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It seems that lately I am always biting off more than I can chew, but I think it is symptomatic of birthday season (or actually, of Baki’s birthday, which never seems to end). Baki had a semester break, so we went up to Istanbul for a few days so the boys could see their grandmother and celebrate Baki’s birthday with Ali’s family. On our first day there, we went to the tulip gardens in Emirgan park.Image

It was a glorious spring day, and we were surrounded by thousands of tulips in full bloom. Every great city has spaces where you can forget everything, and Emirgan park is definitely one of those places. It was like something out of a fairy tale. Kaya loved all of the flowers, and wanted to smell them all. Baki declared himself thoroughly bored. (Though he did perk up when we encountered swans in the pond.)

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But for some reason, even though we got our trip off to the best possible start, the whole thing felt a bit like swimming in quicksand. I just felt stressed out while we were in the city and had the sense that I was fighting it all the time. The kids were bouncing off the walls, high on sugar and too much TV, and I never seemed to get anything done. It was wonderful to see everyone, and we had a lovely little party for Baki, but mostly I felt really frazzled.

Ali picked us up at the airport yesterday, with me nearly kissing the ground I was so happy to be back. We packed Baki off to school this morning and went out to the garden, stopping, as we always do on Mondays, at the market in Kemer. I stock up on vegetables for the garden and for the apartment, and always stop by the fishmonger – Mondays mean fish for lunch. Now while I was in Istanbul, Ali’s mom and I would sit and have tea before the boys got up and one morning we got to talking about fish because we always eat fish while I am there. I mentioned to her that I had gotten some fresh sardines at the market not too long ago and she said that I ought to cook them in the oven with a bit of olive oil and lemon juice. Well that sounded really good, so I got a kilo of sardines, which the fishmonger cleaned for me, even taking out the backbones. And I took them to my kitchen, which is now scented by white wisteria.

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I shaved an onion on my deadly mandoline, laid the sardines on top, put some more onions over them for good measure, then scattered some lemon peel around. I poured on the juice of one lemon and some olive oil, sprinkled on a bit of salt, and baked the whole thing for about 20 minutes at 200C. With leftover stuffed grape leaves from Baki’s party and a big salad, it was just the thing to restore my sanity.Image

Sardines to the rescue!

 

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That’s Baki off to the right (in a Bad Piggies t-shirt), behind his friend Lexi, in red…

There is a big Lunapark in Antalya, right on the way from the apartment to the garden. Baki used to beg to go there every single time we passed it. Luckily, his persistence wore out, but he does pipe up on a regular basis to make sure we remember that he really really likes to go on the rides.

Well, in my last post I said that March is important because it has my birthday in it, but actually there is a far more important birthday this month and that is, of course, Baki’s. I consider it a special day for myself too, because it’s the day I became a mother (I know that sounds cheesy, but there you are).

We had planned to have a party for his whole class, doing something outdoorsy. But Baki really wanted to celebrate before his school holiday starts on his actual birthday, and I couldn’t imagine pulling a party together on such short notice. So as a compromise, I offered to take him and a few friends to the Lunapark.

It was actually a little controversial among his classmates that he did not invite the whole class, and I felt pretty bad about putting him in that position. But it sounded like the kids really discussed it, and then I didn’t feel so bad. It can be good to throw a spanner in the works once in a while. I just hope he doesn’t get ostracized from other parties… I told him we’d do a party for everyone next year, if he wants.

Well, five kids in an amusement park is an easy A. The kids had a whale of a time. One disadvantage of the Lunapark, as one of Baki’s friends’ moms pointed out, is that there are a lot of rides for really little kids, and lots of rides for teens, but not as much for kids Baki’s age. Luckily, her daughter Lexi knew the ins and outs of the place and guided us to every ride they could go on. She was absolutely fearless, and gaily threw up her hands and screamed on the rides while Baki and the boys looked green around the gills.

I really loved hanging out with Baki and his friends, and seeing their boundless energy (though I wish they didn’t have to run everywhere – what’s wrong with walking??) and the great camaraderie between them. We stopped for a snack, and it was so much fun to listen in on their conversation, with all of the kids talking at the same time and somehow managing to communicate with one another. Another thing I liked was that when some of the kids were too scared to go on a ride, they just said so, and no one made a big deal out of it. 

