Yiayia is the Greek word for Grandma. I just recently learned how to spell it, but for years I've been saying it in my non-greek accent. Yiayia is the grandma of my friend Margaret. Margaret lived up the road from us growing up and since my grandparents lived in the midwest, Yiayia became a surrogate grandma for me through the years.
Just recently after many years, too many damn years, I was able to see Yiayia while visiting Margaret. It was so great to see Yiayia and to give her a hug. She was a little different...a little skinnier, a little older, but still the Yiayia that I knew.
She was in the process of making sweet bread. I asked for the recipe, but I was told it was a secret. Margaret was supposed to fedex me some, but that never happened. I am going to have to search the recipe for it. But like my Grandma's cinnamon rolls, I doubt I will ever be able to make the sweet bread as Yiayia did. I think that Grandma's put in something special-love-that sometimes a typical person just doesn't add to their baking.
As Yiayia and I talked through her broken English and Margaret's translations, it took me back to the days of my childhood. I found it funny that Yiayia only thought it was my father and I and did not know I had 6 siblings. That was probably because most of the siblings had taken flight. But I think Yiayia took pity on that it was my father and I. She was always sending down sweet bread, baklava, and other sweets to our house. And of course it was all homemade, from scratch, with Yiayia love in the middle of it.
I remember Yiayia and Margaret would come down and pick the olives off of our tree. We would help her pick the olives and the dates from the palm trees. I never knew why she was picking them until one Easter, it was the Easter after Margaret shot the golfer, my father and I were invited to their house for a traditional Greek Easter. I found out Margaret's grandfather made ouzo in the basement and it was a pretty amazing system. That Easter was one of my greatest memories of an Easter celebration. Everyone speaking in Greek, the goat/lamb (can't remember) on the spit out back, but everyone welcoming us like family. And I am sure that Yiayia sent us home with baked goods.
When I visited in March, Yiayia and I discussed my bread making issues. I was having the hardest time getting my dough to rise. And Yiayia took me into the kitchen where she was preparing to make the sweet bread. She had a large, and I am talking the kind you store your winter clothes in, full of dough that was overflowing the sides. Why, why can't my dough rise like that. She went to the freezer and returned with some yeast and put it in a bag for me. (I was hoping TSA wouldn't wonder why I was carrying around yeast) Yiayia put some on a spoon and said use this much. I am Type A and everything has to be measured. She just shook her head, this much. Then back into the kitchen with me and through a little English, sign language (kind of) and Margaret's translations, I got my lesson on bread making. But still the recipe was not divulged to me. The most important thing I took away from that lesson was to always, always sift my flour. When I returned to my state, I immediately bought a sifter. My bread and all my baking (cinnamon rolls lately) have been coming out beautifully.
I was pained the other day to see that Margaret had posted that Yiayia had a mini-stroke. Damn I thought...I had missed so many years of seeing her and learning her secrets. It is because of her and Margaret's family that I've always wanted to travel to Greece. Well and the fact that Margaret still has family over there to shower me with hospitality. I am so glad that I got to see Yiayia this past year. Although a little older than the last time I saw her, she was still Yiayia through and through. I hope for a speedy recovery because I am hoping to hang with her at the Greek Festival in September if I can get the time off?
I love you Yiayia....