What’s growing

A friend asked me on the phone what we’re eating from the garden lately, so I was moved to take few snaps while I was out weeding and manuring yesterday.
One of the most productive beds at the moment is this keyhole bed with salad material on one side and then brassicas (mostly bok choy with some nascent broccoli) interspersed with peas:

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There’s a fennel plant that has overwintered and is sending up nice fat bulbs, seen here with some savoy cabbages that are sloowly heading (there’s some arugula in there too)

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And this is a new favorite of mine, and a great fan of the cooler months, “confetti” coriander. It actually dares pretty well in warmer weather too. Isn’t it unusual looking?

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Sadly, not everyone thrives in winter; our ground cherry is a shadow of its former self, and will need to be cut way back:

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As you can see, the sunny weather did not hold. Still, the days have not been without their cozy moments:

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Now it’s off to market day in Kemer; we’re celebrating the new year again tonight, with Jai, the vegetarian new year specialty, and other treats. Details will follow!

A glimpse of the sun

During the hot, dry months of summer I dream of rain, but it’s hard to imagine that now. We’ve had a procession of wet, gray days, so when the sun came out this morning, it was intoxicating. Everything looked lovely.
We had our one freezing week in January, so the semi-tropical plants are all withered and demoralized- poor banana, taro, tree tomato and even bouganvillea. The aloe and passion fruit outside the greenhouse, on the other hand, seemed quite content:

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The narcissus in the same neighborhood are making their appearance among some pots of succulents:

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And the fruit is finally ripe on this lanky young lemon tree:

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In the distance, the mountain hid behind a cloud. (That’s Baki’s bathtub in the foreground.)

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The dizziness is subsiding now, as we’re losing the sun to cloud cover, but I hope we’ll be enjoying another sunny morning before to long.

a.k.a

We are back in the garden at last! Four days in Istanbul was more than enough running around for me. It was so busy that I didn’t even have time to stand still long enough to wish all and sundry a very happy year of the dragon (or, for that matter, to thank anyone for their new year greetings).
Somehow, though, we did manage to sit down for a new year’s meal. My mom and I had experimented with making dumplings using lamb; while I was teaching in Harbin, I had really nice lamb and cabbage dumplings (and rather a lot of them too, at an establishment known as Eastern Dumpling King. While scarfing dumplings, you could flag down waiters with kettles of hot dumpling water to wash them down with. And I won’t even start on the black vinegar for dipping. I could bathe in black vinegar.)We picked a Chinese (Napa) cabbage from the garden, parboiled it, and made a dumpling filling with lots of ginger, green onion, a bit of sesame oil, soy and salt. We froze it raw and brought it to our friend Maia’s house, in my mom’s old neighborhood, Cihangir. Maia, in addition to making a dumpling wrapper (she’s something of an expert) made Georgian chicken with walnut sauce; our friend Ranit made Baki’s all time favorite super spicy Sri Lankan chicken drumsticks; and of course, we steamed a fish. We all pitched in with folding the dumplings. As usual, none of mine stood up, which spparantly means I am lazy (how true. The dumplings know the truth of it). It was a great way to start the new year: among good friends and good food.
I am also starting this new year with a new name. Three years ago, I began the process of applying for Turkish citizenship, and while we were in Istanbul I was finally awarded a Turkish ID card. I asked if I could use my maiden name, but that’s not allowed; you can only add it to your married name. So that’s what I did. And since we were in Istanbul to get Kaya his US passport, I applied for a US passport with my new name in it. I’ve had trouble traveling with Baki because our surnames are different, so I guess this might help.
A name is just words, but it is a bit like putting on a costume to assume a new name. I remember when I went to China, it felt strange to use my Chinese name, as if I were pretending to be someone else. In a way I was, since speaking another language is another thing that can remove you from yourself by a step or two. It also made me realise how strongly attached I was to my name, which surprised me. I grew into the name though, as I am sure I will into this one. And thankfully I get to keep my father’s surname as well, since I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to sever that tie.

Could do better

It’s the semester break at last, and we are in Istanbul for a few days. We did a bit of running around today, in the faintly carnival atmosphere of the first day of the hols, and Baki encountered a personal hero:

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His report card was full of good news, which was a pleasant surprise. I have to say, though, that although Baki has worked really hard and learned a lot (cursive!), I feel like if I were to get a report card, it would be full of disappointments.
I know that on some level, disappointment in myself is inevitable as a parent (please just don’t tell me if I’m wrong). But it did get me thinking about all those times when I fail as a mom, friend, daughter, wife, gardener, you name it.
Amazingly, Baki still comes to me with his heart and arms wide open. That is a testament to his sweet heart (or maybe he knows he’s stuck with me). And I know I’ll get what’s coming to me when he gets a little older. As to why anyone who knew me in high school would want to have anything to do with me anymore, that remains a mystery.
I suppose there is something about how friends and family stay by my side in spite of my shortcomings that makes them all the dearer. In return, I can only say how grateful I am, and I promise to always try to do better. There is, after all, never a lack of room for improvement in life.

