[poem + recipe] “yaya’s sweets” by andrea potos

At this very moment, I’m sipping tea from a favorite mug, nibbling on baklava, and reading a fine book of poems: Yaya’s Cloth by Andrea Potos (Iris Press, 2007).

I’m loving Andrea’s family stories and the celebration of her Greek heritage. I appreciate the nod to domesticity and strong women — matriarchs who passed on their skills and knowledge to each succeeding generation.

 

Yaya with her Greek Easter bread.

 

Andrea had a very special relationship with her grandmother (Yaya). As I read Andrea’s lyrical depictions of their time together, I can picture them baking, chatting, and laughing in floured aprons, bonding over loaves of bread and batches of cookies. It is easy to feel the love.

 

Yaya in her kitchen with a Greek dessert called galaktoboureko (semolina custard in filo).

 

Today, I’m honored to feature a poem from Yaya’s Cloth that I’m sure will whet your appetite for more. Andrea has graciously shared a bit of backstory as well as Yaya’s recipe for baklava. And special thanks to her for the wonderful personal photos. Yum!

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Koulouria (aka Koulourakia) are Greek butter cookies traditionally made for Easter (via Mulberry and Pomegranate).

 

YAYA’S SWEETS

Yaya, you tell me
how every morning you wait for sun
to light the blue dome of the Greek church
outside your window.
You prepare your table — cups and saucers,
spoons on handstitched linen,
for your friends in the apartments downstairs,
women you’ve known longer
than your husband or your three daughters.
They will gather in your kitchen,
bedrock under your days, these women
who brought the sweets to your house, sat with you for hours
after your son Tommy
died, fifty years ago this year;
sweets you learned as a girl
in Athens with your mother,
and what you have shown me to make —
Baklava steeped in honeyed syrup then sliced
into diamonds; kourambeides,
like buttered crescent moons
powdered with sugar; and
koulouria, touched with anise and best
for dunking. Winter afternoons in your kitchen,
the ivory walls burnished by low blonde light,
I’d wear your apron strewn with pale cabbage roses, the cotton soft
as the flour I poured into the bowl
when you’d tell me it was time,
the air dusting white around us
while you turned and mixed the dough with your bare hands,
what we would shape and braid
into wreaths, circles, figure eights.

~ posted by permission of the author, copyright © 2007 Andrea Potos. All rights reserved.

 

Kourabiedes are Shortbread Cookies commonly made during the Christmas holidays (via Drizzle and Dip).

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Yaya and Andrea

 

ANDREA:

My maternal Greek grandmother Aristea Kosmopoulos was my first and only inspiration for baking. Anything she made tasted like some kind of heaven. We all thrived on her outstanding Greek cooking and baking, though somehow I always thought it was love that perfected her every meal. . . When I was in my mid-20s, she and I embarked on a weekly baking lesson in her small kitchen in her Milwaukee apartment, where she lived with my darling grandfather George.

Nearly every Saturday for one year I learned something new from her; some of our adventures included baklava, melamakarona, kourabiedes, koulouria, galatabourico, and many others. I copied by hand her every recipe. My husband even got on board and learned how to make Kefthedes (Greek meatballs) from her too! Those afternoons in Yaya’s kitchen were precious hours; the only way I knew to even begin to express my love for her and our times together was with this poem.

Baklava served on Yaya’s platter.

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Yaya's Rolled Baklava

  • Servings: about 3 dozen pieces
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. phyllo dough
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1-1/2 or 2 cups blanched, ground almonds
  • 1 or 1-1/2 cups ground walnuts
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

For Syrup:

  • 2-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1-1/4 cup water
  • honey (to taste; I use about 2-3 tablespoons)
  • fresh lemon, squeezed

Directions

Melt butter. Mix dry ingredients.

Use 3 sheets of phyllo per roll; the recipe makes five rolls, which you will cut into diagonal pieces before baking.

But first, alternate each layer of phyllo with a handful of the dry mixture. When you have done this with three sheets, fold in the phyllo sides a little and roll into a long roll. Place into a 9×13″ baking pan.

When done, after you have cut the rolls into approximately 35 to 40 pieces, pour the melted butter over the top.

Bake in a 325 degree oven for about an hour, until golden brown.

For the syrup:

Bring the sugar and water to a boil. Add honey while it boils a little.

Take off burner and add lemon.

When the baklava comes out of the oven, pour the syrup over all the rolls in the pan. Let steep and sit until coolish.

Relish.

~ from Andrea Potos (adapted from the kitchen of Aristea Kosmopoulos), as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

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Andrea Potos is the author of seven poetry collections, including most recently Arrows of Light from Iris Press; An Ink Like Early Twilight and We Lit the Lamps Ourselves, both from Salmon Poetry in Ireland; and Yaya’s Cloth from Iris Press.  Another collection A Stone to Carry Home is coming out from Salmon Poetry this spring!  Andrea has received numerous awards, including the 2016 William Stafford Prize in Poetry from Rosebud Magazine. You can find her poems widely in print and online.  She lives for poetry, books, traveling, and musing in cafes!  

