Puerto Rican Parties

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My breathtaking Puerto Rico.

My breathtaking Puerto Rico.

When I flew down to Puerto Rico 30…35 years ago to begin work with Delta Airlines nothing prepared me for the level of partying that took place on that island.  The island celebrates a good 26, 26!, holidays.  Both January and July have 4 public holidays!  Sure, I had spent months, whole summers, vacationing with our grandparents and making the rounds to visit all the extended family members during the holidays.  But as a child and even as a young adult, one has no idea the degree of seriousness taken to make merry until one is wholly independent.  There were scads of Lopez family parties.  All-day pig roasts were pretty common place at my Tio Enrique’s mountain farm.  Being girls my sisters, cousins and I were not privy to the surreptitious sipping of rum my male cousins and uncles enjoyed while overseeing the roasting of the pig on a spit.  Even the farm hand whose job was to stand all day and turn the spit enjoyed the fruit of the cane!  Whenever our grandfather or any of our uncles would wander up to the house they were always so relaxed and happy… there’s a big surprise!  So, after college, when I moved to Puerto Rico I completely embraced this new lifestyle of “party down”.  My friends were the kids who had also been hired by Delta; all 12 local except me.  We were known as “the Dirty Dozen”.

Just a handful of "the Dirty Dozen".

Just a handful of “the Dirty Dozen”.

Training had been incredibly rigorous and demanding.  We were often and regularly tested on airline and Delta standards and it was made perfectly clear we would not be hired if we failed.  I remember one woman crying and saying she couldn’t make it…it was too hard.  I tried to get across to her it was just a matter of memorization.  To have been hired by Delta was quite an achievement at that time.  Literally hundreds of people had applied for our 13 positions in reservations.  She quit.  Right in the middle of our six-week training.  Her name was Sonia.  I’ll never forget.  Anyway, when the weekend or any holiday rolled around we were ready.  We became really close, the 12 of us, and spent free time together.  We had parties in clubs, in each other’s homes, at the beach, really anywhere we could.  We’d dance the night away and sip on rum.

More of the "Dirty Dozen" with our beautiful Janet tearing it up with Rafa!! How I love my people!

More of the “Dirty Dozen” with our beautiful Janet tearing it up with Rafa!! How I love my people!

Iremember one of the boys in our group went crabbing and I tasted for the first time crab cooked in tomatoes, wine, garlic, onions and fresh bay leaves.  The crabs were simmered in an enormous pot in the back courtyard of someone’s house.  The next day I went out and bought an equally big pot and still have it to this day.  One of the dishes I was introduced to was “Pescado en Escaveche”, ceviche or pickled fish.  It was eaten as an hors d’oeuvre, the sauce cold, tart and salty.  The fish was sweet and tender.  These tastes were most welcome on blistering, hot tropical days.  Through the years I’ve changed the recipe to feature bite sized pieces of chicken which are fried then marinated.  Steeped in a pot-pourri of vinegar, caramelized onions and black peppercorns, it’s one of those perfect pairings that need to be prepared in advance.  Yay!  I’m all for anything that can be made in advance.  Just right to serve or take to a party.  I usually offer this dish with whole grain wheat crackers, Triscuits, but I’ve also presented it with thin, toasted rounds of French bread.  It’s fantastic and no one, NO ONE, ever shows up with it!

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POLLO EN ESCABECHE 

yield: serves 10-15

  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil, divided
  • 1 cup white or cider vinegar
  • 10-15 whole peppercorns
  • 5 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
  • 2 pounds onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
An exquisite view of the ocean as seen from the mountains.

An exquisite view of the ocean as seen from the mountains.

 

  1. In a large acid resistant pot or kettle simmer uncovered 1 cup olive oil, vinegar,  1 teaspoon salt, bay leaves and onions for about 1 hour.  Set aside to cool.
  2. Mix flour with remaining teaspoon of salt and toss chicken in it to completely coat.  Discard leftover flour.
  3. In a large frying pan heat remaining 1/2 cup olive oil with the garlic cloves.  As soon as the cloves begin to brown remove from pan and discard the garlic.
  4. Over medium heat cover bottom of pan with one layer of chicken frying in batches if necessary so as not to crowd the pan.
  5. In a Pyrex or glass container pour half the warm onion-vinegar sauce.  Add half the chicken, the remaining sauce and then the remaining chicken.  Gently toss to thoroughly coat the chicken with the sauce.
  6. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
  7. Serve cold.

 

My Las Olas Girls

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My heart has been broken and has been empty since Mama died this past November.  At first we rejoiced that she was in Heaven and no longer suffering.  Mama’s last few years were absolute torture for her and there was nothing we could do to help her.  She is now at peace.  My best friends, Dana and Andrea, came to her services and that meant the world to me.

My ninth birthday.  Mama gave me an iceskating party.  Very cool for South Florida!  L-R Dana, me, Andrea

My ninth birthday. Mama gave me an iceskating party. Very cool for South Florida! L-R Dana, me, Andrea

