QUARANTINE DIARIES, COMFORT FOOD & ALL THE SMALL THINGS THAT KEEP US GOING
An interview with the lovely ladies from Mia Kouppa, Helen & Billie from Montreal, Canada
A few words about you and where did the quarantine find you?
Both of us, Helen and Billie (we’re sisters J ) live in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. We run the website www.miakouppa.com where we share traditional Greek recipes, primarily from our parents’ kitchen. Mia Kouppa literally translates into one cup, and is a nod to the vague units of measurement that our parents describe when we ask them how to make a particular dish. That doesn’t really work, so we started our site as a way to preserve our parents’ delicious recipes for ourselves and our families. We cook with our parents, taking meticulous notes, actually measuring ingredients and taking step by step photos while they cook so that we can end up with replicable recipes. We each have two daughters and wanted them to be able to recreate Papou and Yiayia’s (that’s grandfather and grandmother in Greek) meals, and desserts. We’re happy that so many people have discovered our site and are enjoying these recipes as well; when people tell us that a particular food reminds them of happy family memories, we are just thrilled.
In addition to our parents’ recipes, we also include recipes from other home cooks, both Greek and non-Greek, who are gracious enough to invite us into their homes so that we can showcase their special family recipes. It has been such an honour learning from these incredible home cooks, and we look forward to doing more of this in the future. We call this More Kouppes.
Finally, because we each love to cook and experiment with flavours, we have a section of our website that we call Our Kouppes, which is where we let our imaginations run free and where we post our original recipes. Many of these are inspired by our parents, but also by the wonderful ethnic cuisine we have access to in our beautiful city.
What did it change for you ?
The quarantine has impacted each of us differently, but in many ways we have been experiencing the same things that everyone has. We all miss hanging out with family and friends, going to church, movies and restaurants, playing sports. We get anxious, as we imagine many people do, and worry about our families, and especially our parents and aunts and uncles who are older. And just like many other people we stress about when this will end, what our new normal will look like, and what losses we will have to live with. At the same time, we recognize that we are very fortunate; we both have homes with outdoor living areas, we are working, as are our husbands, and we are in good health. We know that not everyone is experiencing this quarantine with as much comfort and security as we are.
Helen: I already worked from home, for a US based company, so the quarantine didn’t change anything for me in terms of work. It did impact my family however, and now my husband and two daughters are all working from home and have been for several weeks ago. Having everyone together at home has been quite wonderful actually.
Billie: I’m a nurse and my husband and I both work in a large hospital, so for us, working from home is not an option. Work hours have been very long and stressful due to preparations and re-organizations in order to be able to care for the COVID 19 patients who come to our hospital, which was the first COVID 19 designated hospital for adults in the city. I also teach at a university and adjustments had to be made near the end of the school term to transition to on-line classes and assignments. At the same time, our daughters have had to finish their school years on-line as well.
For both of us, the quarantine also means that we are unable to get together with our parents, or with each other, to cook. Fortunately, we had a few new recipes already prepared but not published so we have been able to keep up with some new posts but not cooking together has been really difficult; we enjoy it so much. One way we have tried to deal with this, and have some fun, is by creating a few solo cooking videos that we call Half-a-Kouppa, where only one of us is present. We’re hoping that the situation in Montreal improves enough that we will be allowed to get together soon to cook again.
How many loo-rolls can you count in your cupboards?
Ha! Our parents taught us well, and so we always stock up on basics when items are on sale. We both have storage spaces in our homes that allow for a healthy supply of things like toilet paper even in the best of times. We each probably had enough rolls to last a few months, well before the quarantine!
Helen: My favourite comfort food is probably our parents’ roasted chicken and lemon potatoes. It is such a delicious meal, and so satisfying. My entire family loves it so I usually make it every two weeks or so. The cooking technique is pretty unusual, but this is how our parents taught us to roast a chicken, and so we would not change a thing; the end result is simply perfect. Just thinking about it now has me craving it!
Billie: My favourite comfort food may have to be rizogalo or rice pudding. Our mother used to make this as an afterschool snack when we were in grade school. It is incredibly simple, but with just the right amount of sweetness and creaminess. Every time I have it now I am transported back to being a young girl, eating my rizogalo while watching a few after-school television programs with my mom sitting next to me.
How do you cope?
Helen: Having my family home has been great actually. It is so much easier to be relaxed about what is going on knowing that they are safe and everyone is home together. We cook a lot, I’ve been baking and creating new recipes and of course, there is always work to do around the house. We opened up our pool this past week, so along with the landscaping (I love my flowers), we will have the pool to enjoy when the weather is warm, which so far, it has been warmer than usual!
Billie: Although work has been very stressful for both my husband and I, the support and teamwork at the hospital has been incredible, so that certainly helps. Otherwise, the name of the game is organization. Because we don’t have much flexibility in our hours, we have to carefully plan out when we will go for groceries, when we will drive by to visit our parents from the curb. Our church has been live-streaming services, so that is something that is certainly helping us cope. And otherwise, we are enjoying the fact that our daughters, both teenagers, are home! We have been spending time playing board games, making puzzles, going for walks, cooking…and we found a new kitten!
Where will you go eat once this madness is over?
Helen: I would most definitely go to one of my favourite restaurants called 40 West, one of the best steakhouses in the city. It is a gorgeous restaurant, with exceptional service, and the food is amazing!
Billie: I have been craving and dreaming about a restaurant called Aunt Dai. It is not fancy by any means, but it has the most amazing stir-fry cabbage dish (Yes! Cabbage!) and spicy green beans. It is so good!
Share a wish, just so we can finish on a happy note.
Wishes are great. We both wish for the spread of the virus to stop, for everyone to listen to the directives of their public health agencies, and for people to remain patient with one another, and supportive, and kind. We also wish that that schools will re-start regularly in the fall and that next year we can follow through with our summer vacation plans 🙂
from Montreal with love,
Helen & Billie
PS: You can be part of my quarantine cuisine diaries too. If you want to share your experience on Eat Yourself Greek (EYG), please drop me a line here. Thanks, Eugeniaby