watching the waves crash in the Pacific.

I also feel connected to these people because I can just be… myself around them!  If someone makes it on the “handful,” then they stay there.  I’ve never really lost anyone… sometimes one of the fingers won’t move for a while, or it needs a mini cast, but it’s always there!

The handful has evolved with time somewhat in the sense that I’ve been lucky to meet some great people in my thirties.  So, basically, the handful from my twenties just carried forward… I suppose I’m up to two handfuls now, but the essence remains the same.  I also try to let those people know (in my own way for each person) how much they mean to me as part of my life.  Hopefully, when I reach that level of understanding with each one, I feel happy!

Who are on the handful?  It’s actually a variety of personalities!  Mainly confirmed introverts, like me, with a tremendous mental ability to process things and understand nuances.  All of them have incredible empathy and are generally very thoughtful.  And ultimately they are all very sensitive… some guard it more than others.  A couple are very practical in their thinking, and the others are hopeless romantics.  None of them has reached their potential yet, because they continue to show so much promise.  What I love about the handful is that when I spend time, or share things with each person, I feel uplifted and understood, not beaten down or filled with negativity.

Keep toxicity, jealousy and negativity away with love and humor.

Cheers to the handful 🙂

More recipes soon.  It was tacos at the mad cafe last night…

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!

 

sans food, a heart post today

It’s a non-recipe day today.  What a weekend it has been!  We had a three day swim meet and Anna made Junior Olympic time on 50 freestyle for 10 and under!  We are so proud of her hard work and effort!  That third day, yesterday, was a wash though… the weather was horrible, wet and cold… and many teams dropped out.  We pulled through with it though, and thankfully, Anna still did well and had fun with her swim friends.

In all the craziness of the weekend, I had to work since we are getting very busy.  Staying focused was more challenging for me this weekend.   At one point my mom looked at me yesterday, notably distracted under the cold and dripping pool tent, and said, “You have a frown on your face… ask yourself why.”  Compounding that with what’s happening in the world around us these days, the injustice and inequality that surround us, I realize that my intentions are good.  And I get disappointed when, even though I’m a trained communications professional, I still stumble at times… it’s a humbling experience.

So, today it’s a heart post, sans food.  I’m not feeling very hungry today and I have so much work to do!

In times like these, I turn inward and to the people who love and appreciate who I am — in this case, I’m sharing one of my favorite poems of my father’s published collection.  He had a bunch of handwritten ones that intended to publish this one, too, but passed away before he was able to… so now I’m trying to publish this beautiful collection independently.  My father’s writing style was very bleak and dark.  It reflected an inner sadness that he always carried with him.  He was certainly a talented writer and a deep thinker, and it’s reflected in the poems he wrote.  Clearly, he struggled with love, choices, faith, and a fear of death.  What a way to start the week!

Actually, this was one of few poems that breeds hope and I find that it is so relevant in today’s landscape, especially with what our country is going through.  Love is really always the answer.  Many times as we try to do the right thing for others, we end up hurting the wrong people who love us.  I’ve done my best to translate this poem, but I’m sure some nuances will be lost in translation..

ΑΒΕ ΜΑΡΙΑ  (AVE MARIA)

Μια μέρα  (One day)

Οι συρματόπλεχτοι φράχτες θα πέσουν.  (The barbed wire fences will fall)

Και θα γίνουμε «Έ ν α».  (And we will become “O n e”)

 

Το χώμα  (The dirt)

Η ψυχή  (The soul)

Ο κόσμος  (The world)

Δικά μας.  (Ours)

 

Θα περάσουν τα καράβια σ’ όλες τις θάλασσες.  (The ships will cross all the oceans)

Τα πουλιά θα φτερουγίσουν απ’ την ανατολή ως την δύση.  (The birds will fly from the east to the west)

Και τ’ άνθη της ελιάς θα νανουρίσουν τα παιδιά μας.  (And the flowers of the olive tree will lull our children to sound sleep)

 

Ο νόμος της καρδιάς θα επιβληθεί,  (The law of the heart will be imposed)

Χωρίς τις δεύτερες παρουσίες  (Without any second comings)

Και τις βιβλικές αποκαλύψεις.  (Or Biblical Apocalypses)

 

Οι αιώνες θα τραγουδούν   (The centuries will sing in harmony)

Το «ΑΒΕ ΜΑΡΙΑ»  (AVE MARIA)