Australian-born Eugenia Pantahos dispenses with superficial and sentimental views of Greek cuisine and traditions to embrace a more sophisticated and accurate vision of a complex culture.
Eugenia has just launched the cookbook Greek Life, a work she describes as a “feast for the senses”.
The book comprises of sentimental yet perceptive accounts of numerous aspects and histories behind Greek traditions and everyday life.
“Greek Life is essentially about when, why and how Greeks celebrate their unique way of life. It commences with the story of my family – parents who migrated from Greece – featuring cultural events from January to December, as well as other life events such as engagements, weddings, births and baptisms, loss of loved ones, entertainment, kitchen, garden and other nuances that encompass the Greek way of life.”
These events are supported by traditional recipes and sumptuous photographs that enliven the experience, as well as a sprinkling of thought-provoking ancient Greek philosophy.
“It is a true celebration of Greek culture and is a unique and invaluable book for people of Greek origin or those who simply love Greek culture,” Eugenia tells Neos Kosmos.
While cooking has been a constant in her life, Eugenia says writing has been a developing interest.
“I have approximately three unfinished manuscripts and a collection of poetry spanning back to my late teenage years. I find inspiration in life experiences and sometimes I just need to respond to my creativity as I feel compelled to begin writing. I never really know when it’s going to happen, so that means I have lots of notes on the back of shopping receipts and serviettes jotted throughout my diary,” she says.
Mrs Pantahos began to write Greek Life some five years ago when she was on holiday at a seaside township with her family.
“The book was initially written as a keepsake for my three daughters and as a way to distil the lessons shared by my parents, including the story of family, philosophy, and Greek traditions. I have practised these traditions within my own home, and as my children were growing up, they too were observing me. I had a deep realisation that I was a custodian of the unique Greek lifestyle that was learnt whilst sitting at the kitchen table, watching and partaking in the preparation of the inimitable cultural events. I wanted to pass forward to future generations what I had learnt, what I had observed and what I had experienced,” she tells.
Greek Life is what she personally learned from her mother and father, including her visits to Greece. She is the youngest of five children, three of whom were born in Greece. She sees herself as a daughter, a wife, a mother to three daughters, an aunt to 14 and great-aunt to many. While her day job includes a very structured business lifestyle as the manager for Finance & People, cooking has been an escape from that reality.
Her cookbook is described as ‘a specially prepared trousseau of time-honoured Greek traditions, culture and recipes, lovingly assembled for future generations – to be preserved and not lost – to be embraced and not forgotten, and always to be enjoyed and celebrated’.
“Each part of Greece has its own nuances, however there is that common thread that binds us all, and that is what Greek Life is all about,” she says.
As she started to share the idea of her book with friends and family she received an unexpected and overwhelming response from people expressing a longing to have a book that captures these traditions that enrich daily life. As a part-time writer, Greek Life became a pet project for her.
“It’s taken just shy of two years to go through the various edit reviews with prompts from my editor to add a bit more here and there, as well as hiring a
professional photographer to take some of the images used within the book. Much of my time was also spent baking and cooking, styling, and photographing certain images included throughout the book. I then employed the services of a graphic designer whose creative talents brought forward a book that I am very proud of.”
Eugenia uses a lucid commentary, complemented by colourful imagery which takes us on a leisurely stroll through Greek reality, even though she did not grow up in Greece. She has, however, been able to visit Greece multiple times on several occasions.
“I was born in Australia and visited Greece for the first time at the age of eleven. I travelled with my father, to celebrate Easter with his family,” she says.
“The memories are etched in my mind as if they happened yesterday. The unique aroma of Easter lamb rotating on the spit, the perfume of chamomile growing wildly near my yiayia’s homestead, the scent of cinnamon cellophane wrapped sweets in my pappou’s shop, the distinctive flowery perfume of Greek honey and the rich tasting olive oil that was liberally added to most dishes. I’m planning my next trip; hopefully at the end of next year.”
Greek Life was launched in an eBook version in late October and is now available online at Booktopia. The hard copy will be available directly from her website greeklifestyle.com.au and selected stores from mid-January 2015.