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.

 

 

Beach Food Puerto Rican Style

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Doesn’t it seem as though the prettiest or most fun beaches always have the most delicious food close by? Beach food. Pick-up food. And it’s almost always hideously bad for you. But something about being in the hot sun, maybe under a thatched shack…a fruity rum drink or a cold beer in your hand makes it natural to throw caution to the wind and start ordering. Some sort of scalding hot, deep-fried, savory bit blanketed in a crispy, salty outside which will transport you to paradise with every single bite. Puerto Rico is no exception. The beaches are exquisite, some known for surfing others for sunning but all tempt with the king of naughty…hot fat. All manner of delectable morsels are fried to a golden perfection on those beaches; some amiably co-mingling with garlic or onion and cornmeal while some are happy to be fried naked with no breading what so ever. One of our favorite treats are fried, green plantains, Tostones. Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside these yellow speckled rounds are perfect with an icy beer or cold rum drink. They’re served in wax paper triangles, sometimes with a garlic and olive oil sauce drizzled lightly. Perfect for a hot, lazy day in the sun!  Every now and again my grandmother would make them for us.  Not often enough so tostones were a real treat.  And reason enough for a big, family get together.  Plantains must be cooked; they cannot be eaten raw.  They look like bananas but they’re not.  Bananas are high in sugar whereas plantains are high in starch.  There are hundreds of recipes for plantains but, typically, three stages of ripeness will determine how they are prepared.  For good tostones you want hard, deep green plantains.  As they ripen plantains will begin to turn yellow and that is perfect for frying and serving as a side.  As they darken and ripen they turn black.  Don’t throw them out!  At that stage the plantains are at their sweetest and are wonderful as dessert baked in butter, sugar and rum served hot over melting vanilla ice cream.  The plantain is truly your friend.

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TOSTONES

yield:  approximately 30

  • 4 large, dark green plantains
  • vegetable for frying
  • small bowl of water with 2-3 mashed up garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • sea salt for sprinkling
  1. Cut about 1″ off each end of the plantain.  Cut the plantain from end to end cutting only through the skin.
  2. Work your finger under the skin and pull the skin away from the plantain working from top to bottom.  The plantain will stain your fingers.  I’ve heard it said of a Puerto Rican newly arrived to the States, “She still has the stain of plantains” meaning she’s country or a hillbilly…”una jibara”.
  3. In a deep-frying pan heat 2″ of vegetable oil to 350° of medium high.  Cut the plantain into 1″ pieces or, if you want larger tostones, cut into 2″ pieces.
  4. Add them to the hot oil and fry until they are just starting to turn golden, about 5-6 minutes.
  5. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.  Leave the oil as you’ll be using it again.
  6. Place one piece of plantain on your counter and using a small plate, bowl or small pan press down firmly on the piece of plantain.  Continue with all.
  7. Bring your frying pan back up to medium high.
  8. Lightly dip each tostone into the salted garlic water and immediately but carefully return the smashed tostones to the hot frying pan.  Don’t leave the tostones long in the water or they’ll fall apart.  Just a quick dip is all they need.
  9. Fry the tostones again until they turn a rich, golden brown, remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.
  10. IMMEDIATELY sprinkle with sea salt and serve.

Fried and Green

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IMG_7420 The person who thought to slice up a rock hard green tomato, dust it with a seasoned coat of cornmeal and deep fry it in fat is nothing short of genius.  You don’t often see green tomatoes at the grocery store.  You have to go to a specialty or outdoor market.  But they’re out there.  And I found some a few weekends ago on a typical Saturday morning on one of my outings with Dad.  A beautiful pale jade color, these tomatoes sang out to me.  They were big.  And plentiful.  I must have grabbed at least eight or nine.  They were perfect!  Not even the faintest blush of pink on this fruit and all were solid as boulders.  Yes, I had some fryin’ on my mind.  With James home it’s easier to justify food that’s not, well…all that good for you.  Poor Jimmy.  When James was at school it was fish and salad just about every night.  But with James home?  Mama gets to rattlin’ around in the kitchen and all MANNER of dishes come out!  That last post I wrote on homemade  dulce de leche was transformed into a tall, gorgeous Banoffee pie that was completely eaten before I could take the first photograph of it.  Gone.  Just like that.  The only reason I had a photo of the Key Lime Pie from an earlier post is because I hid a huge slice in the refrigerator.  Girl’s gotta do… anyway, treasure trove in hand I had plans for these ‘maters.  For those of you who’ve never had a fried, green tomato you’re in for an addictive treat.  FGT’s are salty and crunchy on the outside, tart and barely firm on the inside.  I peel the skin off the bottom of the tomato so the cornmeal will adhere to the flesh.  Too much skin and the cornmeal floats off into the oil.  The tomatoes have to be completely green as even a half-ripe tomato will dissolve into a watery, sputtering mess in your frying pan.  You really want to serve these warm so if you’re planning on these being part of your meal make sure the rest of your dishes are pretty much finished.  Also, as with anything fried, you want your flour, egg and cornmeal all well seasoned.  I served this batch of Fried Green Tomatoes with a buttermilk dipping sauce that can easily be changed up to the flavor of your choice.  So feel free to add a couple of tablespoons of Sriracha, (SO good!), two tablespoons of plain, bottled BBQ sauce or a packet of Ranch dressing.  I’ve not tried the Ranch, I’m just not a Ranch-style girl, but I’ve been told it’s pretty good.  Go ahead and experiment.  And let me know how yours come out! IMG_7436   FRIED GREEN TOMATOES yield: each tomato gives you about four slices, I use about 8-9 tomatoes for this recipe

  • enough oil to go half way up your frying pan
  • 8-9 green tomatoes, cut in half inch slices and seasoned on both sides with salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons garlic powder, divided
  • 3 tablespoons seasonings, I use Tony Chacere’s, divided
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs, well beaten
  • 2 cups cornmeal, preferably white, and more on reserve

Buttermilk Dipping Sauce

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Sriracha, BBQ sauce or Ranch dressing, all are optional
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1 bunch of chives, chopped

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  1. Place flour, eggs and cornmeal in a line in SEPARATE, shallow bowls on your counter.
  2. Season the flour with one tablespoon of garlic powder and one tablespoon your fave seasoning mix or Tony Chacere’s  and mix until well combined.
  3. Season the eggs and the cornmeal each the same way making sure the eggs and seasonings are well combined as is the cornmeal and seasonings.
  4. Dredge each tomato slice in the flour, then in the eggs and then through the cornmeal.  I use my left hand to dredge through the flour, right hand for the eggs and back to left for the cornmeal.  This avoids “fat hand” syndrome.
  5. Lay each slice over cooling racks, the ones you use for cookies or muffins, to air dry until you finish the dredging process.  This keeps the bottom from becoming soggy.
  6.  Heat oil to medium high, about 350°.
  7. Gently slip tomatoes into the oil being careful not to burn yourself or crowd the pan.
  8. After 2-3 minutes turn each slice over for even cooking.
  9. When light golden brown remove from pan with a slotted spoon or spider and drain on paper towels.
  10. Serve with Buttermilk Dipping Sauce.

Buttermilk Dipping Sauce

  1. In a medium bowl combine buttermilk and mayonnaise and whisk until smooth.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, mix well, cover and chill until ready to serve.
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