Tag Archives: mint

MY Big Fat Greek Wedding

This morning was the ordination of a young man who went from Deacon John to Father John.  What a joyous morning!  All kinds of hot-shot priests flew into town to officiate.  I knew my brother-in-law’s brother would be on the altar.  My Jimmy had mentioned that Father Alex is Father John’s spiritual father, helping and guiding Father John through life as a young boy, through Hellenic College, the Seminary and now, priesthood.  The entire church would witness his vows, vows that are forever.  James was on the altar also, in his black robes…I call them “big boy robes”!  There was a wonderful Psalti chanting in Greek throughout the entire ceremony, his voice rising and falling in hypnotic notes while the priests on the altar sang and chanted their designated parts.  Then came the deep, baritone response “…through the ages of aaaAAAges”.  Jimmy turned and whispered in my ear, “Yup.  Father Alex is here!”  That low, rich timbre catapulted me back 23 years to when Jimmy and I were to be married.  When we first made plans to marry I got all the paperwork from St. Anthony’s parish church.  MY church.  The only church I knew.  The only church I wanted.  Turns out the Miami Archdiocese would have to annul Jimmy’s previous marriage in order to be married in the Catholic church.  Jimmy was furious.  “I am NOT having a panel of strangers in Miami pass judgement on me!  They don’t even know me!”  Well.  Okay.  I’m strong.  What matters is what’s in my heart.  I can marry in a church that’s not necessarily mine.  The Greek church is not THAT different from the Catholic church so it was decided we would marry in the Greek church.  But I told Jimmy, “You need to know RIGHT NOW I’m not doing anything.  I’m not taking any classes, I’m not going to any counseling, I’m not doing anything.”  He said that was fine and that he would take care of everything.  The day came when we were to meet with the parish priest whom, as yet, I had not met.  I recall it was a hot day but I was modestly dressed, my years at St. Anthony ingrained in me the appropriate way to dress in ANY church.  Jimmy and I were shown into the priest’s office.  Manners kicking in I immediately stretched out my hand and smiled as the introductions were made by Jimmy in Greek and English.  My heart just sank.  I knew, I KNEW, we were doomed.  The priest didn’t even stand up from behind his desk to greet me.  He just looked at me.  I knew he was judging me, categorizing me, grouping me with that brand of no-faith Anglo Philistine parasite that just takes up space on this planet and breathes other people’s fresh air.  Well, guess what?  I WASN’T that girl!  Yes, I was a “bad girl” but I was a “bad GOOD-girl”.  My stomach went into knots.  I looked at that man and thought, “Oh, God.  OH, GOD!  This is a bad man.  A bad, bad man.”  The priest’s eyes narrowed when he looked at me, he pursed his lips and spoke down at me.  I broke down.  My heart was screaming, SCREAMING I tell you, “This man cannot marry us.  He cannot marry me.” Jimmy and I had been through so much.  It had been difficult and rocky from almost the moment we met.  The priest spoke Greek to Jimmy knowing full well I spoke not a word.  I turned to Jimmy knowing the fateful words had to come from me.  After all we had been through and now this?  In a low voice I choked the words out to Jimmy, “I can’t do this with this man.  This man cannot marry us.”  There.  It was out!  I struggled unsuccessfully to control my tears.  I couldn’t breathe.  I knew if I did I would completely break down.  Every pore of my being felt an odious spirit emanating from this man and I couldn’t stand by and let this most precious of sacraments be condemned.  I bowed my head so he couldn’t have the pleasure of witnessing my grief but Jimmy saw the heartbreak and anguish building up inside me.  He leaned across the desk and in a cold, rapid fire burst of Greek Jimmy said something to the priest ending with, “Get Father Alex on the phone!  TORA!!!”  Tora means “now”.  The tension could be cut with a knife and the priest was furious.  I had never even met Father Alex, I only knew him as my brother-in-law’s brother who happened to be a priest.  I barely knew Jimmy’s family.  WELL.  The priest made the fated call.  Jimmy spoke into the phone, in Greek, then handed me the phone gently saying, “Here.  Just talk to him”, and then he and the priest left the office.  I couldn’t speak.   I was too busy trying to contain the flood of pent-up tears and snot.  I took the phone and scarcely let out a small “hello?”.  What came next I will NEVER, EVER forget.  A deep, booming voice took over the phone and asked me, “Alicia, what’s wrong?  What is the problem?”  Trying desperately to curb my sobs and manage some sort of composure I explained my position and thoughts.  That I didn’t know this man but that I felt he wasn’t a good man.  He wasn’t a kind man.  He wasn’t a man of God.  I had never been married.  I wanted the priest at my wedding to be a spiritual, insightful, loving man.  I told Father Alex I couldn’t have this man marry us.  Then came the deciding question.  “Alicia,” he said.  “Do you want to marry in the church or do you want to get married by some justice of the peace in some office somewhere?”  Are you kidding?  I’ve always felt if you ain’t married in the church then you ain’t married.  I squeaked out a pathetic, “In the church.”,  and Father Alex’s rich, baritone voice answered, “Good.  I’ll take care of it.”  He blessed me then asked to speak to Jimmy.  A few weeks later we set the date.  And Father Alex HAD taken care of everything!   We were to be married the end of July.  The day before the wedding Jimmy mentioned in passing, “Oh, you need to have some crowns made for us.”  Crowns?  “Just something with some flowers on them or something.  And they have to  have a ribbon connecting them.  ‘K?”  Sure, I thought.  There were a couple of gay guys that had moved into the apartment below me.  I had spoken to them already about the boutonnieres…what’s a couple of crowns??  The day came.  Jimmy had already moved into our house.  I wasn’t there yet.  The night before the wedding was spent at my parent’s house.  The day of the wedding we had champagne in huge, silver goblets while putting on our makeup and getting dressed.  Pamela did my hair.  Mama gave me her beautiful silver rosary, the one she carried on her wedding day.  Dana took video.  It was very surreal.  Slowly everyone left the house to get to St. Demetrios.  I looked around and realized there wasn’t anyone left at home to drive me to the church except my parents and my godfather!!  They all just left!!!  The last time I had seen my godfather was at my baptism.  I guess it’s safe to say I really didn’t know him!!  But I liked him.  A lot!  He and Dad had had loads of adventures that I had heard about all my life and besides, he had on a pale, lemon colored linen jacket with lavender pants!!  Loafers, no socks.  My godfather drove me to my wedding.  My glorious Jimmy was waiting at the altar with a wonderful NEW priest who was kind, gentle and loving.  Jimmy had arranged for a Psalti to chant at our wedding while we took OUR vows.  Vows that were forever.  And I have Father Alex to thank.  Pandote!!!  Forever!!

