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“Meals is the medication, every part you want, you will get from what you eat,” says Yiayia Niki as she passes me a beetroot, carrot, and apple juice, nodding to my increasing, pregnant midriff. Deep into the mountains, up winding passes and a tough, rugged terrain between which olive bushes and drooping eucalyptus burst forth, 84-year-old Niki is the one inhabitant of her village in Greece’s rugged Mani Peninsula. She lives in a stone home, with centuries-old embroidery framed and hanging on the partitions, together with conventional picket devices, customary spiritual icons, and sepia images light much more by the solar. Exterior, her pony Marco dips his shaggy chestnut mane right into a basket of apples—and I rely my blessings, as soon as once more, for this extraordinary odyssey that I’ve embarked upon.
I’m right here on a mission for my cookbook: Yiayia: Time-perfected Recipes from Greece’s Grandmothers. And I need to study extra than simply regional dishes. Food plan, in fact has quite a bit to do with the longevity of the women residing right here, in and close to one of many world’s five official blue zones—the areas the place the typical life expectancy is the longest on earth. Whereas touring throughout Greece, I’m additionally coming to know that the normal Greek lifestyle might need quite a bit to do with the the thriving grandmothers of this nation.
Niki, for one, is a healer: She says she’s by no means been to a health care provider in her life—and her supple, wrinkle-free pores and skin is proof of the facility of uncooked greens and fruit that she swears by. Collectively we make the flavor-rich dish of bakaliaros plaki—cod baked with potatoes, tomatoes, currants, spices, and loads of contemporary herbs. As we eat it within the dappled shade of her balcony, overlooking the inky blue water within the distance, Niki emphasizes the significance of at all times together with contemporary herbs and consuming as many uncooked elements inside one meal as attainable. She’s nonetheless utterly autonomous, nimble as a cat, and a testomony to the healthful, natural weight-reduction plan she swears by.
It’s been six years since I began the @MatriarchEats Instagram account, by which I embarked upon a mission to prepare dinner with grandmothers from all around the world—however I’m nonetheless studying classes in longevity from girls like Niki. The inspiration behind the mission was my very own Yiayia (the Greek phrase for grandmother) who nonetheless grows her personal greens, makes her personal olive oil and wine, and cooks over an open flame. She enjoys a weight-reduction plan of seasonal, natural greens, and infrequently eats meat; and he or she treats colds with garlic and abdomen aches with natural tinctures she brews herself. Her biceps nonetheless put my very own to disgrace, and he or she has the sturdy and robust calves of an ox. Yiayia may be 87, however she would utterly destroy me in an arm wrestling contest.
“How easy and frugal a factor is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut […] the sound of the ocean. Nothing else,” writes Nikos Kazantzakis in Zorba the Greek. It is rather a lot within the bones of the ladies that I prepare dinner with to get pleasure from life’s small pleasures. Like my very own grandmother, they had been raised in a poor nation and on little besides what they might develop from the land themselves. This has influenced not solely what they eat, however their whole life philosophy.
“Folks come right here and ask what the key is to our everlasting youth, however there isn’t one reply we can provide,” says 80-year-old Yiayia Marietta. “Perhaps it’s good genes, perhaps it’s our way of life. I’m not a health care provider however I can say that life right here is totally different.”