Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Magical Mystery Tour - Day 15 (Proof of George Sarris in Crockett, CA!)

(Originally published without the photos on 12-3-14)
Sitting here at the bar of the unexpectedly beautiful The Dead Fish restaurant overlooking the Carquinez Straits in Crockett, CA - and marveling at discoveries made at the Crockett Historical Museum on the last day of my Magical Mystery Tour.

This morning I had set out from Stockton -- via the suddenly familiar CA4 West along the Delta -- for Crockett, to revisit the town where Papou George Sarris lived circa 1920 before marrying Yiayia in San Francisco. Did not know why he was in Crockett or with whom. By that time the C and H sugar refinery was in full operation. All I had was a photo of him in his apron in a candy store/fountain circa 1920. My aunt Libby said he owned the place. Did he really?

You betcha! The museum's Keith Olsen patiently ran the names in the "Crockett Signal" newspaper archive and pulled up ALL the references. Bingo!

George Sarris first shows up in the paper in 1915 donating $1 to charity. Later he was involved with the Louis Sarris Co. candy store/fountain -- also referred to as the "Palace of Treats" and whose opening was postponed, possibly because Papou had "entrained" with 11 other Crockett boys and was at Ft. Kearny for a few months. The series of sweet shop ads run in the Signal were priceless. 

On August 8, 1919, the Signal reported: "Louis Sarris, the popular candy man, has sold his store opposite the Hotel Crockett to his brother, George...Mr. Sarris expects to leave in the near future for Greece to join his family."

Louis Sarris is a newly-discovered step-brother and perhaps the mystery man in several old photos. Still not sure why they went to Crockett or exactly when Papou left there -- eventually for Stockton where his sister Sofia and Bill Demakopoulos owned the Palace Restaurant next to the Fox (now Bob Hope) Theater. There Papou cooked and made the fillings for chocolates hand-dipped by Yiayia Sarris and others.  Just like See's! No pictures of the Palace inside, but I can still close my eyes and see them...And it looked a lot like the Crockett store!

L. Sarris Sweet Shop (circa 1920)

I am very proud of my Papou George Sarris and very happy that my brothers and I all got his cooking gene. Kali Orexi!

NOTE: The Signal also reported that Papou was involved directly in some catch-as-catch-can wrestling matches held in Crockett in 1924 -- then described as George Sarris of San Francisco...So while one mystery was mostly solved, another has cropped up...Stay tuned!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Magical Mystery Tour: Day 12 (The lost relatives of Ballico)

It started with an empty envelope addressed to my Yiayia Eugenia Sarris & Daughter from Mr. and Mrs. James F. Lolonis in Ballico, CA. Where? It did not ring a bell and I could not make out the date...Google placed Ballico about 8 miles from Turlock. 

The address turned up again handwritten by my Yiayia in a old church directory. Google further informed me that James Lolonis had died last January, leaving behind he wife, Voula, and 4 sons. So I sent Voula Lolonis a card, which was soon answered with a phone call. And then my visit -- even though Mapquest didn't seem to know where the Ballico home address was either!

Voula Lolonis had invited me to visit any time, and I did so on 11/30. She looked very familiar, and it was as if I had known her forever. Her son Peter was there with his family from Oakdale. While they watched TV, I grilled Voula about family history.

Her mother (who died tragically in Greece just after WWII along w/her father and sister due to a German mine) was from Koroni and Yiayia's first cousin, making Voula my mother and aunt Libby Sarris' second cousin. Her mother's sister Voula Huntalas -- related to the owners of San Francisco's Cliff House restaurant -- brought Voula to the States and was one of my Yiayia's best friends since childhood. They went back to Koroni together in 1965.  Of course, I looked at old photos of all of them...

Then her oldest son John arrived and she predictably announced that it was time for dinner. Indeed, everyone pitched in to set the table and serve the meal -- even the kids. Granddaughter Krissy (Chrysoula) is a bonafied martials arts champion since the age of eight, and there is talk of the Olympics one day. What a nice family and warm welcome. The wonderful Sunday meal -- including hilopites, patates fournou and dolmathes! -- was a bonus.

I had come to meet Voula and learn more about my Yiayia's family history. I met a lovely family...and could have stayed a week. (I may well have been there before with my Yiayia. And as I made my way to Crockett 3 days later on low-key CA4 West along the Delta and across a few old draw bridges, it occurred to me that Byron -- once the site of an Orthodox monastery -- had been another Yiayia destination. I kept remembering a religious something, but had some trouble placing it before traveling on that road.) 

Here's the punchline: Voula said that my Yiayia had been wanting to have a family reunion at their farm so that the relatives would know each other in future years. It never happened as such. But there I was, fulfilling my Yiayia's wish on some level more than 35 years years later...To be continued!

NOTE: Voula's dolmathes were a revelation. Needless to say, she has access to grape leaves, but the dolmathes that night were made with Swiss chard and lettuce. Interesting and delicious!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Magical Mystery Tour: Day 11 (Yiayia X's pitta is all about the Crisco!)

