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1 April 2021
Vol. XI, No. 4

April 2021

“A Diana Farr Louis Sampler I: 2010 through 2021

(Dedicated to Dr. Harilaos Joy-of-the-People Louis, with Love and Χαρά.)

When I chose Eating Well Is The Best Revenge’ as the title for my Weekly Hubris columns, I had no idea that the famous saying (Living well, etc.) dated back to John Donne’s contemporary, fellow clergyman and poet, George Herbert. I’d thought of it as a 60’s mantra equivalent to Up the Establishment.’ Be that as it may, I’m not the only one to have substituted eating’ for living,’ but the idea seems timely in this age of junk food, industrialized agriculture, and diminishing resources. What does it really mean to eat well,’ and where does the revenge come in?—Diana Farr Louis (in her first Weekly Hubris column, March 1, 2010)

Diana Far Louis Home Page Banner April 2021

Diana Farr Louis at the fortress of Rumkale, on the Euphrates River in Turkey’s Gazientep Province. (Louis family photo.)

Diana Far Louis

Diana Farr Louis. (Photo: Petros Ladas.)

From Elizabeth Boleman-Herring: We devote our April 2021 issue of Weekly Hubris to the life, writing, and culinary artistry of Diana Farr Louis, whose first Living Well Is The Best Revenge column appeared in these virtual pages on March 1, 2010. (These 16 columns were chosen from Diana’s early work for Weekly Hubris: another sampler is now in the works.) As Diana’s longtime friend, sometime writing- and traveling-companion, devoted editor, grateful publisher, and fellow bi-(at least) national-expatriate American-Greek, and as someone who has broken bread (of all sorts) with her on two continents, I can speak to Diana’s many, many gifts showered round and about while wearing, with exquisite style, her many, many hats (but, especially, the writer’s green eye-shade and the chef’s toque). Diana has led a big life filled with adventure and love and tables-heaped-high . . . and, all the while, she’s been taking field notes for us, her international cadre of readers, so that, in a real sense, we have accompanied her and shared in her experiential bounty. I am so happy to know her, so proud to publish her, so lucky to have accompanied her along some of the piebald paths she has traveled. Now, I, and others, eagerly await a compilation of her writings in a compendium-of-memories-and-recipes, a sort of Culinary Autobiography” along the lines of M.F.K. Fisher’s books. (Let it come soon!) In the words of Fisher, in whose footsteps Diana follows, “I am more modest now, but I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brain and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, that I have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world.” Thank you for all the nourishment, Diana, past, present, and to come.

Louis-Arriving at Pserimos

Arriving at Pserimos.

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

“Pserimos, A Tiny Fairy Tale,” By Diana Farr Louis

ANDROS, Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on September 27, 2010)—I’ll bet you’ve never heard of the island of Pserimos. Don’t feel ignorant. Few Greeks have. It’s a speck in the Eastern Aegean between Kos, Kalymnos, and Turkey. Even today it barely merits four lines in the Lonely Planet’s Greek Islands. “Joy-of-the-People” (literal transliteration of my Greek husband’s name, Harilaos) and I discovered it by accident back in 1975. Horrified by the rats slinking around taverna tables in the port of Kalymnos, maddened by the motorbikes roaring round and round the main square, we shouldered our rucksacks and escaped the holiday from hell. A cargo caïque bound for Pserimos offered salvation. We’d never heard of the place but, soon enough, we’d never forget it. (Read more . . .)

Greek almond harvest. (Photo: Alexandra Mitsiou)

Greek almond harvest. (Photo: Alexandra Mitsiou)

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

“Always Out Picking,” By Diana Farr Louis

ANDROS, Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on October 11, 2010)—A month ago I received an e-mail from a friend: “I’ve been trying to call you. Never any answer. You’re probably out picking something.” Her complaint sums up the past four months on Andros. There has always been something to pick. Right now, it’s almonds. My spouse, “Joy of the People,” has been collecting them for several weeks. We only have two producing trees (and about five of their “children”) but, like the plums earlier, they’ve gone into overdrive. Yesterday, I decided to help finish this business. We took the step ladder and I plucked the straw-colored nuts off the branches I could reach, striking at the higher ones with a shepherd’s crook from Epirus. The trouble with that technique is that all the almonds scatter amidst stubble the same shade as they are, and mingle with the litter of empty grey outer shells discarded during previous efforts. Chances are we missed a few. (Read more . . .)

