Category Archives: greece

It’s a Tomato Extravaganza!!!

August 19, 2017

Hi everyone, it’s summertime, so I am going to talk about summertime things.  Ready?  Summer always reminds me of the beach.  And the beach always reminds me of my favorite place to vacation, Greece.  And Greece always reminds me of my favorite Greek island, Santorini.  And Santorini always reminds me of tomatoes.  Wait.  What?  Yep, I said tomatoes.

This magical island with an honest to goodness active volcano is known for its little tiny tomatoes or domatakia.  Apparently the volcanic soil on this island is the perfect place to grow sweet little tomatoes, dry them in the hot sun and store them in olive oil.  Forget the sun dried tomatoes you used to know.  A jar of Santorini tomatoes is like eating a mouthful of candied sunshine.  Yes, I did just say that.  I know in my heart that if you could taste the sun it would tastes like a sweet, little tomato.

I have been to Santorini many, many times and I will probably go again and again and never tire of it.  The island has to be the most architecturally beautiful and geologically unique place I have ever visited.  Red beaches, black beaches, and white beaches.  

(By the way, if you ever go to Santorini, go to red beach.  And if a little old man pulls up to the shore in an old wooden boat yelling, “White beach, white beach!” Do yourself a favor and get on his boat, survivor style, backpack over your head wading through the water and let him take you to white beach…you won’t regret the adventure.)

Back to our regularly scheduled program…

Every town on Santorini has those traditional white-washed cave homes, perched precariously on the lip of the volcano’s caldera looking like hundreds of little sugar cubes just waiting to slide down into a coffee cup of blue Mediterranean water.  Too much?  I don’t care!  It’s a remarkable place.  I can’t possibly do it justice with words. I want heaven to look like this island.  Pictures don’t capture the scale of its beauty.  You just have to go and see for yourself.
So tell me, what kind of person are you?  Do you like to vacation to a different place every time you travel?  Or do you love going to the same place over an over again?  Me?  Sure, I like different places, but I am notoriously loyal and known for going to the same place over and over again and exploring more and more of it.  I just want to absorb a place I love.  Know it like the back of my hand.  Be a regular at the local taverna.  I want to go where everyone knows your name.  What?  Wait, never mind.   Anyway, I am like that with Santorini.

Many years ago, when I was still single, I went to Santorini with my then friend and now koubara, Despina. We stayed in Fira town, the capital and did all the crazy things you are supposed to do on this island. We walked up and down hundreds of steps to get to the old port. We took a schooner around the island which stopped at the volcano, which we then walked on. We saw air vents that let out hot steam. We worried about said volcano blowing.  We had lunch at Thirasia eating donatokeftedes, tomato fritters.  We climbed up more stairs in Oia while avoiding a pack of donkeys who were also climbing the same stairs. We went for a wine tasting and drank ALL the wine.  We watched the sunset with a thousand of our closest friends. True story. And then we shopped for what they are known for, vinsanto and capers and domatakia. Oh and really expensive jewelry.  By accident.  But that’s a story for another time.  Eeek!  Back to the tomatoes. I couldn’t get enough of those domatakia.

So here is how you can make some of your own and get a little bit of “island candy” for the summer:

Domatakia – Oven Dried Cherry Tomatoes

A pint of cherry tomatoes

Olive oil


Slice washed cherry tomatoes in half.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt.

Bake at 250 degrees F for 2-4 hours (depends on size of your cherry tomato)

Pop them in your mouth like candy.  Or put them in your salads or pasta.  Or put on top of your avocado toast, if you’re in to that sort of thing.  (There is an avocado shortage by the way…something about too many hipsters photographing avocado toasts on Instagram!!!  LOL)








Where Have All the Faeries Gone?

