Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday, November 22, 2013 - No comments

Anticipating Winter - Part Two (The Locals)

For most of the other women in my neighbourhood, winter preparations involve things like tomatoes and peppers rather than plaster and paint.  Last week I read an article in an inflight magazine called “How Anatolian Women Prepare for Winter,” mostly revolving around the edibles that are currently being stockpiled in cupboards around the country.  A far cry from a Pinterest board of new and intriguing ways to use pumpkin, most of my neighbours’ autumn to-do lists are more about making the most of the current harvest and keeping veggies on the table through the winter when fresh ones are scarce.

Tomato paste is a key ingredient in a lot of Turkish recipes, and the homemade variety is definitely preferred over the store-bought kind.  At the end of the summer, women load up on kilos and kilos of tomatoes (either from the pazar or their own fields) and then the tomatoes are chopped, strained, and either dried in the sun for a few days (if you live in the village and have the luxury of a flat roof) or boiled on the stove (if you’re a city dweller confined to an apartment) and then stored in glass jars (or sometimes pop bottles) to be used all winter long.

Olives are a must on the Turkish breakfast table.  The olive grove behind our house has been picked bare, the olives now being cured in large reused plastic water bottles full of brine, olive oil and thyme which will be kept in the dark through the coming months.  Last year I got to help with my first olive harvest.  Olives are high on my list of foods I’d love to avoid for the rest of my life, but I sure did enjoy climbing all those trees!

An Anatolian woman’s pantry will be bursting with canning jars at this point in the season.  Pickled cucumbers, peppers, carrots, onions, tomatoes and cabbage line the shelves.  Homemade jam comes in every variety from “familiar” flavours like strawberry and apricot to more “creative” flavours like carrot, rose and, yes, even eggplant.  (No joke - it’s found on the shelf of any big market.)  Turks are also big fans of pekmez, a cousin of molasses made from either grapes or mulberries.  A great antidote for anemia, it’s known as an “internal heater” that will keep you warm and free of colds during the chilly months.  A few years ago I got to witness “pekmez making week” in Cappadocia - I marveled at the arm muscles it took to be able to stir the grapes for seven or eight hours in a massive cauldron over a campfire!

Pickled everything
Buckets of boiled grapes for making pekmez

In the warmer months leading up to winter, women here hollow out red and green peppers and eggplant and then string them up like colourful necklaces on the roof or balcony to dry.  These will then be stored in a dry place and pulled out during the winter and stuffed with a mixture of rice and spices (and sometimes meat, pine nuts or black currants) to make dolma.  (My favourite!)  

Dried peppers and eggplant
 A whole lot of delicious dolma
Most evening meals here begin with a bowl of steaming soup, and tarhana çorbası is a winter must.  A variable mix of veggies (usually onions, red peppers, carrots and an assortment of greens) are cooked and pureed.  Yogurt is added, then a whole lot of flour, and the mixture is kneaded until it forms a soft dough.  The dough is separated into balls and left to dry for several days, then broken down into marble-sized bits and dried some more.  When it’s dried through, it’s crushed into flakes, either by hand or in a blender, and then stored in jars to be made into soup at a later date.  I only recently learned how involved the process of making tarhana is, so I shall be more appreciative from here on out when a bowl is placed in front of me. 

While most families will buy several loaves of bread (think French bread) a day from the neighbourhood bakery, a homemade flatbread called yufka is also a popular accompaniment to dinner.  When the weather is nice, groups of women head outside (in our case, to the olive grove out back) and set up their bread-making assembly line.  Dough is mixed in large plastic tubs and then rolled out paper thin on a low wooden table.  The large round yufka is then cooked on a saç (a huge concave metal pan) over a fire.  After a long day’s work, each woman will go home with a stack of flaky yufka that will be covered with a cloth and stored for up to a month.  Come dinner time, they just flick it with drops of water until it softens and, voila - bread.  (And if I’m lucky enough to happen to pass by on bread making day, the offer always comes for me to go grab some cheese from the house and have them fry me up some fresh gözleme.  Yum!)

Last but not least comes the category which I’d call “fruit snacks.”  (Like Fruit Roll Ups, but way healthier!)  People who spend the summer in their hometowns out east often have vineyards and fruit orchards.  Those with grapes and mulberries will boil and strain them, then set the juice out to thicken in the sun and use it to make things like pestil (thin fruit leather) and cevizli sucuk (literally “walnut sausage”), a long stick of “fruit snack” with nuts inside.  They’ll also do up a bunch of strings of nuts, grapes and chunks of the fruit leather to be pulled out, along with dried mulberries, for snacks when guests come over.  
Cevizli sucuk
I have so much respect for the hardworking women around me and definitely love being able to partake of the fruits of their labour.  Since moving here, I’ve learned to do without most packaged food and make pretty much everything from scratch (I’ve come a long way from the days of importing Bisquick for pancakes, let me tell you...) but I’ve still got nothing on them!

Friday, November 22, 2013 - No comments

Anticipating Winter - Part One (The Foreigners)

The other night when I showed up to babysit, the kids met me at the door with their Christmas lists:  an assortment of red and green letters adding up to a whole gamut of things ranging from “sunglasses” and “magenta nail polish” (when did this “little girl” become so pre-teenish?) to “a boy dog stuffie” and “Littlest Pet Shop Bobble Heads.”  My immediate reaction was, “It’s way too early!”  (It doesn’t help that my roommate’s birthday is December 1st, so Christmas music is expressly forbidden in our house until the 2nd.)  But I’m sure back home, they began to deck the malls the day after Halloween, so I suppose these guys aren’t jumping the gun by too much.

