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Food of the Gods

Saturday, slow and sweet. The first week back after a vacation is always the hardest, but luckily I have a piece in the Chron today to ease the transition into a lovely long weekend.

Today has been one of those sort of gloriously empty days: a sleep-in until 9a, breakfast out, a meander through the Fillmore Farmer’s Market (where I bought probably too much), a few much-needed phone calls. I took a sandwich to Alamo Square Park and ate and read in the sun, the wind rustling all the cyprus trees and the pages of my book. Now I’m savoring a cup of Typhoo (brewed strong) before I see where the evening takes me.

I’m not ready for the upcoming, inevitable slide into autumn — though here in Northern California, of course, we are poised to enter some of the best weather weeks of the entire year — but this weekend, the unofficial end of summer, I have two barbeques to attend, which might help me deal with it a little better. For one I’ve decided to make oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, but for the other I’ll bring a plate of tomatoes, feta, red onions, and good olive oil — a reminder to myself that just a few weeks ago I was basking under the hottest sun I’d experienced in years.

[Leftover salad, in Greece]

Most of my meals in Greece involved a Greek salad (and I’m awful because I can’t remember the name in Greek!) composed of tomato, cucumber, red onion, olives, and a thick and luscious slab of feta. Sometimes tavernas threw in some peppers, or perhaps the feta was crumbled into big chunks, but these were pretty much the standard ingredients.

On my third night on Spetses, jetlag had settled in, and rather than go out, my friend, brother, and I had a sort of pick-up meal of souvlaki (the vegetarian version rather hilariously included french fries) from a little place downtown, tomato-y beans from a can, pre-made tziki, bread, and the leftover salad Kurt had brought over. We sat comfortably, chatting with the friendly proprietor and nibbling at the bounty on the little table outside the apartment in which I was installed for the week. It was very hot, and quiet except for the occasional blat of the mopeds racing by outside the courtyard walls.

The day before, the island had celebrated a religious festival, and Kurt’s boss roasted lamb in the boat yard across the street from the shop and sent him home with leftover salad made from his garden tomatoes. Kurt, in turn, brought it over to my place for our impromptu dinner. And how I thank him for it!

There are times when I wish I was a much better writer, and this is one of them — I really can’t fully describe how delicious that salad was. We all know how much better freshly-picked tomatoes taste, but when they are grown under the blazing Mediterranean sun and paired with lots of local olive oil and salty, creamy feta cheese, they become almost transcendent. I should apologize in advance to my friends at tomorrow’s gathering because while I’ll do my best to replicate the salad, it just won’t be the same.

Still, I will try, for I have some beautiful organic heirlooms I got this morning (at only $2.50/lb.!) I know are just longing for an olive oil-and-feta bath.

And lest you grow weary of my Grecian ramblings, I have grand plans this weekend to make a vegan honey cake and a zuchini bread, as well as a white bean, tomato, and orzo soup or main dish to break up all this island nostalgia.

[Third-night meal, Spetses 2007]

Greek Salad, my way, Spetses-inspired

I like olives, but not always, and half the time I leave them behind on the plate after I’ve finished the salad. So when I make my own version, I leave them out. And I love cucumbers, but, likewise. Tomorrow morning I’ve got an early yoga class, then brunch, and I want a quick, simple, and easy dish to throw together. If you have time, let the salad sit a bit at room temperature before eating to let the flavors mingle.

2 medium heirlooms
1 large slab feta cheese
1/2 red onion, sliced
olive oil

Chop the tomatoes coarsely, and try to retain their juices. Put in a large bowl. Add the onion and olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste if you wish, and stir until all is well-coated with the oil. Place the slab of feta on top; you may also break it into chunks and mix in with the rest of the ingredients, but it’s more fun to pull it apart with your fork with your dining companions.


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