Yiayia X . w/me and
cousin Michael Pappas
I remember the good feeling when my father would come home with aluminum foil packages of Yiayia Xanttopulos' Banana Squash Pitta. Sometimes we were lucky enough to get a whole pan full!  Yiayia X. was from Naousa and her pitta was different from and better than everyone else's, as far I was concerned...It was a special treat, now perpetuated by my cousin Helen Bertron, daughter of My Aunt Mary Hlebakos -- and occasionally my brothers George and Bill. Me, not yet, I'm ashamed to say.

Helen and Bob Bertron generously hosted a family dinner the night after Thanksgiving so I could see my Bay Area relatives, including Thea Mary and Helen's 2 daughters, Erica and Jennifer. Bonus guests included Ruby (née Hlebakos) and Dee Corids + their daughter Alexia, who I had not seen for way too many years. Thank you Helen and Bob!

Naousa 1980
The next day, Helen suggested we do what we had talked about for years: MakeYiayia's pitta together from scratch so I could learn. I had a similar lesson about 35 years ago in Naousa from my Aunt (of blessed memory) Alkinoy Lalas. This is no ordinary pitta with commercial filo, and I had truthfully never tried to make it before. It requires a dowel for rolling and lots of time among other things. The secret ingredient is generous gobs of Crisco, along w/butter, of course!

To make this horiatiki"  village) pitta, the dough is mixed and divided in 2. One-half is rolled out w/the dowel, cut into 10 wedges which are then stretched w/Crisco, stacked, and rolled out again -- that's for the bottom of the pan. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough for the top crust. Add the filling (w/melted butter on top), cover, crimp the edges, and drop some more Crisco on top w/some more butter (to be on the safe side). When horiatiki pitta is baked, you can see layers in the crust just like pitta with filo dough - thicker of course, as this is rustic-style pitta created entirely by hand. 
I am going to make one soon, seriously -- stay tuned!

San Mateo 2014
NOTE: In Naousa, we used oil and butter. The stacked segment piles for each crust were chilled for a few hours or overnight before rolling (same advice from Aunt Soula, also from Naousa). And, of course, you can change up the fillings. Yiayia X did also make it w/spinach and feta, occasionally...OPA!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Magical Mystery Tour: Day 8 (Uncle Tony Gust & The Naousa Connection)

What's in crate of lettuce, a few loaves of bread or a plate of stewed chicken? 90-100 years or ago, many Greeks in Stockton were in produce or had grocery stores or restaurants. In fact, the 1927 Stockton telephone directory listed no fewer than 15 Greek-related restaurants/candy stores. And today many of us can trace our roots right back to one of those businesses.

My grandmother Pauline Xanttopulos and her sister Eleni Huntalas were the Koutsoukis sisters from Naousa; another sister, Maria, remained in Greece. Their brother Antonios K. Koutsoukis was in business w/his brother-in-law Gus Huntalas and became a successful produce guy in Stockton with the memorable name of Tony Gust -- probably the combination of his first name and middle initial (father named Kostantinos). Uncle Tony died young in 1945, and until recently I had only vague knowledge of his story.

There were several families in Stockton from Naousa, a small town in the foothills of the Vermion mountains of Macedonia -- about 45 miles from Thessaloniki -- which was not liberated from the Ottoman Empire till 1912. Mitsanis (Mitchell), Lucas, Chiarchianis, Koutsoukis, and later Vezaldenos are Naoussa names. I had heard from Angelo Mitchell a couple of years ago that Uncle Tony was Best Man for his father Stavros, who came from Naousa in 1907 and to Stockton in 1909. And when I visited w/Flossie and Angelaon 11/26 to look at old photographs, I hit the jackpot. There in the the oldest album was a Mitsanis wedding picture w/Uncle Tony Gust (shown in upper left, picture  unfortunately distorted by plastic picked up by my scanner).
Channel St. Produce Mkt. 2014
Uncle Tony was a popular guy who unfortunately (long story) never married, as I'm told by my various aunts. The Huntalases moved to Tracy in 1948, where they had a grocery store. The produce business - first at 133 N. Wilson Way and then at 1620 E. Channel -- was taken over by the Thomas Brothers. My father Steve worked for them and a few other produce people...until he, too, got into the grocery business with his koumbaro, George Marmas (a Chioti from Hibbing, MN), at the S&G Market on Yosemite Street.

Wish I had actually met Uncle Tony Gust, but the Naousa Connection is alive and well in Stockton. Any more families to add to the list? Please let me know!  

