A brief history of eating, OR what happens when I try to explain my relationship with food (accompanied by gemista recipe)

Those who are here for the Gemista recipe please skip to the bottom of the post.

It’s no secret to anyone with whom I’ve ever had a conversation that’s lasted more than a couple of minutes that I love food. And I don’t mean that as in an “OMG, I loooove your new sweater” kind of way. I mean actual love. The kind that sprouts at a young age, when eyes and heart alike are hungry and eager, and which then evolves into a deeper kind of affection resulting from the understanding that the object of your childhood affection is indeed meant to be your partner for life.

It was easy for me to fall in love with food. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family and at a time and place where cooking wasn’t considered a nuisance to deal with between a zillion other things. It was more a daily ritual that left the kitchen brimming with smells I still associate with the warmth of a home and family life.

According to my mom, my grandfather taught my grandmother how to cook after they got married in Beirut and moved to Africa sometime in the 1940’s. I don’t fail to believe her for a minute, for my grandmother grew up being served from a very young age (that was before my great-grandfather lost everything, and out the window went the servants along with everything else he had single-handedly built, but that’s another story). Despite her late start, she proved to be a very avid student and evolved into a great cook herself. My father likes to say how he fell for my mother because she would make and bring him the best sandwiches with home-made keftedes and mustard at work. He didn’t find out the seducing meatballs were the work of my grandmother until after he married my mom. Ha! Who’s laughing now, dad?

Grandma Etta and grandpa Stelios on their wedding day in Beirut.
Grandma Etta and grandpa Stelios on their wedding day in Beirut.

I remember attempting to cook as far back as 1996-97 as a teenager. I experimented with basics at first: Easy stuff like pasta with different sauces and omelets. After that, the first couple of summers my parents would trust us enough to leave us alone in Athens while they spent some time at my father’s childhood home in Corfu, my brother and I were left to take care of ourselves and would take turns cooking and trying to top each other with every recipe we tried out. Suffice to say I’m very glad my brother was my first guinea pig. His stomach has withstood controlled nuclear experiments of destructive culinary forces time and time again, and for that I will be forever grateful.

Now, I won’t deny my dark university years. Everyone has had those. Who has time to cook when you’re busy meeting different people every day, missing lectures to drink coffee and play tavli for 8 straight hours by the sea, go out on tequila-shot drinking marathons and generally do everything you weren’t allowed to do while in highschool? Ready-made meals, a fridge containing mostly milk and water (god forbid I didn’t have the necessary ingredients for my frappé – it was the Dark Ages before the invention of freddo cappuccino) and cooking sessions that lasted 20 minutes at most and resulted in me surviving on pasta, rice and potatoes for a very long time, is the picture that painted the years between 2000 and 2005.

After I moved to Germany, the cooking landscape improved only slightly. I still didn’t dedicate much time and effort into preparing decent food, since I had the main meal of the day at the Kantine of the company I did my internship at. Those meals involved a lot of pasta (of course!), weird Auflaufs and pork in all possible forms. After I got my first real job I really, really wanted to, but rarely had time to cook. Travelling 80 km a day to and from the office with 10-hour sessions of me panicking every time the phone rang and a Swabian client started speaking in a language I had supposedly learned years ago but still couldn’t decipher, left me with little energy to do much more than weep when I came home late in the evening.

Which brings us to the years after 2009: Recently fired, with time on my hands and a kitchen to call my own after moving in with my then-boyfriend, I decided to finally take care of myself a little better. I missed my mom’s cooking so much and there was no other way to get Greek food where I lived (let us not open up the topic of Greek tavern food abroad) so I started using the recipes I had gathered from her over the years, experimenting with whatever I had in the kitchen and online recipes and generally having fun in the kitchen.

It’s been six years since and although I’m not half of the cook my mom is, I can finally say I am happy with most of what I make. Sure there are failures; I can’t imagine a single creative person (and don’t kid yourself, cooking is creative) who sails through life without a decent quota of flops accompanying his/her every endeavor. But with every recipe I become more and more the cook I’d like to be, which is all I can ever hope for.

Sometimes I am so proud of my achievements I commit the ultimate cardinal sin and post pictures of my creations on Facebook *cue shocked gasp by outraged readers*. One of those pictures piqued the interest of some of my non-Greek friends, and I promised I’d give them the recipe… which brings me to today. Phew! You thought this intro would never end, right?

