Summers in Palm Beach… then and now

And I’m back!  It has been a busy several weeks at the mad cafe.  Tax season is wrapping up and Anna is off for her summer vacation, after successfully finishing up 4th grade.  She’s earned more junior Olympic times at swimming, and is now a safety patrol!  Anna loves rules and order.  She also made it on the news crew for next year.  Most of all, she’s happy and learning to think for herself.

My Anna!

My mom is leaving for her three month trip to Greece this week… with two 70lb suitcases!  She’s packed not only gifts for everyone, but also the weird comforts of American products, including Krispy Kreme cake mix.  I didn’t know those existed!  I’m glad she’ll be going and spending some time out there with our family and friends.

That leaves us here working on tax returns, invoicing, and a big renovation project in one of the units.  It’s fun to watch the unit come together slowly.  I love how creative we can be with a tiny space of barely 400 sq feet.  But, I’ll admit it’s also exhausting and a challenge to stay focused on it 24/7, when there are other things to do.  And I know myself by now.  After every long day, I need some precious time on my own to just think.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the summers when we would travel from Athens to visit my grandmother here for two months.  She was so cute, she used to welcome us with her famous potato leek soup.  It tasted so different from the soups in Greece.

Summer in Palm Beach… outside our door

I grew to really enjoy it.  Once I would finish my bowl, she’d tell me to go to the bedroom where I’d find some thoughtful gifts from her.  They were few and very thoughtful, which I loved.  Our summer routine in Palm Beach included summer camp, following my mom around from mall to mall to shop (yuck!), indulging in TV shows that we didn’t have in Greece, writing letters home and waiting for the mail every afternoon, and volunteering at the local Red Cross in West Palm Beach.

Volunteering was a lot of fun for me.  My brother and I were assigned in Disaster Services at the Red Cross, but worked in different offices.  Somehow, I ended up helping the Director of Disaster Services, Lucy, and still remember all her good business advice.  She commanded respect – I listened actively and watched her as she handled so much work and remember her office was full of papers everywhere.  I would try and organize it for her.  She really took a liking to me and when she was out of town for a training seminar on a Monday, she assigned me to be Director for a Day.  I was 13!  It was so much fun.  No such opportunities in Greece.

The best advice Lucy gave me was that I should refuse to do brainless work, because I’m capable of always doing more.  Some of the volunteers were stuck stuffing envelopes and stapling papers for hours.  I didn’t mind doing whatever needed to get done, but Lucy always took me away from that and had me either calling people to schedule meetings, which really helped me practice my English, or she would take me on the road with her to disaster sites.  I’ll never forget how kind she was to me!

Other than that, our times in Palm Beach during the summer were kind of boring.  My dad would stay in Athens to work and join us in August, when the courts are closed for summer vacation.  And I missed him so much!  In Palm Beach, it was hot and humid outside, with not much to do outdoors, except going to the beach.  But, that had to wait until my dad came to visit, because my mom did not enjoy the beach at all.  At least when he came, we went to the beach every morning and it was a lot of fun!

Two trees watching the sun rise in Palm Beach

So, we had no choice but to follow my mom around for the months of June and July… and I hate, hate, hate shopping.  And my mom’s favorite hobby is to bargain shop!  We would follow her for hours going from store to store where she could shop for clothes and whatever else for Greece.  I would so much want to stay home alone and write letters to my friends, but she wouldn’t let me.  The only productive thing I learned from all that is to quickly figure out the 75% off of this, or 90% off of that, which I suppose is generally helpful.

I did enjoy the evenings at our house though.  My mom would retreat to her room to go through all her shopping bargains, my brother was either reading airline timetables or financial news, and I had no interest in any of that so I’d walk into the living room where my grandmother quietly sat.  She would either read the newspaper or just sit and think intently.  I can still picture her sitting in the flamingo pink armchair with her hand on her face.  While she would appear lost in deep thought, her gorgeous green eyes were alert and usually fixated on a particular point in the room as she quietly examined things.

Without wanting to disturb her, and filled with endless curiosity, I would slowly walk into the room to see if she’d let me join her.  She’d break away from her thoughts and smile and invite me to sit with her.  Then she’d quickly let me in her thoughts and we would talk for hours… about anything, including life, love, marriage, ambitions, family.

