Almond Shortbread cookies (Kourambiethes)

Every family has Christmas traditions.  Some are cultural, some have been around so long we think they are cultural, some were bred out of circumstance, and some are so new we don’t even realize they are traditions until they are gone.

For the past several years, I would take Christmas Eve off work and drive up to my grandmother’s house to help her with her Christmas baking.  The baking was inevitably complete by the time I arrived.  I was convinced that she woke up extra early that morning so that she could finish before I got there, keeping her recipes secret from me for another year.  Kourambiethes have been my favourite treat since childhood: the ritual of dusting off the excess icing sugar, that first bite of buttery goodness melting in my mouth, the crunch of the first toasted almond. I rarely stopped at just one.  Maybe because they were my favourite and maybe because she needed to feel needed, kourambiethes were the one cookie we never baked together.

This Christmas was my first Christmas without my grandmother, and the first Christmas that I realized my drive to her house on Christmas Eve morning was a tradition that I will miss.  I decided to start my own tradition, and woke up early on the morning of December 23rd (though not quite as early as she would have woken up), sorted through her recipe box until I found a card for “kourambiethes” in her distinctive cursive, and got to work.  Like all her recipes, it was little more than a list of ingredients, but all those years in the kitchen with her paid off.  I had been her helper long enough to know that the eggs went with the butter, the liquor was the last liquid to be added, and icing sugar could be re-sifted.  So I set to work, combined ingredients in a way that made sense to me, and hoped for the best.  What came out of the oven a little over than an hour later was better than I could have imagined.  With the first bite, I was transported back to my grandmother’s kitchen, icing sugar falling on my sweater as I bit into a still-warm cookie, recognizing the taste as “yiayia’s recipe”.  Her secret was safe with me.

Prep time: 30 + 10 minutes, cooking time: 20 minutes, makes ~60 cookies


1 lb butter

2 egg yolks

2 cups + 2 tbsp icing sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup amaretto or similar liqueur

1 cup slivered almonds, toasted

4 cups flour

  1. In a large bowl, combine butter and egg yolks
  2. Add vanilla extract and liqueur
  3. In a separate large bowl, combine 2 tbsp icing sugar, baking powder and flour
  4. Slowly scoop dry ingredients into bowl with wet ingredients, continuing to mix
  5. Add slivered almonds and mix
  6. Grease 2 large baking sheets
  7. Scoop dough into roughly 1″ balls, and create an S-shape or flattened balls
  8. Bake for 20 minutes at 360F, or until cookies begin to brown
  9. Remove from oven and transfer to wax paper
  10. While cookies are still warm, dust evenly with remaining icing sugar, making sure that cookies are fully covered
  11. Let cool, and remove excess icing sugar

Keep for up to 1 month in the fridge

The source material

Vanilla Cookies (Koulouria)

My grandmother loved entertaining. I grew up believing it was normal to have extended family over nearly every evening of the week, and that every house had an assortment of homemade cookies ready for children to snack on, and for adults to enjoy with their coffee.

Everyone who walked through our door knew that they would leave well fed. My grandmother and aunts spent hours in the kitchen together baking, sharing, gossiping and loving every minute of it. As a small child, I sat in the kitchen with them drinking my milk and waiting impatiently to eat the warm cookies as soon as they came out of the oven.  When I got older, I joined in. First I was assigned easy tasks: getting ingredients from the fridge, lining the baking sheets, rolling the dough in preparation to braid the koulouria. As I got more comfortable, my grandmother started to give me real tasks: adding ingredients, mixing until the dough was at the right consistency, actually braiding the koulouria, and watching them bake so I could learn to see when they were ready. In my grandmother’s later years, I started writing down every ingredient and instruction on whatever scraps of paper I had in my purse, and filing them away in my envelope of recipes.


Here is the recipe I captured for Koulouria, braided Vanilla Cookies that were a staple in her house and often served with coffee.


Koulouri with Turkish coffee

Prep time: 45-60 minutes Cooking time: ~30 minutes Makes: ~100 cookies



1 lb butter

2 cups sugar

10 eggs, separated + 1 egg white

2 tbsp baking soda

2 tbsp vanilla extract

1 cup of milk

4-5 cups flour, sifted


  1. Preheat oven to 360F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper
  2. In a large bowl, mix butter and sugar. Add egg yolks and continue to mix.
  3. In a small bowl, whip egg whites. Once whites are frothed, add to batter.
  4. Add baking soda, vanilla extract and milk to batter, continue to mix
  5. Begin adding sifted flour to the batter, continuing to mix until the dough begins to form soft peaks
  6. Remove mixer, and continue to add flour to dough while needing, until the flour stops absorbing (about 5 cups)
  7. Use a dinner teaspoon (not a baking teaspoon) to scoop dough, roll and form a braid, and lay on baking sheet. Alternatively, you can form ovals, s-shapes or o-shapes.
  8. Whip one remaining egg, and brush egg wash over tops of cookies
  9. Bake for ~30 minutes, or until egg wash starts to brown
  10. Remove from oven, let cool, and enjoy. Cookies store well in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Tomato Avocado Mozzarella salad

