Sunday, May 9, 2021

Pandemic Mother's Day - A tribute

     As the veil of the pandemic appears to be lifting a little, with many people now vaccinated and cases in the United States on a downward trend, I emerge from my grief cocoon to pick up the thread I dropped back in the early days of this terrible virus. My hands had been too numb from all the loss we've endured during this time.

That was when mom was still alive and I hoped that she'd have enough in her arsenal of almost eighty-nine years to fight this invisible but deadly invader.

    Instead, mom died alone at midnight on April 15, 2020 and we buried her in, what I call, a drive-by funeral. My sister and I walked into the funeral home that had done us a favor to take care of mom's remains, when no other funeral home in New York had the capacity to do that. When the cemetery in Astoria, where my dad lay in his grave, had at least twenty burials a day; when no flowers were allowed to be delivered, and when only three cars, they said, could ride with the Hearse to the burial.

    I had frantically searched for a way to have flowers brought for the funeral, because mom always said that there must be flowers for a funeral. My sister was able to find a Greek Orthodox priest to do an abbreviated service at the funeral home, and there we were, just the two of us in front of her casket draped by a lone wreath of flowers, in a room full of appropriately distanced, empty chairs. My two brothers were outside in their cars, too afraid to come inside, as the funeral home attendants unloaded cardboard casket with remains after cardboard casket with remains into the funeral home.

    I walked up to Mom's casket and I longed to place my hands around it and embrace my mother for the last time before she was buried under ground where I would never again be able to reach her. But the fear of contagion was so big, that I stood there, over the casket, frozen, my hands numb and unable to reach out even to touch the casket.

    "Are you even in there?" I wondered aloud, after the brave priest sang the funeral hymns, which was a relief because I knew how important these rites were to mom.

    The Funeral Home Director overheard my wondering and offered to show me mom's last photo, taken when they went to retrieve her remains. 

    "She's not going to look the same as she did when she was alive," he cautioned.

    "I want to see her, " I said, my voice steady. "I want to see her."

    He took out his cellphone and found mom's death photo, probably among hundreds of photos like hers taken in that terrible time of relentless death, and showed it to me.

    There was mom, eyes closed, the life drained from her. But still it was mom, and I was grateful that, at least,  I was able to bear witness to her death, even just by seeing this last photo of her. I wanted to reach inside the phone and stroke her face, kiss her forehead. I wanted to be able to touch her one last time. 

    We buried her in the grave where dad had been waiting for five years. We were not even allowed to get out of our cars. We managed to have the four cars enter, even though they'd allowed only three, as mom has four children who could not even share a car for fear of contagion.

    After they lowered the coffin, they motioned us to leave. We did not get out of our cars, and we did not hug or cry together, for the woman who gave us all life and nurtured us through all those struggles of life. We texted each other and then we each drove, bereft, to our respective homes.

    I write this and the tears are streaming down my face, on this Mother's Day without her. I've seen the reunion photos of people who have been able to see their elderly mother or father again, after a year of lock-downs. My heart ached because I will never be able to have that with my mom. 

    As I am compelled to reach out and pick up that thread of writing again, though, I feel as if I'm reaching out and taking her gnarled hand in mine. 

    This is my own reunion with mom. 

Happy Mother's Day Mom.

Your daughter, Maria


Friday, April 10, 2020

Coronavirus Pandemic 2020- A tribute to mom

Cyprus Flaounes

As mom lies alone in her sickbed at the nursing home, I roam the house feeling helpless.
I'm thinking of what I could do for the woman who left her small village at twenty years old, bore four children in a foreign country without her mother, fed, clothed, washed, changed, educated, loved all of them the best she could.
On this blog, I have mom's recipes for some of the most beloved traditional foods.
One of them is Eftyhia's Cyprus Flaounes, which I see is one of the most viewed blog posts on this blog. Also, her Mom's Cyprus Eliopites, Olive Breads, are also very much viewed and  hopefully baked. As we are facing this crisis and cannot bake our traditional Easter Breads, the only thing I can do is write a tribute to my Mother and all mothers around the world.

