Sunday, April 18, 2021

How to Make Red Greek Easter Eggs for Tsougrisma

Tsougrisma is a traditional game played by Greeks on Orthodox Easter. The game is played by cracking red dyed eggs together. The eggs symbolize new life and the color red symbolizes Christ’s blood shed for us. Each person chooses an egg and holds it upright while another person lightly taps their egg against it. The person whose egg cracks then turns it around and uses the other end. When both ends are cracked, the player is out. We take turns going around the table, cracking the eggs with each other. The person with at least one end intact at the end wins and is said to have good luck throughout the year.

When I was young, I remember my mom teasing that she was going to sneak this red alabaster egg, a decoration in our dining room, into the game. And one year, when we were little kids, my sister won this game when we celebrated Easter at my Aunt Vasiliki's. I swear I remember her keeping the winning egg and saving it in her closet at home until her room began to stink and my mom found it there. She insists that never happened, but will admit to saving some chicken bones wrapped in paper towels for her stuffed dog, Blooper. I guess we’ll never know for sure (I’m right), but the point is that I have some fond memories from celebrating Greek Easter with my family. And I hope my own kids will look back one day and recall some fun memories from celebrating this little part of our heritage as well.

Traditionally, the eggs are dyed on Holy Thursday in preparation for Easter. Here's how to color the eggs used in this game and in tsoureki, a sweet bread that has a whole red egg baked into it. I color my eggs with yellow onion skins. You can use any commercial dye (Greek markets sell a red dye at Easter time) but I don't like using store-bought dyes because I feel they don't yield as deep and vibrant a color as the onion peels, plus they tend to bleed and stain your hands red while playing the game.

1.  Get 12 - 18 eggs. Make sure you have enough for every person plus a couple extras in case they crack while boiling. Let the eggs sit out until they're room temperature.

2.  Peel about 12 yellow onions. You might think that red onions, not yellow, would create a red dye, but I promise you, as unlikely as it seems, that yellow onions will dye your eggs a deep red. (Then look up recipes that use a lot of onion! Or you can dice and freeze all those peeled onions in ziplock bags to use at a later date.)

3.  Put the onion skins in a large pot along with 3 tablespoons of white vinegar and 8 cups of water.

4.  Boil the onion skins for 30 minutes, occasionally stirring to ensure the peels are fully submerged. Turn off the heat and let it sit for another 30 minutes to cool.

5.  Pour the cooled liquid through a colander and into another large pot. Discard the onion peels.

6.  Return the red liquid to the stove. Add your eggs and bring them to a boil. Let the eggs boil in the red liquid for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the eggs soak up the dye for another 15 - 30 minutes, checking them occasionally until they reach the color you'd like.

7.  Remove the eggs from the liquid, dry them, and then rub them with a little olive oil.

8.  Now, have fun! Christos Anesti!


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

My Yaya - the Centenarian!

My Yaya (grandma in Greek) Lavonne, will turn 100 years old this April 28th. I cannot even imagine how much she has seen and experienced in her 100 years on this earth; how dramatically things have changed in that time. I feel like things have changed so much in my life and I've only been around half the amount of time!

My Yaya has: 
2 children
4 grandchildren
8 great-grandchildren
1 great-great-grandchild (and a step great-great-grandchild, and two more great-great-grandchildren on the way)

My fondest memories of my grandma are visiting her in South Whitley, Indiana where she lived when I was a kid. I remember playing on the big porch of the white house and roller skating on the sidewalks. My sister and I thought my grandparents had the coolest basement because the stairs that led to it were in the garage, and they had a pool table down there. When we were little kids, my sister and I liked to play what we dubbed "b ball" wherein we rolled the balls back and forth across the table to each other. B ball caused many a smashed finger! There was a storage room with a huge plastic Santa, and toys like Lincoln Logs, those little canisters that mooed when you turned them over, and Halsam Elgo American plastic bricks. I can still smell that basement when I think about it. 

When the fire siren went off at noon, we knew it was time for our grandpa to come home for lunch, and we'd watch for him to come walking down the street. And down that street there was a park where we loved to play. They had all that awesome old playground equipment like teeter totters, a huge metal slide that would burn a layer of skin off your thighs if you slid down in the summer, and a merry-go-round that would fling kids off with its centrifugal force, and it would cause others to throw up. Good times!

