There’s no denying food has a special way of bringing people together, and Alida Deligeorges can certainly attest to this.
But in her case, not only did it bring her together with people, it was a gateway into a different culture, which she has since adopted as her own.
Alida’s life took an unexpected turn at the age of eight, when her father suffered a heart attack, and passed away two days later. From that moment on, life suddenly changed. The relationship she had with her mother and two older brothers started to disintegrate.
“For the next 10 years I struggled to live in a home that should have protected, loved, encouraged, and supported me,” Alida recalls.
“I prayed for a miracle each and every day for better times ahead.”
Her first sign of hope came at the age of 18, when she met her now husband, the love of her life, Tony Deligeorges in a chance meeting that she describes as her “first miracle”.
Despite their joint efforts to improve her circumstances with her immediate family, Alida says that life at home eventually became “unbearable”.
Forced with no choice but to leave, few possessions and nowhere to go, little did she know her “second miracle” was just around the corner.
Tony’s parents offered to take her in, and what was meant to be one night turned into an extended stay in what became a home away from home.
“My in-laws were my second miracle. They took me into their home and treated me as their own daughter, despite seeming quite taboo to many relatives at the time,” Alida tells Neos Kosmos.
“Their hospitality and generosity was such a blessing.”
Alida and Tony were married soon after, and were offered to stay on living with his parents until they were able to establish themselves.
“I was blown away by their kindness – in fact, I must say I wasn’t even used to it to be honest. The connection I developed with both my in-laws was truly precious. I was clearly their adopted daughter and I was very blessed to call them ‘mum’ and ‘dad’,” she says.
Whilst living with her new Greek in-laws, Alida shared all the house chores, including the cooking. Having grown up in an Italian household, a love of food was instilled in her at an early age, and it was only further cemented in the Deligeorges household.
With no real idea about how to cook Greek food, her mother-in-law Maria was only happy to pass on her knowledge.
“Everyone loved her food, especially my husband! I was keen to learn from her and she explained to me that the best way to learn her recipes was to make them with her,” an experience Alida describes as “awe inspiring”.
Hailing from Thessaloniki, the dishes Maria laid out on the table night after night looked simple and easy. It wasn’t until Alida had the opportunity to sit down and observe the process behind the scenes that she came to truly appreciate the intricate details and skill that went into each meal, and the special touch that could ultimately make or break a dish.
But beyond the delicious flavours and aromas, it was through these cooking ‘lessons’ that her special relationship with Maria really started to develop. Now 33 years on, and their bond is unbreakable, one akin to mother and daughter.
“It was in the kitchen that I really got to know Maria and she got to know me; in the kitchen, we connected and she healed my broken heart. She made me laugh and made me feel special. She believed in me and encouraged me to do my best,” says Alida.
“Life circumstances, or essentially fate, brought us together no doubt.”
“I have been blessed to have learnt so many Greek recipes, but my most cherished recipe that Maria taught me would have to be her koulouria,” says Alida.
“They are a traditional festive biscuit which are often shared as a gift between families. This is why I love them. They echo the love that I have in me to share with others; a love that my mother-in-law allowed to flourish in me through the love she gave to me in return. They symbolise hope for me – that miracles do happen.
“Every Easter and Christmas I make them with my husband and my three gorgeous sons. We come together and we bond as a family. We enjoy making all the different shapes of biscuits as we giggle and chat about the season at hand. This is what a good recipe can do; it reminds us of the traditions we share and the love in sharing the tradition. When I share my koulouria I am ‘paying it forward’ somewhat and sharing my mother-in-law’s love for me.”
Alida has generously shared that very recipe for you all to try your hand at, at home in the lead up to Christmas.
2 cups sugar
250 g unsalted butter, melted
1 packet vanilla powder (yellow package)
500 g Jalna vanilla yogurt
1 orange, juiced
1.5-2 kg self raising flour
1. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until blended.
2. Beat in sugar and vanilla sugar until creamy.
3. Pour in melted butter and stir once more until butter fully mixed and ‘oily’ look has gone.
4. Add yoghurt and orange juice and mix again.
5. Add sufficient self raising flour to form a ball of dough, initially mixing with a spatula. Progress to using your hands when dough starts to form. Keep adding self raising flour until mixture can be handled without sticking to hands.
6. Let the mixture ‘rest’ for ~15 minutes (enough time to wash up and prepare biscuit trays with Glad Bake paper).
7. Be creative with biscuit designs, either traditional twists or using fancy biscuit cutters. Sprinkle some additional self raising flour on chopping boards that you are rolling or cutting biscuits on if dough starts to stick. Remember to keep biscuits small since they will double in size. Place on trays with ~5 cm gaps between biscuits.
8. Coat biscuits with a mixture of 1 egg and some olive oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
9. Bake in oven at 180 degrees until golden brown. They don’t take long (about 10 to 15 minutes) so keep an eye on them!
10. Enjoy and share!