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)

The ultimate cold dish

Finally, tax season is o-v-e-r!  This season was very challenging compared to years prior.  There were plenty of stressful moments, and a tremendous lack of sleep.

Michael trying to relax after tax season, usually with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc

We keep reminding ourselves why we go through these four months of hell year after year and it helps put some things in perspective… for example, upcoming renovation projects, giving back to our community, Anna’s college fund, travel, etc.., etc.

I have learned so much this season; about our clients, our employees, our process, our company culture and a lot about myself.  It’s a great feeling when you see progress in the right direction.  Great to see team members step up on their own to help exactly when and where it is needed.  It was a relief when all our client obligations were complete by the deadline, all at the cost of our time, lack of sleep and coffee intake.

Renovation mode after tax season.  We laid 1100 square feet of tile a few years ago all by ourselves.  By the 12th day, it was definitely time for a vacation.  On a positive note, renovations make my body feel super strong!

Michael was telling me that because he was working on adrenaline for the past two weeks, that coming of that now is always a weird feeling of “I don’t know what to do now that the deadline is over.”  There’s always plenty to do, of course, especially with extensions, expat deadlines, etc.   But not having tax day looming over you puts everything else on a different platform.   Learning to relax?  That’s something worth exploring these days for sure.

I’m very much looking forward to Zoe and Antonio who are coming out to visit from San Francisco.  I’m sad they are only staying for a quick weekend, but I intend to make it memorable!  They haven’t visited since Christmas of 2012, when they first moved here from Athens.  It’s particularly great for me to watch Zoe grow and flourish during this time… in her career and as a person learning to acclimate in a completely different environment than she’s used to.

Zoe and Antonio pictured here in Sausalito a few years ago.

And living in the Bay Area is not like any other city, yet, she’s done it well and from someone who has known her since we were 5 and 6, I’m so proud!  We will celebrate next weekend with an air boat ride out in the Everglades — something I’ve always wanted to do down here.

I’m slowly warming up into cooking at home again after the tax season hiatus.  Anna has been helpful, moody and patient in her own 10 year old way, and I really appreciate her approach to tax season.

My Anna and me out for a horribly timed tax season birthday dinner!

She gave me a high five and we celebrated with donuts on the last day.  Then, she hit me up to adopt a dog.  Though tempted, I hinted that we can’t adopt right now… especially with summer coming up.  I admire her persistence and enthusiasm though, as I know this conversation is far from over!

Very pleased, too, that I’ve connected with my friends during this stressful time.  I’ve clearly identified who I can be with and reach out to, who can understand me and cares to listen – even when I am in a sour mood.  That’s exactly when you know someone loves and accepts you for who you are, without trying to change you, but trying to challenge your thinking instead.

Learning to savor the present moment!

With my 39th birthday now behind me, I’m gaining so much perspective on life, love, friendship and so many other elements, too, and feel thankful as I try to embrace and savor every moment.

So, as we enter outdoor grilling season, with renovation projects underway, I want to share a recipe for a very cold dish… this was Amanda’s suggestion and it was awesome.

Amanda happily joined us for Christmas eve this past holiday season. She easily put up with a bunch of Greeks that night!

It’s called “kolyva” and it’s really healthy and delicious, in fact.  Then again, it’s traditionally served during funerals and memorials in Greece.  I’m not hosting a memorial for anyone, but referencing back to cold dishes, this would be a fantastic option.  I can already think of a few people I would happily serve this to with a big smile.

 

Thank you, Amanda for suggesting the ultimate cold dish!

MAD KOLYVA – THE ULTIMATE COLD DISH

(This is great!)

Prep time:  at least 4-5 hours.  Servings: 5-6 (I adjusted the recipe for the number of people I could serve this to, so do the math accordingly)

Ingredients 

1 lb wheat berries

Dash of salt

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup walnuts, chopped

1/2 cup of unpolished jordan almonds (white, not colored)

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

2 cups confectioners sugar, divided

Directions

The great aspect about kolyva is that while traditionally they are prepared the day before a memorial, the wheat berries will ferment when left at room temperature overnight.  This will allow the sugar to crystallize in the refrigerator. From what I’m reading, the best pre-preparation method is to boil and refrigerate the wheat berries way ahead of time, then add in the rest of the ingredients.  That’s what makes this an ultimate cold dish… it’s all in the prep!

First, you will want to carefully rinse the wheat berries and put them in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 3-4 inches, and add the dash of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the wheat berries are soft.  They should start to split a little but be careful that they don’t get mushy.  The boiling process will take up to 1.5 hours.  Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon so that the wheat berries are not stuck to the bottom of the saucepan.

Drain and set the strainer aside to cool and dry for at least 3-4 hours.

Once the berries have cooled down completely, place them a large bowl. Add in the rest of the ingredients: sesame seeds, walnuts, jordan almonds, golden raisins, cinnamon, and the pomegranate seeds until well mixed.