I love cool, damp mornings before the sun has had a chance to evaporate the morning dew.  The birds are chirping, the downtown streets are relatively quiet, my plants are vibrant, and I can’t quite make out the horizon – just a haze of blue where Lake Ontario finds land again on the opposite shore.  I relish the freshness of an unmade day as I sit on my balcony, amid my tomato plants, and wait for the horizon to transform into the clear delineation of the Niagara Escarpment.

I look over at my tomatoes, wondering whether I should water them.  I decide to leave them.  This is my first year growing tomatoes, and over the past three months I have proudly seen them grow from seeds to three-foot-tall fruit-bearing plants.  I have also learned that gardening is a lesson in balance: too little water, and my tomatoes will wither and dry; too much water and the soil gets moldy, the leaves yellow.  My tendency has always been to over-act, so I over-watered my plants, the soil got moldy and the leaves turned spotted and yellow.  Early one morning when I realized what I had done, I sat on the ground scooping out the mold and replacing it with fresh soil, thinking about how gardening parallels the realization of our dreams: just as inaction leaves us standing still, too much action leaves us equally lacking and exhausted, trying to make our dreams come true through sheer force, instead of allowing Nature to do her thing.

The good news is that both plants and dreams can be saved.  The spotted yellow leaves and sheer exhaustion from trying to do too much may take weeks to heal, but they inevitably will.  All they need is time, patience and faith.

Here is a recipe that showcases the flavour of my now-recovered garden tomatoes:

Serves 2.  Prep time: 10 minutes


  • 2 field tomatoes (heirloom or vine-ripened are fine)
  • 1 avocado
  • 2 green onion sprigs
  • 4 basil leaves
  • 2-4 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 oz buffalo mozzarella
  1. Mix first 6 ingredients in a bowl, until tomatoes and avocadoes have been coated with olive oil
  2. Slice and place buffalo mozzarella on top of salad
  3. Enjoy!

Sunday Morning Pancakes with Peaches and Berries

Sunday mornings: there is a reason so many songs are written about them.  They are my favourite time of the week: work is over, errands are done, and I have an entire day to fill with my heart’s desire!

My heart’s desire often includes a good brunch.  Keeping with the lazy Sunday theme, my Pancakes with Peaches and Berries are made with natural and preferably organic pre-packaged mixes.  For the pancakes, I prefer Coyote, which pre-mixes the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  For the fruit, I prefer PC Organics frozen berry mixes, and I add fresh stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots) when in season.  When working with frozen fruit, berry mixes tend to thaw out more evenly.

Serves 2.  Prep time: 10 minutes;  Cooking time: 15 minutes

  • 1/2 cup pancake mix
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or water)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 scoop unflavoured protein powder (optional)
  • 1 cup berries and/or diced stone fruits
  • Butter for cooking
  • Maple Syrup (optional)


  1. Add ~2 tbsp butter to large skillet, and preheat on medium
  2. Whisk together pancake mix, almond milk, egg and protein powder and let rise (~5 minutes)
  3. Once butter has melted, scoop batter onto skillet to make 4 pancakes
  4. When batter starts to form bubbles, flip pancakes and add fruit to skillet.  Add additional 1 tbsp butter if needed
  5. Stir fruit occasionally, until frozen fruit has cooked through and/or fresh fruit starts to fall apart (~5 minutes)
  6. Remove skillet from heat. Place 2 pancakes on each plate and add with half of the fruit mix.  Top with maple syrup if desired


  1. pancakes plate

Chocolate Pound Cake

I don’t remember exactly when I was given the recipe, only that I was.  I was in yiayia’s kitchen helping her with her baking, and as she was putting one recipe card back in the box, she handed me another card for Basic Cake, saying: “This was your mother’s.  Take it.”  So I did.  I took it home, put it in an envelope marked “recipes”, and left it there.  It was valuable to me because it one of the few items I had in my mother’s handwriting.

