Used Books and Rain

As soon as we crossed into our home state of Tennessee this summer for a little getaway, it seemed as though the mountains knew family had come to visit and they stood ready to welcome us in their flourishing green Sunday-best, looking more beautiful than ever.  I think both John and I experienced a sense of relief as the feeling of belonging and familiarity swept over us, unmarred by months under the scorching Texas sun.

Our first course of business (after a good night’s sleep) was to venture to our favourite used bookstore, McKay.

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I say used bookstore but in truth McKay is an entire warehouse full of organized shelves, neatly overflowing with music, movies, video games and books of all genres at extremely reasonable prices. I remember the first time I walked into this discount treasure trove as a Londoner used to paying extortionate prices for everything! I was fresh off the boat and ran around filling up an increasingly heavy basket until I remembered that I was also a broke student and reluctantly placed each item back on its cozy shelf. Months later, John and I met and our joint obsession with McKay helped fuel our blossoming romance into wedded bliss!

McKay Chattanooga, TN

McKay Chattanooga, TN

Being English Lit, and Biblical Studies Majors, McKay was our weekly drug of choice when we lived in TN. (Which probably explains why we have 6 full bookcases at home!) And although this might be a tad unhealthy, John in particular has saved us a fortune by purchasing his necessary books and commentaries from this musty-paper smelling paradise. During our visit, we were able to sell some items for trade credit (which we immediately exchanged for more books to take home of course!) and left brainstorming how to convince the store owners to add Waco to their list of locations.

Just 5 minutes down the road from McKay is our all time favourite Thai restaurant, Rain Thai Bistro.  Another regular on our date-night circuit, we ordered our much missed dishes and it was as familiar as settling down to a home cooked meal at a family reunion.

Rain Thai Bistro, Chattanooga TN

Although Rain has a pretty extensive menu, sometimes its just the perfectly executed and well flavoured classics you crave like Basil Rolls, Panang Curry and Pad Thai.

Rain Thai Bistro, Chattanooga TN

Rain Thai Bistro, Chattanooga TN

 Rain is not only one of our favourites but everyone we have introduced it to has fallen in love. On a staff outing a few years ago, one of my students had just returned from Thailand and was immediately transported back across the world when our food arrived. As many Thai restaurants as I have tried, few compare to this one so humbly placed in a very unsuspecting strip mall. Needless to say, our first day back in TN was a home run! 

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Chopped Date Night

At the beginning of the year, John and I made a date-night bucket-list and have slowly been working our way through it- particularly over the summer. We have been visiting nearby towns, eateries, shops, playing Skipbo at Cafes, cooking together and all sorts of other things.

During his Master’s degree, and when I was a Hall Director, we would often finish our work around 10 pm in the evenings and would unwind by watching an episode of Chopped on Food Network. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s a competition where the contestants have to make a stunning dish in a short period of time with 5 mystery ingredients they are given from a basket. The winner gets $10,000!) My sweet husband had the brilliant idea to add ‘Chopped Dinner Night’ to our date-night bucket list. Of course it did not involve the cash prize but it sounded like a fun idea nonetheless. A few weeks ago we finally got round to checking this one off the list and I just had to share it with you all.

The Brief:

John was in charge of dinner and I had to provide dessert. We each had 20 minutes in our local grocery store to pick 4 ‘mystery-basket’ ingredients for the other person. Then, we met in the middle of the store to reveal what we had picked. With basket ingredients in hand, and ideas churning, we had an additional 10 minutes to pick up any pantry items we needed to create our dish before returning home to cook.

The items I chose for John:

John's Ingredients

Capers, ground veal, fig preserves, and smoked Gouda

The items John chose for me:

My Ingredients

Raspberries, mascarpone, black pepper bacon, and Hot Tamales (hot cinnamon candy)

John had an extremely successful final dish. He used the capers and paired them with olives, artichoke hearts, basil and rosemary to make a delicious dressing over an arugula salad. The fig preserve was cooked down with some fresh mint and Serrano chilies, and then used as a glaze for small tender veal meatballs. Finally John shredded the smoked Gouda into seasoned smashed potatoes. All in all, it was outstanding! I was so impressed with my clever hubby’s mad Chopped skills!

John's Dish

I unfortunately had a bit of a disaster that changed the original direction of my dish but I was pretty pleased with some of the elements and the creativity! My idea was to boil down the candy to make a sugar cinnamon syrup to flavour whipped egg whites for meringue nests. I was then going to whip heavy cream with the mascarpone and raspberries to create a cream filling for the nests and top them off with cinnamon candied pepper bacon and melted dark chocolate swirls.

