Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday, November 15, 2015 - 1 comment

Istanbul: Row by Row

For a country in which a post office "line" is more of a "blob" and driving the wrong way down the road doesn't cause anyone (except perhaps the odd traffic cop having a slow day) to bat an eye, Turkey actually has a surprising amount of order.  You just have to know where to look for it.  

Take the weekly pazar, for example.  I love to get there first thing in the morning and watch the painstaking precision of the guys arranging their apples in perfect, shiny rows, or piling their figs in little purple pyramids.  I always hate to be the first one to marr their masterpieces by pulling a kilo or two from the artistic arrangement.  :)

On a recent trip to Istanbul, I had the chance to show some first-time visitors some of my favourite haunts.  My eye was drawn, as usual, to the patterns that emerge in the midst of an otherwise rather chaotic city.  From the Grand Bazaar to the textile district to the Spice Market, my lens got its fill of lines, rows and perfectly-piled stacks.  A camera could never be bored in that city...

(And, apparently, in honour of my love of nicely arranged lines, the formatting of this post has gone awry and refused to be anything but centred.  Long live symmetry, I guess!)

They may have been banned by the Hat Law of 1925, but fezzes are still in high demand
at the Grand Bazaar. At least among people wearing "I Heart Istanbul" t-shirts.  :)

We hit the Bazaar just after Republic Day.  Atatürk, Atatürk everywhere....

Boxes and boxes of "apple tea" and its relatives.  None of which
you will find in any real Turkish cupboard. 

I can never resist a stop at the Button Man!

Scarves a'plenty

Prayer beads

A weapon when wielded by an over-excited tourist,
selfie sticks still make for a pretty nice "row of colour."

Feed the birds, tuppins a bag...

Pickle juice!

Fresh bait

Fishing rods off the Galata Bridge

Freshly packaged Turkish coffee, piled high in a shop
window.  Those guys were skilled - they were running
about one bag every ten seconds!

Ottoman-style coffee sets

The interior of the Aya Sofya 

Okay, not exactly an organized row.  But since the corn made the cut,
 I didn't want the pretty chestnuts to be jealous!

Rolled up Turkish carpets

I am always in absolute awe at the talent of the women who weave these carpets!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday, November 08, 2015 - No comments

How the Grinch Stole Autumn

(Disclaimer:  Looking back over past blog posts, I can see that I write this same post every year.  But only because every year it’s true!)

If the severity of a winter can be predicted by the number of autumn days in which one can comfortably sit out on the balcony in bare feet and a t-shirt, as I am now, I’d say we’re in for a treat.

It’s 4:10 PM and the sun’s going to set in half an hour, or so I’m told.  This whole darkness-before-five thing makes it feel like winter’s come all of a sudden, even though it hasn’t come at all.  We were spoiled with an extra few weeks of an extra golden hour when our government decided, for some mystifying reason, to delay Daylight Savings Time by two weeks in order to “not cause confusion” on Election Day last Sunday.  (With the confusion inflicted on smartphone users and airport goers nationwide, I’m not sure they achieved their goal.  To quote my Turkish dad’s Facebook post the day his phone automatically flipped over along with the rest of Europe:  “For the love of God, can someone please tell me what time it is in Turkey?!?”)

In my previous life as a west coast Canadian, this would be the perfect summer evening.  It was a 25 degree day of the windows-wide-open, brunch on the balcony, laundry-dries-in-two-hours variety.  I’ve been outside enjoying the last bit of sunlight, my impending move inside prompted not by the need for a hoodie so much as the fact that smoke from my neighbour’s barbecue is wafting my direction and I’m starting to smell like grilled fish.  

Living in southern Turkey, where summer pretty much lasts until winter, this autumn-lover has had to enforce my own seasonal boundaries based on the calendar and not the thermometer.  It may still be sunburn weather outside, but come December I’ll be wanting to put up my Christmas tree, so if I don’t carve out my own fall haven in November - crisp, chilly air or not - I’ll just plain miss my favourite season altogether.  And that would be a crying shame.

I’ve written before about my habit of “summoning autumn” by starting to wear jeans in September, even though it’s still hotter than a hamam outside.  And how I take my cues from my internal cultural calendar and my online world instead of the world outside my window.  (Pumpkin patch pictures on Facebook?  Caramel apple everything on the food blogs?  I’m in.)  Before the last figs and peaches have faded from the pazar, my fall mug is out, my Caramel Pumpkin Latte candle is burning, and I’m well onto my second or third apple crisp.  You’ve got to seize the season (and at least pretend it exists) or those sneaky gingerbread men will appear before the leaves have even turned.

