Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Different Kind of Easter

Like clockwork, Mr. Musky's friend Mike the Greek, also known as Mr. Moby, annually tortures us with pictures of pure decadence twisting around a spit in his driveway in the Spring. Mike celebrates Greek Easter every year with his family gathered around a whole roasted lamb accompanied by all the other culinary and cultural delights celebrated by Greeks around the world on their highest holiday.

Motivated by purely selfish reasons (I want that lamb) I sidled up to Mike's German wife Angie, also known as Jackie-O, and invited myself when she was good and soused last fall at our annual Girls Weekend trip at the Cabin.

I'm good like that. I provide massive quantities of alcohol to my friends and then ask them for a favor.

She immediately affirmed that yes, we could join her non-Greek ranks in an effort to even the numbers this spring at their lovely home in Hampshire, IL.
Jackie-O and Tammy, another non-Greek, wife of cousin Mike. Yes - they tend to use the same names over and over. Just like in My Big Fat Greek Wedding - Kahley's favorite.

It seemed rather quiet out front when we arrived. Upon entering the garage, we encountered a relatively undercooked lamb on the spit in the early afternoon. It looked...well, it looked extremely...

...prehistoric and bestial and primordial. If I'm brutally honest, the skull on the rotisserie had me a bit unnerved. My family nervously glanced at one another under hooded eyelids. We're gonna eat that thing? I may have even glimpsed a shudder from my beloved out of the corner of my eye.

However, my apprehension tempered upon spying the 20 bottles of wine on the makeshift bar set up in the garage.

And the 20 bottles of wine strategically placed near the kitchen on the wet bar.
And the 20 bottles of wine posing on the bar in the newly finished basement.
And the 20 bottles of wine accompanying the family's Patriarch out back, who was grilling fresh crab cakes.

Yes. Crab cakes. Delectable appetizers to tide us over until the main event.

The beauty? Mike's cousin Tom is in the restaurant business, and he has connections. And I don't mean the Waste Management kind of connections Mr. Musky's always accused of maintaining. I'm talking a bonafide farmer in Wisconsin who sold over 300 lambs for Greek Easter, only ten of which were milk fed their entire (albeit brief) life.

Um hmmm. I dined on a milk fed baby lamb who met its demise at a mere 14 months. And I am indisputably unashamed.

I might just be in love with Tom, watching as he seasoned the baby ewe with salt and pepper.

We soaked in the surroundings for several minutes, made the rounds and proper introductions to all the family members, then parked it in the garage to become mesmerized by the rotating mammal. Obsessed. Kahley and I (Jake couldn't make it - good thing - he hated the live lobsters and this sight would have scarred him for life) whispered like schoolgirls in the corner as I sipped my wine. We had a lot of questions about the four legged meal that awaited us. Important facts that we had to clear up. Mr. Moby and his brother Jason were happy to indulge us.

When did it die?

Where did you keep it before today?
In the kids' bathtub on ice.
"But I cleaned and sanitized that bathtub - just so you know!" screeched Jackie-O from the other room.
Poor, beautiful Sophia. Tortured by sharing her bathtub with the little lambkin.

How did you get it on the spit?
Carefully. With guidance from my dad. And others.

How did it get sewn up?
With a needle and twine.

Did it come hairless?

Did it come cleaned out?
Yes. Kind of. For the most part. We cooked the organs before you arrived. They are over there. Do you want to try them?
No way. I positively do not eat organs of any kind. But Kahley - she actually seriously considered it. But chickened out.
Is it a boy or a girl?
Chuckles, particularly from the older contingent. A girl.

What's her name?
More chuckles. Zima
(I think. I may have this name incorrect, but that's what my ears heard from the heavily Greek accent of Mike's father).

Can I have more wine?
Of course. But drink the Greek kind.

Which - by the way - I will be purchasing on my next Binny's run. Pure nectar.

Then the party picked up. I loved sitting back, observing the family dynamic that ensued around that rotating animal as it evolved into a mouthwatering ambrosia. There were discussions in English about who had the worst knees. There were discussions in Greek about who had the better home for bad knees. Then there was dancing to prove the bum knee theories out.
Watchful uncles provided unsolicited advice.
More dancing...
...more advice. 
Kahley basted. We were slowly warming up to Zima. She had serious potential.

How much longer do you think? 

Everyone, and I mean everyone had an opinion and was not afraid to speak up.

"45 more minutes."
"5 more minutes."
"An hour and a half."
"20 minutes."
Finally Tom sliced a piece off and and Mike's father declared: "Eeets done. Yah. Eeets done."
We gathered around the butcher table, fascinated.
We drooled as six or more Greeks descended on Zima, slicing and dicing her for all to enjoy.

The minute Tom nibbled on a piece of meat, we all channeled our inner vulture and picked like mad. Oh my goodness. That meat. Honestly like nothing I've ever tasted before in my life. Melt in your mouth good. Crispy, flavorful, savory skin. Perfectly textured and seasoned meat that cut right off the bone after marinating in its own juices for three hours. Tender and luscious with slight hints of crisp rosemary and bright lemon. Mike, Tom and Mr. Mallidis hilariously enjoyed feeding us. They competitively worked to provide the best pieces for the newbies. And we graciously obliged by gobbling it as fast as they fed us.

Sip of red Greek wine.

Nibble of perfectly roasted meat.

Sip of red Greek wine.


And if you are an unabashed carnivore, pick up the bone and gnaw. Share.
Watch your foodie-bred child expand her culinary repertoire even further.

Then came the egg tradition. I knew there was something about bread with a red egg baked in the center, and sure enough, there it was on the table. Along with spanikopita, kalamata olives, feta cheese and a zillion other delectable Greek dishes that I wish I could go back and dine on again today. And tomorrow. And Friday.

At one point, standing shoulder-to-shoulder taking in all the activity around us - Greeks fighting over how to play bags, the unmistakable Greek music playing in the background, Aunts and Uncles continuing to argue over their health ailments, the wine flowing for all, red egg smashing contests accompanied with sounds of "Christos Anesti!" and responses of "Alithos Anesti!"- my wise-beyond-years daughter commented: "You know Mom, they're really not much different from our family."

Right on, sister. Except they have the meat thing won, hands-down.

By the end of the day, we made peace with the cadaverous face that greeted us as we entered the Mallidis home that afternoon.

I kissed a lamb. And I liked it.

I'm telling you all. Find yourself a Greek, truly befriend that person for life (for they are fiercely loyal) then work on an invitation to join them to celebrate their beloved holiday. And if the invitation doesn't come, get their German wife boozed up, invite yourself and bring an edible Greek dish to share for the culinary experience of a lifetime. You'll be forever grateful, and will fall in love with their culture and people.

I guarantee you will have dreams about that food.

Thank you, lovely Mallidis Family, for welcoming us so heartily into your culture's celebrated day and allowing us a glimpse into your wonderful, quirky, delightful family. You are all kind beyond words.


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