My Dish

Almost all of this went well and actually tasted pretty good except for the cream! I just bought a new Kitchen Aid mixer and was so excited to use it for whipping my cream.Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how quickly my mixer can beat cream so when I went back to the machine, it had gone too far and curdled it! I tried making a chocolate cream to cover the clotted mess underneath and it ended up not looking as bad but it wasn’t what I had imagined in my head! Oh well! It tasted pretty good (esp the bacon) but John’s dish was definitely the winner! I can’t wait for our rematch!

Birthday Surprises in Austin

Last weekend, I turned 35! Hard to believe how quickly my 30s are moving along. It seemed that my 20s went on forever so I assumed the next decade would pass at the same pace. But, I was wrong! I’ve always heard that time speeds up the older you get and it appears to be true. GULP! I can’t say I am unhappy with the way my life is turning out. I lived up my 20s mostly as a single and free woman moving around and having great adventures and the last seven years as a married woman have been just as wonderful, fulfilling and adventurous but in a different way.

Part of this has been due to the incredible man I married. I had no idea when I met this silent, intelligent, introverted, tall American southern gentleman that he would capture my crazy, nomadic, impetuous heart in such a way to find roots and a home in him that I love. (I hope you will excuse the side-step into gushy territory but I can’t tell you the next foodie bit without explaining how we ended up at the places we visited last weekend.) Some of you may remember from a couple of months ago that John and I always try and plan cute fun birthday surprises for each other every year.  A budget is set and then the whole day is a complete mystery. But it’s not just about where we go or what we do, it’s also about the creativity involved! One year I made word-search and crossword puzzles that John had to solve to discover the next destination. On my 30 birthday, John hid 30 presents all round the house with no clues and I had to find them all just by frantically looking under mattresses and dishware!  This year was no exception. All I knew when we left the house on Saturday morning was that we would be spending the weekend in our favourite Texas city, Austin. Once we arrived, John gave me a clue sheet

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(mastered from my favourite game Whirly Word!) to help me figure out the next step of the day. First up was :

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can you see it? You can imagine my squealing delight when I realized I would be going for a MASSAGE! I can’t think of  a better way to soothe these aging muscles of this 35 year old body! After 30 minutes of complete serenity, we moved on to one of our favourite sunny day past times:

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a SCENIC walk along Mount Bonnell; a beautiful small mountain overlooking the river. The trek up and down the trail helped prepare our appetite for lunch :

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Not just any TACOS but we went to a great Austin trailer/restaurant called Torchy’s Tacos

Torchy's Tacos

where we had The Fried Avocado (hand battered avocado with pico, lettuce, cheese and Poblano sauce) and

Torchy's Tacos

the Mr. Pink (seared Ahi-Tuna, cabbage, cilantro, queso fresco, with lime and Chipotle sauce). Yum!

Torchy's Tacos

But for dessert, one more puzzle told me we would be leaving Torchy’s and venturing over to Buenes Aires Cafe

Buenos Aires CafeBuenos Aires Cafe

for my favourite kind of dessert: BRULEE

 However, this was no normal Brulee, this was their Dark and Spicy Chocolate Brulee which is exactly as it sounds. Rich with a lovely bite!

Buenos Aires Cafe

We also enjoyed a slice of real Lemon Meringue Pie

Buenos Aires Cafe

and a delightful cup of Turkish Mint Tea. hmmmmm relaxing!

Buenos Aires Cafe

After being full and happy, I unscrambled my next clue which led us to

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lovely artist MARKETs around the city.  You can imagine we were pretty tired by the time we checked into our hotel. Fortunately we had plenty of time to relax before dinner.

And, now we come to the real jewel of the day (other than my Sweetie!)

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I love sashimi, SUSHI and other Asian flavours so John hit one out of the park with his final surprise of the night. We went to Uchiko

Uchico

which is rated number 1 on TripAdvisor out of 2,300 restaurants in Austin and we knew from the arrival of our first plate that we were in for something very special. This is the kind of place where you can order lots of little dishes and sample so many wonderful flavours and concoctions without getting full and uncomfortable. We had 10 different dishes in total and each one was just as amazing as the next. Here is a small sampling of the descriptions:

Koviche: fresh diver scallop, tomatillo, kalamata, black lime. 