September 18, 2016

Did you see the moon this weekend?  It was a harvest moon and it was HUGE!  It was one of those moons that was big, round and kind of golden with perfectly placed dark clouds passing through it.  You know, a fall moon.  A spooky  moon.  A moon that makes you think of ghosts, goblins and other absurd things.  Ah, the absurd.  My friend T has a favorite expression, “revel in the absurd” and that is exactly what we did this moonlit weekend.


“Chicago Pinup” by artist Jason Brueck of Alter Images (I bought that at the West Loop Art Fair)

My husband had plans to go to the Echo and the Bunnymen concert with his buddies on Saturday, so I called up T and told her to “get her pants on” because we needed to go have a spontaneous adventure.

My first thought was that we needed to find a little place to enjoy a drink and some small snacks.  Maybe at an outdoor patio, so as to take advantage of the warm weather we are still having in September.  Winter is coming and before you know it Chicago will be a city of unrecognizable people in ski masks and big puffer coats.  So we ended up at Scofflaw, where we ordered a couple of cocktails and smothered this burrata cheese topped with olive oil, apples and pistachios all over our faces.


We started talking about movies and that maybe we should go see one later.  But the only movies currently in theaters were of course those halloween-like, slasher films.  Ugh fall season movies, the worst!  We decided that our imaginations were WAY TOO overactive to go see a slasher film.

I mean, remember the movie Signs with Joaquin Phoenix and Mel Gibson?  You know the one about crop circles and aliens?  Yeah, THAT film!  This movie sat with me so much that I thought there we aliens in my home for over a week.  Too much.  Too much.  I can’t.  My brain just has way too overactive an imagination.  I don’t even like sleeping without my arms and legs being tucked in under the covers (because you know, monsters under the bed and all, ha!)

So we decided going to the movies that night, was OUT.  Next stop, ice cream.  The closest ice cream shop was Black Dog Gelato.  I had the olive oil almond and T had toasted coconut.  And about 4 different “tastes” of some other gelato and sorbets.  Did you know cucumber and rosewater makes a divine combination?  It does.  I have to figure that one out at home.


On the heels of our “oh I can’t do a scary movie” conversation, T and I started talking about something else we couldn’t do.  Turns out we both couldn’t tolerate listening to crazy, scary stories about faeries or “neraides” as they are known in Greece.  I like writing “faeries”, it’s so British.

Anyway, back to neraides…they are these supernatural pixie-like creatures that frequent streams, mountain forests or the bottom of trees and can take various forms.  And they are mostly not good.  Okay, never good.  Almost EVERYONE in Greece knows someone or has someone in their family that has dealt with or seen these bizarre woodland nymphs.  And it FREAKS. ME. OUT.  I am not sure what upsets me more, the possibility that these fantastical creatures exist or the fact that there are people who swear up and down that they have dealt with these faeries.


Did you know that faeries apparently are non-smokers?  Let me explain.

My grandfather once told me a story about his close encounter with the spritely kind.  Many, many harvest moons ago, when he was younger, he went to divert some of the village’s well water to his crop of sultana grapes in the middle of the night.  These grapes are specific to making raisins since they are seedless.  What?  I thought you would want to know.  Anyway, on his way back home, a dog wearing a bell was following him.  My grandfather stopped and turned around to look at the dog and it also stopped.  And then it would start following him again.  Stop. Follow.  Stop.  Follow.  Again and again.  So my grandfather suspecting that this was not your regular run of the mill dog, took out a cigarette and lit it.  And POOF, the dog disappeared.  This freaked my grandfather out.  And it FREAKED ME out more when he told me the story.  What on earth?  Thanks pappou, there is no way I am sleeping tonight!

Apparently, a lit cigarette is the super top secret weapon to making these mischievous pixies disappear.  You heard it here first folks.  Now why he had to go “water his sultana grapes” before the butt crack of dawn is beyond me.  My mom claims it’s because farmers would water their fields at night when it was still cool. Watering crops during the day was a no-no.  The sun would make the water too hot and ruin the crops.  Well, that’s great, but when faeries and disappearing dogs are lurking, it seems a bit risky.  Don’t you think?  Forget logic!

