Category Archives: Pretty Things

Sweet Filled Strawberries for our Sweet Bride

 

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The passage of time becomes more apparent when your children’s peers and their siblings begin to wed.  Ouch.  Admittedly there is a slight sting to getting older, but on the other hand, we have a wedding to celebrate!  Weddings and baptisms are such sunny, exhilarating events.  They are celebrations filled with the promise of hope and jubilation; of all-consuming love for another living soul and the unspoken word of honor, vow, that all gathered have pledged to others in their lifetimes.  Big wedding, small wedding it matters not.  They are all lovely and joyous.  This past weekend I took part in a wedding shower for a young lady who grew up in our neighborhood and went to the same schools as our son, James.  Katie’s’ brother was in James’ class beginning in Pre-K through high school.  Pre-K is where this group of students’ mothers met and forged a bond that, through the years, has withstood the tragedy of drugs, financial ruin and even death.  There were four core families, all Catholic with working mothers and fathers and more kids than you’d care to count.  We lived within a one mile radius of each other.  The boys all played T-ball up to high school together and the teams were coached by the  fathers.  What a time we had!  As parents we learned to prepare snacks for the kids AND hors d’oeuvre for the grownups.  Hot? Sweet baby Jesus, but it was hot at that ball park.  We started bringing our cocktails in insulated coffee mugs then graduated to large beverage coolers filled with OUR version of jungle juice, hooch, grain punch…bad girl punch.  The poor coaches were out on the 100° field and dugout and never got any.  And though it was hot as blue blazes up on those rickety bleachers we parents laughed, caught up with one another and cheered all the boys on.  And yes, we got tanked.  Back then that was what Saturday afternoons were for.  After a few Solo cups full of “juice” no one cared about the steady stream of perspiration flowing from the top of their backbone down to their fanny!  Katie’s father, Bob, one of the coaches, would take a big, old boom box and crank out baseball tunes between innings.  Sometimes we sang.  We had a blast!  The coaches encouraged all the Little Leaguers, lifted them up and boosted their self-confidence even when mistakes were made.  The boys adored their coaches.  Never was there a happier group of people.  We always gathered to pre-party and post-party when there were evening functions at school.  Friday nights we’d potluck it, each family contributing to the meal.  When school let out for summer we formed the 601 Club.  Again, each family would contribute a dish or appetizer, sometimes booze, and we’d meet at the beach, across from Bahia Mar, at the grills, by the swings.  We named it the 6-oh-one club when it was discovered that after 6p.m. parking was free on the beach.  Our caravan pulled into the parking lot every Friday evening during summer.  If it’s free sign me up!  Whoever arrived first claimed two or three tables and a grill or two.  The children ran and screamed in the waves.  Often several of the children would build entire villages filled with sand castles.  There was always an adult tossing a football, sipping beer or wine by a grill sizzling with burgers and dogs or passing out chips and salsa.  All of us so appreciated and savored those enchanting evenings.  There’s just something about the beach at night.  The smell of salt water and the sound of the waves rolling in coupled with the moon transforming into a colossal pearl, its reflection shimmering away on the inky water is positively mesmerizing.

My favorite photo of Fort Lauderdale beach at night.
My favorite photo of Fort Lauderdale beach at night.

The stresses of the week melted away as we slowly loosened up and let our hair down.  This is where I discovered the miraculous world of frozen Whiskey Sours.  One of the core moms, Harriet, showed up with a cask full of them and changed our lives completely.  She’s from New Orleans and is accustomed to novel and exotic libations.  We were nothing short of enthralled.  If she gives me the recipe I’ll post it.  Well, the years went by and yes, to a certain extent, we grew apart as our kid’s interests evolved, new friends were made, the children graduated and went on to college.  Every now and again we’d run into each other, usually at the grocery store or Mass, but it wasn’t often.  This past weekend though, we were reunited.

