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Orange Flowers

My mother reminded me of something yesterday that I’d nearly forgotten.  She said that when (our grandpa) Papou first came to this country (and to Oregon) from his sunny home in Greece, it rained and rained and rained. For thirty-nine days straight, it rained. And on that gray and soggy thirty-ninth day, Papou swore, “If it rains one more day,” because that, of course, would be the proverbial fortieth, beyond which no human could possibly endure another, “I’m going back home!”  And he spoke the words with such a Greek passion, who could have doubted him? When Papou woke that next morning, the sun shone and it shone with such a brilliance that he declared, “This now is my home!” And he stayed. And a young woman came to him from Greece and she became his wife. And together they raised a family of four strong boys. Who would have thought that one sunny day could change history? But for me, and my brothers, it did.

I was the first-born in a marriage that was troubled. And yet I was one of those rare and lucky oneswho, after my parents divorced, received a real Dad when a couple years later my mom remarried.  One of those four sons of Papou and Yaya, Jim, knew what it meant to be family. He fell in love with our mom, but he loved us kids instantly.  It took a little longer for us to realize we had in him a Dad. He was in no hurry.  He won us over with his humor, his faithfulness, his sincerity and patience, his teaching, his stories and sometimes even his food.

I was a shy ten-year-old when my parents married. One day, my new Dad brought me something. It was an orange. A simple, ripe, juicy orange. But when it came to me, offered in his hands, it was a gift! It was a little treasure, an opened lotus flower, offered up tenderly just for me, because he loved me. And I can remember back, it was in that instant that something turned in me. I knew that someone thought I was special. And in that moment something else happened, though I didn’t realize it until years later. I can look on that open-hearted orange flower as the first time I thought of food as a gift, as a language through which we can express love. And so it is, these decades later, I sometimes still think of my Dad when I am putting love on the table.

I offer this month of April in the fondest possible memory of my Dad, and in celebration of all things citrus! Spree would like to declare it Citrus Month (and I think she just did.) So keep coming back for main course recipes, pasta and rice dishes, salads, marinades, preserves, desserts and beverages.  Even a soup from my Papou and Yaya’s homeland!


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