Summer Fruit Salad with Mastiha-Flavored Yogurt

12 Jul

 

The other day I spotted Homeric Mastiha in the store, and I had to try it! I’d heard of mastiha but never tried the legendary Greek liqueur. I like anything with a literary connection, and Stoupakis’ Homeric Chios Mastiha Spirit offered a unique intermingling of literature, Hellenophilia, and food and beverage.

Made from evergreen bushes found only on the Greek island of Chios, mastiha — or, gum mastic — is a Greek liqueur with a sweet and herbal finish. It’s known for its health benefits: it promotes gum health and is anti-inflammatory.

It’s a special alcoholic beverage on its own, which I’d say tastes closer to gin than ouzo. It occurred to me, though, that it would be a fun way to jazz up a summery fruit salad. I was right! I love Greek yogurt, but I have to be in the mood for it. It can be a bit sour at times. Mixing it with mastiha gives such a delightful floral taste. I’m not sure everyone would like it. It’s very Greek. If you hate loukoumi (Turkish delight), you probably won’t like anything flavored with mastiha. I, for one, thought it made the boozy fruit salad with yogurt something elegant. Here’s my recipe:::

  1. Scoop out your favorite Greek yogurt. I used plain Fage. This traditional Greek yogurt got its start in Athens in 1926. It’s known for being packed with protein and great for vegetarians, so definitely a winning combination for me!
  2. Wash and slice peaches, nectarines, and strawberries. Leaving the skins on is not only easier (yay!), but it’s also better for you! It’s got great nutrients in it. Toss the fruit over the yogurt.
  3. Douse the fruit-topped yogurt with mastiha.

It’s really that simple! I don’t have suggestions for portion size or how much mastiha I used. It’s really up to individual preference.

I packed mine in a to-go container and ate it in Central Park. It was delightful!

You may like these related blog posts:::

 

 

 

 

 

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Viewing Cassady’s “Lost” Joan Anderson Letter

7 Jul

The “lost” letter that forever changed Jack Kerouac’s writing style was recently “found” and put on auction at Christie’s last month. If you’re someone who has read any biography about Kerouac, you’ve heard of the infamous “Joan Anderson letter.” You know the importance of this letter.

It is — what for it! — legendary.

I was on my way to Christie’s on the day before auction to see the letter when I ran into my coworker on the elevator. We exchanged pleasantries about what we were having for lunch, and I burst out in excitement — or at least the equivalent of bursting out in excitement for my shy nerdy self — that I was on my way to see the Joan Anderson letter. He had never heard of it. He knew very little about the Beat Generation. He asked about it, and I was somewhat at a loss for how to explain it. I started explaining that it was written by Kerouac’s friend Neal Cassady, who wrote in a fast-paced, confessional style.

But what is it about? he wanted to know.

Ah. Now I blushed. I said something about it being … “scandalous.” How could I explain the contents of the letter without sounding like I was into reading other people’s sexcapades? The forty-page letter was Cassady’s sexual exploits in 1946. It included stories about a woman named Joan Anderson in a hospital and one named Cherry Mary who got caught by her aunt.

 

It wasn’t about the subject matter, though. That was not what ever interested me. And it’s not just what interested Kerouac — or even Cassady. It was about telling a good story. Capturing it in a way that is real. Authentic. Captivating.

I had met Neal Cassady’s daughter’s husband at a reading in Greenwich Village, and he had shown me a copy of the letter. What fascinated me was the illustrations and handwritten addenda that I hadn’t known about.

I went to Christie’s auction house because I wanted to see the real letter in person. I’ve never seen the scroll version of On the Road. I missed it the last time it was in New York City about ten years ago. So seeing the Joan Anderson letter, a letter purported to have been lost and unseen by so most, was one of those literary moments I couldn’t pass up.

Having never been to Christie’s before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I have to be patted down? Would I have to turn in my iPhone? Would I even be able to find the letter amongst all the other treasures up for auction? I was surprised to discover it was the very first thing one could possibly see upon entering Christie’s. I could only see a few pages of the letter, as the whole thing wasn’t on display. It was difficult to read the entire thing, but I tilted my head and read sections. I took the whole thing in. It was exciting. It felt like history. Perhaps the way some people feel about seeing the Constitution. I didn’t press my luck and try to take a photograph, but I carried the memory of it with me as I walked back to work.

The letter didn’t end up selling at auction. You can read about Neal Cassady’s Joan Anderson letter here, on Christie’s auction house website and here.

You can read Cassady’s letters in Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967.

 

 

 

 

Peach Picking

5 Jul

Every summer when I was a child, my family would spend time with my cousins in Baltimore. Usually on the way to Baltimore or from Baltimore, my family would stop and go peach picking. My father would reach high into the trees to get the best, untouched fruit. We’d bring home barrels and barrels of fuzzy, squishy peaches. The fruit was so fresh and so juicy! I can remember the juices dripping down my chin and down the length of my arm toward my elbow. I remember the sticky feeling of peach juice clinging to my fingers. The peaches we picked tasted better than any fruit we bought in the sterile grocery store. But we had to eat it fast! The peaches went bad quickly, and our eyes had been bigger than our stomachs as we picked a million peaches.