Which begs the questions, “Where have all the neraides gone?”  I know you are singing that last sentence to Paul Cole‘s “Where have all the cowboys gone?”  Aren’t you?  That’s okay, I am.

T thought it was a valid question and so we made an attempt to ask a reputable source,  a Greek in Greece, since they are apparently all experts in faeries.  We wanted to know why there weren’t any documented faery encounters in modern times.  Of course, it was the middle of the night in Greece and we would have to wait until the next morning to find out via WhatApp.  Hopefully, our source wasn’t on a middle of the night grape watering project or collecting honey from mountain forests.  Eeek!


The next morning, T and I went to Lula Cafe in Logan Square, because that is what I do every weekend, and she told me that her family had a similar story as my grandfather’s.  Apparently, her grandmother’s brother was walking alone at night, smoking a cigarette and guess what?  A bell wearing dog was following him.  What???  I know crazy.  Is this the national pixie story of Greece?  Does this particular pixie prefer to transform into a dog?   Who can say.  But in this version however, the dog transformed into a more recognizeable faery and told him, “Good thing you have that cigarette.”

Come on!  Stop!  I can’t anymore!

Everyone in Greece acts like these faeries are bad news, but so far it seems that they are all anti-smoking champions.  Well, our Greek source was no help.  They still believed in neraides and wasn’t sure where they were hiding.  I offered that perhaps the faeries had enough of Greece’s #1 past time of cigarette smoking and moved to another country that had tougher anti-smoking laws.  T suspected that they were perhaps in hiding in this modern age because faeries feared being captured in a picture on someone’s phone who would subsequently post it to Instagram.  Well I know I would.


I couldn’t take it anymore.  I wanted an answer to why no one had a modern pixie story.  So I asked my mom.  And her thoughts were that old world peoples, our elders, were much more innocent and kind hearted than people of today.  So only the innocent would be able to see such things as faeries.  And today, society is not so innocent, even evil at times, so the faeries fear us and stay hidden.

I have to say, while I think this whole pixie business is bunk, I think there is some hidden wisdom or symbolism in my mother’s words.  Think about how man has poisoned the streams these faeries are supposed to frequent.  Think about how many trees and forests man has destroyed.  The mystical essence of Mother Nature is continually being damaged.  Am I getting too deep?  Maybe.  But I think you know what I mean.  Maybe there is a message to be found here.

After lunch, T and I met up with another friend of ours E at the West Loop Art Fair.  As we strolled up and down the art exhibits in the blinding sun, we asked her if she had heard any stories about faeries on the Ikarian island where her family is from.  She said, “No sorry.  Ikarians were too Communist to believe in faeries.”

So there you have it folks, neraides are apparently afraid of cigarette smoke and communism.

True story.  Do you have any tales of old world faeries?  Tell me in the comments.

Have a great week everyone.  😉






Having a Cold and My So Called Life

September 10, 2016

You know when you sneeze and you think it allergies?  And then a few hours later your throat is a little scratchy?  And then by nightfall your nose is running like Niagara Falls?  Yeah, not allergies.  You’re done for.  Ugh.  And I have had this cold since Tuesday, and it’s a bad one…waaah!!!

So, I haven’t gone anywhere all week and basically have parked my runny nose and Kleenex box on Stanley the sofa watching TV.  Yes, my sofa has a name.  It’s the best sofa on earth.  I got it 10 years ago from Montauk Sofa and it was the best purchase of my life.  It’s the sturdiest, most comfortable sofa ever made.  If a hug could be made into a sofa, it would look land feel like Stanley.