Both girls have lost a parent.  They get it.  After the funeral and in between my sobs we agreed on a Girl’s Weekend in January.  At Andrea’s house.  Less than a mile from my house!  This was a first.  We’ve always gone to the Keys and Girl’s Weekend has always been in September. As the weeks following her death flew by; the holidays came and went; her absence, her permanent absence, hit me hard.  I did my crying in the bathroom and in my car.  Think I’m sitting in the car listening to music?  Clearly, you didn’t look behind my RayBans.  So when our weekend was just days away I really withdrew.  I didn’t want to go.  I didn’t want to try to laugh or have to be entertaining.  I didn’t want to talk to anyone.  I didn’t want to see anyone.  With a lump in my throat I explained to my little sister, Pamela, I couldn’t do it.  I just couldn’t.  She soothed me with words I didn’t want to hear.  “I know you don’t want to go but once you get in the car you’ll feel better.  Really.  What’s the weather down there supposed to do this weekend?”  I choked out the words, “We’re not doing it in the Keys.  We’re having it at Andrea’s.”  “Wait, what?”, she exclaimed, “You’re fine!  If you want to go home you’re 5 minutes away! But trust me, you’re NOT going to want to go home.”  Sure enough.  Dana arrived at my house and wrapped me in her long, graceful arms.  More tears.  She understood and reassured me that she would return me home at any time, any hour if that was my wish.  And it was more of the same when we arrived at Andrea’s.  A few more tears on my part, sweet hugs and then, with her arm around my waist, she showed me to my room… the Bunny Room… the room she had picked out for me well-stocked with fresh flowers in silver and crystal vases, inviting Provencal pillows that had belonged to her mother and a breakfast tray with bottles of designer water, writing paper and sharp pencils tucked into a pocket.  In a corner and behind the door were tall, white, ceramic bunnies.  It was lovely!  Girly, lovely and incredibly thoughtful.  After unpacking we got down to “bizness”.  Large drinks were poured and I put out some spiced pecans I had made specifically for us.  As the alcohol worked its magic our tense shoulders dropped, hair was loosened and tossed and our laughter echoed across the pool and off into the evening.  That’s when Andrea’s little sister, Alyson, dropped by.  With hors d’oeuvre and bottles of wine!  She just wanted us to be happy. We begged her to stay and stay she did.  Dana’s little sister, Dawn, is Alyson’s best friend and she was expected down to spend the weekend with Alyson.  It was heading in the direction of a stellar Girl’s Weekend…booze and laughter…laughter that makes you laugh so hard you tinkle in your pants.  Which I did.  Dawn arrived that evening and launched a magical weekend that I think maybe only girls would understand, embrace and truly appreciate.  I’ve known these women since I was 5 or 6 years old and I was astonished and so grateful for the love and compassion they showed me.  We never took that tired, old walk down memory lane.  No.  We laughed and howled, there was a bit of crying, then back to laughing and screaming but all in the NOW.  None of that “remember when…?” nonsense.  The compassion mixed with a large amount of humor was so welcome and fully appreciated.  Andrea kept us entertained all weekend with proclamations such as “When the rave comes I’m going with my jewelry!” and “Sistah, yo glass is lookin’ mighty low theah, lemme get cha anothuh one”.  Dana knows how important it is to me to take Dad out every Saturday morning.  She offered to drive across town to pick up Dad, ferry us to a farmer’s market another town away and then stop at our Greek market to make Dad’s “outing” truly enjoyable for him.  And let me tell you, when you’ve been driving all week and drinking all night the LAST thing you want to do is get up early and get behind the wheel!  But she did…happily and with grace.  Dawn stayed 2 steps ahead of the bar and before we ran out of champagne she was walking back through the door with another case of bubbly plus “4 bottles of red and 3 bottles of white just in case and some snacks!”.  Her snacks consisted of crispy, warm French bread, pate, three or four cheeses, strawberries and red grapes.  Oh, wait!  And an olive tapenade.  Her generosity is boundless.  And then, what truly pushed me over the edge, I somewhat self-consciously asked Alyson if she would show me how to do my makeup.  Mama never was into makeup so none of us really were shown what to do or how to make the most of what we had.  Al sprang into action.  She said, “Sure!  Go wash your face, brush your teeth and grab your makeup bag.  I’LL go refill our glasses and meet you by the pool.”  That girl spent the next hour, hour and a half, transforming me from a 58 soon-to-be 59 year old Sea Hag from Popeye to a drop-dead, gorgeous, stop-traffic woman who could not keep her eyes off her reflection in ANY mirror in the house!  AND, let me add, she casually asked, “You wanna blow-out?”!  Do I want a blow-out??  Oh, hell yes!!  I came out of my makeover stunning.  Not only did she teach me how to use the products I had but she also told me exactly which products I needed to buy to uphold and maintain this level of beauty.  I felt loved.  And valued.  And appreciated.  So I thank my Las Olas girls for wiping my tears, giving me a hug and gently making me pull up my “big girl pants”.  To Girl’s Weekend!

My Las Olas girls doing what we do best...shopping! L-R Alyson, Dana, Andrea and Dawn

My Las Olas girls doing what we do best…shop! L-R Alyson, Dana, Andrea and Dawn

I made Sweet Cinnamon Pecans for Girl’s Weekend but today I bring you Sweet Heat Sriracha Pecans straight from a wonderful little cookbook entitled “Pecans” by Kathleen Purvis.  It’s a Savor the South cookbook put out by The University of North Carolina Press and is a jewel of a book.  These are fabulous with cocktails, travel well and everyone seems to love them.  Enjoy!

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SWEET HEAT SRIRACHA PECANS

yield:  2 cups

  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons Sriracha chili sauce (more if you want a bigger kick)
  • 2 cups pecans halves
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°.  Spread out a sheet of tin foil.
  2. Combine the honey and Sriracha in a small saucepan and warm over medium-low heat until liquified and well mixed.
  3. Remove from the heat and add the pecans.  Stir well with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the pecans are lightly coated and the honey mixture is used up.
  4. Spread the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer.  Bake for 15 minutes.
  5. While the pecans are baking, combine the sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl.  When the pecans are done scrape them into the bowl with the  sugar/salt mixture.  Stir until the pecans are completely coated and the sugar mixture is used up.
  6. Spread on the tin foil and let cool.
  7. Stir in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

A New Chapter

 

Buh-bye, Sunshine state!

Buh-bye, Sunshine state!