L-R Suzanne, Julie, Katie, Harriet and me
L-R Suzanne, Julie, Katie, Harriet and me

If only for three or four hours the four core moms…Julie (who hails from the Keys and is mother of the bride), Suzanne (matriarch of FOUR darling boys and one spectacular girl), Harriet (Southern girl extraordinaire who single-handedly raised three incredibly gifted children after unexpectedly losing her husband years ago), and me (you know all about me, I think), were together again.  What joy!  What bliss!  Yes, there were a few misty eyes every now and again, but way more high-pitched shrieks and good-natured laughter, whispered gossip from scandals past and, more than anything, hugs.  Lots of hugs.  We just couldn’t get enough of each other.  Thankfully all our children are happy well-adjusted young adults, each up and coming in their chosen field and blazing their own trails.  The bride-to-be glowed all afternoon and I believe her shower guests took delight in the festivities and got a kick out of us “older ladies”.  I am so pleased and grateful I was included.  One of my contributions to the party was this little pick-up.  Ruby colored fresh strawberries, hulled and filled with sweetened cream cheese.  They’re lovely, easy and luscious.  In fact, this is one of the dishes I served at Suzanne’s baby shower when she was pregnant with Madeline.  It’s a classic.  One tablespoon of orange flavored Gran Marnier is wonderful in place of vanilla.  Feel free to experiment with flavors.  The filled berries I took to Katie’s shower were topped with toasted almond slices but fresh mint leaves also marry well with the fruit.  Keep in mind this dish is absurdly easy but it’s best not assembled more than two to three hours prior to serving or your berries will become soggy.

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Sweet Filled Strawberries

  • Servings: 1 quart
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 quart fresh strawberries, rinsed, dried and hulled
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature, reduced fat may be used, (I use it all the time)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract OR 1 tablespoon Gran Marnier or other liquor
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup sliced, toasted (toast 3-5 minutes at 350°)

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  1. With a paring knife, trim a small piece off of the bottom of each berry so they stand straight up when served.  Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl whip cream cheese until light and fluffy.  If using a hand mixer beat 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add vanilla or liquor and confectioner’s sugar to cream cheese and mix until well combined.
  4. Transfer the cream cheese mixture to a corner of a gallon freezer bag.  This will be your piping bag so use a heavy, freezer weight to avoid having the bag pop or break on you.
  5. With sharp scissors cut the tip (cut the size of a piece of confetti) off of the corner of the bag filled with the cream cheese mixture.
  6. With the cut tip placed down in the berry squeeze the cream cheese into the strawberry until the mixture brims over the top of the berry.
  7. Top each berry with fresh mint leaves or sliced toasted almonds.
  8. Chill until serving.  Serve within a few hours.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

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Comfort…2-layer Yellow Cake with Fresh Strawberry Cream Cheese Icing

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Sometimes not even alcohol can touch my pain.  Last week a horrific late-night boating accident catapulted this town from sleepy, fun in the summer to the nightmare reality that life can sometimes bring.  All the kids on board are about 17 years old, rising seniors at St. Thomas Aquinas.  Several of the teens were critically injured and one boy, one sweet, sweet boy, lost his life.  As a mother I cannot even comprehend that level of grief.  Cannot.  I’ll attempt to post a link to the gofundme fund-raiser below.  When life hits me hard I bake.  Bread, cake, biscuit, doesn’t matter.  And, in the midst of all this, the family was getting together to celebrate my son James’ and my niece Meg’s birthdays at our house.  It was sort of last-minute due to everyone’s schedule.  Meg was preparing to go back to school and my sister, Pamela, was taking her.  Everyone had work of course and Meg’s little sister, Annie, was hostessing at a restaurant at night.   We were all somewhat overwhelmed and certainly shaken up knowing these kids and their families lives were changed forever.  I wanted the cousins to be together and aunts and uncles as well.  Side by side; as a family.  I hastily put together a menu and went about baking a cake.  I wanted something pretty but comforting.  Something that quietly murmured “security”.  No flourless, dark chocolate gateau with coffee beans and sparklers on top for this crowd.  At least not this August.  No, what we needed was something gentle and loving.  I decided on a classic vanilla yellow cake with fresh strawberries whipped into the cream cheese icing.  The recipe for the cake comes from a cookbook I bought years ago entitled “Mom’s Big Book of Baking” written by Lauren Chattman.  It received glowing reviews from Maida Heatter and Christopher Kimball.  The icing recipe is one that I made up and have been using for the longest.  I hope you’ll try this cake.  It’s a kiss and a hug and a prayer all wrapped up in pink love!