We’re into those in-betweeny weeks of the twilight of autumn. During the day, it’s still a gorgeous 25 degrees outside, our laundry still dries on the line within a few hours, and we can have brunch on the terrace in bare feet and t-shirts, as we did for a friend’s birthday on the weekend.  But I’ve definitely started wearing slippers in the house, and at night it’s been cool enough to turn on the heater in the living room and make me think about pulling out my electric blanket.

Winter prep around our house has involved a host of outdoor projects.  Last week we had a guy come and cut down three trees on the perimeter of our complex in an effort to prevent a repeat of the horrible flood episode we had last year when pine needles plugged up our next-door neighbours’ terrace drains (they live in France most of the year and aren’t around to clean them) causing over a foot of water to collect during one crazy winter storm.  It poured into their upstairs kitchen through a massive gap under the door and then made its way through the walls until we discovered that we had a lake in our entryway and “rain” falling from our kitchen ceiling.  I had to risk my life climbing over our adjoining wall to clean out the drains while hail fell and lightning flashed all around.  The carpets were a mess, the paint and plaster in our stairway turned all bubbly and the smell of the mold didn’t leave us until summer....

The whole tree-chopping day was quite a neighbourhood event, with the gardener and his son as well as a few other men pitching in to help the (approaching elderly and unfortunately rather vulgar) man who arrived “ready to cut” with a chainsaw and a curious lack of rope, ladders, or anyone to accompany him.  The womenfolk showed up to watch (free entertainment!) and I supplied the tea to workers and spectators alike.  There were some dicey moments, like when the gardener tied the rope around his waist as ballast against a five storey pine (I could just picture him sailing through the air...) and when it looked like said pine might just go crashing down onto the Frenchies’ house (“Sorry about your roof, Metin Bey...But on the bright side, no more clogged drains!”) but thankfully, in the end, all turned out well and everyone involved went home with enough firewood to keep their woodstoves going for at least a month.

In the years we’ve lived in this house, I’ve become something of a plastering usta (professional/expert/handywoman), and I’ve been putting my skills to good use regrouting the tiles and joints on our terrace (in hopes of preventing my roommates ceiling from turning a fuzzy, cough-inducing green as it has done for the past several winters) as well as cementing cracks and redoing the plaster around several of our windows. Keeping an eye on the weather report, I was glad to be able to get those spots repainted before the promised rains arrived this weekend.  

And now, with the cooler weather moving in, it’s finally starting to feel like fall.  Tomorrow, the Thanksgiving turkeys will be bought.  (It's hit and miss here, so we get our orders in early!)  I'm taking my cues from the kids and starting to gear my head towards Christmas gifts.  All around the neighbourhood, people are beginning to get their sobas (woodstoves used for heating) set up.  And I’ve got visions of cozy living rooms and hot soba-roasted chestnuts dancing in my head....

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Saturday, November 16, 2013 - 2 comments

İstanbul'da Sonbahar

Akşama doğru azalırsa yağmur 
Kız kulesi ve adalar 
Ah burda olsan çok güzel hala 
İstanbul'da sonbahar 

If the rain wanes as the evening nears,
Maiden's Tower and the Princes' Islands 
If you only were here, it's still so beautiful 
Autumn in İstanbul
- Teoman, "İstanbul'da Sonbahar"

I recently entered a photo contest called “Dört Mevsim İstanbul” (Four Seasons in Istanbul).  It was fun to walk down memory lane as I scrolled through my (thousands upon thousands) of Istanbul photos, trying to narrow it down to just four per season to send in. 
Autumn is by far my favourite season, and besides Tennessee, with its brilliant foliage and “smoking barns”, Istanbul is my favourite place to experience it.  The city just does fall so well.  It’s not that there are really all that many trees (as the Gezi Park folks made us well aware) to make the city change colours, and there aren’t really any seasonal events to speak of - at least nothing that resembles pumpkin carving or hayrides or bobbing for apples.  :)  For me it’s more about the way that rain seems to suit the hüzünlü (melancholy) city, the way the few leaves that DO change stand out so brilliantly against the grey backdrop of the ancient metropolis,  the excitement of the appearance of the roasted chestnut carts in the squares and along the waterfronts, the warmth of a cinnamony cup of sahlep on the Bosphorus ferry, and the cozy smell of coal and woodstoves that fills the air as the nights get chilly.
I spent a weekend in Istanbul at the beginning of November, proudly accompanying my Turkish mom to the book fair where she was presenting the book she just published (!) and I’ll be up there again the last weekend of the month for my “little sister’s” isteme (when her boyfriend’s family will come to officially ask for her hand in marriage) so I am getting my happy fill of autumn goodness there this year.  
Here are some of the “final candidates” for the photo contest, as well as a few favourites from my time there last weekend.  İyi sonbaharlar!  Happy fall!

Chestnut carts

Leaf-crunching in Gülhane Parkı

'Tis the season for pomegranates!  (Thirty-five cents a kilo here - jealous?)

Creamy sahlep is made from crushed orchid roots and tastes 
best with a generous sprinkling of cinnamon.

Surprise bursts of colour around the city