Hey, y’all!  I know it’s been forever since I’ve posted but all kinds of exciting things have been happening and I believe I’m now at liberty to share them with you!  Since James has graduated from UNC he’s been working “como un perdido”, a Spanish saying which translates to “working like a lost person”, for Charlie Crist in the Florida gubernatorial campaign.  The hours are longer than I could ever imagine but it’s exhilarating, he loves it and, hey…he’s 23.  Do it now while you’re young!  Now for Jimmy. He has accepted a teaching assignment for this fall in Boston.  Wait, wait, whaaaat?  Yup.  So guess who’s going with him?  Well, for a little while anyway.  I’m so thrilled and fired up!  I’ll be able to see my bestie, Selene, as often as I want, (which is all the time!), and so many of our family members and friends that I only get to see when they come to Florida.  I’ll be able to cook for my Greek-orican brother-in-law  who loves his arroz con habichuelas, pollo en fricasee, mofongo, tostones, pasteles and all the other island delights I cook for him when he comes to my house.  I can go shoe shopping with his wife, Jimmy’s sister Tina, and then we’ll have glasses of wine.  And laugh.  But what I’m really psyched about is that I’m going to take cooking and writing courses.  I can’t wait.  I love our life here in South Florida, but frankly, I’ve GOT to move on.  I don’t want to wake up 83 years old and think “What have I accomplished?  What?  Oh, yeah.  I went to work at the same place for 26 years.  Gosh, I feel better now.” and then drown in regret.  Regret is wasteful, avoidable with a little work, unnecessary  and downright dishonorable.  I’m only going for a short time..maybe a couple of months…we’ll see.  I know.  I know!  Y’all are thinking, “She’ll be back before that first snow flake hits the cold, hard ground!”  Damn straight I will!  Well, maybe I’ll be up there for a flurry or two.  But I WILL be back and I may even post a few pieces here and there.  And you can always find me on instagram and twitter both @theirreverentkitchen.  Just know when you don’t hear from me on this blog that all IS well! So here’s to a new chapter in life.  Wish me luck and a good time.  “Ain’t nothin’ but a party!”

Helloooo Boston!

Helloooo Boston!

Antio, Lesvos. Hello, Nafplio!

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It was so hard to leave the island of Lesvos. This is the first and last view of the town of Molyvos, the castle sitting majestically over the city. We were on our way to the airport and I asked Jimmy as quietly as possible, so he wouldn’t get mad, if we could pull over so I could take a few last photos. He was fine with it, “Just make it quick. It’s going to be tight.” I ripped off my seat belt as he pulled over to the side of the road. It was barely 8:00 in the morning so the air was still cool and the sun was still coming over the hills and mountains. I took my pictures, still marveling over the incredible surrounding landscape, and smiled as I realized the island was giving me a going away gift. Just me…and no one else.  I heard the muffled clang of bells…and then the sweet, soft bleating of goats. I looked over to my left and there they were. Chewing on grass, their little velvet ears flopping over the sides of their long faces; some bleating as if to call to their master, “Come milk me! Relieve me, please!” What a gift.  It’s a wonderful memory and somehow made it easier to hop back into the car and drive away. Our flight from Lesvos to Athens was a pleasure. Uneventful, smooth and 45 minutes later we taxied down the runway on the mainland. We loaded our luggage into our upgraded Audi, thank you so much Avis, and got onto the highway towards the Peloponnese, the peninsula forming the S part of Greece, about an hour and a half from Athens airport. I didn’t say anything but I couldn’t imagine liking a place as much as what I had just left. I have a tendency sometimes to lean towards the predictable or the easy and it’s just not a good thing to do as one gets older. Jimmy’s good when it comes to “keeping it fresh” as we like to put it, and it would have been easier just to stay on Lesvos and poke around. There are so many beaches and towns and tavernas yet to be discovered.  But we moved on to a new adventure and that was the way the end of our vacation was going to be. The drive was a pleasure as the highway we took was a smooth drive so we got to the city of Nafplio in record time.

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We laughed on the road towards our hotel.  It seems the hotel is surrounded by orange groves and some abandoned old houses.  We also encountered a small set of railroad tracks overgrown with weeds and complete with stop signs.  We never saw the tracks being used but decided they were for hauling oranges in one of those little box things that has see-saw like handles.  You know what I mean.  There’s a person at each end..one pushing down the other pulling up…like on “Petticoat Junction”!  Remember?  But anyway, the hotel.  What a treasure! Beautiful antique prints, edgy oils and lush gardens. There are numerous sitting rooms with fireplaces and the well-appointed bar also has a massive marble fireplace just perfect for a cold, damp winter’s day. The pool was sparkling blue encircled by canvas-covered chaises longues and shaded from the searing sun by well-placed canvas umbrellas. Being the height of Greek vacation there was the ideal number of couples, children with arms looking like little Popeyes from over-inflated water wings, families, tweens learning the art of flirtation and one Greek movie starlet wanna-be who hadn’t quite mastered the art of walking on 7″ heels.  A great and most entertaining combination! Our room was lovely with a blue shuttered window overlooking a charming garden, shadowed by the balconies of the adjacent rooms. This’ll work! I was starting to look forward to going into town.

IMG_2140.JPG I do love me a good, traditional bar. The drive from the hotel into town is mediocre at best but then drops you down in the waterfront and is it glorious! The center of town is charming, very European and sophisticated. Old but clean and geared toward the pilgrim on foot.  Nafplio’s waterfront boasted a month-long open air book fair.  It was fabulous!  Just to poke around, take in all the cute Greek pups on leashes and people watch.  Every night we chose to stroll through it.

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On the other side of the book fair we were greeted by a gorgeous pedestrian center replete with traditional neoclassical architecture, balconies entwined with bougainvillea and narrow streets paved with what looked like scored marble.  High fashion boutiques, restaurants, jewelry stores, gelato shops, cafes…they just went on and on.  This town is lovely!  Every night we had local fish and vegetables washed down with cold, crisp, Greek white wine.  And, yes, the ubiquitous deep, red watermelon brought to each table as lagniappe from the proprietors. Oh sweet Jesus, it was so good!  We found a pipe shop and Jimmy treated himself to a new pipe for his upcoming time in Boston.

