Thursday, June 16, 2011

Inside the pod

What do you do when you want to post a recipe but you're not in the mood to write anything about it? Do you worry that your readers will take it personally and assume that you're too bored to address them? Will they think that you believe the recipe is boring even though you took the time to post it? Will it diminish the value of the recipe itself if a story is not attached to it? Will anyone care at all because, let's face it, who reads whatever the hell you're writing anyway?

These questions are on my mind lately whenever I sit down to write a post.

Perhaps because I'm not in the best of moods these past few weeks. I've been cranky, sad, gloomy, anxious, angry and many other negative things that I don't care to mention. I have been struggling to post anything, hell, it's been hard to do anything lately. Blogging is perhaps the last thing on my mind.

Ever since my dad passed away four months ago I've been going through the motions.
It seems like I'm doing whatever I have to do to stop myself from thinking too much about... everything.

Even though I have two degrees in Psychology I feel like I need to be reminded of the basics. I need to tell myself that "It will take time"
"I shouldn't force myself to feel a certain way"
"I need to go through this at my own pace"
"I mustn't be reluctant to rely on the people I love"

I have been trying to conquer my nearly constant bad mood in many ways and one of them is by keeping my mind busy with this blog of mine. Yet, it's futile. As soon as I hit "publish", it's me again. With my negative thoughts and feelings.

Food has always managed to put me in a good mood. It still works some days. Others not so much.

Feta drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with dried oregano

S told me the other day as we were eating a bowl of these fresh peas that cooking is the only form of art that has an immediate and tangible outcome and offers instant gratification. I believe he's right.

Cooking; that's the art form I practice every day in my kitchen although I doubt if my everyday culinary creations can be considered art. Yet, this dish can.
The mellow, sweet flavor of the fresh peas, the starchy sweetness of the potatoes, the vibrancy of the dill and green onions make this dish artful in all its simplicity.

Arakas me patates (Greek Fresh Peas with Potatoes, Green Onions and Dill)

This is a classic Greek dish that belongs to the category of "ladera". Ladera means "with oil" or "oily" (ladi is the Greek word for oil) and denotes dishes, specifically vegetable dishes, that are prepared with olive oil and without the addition of any other type of fat.
There are two varieties of ladera: a) vegetables that are braised or baked in an olive oil and tomato sauce and b) vegetables that are braised or baked in an olive oil-based sauce without tomato and with the addition of different fresh herbs.
This dish is of the second variety.

Ladera are a huge part of Greek cuisine and one of the reasons why it is considered among the healthiest in the world. They are peasant-style dishes that rely on the freshness of the ingredients used, they celebrate the importance of vegetables and olive oil in the Greek diet and are consumed all year round, though they are especially flavorful during spring and summer when fresh Greek produce is abundant. They are also the preferred type of dishes to be consumed during periods of fasting, like Lent.

Ladera are always accompanied by big chunks of cheese like feta, manouri or kefalotyri and lots and lots of crusty bread.

I make this dish of peas with potatoes all year round, almost twice a month, using frozen peas (usually petit pois) whenever I can't find fresh ones, that work beautifully in this dish. They require a bit more cooking time though, about 25 minutes more than fresh peas.
You may also add a couple of sliced small carrots to the dish to make it more hearty. Add them when you add the potatoes.

Yield: 4 servings

1 kg fresh peas in their pods (after shelling them I ended up with 475 g) or 500 g frozen peas
150 ml virgin olive oil
4-5 potatoes, medium sized (about 600 g total), cut into approximately 3 x 3 cm cubes
8-10 small green onions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
300 ml tap water
30 g (about 1 cup) fresh dill, divided into stems and leaves, finely chopped plus a little extra for sprinkling over the dishes
Black pepper, freshly ground

Rinse the pea pods well under cold running water. Shell the peas and discard the pods, keeping the shelled peas in a bowl. Do not rinse them.

