Cooking: A Trip to Memories and Emotions
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Cinnamon sticks, mustard powder, a leather doctor’s bag, and a recipe
- I could never imagine your passion for cooking! We all loved the feasts at your house, and we considered you an excellent cook but cooking professionally would make you so happy that it has not passed my mind. My best friend from university and I were sitting in my restaurant’s yard, talking about my trip from quitting my job in the law field ten years ago, a decade before retirement, to opening a successful restaurant off the beaten path in a village of 250 people. - I find cooking an excellent excuse to meet and communicate with people. I’ve been brought up this way. If you liked the feasts at my house in Athens, you should have seen the ones at my parents’ house when I was a kid. Anyway, I love to cook with the recipient in mind. To pleasantly surprise them, to satisfy them taste-wise, to make them feel welcome and relaxed in a cozy environment, to take a sweet memory of their visit, and to make them want to come back. There is so much creativity, goodwill, and good humor in this process of making joyful contact with others! So different from dealing with the dysfunction of human relationships, that was my earlier job. - Having seen you behind a desk or on a courtroom bench, doing nothing but paperwork, I didn’t expect you to enjoy your hand on onions, garlic, tomatoes… When the fresh vegetables arrived earlier, your face lit up. There was tenderness in how you passed your hand over the glossy eggplants as if you were caressing them, in how you held the lettuce close to your face to smell it. - I love all the ingredients I use, or I use only ingredients I love; I can’t tell which is which. For example, I love onion and garlic. I love herbs and spices too. I depend on them for the result I want; their ability to add character and deliciousness to even the flattest flavors is incredible. When vegetables are fresh and in good condition, I can almost feel their vegetative soul, and sometimes I talk to them, describing what a delicacy we are going to cook together. When they are wilted and neglected, I am relieved by the idea that they will make good compost; I cannot take the idea of them being thrown away as useless. They result from cooperation between man and nature — effort and development that cannot be wasted. - Are there any ingredients that bring you childhood memories? - Cinnamon and mustard powder The aroma of cinnamon reminds me of my father, standing in front of the stove, ready to taste Sunday’s beef braised stew. He did it in a particular ritual. He would lift the pot’s lid; that is where the smell thinned out with the warmth and sweetness that the cinnamon added to the sauce, turn it upside down, put on a slice of bread, two spoonsful of sauce on the top, and a small piece of meat. Then turning his back to the stove and leaning on it, he would enjoy the tasting and the irritation of my mother protesting: For God’s sake, George, take a plate, not on the pot’s lid! - And the mustard powder? Did you have such a thing in the Marathon village back in the sixties? - Grandpa Theodoros, my grandfather’s brother, used to bring it every time he visited us. He came from Athens regularly and stayed with us for a few days to have a break from his daughter-in-law. She was a witch; I had heard the grown-ups saying when they thought we kids weren’t listening to them. Back then, a basic parental principle was not to gossip in the presence of the children. It was lousy modeling and carried the risk of accidental revelation. - Was he welcome? - Absolutely! He was a short old man, quiet, noble, and aristocratic, incredibly “chic” compared to the old men of the village, even the most well-groomed ones. For he did not speak himself, the story of his life seemed to all of us to be a myth. He had left his small village as a child, as had my grandfather when their father died. At a very young age, he found himself an immigrant from Greece to America, where, I know not how, he became a successful stockbroker, a business which he continued in Athens when he returned at a mature age and in which he was succeeded by one of his sons. He liked to cook for us. My mother appreciated that he didn’t leave the kitchen “a mess” like my father and grandfather did when they messed around with the cooking. He always carried an aged leather doctor’s bag, one of those old ones with the flat bottom and the folding metal frame on the spout that opens wide when the handles are separated and pulled, in which he kept various odds and ends. One of these was the yellow tin can of English-origin Colman mustard powder. The yellow color of the tin adorned with the red Colman’s Mustard inscription, the calligraphically printed information about the product accompanied by pictures of the medals it had won made its contents seem precious. Grandpa Theodoros used the yellow powder to emulsify vinaigrettes, as he called them, dressings, as my mother called them. He even used it in Greek salad, which he made more toothsome than most. His secret was the vinaigrette he made by whisking olive oil with some vinegar, a few drops of honey, and half a teaspoon of mustard powder until thickened, which he tossed on the salad to which he had added a grated tomato. Only during his visits did we eat Greek salad this way. Nobody adopted his recipe as if it was a luxury, not befitting the toiling daily life of that time. Here is the recipe:
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Ingredients: · 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil · 1 ½ teaspoon red wine vinegar · 1/2 teaspoon honey · 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder · 1/2 teaspoon oregano fresh or dried · Salt · 3 large plum tomatoes coarsely chopped · 1 medium plum tomato, seeded and grated · 3/4 cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped · 1/2 red onion, chopped · 1 green bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped · 1/2 cup Kalamata olives · 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese Instructions: Make the dressing by whisking the olive oil, vinegar, honey, and mustard powder. Season with salt to taste. Put the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, green bell pepper, and olives in the salad bowl. Toss the dressing, and sprinkle with oregano and feta crumbs. The salad is ready for serving.