Father Alex, Jimmy, James and me! Please excuse the bad hair…I had been helping in the kitchen!

Spanakopita – Spinach Pie

A sublime Greek dish, Spanakopita is pretty easy to prepare, completely satisfying and freezes beautifully.  An authentic Spanakopita is slim with spinach and other greens  surrounded by diaphanous sheets of phyllo that shatter in a burst of crispy heaven when baked.  Yes, I am a big fan of phyllo!!  It is found in the frozen section of your grocery store usually in the pie section.  Some people butter every sheet, my preference is every two sheets.  Sometimes I use butter and it would be a good one.  Plugra and Kerrygold are both good products.  Often I use Greek olive oil in it’s place.  It’s just as rich and fulfilling but much better for you.  In tandem with the spinach I like not only fresh dill but also fresh mint.  I always use a high quality feta and sometimes jack the flavor up by adding a bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese.  Your choice.  Regarding eggs, whites are totally fine but use whites from eggs you cracked.  The ones in the cartons are just too thin and the filling oozes and spills all over the place.  I think I’ve covered everything.  Let’s get started!

  • 1 roll phyllo.  Most phyllo comes two rolls per box.  It will be frozen and MUST defrost in the refrigerator.  If you leave it on the counter to defrost the dough gets wet, mushy spots and tears when separated.
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil or butter, separated into 1/4 cups
  • 4 boxes frozen spinach, defrosted and drained of as much liquid as possible. I have a cotton tea towel I use only for squeezing the moisture out of spinach, grated cucumber, zucchini etc.  It’s ugly so I don’t care.
  • 2 grocery store bunches of fresh dill, washed and finely chopped
  • 1 large bunch flat leaf parsley, washed and chopped.  Curly’s fine if that’s all that looks good.
  • 1 bunch of mint, leaves washed and chopped
  • 3 eggs or the equivalent in whites
  • 1 8-ounce container feta, more or less.  Already crumbled is NOT an option.
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil or butter in a large pan over medium heat.
  3. Add onion and saute until softened and somewhat clear.
  4. Add spinach, dill, parsley and mint.  Stir until well combined.  Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. In a small bowl combine eggs and cheeses.
  6. Butter or use nonstick spray on a 9X13 pan.
  7. Set up your counter assembly line style with your phyllo covered with a damp, not wet, tea towel, the sprayed pan, a bowl with 1/4 cup olive oil or melted butter, and a clean basting brush or paint brush.
  8. Line pan with 2 sheets of phyllo and lightly brush dough with butter or olive oil.
  9. Continue using 2 sheets at a time alternately stacking and oiling until half the roll is used.
  10. Pour egg/cheese mixture into spinach and mix to combine well.
  11. Spread evenly over phyllo in pan.
  12. Continue stacking and oiling phyllo over spinach mixture until all the phyllo is used.  Finish last layer of phyllo with a light painting of the oil or butter.
  13. Using a sharp paring knife or a tomato knife if your friend, Selene, brings you back one from the Iowa State Fair, cut serving size pieces in the shape of diamonds or squares through just the top layer of phyllo.
  14. Spray a fine mist of water over the entire pan or use your hand to sprinkle water over it.  This will keep your pie from falling apart and the phyllo from curling up.  No one will tell you this!!!
  15. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes.
  16. I use a plastic knife to cut through the pie so as not to scratch my pan.
Mr. and Mrs. Carras!

Jimmy thought the party was over.