NOTE: Have to mention that Flossie and Angela treated me and Gayle Maduros to what they called "Spanakopizza" (with olive oil in the crust) from Joe's Pomodoro Pizza Cafe, which continues the Stockton Greeks & Food Tradition. It was totally awesome and JP's is on my restaurant short-list for my next Stockton visit -- OPA!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Magical Mystery Tour: Day 5 (Sarris Family gathering for fun and historical purposes)

On Sunday 11/23, three cousins came to Stockton to visit my aunt Liberty Sarris. And with that golden opportunity, 7 of us got together to share Sarris Family info and photos.  Our merry little band met for church and then repaired to Papapavlo's Restaurant for lunch and a 3-hour photofest. 

From left to right: Temia Demakopoulos, Kathryn Demas, Jane Demas, Libby Sarris, Sofia Demakopoulos Osborne, Connie Mellis and Paula Xanthopoulou.

Our conversations were all about the families of my Papou George Sarris and his younger sister Sofia (see photo above), plus various cousins also from Kyparissi, Lakonias. Sofia married Bill Demakopoulos, who had the Palace Candy store on Main Street in Stockton next to the old Fox Theater -- and where both George and Evghenia Sarris came to cook and make hand-dipped chocolates. George and Evghenia had two children, Angeline and Liberty. Sofia and Bill were the parents of Evelyn (Mellis), Jim, Nick (Demas), Demie, and Georgia (Johnson). All but Liberty are deceased.

For the record: Connie Mellis, from Aptos (Santa Cruz), is the widow of Evelyn's son and only child, Spiro. Sofia Osborne (born in Stockton) and Temia are the children of Jim and Sylvia. Demie Demakopoulos had no children. Elaine Sampanis of West Chester, OH (Cincinnati area) - and former Grand President of the Daughters of Penelope -- is the daughter of Georgia Johnson, who was a Charter Member of Stockton's  Sparta Chapter No. 18. Her brother Johnny lives in Louisville, KY. Kathy and Jane Demas are the youngest of Sofia Sarris Demakopoulos' seven grandchildren. And Paula Xanthopoulou -- whose brother's are George and Bill Xanttopoulos -- is the oldest of George Sarris' three grandchildren. There you have it.

The research to-date represents five generations of Sarris Family members.  But there is still much work work to be done. We collected some new info and great photos -- now to connect the dots. Stay tuned!

NOTE: A few days later I finally met up with Katherine Lourentzos of Manteca. For a long time I had been curious about research she had done on her own family (from Piana, Arcadia) that resulted in the detailed and Limited Edition 254-page, A Century in America, The Petropoulos Family: From Past to Present (Lourentzos, Poulos and Gaines).  The Book was "Written and compiled from memories, stories, pictures and love" as a result a 1995 reunion of the whole clan. It was published in 2012 in conjunction with Ted Poulos' 85th birthday and a second reunion. I was very moved to see photos of Helen Panagos (nee Poulos), who was my brother Bill's godmother and died tragically of cancer.  Kudos to Katherine and her family, who have set the bar VERY high for the rest of us!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Magical Mystery Tour: Day 2 (The Xepoleoses)

After being treated to "La Boheme" at the SFO the night before by Candace and George, I set out on 11/20 to visit with a distant relative living in a senior community in downtown San Francisco -- hoping to find out more about my Papou George Sarris' early days in California and who his relatives also from Kyparissi were.  The Xepoleoses were his cousins on some level.

Bessy Xepoleos is 92 and darn sharp. As the second wife of Pete Xepoleos, she did not have recollections/photos of the early days. But she did know some of Pete's 6 siblings (Elsie Gogas and Yoda Manolis) and added 2 brothers to my list (John and Steve). The parents, James and Vasiliki (Sarris, I believe now), were married in Kyparissi and 3 sons were born in Greece.  Bessy and Pete visited then land-locked Kyparissi in 1972 with Yoda and Evelyn Mellis...

My SF visit was delightful, including dinner and a good look at the few photos she did have, one of her as a 2 1/2 year-old child. Bessy (also Vasiliki!) was born in Seattle, went to Cephalonia, grew up in Argentina, and then to SF where worked for McKesson Corp. She speaks fluent Spanish, too, but we spoke mostly in Greek. Bessy introduced me to the only other Greek in the place and gave me the grand tour of The Sequoias where she has lived for 15 years. What a gem, so glad I met her!

But there was still no answer as to why the Xepoleoses used to always come -- according to my aunt Liberty -- to Stockton on Memorial Day. So I visited the Rural Cemetery and found out that James Xepoleos, aged 63, had died in Stockton on March 10, 1925. Where was buried? No longer in Stockton, but moved to San Mateo on July 11, 1944 -- which would explain why I have no recollection of the Xepoleoses in Stockton, though I did know Yoda and Elsie as a kid when they lived in Santa Cruz...

I also know that Yoda had been born in SF and "grown up in Stockton," and lo-and-behold the Stockton Telephone Directories list the Xepoleoses from 1920 (when the Demokopoulos also were first listed) through 1926. They lived at 717 E. Channel (no house there now) and 2000 S. San Joaquin, with a now extinct City Free Market at 338 E. Jefferson...Looks like they moved after the father died, perhaps to Pittsburgh. The mother was called "Thea Vasilo," but whose daughter was she?  