The recipe in question is for gemista, a classic in every self-respecting Greek household during the summer months when the peppers, eggplants, zucchinis and tomatoes are in season and you can finally enjoy them properly. The ingredients may vary depending on what you like most. For this recipe I didn’t use eggplants because I didn’t have any, but you can add that to the mix in wedges, same as the potatoes.

It’s one of the few foods that taste even better on the second day than on the first and are even great when cold. It takes a while to prepare, but it’s definitely worth the effort. And if you care for such details, it is also gluten-free AND suitable for people of the vegan persuasion. Because that is how Gemista do.

Here goes nothing.

Gemista (serves approx. 4)

Ingredients

6 medium to large tomatoes (preferably beef tomatoes, because they are juicier and big enough to fill properly), hollowed out

2 zucchinnis, hollowed out

5 peppers, seeded (whichever color you prefer, the green ones give the rice a heavenly aroma but tend to have a slightly bitter taste when cooked, so it’s really a matter of taste)

2 large potatoes

1 large onion

A bunch of parsley

Olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

A pinch of sugar

1 tablespoon of short grain white rice per vegetable (in Germany I use the rice used for rice pudding, it has the right texture), in this case 13 tablespoons of rice.

 

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 200 °C

Wash the rice thoroughly until the water is clean. Rinse, drain and put aside.

Cut the top part of the tomatoes, peppers and zucchinnis so as to use it as a “cover” later.

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Seed the peppers.

Scoop out the pulp of the tomatoes with a mellon baller and empty it along with any remaining juice into a bowl.

Hollow out the zucchinnis and dice what you removed. Put in bowl with the tomato pulp and juice. Dice the parsley and add to the vegetable mix.

Dice the onion and put into a pan with 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir over medium-high heat until glossy, then add the vegetable mix.

Add the rice and lower heat to medium, stirring frequently, adding salt and pepper to taste, along with the sugar.

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The mix should be juicy, if you notice the rice absorbs the liquids too fast, grate a tomato and add to the mix, or add a little water. The rice should cook in the sauce, but it shouldn’t be done all the way. It will be cooked through in the oven.

After the rice has cooked for a while remove pan from heat. Fill the hollowed-out vegetables, which you’ve put in a baking dish. Don’t fill them up completely, just 2/3 of the way. The rice will almost double in volume when it cooks and will be thankful for the extra space (if it could feel gratitude, which I am assuming it does).

Peel and cut potatoes in wedges. Place in the baking dish with the other vegetables.

Place the tops of the vegetables and pour olive oil over everything. Again, don’t be stingy with the olive oil, it should go everywhere. Add salt and pepper on the potatoes and some on top of the vegetables. Add some water in the dish.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake in the oven at 200 °C for half an hour. Then lower heat to 180 °C and bake for another 30 minutes. After the first hour, open oven, remove foil and stir the potatoes. Scoop some of the liquid in the dish and pour it in every one of the vegetables. Place the dish in the oven again, this time without the aluminum foil and bake for another 20-30 minutes.

The vegetables and potatoes are ready when they look something like this.

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There shouldn’t be a lot of liquid in the baking dish in the end. Just the oil and some vegetable juice. Wait at least 30 minutes before eating. Eat with fresh bread and feta OR Greek yoghurt. Yes, you heard it right! Yoghurt goes with everything. Trust me.

I’d love to know how the recipe turned out, in case you try it. Since it’s my first attempt at “localizing”  a recipe, I’d appreciate any feedback on whether or not the instructions were helpful.

Have fun cooking and most of all, enjoy the fruit of your labor!

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Seven Deadly Sins, A YA Anthology available on Amazon & freeze frame fiction’s first birthday

Today is a glorious day.

Not because the sun is shining  or because our dryer got delivered this morning. Not even because I prepared the asparagus risotto I love so much for the first time this year –although all of the above already amount to a pretty awesome day in my book.

No. Today is glorious because it’s the day our “baby”, the Seven Deadly Sins YA Anthology – Pride was published. It was a long and challenging process but we did it and you can now buy the delicious fruit of our labor from Amazon as an eBook and a paperback.

cover_amazon

If you don’t want to pay for your copy (we get it, we’re tight on cash, too) you can join our Facebook launch party and enter a giveaway for a free eBook copy. What are you waiting for? The giveaway ends April 2.

But that is not yet all.

Today also marks freeze frame fiction‘s first birthday. It’s been a year since Dino Laserbeam published the first issue of this amazing new publication, focusing on great flash fiction.

