In My Kitchen, July 2013

In My Kitchen posts are some of my favorites to write and to read. If you want to join in or just read what’s going on in other kitchens around the world, pop over to Celia’s page, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.

This month it is heating up, and August looks to be even hotter. I am counting the days until then, though, because Baki and my mom return on August 5. He is having a whale of a time over there, and being kept very busy at day camp. They just went to the Bronx Zoo, where Baki was apparently very taken with the tigers, the penguins, and the polar bears (I hope it was nice and cool in their habitats…).

Although we don’t have Baki here with us in the garden this month, in my kitchen I have this great drawing that he made right before he left:

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We use our stove top espresso machine every day (and it shows — I will have to wash it a little better, ahem…) which may be why Baki chose to draw it. I love his drawings because they seem to amplify everything he sees, which is really a good indication of how he barrels through his days — it’s all superlatives with him.

In my kitchen, I have this wonderful little gadget that my mother gave me:

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It’s a sesame seed toaster. Now, you may be thinking, “that’s a completely ridiculous thing to have,” and I would understand; I was a bit skeptical myself. However, I think it belongs in the same category as some other gadgets that sound useless, (like grapefruit knives, cherry pitter and salad spinners) but when you need them, you really need them, and they make the job a lot easier.  Not every tool has to perform a lot of functions!

For instance, I like to make a cucmber salad that goes like this: I slice cucumbers thinly on the mandoline (being mindful to stop slicing at the precise moment when I have the thought “I can just go a bit more before my fingers are in danger…”) and toss them in a bowl with 1T soy sauce, 2T rice vinegar, grated ginger, 1t sugar, 1 t sesame oil, a big pinch of red pepper, and some salt and pepper. This salad is good just like that, but with toasted sesame seeds on top it is the kind of thing that makes you greedy.

Because of the hot weather, we try to get up as early as we can so we can get some work done before it heats up. The sky lightens at around 530, so we get up a little in advance of that to have a cup of coffee on the terrace. One morning, I went in to the kitchen to make the coffee and surprised a visitor to our kitchen:

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I apologize for the image quality — it was still dark out. But it made me feel like I had stumbled out of my dreams and into a Beatrix Potter book to be staring this little amphibian in the eye. I’ll have to look through Baki’s animal books to see what it is — some sort of toad, but what sort exactly?

Our kitchen is both outdoors and completely open in summer, so I am surprised that I do not get more guests. We do have a tiny mouse that pops up here and there, but it is quite camera shy.

And that is a quick peek at my kitchen this month. Thanks for stopping by!

Head held high

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In Chinese, I guess because words are more drawn than written, they have a special kind of weight to them. A word in Chinese, particularly a written character, is an invocation. That’s why people hang up the character for “good luck” on the wall — the character doesn’t just indicate the word, it embodies it.

So by extension, names in Chinese can also carry a bit of freight. I like to think of them as wishes that parents make for their children and then hand to them to carry for the rest of their lives (no pressure). So you see lots of happiness, beauty, literature in names, things like army and navy, or, more poetically, stones and waves.

My Chinese name is Ya 雅 Lian 连. My mother and her elder sister thought of it together before I was born. They were doing this in Cantonese, of course, so on my birth certificate they spelled it Nga-Linh. When I asked my mother what it meant, she just said, “purity.” I will admit to being underwhelmed; that didn’t sound very interesting.

When I went to China, I was suddenly in need of my Chinese name. Nga-Linh meant nothing to my teachers, who were Mandarin speakers, so I asked my mother to fax me the characters (and that is another wonderful thing about characters; they are pure meaning, understood across all dialects, true as mathematical formulas). That is how I learned that my name , Ya Lian in Mandarin, actually means “Elegant Lotus.” Of course, my mother was right — the lotus is a symbol of purity because it can rise from the mud and flower, a sparkling and pure thing of beauty that transcends its surroundings. Suddenly my name seemed a lot more interesting.

I like to think that our children’s names also hold wishes in them, although their names are Turkish. Kaya means rock, and although I am not particularly religious it always makes me think of Peter (which also means rock, of course) and how Jesus said “upon this rock I will build my church” to him and he was the rock (no pressure). I feel like it is a dependable and strong name. Baki’s name means “what remains” which we gave him not only because there is a poet with that name (from the days before surnames, so he is known as Poet Baki) that Ali admires for having been able to work his own name into a couplet, but also because Baki the baby was calm and cool all throughout my long labor, his heart rate never fluctuating. But to me the name contains the wish of every parent: that our children remain on this earth long after we have been committed to it.