Mom returned to Cyprus in 1960, only to flee with her family back to New York  in 1964,
when the Turks bombed the island. In 1967 she returned to Cyprus where we lived until the Turkish army invaded on July 20, 1974. This time, there was no return. Turkey still occupies the one third of the island they took during the invasion, and expanded during a cease fire.

The small hotel, Casablanca, that she and my father built and completed in 1974,
has been used since as a hotel for Turkish Army Officers to take their R&R.

With all that adversity, she and dad continued raising their family and lived for the past 46 years in New York.

This past November, she fell and ended up in a nursing home. Just as we got used
to that idea, the coronavirus hit the world worse than a meteor. Nursing homes, of course, are very vulnerable. We found out two days ago that mom has been running a fever and coughing. She is getting tested for the virus. We haven't even been able to contact the staff to find out about her vitals and her fever.

The world is in such crisis that for days no one has been answering the phones on the floor.
How do I know what's happening with my mother?

Just got word that she's alert, talking and eating! We have hope.

Hope that we will see each other again, speak to each other and tell the stories of our ancestors.
Hope that we will share our traditional breads, whose  recipes have been preserved here, because mom can no longer remember them.

Hope for humanity and an end to this cruel Pandemic.


Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Squash and Poplano Pepper Quesedilla with Roasted Tomatillo salsa

When I saw this recipe, I was mostly intrigued by the Roasted Tomatillo salsa. I had never tried a tomatillo salsa and even though I saw the little green pods at the markets, I had never tasted the fruit inside.

So, off to the market I went and bought the ingredients. In the meantime, I asked my friends whether they had ever tried the tomatillo sauce. And a good thing it was because I discovered that the raw tomatillo sauce that I had originally seen in the recipe could be a little too tart for some people.

 So, off to the internet I went in search for a roasted tomatillo sauce recipe.
I have to say the result was so good that I have been putting that sauce on everything! Salad, soups, avocado, plain old bread, you name it! It has a fresh, bright, spicy flavor that wakes things up!

 But, it really goes with the squash and poblano quesedilla.
It makes a great appetizer if you are having company and a nice ight dinner if you are just having a family dinner at home.
 Okay, okay, here's the recipe:

1 small/medium acorn squash
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons diced white onion
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
1 clove garlic, minced
2 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled and cut into strips
Salt and pepper to taste
10-inch flour tortillas
1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend of your choice
 Butter for frying quesadillas
Tomatillo Sauce:

1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatillos or 3 (11-ounce) cans tomatillo
1fresh jalapeno
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
 2 teaspoons coarse salt
    1. Preheat broiler.
    2. If using fresh tomatillos, remove husks and rinse under warm water to remove stickiness. If using canned tomatillos, drain and measure out 2 cups. Broil chiles, garlic, and fresh tomatillos (do not broil canned) on rack of a broiler pan 1 to 2 inches from heat, turning once, until tomatillos are softened and slightly charred, about 7 minutes.
    3. Peel garlic and pull off tops of chiles. Purée all ingredients in a blender.
• Salsa can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Ancestors

Mom always said we came from a long line. In the village, we had unending numbers of cousins to roam the ancient paths with, and to play along in the orchards and olive groves planted by our kin.

I never paid much attention to her and grandma’s chattering about the ancestors and genealogical lines. Yet, perhaps by osmosis, some of that precious history infused my soul and filled my head with stories of castles and Reginas.

Pappou Konstantas, Father’s father, an imposing giant of a man, whose palm could crush a newborn’s head, yet gentle in his toothless grin, recited old folksongs to me in the night and whispered superstitious stories.
“There’s the diamond-headed snake in the ravine,” he would say to me every time we hiked by.
“Really Pappou? Have you seen it? ” I would ask wide-eyed.
“Yes,” he would nod.
As much as I searched for the glint of the diamond on a slithering snake’s head in the reeds, I never managed to spy one, but in my mind’s eye where I still see it.