Betsy, my first love. (Louis family photo.)

Betsy, my first love. (Louis family photo.)

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

Betsy: A Love Story,” By Diana Farr Louis

ATHENS, Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on January 31, 2010)—I fell in love for the first time at the age of eight. With a woman. Luckily, my father loved her, too. That fall, he began to go out at night. Every evening, he would leave the house right after dinner. He never stayed for dessert, but would give me a kiss and tell me to be a good girl. It was not like my father to go without dessert. He whose favorite maxim was, “A bit of sweet makes the meal complete.” For a week or so, I’d go straight to my room with a Hershey bar and read myself to sleep. But one evening, I noticed him carrying a plate wrapped in a linen napkin as he went out the door. “Where are you going, Daddy?” I asked. “And what’s that you’re carrying?” “Oh . . . ,” he said, without looking me in the eye. “I’m just going to see a friend. Night, night, Little Darling.” (Read more . . .)

Oregano in the foreground, lavender beyond, vying for room in my chaotic “garden”

Oregano in the foreground, lavender beyond, vying for room in my chaotic “garden”

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme (Not To Mention Oregano, Basil & Mint),” By Diana Farr Louis

ANDROS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on July 18, 2011)—If worst comes to worst, I can always become one of those little old ladies who sell herbs on the sidewalk near the farmers’ markets or in downtown Athens. All of the herbs named in my title are flourishing in what passes for our garden here on Andros, in more than marketable quantities. Except for the parsley, that is, which is barely visible in its single pot. But unruly rosemary hedges flank us on two sides, oregano balloons way beyond its ample beds, mauve-tipped thyme crouches next to it, and the sage has flowered twice this spring. The mint is busy making babies, while the basil plants are fast becoming as spherical and grand as sultans’ turbans. I gather armfuls of oregano branches every morning before I wilt in the sun, but wonder if I’ll ever finish. Oregano, or rigani as we call it in Greek, needs to be cut back to the last buds so it won’t get too “leggy.” I’ve already given several bunches to friends, but perhaps I should think seriously about drying it properly, tying it with ribbons or filling little sacs . . . and sitting on that Depression-Era sidewalk. (Read more . . .)

Humble, indescribable Vlita (as it’s usually served throughout Greece)

Humble, indescribable Vlita (as it’s usually served throughout Greece)

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

The Vlita of Rethymnon,” By Diana Farr Louis

ANDROS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on August 1, 2011)—The other night, we were sitting in a taverna when one dish leapt out of the menu: Vlita sauced with tomato and garlic. Vlita, usually transliterated as Blite (or even Blight—though it is anything but), goes under the name Amaranth in English. But I have never eaten it outside Greece. Until the past decade or so, it has been the only leafy green hardy enough to grow in our blistering summer heat. Everything else—spinach, lettuce, cabbage—either wilts or bolts, and so we resign ourselves to a steady diet of tomatoes, peppers, cukes, zukes, and eggplant, with an occasional helping of string beans, from June to October. Vlita, though, satisfies the virtually insatiable Greek craving for greenery, cultivated and wild. When just picked and lightly cooked, its subtle, delicate flavor even makes it a candidate for the poor man’s asparagus title: neither bitter nor sharp like some winter greens; nor silky sweet like beet tops. (Read more . . .)

Riz à l’imperatrice.

Riz à l’imperatrice.

