Captive by COVID for the Holidays

View of Niagara Falls from the New York side, dusted with snow

With coronavirus cases in the US exploding at an astonishing rate, the answer to “how will I spend the holidays” is currently unknown. I live in the D.C. area with my Australian wife, Bell, but no extended family are close by or in our bubble. A few weeks ago, we planned to drive to Buffalo, NY for Thanksgiving. That’s where my mom’s side of my family lives. Unfortunately, my mom passed away from cancer on January 1st of crazy 2020. Aside from COVID-19, a holiday trip to Buffalo would not be the same this year. My uncle unfortunately has stage IV cancer, and while it would be great to spend this one having a loud laugh with him and others, he is also high risk. Also, frigid Buffalo weather in November and December makes social distancing difficult. And many government officials are asking us to not share the holidays with extended family to assist with minimizing the spread. Alternatively, my dad is down in Florida and I have not seen him in a while. He is also high risk being 92 years old. But mild Florida temperatures mean we could enjoy a meal outside that is socially distanced. 

Enjoying drinks in Piazza Universita in Catania, Sicily with fellow TBEX conference attendees just before the Italian lockdown was announced on March 9th, 2020

Typically, we try to spend a holiday with family and then one where we travel somewhere new. But with rapidly changing rules and restrictions, it makes planning difficult. I was in Italy back in March when the first national lockdown was announced. I was at a lovely dinner with TBEX conference attendees who made their way to Catania, Sicily hoping some trips could still be salvaged. After the announcement, we lost our appetites, and everyone scrambled to make their way out of Italy as the options narrowed. After a cancelled flight, I eventually made my way out by flying from Catania to Marseille, France. I then flew to Amsterdam to catch a direct flight home to Washington, DC. It was stressful receiving updates about cancelled flights and travel bans, it has not been an experience I’m keen to repeat! 

With my father in Pyrgos, Greece (near Olympia), in front of St. Nicolas Church, where he was baptized over 90 years ago.

So where will we be for the holidays is a question that weighs heavily on my mind. I want to be respectful of our healthcare workers, who are strained. Also, to the essential service staff who work with the public to make going into public spaces possible. I also want to be able to support struggling businesses, as well as creating content and partnering with folks to support my own business. And finally, there is mental health. Being stuck inside and isolated for the holidays can be difficult, even for those not already prone to anxiety and depression. 

Kayaking in Wekiwa Springs State Park, near
Orlando, Florida, where I grew up

I don’t think I’ll have an answer to this question until very shortly before Thanksgiving as we’ll be monitoring the situation right up until then. On a brighter note, one place I have spent a wonderful Christmas is with my father’s side of the family in Greece. My dad was born in Pyrgos, Greece and I have a large family in Athens. My aunt Eugenia makes the most delicious food and is a gorge yourself on delicious food enabler! The last Christmas I was with them, was back in 2010 and my uncle had a whole lamb slaughtered and butchered for the occasion. My dad had also flown in from Florida and it was the perfect combination of family and new adventures as we drove to Kalamata and enjoyed ringing in the new year on the Island of Syros. The recipe I’d like to share is for my Aunt Eugenia’s holiday treats, melomakarona. These Greek honey cookies tend to be sold year around in Athens and Greek bakeries world-wide but are traditionally baked for Christmas. We may not be able to travel to Greece now, but we can all enjoy the cookies while daydreaming of future travels.  

Melomakarona Cookie 

4 cups all-purpose flour  

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 

2 teaspoons baking powder 

1 teaspoon ground cloves 

1 teaspoon baking soda 

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg 

1-pound unsalted butter 

¾ cup white sugar 

3 egg yolks 

½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice 

1 teaspoon honey 

Honey Syrup 

1 cup honey 

1 cup water 

1 cup white sugar 

Add a dash of brandy for extra flavor 

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg in a large bowl.  

In a separate bowl beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. 

In another bowl mix the OJ and eggs, then slowly combine the butter and OJ mix.  

Fold the wet ingredients with the flour mix until soft, but firm.  

Let the batter chill. 

Heat the oven to 350 f. 

Take about a tablespoon of mix, and shape into an oval shaped cookie and pop in the oven. 

Bake until golden colored.  

While baking in a saucepan add the ingredients for the syrup, heat on low until sugar is dissolved.  

Once the cookies are cooled, dip them in the syrup and sprinkle with finely chopped walnuts.  

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