Since we live in the same house now, I can’t help but think of these thoughts now that summer is here.  I am typing this post in the same room, where my grandmother and I would have these deep conversations and laugh for hours.  It is surreal at times.

On one of my walks on the beach

I loved it when she kept saying I remind her of herself.  And that when I say something I should mean it.  Or, that if I set my mind to do something I need to figure it out and get it done without complaining.  And that I should be proud to be a woman and not let anyone put me down.

And much more.

The room looks very different now, but her light still shines through at times, especially in the evenings…

MAD POTATO LEEK SOUP

I’ve made changes to my grandmother’s original recipe to make it a bit lighter.  It’s still a great recipe to welcome visitors in town and bring them together around the table.

Prep time: 30 minutes (soaking leeks included) Cooking time: 45 minutes  Yields: about 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 stick of butter
  • 2 leeks, thinly sliced up to where the green part starts (discard the upper leaves, or rinse and keep for stock)
  • 6 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 5-6 preferably Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced into small cubes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 1/2 cup of feta cheese, crumbled
  • s/p to taste

Directions

First, you have to make sure the leeks are clean from dirt and sand.  Once you’ve sliced them, add into a bowl with warm water and let soak for 10 minutes.  Repeat 2-3 times until no more dirt is in the bottom of the bowl.

In a large stock pot over medium heat, melt the butter.  Stir in the leeks and cook until they sweat and feel tender, about 12-15 minutes.  It’s important to stir frequently to ensure the leeks are evenly cooked. Add the potatoes and coat with the butter.  Lower the heat to medium low.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the cornstarch into the veggie broth in a separate bowl and stir well.  Slowly pour broth into pot with the leeks and potatoes.  Set to medium heat and gradually bring to a boil. Adjust the seasoning.  Once the mixture boils, add the cream and the milk and stir well.  Turn heat to simmer for about 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are tender to the touch.

Mad potato leek soup! I think I added a streak of balsamico for effect in this version, undoubtedly getting carried away in the creative process. Yum!

If you have an immersion blender, here’s your opportunity to use it.  BE CAREFUL and learn how to use it first to avoid splatter and getting burned.  If you know how to use it: turn off the heat and blend the mixture right in the stock pot until velvety and smooth.  Add the crumbled feta at the end and stir well until it’s melted.  You can garnish with sprigs of thyme or chives.

Serve warm!

 

 

 

have a voice, make a difference

Today’s post is not a food one – sorry!  I’ve been inspired so much with the activism of the women in our country, and our respective local communities, that I feel compelled to express my support.  It’s easy, all you have to do is click away if you don’t want to read it.  Or, in the words of my father:  Να μη σώσεις! (er, a loose, polite translation: “may you never endeavor!”)

It has been an interesting month so far.  I still can’t believe the inauguration is tomorrow.  The media are on fire with news surrounding it, and focused even more on the day after the inauguration… when the Women’s March will take place in DC.  I was happy to see there are several sister marches happening, for those who can’t get to the main one.

There is a sister women’s march (rally) taking place in WPB that has thousands who are planning on protesting this Saturday at noon.  It’s a beautiful thing to see women (and those who support them) gather together to support being who we are.  We are women who not only have rights, but the right to make sensible choices.

Personally, I am getting tired.  Tired of having men in suits, with inflated egos and the need to control others dictate what we should do with our womb, our bodies and our minds.  Men who refuse or don’t have the ability empathize with women, and who simply don’t respect them.  Men who will never truly grasp the total pain of child labor (because it does hurt – oh yes, a lot) and all of its consequences.

We all have opinions, which we have the ability to share and discuss freely – it’s the beautiful function of this country.  We find opportunities to debate, to organize, to argue, and to demonstrate.  And it gets ugly at times.  With peaceful protesting we are able to express our opinions and feelings.  That’s an amazing thing about democracy.

