Turkish Street Food…Borek!

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The "Grand Bazaar" of Ayvalik, Turkey

The “Grand Bazaar” of Ayvalik, Turkey

I’m crazy about middle eastern and mediterranean flatbread.  I’m even happier when they’ve been stuffed with a surprise or two.  Eight or nine years ago, on one of our vacations in Greece, we took a quick side trip to Turkey.  From our island of Lesvos it’s only a short ferry ride away.  Not to segue from this delightful recipe but if you should ever have the opportunity to take a ferry outside of the continental US you ought to take it.  Ferry rides are a wonderful way to really see how your temporary neighbors live.  On our way to Turkey the boat was filled with people, of course, and cars.  Lots of cars.  But on the return trip the cars were gone and in their place were refrigerators, patio furniture, a rainbow of comforter sets all still in their clear, plastic storage bags.  Pallets of fruits and bundled up cardboard boxes as far as the eye could see.  Truly, it’s a great way to see a little slice of local life.  Anyway, after a few hours on the water we safely arrived and disembarked.  We had been told there was a “Grand Bazaar” and we took off to find it.  Just steps before us the bazaar opened up to a beehive of activity with children running, some playing, some on urgent errands, shopkeepers hawking their wares from their stalls and a colorful topping of headscarves on the women shopping for their family’s lunch and dinner.  The cacophony of sounds was exhilarating; music blaring, people yelling at the top of their lungs, dogs barking and always the call to prayer over loudspeakers.  It was great!  We walked a while and stumbled across a table where a man and a woman were selling borek, the ubiquitous Turkish street food.

Fold, flip, wrap.  She made it look so easy!

Fold, flip, wrap. She made it look so easy!

Borek is a thin, thin round sheet of dough or flatbread that is stuffed with a combination of greens and cheese or meat, any concoction you wish.  The filling is place in the middle of the dough, pinched closed and tossed onto something that looks like a convex steel drum or upside down wok  griddle.  The borek blisters to a gorgeous golden brown on the outside while the filling cooks on the inside. Different than our’s here in the States; often they are folded when finished then wrapped in wax or parchment paper.  The corners become chewy while the flat outside bubbles up to a crispy flavor-fest.

Oh, how I would love to have two of these stoves.  One for the kitchen and one poolside!

Oh, how I would love to have two of these stoves. One for the kitchen and one poolside!

The dough requires no yeast or sugar, it’s just flour, salt and water.  The resting time is blessedly short so if you feel like rattling around the kitchen on a Friday night after a couple of glasses of wine and still have dinner ready in and hour or so you can.  And think of the fillings…good gracious!  The combinations are limitless.  I’ve made the classic spinach and feta but tonight I’m also preparing potato and onion with a little Aleppo red pepper flakes added. Borek are so gorgeous and easy, not to mention forgiving.  The secret, if there is one, is to let the dough rest sufficiently and then take your time rolling it out super thin.  I mean SUPER thin.  Perfect for a picnic…a ballgame…or under a tree, downtown, with the one you love.  It’s pretty sexy food.  Yeah.  I think you’ll really like it.  Just do yourself a favor and, if you decide to throw them together, resist the temptation of leaving the dough too thick and, also, try not to overload the borek with your filling.  They’re supposed to be flat. To that, let me add, if your filling is spinach and feta, you can heap on the spinach as it will wilt to next to nothing as they cook.  But if you go with potato or ground meat scatter with a light hand. This recipe comes from the book entitled “Savory Baking from the Mediterranean” written by Anissa Helou.  Not only is this recipe brilliant but so is the book. I hope you enjoy it.  That’s what it’s all about!