Jimmy was 24 years old the first time he went to Greece.  It was the 1973.  He went with his childhood friend, Peter.  Remember?  Jimmy’s mama and Mrs. Scarlatos, Peter’s mama, used to pick greens together on the side of the road in Boston?  You remember.  Anyway, Peter and Jimmy had gone to Greece together and were on the island of Paros.  There they were, with a bunch of their friends from Boston AND girls.  They were having a blast!  They hiked to ruins, then at night, would descend upon tavernas, welcomed and embraced warmly by the locals who treated them as the long, lost greek children they truly were.  They hung out on the beaches, talking, laughing, enjoying that ultimate luxury, the casual passing of time during a long, hot summer.  And GIRLS.  Jimmy tried not to think of the side trip he had to make.  While all the other kids were playing and having the times of their lives, HE had to go to Moria, his family’s ancestral village, on the island of Lesvos.  Moria.  What he KNEW would be a rinky-dink town, some outpost of nowhere, Mr.  Alighieri’s Fifth Hell.  Kill me now.  He was NOT happy.  Resigned and defeated, Jimmy left the good time on Paros, boarded the over-night ferry and arrived at the port of Mytilini the following morning.  He made the hour long trip to Moria on a tired, dilapidated, old bus and arrived mid-morning, hot and sweaty, sporting long hair, an unruly beard and an all-around generic american hippie look.  Not pretty.  Keep in mind, he’s from Boston.  Looks don’t count.  He walked through the village, trying to recognize houses and landmarks from the many years of stories told by his mother.  Outside a modest house, he saw an older woman bent over sweeping her courtyard, clouds of hot dust swirling about her, she oblivious to the heat, wearing the requisite long black dress and head modestly covered with a scarf.  He approached her, politely asking, “Signomy…,” “Pardon…”, but before he could continue she whirled about with a fiercely protective scowl on her face and replied, “OHI!!”  “NO!!”  “Go away, tourist!  Go away!” and waved her broom at him, making it perfectly clear, one more step and you’ll be feeling this broom, Yankee fool!  She was NOT to be trifled with!!  Throwing his arms up to protect his head and face he screamed, “ohi!! ohi, Thea Vasiliki!  Paragalo!  Eimai Dimitri, o anipsios apo tyn Ameriki!” “No, no, Aunt Vasiliki!  Please!  I’m Dimitri, your nephew from America!”  WELL.  That poor woman threw her broom in the air, ran to Jimmy and flung herself on his hippie self, crying and laughing, all the while frantically making the sign of the cross, over and over!  She welcomed him into the house where he sat down.  She knelt down before him and began untying his hiking boots.  “Thea, what are you doing?  Get up!  You don’t need to do that!”  And she replied with a little more than a bit of defiance in her voice, “I took your brother Peter’s shoes off.  I took your brother George’s shoes off.  I WILL take your shoes off!”  It was a wonderful two days!  Jimmy assured her over and over that her sister, so, so far away from her family and homeland, was fine.  His cousin, Dimitri, had a motorcycle and showed Jimmy the island, up to the mountains and back down to the beaches.  Cousin Dimitri showed Hippie Dimitri the ancient, Roman aqueduct which sat on the outskirts of the family property, and the horio, the village, with all its hiding places and secret spots.  Cousin Dimitri threw out the challenge, “I heard all you Americans drink ouzo with WATER!”  Jimmy replied, “I don’t.”  Cousin Dimitri said, “I heard all Americans drink ouzo with ICE!”  “I don’t”, again Jimmy answered.  They became the best of friends!  Together they tried  the different kinds of ouzo, all the while, Thea Vasiliki cooked and baked her heart out!  I can’t say this enough, but it’s ALL about family!