I kept it short and sweet — we were there for about an hour and a half and then we went out for ice cream nearby. I think it is a good thing that we did it that way, because by the time I drove Baki back out to the garden, I was half demented with tiredness. I made dinner in a daze: fish in salt – a meal you can actually make in your sleep. I’m living proof!

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Now that that’s over with, I am making my favorite tonic — beef bone broth. We stopped at the butcher on the way back into town today and they had soup bones, so I got a huge, 5 pound beef bone. I am just using half of it. Bone broth is my new obsession; it is insanely good for you — promoting gut health (including an ability to help heal the disgusting sounding Leaky Gut), and joint health of course, plus it is good for your skin and hair and nails, and it’s got valuable amino acids in it that you don’t get from muscle meats. There is a summary of its benefits here.

To make this elixir, I use a liter/quart of water for each pound of bones, and add an onion (unpeeled, which gives a lovely rich color), a carrot, a few tablespoons of vinegar (to leach the minerals out of the bones) and then anything else I have that seems like a good idea at the time – parsley stems, peppercorns, bay leaves, celery, etc. In this batch I have dried mushroom for umami, a chunk of ginger, star anise, and peppercorns. I cook it in my new best friend, the slow cooker. My slow cooker can cook for up to 20 hours, so I do it for the whole twenty on Low Heat and then when it’s finished, I run it again so it cooks for 40 hours total. But I dip into it while it is cooking. And of course, the stove is also an option, though I would feel nervous having the stove on while I slept or was out of the house.

After it’s done, I strain it into a big bowl and then, because I prefer a broth that isn’t fatty, I refrigerate it and then lift off the solid fat after a few hours. The broth is like jello when it gets cold from all the gelatin in the bones. (When I do chicken bone broth, I throw in some chicken feet for extra gelatin, since chicken stock tends not to solidify as much as beef. Yes, mom, I found a use for all of those feet from our chickens until we perfect our chicken feet recipe!)

My mom and I always keep stock in the freezer, but I never realized what a healthy, healing food it was. A cup of this in the morning with some salt and pepper makes me feel ready to be shot out of a cannon! Be warned, though, it is not everybody’s cup of tea — Ali hates it on its own. Never fear though, if you have good bone broth a hearty soup or gravy is never far off, plus it adds great flavor to braises.

Well, February escaped me so I am grabbing March by the horns here. As always, hats off to the talented Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting this excellent series. Stop by her blog for links to kitchens all over the world.

March is the most important month of the year because I was born in it; I am ready to enjoy all 31 days.

And with me in my kitchen this month you will find…

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Liver!

Sorry, I know it isn’t the prettiest food (but I did refrain from a raw shot) but I am very happy to have this liver for two important reasons. One is that these are livers from our own chickens. I hate to admit it, but when we first started to eat our own birds we sort of got through cleaning them out as fast as we could and as long as we got the guts out with no poop explosions we were ready to call it a day. But the chorus of voices chanting about liver’s awesome nutritional profile, nature’s most potent super food, better than a vitamin pill, kept going round and round in my head and we decided to take things a little slower and pay more attention to all that stuff we were pulling out. The birds we were culling were young roosters (too many roosters in the coop) and they had beautiful, dark red livers. I “breaded” them in almond flour with a bit of coconut mixed in (almond flour just clumps like heck on its own, I discovered) with some paprika, oregano and garlic powder thrown in.

This is the second reason I am so pleased:

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I was one of those kids who loved liver, so I am delighted that Kaya likes it too. Baki is another story, but you can’t have everything.

Also in my kitchen this month are my two new best friends, ghee and coconut oil (which was shy, so only ghee in the picture)

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It is fairly easy to find good butter here, so I make it into ghee at home – a very hands off process in my kitchen. I just set it on a low stove until the solids turn light brown (30 to 40 minutes) and strain it through a fine sieve. I find it really nice to cook with. It has a fairly high smoke point (485°F /252°C), doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and it’s not very expensive. Coconut oil, on the other hand, costs a small fortune here, more than twice as much as single estate cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. I brought a lot back from Thailand, though, and I don’t use it as much in cooking.