I could write a whole blog post on Stanley the sofa, but I won’t.  (Maybe another time.)  Today, I am going to write about what I did all week while coughing and sneezing.  I watched My So Called Life on Netflix.  Do you know about My So Called Life?  You should.  It stars a teenage Claire Danes as Angela Chase, an angsty teen and her love interest Jordan Catalano, played by a then unknown Jared Leto.  Yes, THAT Jared Leto!  30 Seconds to Mars Jared Leto.  You guys, where was I in the 90s?  What was I watching that I missed this the first go around?  Friends?

I cannot believe how good this show is you guys.  Or should I say “was”, since it’s technically a cancelled TV drama from the 90s.  And do you know how I know it was so good?  I watched all 19 episodes.  ALL. OF. THEM.  Night after night, just me,  Jeff and my Kleenex box on Stanley the sofa, glued to the TV.  (You’re not supposed to know that Jeff watched too…so, shhh.  But he loved it also.)


I am really quite surprised at the range of topics this show dealt with back then in the 90s…unrequited teenage love, illiteracy, alcoholism, guns, school violence, homophobia and homelessness.  The series wasn’t only forward thinking, it holds it’s relevancy to this day.  I think that’s why I am so struck by it.  And why on earth was there only one season???  I HAVE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WITH ANGELA CHASE AND JORDAN CATALANOOOOOOAAAAHHHH!!!

Look at this!  20 years after the show got cancelled Vanity Fair wrote and article about My So Called Life wondering what would have happened in Season 2.  Vanity Fair!  They even want to know what happens!!!

But you know what I realized while I was sick and struggling to breathe because of my ever-dripping nose?  I was doing something very Danish and the very thing I have been talking about the past few weeks.  I was inside my home, on the most comfortable sofa in the world, snuggled under the coziest throw blanket watching a seriously excellent TV series with Jeff…it was so HYGGE!!!


Can I talk about this throw blanket for a minute?  I saw this blanket at Crate and Barrel and just had to have it.  It reminds me so much of Greece.  This patchwork-pattern is reminiscent of a traditional Greek “kourelou”.  The world “kourelia” means rags and way back in the day, it was common for Greek women in the village to take pieces of fabric from old shirts and dresses that ceased being useful and repurpose them into these beautiful loom-woven rugs, or “kourelou”.  They were bright and colorful and the weave was very distinct.  There is no mistaking a Mediterranean “kourelou”.

Here’s a Greek company, called Kooreloo that makes purses, satchels and backpacks using the traditional “kourleou” pattern.  Aren’t these bags totally cute?  I totally want one.  Or two.  Or three.  I mean, come on!  What a clever little idea.  So super cute.  Dare I say that the “kourelou” weave is to Greece, what the Burberry check is to Britain?  It’s true.

Anyway, if you are ever looking to binge watch a TV series to practice your hygge, I recommend you wrap yourself up in a blanket and watch My So Called Life.  And then message me so we can commiserate about why there wasn’t another season and where on earth was Tino?



source: @abcnetwork

Γεμιστά! Say what? Why say stuffed tomatoes when you can say “yemista”?

July 31, 2016

Yemista should be called “yummy-sta”…ok, forget I said that. Still friends?
It’s summer. It’s August. It’s hot. All the veggies at the farmers market are seducing you.  It’s high season for tomatoes and peppers. And that salad you keep making, BORING! So what do you do with all of your tomatoes and peppers? Stuff ’em, I say.
Stuffed tomatoes and peppers are pretty delicious and easy to make. It’s one of those throw ’em together and forget ’em dishes. It’s the classic summer-time meal taking advantage of your excess tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.  Yes I know you over shopped at the farmers market.  I saw you!

When I was younger and before adulthood and responsibility set in (a-hem, and a full time job…waaah!) I spent the entire summer in Greece, relaxing on the beach, reading a book and watching the waves while sometimes contemplating if I wanted a cappuccino fredo or a frappé. Hey, coffee selection was a critical decision back then. I miss when life was that simple…but that’s another blog post.