This was one of the dishes prepared by Thea Vasiliki, typically Greek, unpretentious and incredibly savory.  Yemistes, stuffed vegetables.  It is an extremely easy and forgiving dish.  You can stuff tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, squash, onions…anything that will hold the stuffing.  And you can stuff as many or as few as you’d like.  The filling is also extremely versatile.  Brown or white rice can be used.  Ground lamb or ground beef, or no meat!!  It’s all good.  I shred zucchini in mine sometimes or use zucchini wedges in between the vegetables to keep them from toppling on their sides.  Typically, potato wedges are used to keep the stuffed vegetables upright, but as I’m DESPERATELY trying to hang on to the last vestiges of my girlish figure I have to stick a lower carb leveling utensil!  The herbs used in the stuffing, again, may be substituted to fit your tastes or mood.  Fresh dill, mint and flat-leafed parsley are usually my choice but fresh thyme, rosemary or marjoram would be wonderful!  If you find fresh marjoram and have never tried it, pick it up!!  It tastes like perfume in an herb.  I’m crazy about it!  Today I used a small package of ground lamb.  Lamb is great, because it’s so flavorful you don’t need much to get that “meat heft” and flavor in your dish.  Oh, and a great way to stretch this is to buy large vegetables and cut them in half lengthwise to stuff.  The Greeks are crazy about these stainless steel round baking dishes, shown in the photograph above.  They come in varying diameters but the height is typically 2 1/2 inches high.  They’re used not only for yemiste, stuffed vegetables, but also spinach pie, baklava, and most dishes requiring phyllo dough.  Jimmy always gets irritated with me when we go to the Greek market because I always want to buy another one!  I have two now.  One medium in size and the other monstrous.  Great for parties!  But I feel you can NEVER have too many.  I’ll let you know when he springs for another!

Yemistes or Stuffed Vegetables

yield: 4 large peppers and 8 tomatoes, but stuff as many as you’d like!

  • 1 pound ground lamb, browned and drained
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 large bunch mint, leaves chopped
  • 1 large bunch dill, chopped
  • 1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves chopped
  • 4 cups short grain, brown rice, or rice of your choice, cooked
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 large peppers or as many as you’d like
  • 8 tomatoes or as many as you’d like
  • 3 or 4 zucchini cut into wedges or 1 or 2 potatoes if you’d rather, none it your vegetables fit snugly into their baking dish
Cousin Dimitri with Hippie Dimitri, STILL with ouzo!
  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Add onion to same pan as cooked, drained ground lamb, stirring, cook onion until clear.
  3. Add garlic and herbs, stirring all the while.
  4. When herbs have wilted, add rice and salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside.
  5. Cut tops off of peppers, set aside, and cut ribs and seeds and discard.
  6. Cut the tops off the tomatoes and set aside.  With a thin spoon, I use a soup spoon, scoop out insides of tomatoes being careful not to poke a hole through the flesh.  Set the innards aside and if it looks as though you won’t have sufficient filling, chop up the tomato cores and add to stuffing to stretch it out.  Just see how it goes.
  7. Spray non-stick spray to baking dish and spoon filling into vegetables, placing upright in baking dish.  Now’s the time for the zucchini or potato wedges.  Tuck them where needed to keep your fruits of labor from toppling over and spilling their filling.
  8. For tomatoes and peppers, add the tops previously cut off.
  9. Carefully, add water to bottom of baking dish, maybe 1/2 to 1 inch.
  10. Cover tightly with tin foil and bake for a good hour, hour and a half.  Drop temperature to 350° if your oven is too hot.  Vegetables are done when tender.