Shops, tavernas and apartments all living harmoniously amidst some gorgeous architecture.

Shops, tavernas and apartments all living harmoniously amidst some gorgeous architecture.

We found an exquisite museum, actually Jimmy found it…he always does, and as it was right before closing time we had the entire museum to ourselves.  Both the ongoing exhibit and the permanent exhibit were vibrant and relevant.  On the first floor were Greek oils from the pre- and post-Turk Ottoman war and occupation.  The second and third floor held vignettes of greek life and culture primarily from the 19th century.  Clothing, jewelry, furniture…entire rooms appointed in the style of the times.  Whole tables set with antique Greek linens, china, crystal and silver.  It was fascinating.  And we didn’t have to share the museum with anyone.

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The following day we went on a road trip to the nearby ruins of the amphitheater in Epidavros.  I was a wonderful drive, tranquil and easy.  The sun was full-out and above us when we arrived which made for a spectacular sight but it was hotter than blue blazes!  As we made our way to the top we marveled at the Greek ingenuity at building such an enormous structure and with such precision…boulder on top of boulder.

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We spent the morning there and then drove to the beach for more seafood.  We cut through more groves and found ourselves a lovely seaside spot.  Tables and chairs were set up outside under the protection of a long thatched roof and into a patio and spilling down to the beach.  Think “Shirley Valentine”.  Honestly.  I went to the ladies room to freshen up and ALMOST found myself walking into someone’s HOUSE.  The lady of the house gently and graciously directed me in the right direction as I was about to cross her threshold.  When I got back to the table this is what I found.

We never tire of this.  Fried calamari with a cold, crunchy Greek salad.  Local feta and local oregano on top.  Actually, local everything!

We never tire of this. Fried calamari with a cold, crunchy Greek salad. Local feta and local oregano on top. Actually, local everything!

Calamari fried with the lightest, crispiest of batters quickly cooked to a golden perfection.  Most welcome was the cold, crisp Greek salad sitting next to it as the day was a real scorcher.  And to push the last few bits across my plate was a basket of crunchy, yellow Greek bread…covered with toasted sesame seeds.  Soft breezes and the sound of the waves made the meal perfect.  I’m serious.  Think “Shirley Valentine”.   We then made our way back to the hotel for naps and an early evening of a fine walk through town followed by dinner.  Naps, showers and outfit changes later we pulled into our new favorite parking lot on the water and set out to the main plaza of the town dodging cars and the searing rays of the setting sun.  I take great comfort in finding almost a rhythm, choosing most-liked places, knowing the schedules and business of friendly merchants and people when I travel.  We cut through the same gelato stores and restaurants, crossed the street with the “Little Mermaid” movie poster in Greek advertised on the dark, green lamp-post and that’s when I realized I didn’t feel very well.  You know…that little queasy, kind of tired feeling you get WHEN YOU DON’T DRINK ENOUGH WATER.  Ugh.  And as a Florida girl I know better.  But that’s when I say to myself, “You’re in _____.  Suck it up and shut up.  In 15 minutes you’ll be back home and you’ll have plenty of time to feel ooky.  Figure it out.  N.O.W.”  And so I did.  Right about the time we passed the custom-made sandal shop. :)  Jimmy said, “Why don’t you go in?”  “Okay!”

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Yeah!  Feeling a lil better nah, aren’t cha?  And I DID feel better, my new sandals safely tucked away in my bag.  We continued strolling down the narrow streets and heard the soft, deep Byzantine chants coming from one of the churches.  We always stop, light candles, pray and present our private petitions.  The church was small but intimate and oh, so exquisite.  I found us seats in front of a fan and could have sat there all night.

Hand dipped by nuns and monks, these candles are made from pure bees wax.  When they burn they have a warm, musky perfume.  They are magnificent!

Hand dipped by nuns and monks, these candles are made from pure bees-wax. When they burn they have a warm, musky perfume. They are magnificent!

But time was marching on and it was time to get dinner.  We had been walking and then all of a sudden just stopped.  Jimmy said, ‘This look good?”  “Sure does.”  And we were seated.  I looked at the other tables to see what they were eating.  I still didn’t feel too sharp.  And then I saw it on the table behind me.   Wet, cool and sweet were wedges of melon on a plate surrounding a small mound of prosciutto dressed with a sheer scattering of fresh pomegranate seeds and roughly chopped walnuts.  Come to Momma.  I left most of the prosciutto, it was the melon I was after.  It was cold and sweet and just about melted on my tongue.  Perfection.  I ordered a little Greek fava, a thick puree of yellow, split peas served with a drizzle of good Greek olive oil and a tiny bowl of minced, red onion. It was just what the doctor ordered.  A glass of cold, white wine and I was a new person.

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And let’s don’t forget the fava.

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Nightfall set in, dinner was over and it was time to go home.  Under the big, fat pearl of a moon, through the town plaza, passing the big and small boats, the Sweet Cookie store and the architectural dig and through the orange groves we were back at our home away from home gearing up for the following day’s adventure.  It was a full and rich day!