Anyone out there know anything more about the Xepoleoses in Stockton???

NOTE: Bessy wanted to know if I had seen "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" w/Penelope Cruz and Nicholas Cage set in Cephalonia. Ordering it from Ebay right now!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Monday, November 17, 2014

Love Letter to Angelo Mitchell & Others

Our dear family friend Angelo Mitchell was buried a few days ago (just 3 weeks after a Coffee Hour in honor of his 90th birthday, what a blessing!) -- and I wasn't there, except in spirit.  

Angelo (somehow, I cannot call him "Mitch") was our Go-To-Guy -- for a hug, a wooden step stool, a golf game or a story about the past. And he knew a lot about that as a life-long Stockton boy who became a soldier, husband, father and important member of St. Basil's parish. He spent 90 years in and around our town with almost any member of the Greek-American community you can think of, including my grandparents and parents. I simply cannot remember not knowing Angelo and Flossie Mitchell and their daughters (and my pals) Angela and Mimi. Rides out to their house so many years ago on some rural roads was a special treat (and practicably a field trip).

Our parents were great pals over many years, just like many of our foremothers/fathers were. Angela is quick to remind me that my Dad Steve drove her Mom Flossie to the hospital so she could be born because: "Mine couldn't seem to find his boss to ask for permission to leave for the occasion" (traits of honesty and diligence that go way back). She has said that my Dad will always have a special place in her heart for that reason, just like the Mitchell Family has a special place in mine that neither time or distance can erase. 

We cannot bring back our Loved Ones or The Good Old Days. We can only aspire to live up to them. Zoi se mas.

NOTE: I will be in Stockton soon for the Thanksgiving Holiday, so please get your photo albums ready and sharpen you memories of those Good Old Days. And when you are sitting around the Thanksgiving table sharing family stories, please write them down. (You'll regret it some day if you don't!)

Friday, August 15, 2014

August 15th & Panayia Soumela (circa 1973) -- Hronia Polla kai Kala!

Panayia Soumela/August 15, 1952
Some call the Assumption of the Virgin Mary the most important religious holiday in Greece. So on August 15th, most Greeks make plans to head for their hometowns or one of the places that celebrate this feast day big time like the islands of Paros, Tinos, Patmos, and Cephalonia. Pontians head for the Monastery of Panayia Soumela in Kastania, on the slopes of Mt. Vermion near the town of Veria. I made that pilgrimage in 1973.

To explain my attachment and love for the Pontian people would take too long, even if I had words for it.  Not to mention that when I first arrived at the American Farm School in Greece to begin a 10-year stint (68-78), I had no idea who they were!

Panayia Soumela/August 15, 2013
Pontians are amazing people whose roots date back  2,000+ years when the ancient Greeks colonized Asia Minor around the Black Sea. And whose resilience through the centuries of occupation, genocide, and displacement is embodied by "Panayia Soumela," an icon of the Virgin Mary painted by St. Luke -- first established in a monastery on Mount Melas in Trapezounda (395 A.D.), lost in a circuitous manner of speaking, and then found. And finally reestablished in 1952 at a new monastery in Greece where the faithful will venerate her today with great pomp and circumstance. 

Panagia Soumela in1973
In 1973 I joined one of the my student's family and neighbors from Nea Santa, Kilkis, for their bus trip up the mountain to Kastania. We stayed in dorm-like rooms overnight on the monastery grounds, preparing to attend church services and take communion on the 15th along with hundreds and hundreds of others in an air of reverence mixed with whispered talk about what was to come after church.  First to break the fast by feasting on Pontian delicacies like tsirikta, hapsia and miliasta.  And best of all, Pontian dance groups from all over Greece competed all day long to the magic music of the kementche (lyra)!

AFS Student Dance Group
Pontian dialect and music/dance are akin to the speech and dance of Ancient Greece. I usually could not fully understand the former and am permanently enamored of the latter. The best way to describe Pontian dance (performed at the 2004 Olympics) is that you step on the off-beat and sort of hover the rest of the time. I eagerly learned many of those dances and even started a Pontian dance group at the AFS -- driving the students to the neighboring village of Sedhes every week for lessons from the local dancers and using their costumes for our special events.  That exciting, unique authenticity is magnified 1000 times at Panagia Soumela, where faith and family secure the beautiful Pontian legacy every August 15th.

If your name is Maria, Hronia Polla kai Kala (Happy Nameday)! And if you are Pontian and your name is Maria, I kinda wish I was you...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Does the name Bezzerides ring a bell?

In New Mexico for a few days, and I thought of Bandel Bezzerides, my parents' godson and physics whiz who had moved to Los Alamos about 37 years ago. Bandel, now retired, was first in his class at UC Berkeley at the age of 20 and went to work in the Livermore labs and then in Los Alamos. Don't ask me what he did there...

