Steamrollered

Damla enjoys a cool evening, feline style — on a nice hot rock.

The week started off full of promise and ticked merrily along. We went marketing on Monday and I found some nice green Summer apples (or at least that’s what they’re called here). On Tuesday I juiced them with the steam juicer, thinking I would make them into jelly the following day, but I had forgotten that Kaya had a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday, so the apple juice sat around in cola bottles until Thursday while we made a trip into Antalya. When I opened them on Friday, I found that things had gotten pretty lively and the apple juice was more a bubbly cider. Never mind. I made it into jelly anyway. I use apple jelly to thicken jam made with fruits not high in pectin, like sour cherries, or to make rose jam. I used up the last of my stock of apple jelly making sour cherry jam a few weeks back, so it was high time I replaced it. It’s simple to make — you just take equal weights of juice and sugar, add the juice of one lemon, and bring it up to 104.5 degrees Centigrade, the setting point for jams. Then you can bottle it in clean jars and you are ready when a basket of rose petals, pears, or cherries comes your way. The juice made perfectly good jelly, so if there is anyone out there with fermented juice on their hands, fear not — it sets just fine.

I was feeling quite pleased with myself for this and other industrious tasks, and then came yesterday. I am not sure what it was, because we have certainly had hotter days (I think the temperatures really only got up to 37 C/98 F), but I was completely steamrollered by the heat. It just seemed to go right through me. Usually, I don’t mind cooking in the heat of the day because it’s hot anyway, and I have to get dinner ready in the afternoon because I work in the garden after 6, but even the most rudimentary kitchen work was beyond me. Laundry hung on the line, forgotten. I put Kaya down for a nap and fell fast asleep myself. I woke up disoriented and stupified.

Finally the heat lifted, as it always does, when the sun slid behind the hills at 6 and gradually I began to fill a bit more alive. My mother and I had prepared a turkey pot pie for dinner (I somehow managed to make and roll a pie crust, which on this day was a major achievement). Guilty for having achieved nothing in the garden, I made apple dumplings for dessert.

The boys were also feeling sparkier in the evening, and they got interested in a hole Ali was digging to plant a palm tree. It turns out that Kaya finds the hole digging process fascinating, and Baki was quick to spot a wriggling worm.

Morning ramble

Ali and I sat  on the porch for a moment this morning, enjoying the cool of the morning. “We would be watering now,” he said. I can’t recall if he bothered trying not sounding smug. After watering our potted plants and the greenhouse this morning, I went down to the bottom terrace of the garden to pick some tomatoes that had ripened, weeding as I went. I have been hopping from foot to foot waiting for a bowlful of tomatoes (as opposed to a handful).

On the way down, I stopped to say good morning to the chicks, out for their morning scratch-around (we let the chicks out in the morning because the bigs stay in the coop all morning and come out in the afternoon after they have laid). Yes, we finally have some chicks. I kept thinking and thinking that the hens were broody but they never were, and finally after I had given up all hope one of them sat down for three weeks and the result is 8 chicks, hatched in the dead of summer.

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I got my tomatoes (a heavy bowlful — yay!), as well as a few sprigs of basil, and headed back up to the kitchen. On the way up, I noticed that the beans are flowering (and beaning) again. This is Trionfo Violetto, a purple pole bean.

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And I took a peek under the eggplant leaves and was encouraged by what I saw.

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My mother and I are in the midst of a mild polenta obsession, so I thought we could have some polenta and eggs for breakfast. I had some leftover corn stock and my mom had brought a little chunk of Pecorino Romano with her from her fridge, so this is what we ate:

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To follow suit, this is what I did:

Polenta and Eggs with Tomato:

1 cup polenta

2 cups stock (or water)

1/2 cup milk

pinch of salt

1/4 cup grated cheese

poached eggs

Bring the liquids to a boil and pour in the polenta while whisking. Cook slowly, whisking to avoid lumps, for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir in grated cheese and spoon a generous amount into a bowl.

Add a cut up tomato, a poached egg, some basil, and a generous drizzle of olive oil.

That’s a Brandywine tomato, which I am growing for the first time this year. I know, Brandywines are Heirloom Tomatoes 101, but for some reason I never tried them. Well, they are firmly on the roster now. Now I see what all the fuss was about.

Ali was dismayed to catch my photographing his breakfast; it nearly put him off eating it. He relented, though — and then announced that he was getting a little tired of polenta.

