Baklava -Writes of Spring
Apron Stings By Samantha Gianulis
1 package phyllo dough
Large package whole walnuts (the size bag they sell at warehouse stores)
3 sticks unsalted butter or margarine (whichever you prefer), melted
½ tbsp. cinnamon
4 tbsp. sugar
Pulse walnuts in Cuisinart. They should be chopped, not ground.
In a bowl, mix walnuts, sugar and cinnamon together well.
Unwrap the phyllo.
Peel away one sheet, lay on top of clean, dry cutting board.
Paint first sheet with butter using a pastry brush. You do not need to paint every square inch of phyllo sheet with butter, but around the corners and generously in the middle of the sheet.
Put a second sheet over the first.
Paint second sheet of baklava with butter.
Add walnut mixture, a few small handfuls, sprinkling over the phyllo sheet.
Repeat process until you have 5 layers, ending with a sheet of phyllo dough, unbuttered.
Let baklava sit on the counter overnight.
4 cups sugar
4 cups water
Honey (approximately 1 tbsp.)
Over medium high heat, make simple syrup out of sugar and water.
Squeeze lemon juice into pan, add cut lemon into syrup as well.
Simmer for 15 minutes, then cover.
Paint over cooked, cooled baklava generously, more than once per slice.
Pink and buttercup colored dresses take over the clothing racks of stores. Players report for Spring Training. Asparagus stands tall in the produce section with hints of purple on the stalks. My boots feel too warm, and there hasn’t been a cloud in the sky in many days. My annuals peek out from the muddy ground and say hello.
Field of Dreams is on television and I recite the James Earl Jones speech (“People will come, Ray”) in my best baritone, even though my kids beg me to be quiet. “Centerfield” dominates “Gypsy” on my iPod, and I disregard the button-fly jeans in favor of my khaki capris.
It’s springtime in Southern California.
I love spring. As long as I can remember it has been my favorite season. All of the literary metaphors and lyrical references about renewal (spring) and discontent (winter) were not lost on me I absorbed them and adapted accordingly.
Smiles mean more in springtime. The sweet, silent gratification of a smile, sometimes accompanied by a wink, says “The sun is coming out again, baby.”
I come alive at this time of year.
March 20th is the official date spring begins the Vernal Equinox, or “Solstice” but I feel spring long before she announces herself. The signs are everywhere! And if I remember to remove the winter hats in our on-the-go/used-to-be-diaper bag and replace them with sunscreen, we won’t get burned.
I get lost in the seasonal excitement, and those trivial things like SPF lotion bring me back down to Earth.
Hubby comes in handy at these times. He has a nasty habit of grounding me, but he tempers that by encouraging my daydreams.
“Honey, are the kids’ clothes ironed?”
Ironed? I thought I made it clear before I married you, I can cook, but I don’t iron.
Hubby is referring to the clothes the kids will wear to the annual Greek picnic on Easter. I am Greek-by-marriage, and Easter (or Pascha in Greek) is the holy season for the Greek Orthodox. Church service at all hours of the day and night, the annual picnic after church, and everywhere you look, traditional Greek food not to mention the dancing (Opa!)
I just can’t decide which aspect of spring I take joy in the most.
When I was young, Easter was celebrated with a backyard egg hunt, my name assembled in jelly beans on a table, brunch on Easter Sunday, and many people gathered in my parent’s home. I don’t remember one cloudy or rainy Easter, the drapes were always pulled back letting in the sunlight that warmed the white linens beneath the platters of brunch fare. Our American Jewish/Christian Easter (think Chrismukkah with pastel eggs beside matzoh bread) could be recognized by cold, sliced Honeybaked Ham with Dijon Mustard, a different potato dish every year (we tried several potato recipes on for size, as we were and are loyal subscribers to every Food magazine published in the United States), “Kitchen Sink Salads” (my mother added everything but the kitchen sink to the Spring Mix), egg salad, brie (it was the 80s), flaky biscuits, and homemade chocolate mousse. There were more holiday trimmings I now forget, because my mind defaults to Mediterranean dishes.
My fondness of Spring seems to be hereditary. My kids love Easter, who can blame them? Greek Easter is celebrated the Sunday after the American Easter. This means twice the festivities for my children.
In our home, we dye eggs all different shades and combinations of primary colors, then the Easter Bunny, in an elusive manner the kids believe is learned from Santa, leaves hidden eggs instead of wrapped presents.
The following week at my in-laws home, when the kids are usually out of school, they help Yia-Yia (Greek for Grandma) dye eggs a rich, deep red with crosses and leaf imprints carefully applied, as they nibble on the Pascha pastries of phyllo, nuts, honey, cinnamon and powdered sugar. Tradition.
This is what I believe to be most important of any holiday – tradition. I watch my kid’s hearts and minds open when they learn about their “Greekness” through holiday rituals. I step back at this time and hope they identify with something much bigger than themselves, as commanding as Mt. Olympus, as enchanting as licking honey syrup off homemade baklava.
That’s all good, very touching, but I have to admit I’m in it for the food. Donning new dresses, open-toed sandals, and button down shirts freshly sprayed with Wrinkle Release is just a pre-requisite to getting my hands on the spanakopita, dolmades, lamb and lemon potatoes, now as customary to me as baseball, pastels, chocolate bunny rabbits and sufficient sunlight.
I make no apologies for my appetite, eating is my favorite way of honoring my husband’s culture.
And after I have had two plates of olive oil-lemon-oregano based Greek cuisine, I watch my son kick his heels high as his uncles teach him Syrto, a Greek dance. I videotape my father-in-law twirl his granddaughters who stand far below him, their little hands in his, looking up at Papou’s wise face adoringly. I clutch my husband’s hand in mine, tightly swinging our intertwined grip back and forth, back and forth, bringing his hand up to my face so I can kiss the back of it.
You don’t need to say anything, silly. Just smile at me.
I have so many things to love.
I know January begins the first month of the year, but to me, the real New Year begins in Spring. Life bursts from the ground. Clouds roll by ever faster. Walk outside and the sun warms your face.
There is so much to love.
Samantha is a self-taught chef. She worked in the Catering and Special Events industry for seven years before becoming a stay at home, now a work at home, Mom.
She appeared on NBC's ivillage Live.
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