Last winter I wanted to make a chocolate cake, so I started looking for a recipe.  I didn’t like anything I found in my recipe books, and a short internet search proved just as unsuccessful.  So many recipes expected me to actually melt real chocolate, and I had no interest in doing anything that difficult.  I was ready to give up, when I remembered my Basic Cake recipe card.  I knew exactly where it was, tucked away in a white envelope inside my Audrey Hepburn cookbook.  I pulled it out and looked at the ingredient list, in my mother’s slightly cursive English writing (so that’s why yiayia had given it to me!  She couldn’t understand it!)

simple cake

This I could work with!  I had all the ingredients, and by this point I had spent enough time in yiayia’s kitchen that the lack of instructions didn’t bother me.  I could figure out how to mix all the ingredients.  To make my chocolate cake, I skipped the lemon rind and added cocoa powder and chocolate chips.  I also swapped oil for butter, and milk for coconut milk, for a final recipe that looked like this:

Prep time: 15-20 minutes; Cooking time: ~45 minutes

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 4 cups flour
  • 6 eggs
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 4 tbsp cocoa powder
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 360F
  2. Melt butter on low heat
  3. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and cocoa powder. Add egg yolks and melted butter and mix.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine sugar and egg whites, and mix until egg whites start to form peaks
  5. Add sugar and egg whites to large bowl, along with coconut milk, and mix
  6. Pour half the batter into a baking pan (or two loaf pans), and sprinkle ¼ cup on chocolate chips (and 1 tbsp coconut flakes). Add remaining batter, and sprinkle remaining chocolate chips (and coconut flakes).
  7. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a knife can slide cleanly through the cake
  8. Makes 2 small loaves

The result is a tasty and moist chocolate pound cake.  I have since successfully made vanilla, cinnamon and almond pound cakes.  The variations continue, but at their core are the same 6 simple ingredients (I always skip the lemon “grind”).

What variations will you come up with?

Roasted Dandelion Root Iced Latte

I love the ritual of coffee.  In winter, it’s the coziness of a steaming cup of creaminess as I curl under a blanket; in summer, it’s the refreshing silky sweetness that I sip on the patio, the beach and everywhere in between.  What I don’t always like is the caffeine hit that comes with it.

I gave up coffee last summer, and although I weaned myself off my caffeine addiction within a week, I never stopped missing my ritual.  Coffee isn’t just a stimulant for me, it’s a treat: it’s those few moments every morning when I can sit back, relax, and enjoy the simple pleasure of just being, while I sip a delicious and comforting drink.  I tried to satisfy my craving with caffeine-free coffee – which was fine – but then I read about all the terrible chemicals used in the decaffeinating process and decided to look for a more natural substitute.

Roasted dandelion root was my answer.  It is a good espresso substitute taste-wise, with decidedly more nutritional value, as well as calming, cleansing attributes.  Nutritional benefits include improved digestion, liver detoxification, a source of potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, B-complex vitamins, Vitamin C, and more protein per gram than spinach! (Don’t just take my word for it; a quick google search on dandelion root will unearth a wealth of benefits.)  Adding cinnamon, turmeric, and clove amps up the antioxidant properties and delivers a flavourful spicy kick.

You can find Roasted Dandelion Root at your local natural food store, or on Amazon.  Just be sure to search “Roasted Dandelion Root coffee”, or your results will bring up teas, which are just as beneficial, but much more difficult to turn into a creamy coffee substitute!  My preferred brand is Dandy Blend.  I also prefer my latte with almond milk, but you can substitute with regular milk or a nut milk of your choice.



1 tbsp roasted dandelion root

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp clove

¼ tsp turmeric

¼ cup water

Milk of your choice

Ice cubes

Maple syrup (optional)


Per serving:

  1. In a shaker (or any container with a tightly sealed lid; I sometimes use mason jars), combine roasted dandelion root, cinnamon, clove, turmeric and water, and shake. If you prefer your coffee sweetened, add maple syrup.
  2. Once a froth has formed, pour mixture into a tall glass and top up with milk of your choice
  3. Add ice cubes, and enjoy!

Greek Salad

Froot Loops, Cheez Whiz and Greek Salad.  These are the foods of my early childhood.

All day every day consisted of me and Pappou (my grandfather) finding ways to entertain ourselves until we picked Yiayia (my grandmother) up from work, and just as Yiayia had invented plenty of rules for me to follow, she had invented them for her husband too.  Rule #1: do not use any heating elements.  That rule was instituted early on, and reinforced after he broke it one day to make me french fries and accidentally set the kitchen on fire, just a little bit.  Rule #1 also explains our limited meal options, not that I minded.  My meal routine included twice-daily sugar rushes and a salad so tasty for lunch every day that I would soak up every last bit of dressing on my plate with my white Wonder Bread.