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Below is the link to help with the medical costs of the boaters.  I thank you for them.  And please keep in mind no amount is too little.  Every bit helps.

http://www.gofundme.com/zaxvw4qs

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Classic Yellow Layer Cake with Fresh Strawberry Cream Cheese Icing

  • Servings: 2 9-inch round cakes or 16 cupcakes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • nonstick cooking spray
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup, (2 sticks), unsalted butter, softened and cut into 16 pieces
  1.  Preheat the oven to 350°.  Coat the insides of two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray.  Line the bottom and sides with parchment paper and coat that with spray as well.  Dust the bottoms and sides of the pans with flour, knocking out any extra flour.  For cupcakes, coat the muffin tins with cooking spray and dust with flour, or line the muffins tins with paper liners.
  2. Combine the eggs, milk and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl and beat lightly with a fork.  Set aside.
  3. Combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Add the butter and, with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix on low-speed until the butter pieces are no larger than small peas.  (I used my hand mixer and the cakes came out great!)
  4. Pour in about 2/3 of the egg mixture and mix on low-speed until all the ingredients are moistened.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and mix on medium-high speed for 1 minute.  Stir in the remaining egg mixture on low-speed until combined.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl again and mix on medium-high speed again for another 30 seconds.
  5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.  Bake until the cake is light golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes for the cupcakes and 25-30 minutes for the layer cake.  Let the cake cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, invert it onto a wire rack, then turn it right side up on the rack to cool completely.  The cakes will keep, wrapped up in plastic, at room temperature for up to one day or refrigerated for up to 3 days.  Frost as desired.
  6. If using the following strawberry icing, chill the cakes in the refrigerator 3 or 4 hours.  Overnight is ideal.

Fresh Strawberry Cream Cheese Icing

yield: approximately 3 1/2 cups

  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup puree of fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 cups confectioner’s sugar
  1. In a medium bowl beat the butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the strawberry puree and vanilla and mix until combined.
  3. Add the confectioner’s sugar one cup at a time and beat until smooth.
  4. Cover the first layer of chilled cake with several tablespoons of icing and spread a thin layer leaving a 1/4 inch border without icing around the outside diameter of the cake.
  5. Center the second cake layer and carefully place on top of the first layer.  Cover the entire top and sides of the cake with a thin layer of icing and place uncovered back in the refrigerator to chill for at least an hour.  Chill the remaining icing also.  A morning or afternoon is ideal.
  6. After chilling, ice the top of the cake then the sides.  Return to the refrigerator until serving.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Happy Greek Easter!

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Xristos Anesti, everyone!  This past weekend was Orthodox Christian Easter and for the first time in a very, VERY long time I wasn’t cooking.  We had accepted the gracious invitation of a family we’ve known for many years from the Greek church.  The bulk of the cooking had been taken off my shoulders!  I decided to bake my sweet potato bread but instead of loaves I would shape the bread into rolls.  My thought was a faintly sweet, tender bite of bread would be a delight with salty, garlicky lamb.  I used my favorite recipe, Bill Neal’s, from his book “Biscuits, Sweetbreads and Sweet Potato Pie”.  I posted the recipe for the loaves back in…wow!  Three years ago.  Anyway, the recipe remains the same, however, I found in baking rolls rather than  loaves it is imperative that one use light-colored baking sheets.  I have two darker ones and no matter how I played with the positions of those pans and the temperature those rolls came out a tad bit darker on the bottom than I would have liked.  Dad will be eating the darker rolls for some time!  We arrived at the party with many kisses and hugs and the joyous salutations of “Xristos Anesti!” followed by the response of “Alithos Anesti!” resounding all around us.