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

Midday in 1960s Paris,” By Diana Farr Louis

ATHENS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on October 24, 2011)—Like the character Gil, in the film Midnight in Paris, I always wanted to have lived in Paris in the 1920s. Unlike Gil, I did live there in another belle époque, the early 1960s. And most of the time, I knew even then that I was just where and when I wanted to be. By the same token, I’m not at all sure I want to be in Athens in October 2011. After four months on Andros, coming back “home” has jerked us into an unpleasant, uncertain reality. Smelly piles of sodden garbage sprawl around every bin, the week’s list of strikes cover half a page in the newspaper and, most days, there isn’t a single form of public transport that will even convey us into The Big Olive. Unless we want to attend a protest march. Maybe we should rename it The Rotting Olive, for the time being. So, rather than dwell on our increasingly bleak present, I’ll turn my thoughts to the past and travel back in time to October 1963. (Read more . . .)

Above Korthi Bay, Andros. (Photo: Yannis Batis.)

Above Korthi Bay, Andros. (Photo: Yannis Batis.)

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

Tis The Season for Avgotaraho,” By Diana Farr Louis

KIFISSIA Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on December 5, 2011)—Well, it isn’t really the season to be jolly, not quite, and yet bright lights are already twirled like beaded snakes round all the lamp posts on my street, and twinkling Christmas messages arch over every block. The electrical appliances shop at the far end is ablaze with decorations, though it isn’t even December as I write. Meanwhile, the street parallel to ours is being dug up to receive—wait for it—a new surface of cobblestones, interspersed with yellow ridged plaques for the blind. Never mind that even sighted pedestrians take their life in their hands walking on that sidewalk-less thoroughfare. And that the blind studiously avoid those ridged traps that make even the sure-footed wobble. These “improvements” to our by no means central neighborhood and the premature illumination of festive decorations make me gnash my teeth at the frivolous spending of municipal funds at a time when “we” should be economizing. At a time when friends are collecting blankets for the newly homeless or when the US ambassador and his wife spend two hours on the Monday after Thanksgiving handing out food at a shelter in downtown Athens. (Read more . . .)

Spetses, the old harbor.

Spetses, the old harbor.

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

An Unorthodox Orthodox Christening,” By Diana Farr Louis

ATHENS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on January 2, 2012)—Two days after Christmas, we went to a christening in a sweet little church just outside Athens. The ceremony unfolded the way it’s meant to: the priest was benignly pious, the baby howled when dunked in the font, the parents beamed throughout, and the guests were delighted with such a good excuse for a party. I couldn’t help but compare it to the first Greek Orthodox christening I ever attended—my own son’s—in the late 1960s on the island of Spetses. It was a bright afternoon in early September. Before entering the monastery church of Aghios Nikolaos above the Old Harbor, my son and I posed for the camera. In the photo, both of us are wearing yellow—simple yellow seersucker that matches our almost identical thatches of straw-colored hair. We are smiling innocently. Neither of us has any idea of what is about to happen. (Read more . . .)

Dodo with her catch of the day. (Louis family photo.)

Dodo with her catch of the day. (Louis family photo.)

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

Cucina Povera, Revisited,” By Diana Farr Louis

ATHENS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on February 27, 2012)—Cucina povera, the Italian expression meaning the Cuisine of the Poor, is starting to have a new ring to it here in Greece. In times of plenty—in other words, yesterday—it meant the inspired cooking of times gone by, when meat was scarce, eggs were barter tokens, and a chicken in every pot was wishful thinking. We didn’t give it much thought as we piled our daily steaks, roasts and free-range chickens into our shopping carts, and reached for the French cheeses, Belgian chocolates, and Argentinian asparagus. Of course, we nodded at tradition from time to time. Most Greeks love their mothers’ stuffed tomatoes, oil-stewed vegetables, lentil soup, keftedes (meat balls) . . . there’s a long list. But with our incomes in free fall and our taxes skyrocketing, it may not be long before even these wonderful, healthy, low-cost dishes become luxuries, out of reach for many families. Already, for some old-timers, this crisis feels like the early days of the Nazi Occupation (1941 to 1944, in case you’re too young to know). (Read more . . .)

Greek May Day wreath.

Greek May Day wreath.