Pour the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and heat it over medium heat. Add the green onions and sauté them lightly for 1 minute. Add the chopped dill stems and sauté them for ½ minute. Add the cubed potatoes and sauté them for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add the shelled peas (or frozen peas) and stir them around the pan with a wooden spoon so that they get coated with the olive oil. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, add the water, turn heat up to high and let it come to the boil.
Cover the pan with the lid and turn heat down to low. Let peas and potatoes simmer for about 20 minutes (or if using frozen peas about 45 minutes), until they are tender.
Just before they're ready, about 5 minutes before, stir in the rest of the dill (the chopped leaves).
The peas should not be mushy. They should remain crisp and juicy.

Note: do not overcook the peas otherwise they'll lose all their flavor and freshness.

Serve immediately, sprinkling some extra chopped dill on top of each plate.
This dish can also be served at room temperature, as is common with all Greek ladera dishes.


  1. Hang in there Magda..all you can do is take life one-day-at-a-time.

    The peas dish looks very comforting...some bread please?

  2. This dish looks delicious, and your photographs are wonderful. I look forward to more posts (I just discovered your blog today). You also have my very best wishes during this tough time.

  3. in the mood or not, you've created something beautiful here. i also recently lost a family member who i was extremely close to, and i really shut down. being creative and writing, cooking, accessing my passions has been one to way channel her and alleviate the pain. i pass on that strength to you now.

  4. I agree with you that cooking is a form of art. I try not to worry too much when I write on my blog - in the end, it is not a job, I do that just because I have fun. We are a bunch of individuals who think a lot about food, and I personally like reading other people's thoughts on it. There is always much more in food than just bare nutrition, and this post is an example of it. I'm sure you'll find a new balance - but you're right, it does take time.

  5. I am having moments like that too, when I am not inspired at all to write or even cook. Life takes over, there is so little time and I feel frustrated. I always try to remind myself that my blog is my space, it is for me, it is not a job. If I don't feel like writing one day I shouldn't, if I haven't cooked something blog worthy, tough luck. I don't need another thing to add onto my endless to-do list. It is my creature to love, to bring me joy. I can imagine how all this is amplified for you right now. You know already, so I am not going to tell you it will get better. Just take the days as they come, write when it brings you distraction, relief, joy. When you don't feel like it, don't. You are making art whether you write and photograph it or nor. We will be here waiting when the time is right.

  6. Magda - even with two degrees in psychology, you are human. When my mother died, one very wise woman told me that the day I forget her and feel as if the world were right again is probably a day that won't happen. And it's true - I miss her after these 23 years each day, especially in the kitchen. But the pain and anger and sadness do eventually subside - and it is so wonderful to know she is still with me in the kitchen. Thanks fro your post - even when you didn't want to - fresh peas are wonderful comfort food - and this is the perfect time of year. David

  7. Love this dish; in lebanese cuisine too, there is a huge section of dishes cooked with olive oil and eaten at room temp, used for Lent and just for any old day and very healthy. Love these dishes and can't wait to try this one, because it is typically Greek. I found cooking to be my best remedy for moodiness because it delivers instant results, whereas art (as in painting) I found so frustratiing/ So, find an occupation that will help you escape from yourself would be my motto.

  8. Magda, this is a wonderful post. Thanks for being so honest on a personal level. I'm always so impressed by your talents for creating amazing food and documenting it for all of us with your gorgeous pics. My mother passed away 9 years ago and I feel her loss each day--it was difficult in the beginning to continue doing those things I loved but I eventually reached a place where I could embrace this and knew it was the best way to honor her. You will eventually reach the same place but you are right in that it does take time. My thoughts will be with you.

  9. Dear Magda

    I too have been down recently and am having a hard time mustering the interest to cook and write. But little by little (and with the help of my doctor) I'm getting back into the swing of things and finding that the most important thing is not to put pressure on yourself.

    We, your readers, will stick around. Be proud of the fact that, despite not feeling like it, you are still writing interesting posts and taking lovely photos.

    I will be buying peas and potatoes at the market tomorrow and making dinner a la Magda.

  10. Magda, I hope you feel better for that xxx
    I enjoy reading your thoughts and recipes.
    Time heals they say xxx

  11. Hi Magda,
    We are reading! and we relish your blog, with its Greek-and-Dutch perspectives, beautiful photography, and unique voice.

    As bloggers we have our bumps: not every post is going to be stellar, or we don't have the "oomph" to post, or that, at times, life is just plain difficult.