Bad Day? Meze, MY Way

How did this black, foul mood get started? When my little eyes fluttered open at 5:45 a.m., I was not unhappy.  Then again, I wasn’t thrilled either.  But something, something, got under my skin, riiiight up next to me and by the time I had reached worked I was enraged.  I felt murderous.  On the way to work, my anger was just boiling over.  The first time I can remember feeling that I’m-out-of-control-and-I-really-don’t-care sensation was back in the eighties when I was living in Atlanta and my then boyfriend was catting around behind my back.  Again.  And not bothering to cover his tracks.  I had gone home for the weekend and, upon returning, stopped by his house, unannounced.  He wasn’t home, but I could see there had been some weekend company.  As Dad would say, “a little nocturnal activity”.  The signs were everywhere and I was livid.  Crazed.  Unhinged.  And someone was gonna pay.  I was a smoker then, and as I paced and swore and paced some more I ended up in his walk-in closet.  He fancied himself a stylish dresser.  NOT.  Without a moment’s hesitation I took my cigarette and burned a large, but not immediately noticeable, hole in every piece of clothing in that enormous closet.  Cigarette after cigarette, I chose to burn holes in the armholes and back collars of suit jackets.  The cuff or elbow of a shirt.  And the crotch of every pant.  Natch.  Lord, did that feel good!!  Sweaters, belts, shoes, everything.  I mean, he REALLY did deserve it.  He made absolutely certain I saw his collection of girl’s names and phone numbers in the junk drawer in his kitchen.  We had decided not to see other people.  Cocktail napkins, matchbooks, deposit slips, torn scraps of paper, they were everywhere.  He was just hateful.  He was a runner and when he would leave his house to go on a run, there would always be a blue jay that would swoop down and attack him.  I’d see that bird and think, “Good.  Hope he pecks your eyes out.”  Even that bird knew he was evil!!  Behind his back, my friends called him “BC”, short for “Black Cloud”, or just plain “Larry the Loser”.  Can you just not mess with me?  And why DO we put up with that?  But I don’t remember anything like that happening today.  And yet, here I was in a dark, dark mood.   Hurtling down Bayview bitter and resentful.  Now, if I see road-kill on the way to work in the form of, say, a ‘possum that typically perks me right up.  And if I can share that with my friend, Selene, then I feel even better!  She loves road-kill as much as I do.  As she put it, “Honey, I’m from Texas.  We celebrate road-kill!”  Well, there WASN’T any road-kill today so, with no dead raccoons in sight, no flat, red squirrels, I thought about what I’d prepare for dinner if I could have anything in the world.  That ALWAYS makes me feel better!  I came up with appetizers.  I wanted three of them.  And no meat.  So, here’s what we had for dinner and what kept me out of prison.  Tyrokafteri, spicy-hot feta dip.  Melitzanosalata, roasted eggplant salad, but it’s more like a dip.  Hand sliced mushrooms sauteed with garlic and fresh mint, ALL on whole wheat crostini.  It was heaven and now, after  a glass of my methadone, (wine), I’m actually kind of mellow!

Melitzanosalata  Roasted Eggplant Salad

yield: 3-4 cups

  • 3 medium to large, unbruised eggplants
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar, red wine vinegar is also fine but balsamic is too dark
  • 4 handfuls of chopped walnuts (I’m on a walnut kick.  They’re a super food.  I said to Jimmy that maybe I should bake a tray of baklava so we can be REALLY healthy!)
  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. Set oven to broil, high broil if you have the choice.  Line a small baking sheet with tin foil, for easy clean up, and place clean, whole eggplants on baking sheet.  With eggplants as close to broiler as possible, broil for 30-45 minutes, depending on size of eggplants.  Turn every 15 minutes or so, for even broiling.
  2. While eggplants are in oven, add all other ingredients to food processor.
  3. When eggplants have cooked completely, remove from oven to cool.  With a sharp knife, make a slit from stem to bottom in skin.  When cool to the touch, carefully squeeze liquid from pulp.  Using a spoon with a relatively sharp edge, I use a soup spoon, scrape out all the pulp and put in food processor.  Process mixture until smooth, scraping down sides of processor every once in a while.
  4. Taste for seasoning.  Between the seeds of the eggplants and the walnuts, the mixture will still have a lot of texture.  This can be served hot, cold or at room temperature.  It can be served as a side or as an appetizer.  The eggplants can also be cooked on a grill, just keep your eye on them and don’t forget to turn them occasionally.  This stuff is like crack to me!  I love it!