Two of my favorite things to do with coconut oil are oil pulling and bulletproof coffee.

Oil pulling, like many good ideas, is not new at all. It’s an Ayurvedic practice and basically involves taking a tablespoon of oil in your mouth (I use coconut oil, but sesame oil is traditional) first thing in the morning and swishing it around for ten minutes. Then you spit it out, rinse your mouth and give your teeth a brush. Why do this, even though it feels really weird to have a mouth full of oil and 10 minutes feels like forever? It makes my mouth feel really clean and fresh. There are lots of claims about what oil pulling can do, but for me it is just a nice clean feeling that I am after. There are loads of articles online about it, of course.

Bulletproof coffee is the marriage of ghee, coconut oil and coffee. You just put a tablespoon of each in your black coffee and blend it – in a blender, or using an immersion blender. It makes a creamy and insanely good drink that tastes better than any sugary or milky coffee drink I have ever had. And I am a black coffee drinker, but this just makes me happy every morning. There are some health claims attached to this too, but I’m in it for shallow reasons. As with oil pulling, I’m just thinking with my mouth here.

And last of all, I have a little egg update for you:

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Did you spot the difference? Our Ameraucana hens are laying, and we now have their beautiful blue eggs in the nesting boxes every day. Tell me you wouldn’t want a room the color of that egg…

I was in the kitchen and went to grab an avocado from the fruit basket only to encountered a bumble bee (these things happen when your kitchen is outside). Then a few minutes later I went up to the road to cut a sprig of rosemary and saw honeybees in amongst its purple flowers. “What’s going on,” I thought, “have I been asleep?” The weather is changing and everything around me is waking up – I’m just a few steps behind. I resolved to spend the rest of the day being a little more observant/productive than usual, and this is what I came up with:

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I love the colors of eggs. I’ve decided that if I ever paint the walls somewhere, I will just use the colors of different eggshells and possibly the color of good butter from a grass fed cow, too. That top right egg is the very first egg from one of our Copper Maran hens – we hatched those chicks last summer. What a lovely, rich chocolate brown! I am still waiting on the Ameraucanas, hatched at the same time,  who will lay bluish eggs – another lovely wall color…

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This is a box of Daphne odora Aurea-marginata (a.k.a. variegated daphne) cuttings. As you can see, they are flowering and the smell is heavenly. You don’t even have to stick your head in that box to smell it — the whole greenhouse is deliciously scented. That would be enough to make these special, but there is a story behind these particular cuttings.

Outside my aunt and uncle’s house in Portland OR, there is a variegated daphne. It’s right in front of the porch and it’s huge. When my aunt died way back in 1998, we started to  flap ever so slightly about the daphne. Would it survive? My aunt had been the gardener, after all. But the daphne proved that it could take care of itself, as did the cosmos that sprung up along the side of the house. Other plants didn’t fare so well, but my uncle gradually took over the back yard and grew Chinese chives and tomatoes every year. daphne1917

That’s the daphne behind me, to the left. Incidentally, that photo was taken in 1980 when I was 5. It was the year of my first unaccompanied  trips on an airplane (although I did have a traveling companion in Blue Bunny, also pictured above). I flew from NY to Portland and back – a not insignificant 5 1/2 hours of air time. Back then, your parents could come right on to the plane with you to get you settled in, which seems hard to imagine now. I asked my mom how she didn’t completely freak out just putting me on a plane and she shrugged and said, “Your father said you’d be fine.” And I was, of course. I mention it because it looks like this year might be Baki’s first solo trip – from NY to Istanbul, no less. I’m not sure how I feel about it just yet, but Baki can’t wait. I tried to break it to him gently, but he was whooping it up when I told him. But I digress…

When my uncle died, the flapping over the daphne began in earnest. My mother had gone out to visit him a few years back and brought a cutting, but it struggled and didn’t make it. The house was going to be sold, and I hated the thought of losing our connection to that daphne. So my mother appealed to my cousin Pamela to send some cuttings to her in NY, and she received a package of them, each with its own little capsule of water attached. My cousin Elaine has some of them, and the rest my mom brought out to Turkey and that is what you see in that box. So that smell is a sweet one, indeed, and for more reasons than one.