On to the next thing…

Not too hot for some

It’s hot! Today it is 106 F in the shade (41 C) and it’s paralyzing. We have all been drenching ourselves with the hose or in the tub in the garden. Any amount of heat is bearable to me when I’m soaking wet. (For additional tips on dealing with the heat without AC, Celi at the Kitchens Garden just posted a link to this fine vintage post.)

Some of the garden inhabitants, however, are quite unfazed by the weather. The butterfly above was flitting about in the heat of the day. I came out of the shadows only long enough to take a few shots and then immediately high-tailed it back into my hidey hole.

Another hot weather survivor is a plant known here as semizotu. It is known in Latin as portulaca oleracea, and in English as purslane. The word semiz in Turkish means “fat” (as in chubby) — its leaves and stems are succulent. (You may also be familiar with portulaca grandiflora, or moss rose, which is even juicier looking.) Perhaps this is what helps it survive the heat. It grows into a thick mat wherever it pops up, and given that it produces thousands of seeds, it pops up a lot once it finds you.

Purslane, making itself at home among cucurbits and peppers in one of the keyhole beds.

Purslane, making itself at home among cucurbits and peppers in one of the keyhole beds.

Is it a weed? Weed is, of course, a relative term. In theory, anything in your garden that you didn’t plant there could be considered one. It all comes down to tolerance. However, being useful is a good way to avoid being regarded as a weed, and in this sense purslane shines.

It is a very nutritious vegetable, and is the richest vegetable source of Omega-3 fatty acids. It is commonly seen in vegetable markets here, and is eaten both raw in salads and cooked. I dislike all slimy foods intensely, and I have noticed that there is a slight sliminess to wild purslane that does not seem to be a problem in the cultivated varieties (my mother, who is far more slime-tolerant — she likes okra, for example — does not notice this at all). Since I am pulling it as a weed in my garden, I tend to eat it cooked and thought that I would share a simple recipe for anyone who has it growing in their environs, as an resident or an uninvited guest.

KIYMALI SEMIZOTU — purslane with ground beef

1 bunch purslane (about a pound)

1 onion, chopped

1/4 pound ground beef

tomatoes — one can, or 3 to 4 fresh, chopped

1/4 cup stock (if needed)

yogurt to serve

To clean the purslane, the best strategy is to cut it off at the roots. Then, all you need to do is rinse it and chop it up, stems and all (which is an advantage to cooking it over eating it raw; using it in salads involves plucking all the leaves off the stems, which is very fiddly work).

Saute your onion in some olive oil until it turns translucent, then add the beef and cook until it loses its pink color.

Then throw in the purslane, top it with the tomatoes, and cover. After a few minutes, a smell not unlike earth will emanate from the pot. Breathe it in — this is the goodness of soil in the leaves. Have a peek and give it all a stir. This is when you will need to decide whether or not to add any more liquid. If you use canned tomatoes, probably not, but if you do need a bit more moisture, add some stock or water.

Let this all cook until it is done enough for you. For me, this is usually about 10 minutes (I like the leaves still green; they go a bit gray after 20 minutes or so). Taste them as you go.

This is so good with some plain yogurt on top!

One thing to be aware of if you are gathering this wild is that there are euphorbias that resemble purslane, and they are slightly toxic. All you need to know is that euphorbias have milky sap. If you are picking something that looks like purslane and it has milky sap, it is not purslane!

If you don’t mind picking all those leaves off, you can also make a salad with yogurt and olive oil and a bit of pomegranate syrup, and my mother recently added it to potato salad to good effect.

Hope you are all staying cool!

Who’s that in the cabbage?

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I was weeding in the keyhole beds when I noticed someone in the Savoy cabbage. Actually, I am surprised that the cabbages haven’t bolted yet in this heat, but just to be sure we’ve been eating them up. This is one of the last ones left. I’m sure this little fellow is going to miss it when we cut it!

I know we’ve played Spot the Frog before, and it wasn’t so easy to see them in the pond, but this time it’s plain to see.

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The frogs are venturing forth from their ponds. This could be due to the amazing leap forward that the garden took in my absence.

While I was in NY, I called Ali regularly with Skype. Every time I asked him what he was doing, he said, “watering.” He would then regale me with tales of how hot and dry it was, and how all the vegetables were dying. Our summers are boiling hot and bone dry, so it is a season where we scramble around for months, trying to keep things alive. Our first summer, we had no hoses, just one pipe that brought water to our garden from the water source. We watered the garden one plant at a time, with buckets, that year. By the following summer, we had hoses more or less all through the garden. So it was up at 5 to water before the sun hiked itself up over the hills at 7. We usually watered a little again in the evening as well. For me, summer was the smell of water on parched earth.