Yokai Berry: Atlantic salmon, dinosaur kale, Asian pear, yuzu

Hot Rock: “sear it yourself” wagyu beef, Japanese river rock. This was not only fun but delicious. The meat was so tender and cooking on the rock made it surprisingly taste like it had been perfectly flame grilled.

Hot Rock at Uchiko, Austin

Even the  Tobacco Cream dessert with chocolate sorbet, maple budino, huckleberry, scotch was strangely one of the most delicious I think I have ever had! (Sorry Brulee! We had a good run!). I wish I had taken pictures of all of these to share them with you but I was too busy staring lovingly over the table at my date and being wooed by all the wonderful dishes that kept arriving. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that this was one of the most amazing meals I have eaten on the planet! It’s up there with my other all time favourite in Cambridge, La Raza. A perfect day!

The next day we went to Round Rock for Outlet Mall Shopping but not before stopping at the famous Round Rock Donuts for a quick peak.

Round Rock DonutsRock Round Donuts

 They have been featured on several Travel Channel shows like Man Vs Food for their crazy Texas sized donut:

Round Rock Texas

We settled for a plain glazed non-giant sized donut and I can definitely see why they are a donut favourite. Soft, warm and melt in your mouth sweetness.

All in all it was a wonderful birthday and I am very blessed by my darling hubby who, not only treats me well all year round, but knows exactly how to make me feel extra cherished on my special day.

Birthday Burgers at Hopdoddy Burger Bar, Austin

Birthdays are a big deal here at the Duncan household, even more so now that the hubs is doing his PhD and hardly gets any free time. Last Friday, he turned 35 and I got the chance to pull him away from his laptop and piles of books to a weekend full of fun and surprises. In the morning he was given a large bag full of numbered balloons and had to pop them as the day proceeded to find out where we were going next.

Happy Birthday!

We had a blast- and I say we because it was just as much fun for me planning and seeing his reaction to each clue as it was for him to be spoiled! It was such a needed break and a very important day so there was no question as to where we would be spending our adventures- in Austin, TX! After a quick dash through the Starbucks drive-thru, we made the 2 hour drive south to the Zilker Park Botanical Gardens for a peaceful outdoor scenic morning stroll. This was perfect to balance out our stop for lunch at the hectic South Congress on a beautiful sunny day. In all honesty, apart from the parking issue, the extrovert in me loves being around any downtown hustle and bustle so I felt energized and excited for our stop at the incredible Hopdoddy Burger Bar on this famous Austin street.

Although it was heaving with eager hungry guests like us, Hopdoddy has this great system where your table is assigned to you as you are lining up and even on a very busy lunchtime rush, our wait to actually sit was only about 20 minutes. Even still, because you are moving in the line past the beer taps at the bar (and sipping on your drink) and creeping all the more closer to the burger order station, you feel like time is passing and you are making progress. Then the food arrives and you realize you would have waited double the time if necessary (and more!). Some of the most unique and delicious burgers I have ever seen and eaten. All their meat is ground in-house daily and comes from cows that are humanely raised and fed all the good stuff to keep them happy and healthy. Their buns are made from scratch and baked on site throughout the day. The result?

Primetime at Hopdoddy, Austin

delicious and moreish hand-crafted burgers like Primetime: Texas Akaushi Beef, Brie Cheese, Truffle Aioli,

Arugula, Caramelized Onions, Steak Sauce

Llano Poblano at Hopdoddy, Austin TX

and the Llano Poblano: Angus Beef, Pepper Jack, Roasted Poblano Chiles,

Apple-Smoked Bacon, Chipotle Mayo

Fries with Green Chili Queso at Hopdoddy, Austin

all finished off with their seasoned Kennebec Fries and Green Chili Queso.

I seriously could have gone back for dinner but fortunately (or unfortunately) there were other surprises to unveil. After a long afternoon of used-bookstore browsing, we returned to the buzzings of South Congress and enjoyed another amazing celebratory meal at South Congress Cafe. Sadly, the lighting was pretty bad for photos so none of the pictures I took on the night came out. I would have loved to shown you my beautiful plate of seared scallops with crispy Brussels sprouts glazed with basil, bacon and lemon brown butter, or John’s hearty steak au poivre and blackened jumbo shrimp. But, your imagination will have to do. The other alternative is for you to visit Austin, TX and taste them for yourselves 🙂

Pancake Week!