These are some of the things I thought about when I saw this lotus in the pond rising particularly high above its humble origins:

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Channel your inner granny

Now, by “granny” I mean the kind of person who has a china hutch with little figurines inside. And under that there is a cupboard where there might be some bottles sitting in the dark. And if you have been a pleasing guest, the cupboard might be opened and a bottle pulled out and opened. Tiny stemmed glasses will be pulled out from among the china dogs and shepherd girls, and a dark ruby liquid proffered. It is sweet and spicy and there is a warm memory of alcohol in your throat when you drink it. It’s so — sour cherry liqueur.

Sour cherry season is here again, and although I have nothing against sweet cherries, this is the time of year that I really wait for. Now, personally I can find no higher purpose for sour cherries than a pie (and I just made a humdinger of one using this recipe from the venerable Bartolini Kitchens. Go look at this recipe just to see the beautiful top crust of the pie. Breath taking!) Ali, on the other hand, is partial to a little glass of cherry liqueur from time to time, so I make it every year. The best thing about this recipe is that you don’t have to pit the cherries, because everyone knows how fiddly a job that is. And aside from that, it’s easy to do and it tastes good. It does take a while, though, so it is not for those in a hurry. Grannies have to be patient.

I got the recipe from a website called Uçan Martı (Flying Seagull), which seems to have folded in 2010. However, the original post (in Turkish) is still here, so you can look at it if you like (and you will see one of those little glasses I was talking about). I used this recipe because I wanted to ferment the cherries a bit. The recipe is for one kilo of cherries (2.2 lb), but obviously you can adjust the amounts.

Sour Cherry Liquer

Ingredients:

1 kg (2.2 lb) sour cherries

500 g (1.1 lb) sugar

12 whole cloves

4-5 cinnamon sticks

1 glass (250 ml or 1 cup) vodka, or alcohol of your choice

1. Stem the cherries, but don’t pit them. Give them a rinse.

2. Put the cherries in a big glass jar in layers — cherries, sugar, cherries, sugar, until they are all in there. Screw on the lid tightly and let it sit in a sunny spot for one month (the author of the original post sensibly advises that you put a label with the date on the jar).

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This may look like a lot of sugar, and that is because it is. However, a lot of it will become alcohol. Not all of it, by any means — it is a sweet drink — but don’t be too alarmed by the amount of sugar.

 

3. After a month, it will be juicy in the jar, and you can add your spices. Tie them up in a cheese cloth and throw them in. Then close the jar and let it sit another month.

This is after just a week of sunbathing, and already things are getting pretty liquidy. The smell is enough to bring tears to your eyes, too.
This is after just a week of sunbathing, and already things are getting pretty liquidy. The smell is enough to bring tears to your eyes, too.

4. Now that you have patiently waited two months, your liqueur is ready to drink. This is also the moment that the vodka has been waiting for. Fish out the spices in their swaddling and pour in the vodka – you are now ready for bottling!

And the cherries? Well, there are several ways to approach them. If you strain them out, you could freeze them and then use them in cake (I like them very much in my fill in the blanks cake) or you could just put them in a jar and cover them with liqueur and serve them. I bet you could cover them in chocolate! Mmmm… Of course, if you do anything like that, you ought to pit them, or at least warn your friends before they dig in.

While the sugar is melting, it's a bit like snow in slow motion, which is a nice chilly visual for these sultry days.
While the sugar is melting, it’s a bit like snow in slow motion, which is a nice chilly visual for these sultry days.

p.s. — I would love to say that I made this with cherries from our garden, but we harvested exactly 4 cherries from our sour cherry tree this year. Maybe some other time. These ones I bought from a jolly old lady in the market. Come to think of it, she could have been someone’s granny…

UPDATE (20/07/14)
i’ve made two slight adjustments to my original method of making cherry liqueur. One is that I now leave some of the cherry stems on to add flavor. The other adjustment I made after enjoying this post over at Rachel Eats and reading “…how the heat of high summer halts fermentation but precipitates maceration. ” and having one of those moments like you see in films where a montage of events flashes before you — bottles of cherry liqueur on terraces in full sun at my mother in law’s house and at other homes I have visited.

20140720-133759-49079420.jpg“The liqueur will sit in the full, blazing sun!” I cries, and that is where it is for the month.