Friday, April 26, 2013

My Mom's Youvarlakia...

Angeline Xanttopoulos
Today would have been my mother Angeline Xanttopoulos's 88th birthday. And so I decided to make youvarlakia, one of my mom's specialties and one our favorites -- and from a recipe of hers that I had written down on October 4, 1998.

For the uninitiated, youvarlakia are meatballs made with rice and finely chopped onion, and laced with minced fresh mint -- all mixed thoroughly "without over-handling." The meatballs are then rolled in flour and gently dropped into boiling chicken broth -- not unlike matzo balls for matzo ball soup -- and simmered until the rice is done. Eggs are beaten with lemon juice and "avgolemeno" is made with the broth, either as soup or thickened with cornstarch as sauce (and always a bit tricky so the egg doesn't curdle).  Serve the youvarlakia as a filling soup or made larger as a main course with the sauce.  Both are winners if you do it right.

When was in Greece last November, I had some excellent youvarlakia at Bouris Restaurant in my grandmother's hometown, Koroni, Messinias -- at one of the only places I could find there with cooked Greek food ("tis katsarolas") and not just grilled items ("tis oras"). They were delicious and served with another of my all-time favorites, boiled dandelion greens ("horta") with olive oil.  But good as those youvarlakia were in a perfect setting, they just weren't as good as my Mom's. Mine weren't that good either.  I'll keep trying, but there will always be something missing...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Remembering Papou George Sarris

Recently I was with someone who said he was waiting for his woman companion to work the room so they could leave -- he had been ready to go for awhile. Immediately, I remembered the many times when my grandparents George and Eugenia Sarris would be leaving from somewhere, or so Papou thought. There he would be waiting, with his coat on and hat in hand -- he had some great grey fedoras -- while my grandmother continued to work the room. He was a man of few words: "Evghenia!"

George N. Sarris
It is easy to remember my Papou, as he was a great if quiet influence on our lives: cook par excellence at home and at the Palace Candy Store (my brothers are carrying on the tradition), self-made agronomist and animal husbandry guy in the tradition of Greek villages, and carpenter-plumber. He grew vegetables and fruit (like the yummy blackberries that grew along the fence), raised chickens and rabbits, and built/repaired things we needed -- all in his 2-part backyard or garage on 1633 W. Alpine. To me, there was no more exciting place to snoop around in than that garage -- and I still have a few of his hand-tools.  If he ever was angry enough to yell at you, you knew that you were in serious trouble!

Papou also mowed his own lawn and some of the neighbors' lawns. I can still picture him working in extreme heat with a handkerchief tied around his neck (or on his head) and his strong, bare arms glistening with sweat. Every time I see gardenias in the backyard of my building in Miami, I remember the gardenias and oregano growing in large pots on their front porch.

Last, but certainly not least, George Sarris was omnipresent in the foyer of St. Basil's Church on Stanislaus Street at the end of his life, taking care of the candles -- while actually having been one of the Founding Fathers of that church as Greek-Americans got settled in Stockton in the 20's and 30's. He left his village Kiparissi, Lakonias, (accesible only by sea) in 1910 along with others looking for a better life...

Quiet, industrious, strong-minded, dependable, gentle, not showy -- that was my Papou.

Please post memories of your Papou by clicking on the "Comments" link at the bottom of this post, so that they can be shared with others.