I love Pancakes! Pancake Night was up there with Christmas and birthdays when I was growing up in England. Yes, my non-UK friends, we have a whole night dedicated to pancake eating. Although not many people actually know why we do this anymore, it was like our version of Fat Tuesday. Back in the day when the majority of the population were Christian, people would begin Lent several weeks before Easter which meant, among other things, no dairy. Pancake night (also known as Shrove Tuesday) was a way for them to use up all the milk and eggs in the house the night before Lent. Of course, now it’s just about eating pancakes!

To clarify, in the UK, when we talk about pancakes we mean crepes ..you know, the thin, warm vehicles used for any delicious fillings your mind can conjure.   You can imagine my shock and delight when I arrived in the States for my first visit at age 12 and heard that people have pancakes for breakfast!! Of course I had no idea they were the thick, fluffy, buttery, syrup-drenched kind when we first ordered them but they did not disappoint in transporting me to the same pancake heaven of our once a year celebration. Upon our return to the UK, one of our American friends living in London at the time gave Mum a box of Aunt Jemima mix for our next pancake day and we got to enjoy both types. Although I love them equally, I still have never been able to make crepes for breakfast (it’s a nonsensical mental block, I know). Therefore I will be dedicating this week to my love of the morning (American) pancake and will blog again soon about my first pancake/crepe love as I believe they need to be shown the proper, individual respect they deserve.

Hubby and I do not have many rituals and habits as a married couple but one of them is homemade pancake brunch on Saturdays. Now that I am all grown up and get to decide when and how I eat, I have declared every Saturday, pancake day!  When we first lived in Cyprus together, I was a US pancake virgin and depended on our care package from my mother in-law to include Bisquick until I found a local store that carried it.  Since then, I have found many different  healthy scratch made recipes I like and depending on the occasion (and what I have in the cupboard), I will whip up my own batch every Saturday morning.  While this in and of itself  may not seem very blog worthy, what I have learned is that you can make ‘ANYTHING’ pancakes using pretty much all basic recipes and that makes it worth sharing for a week!

All you need is a bit of creativity and some fun ingredients and (as confirmed by Pinterest) pancakes can be flavoured for any occasion and season. This week I will be sharing some of my favourites from the straight up blueberry to the crazy bacon-chocolate.  Today we shall begin with some good old basic tips and then blueberry pancakes. Not an original variety BUT the tips below are essential to making the best pancakes out there so why not begin with the simple beauty of blueberry pancakes?

Pancake cooking tips:

  • Never over-mix the batter, just stir long enough so everything is combined well.
  • Prepare wet and dry ingredients separately before mixing them together. This will ensure that any spices, salt etc gets well combined into the batter without having to over stir.
  • Do not mix your batter ahead of time. You can prepare the dry ingredients ahead of time but the wet ones really do need to be mixed and added at the last minute. The batter will literally turn grey if left for a while and no one wants grey old pancakes!
  • Grease the pan- I use non-stick spray and re-spray every three or four pancakes to help keep the outsides crispy. (Remember to move the pan off the heat when spraying!) Obviously you can also use a knob of butter if being more decadent!
  • It’s all about the little holes! I know it’s tempting but don’t peak under the pancake while it’s cooking, or try and flip it until you see little bubbles/holes appearing over the entire surface of the pancake.
  • Cook pancakes on medium-low heat. As not many of us have a hot plate in our kitchen like those great American Diners, cooking at home on lower heat is better. If the heat is too high you will run into a couple of problems- 1) the outside will burn but the inside will still have a batter consistency and taste uncooked 2) the surface will cook quickly and, even though you will have bubbles, the pancakes will splatter when you flip them making a horrible mess. if the heat is low they will flip perfectly and only need about a minute on the second side.
  • Pancakes are best enjoyed straight from the pan. I don’t really recommend cooking pancakes ahead of time. Depending on the recipe, they might become a bit spongy or soggy. If you need to keep them warm so you can sit down and eat together with family and friends, place them into a baking/sheet pan, uncovered in the oven on low (about 200 degrees F). If you cover them up, they will steam and become soggy.
  • If you’re going to have them with syrup, it has to be real maple syrup. It’s natural and tastes a ga-zillion times better than the nasty other kinds of syrup. I know it’s more expensive but why take the time and care to make the most delicious pancakes and then not chose the best tasting accompaniment?
  • Buttermilk is really the only ingredient that can make your pancakes truly fluffy. I have seen lots of healthier recipes that call for 1/2 the amount in low fat buttermilk and the other 1/2 in non fat milk and this seems to work fairly well. Even though I have to use all soy milk, I add an extra 1/4 tsp of baking powder and baking soda and that is an OK substitute. But, you can literally see the difference in the batter when using buttermilk both in the mixing and in cooking.
  • There are some really great healthy batter options out there made with oatmeal or wholewheat so you can feel good about a more frequent pancake treat. If going for the wholewheat option, I have found using half wholewheat and half plan flour is the best option for texture and flavour

Blueberry Pancakes

Wash a pound of fresh blueberries and drain on a paper towel. Make sure they are dry before adding so you’re not putting extra liquid into your batter.