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

“May Day, or Pouvez-vous m’aider?” By Diana Farr Louis

ATHENS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on May 7, 2012)—In early April, my favorite word blog, Anu Garg’s Wordsmith (www.wordsmith.org), gave subscribers the origins of the universal cry for help. Of course, most of us know it comes from the French, short for pouvez-vous m’aider but, as European Labor Day approached, the shout kept echoing in my mind. For here we were in Athens, unable to celebrate the charms of spring because of having overindulged on Andros at Easter. No, we were not doped in an alcoholic haze, or even suffering from pollen allergies. Instead, we were trapped in our apartment by a mysterious malady. Poor “Joy-of- the-People”—my spouse, Harilaos—in his drive to rid our plot of thistles, and cut corridors through the weeds (which are dwarfs compared to last year’s but still annoying), overdid it and, after a couple of days in the city, had excruciating pain in his right hand that reduced him to a very unhappy couch potato. We were to find out that it was gout! Brought on by a surfeit of roast lamb and asparagus. (Not red wine, nor a steady diet of grouse and venison.) Who knew it could attack the hand? (Read more . . .)

Diana and Duff in Rapallo.

Diana and Duff in Rapallo.

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

Diana of Maroussi,” By Diana Farr Louis

ATHENS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on June 4, 2012)—This year, the fourth of June is a red-letter-day for me. Or perhaps I should say a blue-and-white day, for it marks my arrival in Greece as a permanent resident in 1972, nine years after that fatal first summer on the enchanted island of Spetses. Like so many major decisions in my life, this one did not seem momentous at the time. I’d already made the quantum leap across the ocean from New York to Rapallo, so Greece was but a blink away. The suggestion came in the form of a phone call from my not-quite-ex-husband: “My uncle has died, so the Maroussi house is free. If you feel like it, you could take Duff [our son] and live there for a while.” The timing was perfect. The rent on the Rapallo cottage was about to soar for the summer, my Italian gentleman caller was leaving for post-grad studies in New York, and I missed the Aegean. “Sure, why not? I always wanted to spend a year in Greece,” I said as I accepted the invitation. I dreamed of moving on to Istanbul, Cairo, Damascus, giving each exotic city a try as I circled the globe. But first I flew to Athens for a quick weekend to case the joint. What kind of a house was this? I’d heard the family legends but never seen it. (Read more . . .)

Swimming, as opposed to writing. (Photo: We Are Travel Girls.)

Swimming, as opposed to writing. (Photo: We Are Travel Girls.)

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

To Live or To Write?” By Diana Farr Louis

ANDROS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on July 30, 2012)—It’s six o’clock and I’m standing in front of the kitchen window, washing spinach. It’s something I feel I have to do before I sit down to write this column. Before that, I made a new batch of granita—with the last of the fresh plums (oh, but there are several Ziploc bags bulging with them in the freezer). Washing the spinach takes four sinkfuls of water, but I carry each slopping basin out to the pomegranate trees, hoping to coax them into sprouting more flowers and therefore more fruit. At the moment, one tree has about six, the other nothing except an empty bird nest. Well, not quite empty; one tiny gray-green egg never hatched. I almost watched the other two hatch and was very discreet about picking plums since some of its branches invade the pomegranate’s space, or is it the other way round? The mother bird, a tiny grey thing, sometimes flew off, but sometimes stayed put and watched me suspiciously with ruby eyes. I missed the moment the fledglings left. In the morning, just two and a half weeks after they hatched, they looked like jellied blobs, not even recognizable as birds. But by afternoon they’d gone. (Read more . . .)

My beloved silicone spatula.

A reasonable facsimile of my beloved silicone spatula.

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

My Beloved Spatula,” By Diana Farr Louis

ANDROS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on September 17, 2012)—Every cook has her favorite piece of kitchen equipment. A sharp, clever knife or set of knives, a pot inherited from a grandmother, a venerable wooden spoon colored by countless stirrings . . .  might be yours. Mine is a silicone spatula. In its own way it’s beautiful, with contoured, flexible edges that scoop sauce from the rounded sides of any pan without leaving a trace and glide through a stew bubbling at 428°F without melting. I love it, not only for its brilliant design and usefulness, but because it was a gift from my oldest brother, Shelty or, more formally, Frederick Shelton Farr. We were cooking supper in Athens the night before he flew back to Montana in October 2006. There’d been a power cut and we were whisking an omelette by candlelight. He picked through my collection of spoons, ladles, and other tools stuck into cheese baskets and wine coolers by the stove. Finally, he gave up. “Don’t you have a silicone spatula?” he asked, proceeding to describe its virtues. Spatulas I had aplenty, but all frivolous, plastic things that were clearly lacking. “I’ll send you one when I get back,” he said. And so he did, along with a fold-up hiking stick and a couple of books about The Wild West and Lewis and Clark, for Joy-of-the-People (my spouse). (Read more . . .)

