Each week we profile a different Canadian Food Blogger who is part of the FBC community. This week meet Helen and Billie, the Montreal sisters from Mia Kouppa where they're working to preserve the recipes of their Greek family with humour and love because as they say themselves... nostalgia is delicious!
Name: Helen and Billie (they're sisters!)
Blog name: Mia Kouppa
Where were you born? Montreal, Quebec
Where are you living now? Montreal, Quebec
Why did you start your blog?
We are very fortunate to have grown up with parents who not only loved to cook, but who also did so very, very well. Whenever we attempted to recreate their dishes however, the end result always fell short; not surprising since we didn’t actually have any recipes to follow. Our parents cook by experience, intuition and feel. These are incredible talents, but not very helpful to us as we tried to cook a pastichio or make a baklava. So, we decided to cook with them, literally following our parents around their kitchen with camera, notebook, and measuring cups and spoons. In this way, we have been able to carefully document exactly what they do and how they do it. We end up with actual recipes!
When we were sharing our plan with friends and family we quickly learned that others found themselves in the same predicament, with family non-recipes. So we decided to share what we are learning by starting this blog. In part, this was to help people cook delicious Greek food at home, but it was also to perhaps inspire others to shadow their own parents, grandparents, aunt and uncles around their kitchens. Mia Kouppa was meant to be a legacy for us and our daughters, and a way to honour our parents. It is that, but it has also grown to be much more.
How did you decide on your blog name?
“Mia Kouppa” actually means “one cup” in Greek. We decided that this would be the perfect name for our blog because it is the most often used phrase in our parents’ kitchen, and it is very misleading. The difficulty has always been that recipe giving in our family is an oral tradition, fraught with challenges, because our parents don’t measure anything in a systematic way. So, when they say mia kouppa of flour for example, they have literally plucked a coffee cup out of the cupboard, and used that.
What do you blog about?
Mia Kouppa is a place where we share delicious Greek recipes, but it is also much more. It really is a tribute to our parents, who immigrated to Canada from Greece in order to build better lives for themselves, and subsequently for the family they raised. We share stories, bits of kitchen wisdom, and memories, most of which are related to food. Because we have learned that others also have precious recipes and stories to share, we occasionally feature recipes from other Greek kitchens, under the menu heading More Kouppes. Most recently, we have begun to share our very own recipes, often inspired by our parents, under the category of Our Kouppes. As our website grows and evolves however, the main focus remains the same: our parents, and their love of food, cooking and family.
Is your blog your business, your hobby or something in between?
For now, our blog is a very intense hobby. We have plans to expand in several different directions, and look forward to building Mia Kouppa into something even more special. We will always consider it a labour of love however.
What post on your blog most encapsulates you and why?
Anyone who reads our blog page The story behind Mia Kouppa, and our Meet the Parents and Meet Helen and Billie pages will certainly get a sense of who we are, and what this blog is all about. However, in terms of an actual post, we think that Host like a Greek is a great representation of us, and what we are trying to do; somewhat surprising because this is not a post of an actual recipe. This post is about hosting with ease, and remembering that the most important thing is the love that is put into serving your guests; so much more important than the actual items being served. In Host like a Greek we give our readers a glimpse into how our parents entertained when we were children. In a small apartment, with limited finances, the feeling was always of plenty; plenty of laughter, plenty of love, plenty of joy, and of course, plenty of food.
Which post do you wish received more love and why?
Most definitely our first post ever, Moussaka. We launched our blog with this recipe, knowing that it was a great one, and that it was a meal that many people felt intimidated by. Our parents’ version of moussaka really is delicious and we tried very hard to make the recipe, and accompanying Helpful Hints and photos, easy to follow. Several people have tried this recipe, and all have loved it. Unfortunately, because this was our first post, and we had zero followers at the time, Moussaka did not receive much attention. We reposted it about a year ago, and it fared much better, but it did not “break the internet” :). This post is still our baby, the recipe that started it all...and we really want people to love it as much as we do.
Which post’s success surprised you and why?
We are still shocked that our post Spaghetti with olive oil and mizithra has done as well as it has. Literally, shocked. This recipe, which uses 4 ingredients (and that includes salt), has been shared over 2,800 times on Facebook...big numbers for us. What was surprising initially is how something so simple could be so popular. But we have learned a few things. First, people appreciate simple; it’s real, and manageable to whip dinner up in about 10 minutes. Second, and perhaps more important, readers love posts that they can connect with, and people saw themselves in this post. The story which goes along with the recipe reminds people of their own families, their own history, and it brings them back to simpler days. Nostalgia is delicious.
What’s your biggest challenge as a blogger?
We are fortunate that we are two working on this blog, and all the related social media that comes with it. Still, it’s a lot of work. Early on we set the goal of posting new material twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. We feel that this is important in order to remain relevant and to maintain people’s interest. Except for a few occasions, we have kept to this schedule. Given other competing demands, like work and family and sleep, the challenge is fitting it all in, and doing so while maintaining a level of quality that we feel satisfied with.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a blogger?