South Whitley, Indiana is known for its bed races. That's right, bed races. They race beds down the street. Now, that was a fun event that left an indelible impression! And when we visited, we went to the hardware store for ice cream! Ice cream in a hardware store! We're talking small-town-America.

One time, when it was storming and I was scared, I remember my grandma carrying me out to their big porch while soothing me and telling me that thunder and lightning were nothing to be scared of. We stayed out there watching the rain fall and listening to the crackle of thunder roll across the sky.

And even better than visiting them at the "white house" was visiting them at their cottage on the lake. My sister and I spent our days feeding ducks, swimming, and playing with these giant plastic fish. After playing in the sand at the water's edge, we had to check for, and salt the leeches that inevitably stuck to us. In the evening, we caught lightning bugs and kept them in mason jars with holes punched through the lids, as nightlights. I remember waking up from a dream once, and thinking all the lightning bugs had escaped and were flying around the room. 

On the fourth of July, there was a pancake breakfast on the lake. It was literally on the lake and we'd take the pontoon boat out, get some pancakes from the temporary floating restaurant and have breakfast while cruising around. We fished from the end of the pier with our grandpa, and begged for rides in the motorboat. We ate strawberries from their patch until we got sick, and we eagerly awaited, money from our grandparents in hand, for the ice cream truck to come singing down the lane. That was so exciting for us because we didn't have ice cream trucks at home. My sister and I put on shows for my grandparents who graciously endured them and applauded as if we were on Broadway.

We played with paper dolls, and the neighbor's dog SueSue. We gobbled up my grandma's homemade apple dumplings with ice cream in the evening. And we'll never forget the time a tornado came through. We all hunkered down in the bathroom as the sky turned green and it sounded like a freight train was barreling through the yard. My frightened little sister just kept thinking, What if someone actually has to go to the bathroom while we're in here?

And when my grandparents moved to Florida, we visited them in the winter and it was such a treat to wear shorts and swim and bask in the sunshine. We got sunburned every darn time we visited because, despite their warnings about reapplying sunscreen, we knew everything and didn't heed their advice. We rode their bikes around the park and sat on their screened-in lanai reading books while my parents and grandparents enjoyed their pre-dinner cocktail of whiskey and Coke. My grandma always got us pecan rolls for breakfast when we visited. To this day, I think of visiting them in Florida when I have pecan rolls. We went with them to Homosassa Springs, Weeki Wachee to see the mermaids, and Epcot when it first opened.

And now my grandma is turning 100!

I would love, love, love it if you would consider sending my grandma, Lavonne a card. Yes, I know most of you don't actually know her, but if any of you are so inclined, she would be absolutely tickled to receive a bunch of birthday cards, especially since we can't have a big birthday bash for her because of Covid. In fact, she can only have two visitors, and next week they may have to quarantine again because of a positive case where she lives. If that happens, she'll be celebrating her 100th birthday alone.

The past year has been tough on all of us, but I think it has been particularly difficult for those in nursing homes/assisted/independent living situations. The residents have been so isolated. In an effort to keep them safe from infection, most places didn't allow visitors for a very long time, dining rooms and common areas were closed, and in cold areas (my grandma lives in Chicagoland) they couldn't even go outside for a walk and some fresh air. 

My grandma has macular degeneration which has impaired her eyesight greatly. This woman who inspected gas masks during WWII, who knitted and crocheted blankets for all of us grandkids and great-grandkids, and who made handcrafted Christmas ornaments for everyone, every single year from 1980 until 2015 has a hard time seeing the numbers on a clock now, so even watching TV isn't the entertainment it once was. It has been a very long year for her.

If you'd be so kind as to send her a card (I mean, 100 years is quite an accomplishment, right?!) please send it in care of my mom so she can bring them/read them to my grandma who can't see well enough to read them herself anymore. I would love to see her wall decorated with a bunch of birthday cards!

Lavonne Verkade
c/o Diana Damalas
12694 Golf View Dr.
Huntley, IL 60142

And here, in honor of her 100th birthday, is a little slideshow I put together. It's a few minutes long so don't feel obligated, but please feel free to watch if you're so inclined. It took a lot of hours and help from my mom and sis to get these pictures in chronological order! And unfortunately, I don't have pictures of her with her son and his family, or with her nieces and nephews, or other relatives. But I had fun looking at all these old pictures anyway!