Bread saga

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We’re in the midst of a stormy weekend out in the garden. It has been raining all day with the occasional downpour and one or two mad hail showers, with little white hailstones bouncing about everywhere. Tonight there is wind, great gusts of it. There are times when the wind is so strong that the whole house shudders, but it is not so bad out tonight. There is just the continuous patter of the rain on the roof and the odd lightning bolt.
This is not great weather for garden work, but it is wonderful weather for being curled up in bed as I am now, listening to the rhythmic breathing of my sleeping family. And what does any of this have to do with the photo of bread?
A while back, I tried a no-knead bread recipe from the New York Times. Yes, that one. It always came out okay, but my dough was sort of flabby and lifeless after the first rise, so I didn’t consider my efforts a great success. For Christmas this year, my mother gave me Jim Lahey’s book, My Bread. I love reading books about baking bread, so I eagerly dove in, despite my past failures. Well, the crucial difference is that in the book the measurements are given in weights as well as by volume. I guess I’m sloppy with a measuring cup, because when I used the weights (by far my preferred way to measure when I cook anyway, particularly for bread and jam) it turned out beautifully. My first truly successful loaf came out of the oven minutes before we left for the garden.
We wrapped the loaf in a towel and loaded up the car.
Getting out of the house is a lengthy process, and there is always at least one thing left behind. This time it was Baki’s headphones. I had the bread in my hands and had set it on the top of the truck when the wail came from inside. So off I went to fetch the headphones. Once I had them, we were off. Except that I had forgotten the bread on top of the truck. “Stop the car!” I said, and ran to the back of the truck. It’s a pickup, so I thought maybe the bread had just dropped into the back. Naturally, it had not. We doubled back. No bread.
This bread is literally effortless to make, so when we got home I started another one and the happy result is pictured above. We sat on our hands until it cooled and then ate the lion’s share of it, with generous portions of quince jam, sitting on the terrace drinking tea and watching the rain.

On food… and toads

Before Baki was born, I had lots of lofty ideals about feeding him. I remember when Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook, Deceptively Delicious came out, I sniffed and thought, “My kid is going to look vegetables in the face and love them.” It used to be true. I looked back at an old blog I wrote about Baki’s first year or so, and he was eating all sorts of things – pumpkin, brown rice, avocado – some of the staples of Kaya’s diet today. Somehow, though, he has evolved into a kid who will reject certain things on sight, including most cooked vegetables (although to be fair, he does like a fair number of raw ones). I own that cookbook now, and regularly sneak chickpeas into Baki via chocolate chip cookies, or pumpkin via chocolate cupcakes. I was very happy, then, when I found an interesting recipe for chocolate cake with beets. It is good! Baki lunged for them when he got home, and wasn’t even suspicious when I stood by smiling while he wolfed down a cupcake before dinner. Oh how I have fallen from those lofty, early days.

Luckily, Kaya loves his vegetables, and happily eats lentils, never turning his nose up when I add flax seed oil or wheat germ to his food. I haven’t ruined this one yet, in other words. Eating and drinking are discoveries for him, and his latest finding occurred while having a drink of water. I usually let him drink from a glass at the table since he is not really that into sippy cups. He is getting the hang of sipping, but what is sipping compared to blowing bubbles?

He will do it for as long as I let him, and is furious when I take the glass away. It’s a bit messy– there is a puddle of water by the end of it. But it gives him tremendous satisfaction.

That reminds me of something that I just read. As a rule, I do not like to write in books (although I like to read other people’s margin notes) but this is a sentence that made me want to grab a pencil:

Wherever a process of life communicates an eagerness to him who lives it, there the life becomes genuinely significant.

It’s from an essay by William James, “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings.” For Christmas, my mother gave Ali and me two slim volumes from Penguin’s Great Ideas series: this book and a George Orwell book called Some Thoughts on the Common Toad. That is also a wonderful read and I appreciated for the first time what a good writer George Orwell was (1984 was a long time ago). I do not think, after reading his descriptions of toads, that I will ever look at our resident toads in quite the same way. I was never dismissive towards them, and the discovery of tiny baby toads is a particular delight, but they seemed the noblest of creatures when so eloquently described. Reading these two books, I marveled at how some people have ideas so good they’re worth committing to paper and binding together.

New Year’s Day

bleak but beautiful

Ali is resolute in not showing any favoritism among the days of the year, so for New Year’s Eve we did precisely nothing. Baki was sick — he had woken up with a fever, and as we were still in the city, I took him to the hospital in the morning. They said he had tonsillitis (a sign of changes to come? Time will tell…), and he is on antibiotics. I was fighting something off, so all day I fell asleep the minute I sat down. I probably napped for a total of 45 minutes all day, but by the end of the day I was left feeling that all I had done was sleep. This is probably because it was so rainy that it wasn’t really possible to do any work in the garden once we got out there. When we went to bed, at about 9 I was so grateful for sleep, and the bed was positively heavenly.

Having slept my way into 2012, I rang in the new year the following morning, and I although it wasn’t very sunny, it was lovely in its own way. It had been raining all night, and everything glistened, bejeweled with rain drops. As I went down to feed the chickens, the air smelled of wet leaves and wintersweet (Chimonanthus Praecox) shrubs, which have flowered really profusely for the first time this year. In the distance, I could hear the roar of the river that had, overnight, swollen to consume our road again. At least we made it across beforehand, and have a way back down, I thought to myself.

I’ve been a bit of a grump about moving back and forth between the garden and the city. The seasons seem to lurch along without my noticing. Instead of seeing fruit pickers gathering pomegranates from our neighbors’ orchards, I saw the odd pomegranate dimly silhouetted on the side of the road as we drove by in the semi-darkness. Flowers were tightly wrapped buds one week, and loose bunches of wilted petals the next. I was not around to do a lot of the work, and by the same token I was not able to reap the rewards (and in fact in the garden, the work itself is a large part of the reward).

Buoyed by the loveliness of the morning, I began making promises to myself. My new year’s resolution, therefore, is to make the best of it. Instead of moaning, I will try to appreciate what time I have and get as much done as possible. It helps, of course, that Baki has a two week semester break coming up, right when we need to be starting seeds in earnest. My other resolution is to write more often, and I have not gotten off to the most stellar start, but it is never too late, I hope, to improve.