Andrea’s Greek pastry stand at a Madison, Wisconsin, Farmer’s Market (1985)

 

Thank you so much, Andrea! We’re looking forward to sharing more of your poetry here at Alphabet Soup soon. 🙂

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🌺 ANNE OF GREEN GABLES COOKBOOK GIVEAWAY WINNER! 🌸

Thanks to all who stopped by for tea and liniment cake last week. It was nice to hear your thoughts about reading the Anne books and watching the various film adaptations.

We are pleased to announce that the person who has just won a copy of the cookbook is:

KAREN HAMMONDS of REVOLUTIONARY PIE!!

🎉 CONGRATULATIONS, KAREN! 👏

Please send along your snail mail address to receive your prize.

Thanks again, everyone, for commenting!

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The lovely and talented Elizabeth Steinglass is hosting the Roundup this week. Shimmy on over to check out the full menu of delectable poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere. Enjoy your weekend!

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This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and join the fun!

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Koulourakia for the road (via Diane Cochilas).

*This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. When you purchase something using a link on this site, Jama’s Alphabet Soup receives a small referral fee (at no extra cost to you). Thank you for your ongoing support!

**Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

52 thoughts on “[poem + recipe] “yaya’s sweets” by andrea potos

  1. You had me at baklava! This post was such a beautiful tribute to the love between the author and her grandmother, the power of making and sharing food together, and the “bedrock” of strong women. The personal pictures are icing on the cake! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a gorgeous book and mouthwatering recipes! It is so wonderful to learn from our ancestors. I too remember learning recipes from my Italian culture from my mom and dad, especially the Christmas Eve seven fishes! They are no longer with us, but when I cook those dishes and my family gathers around, they are very much present with us! Andrea, what a special Yaya you had! Love, love, love her platter with the baklava and that old fashioned aluminum coffee pot on the stove! Priceless pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sweet and delicious and those bedrock women. I didn’t have that experience with food and my mother or my grandmother. I’ll have think what would I put in a poem about those relationships instead of food?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There are so many things we inherit from our families — many things are intangible — beliefs, values, a way of being. I think all of us have said at one point, “I’m becoming my mother!” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Another delicious post, Jama! Andrea and Yaya remind me of a friend of mine and her mother; both are Greek, and my friend’s mom was always making pastries like baklava and kourabiedes for her daughter’s hair salon. I loved stopping by, even I rarely needed my hair cut. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I will look for more of Andrea’s poetry, reads like I want to read, steeped in memories. I still have a few aprons from my grandmothers, have shared them with my daughter, too, so love “I’d wear your apron strewn with pale cabbage roses, the cotton soft/as the flour I poured into the bowl”. I made baklava with a friend a long time ago, maybe time again? I have a favorite bakery, however, that makes it wonderfully. Andrea was fortunate to have had that baking time with her grandmother. Thanks, Jama for a sweet post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wonderful that you still have your grandmothers’ aprons, Linda. The closest thing to that I have is an apron my aunt made for me once. Andrea’s poetry is a joy to read — rich, luminous, lyrical.

      Like

  6. Such a lovely poem! My Yaya was a Nonna, and I have similar foody memories of making tortellini with her ❤

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  7. Oh, my goodness….I am in love with this post. I am not Greek. But, I iived in Greece for two years and the food you describe are foods that were my comfort food there. The love in which they were made…..so much love is a part of the taste and the memory. Thank you for this.

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  8. What a warm and cozy post! I’m happy to learn the name of those delicious crescent cookies I’ve run across over the years–Kourabiedes. It’s always good to call something by its proper name.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a lovely poem and book and what delicious looking baklava. One of my best friend’s moms was Greek and she made the best baklava along with other Greek dishes and delicacies both sweet and savory. So good! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I read somewhere recently that traditionally baklava should have 33 sheets of film – one for each year of Christ’s life…. Thanks for the Anne of GG cookbook – it made my day to read it – gentle, beautiful and authentic. Have a great week. Cheers from Carole’s Chatter

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 33 sheets — that’s an interesting tidbit, thanks for sharing. Hadn’t heard of that.

      Glad you enjoyed the cookbook, Carole. It was fun working on that post.

      Like

  11. So lovely! My best friend from elementary school had a Greek yaya. And yes, I want some baklava too, like other commenters! Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Andrea’s poem makes me feel I am there with her and Yaya on “Winter afternoons in your kitchen,/the ivory walls burnished by low blonde light.” So many wonderful memories. Thank you for introducing me to Andrea’s poetry, and for the recipe!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. That was a great tribute, I love this post. Baklava is a favorite! I have trouble using phylo though m it always dries out on me so i just buy my baklava from the Greek Orthodox Church near my work. they have festivals, food and music, so i buy some then.
    GREAT post!

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  14. Love this post! Thank you so much for sharing. We too have been spending time in the kitchen of our parents, learning from them as they show us how to make their delectable Greek foods. There is nothing like the love that is poured into cooking for your family, and the beautiful memories that are created. I love Andrea’s tribute to her yiayia 🙂 🙂

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