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When Life is Perfect

We’ve had to travel at the height of European vacations because our window of free time was so limited. With Jimmy teaching in Tampa this summer and Boston in the fall all we had was now…so here we are! Where, pray tell? Well, after battling two hour lines in Athen’s airport we boarded our flight to Mytiline; a quick flight of only 45 minutes with sun shining through the windows reflecting off the waters down below. It’s truly one of the most enjoyable flights. Jimmy’s cousin, Athena, met us at the airport…with roses…to celebrate our anniversary. Is that incredibly thoughtful or what? We then met some more family members in a small water-front town by the name of Panayiouda. It’s a true gem of a town gleaming on the water but hidden from most. Here…..I’ll show you. The streets are cobble stone down to the sea wall. Small and medium size boats bob in the water as cats watch for kind restaurant patrons to toss them a fish bone or french fry. I didn’t tell you about the fish? I am so sorry! Well, I’ll tell you…it puts Fort Lauderdale to shame. There are more kinds of fish here than you can shake a stick at! We started lunch with platters of fried, thinly sliced zucchini so crisp they snapped at the bite. NOT easy to prepare! Right behind them came bowls of Greek salad full of deep, red tomatoes so sweet you’d think they had been sprinkled with sugar. We had fried calamaria, which we usually have grilled, and it was prepared to perfection. Barely a crunch of thin, thin batter covered the tubes and tiny tentacles. Hot, melted Saganaki cheese came out oozing and bubbling on the plate ready for a bright spritz of lemon and a chunk of crusty Greek bread. And just when I thought I could dig in I turned and saw another platter to pass…zucchini blossom fritters dusted with a fresh shaving of salty Mizithra cheese. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I didn’t know if I should eat everything, just gobble it all down or pace myself for more incredibly good food. That decision was made for me when a mammoth vessel of Red Mullet, just brought in by the captain of the boat bobbing at our feet, was set in front me in all its crispy, fried splendor. We all reached and passed. My first taste was heaven until my brain registered heat in my mouth and hands. Well worth it! Red Mullet, called Barbounia here, are small, local fish redolent with sweet, white meat. They are positively glorious and as in the song, “will make a blind man talk about seeing again!’ As I sat back, fat and happy, I took stock of my surroundings wanting to sear into my memory bank everything about the afternoon. The sun glittered on the water, the stiff breeze swept over me cool and fresh, and all these people were so happy to see us. Good food and contentment…this is MY Mediterranean Diet!

20140805-174404-63844800.jpg Panayiouda, an absolute jewel of a town.

20140805-180206-64926685.jpg Three perfect roses to celebrate our anniversary. Each representing a member from our family of three. From sweet, sweet Athina.

20140805-181023-65423758.jpg Grilled bread with a drizzle of olive oil and a shake of local oregano.

20140806-161351-58431558.jpg Zucchini chips, blazing hot melted cheese and calamari

20140806-161759-58679046.jpg. Barbounia! My favorite fish here.

20140806-161948-58788705.jpg. There is never too much watermelon!

And Finally Vacation is Here!

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Yes, Gentle Reader, it’s that time of the year again! So grab your passport, sunscreen, cute walking shoes and sunnies because we’re off to Istanbul! It’s been wonderful here. It’s hotter than hell but dry, not that muggy, sticky humidity we have at home, so your hair looks great! We’re going to put in 4-5 miles walking everyday. You’ll get in a decent workout and see some great things. I’ll put in the recipes when I get home and figure them out so in the meantime let’s go explore through photos.

20140801-230220-82940879.jpgHagia Sofia. Very little Christian Orthodoxy is left. Mosaics, icons, everything went when Christianity was outlawed.

20140801-231636-83796350.jpg The Grand Bazaar. I was in seventh heaven! Jewelry, scarves, shoes, books, hardware, pots and pans, leather goods, furs and for me…spices!

20140801-232237-84157551.jpg And, yes, I bought bags of sumac, za’ater, and an asssortment of herbs and spices I mixed together to use when I get home. Now I wish I had bought more.

20140801-232617-84377853.jpg Never in a million years did I imagine my beautiful, perfumed jasmine tea looked like this! Is this not gorgeous?

20140801-233107-84667184.jpg Liturgy at the Patriarchate. The seat of Christian Orthodoxy. Now I am at home!

20140801-233408-84848188.jpg Full of love, peace and joy.

20140801-233723-85043809.jpg Time to eat. I’m starving! We started with an assortment of dips. Cucumber and cheese with a real kick. Roasted peppers and cheese. Fava. The last one was the big surprise. Ground almond with cinnamon. On crusty bread. Fabulous! See you tomorrow!

Take it Easy Saturday

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Saturday was boiling hot.  The “Real Feel” temperature when I left to work out was 108°.  It was not a day for baking or watching over bubbling pots on the stove.  No, something cool and pretty for dinner was in order and while dinner was being assembled one hand needed to be occupied with a cold summer cocktail.  I didn’t want anything processed…y’all know that ain’t me, babe.  I wanted something cool and easy but substantial and rich in flavor.  I had almost all the ingredients on hand and most were already prepared.  Lemons, shelled pistachios, fresh thyme, garlic and whole grain bread are always to be found in my kitchen.  There’s about a 95% chance you’ll almost always find fig preserves in my refrigerator. The only thing I had to prepare was the ricotta.  For lasagne I’ll buy store-bought but for a dish more delicate I make my own.  I want the ricotta to sing with freshness AND it’s easier than getting in the car and driving to and from the store.  Here’s my summer secret.  It’s made in the microwave.  Isn’t that great?  No hot kitchen!  I’m going to post the recipe for homemade ricotta below but before I do let me tell you how I served it.  Lightly toast your bread and let it cool to room temperature.  Run a peeled clove of fresh garlic over the top side of each piece.  Sprinkle a little salt and pepper over each, slather each slice with a thick coating of ricotta and cut into serving sized hunks.  This is where they became different. On some I lightly pressed in shelled, salted, roughly chopped pistachios.  Over that I sprinkled fresh thyme leaves and a bit of fresh lemon zest.  Oh, man!  They were divine.  On the others, over the ricotta,  I spread a layer of caramelized onions, (I try to always have a jar in the refrigerator),  a generous dollop of store-bought fig preserves and a light scattering of lemon zest.  These were served on a large tray with juicy slices of peaches each wrapped with a pretty ribbon of domestic prosciutto.  Oh my gosh, the sweet and salty of it all.  It doesn’t get much easier.  It’s a meal that’s light but satisfying and pleasing to the eye.  If you make your ricotta on Thursday or Friday you’re really ahead of the game.  So go ahead, pour that second drink and get back in the pool!  It’s hot!