    It's good to press on, though. This post that you initially dismissed
    is an interesting read with an interesting recipe. Take good care, Nancy

  12. Magda, even after 21 years of loosing my 1st late hubby, there are times I missed him so much that I feel depressed. I have gone through a period of depression and since I started my food blog, I have not slipped back into it. Different people need different time frame feel better, since you have two degrees in Psychology, who am I to give you any advice? I think we just need to be patient with ourselves and let time heals our pain.

  13. Thank you all so much for your sweet and supportive comments. They really do give me strength to go on.

  14. Magda, you are not alone. I feel as if I've been going through the motions with Amuse-bouche since January when a lot of crazy mergers and layoffs happened where I work. Trying to defeat the stress, maintain routine and rituals that bring's been very hard. Very hard. I feel as though things are getting a bit back to the good old days, blog-wise. It's harder some days. Trying to rally the passion with words and visuals—my fingers and eyes sometimes withdrawal in exhaustion. So I try harder. Enough about me...You've done beautifully after everything you've experienced. It's inspiring :)

  15. Sorry to hear your bad news ( and bad mood). Keep doing the things that give you comfort.

  16. Hey there Magda :) From another daughter whose experienced all those weird & crazy feelings of grief while trying to carry on regardless, I felt I just had to say...... hang in there kid. Something I truly, ruly, absolutely learnt through that time is a cliche I know., but allow yourself to grieve in whatever way you need to, one day you'll realise that its been hours (if not days) that you felt all these socially negative feelings, it (the grief) comes in waves & sometimes darn near takes you out, other times it just levels you to your knees & one day, when your least expecting it, you find yourself laughing at one of your Dads funny sayings or habits & it makes you feel almost guilty. Bit by bit though the waves come smaller & less often & eventually it all feels OK again.
    Thinking of you & sending hugs across the blogosphere Magda, it'll be OK, trust me :)

  17. How brave and generous of you to open your heart to us, Magda. Hang in there! And believe me, don't try drowning your grief in doing too much. It's ok to take your time. It's ok not too blog if you don't feel like it (We'll wait). It's ok to be sad and angry and upset (although it's not fun).

    And again, what a beautiful and comforting dish...

    Lots of love. M.

  18. Well...I read what you write, and I like it. If once in a while you aren't in the mood for writing about a recipe, maybe just a simple photo will do, or just the notes or photos. I know I understand fluctuations in mood and motivation. I'm sure the rest of your readers do too. Take care, Denise

  19. Thank you all for your kind comments. They mean a lot to me.

  20. I found you today by accident and just wanted to say 'hi.' I lost my father back in 2003, and everyone's experience and every loss is different. Nothing wrong with anything you do, don't do, feel, don't feel.

    I did love the photos for this post. But let yourself be. Sending you all the best.

  21. just want you to know we are all thinking of you and your loss and i am sure there are a few of us who have been where you are now,you will get through it but at your own speed day by day but you never forget and he would not want you to,it will get easier sending you all the best

    love your blog great photos and words !!

  22. Magda, Remember this blog is for you, first and foremost. If it's helping you then keep it up. If you need a break, there's no pressure! Your posts are always beautiful, well written, the photos are terrific and your ideas are all so original. Life is hard, and I should have written that in capital letters. Just do your best, keep being honest and true to your feelings. Best wishes.

  23. S is spot ON as to why we, I, you, love food. The exact same words I spoke to my friends a few days ago - you choose to make something, you prepare it and you see it ready....and can judge its success or failure.

    Take it easy with your thoughts and go easy on you - its not easy to lose your father. Stay well

  24. That dish looks so comforting, enjoyable and gratifying! A delicious combination of ingredients.



  25. do you know how rare it is to find peas on the pod in crete? they are never sold in supermarkets, so we generally dont eat peas fresh - i have seen some people growing them in the garden, but there are never enough to go round (for me...)

  26. The recipe doesn't say when you add the water listed in the list of ingredients.Would it be when you add the salt and pepper perhaps?

    1. Hi Peggy. Yes, thanks for pointing that out. I corrected it.

  27. Just made this for dinner, and it was great.

  28. annndddd here it is :)