At one point, he brought his parents, Marianthe and Aghapios -- formerly of 1409 E. Channel Street in Stockton -- to Los Alamos so they could be near the grand-kids. I visited Kyria Marianthe on a trip to Santa Fe in 1990 (he died in 1989), and she seemed very glad to see me. Did not get a chance to see Bandel then or now. But we did speak at length by telephone.

Amongst my parents' papers/photos there was a letter Bandel had sent them in 1994 to let them know his Mom had passed, in his arms he told me yesterday. He then asked me how my folks were, and it dawned on me that I had not returned the favor in either 2002 or 2007. My bad.

"I miss her dearly, but bow to God's will." he wrote about his Mom in that letter.  Indeed he still holds his faith dear, but perhaps not as dear as his wife Elizabeth (a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy) does. She purchased a property down the street from their home and worked with others to establish Saint Dimitri Orthodox Church (OCA) of Los Alamos. Call that a labor of love.

And their son Vasillios, a pediatric cardiologist in Boston, is married to Ann Mitsakos Bezzerides, Director of the Office of Vocation & Ministry at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Oldest daughter, Annamarie, is Associate Vice-President for Advancement at Georgetown University. And Marianthe, a multi-instrumentalist since the age of 5, is a gifted composer. The fruit did not fall far from the tree.

We spoke of his sisters, Margaret and Liz; both died of cancer some years ago. Margaret had five kids with Father George Makris (also now deceased). Peter -- the only one I remember -- is now a chiropractor in Portland, Oregon.

Last but not least, we spoke of something else we had in common: Agnes Hoffman. She was an English teacher par excellence at Stagg High School that we both loved. Bandel, however, was Miss Hoffman's Gold Standard for the rest Greek-American kids to live up to and a very tough act to follow...I still hope we see him back in Stockton one day!

Friday, July 4, 2014

When baton-twirling was (sort of) a Greek thing in Stockton, California

On the Fourth of July, I usually think about small-town parades, one of my favorite things -- even though those beautiful, history-evoking celebrations are sadly few and far between these days. But today I am thinking specifically about baton-twirling. Seriously.

A few days ago the Stockton Record reported that the 56th National Baton-Twirling Championships will take place in Stockton, July 7-12.  And I immediately thought of Alex Spanos' autobiography, Sharing the Wealth.  I had been amazed to read that Alex and his siblings Stella, George and Danny had excelled at, of all things, baton-twirling -- and had also taken tumbling, ballroom dancing, piano, (ever so briefly) ballet, and tap dance lessons. Alex reported that "For some reason, baton twirling was his [father's] favorite." (p.27) Gus Spanos made batons from aluminum pipes and taught his kids how to twirl in their backyard.  Stella Spanos Graham tells me that her mother Evanthia made all their costumes. It was a familiy deal.

We know that the tap dance lessons eventually led Alex to Carnegie Hall with Bob Hope, but who still remembers the "Spanos Shows" at Stockton High School football game halftimes? "George and Stella," Alex wrote, "became so skilled that they entered and won competitions with routines that pushed the envelope of baton-twirling mastery. As a group, we won both regional and state baton-twirling championships." (p.40)  Danny and Alex were also drum majors at Cal Poly, where the four of them performed on occasion. Opa!

Neither Stella or my aunt Libby can remember any other Greek Stockton kids twirling batons in those days, but there is always a future...Baton-twirling is no lost art, and 500 participants will compete in the championships at the Stockton Arena next week from 8 am - 5 pm. There is no charge for admission, so maybe the entire St. Basil's Greek Dance Group (s) could observe. Who knows who the next Greek twirling champion(s) will be? Happy Fourth of July!

NOTE: Alex Spanos' book is chock-full of historical information and observations. He was right on point in his analysis of the Greek economic situation and how difficult reform would be. (pp. 213 and 224). But he also wrote: "I am convinced that there hasn't been a Greek child born who enjoyed Greek School." (p.26) Sorry, Alex, but I loved Greek School...even those old public school desks in the back room of St. Basil's downstairs hall off Lafayette Street.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tsoureki any day of the week, even if your Yiayia didn't make it!

Always wondered about King's Hawaiian Original Hawaiian Sweet Bread, as it silently called to me from countless grocery bread racks over the years. Recently, I had a chance to try it, and my worst fears were confirmed: I can easily toast some of that bread and think I am eating "Greek Toast" made with tsoureki bread any day of the week! 

Tsoureki, of course, is the braided sweet bread made with eggs, milk and butter, usually by your Yiayia twice a year. It is traditionally served on Easter with a red hard-boiled egg or 2 or 3 planted on top, or on New Year's Day as a "Vassilopita" with a lucky coin in it. I always look forward to toasting leftover tsoureki for breakfast and eating it with feta cheese. It could easily become addictive.

