Pizza Friday on Saturday

A few things happened last week that led to a procession of pizzas coming out if our kitchen at lunch time today. First, Celi at the Kitchen’s Garden proposed a Pizza Friday (which she has since posted , with photography tips to boot) and that got me thinking that I ought to make that potato pizza that my mom has been wanting. Then I read another post, this time over at Rachel Eats, about Pizza Bianca, with a recipe that I was instantly dying to try.
Which is how I ended up pulling pizza after pizza out of the oven today. We started with the Pizza Bianca because I was curious to see how the dough, which had risen straight out if its bowl in the fridge, would bake.

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Then I had to make the requisite pizza with sucuk for Baki.

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And my long suffering mother’s potato pizza. We did half potato and half mushroom. It looked pretty going into the oven:

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(Those are the last four potatoes from the garden on there, including one lonely blue one.)
And it looked nice on the table:

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(That’s my sophisticated pizza cutter off to the side.)
But in the end we ate a little too much pizza and we all dropped into pizza comas. One good thing about too many pizzas, though, is pizza for breakfast!

Parting words

ACROSS A NEW DAWN

Sometimes, we read the
lines in the green leaf
run our fingers over the
smooth of the precious wood
from our ancient trees;

Sometimes, even the sunset
puzzles, as we look
for the lines that propel the clouds,
the colour scheme
with the multiple designs
that the first artist put together

There is dancing in the streets again
the laughter of children rings
through the house
On the seaside, the ruins recent
from the latest storms
remind of ancestral wealth
pillaged purloined pawned
by an unthinking grandfather
who lived the life of a lord
and drove coming generations to
despair and ruin

*

But who says our time is up
that the box maker and the digger
are in conference
or that the preachers have aired their robes
and the choir and the drummers
are in rehearsal?

No; where the worm eats
a grain grows.
the consultant deities
have measured the time
with long winded
arguments of eternity

And death, when he comes
to the door with his own
inimitable calling card
shall find a homestead
resurrected with laughter and dance
and the festival of the meat
of the young lamb and the red porridge
of the new corn

*

We are the celebrants
whose fields were
overrun by rogues
and other bad men who
interrupted our dance
with obscene songs and bad gestures

Someone said an ailing fish
swam up our lagoon
seeking a place to lay its load
in consonance with the Original Plan

Master, if you can be the oarsman
for our boat
please do it, do it.
I asked you before
once upon a shore
at home, where the
seafront has narrowed
to the brief space of childhood

We welcome the travelers
come home on the new boat
fresh from the upright tree

A poem by Kofi Awonoor (1935-2013), one of the victims of the recent attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi

From “Promises of Hope: New and Selected Poems,” selected by Kofi Anyidoho, University of Nebraska Press and the African Poetry Book Fund, 2014

Chicken from scratch

We never thought about eating the chickens we kept. For one thing, we were not adept at killing them, and we weren’t all that sure how to clean them properly. Eggs are enough, we said.

Once in a while, Ali would take a few chickens over to the neighbors to kill and clean and he’d leave some for them. I was never privy to these sessions, and always felt a bit sad about cooking them. It made no sense, because logically they should have been the birds I was the happiest to eat– being good, healthy clean-living, bug-eating birds — but they weren’t, somehow.

Our flock grew, and we started to incubate eggs, so it grew more, and faster. About a month ago, we found ourselves with a coop that was suffering from an overabundance of roosters (things get pretty tense when there are too many guys in the coop and not enough gals to go around). Bob, our first rooster, was showing his age after five years with us (and he was a grown up when our friends from Sundance Camp brought him up to us with a five hen harem to populate our first chicken coop) — he had stopped crowing altogether and his tail was getting raggedy. It was time to bid Bob a fond farewell, move a younger rooster into his place and relieve our other coop of its overpopulation problem.

First glimpse of a new hatchee from our latest batch of incubated chicks (now about three weeks old).
First glimpse of a new hatchee from our latest batch of incubated chicks (now about three weeks old).

Ali said he would do the actual dispatch, a great relief to me because I lack the decisiveness needed to do the job quickly and well. We would pluck and dress the birds together. I looked through a few books for pointers, and Ali told me what he could remember from doing it with the neighbors.

Many things loom large in my imagination before I do them and then shrink to size when it comes down to it, and I am pleased to say that this was one of those things. I learned that plucking a bird while it is still warm really is very easy, that even the biggest feathers come out with a little attention. The wings are the hardest bit, because flight feathers are so big. And once the initial fidgeting is over — there is a reason we have sayings about chickens with their heads cut off (though that’s not how we kill ours) — it is quite peaceful to be with the bird.

My mom brought that batch of eggs from NY, actually; she wrapped them in socks that my cousin got for Kaya.
My mom brought that batch of eggs from NY, actually; she wrapped them in socks that my cousin got for Kaya.

I dressed the first rooster on my own and I made a few mistakes, but it wasn’t so bad. We did it together after that and each time we learned a little something else. It’s a little puzzle, figuring out how everything is connected.

And one thing that really surprised me about the whole thing was how clean the birds smell. I have spent a lot of hours cleaning coops and whatnot, and that can be smelly work. Chicken manure is amazing for the garden, but it is not always super nice to interact with. But the birds themselves smell so sweet and clean while we are plucking and dressing them. You could kiss their skin; I’ve never felt that way about a supermarket chicken.

This was my first time eating young birds, since in the past we had only culled older hens, so I was surprised at how tender they were.  They taste great, too. They are far smaller than the birds we buy in the shops — they look like streamlined models of the same animal. And perhaps because of their age (they are about 3 or 4 months old when we dispatch them), their bones are so white.