Tyrokafteri or Spicy Feta Dip

yield: 2 cups

  • 1/2 pound good feta cheese, or the best available
  • 1/2 fresh jalapeno or scotch bonnet pepper, we like ours spicy so I use 1 whole scotch bonnet.
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup good olive oil

  1. Roughly crumble feta into food processor.
  2. In a small saute pan, sear outside of pepper.  When cool, cut if only using part of it.  For those who don’t care for heat, carefully cut out ribs inside and scrape out seeds.  That’s where the heat is more concentrated.  Since I’m a contact lens user, I always use disposable, rubber gloves so I don’t get the hot oils on my fingers and then transfer the heat to my eyes.  You only have to do that once to learn your lesson!
  3. Put pepper in processor and add olive oil.  Process until smooth.  Serve with crostini.  It’s great to take to a party.  And you can make it a day in advance.

Sauteed Mushrooms with Garlic and Fresh Mint

yield: 4 cups

  • 2 16-oz. containers large, white, button mushrooms, thinly sliced and sliced by hand
  • 4 or 5 large garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, leaves only, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

  1. Heat a large pan on medium high heat and add olive oil then mushrooms. As the mushrooms cook they will begin to release liquid.
  2. Add garlic and salt and pepper.  Stir so mushrooms cook evenly.
  3. Cook until mushroom liquid begins to evaporate and then add mint.  Allow some of the mushrooms to brown on the bottom of the pan, but be careful not to burn them.  They will darken to a beautiful chestnut color.  Serve on top of crostini with lots of wine!  This is also good hot, cold, or at room temperature.

Baked Zucchini with Feta

Saturday mornings will usually find me at the Swap Shop with my father, affectionately known as “Jungle Jack” or “JJ” instead of Granddad or Granddaddy.  We started going on our adventures about two years ago, Dad really needed to get out of the house and I wanted to spend more time with him.  He’s 89…and fabulous!  And we love the Swap Shop!  At this place you can get just about anything for your home or toolbox.  Dad was looking for batteries and I was checking out the wicked looking hunting knives piled up there in front of him.   Even in their sheaths they scared me!!  Machetes, meat cleavers, playing cards, sewing kits, rat traps, calculators, nails, outside paella pans… you can get it ALL here!  We have a little routine, the same every Saturday, beginning where we park.  Always the same area and as we walk in, I always pull the old lady cart, we play “Pick a Car”.  Pretty self-explanatory.  After dodging the cars pulling in, I’ll ask, “Hey, Dad.  You want to see your Syrian friend?”  “Yeah,  yeah!  Good morning, my friend!”  And after a quick fist bump, too much bacteria shaking hands, they launch into a discussion on the unrest in Syria.  This Saturday Dad bought two packages of socks from his Syrian friend, who cut him a deal and shaved $2.00 off each pair.  When Dad protested, the Syrian said, “No, no!  Don’t worry!!  I’ll get it back from the next guy!!!”  Our next stop is always “the Bird Man”.  His wife passed away a few months ago and for the first time I noticed a middle-aged bird groupie camped out on a folding chair in his booth.  Who’d a thunk?  We looked at the chicks, fighting cocks, (yes, they’re illegal), parrots, finches, love birds, it just goes on and on! He even has freshly laid eggs from his farm in one of those mini fridges!!  Dozens and dozens!  JJ picked up some supplies, “the bird seed looked GOOD today!”, and off we went to see “the Haitian Lady”.  Dad gets finger bananas from her and I get fresh mint, flat leaf parsley and scallions.  She’s beautiful and always smiling!  Known for wearing a red bandana and showing off the gap between her two front teeth, without fail she gives Dad a crushing embrace!!  This past weekend he said, “Jesus! She even got her hair in my mouth!”  I know he secretly likes all this attention.  At this point we’ve crossed from the far west side of the Swap Shop to the far east and now we’re going to double back, cutting through the kiddie rides.  The rides aren’t set up yet; teenagers in their bright yellow uniform shirts are lining up bumper cars, hosing down the walkways, taking inventory of tickets and generally straightening up.  I like this long walk back…we shout instead of talk, the salsa’s just BLARING out of the overhead speakers.  It’s kind of sad and tired looking but it’s part of our expedition so I appreciate it.  Somewhere along that walk Dad will say, “Listen.  I’m going to go see my Mexican friend.  I need some papaya and I want two kiwis.  Are you going to see your Tall friend?”  “I am.”  “Okay.  I’ll meet you by the orchids.  I want to talk to my Portuguese friend about his potting medium. ”  And off we go!  This week, from my Tall friend, I got 5 or 6 pounds of tomatoes, 7 zucchini, 3 eggplants, one large bunch of radishes with the tops still on, a large bunch of cilantro and 6 huge yellow-skinned onions.  I spent $15.00.  Walking out, we passed more vegetable and fruit stands, sugar cane and cane juice stands.  Dad and I looked at each other and when our eyes met, we smiled.  It was a happy morning for both of us!