This year I’ve paid extra close attention to all the little “season-markers” as we’ve moved from sweltering summer to this pretender of a Mediterranean autumn.  The first week of October saw me making my first oatmeal, despite the fact that a cold smoothie would have been far more appropriate.  The week after that, I started sleeping with my windows closed, and a few days later, with socks on.  But only at night.  Socks for reals didn’t come for a good two more weeks, and then only because I was going to Istanbul (where they have an actual autumn) and needed something to wear with all the closed-toed shoes I pulled out of storage.  In preparation for that same trip, I dragged out my “winter clothes suitcase”, did my annual “short sleeves for long sleeves” closet switch, and packed a few sweaters for Istanbul, even though the thought of actually wearing one made me sweat.  The weekend of October 23rd, we had three house guests and, wouldn’t you know it, it poured down (delicious) rain for days, meaning we had to turn on the little doohickey that heats our water for showers cuz the solar panels weren’t going to do the trick.  (We haven’t turned it on again since.)  That was the same weekend I finally put an actual blanket on my bed cuz sheets weren’t enough anymore.  And today (again, more because “we had the time to do it” and less out of necessity, the plastic house slippers got washed and put away, and now the fuzzy winter ones are in the basket.  (But don’t think that doesn’t mean I’m still wearing flip-flops when I pop up to the store!)

Istanbul the last week of October warmed my chilly-weather loving heart.  The wind off the Bosphorus was enough to make me want to sit inside on the ferry, and to drink hot tea out of necessity instead of just stubborn nostalgia.  I got to wear my fall jacket and my scarves (which haven’t come down from their hooks again - it’s been back up in the high 20s ever since I got home) and collect chestnuts and crunch leaves and hum ‘İstanbul’da Sonbahar’ (‘Autumn in Istanbul’) everywhere I went.  Pure happiness.

Starting when I got home from Istanbul, I have two and a half whole weeks stretching ahead of me where I won’t be traveling or hosting guests or working like a maniac on projects with deadlines.  So, naturally, I’ve gone into crazy cooking mode.  You know I’ve been busy and stressed when the freezer is empty and we’re eating quesadillas for lunch and breakfast burritos for dinner.  Time in the kitchen makes me feel settled, normal, like I have my sanity again.  I bought kilos and kilos of pumpkin from the pazar on Thursday and got to work chopping, roasting, pureeing, freezing.  I started stocking ZipLocs full of soup for the coming months.  Every guest was an excuse for an apple crisp.  

This is the time of year when pomegranates hang like jewels from every roadside tree, so I’ve been looking for every excuse to use them while they’re in their prime.  They’re going on my granola every morning and on top of every bowl of aşure a neighbour brings to the door.  (‘Tis the season for passing out “Noah’s pudding”...)  I made dark chocolate pomegranate clusters for when our friends came to play cards last night, and they kindly brought a whole crate of big, bright pomegranates as a present from their garden.  So, naturally, I made pomegranate pumpkin pancakes for brunch this morning.  And then pumpkin mac n’ cheese for lunch.  And pumpkin spice creamer for my afternoon coffee....  (I’m just so grateful to have the time to actually make my autumn edibles, cuz come the end of November, the schedule fills up and it’s going to be breakfast burritos again all the way until Christmas dinner...)

So, I’d been going along in my merry little week, celebrating autumn as if my life were a Gilmore Girls episode.  And then came Friday.  A friend and I met for coffee at the mall - a happy reunion after two months apart.  We went upstairs to Starbucks and she ordered her coffee.  Then the barista asked what I wanted, and I told him I’d have a Pumpkin Spice Latte.  “Sorry,” he said, pointing at the artsy pumpkin drawing on the blackboard behind him, the word “tükenmiştir” written in cruel white letters across it.  “We’re all out.”

“What?!?” I responded, super disappointed.  “But it’s barely even autumn!”

“Maybe not here,” he said, “but over there (I took “there” to mean “in your country where Christmas starts the day after Halloween”) it’s almost time for the Red Cups.  But look on the bright side - you can have a Gingerbread Latte soon!”

Those words were not the music to my ears I think he intended them to be.

I settled (not TOO sulkily, I am proud to say) for a regular filter coffee, and my friend and I had a nice chat.  After an hour or so, she had to leave for class.  As we headed for the door, we passed Bath and Body Works, and she decided she had time to pop in “just for a sniff.”  Preparing myself for an olfactory feast of Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin and Warm Harvest Apple, and maybe a squirt of Cozy Autumn Vanilla lotion to go, I walked in and was greeted with a huge display sporting Twisted Peppermint, Winter Candy Apple, and Vanilla Bean Noel.  Now, sure, Vanilla Bean Noel is pretty much my all time favourite scent.  In December.  

It’s the first week of November, people!  In Turkey, no less!  For a country that doesn’t even celebrate Christmas, we sure do market it well.  I thought that when I moved here, the “no Christmas music before American Thanksgiving” rule would be a non-issue.  Now it looks like we’re well on our way to “candy canes coming out alongside the (non-existent...for now) Halloween candy.”  

Turns out the Grinch found his way across the pond and stole autumn, too.

(But, just to spite him, I think I'll go make myself a cup of pumpkin spice tea...)  :)