Upon my return, the “welcome back to Chicago” meal my mom would make for me was yemista. She would make a whole pan full of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplant, stuffed with rice and ground beef, baked in the oven, filling the kitchen with the smells of summer.  The smell of Greece.  Yes Greece smells like a roasted, stuffed tomato.  Trust me.  Let’s ignore the fact that you are baking in the middle of summer okay? Turn on the AC. Thank me later.

Actually, this is one of the cute ironies of this dish. You have to make this dish in a hot oven in the middle of the hot summer. That’s when tomatoes and peppers are at their finest. If you try to make it in winter, fail! Sad boring unripe, un-flavorful veggies. Summer-time stuffed tomatoes = hipster irony. 

Anyway, this meal extended that summer vacation feeling just a little bit longer. A little. Kind of. Ok not really. All it did was make me instantly nostalgic for my favorite beach in Greece, the sun, the waves, the coffee, the music, the food, my tan. 
“But you were just there yesterday,” my mom would say. “How can you miss it already?” This from a woman that calls her brother in Greece to make sure he sent her shipment of olive oil for the year, and required me to bring her mizithra, mountain oregano, dried sage, chamomile, honey, and Greek Coffee. “Papagalos brand okay? The rest is not coffee.” Oh she doesn’t miss it at all. Sigh. So yes, this dish can do that for me.

And so, I bring to you this recipe to transport you to a small Greek village for a few hours. Just imagine sitting in the sunshine with some fresh ripe tomatoes stuffed with rice and ground beef, peppered with fresh mint and slathered in olive oil. Serve with a square of salty feta and a little retsina and you’re set.
So let’s be ironic and make this hot dish in the middle of the hot summer! Yaaas people! Here’s how…

Yemista: Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers
Serves 4, or 2 incredibly hungry people (this recipe has been scaled down from my mother’s version which is enough to feed a small town in Greece)

4 ripe medium to large tomatoes
1-2 green peppers (or eggplant, or zucchini, choice is yours)
2 potatoes cut into wedges
1 small red onion finely diced
1 clove garlic
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 cup of rice
1/2 cup crushed Marzano tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons finely cut fresh mint
Salt & pepper

How to make this rockin’ dish:
1. Begin by slicing the tops off your tomatoes and peppers and scooping out and hollowing out the core and seeds with a spoon. Salt the interiors a little bit and arrange in your baking dish. Like this:

 (As an extra flavor bonus squish the tomato cores between your fingers, strain and save the resulting tomatoe juice to top your dish with before placing in oven)

2. Sauté your red onions in a tablespoon of olive oil.  Add your clove of crushed garlic.  Finally adding the ground beef to brown.  Season with salt, pepper and your freshly cut mint.  Add 1/2 cup of crushed Marzano tomatoes and saute until cooked through.  Set aside.

3.  Peel and cut your potatoes into wedges, seasoning with salt and pepper and placing them around the tomatoes and peppers in the baking dish.

4. Go back to your sautéed ground beef that has been cooling and add 1/2 cup of rice and stir.  Begin filling your tomatoes and peppers about 1/2 way to 2/3 full.  Make sure the filling is placed loosely inside so that there is room for the rice to expand while baking.

5. Place the tops on your veggies, pour the tomato juice you set aside earlier over them also adding a 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the baking dish.  This will help the rice cook through. Drizzle olive oil over the veggies and potatoes to help brown.

6. Bake at 400F and forget about it…well, only for about 1.5 hours (try to check on them every 30 minutes to make sure things are moving along). it’s ready when the rice is cooked through and the veggies have browned.

Serve, eat and enjoy!

