For most of us around the globe, 2020 has been an unexpected and extremely challenging year. The world has never felt smaller. Here in Athens, we have been on a second strict lockdown for a month and a half now. My seven-year-old son is learning online, and I often feel like I’m juggling too many balls: coordinating and overseeing his schooling schedule, keeping the house as organized as I can considering that we spend almost all our time here, and trying to work at the same time.
But the pandemic has had one positive effect, at least for me: I’ve found the time to experiment with recipes and spend quality time alone and focused (or at least semi-focused) in my kitchen. It has been keeping me sane, creative and positive. “My kitchen is my shrine and in it I shine!” is my motto for this weird year.
To get inspired in the kitchen, I only need to go to my local farmers’ market in Ambelokipi, the neighborhood where I live. The largest farmers’ market in central Athens, it has always been here, right under my nose, but I have never appreciated it as deeply as I do now. Normally on Saturdays I have to work or take my son to a party or a play date. So when the pandemic hit and all those other activities came to a grinding halt, I found myself attending the market every single Saturday morning and spending at least an hour and a half strolling around the beautiful fresh produce and chatting with my favorite farmers and producers.
I often have to bribe my son to tolerate my “happy hour” at the market, but it’s worth it: Watching the produce change with the seasons, and cooking accordingly, has brought me immense happiness this year. Most of the time I return home to unload my old-school granny cart and go back to the market for a second round. Even though we must wear a mask and keep our distance, visiting the market is the best form of face-to-face communication and interaction I can get under the given circumstances.
There’s even music, adding to the conviviality. Street performers will often occupy a small area between two stalls and play music. People will stop, watch, smile and chat – a moment of letting go. While shopping I often find myself chatting with older women, who have a wealth of culinary knowledge. They’ve taught me tricks for washing thorny greens (we eat wild greens in Greece that tend to be awfully thorny when you buy them at the market), and we’ve been exchanging recipes and cooking tips. I’ve also developed a great relationship with my fishmonger, who gives me a gift each week – last week it was a half-kilo of extra fresh langoustines (they were still moving!).
One thing this pandemic has taught me is to enjoy the small things and not take them for granted – like a weekly visit to the incredible farmers’ market right in my backyard.
Editor’s note: Normally when December rolls around, we ask our correspondents to share their “Best Bites,” as a way to reflect on the year in eating. But 2020 was not a normal year. So at a time when the act of eating has changed for so many, our correspondents will write about their “Essential Bites,” the places, dishes, ingredients and other food-related items that were grounding and sustaining in this year of upheaval.
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