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Homemade Ricotta

yield: 2 generous cups

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • 1/2 cup half and half (heavy cream is fine, it’s your choice)
  • 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar (I like vinegar over lemon juice because the ph of all lemons is different.  Vinegar is more stable.)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Place all the ingredients in a glass or non-reactive bowl in the microwave.
  2. Heat on high in 5 minute increments.  Do not stir.  Keep your eye on the milk to avoid boil-overs.
  3. Line a large plastic or non-reactive colander with several layers of cheesecloth, (buy it at any grocery store), and place the colander in the sink where it can drain.
  4. When the white curds have separated from the whey carefully remove the bowl from the microwave.  The whey is the watery stuff on the bottom and the ricotta is the thick, white layer on top.
  5.  Gently spoon the curds into the colander and when the bowl is cooler to handle continue by pouring all the remaining cheese and whey into the colander.
  6. The longer it sits and drains the thicker the cheese will be.  Done!

Party at Chapel Thrill!

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When James graduated from high school we hosted a big, fat, fun party to celebrate.  It was fabulous!  So five or six months before his college graduation I decided to throw him another one.  This one would be more difficult because I was making all the arrangement and plans long distance, from three states over.  After discussing the party with James I began to hammer out the details.  And save my money!!  By the end of March I had the restaurant reserved, menu and drinks planned and contract signed.  The party was to be at a Greek restaurant on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, a restaurant the three of us had been enjoying since James had started school at Carolina.  Jimmy and I both feel that this particular Greek restaurant is the best we’ve ever eaten outside of Greece.  The inside has an edge to it while still being authentic; the food is spectacular and imaginative WITHOUT using foam or stacking and, what made me truly happy, was that our party was on the second floor balcony overlooking a patio.  The week before leaving for North Carolina Pamela mentioned that she and her crew were flying out the Thursday morning before grad weekend and suggested we all travel together.  Our original plans were to fly out Friday but why wait to party?  Jimmy changed our reservations and we were set.  I couldn’t wait to see James!  I knew he was feeling a little down about leaving all his friends compounded by the fact that he had picked up some kind of bug or cold or something.  Cynthia and Elizabeth were flying in on Friday to round out the celebration and family was just the ticket to brighten my boy up.  The Carras’ and Schloss’ flew in Thursday morning, we picked up our rental cars and split up.  They were checking into the hotel we were all staying and we were off to see our boy.  When we arrived at James’ house he said he felt so rotten he couldn’t come downstairs and let us in so he just gave me the code to get in.  His room was on the third floor.  We got to the top of the staircase and entered his room.  He was sick…really sick.  Mama and Daddy went into action.  I sent Jimmy for cold medicine, ibuprofen, Coke with shaved ice and Panera’s chicken soup.  I wiped James’ brow with a clean, cold cloth.  I made up his bed, picked up clothes.  I opened his graduation packet and hung up his gown, cap and cord.  After getting him settled in we told him we were taking him to the doctor tomorrow, first thing in the morning, so if they could do anything to make him feel better he would have a whole 24 hours to get back to normal.  That night Jimmy and I barely slept for worry.  The following morning James could barely make it down the stairs.  I was calm…after all, we were on our way to the doctor’s.  At the doctor’s office he would text us ever once in a while.  “I’m waiting for the doctor.”  “They’re giving me a chest x-ray.”  “Now they’re giving me a breathing treatment.”  The last text was “Pneumonia!”  Thank the Lord we got up there a day early!  We left the medical building laden with instructions and prescriptions…and each person had a job to do.  Jimmy was to get more soup, sweet tea and all the high-octane meds.  I was going upstairs with James to get him back in bed and clean that nightmare of a room.  And James was to get better.  I found him a clean tee-shirt and pajama bottoms, put him on the sofa and stripped his bed.  I washed all the bed linens, separated the clean and dirty clothes, washed the dirty clothes and folded 400-lbs. of clean ones.  In the kitchen I found a garbage bag and picked up all the tissues, napkins, dead soft drink cups, old mail and wait!  What’s this?  A large box of pizza with only one piece missing.  It had been there two days.  I moved to toss it in the garbage bag when James moaned, “No, Mama.  It’s good.  It’s just fine.  Don’t throw it out.” As I set it aside he sent a quick text and fell back in the bed.  Two seconds later we heard the pounding of racing footsteps coming up the stairs.  It was a fraternity brother/housemate happy as can be to take the two-day old pizza off James’ feverish hands.  Jimmy and I laughed and shook our heads.  Boys.  By then it was afternoon and James was all set to sleep for the rest of the day.  He had taken all his medicine, eaten and showered.  He was exhausted.  We left him to then stop by the restaurant and see what our options were.  I knew the antibiotics were super-powerful but there was always the chance he wouldn’t be better by the following day.  At the Greek restaurant we waited by the hostess stand for the young lady in charge of events and parties.I hadn’t met her yet; didn’t even know what she looked like.  But when I saw that dour, angry face making her way over from the back of the restaurant my heart sank.  This was NOT going to be fun.  Everything about her body language screamed irritation and inconvenience and we hadn’t even spoken yet!  After superfluous introductions I explained our situation, that James was sick, we didn’t know if we could even HAVE the party and when would we have to let her know if it was to be cancelled.  While she tightly crossed her arms and scowled at us she snapped, “NOW!  You’ll have to tell me now!  I need to know now!”. Just barely keeping my temper in check I asked if we could have a couple of hours to at least discuss this and she responded with a dismissive, “Sure.” not even looking at us but working on the computer in front of her.  We left the restaurant and made our way to the back of the building to a lovely garden patio which provided shaded quiet and elegance to the patrons of the neighboring restaurants.  We split a salad while trying to discuss the possibility of James getting better and which receptions, graduations and parties we had to attend versus which we wanted to attend.  It was hot.  It was the end of the day.  I felt beaten up and beaten down.  My heart ached thinking how James hadn’t been able to say goodbye to so many friends who had already left for the summer.   He just couldn’t get out of bed.  He hadn’t even seen the rest of the family yet.  There was a good chance he wouldn’t be able to walk at his own graduation and he had worked so hard for so long.  I couldn’t bear the weight of it all but I didn’t want Jimmy to see me crying.  As tears of frustration, anger and worry streamed down my face I just sat there quietly with my big sunglasses on not making a sound.  But you can’t fool my Jimmy.  He was about to put another bite of salad in his mouth when he put down his fork and brightly said to me, “You know what?  I’m going to go do something.  I’m just going to talk to “her” for a second.  Just see what our options are.:)”  I blew my nose with one of those crappy, sand paper rough paper napkins when he turned around, smiled sweetly at me and said, “I’ll be nice.  Really”.   I remember thinking, “Oh, shit.  She’s gonna get it now.  She doesn’t know who she’s messing with.”  He left and I called Selene.  She let me boo-hoo and have a pity party.  She knew how I felt!  She’s the best!  When I saw Jimmy round the corner I quickly said, “I gotta go!  Jimmy’s here!” and I turned my attention on Jim.   Well, apparently he DID tear her a new one.  That party planner was shaking when he left.  He told me everything and ended the story by saying, “When I looked over and saw you…well…NOBODY MAKES MY WIFE CRY!”  I have to tell y’all,  I’m strong and typically can fight my own battles and pretty well but I’ve got to say it felt really good hearing that.  At a time when I felt ineffective and vulnerable he made me feel completely protected.  And safe.  Nothing could hurt me or James.  The following day was wonderful!  The antibiotics had kicked in and James felt well-rested.   We went to his Entrepreneurship minor graduation and the receptions.  At the end of the day was our party and it was beyond perfection!  After Miss Party Pooper’s tantrum the staff was bending over backwards to please us.  There was a stiff breeze flowing through the beautiful balcony where the party was held.  The sunset scattered pinks, yellows and oranges across the sky.  Cocktails were mixed and hor’s d’oeuvre were passed.  We stayed all night and after the last guest left the whole family sat down and we had Greek coffees, green teas, and Greek desserts.  We laughed, had party chatter and told stories.  We made fun of ourselves and each other.  I was so grateful.  There IS something to be said for being rescued by a knight in shining armor!