Kolyva decorated beautifully with jordan almonds and raisins (photo: Liturgical Recipes, St. John Greek Orthodox Church)

Add in 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar and mix all together.

Transfer the mixture to a large platter or tray.  Sift the remaining confectioners’ sugar over the top to coat it thickly, so it resembles icing.  You can opt to decorate the top with almonds for effect.  You will want to present the tray first when it looks pretty, and then, right before you serve in individual bowls, you will need to mix it up together.

It’s actually really tasty and healthy as a snack!

 

 

 

something’s fishy…

Gosh, this morning I opened up wordpress to find 51 spam comments.  Yuck!  I ran an update yesterday on the blog… it’s hard to believe this has been going strong for nearly two months!  Friends and family keep encouraging me, and some ask me where I want this to take me.  I really don’t have an answer.  The blog isn’t work and the best part is that there aren’t short and long term goals in place.  I do think it has it’s rhythm, and that may change.  Or not.  Who knows?  For now, I am enjoying sharing stories and just rambling while sharing some fun recipes.  I think today I’ll talk about fresh fish!

Fresh fish at the market in Athens, summer 2016

On an unrelated food note first: the PR person in me though is really disappointed with the crisis in the media and the political landscape at the moment.  With the inauguration just a week away, I’m noticing so many mistakes in how things are being handled to keep the public properly informed.  When I was in grad school, we were taught to think that PR is the communication process of establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and various segments of the public (including a key public, the media).  You simply don’t bicker with the media!  And we also learned that the complex PR process carried a heavy load of social responsibility.

Later on, I saw how that definition would evolve, just like play-doh, it would change into whatever shape “professionals” chose to make of PR.  I would read that, really, PR is a communication process that inspires action… or that it is all about managing perception.  Yes, this is true to an extent, and these are tactics of PR, however it’s much more of a “spin doctor” type of practice in my mind.  Communication is incredibly complex.  And the lack of it, like I am seeing these days, is very frustrating.

Once social media took over our world, I stopped actively practicing PR simply because I knew it would change the comm process entirely — and not necessarily for the better.  Not all is lost, though – my training and experience still help me think through things more deeply than most people and consider various angles.  Listening, absorbing and observing are still some of my favorite things to do 🙂

Moving on…

Are you a fish lover like me?  I am definitely not referring to the breaded fish sticks from the freezer, but the real deal.  Spoiled with fresh fish growing up, especially when we lived in the port city of Pireaus, I earned the name “psarou” from my family.  Ugh, that’s another term I can’t precisely translate… (fish lover? fish eater?).

Here I am in our apartment in Pireaus, where apparently I loved fish so much.

I vividly remember my dad coming home from his office for siesta time in the afternoon saying, “I saw these beautiful red mullets and thought we should have them for dinner.”  Or, “look at these gorgeous gilt-head breams!”  OK – finding the translations for both red mullet (Barbounia) and gilt-head bream (tsipoura) really, really made me laugh.  Anyway, I think you get the idea.

We also ate a lot baby fish, like smelt, usually fried or baked.  It was delicious!  We would eat them whole… yes the entire fish head to tail!  The tail was the crunchy part and so yummy.  The bones are so tiny, it’s much more fun to eat the whole fish than to sit there and pick at it.  On that note though, I really didn’t eat salmon until I moved here.  Large fish, like tuna, salmon or bass were not common.  Swordfish on occasion, chopped and grilled on skewers was a typical Greek favorite.

The best part about fish is that it doesn’t need much work.  The fresher it is, the less it needs.  And if it isn’t fresh, simply don’t eat it!  I’m going to share with you one of my favorite fish recipes that my grandparents made here in Florida, inspired by traditional Greek flavors: “Psari Plaki…”

MAD FISH BAKED IN TOMATO SAUCE  (PSARI PLAKI)

Prep time: 30 minutes  Cooking time (total): 45 minutes to an hour

Ingredients

The first thing to consider here is the fish itself.  This method can be done with a whole fish, like snapper, which makes a beautiful presentation.  For practical purposes, fillets that have been cleaned work very well.  I choose halibut, sea bass, corniva, or haddock for this recipe.  You can experiment with other white fish also.

My grandfather apparently made delicious fish, psari plaki, since he loved to fish. I’ve made small changes to this recipe.

4 fillets of fish

3 medium onions, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, smashed

2 stalks of celery, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

Half a bunch of parsley (fresh), chopped

1 can (28oz) of petite diced tomatoes

2 medium fresh tomatoes, finely diced

1 tbsp sugar

1/3 cup red wine (optional)

1/2 cup vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1/3 cup flour (for dredging)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Pat dry the fish fillets and season well with salt and pepper.  Dredge in flour and lay on a platter.  In a non-stick skillet, heat olive oil and fry the fillets on each side just enough so that they are lightly golden.  Remove and set on a clean plate.

