What happens when you take a Greek family eating a classic Mediterranean diet and transport them to the abundant San Joaquin Valley? You get my family. In the early 1900’s my grandparents emigrated from Crete to California. They purchased 40 acres in Manteca, CA and began to recreate everything they knew and loved from their homeland. We baked our bread in a clay oven, clabbered fresh milk into cheeses and yogurt, enjoyed deep green pungent olive oil from our press, collected honey from our bee boxes, and gorged on almonds, walnuts, vivid red sun ripened tomatoes, sweet juicy grapes, lush sweet peaches and apricots, heavy ripe melons, and just about anything else that pushed through our fertile soil. The farm was hot, dusty, dirty, and held together by a string….and it was pure magic!
Every weekend was a private Greek festival taking place under the hub of our “village” the Mulberry tree. It was our town square where Greeks throughout the valley and all of us relatives who had moved away would gather to listen while my Grandfather and his band played their lyras (λυρες), bouzoukis (μπουζουκια), mandolins, and flutes. We would dance, when the men got a little drunk on ouzo or whisky they would smoke big fat cigars and sing mandinathes (Greek folk songs), and we would feast! Tables would be filled with food in the farmhouse, a whole goat or lamb would be slowly turning on a spit and all of us cousins would run, laugh, and eat, until we were loaded exhausted and dirty into the huge back seats of our Chevy’s and Fords and driven home. This was my childhood.
Considering the exposure that I had to simple, beautifully prepared foods on my mother’s side, and the bakers and grocery store owners on my father’s side I was “to the manner born” and it’s no surprise that I grew up to be a chef, restaurateur, caterer, and food writer.
How to Stuff a Grape Leaf is a tribute to my family and a classic American emigrant story. In addition to being a story of a time gone by, it’s a story of the future we want to create. This is a story about community, breaking bread together, eating consciously and using the opportunity to eat to satisfy our needs that go beyond nutrition to connection with the soil, with the sun, and with the other human being sitting across the table. In order for us to thrive we need to connect. Because when we no longer understand something as basic as how to bake bread, or when a tomato is ready to eat, we have lost our way.
Once completed How to Stuff a Grapeleaf will be available for purchase from this website. In the meantime join me on this site as I tell you all about my large, mostly Greek family.