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And lastly, it is the time of year when I haul out my early spring allies — the plastic bottle cloches. I’ve got lettuce and bok choy under those ones. On the periphery of the bed there are shallots and garlic. This is my new method of planting alliums — I’ve got them dotted along the edges of all the beds. I thought it might be a bug deterrent. We’ll see how that goes.

Well, that feels a little better. I’ve got my ears to the ground at last, and it’s humming with activity. It makes me buzz with excitement a little myself.

It is always good to have a few tricks up your sleeve, and these are two that have come in handy lately that I thought I would share.

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Every winter, my dad would take to swallowing whole cloves of raw garlic to keep himself from falling ill. The result, aside from undeniable heartiness, was a lingering, unmistakable smell. I knew it from the subways of Beijing – the scent of garlic effusing from the body from every pore.

Later, in Harbin, Ali and I used to go to a meat restaurant where they would ask us if we wanted garlic with our meal, and in response to our enthusiastic nods they would toss a couple of heads of garlic on the table, to be peeled and nibbled raw with our food. That’s how we discovered that garlicky smelling people are not a problem if you are garlicky smelling yourself.

Still, although raw garlic is great for fending off the winter bugs, it’s not always what you want on the table. Time was, our go-to solution to this problem was garlic yogurt. Garlic yogurt is a regular feature at meals in Turkey, particularly with certain dishes such as manti (little dumplings) or vine leaves stuffed with meat. Ali used to eat it all the time when he was on his own in the garden – in those days, garlic yogurt on pasta was a meal as far as he was concerned. It is a wonderful addition to a meal — I love it with curries, in particular. It is the simplest thing to make — just add a crushed clove to a small bowl of plain yogurt and maybe throw in a pinch of salt too. Mix it up and you’ve got sauce.

Then we gave up dairy when we adopted a paleo diet. To be honest, it would have been a whole lot harder for me to swallow a dairy-free diet if I had found a reliable source of raw milk or had a cow of my own. Since I had neither, it was pretty easy to walk away from dairy products (I still get butter from local farms to make ghee, though). Garlic yogurt loomed, though. How were we going to replace that?? I found the answer the day I began making mayonnaise.

I has tried to make mayonnaise in the past and ended up with a runny mess, so I can’t really understand why it works for me now. (It probably helps that I don’t refrigerate my eggs these days because I am pretty sure I didn’t used to wait to bring them up to room temperature, which helps.) I do it two ways: with egg yolks only and with the whole egg. Both of them work great, though I usually go the whole egg route because I dislike having orphaned egg whites in the kitchen. I use a hand blender, and my secret weapon is…. a cola bottle with a hole in the cap (pictured in a previous post) that allows a thin drizzle of oil through. This makes it super easy to monitor how much oil is being added, a big help when you are doing this job on your own.

The other day, I made mayonnaise and it broke right at the end (translation – went from mayonnaise to a runny, oily mass) and I ran to the internet to learn how to fix it. The solution was easy — put an egg yolk in a bowl and whisk in the runny mayonnaise a little at a time. That fixed the problem and also left me thinking that if my hand blender went kaput, I could easily use a whisk to make mayo – there was mayonnaise before blenders, after all! At the end, I add a clove or two of crushed garlic and I’ve got garlic mayonnaise, the new hero of the table, keeping us smelly and healthy all winter long!

What I love about mayonnaise is that I get to use our eggs, and I know all about those eggs. I’ve got no nagging doubts about them at all, and it makes me feel mighty grateful to our hens.

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Back to Harbin, I was out food shopping one day when I came across a packet labeled “Forest Chicken.” There was a frozen chicken inside, and on the pack there was a photo of little chickens roaming the forest. Ali and I laughed at the idea of feral forest chickens, and I got the chicken and cooked it in my tiny toaster oven.

It was tough as rubber bands.

That was the first inkling that I had of the difference between a bird that has a caged lifestyle and one that has been more athletic. I have noticed that the young birds that we eat from our flock are not so tough at all, but once in a while we have an older bird that has to go. A couple of weeks ago we had three such birds. After we’d cleaned them, I set aside the breasts to be brined and made into chicken nuggets for the boys. Then I took the drumsticks and the thighs and made confit with them. (The rest of the bird I used to make stock. I don’t know what it is about the wings of our birds, particularly the older ones, but I dislike eating them.)