Baked Zucchini with Feta

yield: 8 side servings or 4-6 as an entrée

  • 7-8 washed zucchini, grated using large holes of box grater
  • 1 large onion or 2 bunches of scallions, finely chopped
  • 3 cups fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 cups flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 cups low-fat, low moisture grated mozzarella (optional, but I like it!)
  • 2 cups feta, crumbled by YOUR OWN little hands!
  • 1 1/2 cups egg whites or 5 eggs or any combination
  • freshly cracked black pepper

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375°.
  2. Spray 9 X 13 pan with non-stick spray.
  3. In a clean, linen dish towel, place 1/2 grated zucchini.  Gather sides of dish towel and wring moisture out of zucchini.  Do the same with the other half.
  4. Combine all ingredients EXCEPT 1/2 cup mozzarella, if you choose to use that cheese.
  5. Mix ingredients well and pour into prepared baking dish.
  6. Scatter remaining mozzarella over dish, if using.
  7. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until bubbly on top.






If it’s Friday, it’s got to be pizza night

In our house during the winter months, Friday nights mean one thing.  Homemade pizza for my family and lots of brown likker for me.  My husband and son are Greek Orthodox and years ago requested that I not serve meat on Friday so they could take communion on Sunday.  Okay.  I can do that. I started making pizza every Friday night, salsa or classic rock blaring from the kitchen radio. I LOVE the Allman Brothers.  The kitchen door’s always open since you have to jack your oven up to at least 450°.  And on the counter, on a pretty, little napkin, there HAS to be a faceted, crystal DOF, 6 or 7 rocks cracking and popping around my favorite.  My poison.  My crack.  Wild Turkey 101.  Lord, I love that stuff.  Anyway, it’s Friday, so before I start pouring, and you know I will, let’s talk pie.  Pizza dough is quite simple if you allow yourself enough time and space.  The dough is versatile.  I use several different types of flour from all-purpose to whole wheat to white whole wheat…the list just goes on. If you choose a heavier flour you need to make a few adjustments.  First, I never use just whole wheat.  The end result is heavier than a door stop.  The ratio I use is equal parts, 1-1. The exception is white whole wheat. I’m using it tonight and I’ll use a full 3 cups. I think King Arthur makes an exceptional product and you can find it at all leading grocery stores.  I make the dough first since it needs a good 1 1/2 hour rising time so while it’s rising in a warm corner, I can keep on working.  I use one of two different kinds of sauce.  My red sauce consists of tomato puree, salt and pepper.  What I don’t use, I freeze.  If I choose fresh tomatoes I add draining time.  After they’ve been chopped finely, I drop them into a colander in the sink, sprinkle with just a little bit of salt and go on prepping my toppings.  Tonight I’ve decided on chopped plum tomatoes with shredded fresh basil, grated mozzarella, slivered onion and turkey pep, (pepperoni).  I know. That’s meat. But with the Greek festival coming up Jimmy doesn’t always make it to communion especially if he has a festival meeting on Sunday and he ALWAYS does.  And James is back at school.  Go Heels.  Back to toppings. I LOVE chopped tomatoes, scattered fresh dill, crumbled feta, chopped Kalamata olives, a little scattered mozz, spinach and a swath of good olive oil.  Remember, cut all vegetables a uniform thickness and know the combination is infinite! P.S. Mint is outrageous with sautéed mushrooms, roasted garlic and grated fontina!! I’m just sayin’.