I have been thinking a lot about Paris this week…

November 21, 2015

I have been thinking a lot about Paris this week.  It’s been a little over a week since last week’s tragedy.  Les mots me manquent pour exprimer ma tristesse, mais mes penseés sont avec vous.  I have never been to Paris, but I have felt a connection to this city ever since I was little and for the craziest reasons.  And so when Paris is in the news, I can’t help but think about other things too…


Photo credit: How Sweet Eats

Few people know that my mom’s hometown in Greece, Filiatra has a miniature “La Tour Eiffel” at the entrance of the town.  And that her town is also known as “mikro Parisaki”…mini Paris or micro Paris, if you will.  Oui, c’est vrai.  Those that know it, know that it’s NOTHING like Paris, except maybe for the ornate, antique bronze fountain in the town’s square, but we love it anyway.  It’s a small, rustic town about a kilometer and a half away from the sea, in the southwestern Peloponnesian prefecture of Messinia.  You’ll find tractors parked in the street as easily as you will find a Peugeot.  The sidewalks might be a little cracked but the cafes are plenty.


La mini Tour Eiffel de Filiatra

How might you ask does a miniature Eiffel Tower end up in a small agricultural town in southwest Greece?

Well, I’ll tell you.  An old doctor named Haralambos Fournarakis, was so enamored with the French language and culture, that he changed his last name to Fournier and gifted to his hometown of Filiatra this replica of the Eiffel Tower.  Back in the day, it used to sit in the courtyard of the foreign language school. Later, when the school closed, they moved the pint size Eiffel Tower to the main entry of the town, so that there would be no doubt where you were as you drove in…”we’re in mikro Parisaki now!”  Of course there is a sign that says “Filiatra” just so you don’t worry that you drove way too far and ended up in France.  Very kind of them.  😉

Adding to this absurdité the miniature Eiffel Tower of Filiatra has even claimed it’s 15 minutes of fame by starring in a Gorden’s Space Drink commercial too.  I’m not kidding, look!  Click here!

But let’s get back to Paris.  Let’s celebrate all the joy and bon vivant they have been generous enough to share with the world.  I love their language, their food, their style and their cafe lifestyle.  They gave us le camembert, le cafe au lait, la boeuf à la Bourguignonne, le vin, la champagne et la bouilliabaisse.  Oui!  And they gave us the le Renaissance, la Revolution et la Reverie.  They are the city of lights and l’amour.  A city of thinkers and philosophers.  So in my “micro-way”, in honor of Paris and it’s Eiffel tower, this girl whose roots stem from a micro-Paris in southwest Greece, I offer to them, and to you, a twist on the classic French recipe, Croque Madame Egg Cups.

Mais oui!  Allons-y!


Croque Madame Egg Cups – Adapted from Rachel Khoo’s “Little Paris Kitchen”

Makes 6, serves trois 😉


6 eggs

6 slices of sliced bread (I used Udi’s gluten free)

6 oz of swiss cheese

3 tbsp of melted butter

3 slices of Virginia ham

For the béchamel sauce

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp flour (I use Dove’s Gluten Free White Flour)

8 oz of milk

1 tsp dijon mustard

1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

1 oz of grated gruyere cheese

salt & pepper


Preheat oven to 350 F.

Start by making the béchamel sauce.  in a small sauce pan, melt a tablespoon of butter, then add the flour.  Slowly add the milk, whisking the whole time so that you avoid clumps.  Then add the dijon mustard, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Take the sauce off the heat once it’s thickened and add the gruyere cheese.  Set aside.

Cut the crusts off the slices of bread and then roll them flat one at a time.  Once you have done that, brush them with melted butter and fit them carefully into a muffin pan to form the toasty “shells” of your crock madame.

Next, tear pieces of ham into each egg cup and then carefully crack open an egg into each muffin.  I like to use small eggs for this recipe, but if you have large ones you can pour out some of the whites so that your muffins don’t overflow.

Once you have each muffin filled with the bread, ham and egg, spoon a couple of tablespoons of béchamel sauce over each one and top with the remaining swiss cheese.  Place in the oven for 15 minutes.

And in the wise words of Julia Child, bon appetite!



Le jambon


Les ouefs


Le sauce béchamel

Au revoir =)