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Borek – Stuffed Turkish Flatbread yield: 4 whole hand pies For the dough:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading and shaping
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, PLEASE use a good quality feta and crumble it yourself
  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh spinach, finely shredded (I use more…about two large handfuls before shredding)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  1. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Gradually add just over 1/3 cup warm water to the well, bringing in the flour as you go along.  Knead to make a rough ball of dough.
  2. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface.  Knead for three minutes.  Invert the bowl over the dough and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.  Knead the dough for about 2-3 minutes more to make a smooth, firm dough.
  3. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball.  Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix together the cheese and parsley.
  4. Sprinkle a work surface and rolling pin with flour.  Roll out a ball of dough to a circle about 12 inches in diameter, lightly sprinkling with flour every now and then.  (I have to tell you.  I had a hard time with that.  Mine were about 9 or 10 inches in diameter and they came out beautifully!)  Sprinkle a quarter of the spinach over half the dough.  Cover the spinach with a quarter of the cheese mixture.  Fold the dough over the fillings to make a half circle. Prepare the remaining boreks in the same way.  Heat a nonstick griddle or frying pan over medium heat.  Transfer the boreks, one or two at a time, to the hot griddle or pan and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, until lightly crisp and golden.  Transfer to a serving plate and brush lightly with melted butter.  Serve immediately.  (I cut mine in half before serving.  The boreks are easier to handle and look prettier.)
The waters off Ayvalik, Turkey.  Perfect to sit  and munch on gozleme...just let time go by.

The waters off Ayvalik, Turkey. Perfect to sit and munch on borek…just let time go by.

BOOM! GOAT CHEESE CHEESE CAKES TOPPED with LEMON CURD AND FRESH FRUIT

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Strawberry, sour cherry and blueberry.  Oh, baby!

Strawberry, sour cherry and blueberry. Oh, baby!

The twang and tang combination of goat cheese and cream cheese is a fusion that will send your taste buds to an ambrosial rapture.  I’m crazy about legitimate, bona fide cheesecake, I mean, who isn’t?  My wish is for the tartness of the lemon and cheese to shine through the batter followed by the slightly sweet after glow of a lemon curd topping.  I want my filling somewhat dry, almost crumbly, with a hint of bite…as a proper New York cheesecake would be.  A cloyingly sweet and gummy cheesecake with a soggy bit of canned fruit topping sitting on a synthetic vanilla wafer is a recipe for disappointment.  This recipe will make your heart sing.  Pleasing to the eye, these tiny cakes end up looking like little jewels and because they’re bitesize…well,, hey, portion control! The marrying of goat cheese with cream cheese jacks up the flavor.  The sweet but tangy lemon curd pairs beautifully with both cheeses and the fresh fruit acts like a foil cutting through the tartlet’s richness.

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I happened to have homemade lemon curd on hand, which is always lovely, but if you’re short on time or don’t wish to fuss with it store-bought lemon curd is perfectly fine.  It can be found in the grocery store along side the jellies and jams. It does add a surprising contrast of flavors but the lemon curd really acts as a “glue” in order to hold the fresh fruit in place.  And, of course, choose your favorite fruits that boast deep, rich colors.  Blackberries would be gorgeous.  If you’d like to add a glossy to shine to the bites, a quick painting of heated jelly with have your treats sparkling.  If you like more of a matte finish, a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar is lovely.  But either way this dessert is a bad-ass pleasure! Let me know what you think.

Goat Cheese Cheesecakes with Lemon Curd and Fresh Fruit

yield: 40 mini-cakes

  • 1 6-ounce bag lemon cookies, crushed into crumbs.  I use Pepperidge Farms brand.
  • 8 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1 1/2 cups lemon curd
  • fresh fruit for color, your choice
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375°.
  2. Place 40 mini size baking cups, paper or foil, on a cookie sheet lined with tin foil.  Spray cups lightly with non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Place 1 level teaspoon of cookie crumbs on the bottom of each sprayed baking cup.
  4. Use your fingertips or even a muddler from your bar to press down on the crumbs.  This is your crust.  Set cookie sheet aside.
  5. In a large bowl beat the cheeses together until light and fluffy.
  6. Add the eggs and beat well followed by the sugar.  Beat well.
  7. Add lemon juice and vanilla beating well after each addition.
  8. Scoop batter into baking cups filling 2/3 full.  I use a 1 1/2″ melon ball scoop.
  9. Bake 15-17 minutes keeping a watchful eye.  Each oven is different and these can cook quickly.
  10. Cool in baking cups and refrigerate 6 hours to overnight.
  11. Prior to serving top with 1/2-1 teaspoon lemon curd, to your taste
  12. Top lemon curd with fresh fruit.
  13. For a glossy finish heat 3 or 4 tablespoons of jelly in microwave until dissolved, 10-15 seconds.  Use a small pastry or paint brush to cover fruit with jelly.  Re-heat jelly if necessary as you work.