As if that wasn’t enough reason to celebrate, this issue also includes a flash story called Replay, by none other than the nose featured on my profile picture. The artwork accompanying the story was created by Luke Spooner, a.k.a. Carrion House.

Replay

Stop by freeze frame fiction, read the issue and show some love for the people who put it together.

All previous issues of fff are available for purchase on Amazon as well.

Looking forward to seeing you at the parties. I’ll be be the one in the corner with the stupid smile on her face.

Have a great month everyone 🙂

Cover reveal – Seven Deadly Sins YA Anthology: Pride

There are few moments I have dreamed of more, than this one: A story I wrote is included in a book, one you can actually touch and leaf through, place on your nightstand and smell. I’ll stop before this becomes even more inappropriate.

The book in question is the first volume of the Seven Deadly Sins YA Anthology with Pride as a theme. The Anthology centers around teenagers doing their thing with a twist … cue the cardinal sins.

This is a collaborative project we have nurtured with much love with my fellow Scribophile writer friends, and we hope it will find young adults and adults alike that will love it as much as we do.

Today I get to present you with the cover, done by extremely talented illustrator Luke Spooner, a.k.a. Carrion House. Ready?

Pride Cover

Luke graciously agreed to an interview about himself and his background as an artist, which  you can read on the SDS website.

The release of the ebook and paperback is scheduled for April 1, 2015 via Amazon. There is a Facebook launch party you can join. I really hope to see you all there!

How to survive an intercultural family vacation

My husband and I live far away from our respective homelands. Almost 2,000 km away.

Germany somehow “happened” for both of us. We never intended on setting up camp here. We were both passing by on our way to other countries, jobs, friends and mispronounciation incidents. It was a stop on an itinirary we hadn’t planned out, but instead it became a starting-point.

Being this far away from our family and friends, means we have to divide our shared free time between three or more countries every year. The logistics of this can be daunting and so we have introduced what I like to call the “inter-European meetup”, which includes at least four family members who don’t speak each others’ language, vast amounts of alcohol, creative body language, moments of panic upon the realization my father has gone missing … again, and the invention of several new words.

We are about to embark on another such trip, this time in beautiful Spain. I’m very excited about this reunion, mostly because this time I bring with me the experience I gathered during the previous two, which boils down to these survival points:

Make a plan

One of the hardest things to manage in an intercultural family trip, is everyone’s personal tastes and opinions voiced at the same time in three different languages.

I’m lucky enough to be married to someone who loves making plans, organizing trips and has a very close relationship to Excel. After we sat down together and decided what we wanted to do and see during our stay in Spain, we consulted with his family there and made a detailed plan (with timetables and everything) and sent it to all parties involved: cousins, siblings, parents and friends who tag along for the ride (I call these people “masochists”).

The less room for discussion you leave, the less arguments will likely arise during the journey.

Take someone with you as a buffer

This could be a sibling/friend who can communicate with everyone else in any way possible (hand-gestures, smoke signs, an invented language) or someone who is willing to distract aforementioned family members, long enough for you to regather your thoughts, take a bathroom break or steal a minute of peaceful silence in a dark, safe corner.

Take a break

Approx. 3 hours into the first visit of both our families in Germany three years ago, I felt like my head was about to explode. There is reason I never applied for the simultaneous interpreting master’s degreee at university, but somehow life decided I was apt to take on such a challenge.

So here I was, talking to two or more people at the same time, all posing questions, asking me to translate a joke, or just wondering where the coffee mugs in my kitchen were. I realized then, that time-outs are a must for my sanity.

Our parents got along perfectly last summer in Greece, when we went to a small seaside tavern and my husband and I opted for sitting at a different table after we realized there wasn’t enough space for everyone at one place. They laughed, sang and danced, without us interpreting everything for them all the time.

This time we decided to take this a step further: the hubby and I have arranged an entire (!) afternoon/evening just for the two of us at a music festival in Bilbao. Suffice to say, I am psyched at the idea of just listening to music for several hours. Oh, the joy…

Remember to enjoy yourself

No matter how stressful such holiday trips might be, I always look forward to them. There is nothing like uniting two families who live on different sides of a continent, bonded by the sheer coincidence of their children having met in a foreign country at the right time and fallen in love.

We are lucky enough to have families who get along splendidly, despite cultural, linguistic and age differences. I love the mess, the laughs and adventures we get into when we’re together.