The rest of the year there is usually no tsoureki and thus no "Greek Toast" -- unless there is a Greek bakery in town, you bake it yourself, or your are able to score a Jewish challah bread. But there is always King's Hawaiian Original Sweet Bread -- which comes in dinner rolls and sandwich rolls, as well as a large round bread and sliced bread. If you are on a budget (or prefer not to pig out), the small package of 4 dinner rolls will do just fine; I cut that square loaf into six neat slices. When toasting it, I savored the unmistakable scent of tsoureki. And even though it wasn't quite up to Yiayia standards, it was close enough...Voila, "Greek Toast!"

"Greek Toast"
Tried it immediately with feta cheese, of course -- and, yes, real Greeks do eat olives for breakfast...Also tried it with orange marmalade and, for good measure, I slathered a slice with "Bees Knees" peanut butter w/honey. If I had some tzatziki handy, I would have tried that, too. Indeed, King's Hawaiian Sweet Bread Sandwich Rolls would probably make for fabulous gyro sandwiches rather than the usual (now kinda boring) pita bread. But for now, let's just keep it simple: King's Hawaiian Original Sweet Bread = (for better or worse) tsoureki any day of the week.

NOTE: DO NOT try this at home during Easter or New Year's!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Wish I knew more about the Crockett Connection...

My Papou George Sarris was born in Kyparissi, Laconias on July 17, 1892, and arrived in New York on November 17, 1910.  In those days, Greek immigrants primarily celebrated namedays, not birthdays. Legend has it that Papou first listed April 23, St. George's Day, as his birthday because he could not remember the actual date...
George Sarris was living in Crockett (CA)* when he joined the U.S. Army on September 5, 1918, on his pathway to citizenship. Not surprisingly, he served in a bakery unit. A small photo with "18" on the back has him standing on train steps with a bag in his hand. Is he heading for Ft. Kearny with the unique icon that he took along with him? Did he bring that icon -- with the dried leaves I just noticed -- from his village? Papou's naturalization papers were subsequently issued in Martinez (Contra Costa County) on July 16, 1920. We have a picture of his Crockett fountain-candy store circa 1920-21...But there are more questions. Why was he in Crockett (which is near San Francisco)? Who else from his family or village might have also lived there?  The Crockett history trail runs rather dry because we didn't record the facts when our grandparents and parents were alive.

Recently I watched "The Greeks of Southern California Through the Century: The Pioneers 1900-1942," a  documentary hosted by a very proud Olympia Dukakis and produced by the The Greek Heritage Society of Southern California in 2002.**   Recorded interviews with first generation Greek-Americans keep their sometimes brutal experiences and amazing achievements alive for generations to come. Keywords were tenacity, loyalty, and faith. Bravo!

But what about the Greeks of San Joaquin County? Most of our old photos are packed away in boxes stored high in closets or even in the garage. Meanwhile, memories are fading and our ancestors are passing away. We need to dig those pictures out, talk about them, and identify them -- otherwise they will become simple curiosities...Documents, too. Every family kept the records of when and how they came to the States, marriage certificates, church baptismal records, army papers, etc. My father Steve carried a wallet-sized copy of his discharge papers in his pocket until the day he died. My Papou's collected papers provide the facts reported above. Meanwhile, however, I am left wishing that I knew more about the Crockett Connection...

Papou George Sarris' Crockett establishment
Crockett, CA, is currently a small unincorporated "census-designated place" (pop. 3,094) in Contra Costa county beneath the Cartinez bridge and home of the Sugartown Festival and Street Fair (on July 20th this year).
** I purchased this video at the amazing, must-visit National Hellenic Museum in Chicago last summer -- find out more about the museum and how to join HERE.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ascension Day in Paris

Here I am in St. Stephen's Greek Orthodox Church at 7 Rue Georges Bizet in the XVI Arrondisement, about a 20-minute walk from my hotel. Today is a holiday in Paris, schools and many businesses are closed. Church and picnics are what happen on Ascension Day. (There appears to be no Greek enclave or neighborhood per se here in Paris, but I will have to explore that more during my next visit. There are a few Greek restaurants highly-rated on Trip Advisor, including the rather unique Aux P'Tit Grec on Rue Mouffetard w/Kyrie Antoni from Thessaloniki.)

Once inside I lit two candles for my parents -- and felt like I could be in Miami, Stockton. New York or anywhere Orthodox Greeks gather to pray and socialize (afterward)... except that the narthex and the nave are not separated by a wall, more Greek-as-in-Greece-styled.

St. Stephen's -- the seat of the Metropolis -- was built in 1895 (pano-kato, I was told). And, yes, there is a woman in the ranks of 7 psaltithes! But there are only about two dozen people (young and old) here so far, sitting in about 8 rows of straight-backed wooden chairs with straw seats (with built-in wooden seats along the walls). Maybe there will be more when the Liturgy begins. Ah, it has now just begun and here comes a bespectacled young man with 3 small children...The Bible reading is in Greek and French.

The welcoming smells of incense complete an environment familiar to me since childhood. And so it shall always be.