...and one for al!

…and one for all!

Cucumber Gin Fizz

Yield: 1 drink

 

My favorite photograph of the weekend!

My favorite photograph of the weekend!

  • 2-3 ounces gin, Hendricks and Boodles taste great in this
  • 2-3 ounces fresh cucumber juice
  • splash of lemon juice
  • splash of simple syrup
  • splash soda water
  • ice
Say hello to my little friend.

Say hello to my little friend.

  1. Fill your cocktail shaker 1/2 full of ice.
  2. Add gin,cucumber juice and lemon juice.
  3. Shake vigorously.
  4. Add soda water to shaker.
  5. Fill a tall glass with ice, strain mixture and pour into glass.
  6. Garnish with fresh cucumber or lime slices.
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Cousin love!

 

 

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Puerto Rican Hand Pies

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IMG_7492 Pastelillos are almost bar food. They’re good at family get togethers, poolside and right now while we’re watching the World Cup. They’re all kinds of stuffings sweet and savory for these little pies. They can be made cocktail size or larger to stand in as breakfast or lunch on the fly. Just about all cultures have these. My niece, Elizabeth, just left a day or two ago for Delhi working on a 6 month project. She’ll find some spectacular hand pies there such as spicy curried potato pies, curried lamb and curried lentil. I made for this lazy, Sunday afternoon guava and cheese hand pies. They’re deep-fried, easy and delicious. Here’s the hook. The dough is already made, rolled out and cut into perfect rounds. All you have to do is stuff them and drop them into a waiting pan of hot oil. The guava paste can be purchased at the grocery store. It’s a gorgeous, deep garnet color, sticky and firm. It will melt in the pie while frying. Cream cheese is great in the pie as well as “queso fresco”, a crumbly, salty white cheese. It’s a savory-sweet match made in heaven. One day soon I will post a recipe for the meat filling, picadillo. Truly. I promise. Meantime, I’m dropping these bad boys in hot fat and rooting for Greece. Pame Ellada!   Well, as we all know now Greece did not make it.  These hand pies are perfect to drown your sorrows.  That and a tall, stiff drink.  They’re perfect for an impromptu get together because they’re easy and totally unexpected.  The sweet-salty mix goes well with all manner of drinks and people think guava’s so exotic.  And quite frankly, it is!  Back to the dough.  The pastelillo rounds are in the Hispanic frozen food section of your grocery store.  They come 10 to a package and should be defrosted in the refrigerator otherwise they can get a little soggy.  Goya makes them as well as some other companies.  Try to find guava paste in the tin; I find it to have the most flavor.  The outside of the fried pastelillos will look blistered and puffed up when finished.  Oh!  And let them cool a bit after draining on paper towels.  The hot guava paste is like molten lava in your mouth!  Buen provecho!

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GUAVA AND CHEESE HAND PIES

yield:  20 large or 40 cocktail size

  • 2 packages pastelillo dough rounds, each package containing 10, for cocktail size cut each round in half
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, minced into small cubes
  • 8 ounces guava paste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • vegetable oil for frying
  1. Place one dough round on your work surface, dip your finger or a pastry brush into the egg and lightly paint the egg wash on the edge of just one half of the dough.
  2. Onto one half of the dough round place a tablespoon of both guava paste and cream cheese or cheese of your choice.  For cocktail size use half the amount cheese and guava.
  3. Fold the pastelillo in half.  Using a fork press the edges together to form a tight seal.  If there are any holes in the dough makes sure they are pinched closed because if the paste or cheese leaks out into your pan you’re going to have a great, big mess.
  4. Repeat with all the rounds until finished and set aside.
  5. In a large frying pan heat about 2-3 inches of oil to 350° or medium high.  Add the stuffed pastelillos being careful not to crowd the pan.  Fry on each side 2-3 minutes or until each side is golden.
  6. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.
  7. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar to make them look pretty.