For Pappou’s Greek Salad, quality ingredients are the key.  Home-grown or local vegetables are best.  If you can’t find local or they are out of season, opt for organic where possible.  Olive Oil should be extra-virgin cold pressed, and have a slightly green colour.  The greener the better!

Greek salad_before
The ingredients

Here is the recipe:

Serves 2.  Prep time: 10 minutes

2 field tomatoes (heirloom or vine-ripened are fine)

6” field cucumber

1 green pepper

Kalamata olives

2 oz feta cheese

2-4 tbsp Olive Oil

Salt & Oregano to taste

Fresh bread

  1. Chop tomatoes, cucumber and green peppers in a salad bowl
  2. Add olives, olive oil and salt, and toss
  3. Place feta cheese atop tossed salad
  4. Sprinkle oregano over cheese and salad
  5. Eat! The tomato juice blends with the olive oil to make a delicious dressing.  Make sure you have plenty of bread to soak it all up!


And for those of you that are interested in re-creating a couple super-unhealthy and sugary 1980s mainstays:

Froot Loops for Breakfast:

1 bowl Froot Loops

1 glass homo milk

  1. Pour glass of milk into bowl of Froot Loops.  Eat Froot Loops, and drink remaining milk from the glass

Cheez Whiz on crackers for snack time:

1 tbsp Cheez Whiz

4 Ritz crackers

  1. Spread ½ tbsp of Cheez Whiz on each of 2 crackers
  2. Use remaining 2 crackers to create a sandwich
  3. Eat without a plate or napkin, leaving a trail of crumbs everywhere you go

Overnight Protein-Rich Oatmeal

I started making overnight oatmeal last winter.  It was simply too cold for my usual breakfast of yogurt and berries, and although tasty, warm and filling, egg sandwiches were starting to have a negative impact on wallet and my waistline.

My first attempts at overnight oatmeal were semi-successful.  First I had to learn the difference between steel-cut and quick oats.  Then I learned that if you walk away from the stove top or forget to stir regularly, the oats will boil over and make a mess.

Once I mastered overnight oatmeal in its classic form, I realized a new problem: despite what the internet told me, I did not find it to be a filling breakfast at all.  I was hungry again within 2 hours.  So I added protein powder.  I started with vanilla, which tasted fine but turned my oatmeal green.  I settled on chocolate, which lends a stronger flavour and better colour, but if you are more of a vanilla person feel free to substitute.  Just be warned that your breakfast may resemble a science experiment!

Ingredients (serves 4):

1 cup steel cut oats

4 cups water

1 tbsp flax seeds

1 tbsp coconut flakes (optional)

2 scoops (82g) chocolate protein powder

4 tbsp nut butter (I alternate almond, peanut and tahini)

1 cup frozen berries

  1. Place 1 cup frozen berries in a bowl to thaw
  2. Add 1 cup steel cut oats and 4 cups water to pot, and bring to boil
  3. Once boiling, reduce to simmer and cook, stirring regularly, for 15-20 minutes or until a thin layer of water (about ¼”) remains above the oats
  4. Remove from heat, and stir in flax seeds and coconut flakes
  5. Slowly stir in chocolate protein powder
  6. Let cool overnight, or for at least 30 minutes
  7. Distribute oatmeal evenly into 4 mason jars or serving dishes
  8. Add 1 tbsp of nut butter and ¼ cup frozen berries to each mason jar or serving dish
  9. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or eat immediately!

Simple Hummus

So many of us buy hummus at the local grocery store because it is quick and easy, and goes with just about everything: with crackers, veggies, or as a healthy spread option on sandwiches.

Not that long ago, hummus was considered exotic and foreign, something to be eaten at Middle Eastern restaurants and purchased in the specialty foods aisle.  Maybe that is why so many of us buy hummus instead of making it at home.  All these years later it is a staple in many kitchens – a go-to snack and spread – yet we still believe it is difficult to make because it is foreign.

Here is a little secret: hummus is not at all difficult to make.  In fact, homemade hummus takes less than 5 minutes (seriously) and will taste so much better than anything you can buy in a store.  It also keeps in the fridge for up to a week.  All you need are some standard pantry ingredients and a blender (I use my Vitamix)


1 can (15 oz) chick peas

1 tbsp tahini paste

1 lime

Chili pepper flakes

Salt to taste

Water (optional)


  1. Drain and rinse chick peas
  2. Add first 5 ingredients to a blender, mixer, food processor or smoothie maker (basically anything that blends foods together) and mix
  3. Add water 1 tbsp at a time until you reach your desired consistency. I usually add about 2-3tbsp

And that’s it!  It takes me more time to rinse my Vitamix than it takes me to make the hummus.