Blog Post from May 2017: After 4 weeks of loads of travel, I am back home and getting back into real life. Interestingly, I have never been more organized with my content when traveling, especially before 4 weeks of on and of travel. I had plenty of content to share posts just as regularly while I was gone. From this time last month, until right now, I have been in Mexico, Portland Oregon and finally, Buffalo, New York. I’ve been down the road and back again, to say the very least.
This final leg of travel, which I just returned from last night, began as an innocent surprise trip home to see my family. I somewhat randomly selected this week, though it was my Mother’s birthday and my nephew’s first birthday, but it was just all a good excuse to come home and surprise everyone.
Sadly as the trip crept closer, I received word that my Grandfather had fallen ill and it wasn’t looking great this time. His body was failing him and it was his time. He was in Hospice. I kept checking in with my mother, from my trip to Portland, asking how he was and managing the wonder of what would happen if he passed if I was in Portland, mere days before my scheduled surprise trip. Could I book a rush trip back to New York from Portland? I would also have to spoil the surprise that I had worked so hard on and it would be a challenge cancelling a non refundable trip, just to come a couple days sooner.
Fruit and I have certainly had our ups and downs over the years. I like to describe our tumultuous connection using the Facebook relationship status of “it’s complicated”. In the past couple of years as I have worked very, very hard to get my gut issues under control, despite the usual suspects, I have come to find that many fruits, especially those highest in fructose to be one of THE biggest triggers in my chronic bloating, gas and general gastric upset.
This isn’t exclusive to me and it’s actually quite common with folks that struggle with bacterial imbalances in their gut, SIBO, leaky gut, etc. Fruits high in fructose can cause fermentation in the gut, which can lead to some not-so-pleasant after effects.
It took me some time to discover that fruit was one of the biggest culprits and more, it was hard for me to understand how a nutritious, healthful whole food, like fruit could be create such gnarly side effects. Seemed wrong. It was in experimenting with a low FODMAP protocol that I found some of the greatest relief and while there are still some fruits today, that I have to be careful with and mindful of how much I consume, it has changed so significantly over the last few years as I have worked hard to heal my gut and get my gut bacteria in better balance.
I am back in New York right now, visiting my family for the week. I’ve been home but a couple of days and it’s been jam-packed with family, friends, fun and of course – eating. We have yet to fill our faces with a Greek feast, but I know it’s coming, that’s always on my MUST-HAVE list when I am home.
In moving to California over three years ago, I have found myself learning how to recreate some of my most favorite Greek dishes that I grew up eating, as well as many that I didn’t. To me, Greek food is the flavor of family and comfort and it’s the taste of home. Good homemade Greek food is always what I crave when I am feeling homesick and missing my family. Lamb is certainly a Greek favorite and while we traditionally enjoy leg of lamb roasted or grilled, I have really come to love ground lamb, as meatballs, in homemade gyro meat, in moussaka or especially these tasty burgers.
Did you know that May is Celiac Awareness Month? I shared the following over on my Instagram account but I thought it was worth mentioning here, as well.
While I discovered my own severe gluten intolerance over 11 years ago, I was actually never properly tested for Celiac (until it was too late) and now as many years later, as additional health issues have shown up to the party, many of which you guys have read about right here on the website – I now certainly suspect Celiac to be the underlying cause. (Though I denied this truth for many years)
That said, frankly speaking, my 11 year journey of eating 100% gluten-free and guiding others on their path, no matter the need, it has always been about celebrating food, exploring ingredients and hopefully encouraging others to get excited to be in the kitchen and create. Fresh, seasonal, nutrient-dense whole foods – to me it’s all about the amazing things that are naturally gluten-free, rather than supplementing with overly processed substitutes.
That said, given the nature of my work and the fact that not everyone has the ability to work from home, cook all three meals a day completely from scratch and that many of you have a whole family to feed – I am also always on the look out for gluten-free products that will make life easier, while not being loaded with terrifying ingredients. Read the rest of this entry »
There is something so magical about the spring, all the beautiful new produce, the delicate, fresh and new little baby stuff especially makes me happy. It’s like seeing those adorable fuzzy little ducklings at the park following around their mama duck. They just suddenly appear out of nowhere and break your heart with sweetness. But, I also love that we still have the remnants of the long winter season, the hearty, long-lasting, robust foods of the colder time. Squash, the bright and fresh citrus, all the root veggies. Even though we are well into Spring at this point, the swing-season status of Spring lasts the longest of all, which I really adore. The crossover of produce makes for some of my favorite dishes.