The Staff of Life

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I understand people going gluten-free but I’m a serious carb girl and that diet just is NOT going to enter my realm!  Both my mother’s and father’s families were bread people and growing up so was my family.  Dad, being almost vegetarian, forbade white bread in our household.  “No, no, a thousand times NO!”, as he would say, to any refined, fluffy bread.  We grew up on what was known at the time as “brown bread’.  No one ate it.  Just us.  And the Pangratz’ who lived one island over.  They were Catholic, too.  We all laugh now at the thought of being the “only” Catholics or the “only” kids who didn’t have white bread.  Both sets of parents were really strict.  Jane is the Pangratz’ daughter, our good, good friend, and agrees how it gave us all quiet comfort knowing we had a little company when it came to the following:

  1. Friends.  If our parents didn’t know your parents you weren’t part of our lives.
  2. Money?  You don’t need any money.  Money’ll just get you in trouble.  If you want candy you can go charge a bit at the “little store”.
  3. If everyone else got to be out until midnight we had to be home by 10:00.  Period.  (We still sneaked out.)
  4. We could not double date until we were 15 and single date until we were 16.
  5. If we stepped out of line we were grounded.  Unless we came home from school drunk and then we had to stand in the corner.  I shit you not.
  6. If you are a boy (i.e. Tommy) you can have all the fast boats you want.  If you are a girl “You can look cute in your bikini and sunnies on somebody else’ boat” and “I don’t want to have to tell you again but YOU ARE NOT GETTING A BOAT!”  Sigh.
  7. You will go to confession every Friday evening and Mass every Sunday.
  8. To keep you out of trouble, (it didn’t work), you will have tennis lessons, ballet lessons, sailing lessons, swimming lessons, music lessons, painting lessons and drama lessons.
  9. You WILL write thank you notes for anything and everything you receive in life.  And they won’t be mailed until Mama approves of what’s written.
  10. You will never have a pretty, pink petticoat.  Petticoats are for trashy little girls.  Nor will you EVER have a ruffle on your plain, white sock.
  11. Your forearms will never touch the table while dining AND you will put your fork down quietly on your plate after every single bite.
  12. Your date will never pull into the driveway and honk for you to come out.  He will ring the doorbell, come in and chat for a bit with Mom and Dad.
  13. When you’re outside playing and Mama calls you into the house you will immediately drop what you are doing and, while running home, call out, “Coming, Mama!’.
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Fresh mozzarella, basil and chopped heirloom tomatoes crown these pitas for a healthful summer dinner.

 

And the list goes on and on.  My parents ran a very strict household but we were happy and much-loved.  Really the only downside was the lack of edible food.  I’ve told you before Mama was a disaster in the kitchen and, to add to our woes, didn’t really care about food.  But we always had brown bread.  And margarine.  And lettuce.  I must have eaten hundreds of butter and lettuce sandwiches.  Tommy crawled on his stomach through the house one night all the way to the kitchen to steal half a loaf of bread he was so hungry.  Hopefully James will never have to do that.  And when he does reach for bread most probably he’ll find something like this.  Toothsome, soft pita bread.  Easy, fast and wonderful to have on hand.  And think of how happy your children will be when they go into YOUR kitchen and find FOOD!


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The recipe for pita that I typically use is from Susanna Hoffman’s brilliant tome, “The Olive and the Caper”.  It’s a fantastic cookbook brimming with all sorts of facts, tips and suggestions.  For me, it is the “Joy of Cooking” of Greek food.  As she explains, Greek pita bread is different from Near East pitas and flatbreads.  It doesn’t puff up in the middle nor open up to make a pocket.  Greek pita bread is wrapped around a filling, as in a gyro, or torn to scoop up bean dip, scordalia or taramosalata.  Or it can make a fabulous pizza or open-faced sandwich!

HOMEMADE GREEK PITA BREAD

yield:  20-25 approx. 4″-5″ diameter

  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cups warm water no more than 115°
  • 2-1/4 ounce packages active dry yeast
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt, or more for sprinkling
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Stir together 1 cup of the water and the sugar in a small bowl.  Sprinkle the yeast over the top and set aside until bubbly, about 15 minutes.
  2. Place the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Make a well in the center and pour in the 1/3 cup oil, the yeast mixture and the remaining cup of water.  Stir and knead until the dough can be scooped up into a ball.
  3. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and silky, about 5 minutes.  Lightly coat the dough with oil, return the dough to the bowl, cover with a cloth or loose plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free corner to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
  4. Punch down the dough and let it rest for 20 minutes.
  5. Divide the dough into 12 portions or how ever many you want.  12 portions will roll out to 8″-9″ rounds and, as I like mine smaller, I typically portion out about 20 pieces rolled out to about 4″-5″ in diameter and all should be rolled to about 1/8″ in thickness.  Without overlapping, place as many rounds as will fit on your baking sheets, cover them with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for 30 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.
  6. While the dough is resting preheat the oven to 500°.
  7. Bake the rounds for 5 minutes and check for doneness.  You want the bottom of the rounds to start to turn golden but not at all crisp.
  8. When done stack and wrap in a clean cloth.  Serve immediately or let the breads cool completely, wrap in plastic and refrigerate.  They will keep well refrigerated for up to 3 days.  They may be frozen up to 2 months.  Reheat before serving.

 

 

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