My father now has his own song. It’s called “¿Dónde está Nico?” and was inspired by his constant deviation from our approved itinerary, in order to take the “scenic route” to our destination.

We all now know that “Vale” means both “enough” in Spanish AND “pour” in Greek, after witnessing the panicked look on my father-in-law’s face when my father almost overflowed his wine glass, obviously following instructions to pour some more.

We no longer discuss whether Spain or Greece has better beaches, but instead enjoy the different landscapes when we are in each country (always knowing that Greece is the obvious winner in the debate).

So, until I’m back I wish all my American friends a happy 4th of July, all my German friends another win at the World cup next week and all my other friends a wonderful weekend, no matter where they are.

Things to do instead of writing

1. Wake up, check emails, eat breakfast. At 11 p.m. deliver translation to client. Spend the next three hours working on various writing projects without actually writing. 

2. Watch Neighbors. Consider adding Zac Efron to your Laminated Celebrity List. Decide against it, since you only have five spots and three are already taken by Ryan Gosling. 

3. Consider working out. Don’t work out. Go for a coffee with a friend instead and talk about wanting to work out.

4. Read post on random site about automatically translated Chinese signs into English. Laugh at the absurd yet somehow eerily creative turns of phrase. Add post to list with links to send to future clients when they claim translation is a monkey’s job when you demand to get paid for it.

5. Watch World Cup and pray for Greece to win. After Greece wins, spend the next hour reminiscing about the 2004 European Championship. Realize it’s been 10 years since you partied on the streets of Corfu that heavenly summer. Feel very old. Make sure to apply moisturizer after washing face before going to sleep tonight.

Picture by Sonja Langford http://www.unmorceau.com/

6. Watch John Green’s interview at the Colbert Report. Giggle when Stephen Colbert says that “A Young Adult Novel Is a Regular Novel That People Actually Read“.

7. Fantasize about writing a “Fault in Our Starts”-meets-“The Perks of being a Wallflower”-meets-“High Fidelity”-meets-“To kill a Mockingbird”-hybrid-uber-novel. Remind yourself that plan requires you to actually sit down and write. Postpone said writing to a non-yet-determined future point in time.

8. Finish day by writing a blog post about the various ways to procrastinate on any given day. Go to bed feeling very accomplished.

 

8 Things I would’ve told my teenage self

Being a teenager isn’t easy. Hell, it sucks most of the time. If it didn’t for you, then you probably shouldn’t read further.

I was an awkward, insecure, uber-sensitive girl, who daydreamed most of the time and had a knack for getting pushed around even by the family dog.

Sure I had some good times. Everyone does. But I was mostly plagued by thoughts of worthlessness and by the time I was 17 I couldn’t wait for highschool to end.

I would gladly forget many things about my teenage years, but I made sure this would never happen. Like most creative girls with no internet access I did the one thing that helped me keep my sanity back in the 90s: I kept diaries. As in plural. As in I have recounted every incident of my early years on this earth with the kind of detail that would make an anthropologist studuying the psychology of pubescent girls, pee a little in his pants from joy.

To make things worse, I decided to dust off all those notebooks of excruciatingly detailed teen angst and read them during a short stay at my parents’ house last week.

While I read I wished I could take that girl by the hand and tell her some things that would hopefully make her life less, well … crappy is what I’m going for.

And despite the fact these are the things I would tell my teenage self back in 1997, I’m pretty sure they still apply today, in the age of social stalking networks, instant access to all kinds of information and, let’s not forget everyone’s favorite: gluten demonization.

 

1. 99.9 % of the things that happen in high-school don’t matter!

You know that girl who called you four-eyes back in the 7th grade?

Or the boy that found your Always pads in your backpack and flaunted them like some extra-terrestrial object in front of the whole classroom that then laughed at the fact that OMG! You’re a girl?

I know they suck balls but trust me: They all don’t matter. Sure you’ll remember them, but they will no longer mean anything to you by the time you’re 22.

(This asssuming you’re not like Susie “Underpants” Moss in “The One after the SuperBowl”, in which case, forget what I said. They deserve to be left naked, wearing a pink thong in a restaurant restroom).

 

2. A friend doesn’t treat you like crap.

If someone treats you like a stinky piece of poo THEY ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND.

That includes supressing you, talking to you like condescending assholes, telling you to “tone-down” your character because it doesn’t suit their image, taking you for granted, lying to you, forgetting about you whenever it suits them… Ring any bells?