We’ve been getting tons of beets in our weekly CSA boxes (community supported agriculture) from the farm and besides beet kvass, I have mostly been roasting them, as it’s my favorite way to enjoy the flavor of beets. The roasting actually brings out a subtle sweetness and takes down some of the earthiness for those that aren’t big fans of it. Plus roasting makes peeling beets a breeze, the skin literally slips right off. Beets are, in my opinion, a very underrated superfood, offering liver support by thinning bile to decongest a congested liver or biliary stasis or insufficiency. They also contain high levels of folate and manganese which support gallbladder function. Underground vegetables like potatoes, beets, carrots, etc – they also contain silica – important for collagen formation and for connective tissue’s elasticity and resilience. Silica also regulates calcium placement in bone and tissue. Beets also include fructooligosaccharides which is a great nutrient source for healthy micro-flora in the GI system. Finally, beets contain trimethylglycine, a methyl donor used in liver detoxification. Trimethylglycine is used by the body to detoxify substances by donating one of it’s methyl groups to the toxic molecule yielding a less toxic methylated substances and dimethylglycine. Dimethylglycine is also a methyl donor and is also used to stabilize toxic substances for further processing and elimination.
Being away from my family living in California, it has gotten a bit easier with time and there are less and less tears over random moments, holidays, but one of the things I miss most is Sunday dinner as one a big family.
I grew up eating delicious home cooked Greek food. My family, they know their way around the kitchen. Everyone has their specialties and their things. My mom is an incredible baker, while not Greek herself she has mastered Greek desserts and pastries, baklava, koulourakia cookies. My dad is the king of savory, the grill master, the Greek God of souvlaki, marinated grilled leg of lamb, roasted potatoes among many other specialties. Sadly while my dad makes THE best lamb you’ll ever eat, neither he nor anyone else in our family has ever mastered homemade gyro. Whenever my parents serve up gyro, which isn’t super often, it usually comes already prepared and frozen. Meh. It makes me sad that we aren’t making it ourselves. Also sadly, these pre-made gyro meats tend to be very processed and they almost always contains gluten, so naturally I won’t touch them. Short of going to a more traditional shop, cart or restaurant, where they cook the meat traditionally over a spinning spit or rotisserie – it’s impossible to get the real thing, I haven’t had it in many, many years.
Traditional Greek gyro, from what I have read, is made with whole cuts of pork, slowly cooked rotisserie style, and thinly shaved, while Americanized Greek gyro is the pressed, almost sausage-like, thinly sliced minced beef and/or lamb blend. Usually served in a pita, wrap style it is a meal that I never get to eat, yet I still find myself craving it.
I am home in New York right now, with my family, visiting and meeting my brand new nephew Keaton James, born just three weeks ago. As I was preparing for this trip home to Buffalo, I got giddy at the thought of all the homemade Greek food I would be eating. Greek food is my comfort, it’s what I crave at the holidays, when I am homesick or when I come down with a bug. Greek food from a restaurant is just never the same and somehow making a big feast of Greek food at home, just the two of us, while I do it occasionally, it just never tastes the same to me. This is the food best served with a large group of the people you love most. A big Greek feast needs to come with a side of very loud chatter, tons of laughs, stories from back in the day and it needs kids running around the very same living room that my dad ran around as a little kid.
‘Tis the season for sweets and treats, Christmas cookies and cocktails galore. You guys already know by now that I am one for balance and not setting such strict rules on yourself that you restrict everything completely and end up flailing around and ruining your lifestyle after one “slip up”. Balance and occasional indulging is important, especially during this special time of year. However, I am also someone that absolutely HAS to have my daily greens. It absolutely is not an option for me to skip out.
I believe a few treats here and there during the holidays can be a special indulgence without derailing all the special attention you give to your food, lifestyle and your health throughout the year. But, I also feel that just means it is more important than ever to make sure you are getting the good things. Nourishing, properly prepared, nutrient-dense foods – this is precisely the fuel our body needs to get through this hectic, and oftentimes stressful, time of year.
For me, scent is a huge memory trigger. The aroma of something can waft my way and instantly I am transported back to another time. I always think of the old cartoons where the steamy aroma of a fresh baked pie, suddenly morphs into a hand, quite literally coaxing and lifting up the characters and carrying them right to the goodies. Think Mickey Mouse being tempted by the vapor hand from the scent of a Minnie’s freshly baked cake, right to her kitchen window. This is likely seconds before she slams the window down and says “ah ah ah”. For me rather than being taken to someone’s window, I find myself reliving memories, remembering people I love and those times gone by. It’s one of my most favorite things about cooking, especially since moving away from my family.