Stories ran across the fabric of my DNA and I snatched as many scraps as I could gather and folded them deep in my heart. 

When that fateful day when clocks stopped and the war separated me from my storyline, these became my inspiration and my lifeline that connects me to my severed past. The child of war held tight to the red ribbon of the ancestors and thirty years later reunited with the adult me. No longer fractured, I now write, unspooling the silk my grandmother spun at night when she talked with my mother by the light of the kerosene lamp. The long shadows danced around the room, a puppet show of our souls, and I sat, without cellphone, radio or TV, mesmerized by the lullaby of their stories.
Oh, what I would give to be there again, on the land of my ancestors, soaked with the sweat of generations before me.
The fullness of knowing the stories of your people shines a warm light in those corners of the heart where loneliness lurks.

It became strikingly clear to me while traveling in South East Asia, where people worship their ancestors, that my history makes me whole. It’s not a worship like for a god. It’s an acknowledgment and gratitude for those who paved the way.



Saturday, November 3, 2018

Delacroix at the Met

Fist of all, Happy Halloween everyone! The Metropolitan Museum always does great decorative displays for each Holiday season.
It was a dreary Friday and I couldn't think of any better way to spend the afternoon than go visit my favorite Museum!

Eugene Delacroix, the iconic, eighteenth century, French painter, regarded as the leader of the French Romantic School of art, was a prolific painter during his career. He produced over eight hundred paintings, thousands of drawings and sketches and many pages of writing.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently held  the most comprehensive exhibits of his work. 

A self portrait said to have been made while in his forties.

 "Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi"
This painting was displayed at an event raising funds in support of the Greek Revolution against the Ottomans.  A woman in Greek costume with her breast bared, arms half-raised in an imploring gesture before the horrible scene personifies the suicide of the Greeks, who chose to kill themselves and destroy their city rather than surrender to the Turks. At her feet, a hand reaches out through the stones, the body having been crushed by rubble. The painting serves as a monument to the people of Missolonghi and to the idea of freedom against tyrannical rule. This event interested Delacroix not only for his sympathies with the Greeks, but also because the poet Byron, whom Delacroix greatly admired, had died there.

I mostly displayed here the paintings that were inspired by the Greek revolution against Ottoman rule. This was happening during Delacroix's life from 1821 to 1830.
The exhibit, however, is rich with many more paintings and subjects that I have room to show here. I suggest you take yourself over to the Met and have a look for yourself!


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Howdy Folks

Hi blogosphere friends,
It's been a while since my last post but I see that my followers keep viewing my previous posts. It's just very heartening to see that the work I've done can withstand the test of time!

Speaking of withstanding the test of time, this spring, my husband and I were in one of our favorite places in Greece. Cape Sounion, which is amazing how it has withstood the test of time!

The ancient columns loom over the Aegean, which you know from my post about the Aegean myth.
The landscape around the temple is delicate, with diminutive wildflowers growing out of the rocks.
 The Bay below is a popular anchorage for yachts.

This beautiful mama bird with her brood has often been there to greet me. I suppose they nest in the surrounding cliffs.

 As her chicks roamed about, mama was always not far behind.

It's such a privilege to be able to enjoy the temples of our ancestors.

A shout out to all the viewers around the world who are enjoying my blog! I'm amazed at how far reaching it is.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Metropolitan Museum of Art -Rei Kawakubo Comme De Garcons -Art of the In-Between

This exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum is one of the most interesting takes on fashion as art.
 I wasn't able to convince my husband of that, he just couldn't see the beauty of it!
 Yet I was enchanted by the rich folds of the fabrics, the vivid colors and the fluid shapes that "dressed" the minimal mannequins.

Some of it was evocative of Beyonce's crown in her Mom video.

The exhibit surprises, delights and raises questions about fashion. I'm glad I didn't miss it!