My Smilebox Creation


Saturday, April 3, 2021

I Don't Remember Growing Older; When Did They?

Brooklyn cleaned her room this weekend. I mean, she keeps it clean and organized on a daily basis thanks to her obsessive compulsive tendencies, but she decided she wanted to move her furniture around and clean out her closet. She carried load after load of old toys into the family room and deposited them at my feet. First there were dolls. Then came the doll stroller, followed by a big bag of play food and cooking paraphernalia. This was followed by an assortment of Play-Doh. She brought out bags of clothes she'd outgrown, boots, roller blades, and a magic set complete with collapsible top hat. 

And I've gotta tell ya, I teared up. I legitimately got tears in my eyes. I swear I could hear Topol and Norma Crane singing the haunting strains of Sunrise, Sunset as I watched my15-year-old daughter pile up armfuls of playthings from days gone by. 

"Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? I don't remember growing older. When did they?"

This child, who I swear just yesterday was making PlayDoh waffles for me is currently learning how to drive. An actual car! This baby, who would throw a fit if I didn't put her pink cowboy boots on her little feet the moment she woke up, is now in high school. My youngest child has traded Bubble Guppies for Criminal Minds, her stuffed tiger for a ukulele, The Wiggles for One Direction, and her princess dress-up clothes for a cheer uniform and an obscenely extensive collection of hoodies.

Each milestone my kids hit is somewhat bittersweet. I'm thankful they're growing, learning, and developing as they should. I celebrate their achievements at the same time I mourn those discarded little-kid things. But I think it's making me especially sad with Brooklyn because she's my youngest. For over 26 years I've had kids. And now I feel like I just have small adults. 

When I started blogging in 2007, I wasn't sure I'd survive being a stay-at-home mom to six little mess-makers. People told me back when I had 6 kids, aged 11 and under, "Enjoy this time because the days are long, but the years are short." I took their well-intentioned advice with a nod, while listening to the fighting, whining, and general chaos emanating from my spawn, and thought - You enjoy it, ya psycho! I'm running away from home!"

But I have to admit there's a lot that I miss about those days. I get weepy when I look through photo albums of my babies' first years of life. I remember the smell of their fragile little newborn heads.

I remember the days when they thought I was smart. I reminisce about the times when I'd tuck them into bed, read them a story, and snuggle with them. Nowadays, they tuck me in after I fall asleep on the couch. 

My friends tell me I have a selective memory. They're probably right. I may be looking at the situation through rose-colored glasses. So when I get a little too sentimental about those days of yore, I remind myself that, while I cherish those times, I do NOT want to revisit them.

If you, like me, sometimes find yourself wishing you could turn back time, here are a few reasons to be happy you're out of that stage of life!

*  Kids refusing to eat the nutritious meal you slaved over, opting instead to eat half a cup of ketchup, five marshmallows, and a crayon.

*  Two words – car seats.

*  Chuck E. Cheese 

*  The 2 ½ hours it takes to get ready to go anyplace and the 5 pound diaper bag you have to lug around.

*  What IS that smell in the car??

*  The kid who slumps to the floor in a heap while screaming and crying in the middle of the grocery store because you did something as diabolical as telling him he can’t have the box with the picture of the cute kitty because it’s cat food. And you don’t have a cat.

*  Caillou

*  Trying to figure out if they’re crying because they’re hungry, tired, cold, hot, wet, poopy, or because today is Tuesday.

*  Diaper blow-outs

*  Sharpie drawings on the walls

*  Accidentally washing a disposable diaper and finding that gel all over everything for weeks

*  Finding sippy cups of milk under the couch a week later

*  Attempting to reason with your child about why they cannot run into the street, stick that screwdriver in the electrical outlet, eat grass, play with the dog poop, and on and on and on and on and on . . .

*  Kids waking you up at 5:00 am on a Saturday. (Now you have to wake them up at 5:00 in the evening!)

*  Potty training

*  The whole "I do it myself" phase.

What do you not miss about those little kid years?

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