Now for Le Picnic!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Belated Memorial Day in Normandy, God Bless America!

It was rainy and nasty this morning on the way to Utah Beach in Normandy, about 4 hours from Paris. Our tour guide prefaced our visit by saying that Utah was the good beach, while Omaha was a near disaster. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

Utah Beach Memorial
 While I had heard stories from my Dad Steve about his time in the Pacific Theater during WWII, none of that prepared me for standing on the French beaches in person. The weather on D-Day was nasty, too -- but by time we got there is was sunny and nice. And the ongoing gratitude of the French people in the surrounding towns was palpable as they prepare for June 6th, the 70th Anniversary of an Allied invasion that liberated Paris about 10 weeks later. They are our friends forever, regardless of you hear about the French.

"Their Sacrifice, Our Liberty"
I can't think of anyone I knew from Stockton who died in Normandy, though legend has it that Pete Spanos fought in France and was rescued by French nuns. As far as I'm concerned, they were all here -- every man and woman who fought for liberation from The Third Reich in World War II.

Our tour group moved from Utah Beach and the amazing museum there to Pointe du Huoc, where US Rangers had the thankless task of storming cliffs to take out 6 guns that actually had been redeployed by then.German pills boxes and bomb craters dot the landscape, and you can see for yourself the dramatic destruction of rocky cliffs by the repeated bombings -- all enduring reminders of the effects of war.
We ended our visit at the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach, a killing field that magnified the sacrifice made by young, sometimes under-aged Americans who believed in their noble mission. Row upon row of Crosses and Stars of David commemorate 9,387 souls, including 45 sets of brothers. That mission is not to be confused w/the war in Vietnam or misguided adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. This was the real deal.

All I can say is "God bless America!"

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ghosts of Easters Past (Part III)

Hristos Anestis!

Today we celebrate Easter, most likely with our families -- and mostly likely we are remembering family members no longer with us. So I offer one more photo of past Easters: a Greek village lamb roast recreated in Yiayia Sarris's backyard at 1663 W.Alpine Street (1976 or 1977) --

Mr brother George, George's friend Adrian Arima, 
Yiayia Sarris, Nick Demas, and my Dad Steve (seen from behind)...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Does anyone make real maghiritsa anymore?

Tonight my brother Bill and I will make our annual pilgrimage to the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in North Miami, a place that harkens me back to small-town Greece. After the liturgy, those who have stayed till the end will be rewarded with a welcoming Easter feast of the traditional maghiritsa soup, tsoureki, red eggs, feta, olives and some wine as we repeat the "Hristos Anesti" -- and I am looking forward to it. 

It will be very tasty maghiritsa, I can vouch for that -- but not maghiritsa made with lamb intestines (think kokoretsi!)  It's not so easy to procure lamb intestines these days, so most people use liver and heart along with some lamb meat.  The rest is the same: 4-5 bunches of green onions, 2 bunches of dill, a little rice and the makings for avgholemono soup.  Tasty, just not the real thing.

Growing up in Stockton, I never ate the maghiritsa that my Yiayia Sarris prepared, primarily because it smelled to high heaven while she was cooking it -- not unlike her patsa (tripe), which I did not eat or cook until recently after eating menudo in Mexico.  That's yet another story...
But when living in Greece (1968-78), I learned to never ever turn down food offered in anyone's home, especially in Greek villages. The first time I ate maghiritsa was in Ouranoupolis, Halkidhikis -- in a Byzantine tower inhabited by Joyce Loch, a legendary figure in those parts. The amazing Kyria Fani did all her cooking. Meals were served in a monk-like refectory, often accompanied by a bunch of gray cats that hovered nearby or even on the bench next to Joyce at the head of the table. One night, I came face-to-face with a dish of maghiritsa. It was (thankfully) fabulous, and I was hooked. 
My friend Vouli taught me the ropes, literally and figuratively. The intestines must be washed separately in lukewarm water using salt and lemon; then they are turned inside out on a pencil and washed again before blanching as you have done the other offals.  Make sure to get rid of that pencil!

The rest is easy: cut the intestines and offals into small pieces, saute the onions in butter, add the innards and some dill, simmer for a couple of hours in the water you boiled the meat in, add more dill and a little rice, finish off with the avgholemeno -- and you have a winner!

Kali Anastasi! But does anyone make real maghiritsa any more?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ghosts of Easters Past (Part II)

Preparations for Easter are moving forward...Today we dye the red eggs, and tomorrow the Epitaphion is front-and-center along with the poignant Hymns of Lamentation. When I was a child, there was nothing more thrilling and mysterious than bringing the Epitaphion onto Stanislaus Street on Good Friday night. Police cars blocked traffic and people watched from their front porches, as we marched along with candles that might blow out or drip all over our hands and clothes if we weren't careful. (In later years we walked around the parking lot, which wasn't quite as exciting. Happy to report that here in Miami they still walk around the block!)