The view from the Anemomilos Hotel.

The view from the Anemomilos Hotel.

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

By Ferry from Andros to Folegandros,” By Diana Farr Louis

ANDROS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on October 1, 2012)—This summer, we only managed to leave the island once, in mid-September, for a wedding on Spetses. Fun but hardly an adventure. In the good old days, when we had a reasonable pension and no dog, we used to make a point of exploring, taking a trip to an unknown destination, before or after the tourist season. This year, memories will have to suffice. The journey I’m about to describe took place a few years ago, but it could well have happened four or five decades ago. We seemed to travel back in time as we chugged around the Cyclades in an aged steamer. If you have not lived here among the Greeks, you probably don’t know the expression “dog drowner” (skilopniktis). Of unknown origin, it refers to the small, usually venerable ferries that ply the “agoni grammi” between the lesser and greater islands, routes that the major boats don’t cover. Áγονη means unfruitful, unprofitable but, sometimes, a ride on these often battered, non-too-comfortable tramps can be agonizing as well. Once Joy-of-the-People (Harilaos, my spouse) and I learned that such a boat actually left Andros once a week to circle the Cyclades and could take us to Folegandros, a crumb of an island way down south near Santorini, the romance of traveling like we had in the 1960s seized our imaginations. (Read more . . .)

The Greek essential.

The Greek essential.

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

Picking Our Andriot Olives,” By Diana Farr Louis

ANDROS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on November 12, 2012)—In Greek, there is a saying, a rather rude one, that seems to sum up where Joy-of-the- People (my husband) and I were last week: “O kosmos hanetai kai to mouni ktenizei,” which, somewhat loosely translated, might read, “With the world collapsing, she combed her puss.” A more genteel version might aim a little higher and call it “navel gazing.” After a two-week break from island life, we returned to Andros on October 29th, just as the innocuously named Sandy was tearing north to wreak havoc on America’s East Coast and the Greek Parliament was wrangling over how much more to squeeze us pensioners. An Athenian reporter made headlines worldwide for releasing the so-called Lagarde List of 2,000-plus Greeks with Swiss bank accounts, which the previous Ministers of Finance had “forgotten” for two years in their desk drawers—the equivalent of saying “the dog ate my homework.” Mitt and Barry had just one week more of campaigning, the Syrians were still bombing each other, and our Golden Dawn fascistas were out bashing migrants. (Read more . . .)

June Marinos outside Evripidis Bookshop in Kifissia, Greece.

Eating Well Is The Best Revenge

“Prospero’s Kitchen: The Odyssey of An Ionian Cookbook,” By Diana Farr Louis

ATHENS Greece—(Weekly Hubris)—(First Published on May 27, 2013)—Last year, Prospero’s Kitchen, a collection of stories, customs, not to mention recipes from the Ionian islands, experienced its fourth incarnation, no small feat for any book. Last week, a new bookshop in Kifissia, a northern suburb of Athens, Greece, offered to host a “delicious book presentation” to celebrate this event. June Marinos, my co-author, and I chose a few of our favorite dishes to entice our guests into coming and buying our cookbook. Before we served them, they had to sit through a short history of Prospero’s origins and subsequent career. It all began on a tennis court in the late 1980s. I was co-editing a magazine for a Greek hotel chain and, since we were writing most of the articles ourselves under pseudonyms, we were searching for someone to do a food column. Whom to ask but my French tennis partner? You can always rely on a “Frog” to be in the know where cuisine is concerned. Immediately, she shouted back over the net, “The eggplant lady!” (Read more . . .)

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