When we returned from NYC, I was eager to get back to the garden, but frankly not very optimistic about what I would find there. When we pulled in through the front gate, Ali said, “Pretty dry, huh.” And it was — the weeds were their usual summer husks and the road was crunchy. But as I went down the stairs to the house, I immediately smelled a difference. It was the smell of wet earth. And when I looked under the plants I saw lengths of thin black hose culminating in green-tipped mini sprinklers. Ali had drip irrigated the entire garden, except for its very uppermost reaches.

I say drip irrigated because the sprinklers drip rather than spray. We do not have much water pressure to speak of. Our water flows from an “eye” where an underground spring has welled up to the surface. One memorable summer day in 2008, we laid a thick black hose from our house to that eye, about a kilometer away. On our end of this arrangement, there is a pipe to the house and kitchen, and a faucet which we connect to a hose running into a 1.5 ton water tank. The drip irrigation runs off this, with only gravity to keep things moving. Still, gravity does a fine job of it, and now instead of waking up at 5 to wrangle hoses, we wake up at 5 to weed, harvest, tend to the chickens and the greenhouse, and watch our garden grow. This year, for the first time, it feels as if the garden might actually grow over these beastly summer months instead of being held just this side of parched oblivion. We’ll see.

Fried Chicken

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Fried chicken, biscuits, and chard (for a healthy touch…).

It may have been all stars and stripes in NY in the wake of our departure, but it was mostly business as usual here in the garden on the 4th of July. Still, maybe it was reading blog posts about people’s days, or emails from family, but yesterday my mom and I suddenly found ourselves on fire to fry a chicken.
I make fried chicken approximately once a year, and I always use my aunt’s recipe. She knew that I loved it, so she used to make it for me every time I visited her and my uncle in Portland, OR. (That and pigs’ feet in black vinegar. Mmmmm….) When it came time for me to try and make it on my own, I turned to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and discovered his very clever method for frying chicken and combined it with Auntie’s recipe. This, then, is how we fry chicken at my house:

Auntie Ga’s Fried Chicken

1 chicken, butchered to your liking
2 cups milk
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
1 teaspoon salt
flour for dredging
A big fry pan with a lid
A timer
oil for frying (my aunt used Crisco, my cousin revealed to me. Daisy from Coolcookstyle fed me rumors of chicken fried in bacon fat — oh, if only! Do what you must.)

1. At least an hour beforehand, combine the milk, garlic, five spice and salt in a big bowl and submerge the chicken in its tasty bath.
2. When you are ready to fry, get out your big fry pan and fill it 1/2 inch deep with oil. I’d like to tell you to heat it to about 300 degrees, but really, using a thermometer just illustrated how wildly the oil temperature in my pan fluctuates. Mark Bittman says that when a pinch of flour sizzles upon contact with the oil, it’s ready.
3. While the oil is heating, dredge the chicken in flour. If your five spice has been sitting around for years like mine, you may want to add a teaspoon or so to the flour, and if you like salt you might want to toss in a hefty pinch or two.
4. Now here’s where a timer comes in handy. You will need to gently lay your chicken pieces in the oil (not too many, now!) and cover the pan. Cook for 7 minutes, noting with satisfaction that all that popping is going on safely under the lid of your pan and not spraying your entire kitchen with oil. Then uncover, turn over, and cook for another 7 minutes (try not to be disappointed if the oil takes this opportunity to make up for lost time). Finally, turn once more and cook for 5 minutes.
5. Keeping the chicken in the oven (300 F) will keep it nice and hot and ensure that it is cooked well, but I had biscuits in there, so I couldn’t and the chicken was just fine.

Sour cherries are in season at the moment. Unfortunately, our grand total harvest of cherries for the year was 5 cherries. I’m not proud, so I bought 3 kilos of cherries at the market yesterday and made a cherry pie for dessert with some of them. (The rest are going into jam and into cherry liquer, which I will write about soon.) All in all, not a light meal, but a tasty one.

On a more self-sufficient and healthy note, the garden did provide a some tasty plums. I went down to the tree and I gave it a food hard shake, which elicited a hearty giggle from Kaya (who was on my back in his carrier). I hunted around for the plums and rounded up a nice big bowl of them. They’re very nice — firm and sweet-tart.

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