Some people prefer to drop the blueberries on top but I like them to be coated in batter so they really form part of the pancake.

These are simple, delicious and I love to watch the blueberries pop when I break into the pancake with a fork. Serve with sliced bananas for an extra fruit punch.

One Wife’s Quest

“Once upon a time there was a sweet young newly married woman who was cooking her husband’s favourite dish, Fasolia (a traditional Greek bean dish). She had been brought up by a mother who was the best cook in their village and she was so confident that her Fasolia recipe would be the best her husband had ever tasted. During their first week of marriage, she spent hours preparing this special meal with so much excitement, completely prepared to be worshiped as a culinary goddess upon his return. When he arrived home, the familiar aroma immediately alerted him to his favourite meal and as he sat down, spoon in hand,  she prepared herself for the onslaught of love and devotion.  He took his first bite and hmmm-ed and ahhh-ed sweetly patting his new bride on the arm and said it was delicious. However, she noticed that even though he finished every bite, he didn’t seem as delighted as she was expecting. She asked him if everything was OK and he smiled sweetly, reaffirming that it was very nice but as she pressed further he admitted, to her disappointment, that it wasn’t as good as his mother’s! Although at first she was rather insulted, her resolution to make the best Fasolia known to any person drove her to keep making this dish week in and week out, trying every trick she could think of, even getting tips from his mother. But, each time, she would hear the same response. He kept agreeing that it was delicious but just not as good as his mum’s. One day she was so busy taking care of other things in her daily routine that she got completely side tracked and accidently burnt the Fasolia. She was mortified and tried to remove any blackened pieces and other tell tale signs that her dish was not perfect. She anxiously served up her dinner to her very hungry husband that evening and after several servings, he beamed at her in complete satisfaction. ‘Honey’ he said ‘I don’t know how you did it but that was the best Fasolia ever- it tasted just like my mother’s’!”

My own mother told me this great story one day as we were cooking away together in the kitchen. Obviously this was a Greek tale that had been passed down from mother to daughter and it has all the old-school gender ideas still somewhat prominent in certain communities. Don’t get me wrong, my mum is not old fashioned about gender roles and is most definitely a huge advocate for equality. I have always felt empowered as a woman because of her influence. She did not tell me this story to make me ‘know my place in my future marriage’ or to ‘find my identity in my husband’s approval’. It was just a funny story about how everyone prefers their family’s cooking no matter the quality! And I think that’s true- the food we eat at home as children can play a huge part in how we assess the food we eat as adults. That doesn’t mean we can’t change our ideas and opinions and taste buds, but there is something unmistakably familiar and comforting when we eat something from our childhood. If you grew up eating Kraft Mac n Cheese from a box (or Super Noodles if you grew up in the 80’s in Britain!) it doesn’t matter how wonderful the exquisite Lobster Mac n Cheese with Gruyere and Aged Parmesan tastes, it can’t have the same emotional effect of transporting you back several years that eating the Kraft does. Luckily, John and I really were raised by the best cooks in their ‘village’ (and not just our  mums but our dads can rock the kitchen too!) so we were spoiled by delicious food our whole lives.

One thing our parents both made was great spaghetti sauce. However, they both made it very differently, so in our early days of marriage when I presented my first Spaghetti Bolognese to John in full confidence, I was sad to find that it wasn’t like his dad’s! Over the years my sauce has therefore evolved and I have incorporated things from both our families to make the one I use today. Fortunately there was no burning involved but I am so pleased with it that I have been using it for more than just spaghetti bolognese. Here is my latest creation- The Meatball Boat. It’s basically my version of a meatball sub but without having the rich tangy sauce dripping everywhere and filling up your plate instead of your belly! You will find this sauce is really good wherever tomato sauce is required including pizza, pasta sauces and for dipping garlic bread.