Still, I’ve never been able to understand one thing:  unless we have been through a specific experience, how can we understand how a person feels?  It could be anything, but assume major events like, the birth of a child, battling a terminal illness, the loss of a parent, surviving a terrible accident, being laid off suddenly, having an abortion, dealing with abuse or assault, grieving the loss of a loved one, coping with the empty nest or a painful divorce.  We’re always so quick to judge others.  Why?  I think it’s because what others do is often a threat to our comfortable bubble, isn’t it?  But, in reality, isn’t that’s the exact moment those need help, empathy, compassion and love?

So, stop being afraid.  Reach out.

I’m not forming this opinion just because I read a bunch of books on feminism.  During this inauguration, I can’t help but think of the strong women in my life that have come before me, and those who I hope will come after me.  My great grandmother from Karpathos, Anastasia, was a brave lady.  I never met her, but the stories I hear from various people are consistent.  She was a kind, hard working mother who supported her two daughters.  Her husband left her to go to the States and never really returned.  He hardly sent money.  Anastasia raised her daughters alone, and it was hard.  But, she had her own house (the one we have now) and her own land (our orchards) and she raised those girls well with dignity, love and a strong sense of self.

My great grandmother, Anastasia (my mom and daughter are named after her).  Brought by her daughters, she first came to the US as an Italian Citizen in 1944.

Persephone, the oldest by five years, and Aphrodite (my grandmother) were Anastasia’s two girls.  They were very different and very close.  Both were trained seamstresses and took in work to help support their tiny family, and also worked in the olive grove during picking season.  Persephone married a photographer, Basil, who had become a US citizen after fighting in WWI and they moved to Gary, Indiana.  Aphrodite, the more ambitious of the two, was left behind and waited impatiently for her sister to bring her to the US.  While she had several marriage proposals in the village, she declined all of them.  She had her eyes set to leave Karpathos and made that clear to her mother, who knew she had to let her go.

In July of 1938, that day finally came.  Determined to make the most of her life, at the ripe age of 27, Aphrodite left Greece as an Italian citizen, and traveled alone to Paris, and from Cherbourg she sailed to the US.

The two sisters in Karpathos. Persephone (left) was very close to her sister and was determined to help her have a chance to the life she had envisioned.

I’ll share this story, as it was told to me:

Persephone was a uniquely kind and compassionate lady, whereas my grandmother was also kind, but very firm and as tough as nails.  She never forgave her father for leaving her mother alone to raise them.  Years later, when both sisters were settled in the US, somehow their father heard about it, tracked down Persephone’s home address and showed up at the door.  Unfortunately for him It so happened that Aphrodite was visiting her sister for the summer from Florida.  And Persephone answered the door and saw her father after decades.  She may have felt a duty to take him in and care for him in his old age.  But, Aphrodite didn’t feel that way.  She finally had her say and told him he was not welcome.  From what I gather, he left and that was the last time they saw him.

And from my father’s side, in Asia Minor, it’s said that my great grandmother, Permanthoula, was very brave.  Apparently, she carried a pistol in her undergarments when walking alone to protect herself from the Turks, especially when the tensions started rising.

So, I try to tell Anna that she comes from a strong line of women.  Women who were independent, curious, brave, and found themselves strong enough to tackle unknowns even when they were scared.  And they sought a better life for their children’s children.  And then I hear ignorant people who say they hate feminists, when they don’t even understand what that means.

Three generations on election day 2016

Character is built over time, by asking questions, by resolving problems reasonably, by making mistakes, by learning lessons and having experiences.  I’m not sure how you can build character by marinating in comfort or by surrendering to the status quo. It depends on what your goals are, I suppose.

We have a voice that can make a difference.

Last night, Anna designed a sign for the march for me.  I won’t tell you what it says.

It tells me she got the message 🙂

On the food front, I’m falling a bit short today.  And tax season is really picking up and I’m noticing my time is becoming more and more limited.  But, we actually went to the South Florida fair yesterday and tried a doughnut burger.  That part was disappointing!   Given the publicity of this fair delight, it was definitely not as good as I thought it would be.  The bacon was not crispy, the burger was overdone, the doughnut tasted stale…  So, we came home and I made pizza on naan bread for dinner.  Yum.  I’ll share my homemade pizza recipe sometime soon.