Key Lime Poundcake with Key Lime Cream Cheese Icing…omg!

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Next week is my older sister Cynthia’s birthday.  She was my first friend, my first confidante and my first co-conspirator.  She loved tennis and french, classical music and fashion.  She was the best big sister.  She watched out for me and was always there for me especially when I went through my “wild” stage.  She never judged and has unfailingly given me the best advice she could our whole lives together.  We share the early years in Puerto Rico before Tommy and Pamela were born.  We shared Crayola crayons while coloring and spent hours playing “little dolls”.  While in college the clouds of cigarette smoke billowing out of her bedroom were epic during our late night girl-talkathons.

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Here she is circa 1974 after a tennis match and cooling dip in the pool.  Slender, feminine and a helluva flirt she drove her college beaus mad.  Today we both have a passion for books and the sophisticated appointment of rooms.  Pearls thrill us beyond measure.  And she has a thing for lemon cakes (but she calls them “lemon kuchens”).  “Kuchen” being cake in German.  Every single time she comes home to Fort Lauderdale, which is three or four times a year, she’ll ask me, “How ’bout that lemon kuchen? and I always answer, “What about it?”.  I answer that way because I once baked her a lemon pound cake, from scratch, and ultimately she never had any because she never made time during that trip to come over to my house.  So no more lemon kuchen!  Until now.  I’ve been on a pound cake kick, not surprising when you see my girth.  I’m certain I’ve gained at  least 4 pounds since I started on this mission.  I craved… no, lusted after a dense, lemony-bright, tart and rich pound cake topped with a crown of smooth, creamy citrus icing.  As you can well imagine the development process has been a short visit to Dante’s fifth hell.  Not.  Also, here in South Florida, it’s key lime season and I would venture to say that here in this tropical end of the state, key lime cake comes in close right after key lime pie in popularity.

Creamy yellow is the shade you want in a key lime.  In this case big is better.  Look for limes the size of ping-pong balls.

Creamy yellow is the shade you want in a key lime. In this case big is better. Look for limes the size of ping-pong balls.

I was lucky enough to have a plethora of key limes given to me and have juiced and zested my fingers down to the bone.  Consequently long after the season is over I will have juice and zest safely tucked away in my freezer portioned out and labeled rendering me capable of baking great quantities of my new favorite pound cake.  This cake bakes up beautifully.  It would make an exquisite wedding cake, the icing decorated with the dramatic “pop” of fresh blackberries or raspberries.  On the other end of the “pretty” spectrum around the “practical” end James mentioned to me in passing me that for the past several days he has had a thick wedge for breakfast.  I’m telling you people, you cannot stay away from this cake.  It’ll sing out to you from the next room.  It’s the devil.  And if loving it is wrong, I don’t want to be right!  Yes, the cake is sweet, however the substantial addition of lime zest propels it to a new world of citrus wonder.  The crumb is heavy and dense, incredibly moist while at the same time smooth and somehow almost weightless.  The icing is a recipe in richness.  The cream cheese works in tandem with the lemon to make a “dolce-crostata”, or sweet-tart heaven in your mouth.  That being the case I look forward to having a key lime kuchen baked the next time Cynthia comes down for all of us to delight in and savor.  Happy, happy birthday, sweet sister.