Preheat the oven 350F

In the same skillet, add a little olive oil if needed and make the sauce:  on medium high heat the oil and saute the onions for 2-3 mins.  Add in the celery, carrots and garlic and continue cooking for a few minutes.  Lower the heat to medium and add the tomatoes (can and fresh), sugar, vinegar and wine (if using).  Sprinkle enough salt and pepper to taste.  Cook the sauce for about 10-12 mins.

This is what it will look like in the end! I don’t have my own photo of this dish yet, but now my mouth is watering! (photo credit: omgfood.com)

In a baking pan, drizzle some olive oil and layer half of the sauce.  Then add the fillets on top the sauce side by side touching each other slightly.  Evenly spread the rest of the sauce on top.  Sprinkle with parsley and add some cracked pepper.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 25 minutes.

Carefully remove the foil as steam will come out.  Let the fish cool for a few minutes before service.  A popular side dish is rice pilaf or boiled potatoes.

Enjoy!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

give thanks every day… and occasionally with chocolate!

For some reason, today feels like a Friday.  It’s the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and there is no more school after today.  Unfortunately, Anna is under the weather with a stomach bug, but at least she is starting to feel better now.  She’s spending the break with her father’s side of the family in North Carolina, and I’m hoping she’ll make some nice memories like she does every year.

Meanwhile, Michael and I will be spending Thanksgiving alone this year.  We have been busy with work (we own a small tax practice), and setting up a fourth remote location in Washington DC.  I’ve been busy hiring three interns for tax season, so this upcoming break is much needed.  And I’m not cooking a turkey this year either!   I’m trying to relax and save up energy reserves for Christmas when I will really need to have it together as we will be hosting family and friends at the house.

The good news is that the weather is beautiful here in Palm Beach, sunny and no humidity, making it ideal for walks around town.  I’ve been in a reflective mood lately, and thinking about my family, friends and people who have made a difference in my life and outlook as I grow older.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of acknowledging feelings, and healing where needed.  I grew up in a culture where feelings were generally not acknowledged and often criticized.  It took a long time to realize that feelings are never wrong or right and need to be worked through and embraced.

I’m not sure about you, but those are the times when a little chocolate can go a long way!  Chocolate has real healing powers and offers such comfort in my view… indulging a little is a great way to give thanks to all the wonderful blessings in my life, including my family and health!  I’m most appreciative of the people who mean the most to me, and those reading this know who they are.  So, here is an awesome recipe for chocolate souffle (in addition to the delicious pies you are baking!) that you can share with your family and friends during Thanksgiving, or any day you feel like giving thanks!  It is a bit tricky to make but it will be so worth it!

MAD CHOCOLATE MOCHA SOUFFLE

Prep time: 25 min  Cooking time:  22 minutes  Yields:  6 servings

You will need oven safe ramekins for this recipe.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons organic butter (also some more for greasing the ramekins)

6 large eggs, separated

1/4 cup granulated sugar (also more for coating the ramekins)

8 ounces 70% dark chocolate, roughly chopped

1 tbsp Kalua or Tia Maria (optional)

Pinch salt

Assorted berries for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Grease the 6 ramekins and coat them well with granulated sugar.  Try tapping the side of the ramekins while upside down to remove any excess sugar (as you would flour a baking dish).  Cut individual 2 inch strips of aluminum foil, spray them with non-stick, and tape the strips around the ramekins… this will help keep the soufflé in place during the baking process.  Some choose to skip this step, but your dessert will look much better!

Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and butter in a tempered glass bowl over barely simmering water in a double boiler, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon.  Once the chocolate is shiny and melted, add in the coffee liquor, if using.  Go ahead and carefully remove the bowl from the double boiler.  Set aside.  (Note: you can also melt the chocolate with the butter in the microwave on medium high, stirring every 15 seconds until melted.)

In your mixer, beat the egg whites on high with the salt until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Very slowly, add the sugar and beating constantly until stiff peaks form (it will look like meringue).

This was my first souffle ever. The photo was taken by my dear friend, Daphne who was my guinea pig for this recipe!
This was my first souffle ever. The photo was taken by my dear friend, Daphne who was my guinea pig for this recipe!

In a separate large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until pale yellow in color.  Slowly add yolks to the melted chocolate mixture.  Once the egg yolks been incorporated with the chocolate mixture, softly pour in the egg whites and fold carefully with a spatula by hand.  The idea is to make it the mixture airy and you don’t want to stir and mix too much.

Using a spoon, carefully put the chocolate mixture into the prepared ramekins and arrange them on a baking sheet. Carefully place the ramekins in the middle rack of the oven.

Bake about 22 minutes, until they rise.  It might be a minute before or after.  Don’t keep opening the oven before then!  Take out carefully and voila!

These are served immediately and pair really well with fresh berries or crème Anglaise poured in the middle, or some vanilla ice cream.
Other serving suggestions: lightly sweetened whipped cream or a dusting of powdered sugar or cocoa powder.