My Mom Angeline on right, along with Lefty Fotinos
For several generations, the dedicated women of St. Basil's Philoptochos have decorated the Epitaphion with flowers for Good Friday Services -- so today I am thinking about women who are no longer with us (with the help of more pictures from the photo albums located in the Fireside Room)...and also about the friends and relatives at church today and tomorrow who are carrying on those beautiful traditions. Wish I was there, too...

My Yiayias Sarris and Xanttopulos (in the 70's?)

Listening now to Αι Γενεαί Πάσαι  on YouTube and watching a 2005 Good Friday service from I.N. Μεταμορφώσεως Μοσχατου (2005) in Athens...and I can smell the incense. Tomorrow the real thing!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ghosts of Easters Past (Part I)

Looking through the family photo collection at a series of pictures from 1937, I continue to wonder where exactly they were taken. As my grandfather Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos is in the picture, I must surmise that the place is a "farm" that the Xanthopoulos family lived on for a short period. They had a horse named "Rosie" and sold fruit somewhere. Angelo Mitchell thinks it was out on Mariposa Road. Would like to be sure of the location one day. Any thoughts out there? In any case, it is obviously Easter.

Left to right: Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos, Mrs. Lukas, my Yiayia Sarris,
Father Mandilaris, 2 unknown men, Mr. Likouri, Chris Huntalas, my Dad Steve,
and his Uncle Tony Gust. Kneeling w/the lamb is my Papou Sarris.
Thea Faith, Yiayia Xanttopulos, Mrs. Loukas, Eleni Huntalas, and Yiayia Sarris

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What's In Your Lenten Cookbook?

It's Palm Sunday, and a good time to delve deeper into your Lenten cookbook - like "Orthodox Lenten Recipes" (42 pages) published by the St. Basil's Parent's Club in 1973, and edited by Gayle Maduros/ Presvytera Efstathiou. It includes a bunch of wonderful traditional recipes and spin-offs, so I probably won't be making the "Chinese Tossed Salad" or "Special K Cookies" any time soon.

Looking through the copy my Mom had, I can see which recipes she favored by the food stains and notations mostly in the "Vegetable Main Dishes" section. Indeed, I remember many a pan of baked vegetables through the years -- okra, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and, if we were lucky, those long green beans that Mr. Terezakis grew in his garden over on Virginia Lane across from the Country Club golf course.  The "dava" that she used was one of those large, deep oval baking pans with lids; I hope my brother George got it and kept it.  These days you can only find those pans in hardware stores or thrift shops, but that's another story...

I love soups, and one of my all-time favorites Lenten dishes is spanokorizo (spinach and rice). So today I went with "Lentil Soup w/ Chard and Lemon" on page one, substituting spinach as suggested in the recipe. Kale would be another good choice. Lots of older recipes with lentils call for cooking them a long time; but they do cook much more quickly, in about 30 minutes or so. Add the greens, sauteed onion/garlic, salt (if you must),and lemon juice with a little flour to thicken. It takes about an hour.

I made the soup in an aluminum Guardian Service pot that belonged to my Yiayia Sarris -- and it made my day!

NOTE: The recipe called for 3/4 c. lemon juice, way too much. Next time I will start with 1/4 c. and see where that takes me -- or no lemon juice, just wait to add vinegar to the dish as we do with plain lentil soup. And, of course, more garlic!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Celebrating Women & Greek Independence

Happy Greek Independence Day! When I was a kid, the St. Basil's Greek School put on March 25th events that included folk dances, plays  -- see undated photo of my Mom and Nick Kokonas in action! -- and the recitation of poems. Oy! I used to have terrible stage fright and really did not look forward to going up there to say my poem, which was inevitably entitled something like: "To Hilia Oktakosia Eikosi Ena!" (1821)

Greek Independence Day commemorates the 1821 beginning of the biggest to that point and eventually successful uprising against the Ottoman Turks, culminating after many ups-and-downs (and the help of European sympathizers) in the establishment of an independent Greek state in 1829. Few people, however, focus on the fact that Northern Greece only became part of free Greece about 85 years later.

Much has been written about the Souliotisses of Northern Greece and the “Dance of Zalogo” (December, 1803): ..."rather than live with miserable dishonor as Turkish captives, the Souli women threw themselves off the same cliffs from which they had once thrown stones, standing out in history for their defiant martyrdom." (Greek Reporter 3-24-14). There are many other examples of bravery shown by women actively engaged in the struggle for freedom, including the women of my Dad's hometown of Naousa.

Naousa Memorial Statue
The Revolution of 1821 did indeed engulf Naousa, but did not reap freedom for Macedonian Greeks at that time. A massacre shortly after Easter in 1822 laid the town to waste. Rather than be captured and/or killed by the Turks when fleeing rebel men left them behind, a number of women jumped over a cliff above the Arapitsa River. 

Today we celebrate the bravery of the many women North and South who contributed much over many years to Greek Independence -- OPA!