Zoi Maroudas says that her Calugine bread tastes especially good dipped in the oil from the Maroudas olive orchard on the island of Zante (Zakynthos). I have to agree. There’s a hint of a Greek Taverna with a view of the blue Ionian sea in each bite. The fragrance of the olive orchards in the oil provides the perfect balance to the bread’s subtleties.
Zoi uses an ancient Greek technique of making the bread, using only wheat flour (that Zoi orders from an Italian farmer) and water, and developing the dough during the first two days with a vegetable that doesn’t stay in the final mixture. She says that the long natural fermentation allows the flour to “blossom,” with better access to the wheat’s natural enzymes and nutrients. A 2018 journal article that reviewed the benefits of fermentation supports Zoi’s scientifically-based arguments for why her bread is so digestible.
Calugine (which means “down,” like goose down, in Italian — something light) comes out with a fine crumb, perfect for sandwich bread or toast. Zoi has recently started making the Calugine bread in whole wheat, as well as white.
Bambino’s foods are designed for babies, as well as cancer patients, people like dental patients who have temporary limits on solid foods, and others with restricted diets (gluten-free, kosher, and others). Zoi works with local farmers, and Alaska has many who grow organic veggies. Her butternut squash, carrots, potatoes, and most of the other veggies come from farms in the Matanuska Valley. Barley and other grains grow best further north. Alaskan fishers supply Bambino’s with fresh wild-caught halibut and salmon for her award-winning bisques and soups.
She says that the farmers remark on how clean the soil is here, free of viruses and pests that have infected the land in other places. They take the responsibility of treating the dirt well, so that it will continue to produce abundant crops of vegetables and grains without the need for pesticides. Not enough wheat grows in the state yet to supply her needs, so she has organic Italian flour shipped to her.
Zoi seasons the foods with dried herbs, often grown or collected by her mother, Athina. The tastes appeal to children as well as adults. Many of Bambino’s customers live outside Alaska, and Zoi ships their orders frozen, with careful instructions for thawing and using. A 2017 appearance on the Today show, and feature articles in a variety of magazines and parenting blogs have helped her share Bambino’s foods with a wider market. Local grocery stores sell the foods, and one Anchorage restaurant features Bambino’s selections on its menu.
Another wheat-based food, created by Zoi based on her extensive medical training (she studied to be a doctor, but due to circumstances took a different path) is a cookie designed to reduce the chances that a child will have peanut allergies. She consulted with allergists and researchers to develop the “Peanut-Mani.” It’s a cookie made with organic peanuts, wheat, oranges, eggs, and clarified butter. That’s it. The amount of peanut included is that recommended to help young immune systems adjust to the peanut proteins so that the child doesn’t develop allergies. Babies as young as four months old can eat specified amounts of cookie mixed with breast milk or formula. When they can eat solid foods, the cookies are the right size for them to hold and munch.
When she has the opportunity, Zoi shares her foods and traditions through occasional baking classes. She teaches traditional methods of making pita bread, sweet breads, and pizza dough (her family owns Olympia Pizza), some without using recipes. Check the website for dates of these classes, and other events.
Unassuming, despite several awards from seafood competitions for her Alaska halibut and salmon creations, and a variety of articles about her business skills and products, Zoi ends our conversation with her belief: “Food is life.” She added that Fridays and Saturdays we call “Family fresh Baked Good Day, for Bambino’s of all Ages and Stages.” The website is https://bambinosbabyfood.com.