She is the writer of seven cookbooks that endlessly inspire us; we’ve been stalking her for years. Back when we were at Cookie, we xeroxed her book Apples for Jam, and used it as the inspiration for our lifestyle stories. She lives with her Italian husband Giovanni and her two daughters, Yasmine. 13, and Cassia, 11 in the middle of the Tuscan countryside between Florence and Siena, 5 km from the nearest village,
Tell us about your background: I was born in London. My mom is from from Finland my dad is from Cyprus. We went to live in South Africa when I was about 4. When I finished school I wanted to travel. I wemt backpacking for a year. Then, I did a small course in fashion design and also interior design. I had thought I would like to end up living in France when I was young. But I went to live and work in London. Studied anthropology, sociology. Travelled. Loved travelling. Have always loved people, languages, countries, interiors, fashion, food, fabrics, restaurants. After London I went to live in Greece for a year where I worked with a French chef. Then came to Italy to study the beautiful food and language. And here I still am!
And how did the books come about? The first book just got going on its own more or less. After the birth of my second daughter I started putting all the material I had together and set up my team. The stylist is my friend from birth. She introduced me to the photographer and he just felt completely right. And the graphic artist is a great friend of mine living in Toronto. My team has worked with me on all 7 books and it really is a group effort as you can see.
Who does most of the cooking in the house? I cook mainly. Giovanni (below) is a great shopper and barbecue-er. There arent very regular rules here. If I am working on a book or a project there may be 6 things for the family to taste and comment on. If not, there may be nothing! Or whatever everyone feels like. Greek, Italian….always, always vegetables and salads. Can’t be without those even for a day.
Okay, so you have to tell us how you do vegetables and salads! For the vegetables, I throw everything into a roasting dish, turn through some olive oil and some herbs…dried oregano, fresh sage or rosemary. I love to roast vegetables until they are sticky. For the salads, I put in everything and anything green. I have some lovely interesting dressings ready made so it doesn’t seem a bore and a chore for the family. It’s that extra step that makes the difference between winning and losing. Lately I am using things like umeboshi vinegar, fresh spring onions, a little mustard in the dressing, lemon juice and some sliced cool sweet apples against the sharpness. My family loves this.
Do you have any family rituals? Around Christmas, we always make cinnamon and cardamom buns. Gravlax and Finnish mustard for Christmas Eve. For the New Year, Italians always have lentils for luck and wealth, and the Greeks have Vassilopita (the cake with a coin in it–it’s in my book Food from Many Greek Kitchens, we always make those).
How do you feel about screen time? The kids don’t really watch TV, but do have tons of DVDs. I love to watch some “appropriate” things with the kids…like Ghandi and things relevant to what they are studying at school, but I also think they have to watch what they want and keep up with what’s going on.
How do you celebrate birthdays? Whatever the birthday person wants to do. Family together for sure. Something special like pancakes and hot chocolate in bed for breakfast. Brownies to bring to school. Cake with candles, presents, and lots of love.
What websites inspire you? Amazon—for the books and the music section. Probably because I live in Italy and the books are not in my language.
How do you spend your weekends? We live in the country so our weekends depend on the season…Actually we just love being at home. In winter, the fire is on. Every season we take walks in the country. Walks down to the river. Just through the nature. Picnics in the spring and summer. Beach and barbecues in the summer. I go to Florence regularly for my city fix, though.
Family vacations? We go to Greece every summer. At least some time on the same island in the same house even if we do other things. I love that. Going back. Finding the same and different things. I think it’s great for the kids.
Favorite indoor activities? Drawing and painting with the kids. I work from home…so have no problem in terms of what to do here. Cooking. We love watching a dvd together and eating popcorn. I always have various projects that I am working on.
What kind of music are you into? I love all kinds of music. A bit of everything. Greek, Italian, classical. And yes whatever my kids are listening to. Ummm…too many to mention! What’s in my car right now—Jason MRaz, Colbie Caillat, Dido. Fado, Latin, George Winston. Beyonce—I love being in with what the kids are listening to also. It’s energizing—I can’t be without music.
What never gets checked off on your to-do list? Gosh, those photos albums. I still haven’t gotten into the whole digital thing and I need to get them all into one place and understand it. And just get it ticked off my list.
What are you favorite books ever? That’s hard! I am going to give you three off the top of my head that I absolutely loved: Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, The God of Small Things, The Life of Pi.
What’s the last book you read? The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
What are your children’s favorite books? Giraffes Can’t Dance, Dr. Seuss. And recently they loved All the New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn, Twilight Range.
What’s in your beauty arsenal? I always wear a sun block. Hate being without a sunblock. And compact powder on my face. I just feel right when I have that on. And a light colour in my lip salve that just looks like a berry blush. A tad of colour that I can just put on and have moist lips without having lipstick caked on. Before I go to bed I always wash my face and use a lovely olive oil and herb cream from a guy in Greece who collects his own herbs from the mountain. I also get herbal tea from him and go to bed with a cup or pot.
What your friends say about you: The way I can talk to everyone and anyone about an issue or a decision or a problem I am having. From the lady at the bar to the gardener, I can include anyone really in my life…
You feel your best when…I am not procrastinating. Helping people. In the moment. Working on a project I am fueled by and driven and passionate about. With my family.
Favorite clothing item and why? Foulards (scarfs). You can get away with anything under them. But a beautiful foulard is essential. Warmer ones give warmth when it gets a bit of a chill.
Proudest parenting moment? Giving birth to my two beauties.
Guiltiest pleasure? Doing stuff/buying stuff for myself and having a ball without my family. My friends always tell me to get over it.
Images from Tessa Kiros and Apples for Jam book