The biggest lesson is that there is a lot we don’t know. We are entirely self taught, and not very computer savvy to begin with, so this has been a huge learning curve for us. We have learned where to turn for help and advice, when to ask questions, and that your ego needs to take a back seat; blogging is humbling business.
What has been your biggest success as a blogger so far?
At the risk of sounding cliché, we have considered every achievement, from setting up our website, to opening up our Instagram page, to learning about hashtags, a success. Most recently, we have begun making food videos, and we’ve even done a few Live Recipe shows on Facebook. These have been great fun, and the feedback has been really positive. But we are most proud of the fact that readers thank us for bringing back happy memories of their own families, that our posts are meaningful and touch their hearts. For us, this is everything.
Share a couple of your favourite food blogs to read. Why do you like them?
We are surely not alone when we say that Smitten Kitchen is one of our favourite food sites. In fact, when we first launched Mia Kouppa, we would refer to Deb Perelman as “our hero”. Her recipes are great to be sure, and her success inspiring, but what we especially love are her beautiful photos, mostly taken in a tiny kitchen (you would never know!) and her writing style. She’s witty, smart and easy to read. She makes you feel as though you know her. Which reminds us...Deb, why haven’t you called? 🙂
Another favourite blogger is Aimée Wimbush-Bourque from Simple Bites. There are so many things that we love about this site, it’s hard to know where to begin. The fact that she is Canadian, and grew up in the Yukon (!) is certainly a factor, but more than that, we love how Aimée incorporates delicious food and lifestyle into her blog. Her focus on family is endearing and her honesty refreshing. And, let’s face it, she is a Canadian blogging success story, living in Montreal; certainly someone we look to for inspiration.
Favourite food - care to share a recipe or a restaurant destination?
We definitely love our Greek food, and any of our own posts could be considered a favourite, but we are also so fortunate to live in a multicultural metropolis. We take full advantage of everything that Montreal has to offer, including all of the ethnic cuisines that are available. We love it all!
With the kitchens of the world at our fingertips, we often find ourselves turning to Indian food. The flavour palate is so different from what we were raised on, and our mouths water just thinking about the curries, and the heat and the spices. Plus, so much of Indian cooking is vegan, making it the perfect option when we are fasting for the periods of Orthodox lent. When we cook Indian at home we often consult recipes in cookbooks by either Madhur Jaffrey or Vikram Vij. We are also both huge fans of Maunika Gowardhan, an Indian chef living in the UK. Her website is amazing, and her recipes perfect. We could eat her Aloo Gobi (spiced cauliflower and potatoes) every day.
What are you working on next for your blog?
We continue to cook with our parents and have a line-up of recipes ready to be posted. We are also gearing up to work on some More Kouppes entries; up next will be recipes from cooks originally from Lesvos, Crete and Samos...all Greek islands with unique cuisines. We are so excited to share their specialities. Plus, there are some other exciting things in the works...but we’ll keep those a secret for now. 🙂
What else should we know about you that may or not be in your “About Me” page?
People often ask who’s who. Helen is the blonde sister, and Billie is the brunette. We are very similar in many ways, and quite different in others. A few interesting facts about us are that Helen is mildly addicted to British period dramas. So much so that she has been known to speak in a British accent and invite friends over for tea and crumpets. She has also tried (unsuccessfully) to convince her family that they should all dress for dinner. They drew the line at corsets and tailored jackets on pizza night.
Billie likes British television too, but she much prefers The Walking Dead. She once met Norman Reedus, and he called her sweetheart, twice (sigh). She hosts pretty great Walking Dead season premiere parties every year. This past October she even invited Greg Nicotero! He didn’t come...but she thinks he really wanted to. Maybe next time.
What makes your blog unique?
There are so many great food blogs out there, and probably thousands of Greek food sites. What sets Mia Kouppa apart is that these are “real” recipes, from a “real” kitchen, made by “real” people. And, it is so much more than a list of ingredients and directions. Our recipes are incredibly easy to follow, and they are always accompanied by Helpful Hints and step-by-step photos, to help ensure culinary success. Finally, readers have shared that they can feel how much fun we are having with Mia Kouppa through our posts, and that is true! Although we take our website very seriously, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. This helps us deliver a blog that is as much fun to read as it is for us to produce.
What part of the FBC site do you find most useful?
What a great resource the FBC site has been for us! We have each navigated through Food Bloggers of Canada at various points throughout our food blogger adventures. We have found the Blogging Resources sections particularly valuable. The photographer amongst us has learned a lot by reading through the Food Photography entries, and the writer has relied on the wisdom found within the posts under Writing/Editing. We know we still have a lot to learn, and will continue to turn to Food Bloggers of Canada to help us do so.
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