Leia’s Meatball Boats

Tomato Sauce:                                                                                                                  

1 can organic chopped fire roasted tomatoes (optional- I pulse these right in the can with a hand held blender to remove all the chunks)

1tbsp tomato puree

1tbsp brown sugar (if you use a sweeter wine, omit the sugar)

½ cup Cabernet Sauvignon

½ onion chopped finely

3 medium garlic cloves chopped finely

1/2 tbsp dried rosemary

1/2 tbsp dried basil

3 bay leaves

1Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

pepper to taste

All great things begin with olive oil, onions and garlic. Warm the olive oil and then add the onions, stirring on medium-heat until golden brown.

Once the onions are ready, pop in the garlic. It’s important not to add the garlic earlier as it will burn and become bitter.

Once the garlic is just beginning to brown, pour in the wine to deglaze the pan and let it bubble for about half a minute. Add the tomatoes, brown sugar, herbs and spices then let simmer on medium-low heat for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Meatballs:                                                                                                                               

1 lb lean ground beef

2 eggs (you can use just the whites if preferred)

½ onion diced very finely

2 crushed garlic cloves

½ cup breadcrumbs (Panko or wholewheat )

1 tsp of dried rosemary

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands.

Take just over a tablespoon of mix and shape into meatballs. These are smaller than your average meatball so that they will fit more comfortably into your ‘bread boat’.

 These meatballs are so tender and juicy but it does mean they are a little soft and delicate so handle carefully when placing into the pan.

They only take about 3-4 minutes each side. I like to leave mine ever so slightly underdone as they will continue to cook and heat through under the broiler.

Building the Boat

Line a baking tray with foil then dig out the middle of your favourite thick crusty loaf

I guess it’s more of a canoe than a boat!

Begin with a layer of sauce (as much or as little as you like) I put lots don’t let this picture fool you.

Add your meatballs- really squish them into the sides.

Another layer of sauce…mmmmm

Cover with Mozzarella cheese. Honestly, if I had no self discipline, I would just cover the whole sheet in cheese because what’s better than molten stringy cheese?

 Place under a hot broiler and wait for the cheese to bubble and brown and the loaf to become nicely toasted.

I like to toast the loaf top too and then dip into some extra sauce.

Old Timey Radio

My relationships with my grandparents were not what you would call traditional. My paternal ones lived in Cyprus while I was growing up in England and my grandfather passed away when I was only about a year old. Although my grandmother visited on occassion, she developed some form of dementia and wasn’t very coherent by the time I had learnt enough Greek to communicate with her. She passed away when I was 18. My maternal grandparents lived in London but my grandfather also passed away when I was in my early teens. Although I have memories with him, he was not the fluffy/cudly kind of man who enjoyed tender moments with people. My grandmother however, is still alive and one of the people I love most in the world. She and my grandfather emigrated back to Cyprus shortly before he passed away.  It was there, a few years later that my grandmother and I would become much closer. I moved to Limassol (Cyprus) when I was 15 and lived with her for 2 months before my parents were able to join me. As I became more fluent in Greek, we were able to communicate more clearly and she would sit and tell me stories about her childhood growing up in the village and how she met my grandfather. Her life was an extremely difficult one but she has never lost her spunk and savvy cheek! How many can say their grandmother crashes weddings with her friend for fun! I still enjoy my time with her and the older she gets the more precious those moments become, especially as I now live in the States and don’t get to see her often. Giagia (grandma in Greek) is definitely one of the strongest women I have ever known. I will probably refer to her at other times throughout these pages as she has most certainly been influential in my culinary journey, among others.

I write all this to say that now I get to have a whole new set of grandparent experiences through my husband’s family. Although his maternal grandfather passed away before I arrived on the scene, John has been deeply blessed to have enjoyed these special relationships with his grandparents for a lot longer than most. They are definitely the warm, tender, doting kind of grandparents you see in movies and read about in books.  I love hearing stories about their youth or tales of their younger days when my husband and his sister were children. They are each very dear to my heart and over the last six years they have welcomed me as their granddaughter and shown me so much love and acceptance. When Pawpaw celebrated his 80th birthday it seemed only fiting that I make a cake dedicated to his years of experience in the radio world. We searched hundreds of pictures online to find the perfect radio, and with approval from my father-in-law on the design, I made the cake below and surprised him on his birthday. This was very early on in my cake career but it is a wonderful memory where I got to give back to these people who had so generously welcomed me and allowed me to co-opt their history with my husband.