Being Greek, growing up I was constantly surrounded by all the delicious, home cooked meals. There are still smells to this day that remind me of my family and most specifically my late, Great Yia Yia and my Yia Yia. The smell of potatoes roasting with garlic, cinnamon and honey will always make me think of baklava syrup simmering away on the stove top, cinnamon in a savory tomato sauce will trigger my nose to think of moussaka or pastitsio and a big pot of homemade chicken stock will always make me want avgolemono soup. Of course, chocolate melting will also get me, since my Great Yia Yia had a full-blown candy making set up in the basement, from her days of owning the ice cream and soda shop. They made some delicious chocolates!
Lamb was another food served quite often, whether, roasted, grilled or used in dolmades (stuffed grape leaves). Though not a food I make quite often, whenever I do prepare it, I think of all my family back home in NY, so I have certainly found myself making it more since we’ve moved out to California. It makes me miss our summer picnics with the huge Greek family, out at the lake, a big leg of lamb slowly grilling over an open fire, all day. Or my Yia Yia’s homemade Greek lamb meatballs, which my parent’s seemed to perfect quite well and made often when we were growing up.
Hving a weekly delivery of organic produce really keeps me on my toes. When we happen on the times where a certain food is repeated after a week or two, I really find myself getting creative. I pull out my Flavor Bible (if you don’t have this book on hand, you really, really must get it) and I study up on various flavor profile pairings that I maybe hadn’t think of. I’ll also grab random foods I have on hand, toss then together into my mouth and see what comes of it. Much like one of those cooking game shows where you have to make do with the random ingredients you are given, this is how many of my most favorite recipes are born. There are plenty of fails, of course, but most of the time I discover a new combination I never would have tried.
After a few weeks of apricots in a row, which I was mostly just eating like candy, from the fridge, I was inspired to come up with a quick snack with some of my favorite flavors. As with most of my recipes, there are many variations you can take on this recipe (I feel like there should just be a disclaimer about this at the bottom of my website).
For those that are 100% dairy-free, whether because you are allergic/can’t tolerate, vegan, paleo, on AIP, etc – simply leave off the feta cheese. You can also opt for goat’s cheese, if you prefer. I can tolerate a very small amount of sheep’s and goat’s milk on occasion, so I added a very small amount. The same goes for the coconut oil, this would be delicious with butter or ghee, if you prefer. If you don’t do honey, try maple syrup or another liquid sweetener of your choice, you could also try coconut sugar, for a deeper, richer taste.
I feel like I say this every year, but although there is far more produce available in the summer months, I am much more excited about cooking with the late summer, fall and winter produce. There is something so comforting and hearty about the foods in season right now, these are the vegetables you can create an entire meal around.
I am especially fanatical about it all this year, as I am very consciously trying to consume less grains and starches as I work towards learning to eat smarter for my body, given a recent diagnosis (more on that another time). I have been looking at food in new and different ways and trying to get creative with foods I have cooked with time and time again over the years.
In the summer months, I live on zucchini and yellow squash noodles, as an alternative to pasta, so I have been having fun coming up with the fall/winter equivalents. Sweet potatoes work great but all of the many squashes available come to the rescue time and time again. I’ve been enjoying butternut squash noodles, but most especially spaghetti squash, since no special tools are required.
It’s quite possible you have heard of Shakshuka (or Shakshouka) before, but it’s also pretty likely you haven’t. If you haven’t – I am excited to introduce you to one of the yummiest egg dishes you ever will have. I myself hadn’t heard of Shakshuka before late last year sometime. I recall seeing a photo of it in a cookbook then on Pinterest and it was love at first (and second) sight, before I ever even tasted it. I have made it several times since discovering it, always changing things up a little here and there. Bottom line is no matter how I make it, it’s precisely my kind of meal – an egg dish that can literally work for any meal. Breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Though the origin of Shakshuka is somewhat uncertain, it is a staple dish in Israeli, Morrocan, Tunisian and Egyptian cuisines, among many, many others. Wikipedia (and several other sources) says it to be of Tunisian origin – which is perfect considering my love of Tunisian olive oil.
Besides all of the many obvious things that we love about living here in California, one of my favorite things is the fact that we get to entertain so often. Our house here in Long Beach was meant for having guests. We have a really open living room, with tons of windows and great light and great fireplace for the cool nights, plus when the weather warms up we can host cookouts and dinner parties like crazy on our large deck. I am certain we have entertained far more in the first year of living in this home, than all 9+ years living in our home in New York.
I love well planned dinner parties with a theme, where everything matches and has a purpose. But just as much – I love a good thrown-together spur of the moment get-together where we just toss some burgers on the grill, pop open some bubbly wine or beers and enjoy the company of our wonderful friends. A few weeks back we did just that with our friends Dan and Debbie. We decided to get together and just grill some burgers and catch up. Nothing fancy. Just easy and simple. I swore I wasn’t going to fuss, it was going to be simple as can be and just about spending time together. Read the rest of this entry »