I participated in a one day travel writing class downtown and took these slices to suck up. It worked. It’s the miracle cake!

Key Lime Pound Cake with Key Lime Cream Cheese Icing

  •  4 sticks butter, that’s 1 pound, room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs, room temperature
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup fresh key lime juice
  • 1/4 cup evaporated milk, (I always keep a good number of those small, 5 ounce cans in my pantry.)
  • 4 teaspoons key lime zest, minced
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 300°.  Cover inside of 10 inch tube pan with non-stick spray.  My pan is 10  1/2″ and it’s just fine.  Set aside.
  2. Using a stand-up mixer or electric hand-held, beat the butter well until light in color and fluffy.  Add the sugar and again beat well for at least 5 minutes.  I use a stand up mixer and beat the mixture 10-15 minutes.  I don’t like a “grainy” cake.
  3. One at a time add the eggs and beat only until the yellow disappears.
  4. Stir juice, milk, zest and vanilla together.
  5. Now mixing by hand, gradually flour to the butter-egg mixture alternating with the key lime juice and milk mixture.  Begin and end with flour.  Mix well but just enough to incorporate all ingredients.  You don’t want a tough pound cake!
  6. Pour evenly into the tube pan and tap pan on the counter to loosen any air bubbles.
  7. Bake for 1 hour and 45 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
  8. Cool on a cooling rack for 15-20 minutes in the pan then transfer from pan to cooling rack and allow to cool another hour or until completely cool.

The cake is far better the following day or 2 days later.

Key Lime Cream Cheese Icing

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3-4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed key lime juice
  • 2-3 teaspoons key lime zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Using a hand mixer beat cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until well mixed.
  2. Add confectioner’s sugar and beat well until completely smooth and fluffy.
  3. Add key lime juice, zest and vanilla and mix until all ingredients are incorporated.
  4. Ice cake.

This makes quite a bit of icing.  After icing the entire  pound cake I fill the middle hole with the excess icing.  When the cake is served icing can be taken from the middle and dolloped along the side the slice of cake.

Hot Stuff

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Happy Birthday to me!  Today is the day of my birth and, in celebration, my gift to YOU is a brilliant, green Chilean hot sauce; bright, fresh and intense in flavor called Pebre.  It is our family favorite. On weekends when I allow myself a piece of whole grain bread that I baked, I slather it on an egg white sandwich.  Magnifico! James, Jimmy and I spread it liberally over grilled meats and fish.  A slab of skirt steak with charred bits on the outside but rare and juicy on the inside is a beautiful thing to behold.  Pebre is the condiment that throws you over the edge at a good Hispanic restaurant whether it be a four star top-grade establishment down to the back corner of a humble, backwater convenience store or even gas station covering a warm, handmade tortilla just taken out of a styrofoam cooler sitting on the floor.  And easy?  Easier than falling off a log.  Plus it lasts refrigerated for a little over a week.  Does it get any better?  I think not.  So try it.  On grilled flank steak.  Grouper, dolphin, shrimp or lobster.  Pebre dances on chicken and as a dip for grilled bread?  OMG.  Give yourself a birthday treat and whip this up.  You’ll have a healthful new favorite!

Slathered on an egg white sandwich this is a positive luxury!

Slathered on an egg white sandwich this is a positive luxury!

 

PEBRE or Cilantro Parsley Hot Sauce

yield: approximately 2 1/2 cups

  • 1/2-1 cup premium quality olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 bunches flat leaf parsley, washed and dried, roughly chopped, stems discarded
  • 1 bunch scallions, roughly chopped, any dried tops discarded
  • 4-6 fresh garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 3 fresh scotch bonnet peppers, more or less to your taste, stem discarded
  • 1 lemon or lime freshly juiced
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

 

  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
  2. Taste for seasoning, transfer to a jar and cover with the lid.
  3. Refrigerate if you’re using it the following day or later than that.  Leave out at room temperature if you’re serving the sauce that day so the flavors marry.

 

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!

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