I’ve been re-reading Tessa Kiros’ cookbook Falling Cloudberries this past week (yes, I read cookbooks like novels, front to end…) and I’ve been struck over and over by the lovely way she strings together words, then phrases, then sentences, finally paragraphs. Elegantly, sparsely, evocatively.
Kiros is half Greek-Cypriot, so her recipes and prose are steeped in nostalgia for my second homeland – of oregano and oranges and olive trees … In particular, a passage about my beloved Greece sticks out, I’ve all but committed it to memory:
I love the orange trees lining winter Athenian avenues. And the people who open their doors and their hearts to you. I love the Greek markets with baskets of gorgeous red just-flowered pistachios, piles of figs and very wild hilltop greens sitting next to indifferent mountains of underwear. Everywhere, amongst the pervasive smell of fresh oregano, there is an atmosphere of people doing their own thing, each stepping in tune to their own internal guide. Greece is magnetic, they say. Once you have stepped on Greek ground it’s hard to shake yourself free. Myth has it that it’s because your feet become stuck in the rich honey coating this country. It’s the only place where people have always wished me a good week, month, day, summer, winter, life, work… and a birthday wish to grow old with white hair.
Kiros, Falling Cloudberries (73)
I think all children of immigrants have a certain attachment to their adopted homeland. Indeed, I call myself an Athenian at heart, carry a near-innate nationalistic pride for my roots, my father’s roots. I spent much of my academic life thinking about nationalism, so it comes as no surprise on an intellectual level that I hold such deep-seated attachments.
And yet, it’s still puzzling, that as a child of a child of Greece, I call the country i patrida mas (my homeland) with fierce pride and that 25 Martiou means anything to me at all. It comes as a surprise that my heart can be so heavy for my vacation home, that I am able to smell the thyme and salt-water midnight air waiting for the ferry – that I conjure up the welcome death-dry Athenian heat in my bones.
I sit here gathering the collective stories of goats and mountain-tops with old stone mills and wild greens gathered roadside and beachside caves … recipes for a life well-lived under Cycladic sun. There are so many vignettes floating in my mind, that speak to the certainty of Greece’s glorious magnetic soil, so much to share.
My sister has a peculiar habit of hoarding produce – bunches of grapes here, a basketful of avocados there, whole vines of tomatoes ripening on the counter. And without fail, she’ll then leave the city for a swath of time, leaving me and the produce to languish and stare at one-another. A girl can only eat so many avocados.
Which is how I found myself this afternoon with seven spotted bananas on our dining room table. I’m not, unlike my sister, much for eating bananas out of hand – except sliced and smeared with almond butter on occasion – so they had been suntanning happily since E left last Monday.
The only sensible thing to do? Make banana bread, of course. Banana bread demands fruit that’s just about to turn – spotted, brown, yielding to the touch – which transforms into something sweet-scented in the oven, familiar like childhood.
This bread comes together in a snap – just six ingredients turned into a bowl and then again into a loaf pan. It’s happily eaten warm, straight from the oven, or wrapped up in slices to tuck away in the freezer and take with tea or throw into a weekday lunch.
The Simplest Banana Bread
I’m a purist, but I imagine this loaf would be delicious with a sprinkling of chocolate chips in the batter, or some chopped walnuts mixed in, or thinly-sliced dried apricots nestled throughout.
3 very-ripe spotted bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
1.5c unbleached all-purpose flour
1c brown sugar, as free of clumps as possible
1tsp baking soda
sprinkling of cinnamon, to your taste (I use 1/2 a teaspoon, or so)
1 standard-size loaf pan
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a loaf pan or line with parchment paper, and set aside.
In a bowl, mash bananas roughly with a fork. Add the eggs and stir to combine. Dump in the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and cinnamon, stirring just to combine. Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake for approximately 45-50 minutes.
The loaf is ready when its top is cracked and golden, and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Your house will smell like sugar-scented heaven. Makes one standard-size loaf.
I have made this salad for dinner every day this week. Six days running now, to be precise. Even for me, it’s a record in monotony.
The truth is: I’ll eat it for another six days, probably, if there isn’t an intervention. It’s that good. Some iceberg lettuce gets shredded and tossed in a bowl (I know iceberg lettuce has a bum rap from its appearance in one-too-many soggy chef salads, but it’s sorely misrepresented – its cold, crisp, elegant crunch is a winner in this salad); half a lemon gets messily squeezed over top, along with a glug of really good fruity olive oil, and a generous toss of fine sea salt. All this gets mixed together and dressed up with slices of avocado, how much depends on how decadent you’re feeling – I use quarter-to-half a fruit – and lashings of Parmigiano-Reggiano and some cracked black pepper.
It is a salad that sings – the cold, crunchy lettuce against the creamy avocado, the salty cheese and tart lemon, and the olive oil marrying the ingredients together. It is a salad at which I will happily declare my love: I’m an easy girl to please.
The grocery clerk has started to look at me funny, with all these heads of lettuce and lemons and avocados balanced precariously in my arms, but no matter. These are my salad days.
(makes one plentiful serving)
1/2 small head iceberg lettuce, shredded
1/2 medium lemon
a glug of your best olive oil, about 1 generous Tbsp
1/4 to 1/2 ripe avocado, thinly sliced
fine sea salt, a generous pinch (~1/2 tsp)
Parmigiano Reggiano, a few generous lashings
coarse black pepper, to taste
Place shredded lettuce in a shallow bowl. Juice the lemon over the lettuce generously and with all your might – the lemon is a key component of this salad. Add the sea salt and douse with olive oil. Toss gently to coat lettuce, and taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Arrange slices of avocado and the cheese over top, and finish with black pepper, to taste. The salad is a meal on its own, but I imagine it would be nice draped with a piece of fish, too – some grilled salmon or another similarly-fatty fish.
Via the Epi-Log on Epicurious – what ten food items do we require, most days, to really enjoy life?
And what a difficult list to compile!
This isn’t recipes, or favourite foods, or whole food groups (one person said “cheese”, another “fruit” — not so easy!) but single items that you turn to most days … the building blocks of your meals, the items that are dropped most often in your grocery basket, eaten or imbibed most frequently. An honest list of habits, if you will.
Here are mine:
- earl grey tea
- black Americanos
- fleur de sel
- fresh-ground black pepper
- fruity olive oil (usually Greek or Spanish)
- crusty bread with a good chew
- extra-firm tofu
- apples (my go-to crisper fruit)
- greens (perhaps I’m cheating here, but spinach, lettuces, kale, chards)
- crunchy almond butter (Nuts to You Nut Butter out of Paris, Ontario makes my go-to jar)
And some that were begrudgingly cut from the final list, for sake of ten, and because they are either seasonal, or not used every day:
- unsalted butter
- grainy mustard (I haven’t met a Kozliks Mustard I didn’t want to eat by the spoonful, and they’re Toronto-based)
- cooking onions
- the ubiquitous hunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano in my cheese drawer
- plain Greek yogurt
- squash of all kinds in the fall/winter
- asparagus in the late-spring
- tomatoes, peaches and green beans by the mound in the summer
It’s a good list, I think – or representative of how I like to cook, at least. Simple, uncomplicated, pared down food.
What does your list include?