Xristos Anesti from the Carras family!
Xristos Anesti from the Carras family!

The house was perfect. Open and spacious it sits on the water with a sparkling, inviting pool in the back.  The children played games and jumped in and out of the pool while the adults relaxed under an enormous tiki hut savoring cocktails and Greek music.  The ceiling fan under the fronds of the tiki hut not only kept us cool but seemed to waft the distinct aroma of garlic and lamb to tease us through the afternoon.  Most of the crowd there had observed Lent eating no meat at all so our hosts treated us to bits of Greek style grilled chicken and grilled sausage from Cyprus interspersed with ears of grilled corn on the cob redolent with Greek herbs and swathed with melted butter.  Oh, but it was heaven on earth!  Off in a shady corner was the guest of honor slowly turning on the spit, only making a sound when it’s juices hit the hot coals below it.  Yes.  It was a whole lamb.  Gorgeous and browned I had to hold myself back from trying to sneak a little crunchy corner.  But I tried, people, oh yes, I tried.  All I could do was almost burn my fingertips…and try to practice patience.

The Easter lamb. Underneath but not shown was a spit with Kokoretsi, a Greek delicacy of lamb organ meats rubbed with Greek herbs, salt and pepper. Fabulous!
The Easter lamb. Underneath is a spit with Kokoretsi, a Greek delicacy of lamb organ meats rubbed with Greek herbs, salt and pepper. Fabulous!

When at last it was ready two or three men hoisted the arm of the spit on their shoulders and carried the lamb off to be carved after it had rested for 15 minutes or so.  The ample dining room in the house held the table which almost groaned under the weight of all the homemade dishes.  Emerald green salads lightly tossed with fresh lemon juice and good Greek olive oil sparkled like jewels.  Platters of crisp, golden Greek style potatoes peeked out of lacy veils of oregano and black pepper.  The trays of Greek cheese and spinach pies in crisp, buttery phyllo flanked by bowls of cold, tart tsatziki  and feta went on forever.

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And my rolls didn’t look bad, if I do say so myself.  Dessert was, again, homemade.  Galaktoboureko, a creamy custard, pudding encased in a pillow of phyllo saturated with a light, sweet, sugar syrup.  I was delirious!  The table was glorious and splendid.  The day was positively magnificent.  We caught up with old friends and made new friends as well.  We are truly blessed!

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, traveling to Greece

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!

A bit of Istanbul

Yes, Gentle Reader, it’s that time of the year again. 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!

How to Get Your Greek On at the Saint Demetrios festival

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One fast year has gone by since our last Greek festival and it’s looking like the 2014 St. Demetrios’ Greek festival is going to be bigger and better than ever!  I took a quick stroll this morning through the church grounds and was I impressed. It looks tight and well put together.  Many folk have worked long and hard on this event and I’m happy to report it paid off.  Let’s take a behind the scenes peek-see at what REALLY goes on!

The glorious dome!
The glorious dome!

It all begins in the church.  Under our magnificent dome tours are given to educate those interested on many different topics represented in the architecture of the church.  For many years I’ve caught snippets and bits of these tours while running from the kitchen to the food line or back but this I have deemed is the year I get to enjoy the entire presentation.  And you get to ask questions!

7 years of Greek school and I'm still stuck on the English side!
7 years of Greek school and I’m still stuck on the English side!

Signing in at the volunteer station was a breeze.  People are coming and going so there’s always someone you run into that you haven’t seen in a while.  Father John’s wife, Presbytera Abbey, seen left, is always ready to give of her time AND with a sincere smile on her face.  Anna, fluent in Greek, is a Greek school classmate of mine.  Her son, Dimitri, and my son James, which is Dimitri in Greek, danced together for many years.  Best of friends, they were on the altar together, traveled through Greece together and got in trouble together.  Anna and I will toast with a Metaxa to both of them later!

Sign in, please!  And thanks for all your help!
Sign in, please! And thanks for all your help!

