Greek Cookies & Greek Yiayia & River Cruising

Strange title? Yes, but it all comes together, I promise. Making new connections and maintaining them is one of my favorite activities. Here's a short story to explain.

In December of 2018, Dewey and I took a river cruise from Paris to Normandy, France. It was memorable. We met many interesting people. Many of them worked aboard the boat, and most of them were Greek. There was Despina, the cutie who was thrilled that we had the same name, her brother the hotel manager,  Dimitris, the chef, Nick, and his beautiful wife, Kyriaki. 

Yiayia Syrma's Koulourakia (cookies)
After the cruise, I connected with all of them on social media. During the Covid-19 lockdown and the rest of 2020, we kept up with photos, posts and sharing words of optimism and then frustration. Of course, there were food photos--Nick is a chef and Dimitris was a chef prior to his hotel management role. Earlier this year, Dimitris shared photos of the sesame-coated koulourakia (Greek cookies) that he'd just baked. I LOVE SESAME! Did I say that loudly enough? I sent Dimitris a message asking for the recipe, which he shared, and then he told me the story. This was his yiayia's (Greek for grandmother) recipe, and she had taught him and coached him through making them on his own...at age eight! Bravo, Yiayia Syrma!
Clockwise from the left: Yiayia Syrma with Dimitris and his older brother, Dimitris at work, Yiayia

I asked lots of questions, and Dimitris was happy to share. By the time Dimitris was born, Yiayia Syrma was living with his family, helping to raise Dimitris and his siblings. He remembers lovingly her time in the kitchen, always with Dimitris by her side. She passed away in 2012, so he remembers her with the koulourakia, keeping some in his kitchen at all times. 

Dimitris' yiayia was very important to him, and she played a key role in shaping his character. While he is still working from home and ever-ready for the world to be able to travel again, he wants to use some of his free time to spread the word about the life of his beloved yiayia and to share her recipe for koulourakia. I baked my first batch prior to writing the story. I shared most of them with friends and neighbors. They all wanted the recipe! Dewey and I are hooked, and we are tempted many times throughout the day. Walking into the kitchen is now a dangerous activity.

The koulourakia are small, just the right size for dunking into a small cup of Greek coffee in the afternoon. They are vegan, which makes them dairy-free, and they are extra crispy with a very satisfying crunch. But, I caution you, you may have to vacuum a couple of times a day--those tiny sesame seeds are all over the floor. You've been warned.

The Mediterranean Lifestyle magazine asked me to write Dimitris' story and share the recipe. You can read it here, and then we hope that you'll share the recipe and story with others. 


Two Despina's on board, with Chef Nikos and Chef Nikos demonstrating how to make Tarte au Citron



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