 

3. Confidence doesn’t come from wearing the right clothes or knowing the right people.

It doesn’t come from having a buttload of money or a boyfriend. It comes from (and I throw up a little in my mouth at how corny this sounds – but it’s true), wait for it…

BELIEVING IN YOURSELF.

Trust who you are. Trust in what makes you unique and embrace the hell out of that shit!

You can have all the money in the world, date the hottest guy in school, know all the cool people and still be plagued by more insecurities than a plastic surgery addicted Hollywood starlet, who prefers to pretend she’s other people because being herself is too damn hard.

 

 4. You will NOT always feel so damn alone

(Assuming you take into consideration points 2. and 3.)

As soon as you start respecting and accepting yourself, you’ll meet people who will appreciate you for all the things that make you, you. Those are the friends you want to hold on to (and those are the ones you should actually befriend while in highschool — they are there, you just need to open your eyes).

 

5. Assholes are gluten-free versions of REAL MEN.

(replace “asshole” with “bitch” if you’re a “he”)

You know the guy when you were 19 that ripped your heart out, took a dump on it and then lit it on fire?

Yes, well, he was an asshole.  Don’t dwell too much on it. Some people can’t help the fact they’re assholes. Everyone is destined to meet (and probably fall for) at least one such specimen of the male conviction in their lives.

Think of it this way: Falling for an asshole is like eating the really awful gluten-free products wrapped up in a nice package to convince you they’re are actually good for you, and then tasting the awesomeness that is REAL pasta and REAL bread. You learn to appreciate the good stuff so much more.

That’s what that asshole was. A gluten (i.e. heart)-free version of a human being. My advice: As soon as you reach your minimum asshole quota for a lifetime, get on with your life and open your eyes to the good ones. They’ re out there… (cue X-Files theme music).

 

6. Don’t WORRY So much!

Seriously. The universe won’t come crushing down if you get a D in Chemistry. (I know scientists who have confirmed this). You will be fine.

There’s people who’ve made a life for themselves without acing every single test in their highschool lives. Education is important, no doubt about it. Study if that’s what you know you need to do to accomplish your goals, but don’t drive yourself crazy over it. You’re a kid, act like it. Which brings me to my next point:

 

7. To hell with all those who make you feel bad for being a KID!

Christmas was, and still is, one of my favorite times of the year. When I was a kid, it was a custom in Greece for children to go from door to door and sing traditional Greek Christmas carols. In return people gave them money or sweets. When at the sweet age of 15 I went to sing Christmas carols with a friend, I got laughed at in the face by another “friend” for being such a “baby”. S*** THAT! I can’t stress it enough: Your childhood is the only time in your life you get to be a kid. You can be an adult for the rest of your (hopefully) looooooong life.

Don’t try to act all grown-up because acting your age isn’t cool. That’s bullshit.

You want to build a Death Star mock-up? DO IT!

You want to sing loud and dance and enjoy yourself at a party? DO IT.

You want to play at the swings? DO IT.

 

8. Family isn’t uncool (at least not as much as you think they are)

I know you would rather be caught dead than be seen with, or spend more time than absolutely necessary, with your parents. I get it. It’s okay you’d rather spend every waking hour with your friends. They go through the same stuff you do and get you in ways your parents don’t.

Just remember to hug the poor bastards that do everything for you every once in a while and be kind when you can actually reign the crazy in. Those moments don’t last long, so take advantage of them when they do.

Your family is there when no one else is. Appreciate them for the fact they love you the way you are.

 

I could go on and on and on with this list but I think I’ve made my point.

Being a teen is like being a work-in-progress. There’s so much potential. Don’t let it get muffled up by the white noise other people create around you.

You will be fine.

 

Here’s proof:

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Burn

I started several stories last week, but was able to finish only one, which is now eagerly awaiting its second rejection from an online magazine. And despite the fact this poem wasn’t written inspired by the flaming stare I give the screen every time a “thanks, but no thanks” email lands in my mailbox, I like to think of it as multi-faceted enough to fit such occasions.

Just replace “lust” with “dread” and you get the picture.

 

Burn

Look for the light inside these eyes

search for the flame behind them

that simmering glow

of Lust disguised

will tell you tales of wonder

It pierced through dark

and cut like knives

it broke through walls of thunder

This fire is fierce

it burns and thrives

this Fire

will bring you under