As you can well imagine the kitchen is a hive of activity.  Chicken is roasting, salads are prepped and onions are chopped for a myriad of dishes.  Mammoth lamb shanks are bathed in a thick tomato sauce perfumed with cinnamon, onion and parsley.  That same sauce will be drizzled over hot krytharaki, orzo, and with a little feta on top???  It’s just sublime.

I eat these beans called 'yigantes" all year long.  Creamy and oh so savory I could eat this whole pot!
I eat these beans called ‘yigantes” all year long. Creamy and oh so savory I could eat this whole pot!

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We are blessed this year that the person who stepped up for kitchen duty is our Nicole.  She is staggeringly talented but always calm and collected in the midst of a huge amount of kitchen activity.  And she’s cute!  You can thank her for just about everything you eat with the exception of the pastries.

Chef Nicole.  Don't EVEN think about messing with her!
Chef Nicole. Don’t EVEN think about messing with her!

Wait wait!  Did I say pastries?  Why, yes.  Yes I did.  Our women’s group, Philoptochos, has worked tirelessly on the pastries and desserts for the festival.  All your dearest and best-loved sweets are here.  And these beautiful women have baked them.  In between mixing dough and tossing confectioner’s sugar they visit and catch up with each other.  It’s fantastic!  I was able to join them once when I wasn’t working and I had the time of my life.

Beer and pastries for all! (I wish.)
Beer and pastries for all! (I wish.)

These ladies are the best of friends.  They laugh together and cry together.  And they move mountains.  They will end up spending most of the weekend helping at the festival.

Loved by all!
Loved by all!

Now that we’ve bought our desserts let’s go outside for drinks and dinner!

Meze, Father?
Meze, Father?

Shall we start with an appetizer of flaming cheese and sausage, saganaki kai loukaniko?  I’ve found if you share it you have plenty of room for lamb shanks or an over the top stuffed gyro!  Or if you wish for something lighter go for some Greek meatballs, keftedes and a Greek salad studded with shards of feta.  Mmmmm…!

The czar of saganaki and loukaniko, Louie has been lighting Metaxa brandy to the delight of scores since the inception of the festival.  He makes a killer sandwich.  Watch your eyebrows.
The czar of saganaki and loukaniko, Louis has been lighting Metaxa brandy to the delight of scores since the inception of the festival. He makes a killer plate. Watch your eyebrows.

Everyone in the church is invited to help out for festival.  Every year we hear who’s coming back, from college kids to young married couples who know how important this festival is.  James is knee-deep in schoolwork, concentrating on his senior capstone project and won’t be able to come down this year.  But Louie’s grandson, Elias, is carrying on the tradition of working at the St. Demetrios festival.

Don't let Elias' good looks fool you!  He is a gifted and powerful speaker having won countless oratorical competitions nationwide representing Saint Demetrios.
Don’t let Elias’ good looks fool you! He is a gifted and powerful speaker having won countless oratorical competitions nationwide representing Saint Demetrios.  We’re so proud of him!

Did you think I forgot drinks?  And coffee?  Heck, no!  Stroll on over to the bar for some smooth, full Greek red wine or a cold Greek beer.

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After all that you’ll need a coffee.  Greek coffee.  It’s thick and strong.  If you’re lucky maybe one of the pastry ladies will read your grounds for you.

The pot used to make Greek coffee is called a "briki".
The pot used to make Greek coffee is called a “briki”.
This is a great little cookie perfect for dunking in your coffee.  They're called "koulourakia" and I love them because they're not too sweet...Just loaded with butter!
This is a great little cookie perfect for dunking in your coffee. They’re called “koulourakia” and I love them because they’re not too sweet…just loaded with butter!

My last stop is always the church bookstore on the way out.  Larry has beautiful little icons, incense burners and incense which has been blessed.  There are prayer bracelets, theology books and cookbooks.  It’s a real treasure trove and I always walk to my car with bags loaded with goodies.

Shopping!
Shopping!

You know? Maybe I’ll just get another beer and sit over here and check out my new cookbook!

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