Basically, confit is cooking meat in fat. Duck confit is made in duck fat — what a decadent thought! I did mine in olive oil. (The recipe I followed is here.) I love recipes that require upending a bottle of olive oil — it makes my heart pound. And you needn’t worry about that oil going to waste because you can use it for cooking afterwards, or to make more confit.

Because of course, once you make it and see how the meat, even of a tough old bird, is just falling off the bone, it is likely that you will want to make it again. I know I do! I put ours under the broiler before serving to crisp it up and the result was a really tasty dinner that everyone devoured. I am going to experiment a little with cooking times (I have read recipes where if you bring the oil up to the point where it is just bubbling and then put it in the oven, you don’t have to bake it for so long). And of course, any bird would benefit from this treatment, not just old ones.

So those are two new tricks that I learned this winter!

 

Happy Year of the Horse! Although I am not cooking a banquet to celebrate the new year, or really doing anything at all right now (although I do have a duck defrosting in the fridge..), I feel grateful to have this second shot at starting the year.
January slipped by almost unnoticed. For more than two weeks after our trip I was in a sort of sleepy and extremely lazy haze. It was jet lag at first, I guess, and then the boys and I fought off the flu while we were in Istanbul for the weekend.

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Not that any of this seemed to slow them down at all. So who knows, maybe it was all just me stuck in a fit of indolence. Whatever the case, the fog lifted a week ago and I am once again feeling equal to the tasks of the day. It’s good to be back!
So for now, I simply want to wish all and sundry a happy and healthy year. I look forward to sharing our adventures.

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While we were in Thailand, we spent three days on an island called Kho Khradan. We were staying in the middle of the island, which put us a five-minute walk away from three different beaches. Baki’s favorite beach was Sunset Beach, which we reached by traipsing through the forest and then down a hair-raising flight of stairs. It was a small beach surrounded by rocks and towering bromeliads. Fallen coconuts sprouted saplings and there was a family of driftwood sunbathers clothed in detritus that had washed up over the weeks, months and years. But what Baki loved the most was the waves. There were very good waves at Sunset Beach, and we did a bit of body surfing together. I love being swept up by a wave, and how if you time it just right you get tumbled and pulled and finally deposited on the beach, not quite sure where you are.

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Baki turned out to be the best tourist of us all.

That is a bit how I am feeling now, more than a week after returning from our trip. Between jet-lag and the mountains of laundry that greeted me upon my return, I feel like I have only just fully arrived back home in both body and mind. The first week back I spent in a sort of hazy nostalgia for all that we had seen. It has been a while since I traveled somewhere just for the sake of going there, and this is the first trip that we have made as a family (i.e. not just me and the boys) which made it different from any other traveling I have ever done.

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We ate crazy good snacks all the time.

Traveling with the boys was great fun, and they had a whale of a time. I worried that it would be overwhelming for Kaya to be in a place so entirely different, but I needn’t have; he was delighted from the minute we stepped off the plane and he goggled at all of the murals, giant TV screens and other shiny stuff in the airport. The boys didn’t tear each other to pieces, none of us grownups wanted to wring each other’s necks – it was all pretty mellow.

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One of the highlights of the trip for me was seeing coconuts everywhere.

Which is fitting, since Thailand, even in the midst of political protests, feels like a thoroughly mellow place. I felt this in the way that people were so gentle with the boys; in how we never got stressed out while we were traveling from place to place, usually the most joyless process imaginable; in the way that people in the markets were perfectly calm in dealing with us, even though we couldn’t speak more than three words of Thai. It was one of the easiest places to be in.

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A Siamese cat! Most animals that we met in the city were clothed.

The whole trip left me feeling like I had just had a lampful of wishes granted; that’s what happens when you have the right people by your side. Which brings me to you, dear reader. I have had a wonderful year, and it is because we have been able to share all the ups and downs that have been dealt us. I can’t thank you enough for reading, writing, and being such a support. Happy 2014 — I can’t wait to see what this year bring!

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A final Tuk Tuk ride in the airport.

 

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