Pizza

yield: 2- 12 inch pizzas (4 people with seconds)

Preheat oven 450°, 500° if it goes that high

  • Sauce:
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • salt and pepper to taste or
  • Fresh:
  • 8-10 ripe plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbls. olive oil
  • to taste, fresh basil finely chopped
  • salt and pepper

Dough

  • 3 cups flour, your combination of all-purpose, whole wheat etc.
  • 1 cup water at 115°
  • 1 packet yeast or 2 1/4 tsp yeast
  •  2 tbls. olive oil

Toppings: any of the following

  • fresh mozzarella
  • crumbled feta
  • grated fontina
  • zucchini slices
  • fresh tomato slices
  • kalamata olives
  • sautéed mushrooms
  • feta cheese
  • kefalotiri cheese
  • mizithra cheese
  • spinach
  • onion slivers, sautéed
  • freshly basil, chopped
  • fresh mint, chopped
  • fresh dill, chopped
  • fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • hot pepper flakes
  • the ubiquitous bagged shredded mozz
  • turkey pepperoni (fabulous. tastes exactly the same as conventional but not greasy)
  • turkey snausage (that’s not a type-o. Upsets my tummy. I’m just sayin’.)
  1. Combine ingredients for tomato layer and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour with yeast and warmed water and mix well. Add olive oil, mix well and add rest of flour. After mixing in bowl until incorporated, turn on to counter and knead until silky and smooth…5-8 minutes. Coat with a little olive oil, return to bowl, cover and put in warm corner to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  3. While dough is rising, prepare sauce of choice and cut any vegetable or herbs for toppings.
  4. When dough has doubled, punch down (yeah. hit it.) and divide into two or more parts. Whatever strikes your fancy and let rest for another 15 minutes.
  5. Dust baking sheet or pizza paddle with cornmeal and shape the dough by flouring lightly and flattening the dough with your finger tips and the heels of your hands. Shape into disks, stretch and flatten to desired thickness.  Don’t worry if the dough tears, just pinch back into shape and keep on going! Shake baking sheet occasionally to keep from sticking and add cornmeal as needed.
  6. Add sauce or tomatoes, toppings and place in oven.
  7. Bake 10-15 minutes depending on toppings.  Just look at it . You’ll know when it’s ready. Slice and enjoy!

Just so ya know, I forgot the onion tonight. I might have had a liiiitle too much to drink.  I’m just sayin’.

Tabbouleh, a salad girl’s favorite

Here in sunny South Florida, tabbouleh is a salad prepared over and over when the temperature rises.  It’s a year round, go to salad that is light and refreshing but with bulgur wheat as one of its main ingredients it’s substantial enough to act as a side AND as a vegetable.  I make mine more Middle Eastern, that is with more parsley and mint than cracked wheat. Lots more! Lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and tomatoes unite the dish making it a tangy, garlicky joy. It’s inexpensive and keeps well. We have it often with grilled chicken and fish.  (Like last night with grilled yellow fin tuna!) It pairs well with heavy meats, for instance lamb; the tartness of the lemons, tomatoes and parsley cutting through the richness.  It can be served as an appetizer with toasted pita triangles to scoop it up and also as a sandwich stuffed in a pita half.  And last but not least, it’s pretty! Looks good, tastes good..it’s a win-win!


recipe title=”Tabbouleh” servings=” 6-8″ difficulty=”easy”]

  • 1 heaping cup fine bulgur
  • 1 cup room temperature water
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup good olive oil
  • 2 bunches fresh mint, leaves coarsely chopped
  • 2 or 3 lg. bunches flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 5 scallions, chopped using green tops
  • 4 or 5 lg. garlic cloves, minced.  I use a rasper.
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 6-8 RIPE plum tomatoes, chopped
  1. Combine bulgur, water, lemon juice and half the olive oil in a large, non-reactive bowl, I use glass.  Mix well and set aside for 30 minutes at room temperature.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and toss well.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  Cover and let sit another 30 minutes until the flavors marry.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

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