Peaches are one of the fruits I most connect to summertime. These precious memories of peach picking with my family float through my head when I pick fresh produce in the grocery store as an adult and sometimes I even have the chance to go peach picking with friends.

I try to eat a lot of peaches in the summer. It’s fun to eat seasonally. I know a lot of people do it for health reasons and for the environment and because of the costs, but there’s also something special about knowing that there’s only a limited time you can enjoy something. It makes you savor it all the more.

Last summer I went peach picking at Alstede Farms in the adorable town of Chester, New Jersey, and I recently went back to the farm just to get pie and visit with the adorable farm animals. Here are some pictures from Alstede Farm. I highly recommend picking your own fruit this summer! It’s a great inspiration for eating healthier foods.

 

 

Jack Kerouac’s Roman Candles

4 Jul

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Jack Kerouac’s most famous quote is this gorgeous piece of prose from his seminal novel On the Road:::

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Kerouac’s words have been made into wall art and tattoos. They are inspiring and wondrous. The repetition of “mad” and “burn” drive the energy of the sentence. The verbs make you want to act, make you want — to live, to talk, to be saved. They make you burn, burn, burn. They make you feel as if your senses are exploding. You read these words, and you want to seize the day! You want to be the type of friend who makes your friends’ lives shine brighter, who creates moments in their lives that they will hold onto for the rest of their lives.

The beauty of the “fabulous yellow roman candles” that are “exploding like spiders across the stars” with their “blue centerlight” is mesmerizing.  (Italian author Elena Ferrante also write a magnificent scene involving Roman candles in My Brilliant Friend.) It’s so visual. So visceral. I’ve written before about how Kerouac may have pinched the Roman candle image from James Joyce. See this quote from Ulysses:::

…O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! they were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lovely, O, soft, sweet, soft!

But what exactly is a Roman candle?

Years ago, when I first encountered the words “roman candles” I thought they were those eight-inch religious candles in glass. You know the ones. They usually have Mother Mary or some other icon on the glass. Kerouac was Catholic so it made sense to me at the time, and though the image in my mind’s eye was quieter, more solitary, it still enamored me. It had a holiness to it.

As it turns out, though, a Roman candle is actually what we’d typically call a firework. They’re illegal for BBQers and other regular Joes to own in New Jersey and New York — and actually now they’re illegal in Massachusetts too — so I never learned Roman candles were a type of fireworks. The world of pyrotechnics is full of Roman candles, bottle rockets, sparklers, and more!

Developed in China, the Roman candle gained prominence during the Italian renaissance. It burns ever so slowly til it reaches the pyrotechnic star. Then suddenly it bursts into colors!

Here’s how it works, according to Wikipedia:::

Roman candles are fireworks constructed with bentonitelifting chargepyrotechnic starblack powder, and delay charge. The device is ignited from the top, which should be pointed into the sky, away from people. The delay powder is packed tightly in the tube, so that the flame cannot reach around the sides of the plug of delay composition. It therefore burns slowly; as it is consumed, the flame moves down through the tube. When the flame reaches the topmost pyrotechnic star, the star is ignited. Because the star fits loosely in the tube, the fire spreads around it and ignites the lift charge. The lift charge burns quickly, propelling the star out of the tube. In doing so it also ignites the layer of delay powder beneath it, and the process repeats.

About those stars:::

The stars of Roman candles can be found in any number of colors. Colors are manipulated by adding compounds which, when ignited, release visible light and other radiation. For example, when potassium perchlorate (KClO4) is used as an oxidizer, chemical reactions involving the dissociated elements of the perchlorate—potassium and chlorine ions—create barium compounds which emit green light (especially BaCl). The potassium compounds formed by this reaction emit mostly near-infrared light, and so they do not affect the color of the star in a significant way. This reaction occurs at temperatures exceeding 2500°C (4532°F), at which KCl can ionize into K+ and Cl. Alternatively, strontium carbonate can be added to the candle to produce a red or pink star, but, because it does not oxidize, more oxidizers and fuels must be added to sustain combustion. During combustion, various strontium compounds (especially SrOH) emit red light, most of which is between 506 and 722 nanometers in wavelength.[4]

That’s probably way more nerdy information than you needed to know!

Keep the fireworks to the professionals. Yesterday a man in Central Park stepped on a firework and had to get his leg amputated!

I have the day off from work … so of course I’ve gotten sick! But that means instead of going to the beach and watching fireworks, I can bring you literary links related to the Beats and America:::

 

Be safe, and have a Happy Independence Day!!

 

 

Quotable: The very thing that connected me…

27 Jun

JamesBaldwin

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

~James Baldwin

Quotable: I can never read all the books I want

20 Jun

SylviaPlath

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.”

~from Sylvia Plath’s The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Quotable: You wish the author…

13 Jun

 

catcher_in_the_rye

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

~from J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

You may enjoy this Catcher in the Rye-themed book party I hosted.

I’m Reading Today with the Greek-American Writers Association 

10 Jun

I’ll be reading one of my favorite stories from my memoir-in-progress tonight at 6:00 at the Greek-American Writers Association at Cornelia Street Cafe (29 Cornelia Street) in New York City. Admissions is $9. Opa! 

Quotable: The books that everyone else is reading

6 Jun

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“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

~from Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood

 

Quotable: A Room Without Books…

30 May

Cicero

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”

~Marcus Tullius Cicero