Easter in Santorini

Sitting around all day for five weeks, watching my wife and kids walk back and forth, had me longing for travel. So I busted out a 1000-piece Santorini puzzle that had been sitting in the garage since two Christmases ago.

I spent part of my honeymoon in the Greek Isles. I still remember like it was this morning my first revelatory taste of fresh Greek yogurt with honey for breakfast (before Greek yogurt was even a “thing” here). Santorini is a lovely island, the classic vision of “Greek isle” with whitewashed, blue-domed buildings clinging to cliffsides. It’s designation in recent years as “Europe’s favorite vacation isle” apparently has it these days somewhat overrun with continental tourists. But it was reasonably quiet when we were there — we swilled the delicious local Assyrtiko white wine while eating octopus on a balcony cantilevered over the azure blue dolphin-filled sea. Now, hermetically sealed at home with my family, I dreamed of that long, wine-hazy afternoon on the other side of the world.

So I tried to figure out whether the small blue puzzle piece in my hand was Aegean water, a blue dome, or sky. And the next thing I knew, it was Easter.

In years past, when I have been able to dodge the going-to-the-in-laws-for-Easter bullet, I have made a Roman Easter feast. But that required ingredients I knew I didn’t have — fava beans, escarole, mortadella, leg of lamb — and wouldn’t be able to procure without a terrifying and perilous trip to the grocery store. So I decided to see what I had on hand and could build a themed Easter feast around. In the freezer was a lamb shank, a Greek strifti cheese pastry swirl, in the fridge a large knob of feta, and a garden full of oregano… And I was set!

Chard, green onions and oregano from the garden

My garden — two enclosed terraces built with high hopes and much fanfare many years ago — produces almost nothing. If I plant ten tomato plants, I get twelve tomatoes. It sits on a shaded hillside covered with acidic oak leaves, and though enclosed, is under constant siege by gophers, squirrels and birds. The one thing I have been able to grow there — prolifically — is Swiss chard. It is fortunate I like Swiss chard. And because our climate in the coastal mountains of Southern California closely resembles that of the Greek isles, we have no problem with oregano. In fact, our biggest problem is we sometimes have to fight the oregano back from taking over our property.

I spent a good part of post-basket-hunt Easter morning preparing a chard, oregano and feta torta — dough rolled paper thin and filled with cheese and fresh greens, brushed with olive oil and baked to a crisp. Then braised my lamb shank and skewered wine-and-garlic-soaked pork. And in the afternoon, I drank wine and made some fresh corn masa for tortillas just because. (My Anson Mills hominy order had arrived the day before.)

Greek Easter feast

The kids set the table and lit candles, I laid out the platters of food, and we had a delightfully civilized Easter dinner. With the flavor of lamb, oregano and wine on my palate, I could even close my eyes for a moment and be transported away to that taverna patio in the Aegean Sea.

And when that sensation wore off and the plates were cleared, it was back to my puzzle.

*    *    *

Greek garlic lamb shanks
serves 2

2 lamb shanks
2 large garlic cloves
I small sprig rosemary
1/4 cup olive oil
lemon wedge
salt & pepper

Cover lamb shanks in water in a pot, and bring to boil. Skim scum off the surface, add 1 tsp. salt, turn heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer for 2 hours. (Bonus! Broth can be used for su filindeu, a rare and wonderful type of Sardinian pasta.)

Remove shanks from broth, and reserve broth if you choose. As lamb shanks cool, place garlic, rosemary leaves (removed from sprig) and 1 tsp. salt in a mortar and pestle. Grind until smooth, then drizzle in olive oil, a little at a time, continuing grinding it in to emulsify. Squeeze lemon at the end and whip into aioli.

When shanks are cool, using your fingers or a pastry brush, cover shanks thoroughly with aioli.

Heat a grill to high heat. Grill shanks until golden, about 3-5 minutes per side, turning once.

Remove from heat and serve with more olive oil for drizzling.

Lamb Shanks Two Ways, and the World’s Rarest Pasta

Awhile back, I was reading Saveur magazine, and stumbled on an article entitled “On the Hunt for the World’s Rarest Pasta.”

Su filindeu — or “threads of God” — are a hand-pulled pasta the width approximately of human hair, served at the end of a 20-mile overnight pilgrimage through sheep country on the isle of Sardinia, a tradition that has dwindled down to two or three woman still able to make it. Here’s the article, a great read, if you want to learn more of the back story.

Sardinian sheep

The fine filamented noodle supposedly takes decades to master. Repeatedly stretched by hand, it grows thinner and thinner with each successive round. It is only eaten one morning a year, following a foot bath, in the Sardinian village of Lulu at the Sanctuary of San Francesco, boiled in a sheep stock and showered with grated sheep’s cheese. More

Crab Season in Chesapeake

We were recently on the East Coast, an adventure whose photos some of you may have seen on my Instagram @skinnygirlsandmayo.

The journey commenced in Washington D.C., although we flew into Baltimore.

“Maybe we should spend a day in Baltimore,” said pal Jon, who was born in Baltimore and happened to be traveling with us. I was reminded of a scene from the movie, “Shape of Water”:

Elaine Strickland: “I’m really beginning to like the house. And it’s only 30 minutes from D.C.!”

Richard Strickland: “It’s still Baltimore, Elaine. No one likes Baltimore.”

The first crab of the trip

We opted to skip Baltimore, heading instead directly for the Amtrak to D.C., which took about 30 minutes.

More

A Roundabout Route to Baccalà Mantecato

My local Vallarta Mexican grocery store never ceases to surprise and amaze me.

First of all, it’s just darned cool to have a market that actually feels — smells, sounds, visuals — like you are in Mexico. And in that regard, I have yet to need a Mexican cooking ingredient that I can’t find there.

Secondly, I find countless ingredients I need for other cuisines — the fine tripe they have, for example, that I need (yes, need) for trippa alla Romana, and a dazzling variety of fresh herbs.

Newfoundland salt cod illustration from the 1700s

A recent happy discovery was baccalà, also known as bacalao, also known as salt cod — not something I ever associated with Mexican cooking. In the past, I’ve had to travel to a Spanish purveyor in Harbor City (a heck of a drive to non-Angelenos) or wait until I’m in San Francisco to visit North Beach’s famous deli, Molinari, to get some. Not only does Vallarta have beautiful European baccala, but it’s considerably less expensive than at either of those other places. More

The Sean Dog

Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention. But could that really be true of a hot dog? Is there such a thing as necessity when it comes to a hot dog.

Sit back, friends, and let me tell my tale.

The Sean Dog

It all begins at our local Ralph’s supermarket (Krogers to you folks on the East Coast). I’ve become obsessed with the hunt for their “Woohoo” deals — items throughout the store which, due mostly to rapidly approaching “sell by” dates, have had their prices precipitously cut and have been flagged with a little yellow-and-red “Woohoo!” sticker. It has the same appeal as mushroom hunting or garage sale-ing: sometimes you find something, sometimes you don’t. More often than not, I make staggering discoveries — $14 Italian La Tur cheeses for $4; $20 dry-aged ribeyes for $6. More

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