Special birds deserve special treatment. I read this post at Chica Andaluza’s blog with an amazing recipe for chicken with saffron, hazelnuts and honey. It’s a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, and emerges from the oven sticky, fragrant and utterly seductive. Talk about finger licking good.

One day my mother made a favorite dish of my father’s, a dish so good they made a campaign promise out of it — poule au pot (= chicken in a pot). It is the simplest thing ever, but that just lets the flavors of everything shine. We had some fingerling potatoes from the garden left, and leeks and celery. The carrots are not ours, though — I grow pretty sad carrots. It was such a great meal, I asked my mom to write out the recipe. This is what she wrote:

chicken in a pot

Back in our courting days in Paris, your Dad would take me to “Le Petit Zinc” in the 6th arrondissement for that French classic La Poule au Pot. It still is one of my favorite dishes and pure simplicity to make.
Put one cleaned chicken in a pot along with peeled carrots, a rib or two of celery, fingerling potatoes, a few leeks, chopped up cabbage, bay leaf and fresh thyme. Add water to cover all the ingredients . Bring to a boil, skim and put it on simmer for 1-1/2 hours. Skim off the fat, if any. Add salt and freshly ground pepper.
Remove the chicken from the soup and remove meat from the bone and skin and separate into nice serving pieces.
In each serving dish of chicken soup, arrange chicken and vegetables . Sprinkle chopped parsley over all.
pot on table
p.s. — Another nice thing about eating our own chickens is that we have a nice collection of chicken feet to eat for Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. The festival is on the 19th, so don’t forget to take a peek at the moon! Chicken feet are optional…

Spaghetti therapy

One thing I love about reading blogs is that I come away with lots of ideas. I saw a photo of chicks in a laundry basket at the Kitchen’s Garden, so when it came time to transport some incubated chicks from our flat to our garden, I looked no further than our mesh laundry basket with a Velcro closure. At Garden to Wok I have discovered new vegetables to grow (I have Red Noodle long beans this year) and how to grow them (I now plant all my bok choy in groups of three, a sort of short cut succession planting).
I could go on for weeks. And of course there are recipes. Many times, I have found the answer to the perennial question of what to cook in blog posts like Squishy Monster’s soybean rice or Lois Elsden’s soda bread.
A good friend of mine living in Abu Dhabi often points out interesting blogs for me to read and it was through her that I began to follow the blog Rachel Eats, written by an English woman living in Rome. And one day she posted a recipe for spaghetti al pomodoro – spaghetti with tomatoes. I shuddered. Let me explain. I went to a high school in Rome for three years, the first two and a half years as a day student, and as a boarding student for my last semester. (I did my senior year in Istanbul.) I am not sure how often we were served spaghetti with red sauce, but it was often enough that the mere sight of it was enough to move me to tears of dismay. I am sure that cooking for hordes of sullen teenagers is a joyless affair, and I mean no slight to the brave efforts of the kitchen staff, but I remain deeply averse to spaghetti with tomato sauce.
Still, I read on and found myself willing to try the recipe. It was so simple sounding. Could tomatoes, garlic, oil and a little basil really become something to write about in such luminous terms?
I made the sauce, using the requisite indecent amount if olive oil (I poured it in until my heart began to pound), tossed the pasta in straight from its cooking water and watched a sauce emulsify on the noodles, like magic. I was serving it alongside something else, but as soon as I began to eat the pasta, I forgot about everything else on the table. Then I forgot about the table itself and everyone around it as I ate the pasta and it took me deep into my own thoughts. The velvety slick of sauce was perfect and beautiful. How foolish I had been to doubt that such a simple recipe could be so good – when it is the right season, tomatoes will shine as brightly as they are permitted. Best of all, it took pasta with tomatoes and dragged it out of the school cafeteria once and for all. The recipe is here. Treat yourself.

both hands
It’s good enough to eat with two hands…

 

In My Kitchen (August and) September 2013

Want to see what’s going on in everyone’s kitchens? Stop over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial to see Celia’s kitchen and find links to many more.

One of the things that I love about reading people’s In My Kitchen posts is that so much of people’s lives are reflected in what is going on in their kitchens. We hear about a bowl and then where the bowl came from, and what it is used for. So I am using this post to summarize a bit of what has happened over the summer and what we are looking forward to this fall. I haven’t been able to sit in front of the computer much this summer, so I feel like I have a bit of catching up to do!

Starting in August, the month began with…Image

figs! In my kitchen, there were hats full of figs for weeks. My neighbor showed me how she dries them, and I followed suit — she just plucked off the stem, halved the fruit with her hands and turned the halves inside out. Then she lined them up on a tray and put the tray on the roof to dry. It works a treat — we’ll have fig compote this winter. It was one of those little lessons in how things are just as easy or complicated as you make them.

In my kitchen there are Mexican Sour Gherkins.

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I photographed them with Kaya’s feet thinking that would show how small they are, but that doesn’t really work unless you know how small his feet are (not that small, actually). I think the grapes in the background might actually be more helpful. This is my first year growing these, and I like them a lot. They have taken over one end of a raised bed and we pick them as we pass by and munch on them on the go. The kids like them, too. They are like sour, grape sized cucumbers. I just read a post about pickling them (which has a very enticing photo), and might try that out since I have some pickles that I just  started in brine. It wouldn’t hurt to throw a few of these fellows in there too, I bet…

In my kitchen there are new refrigerator magnets.

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Baki’s much-awaited return home came on August 5, and it was a noisy reunion indeed. Kaya was delighted to see him, and Baki gave him and us big hugs and we all couldn’t stop talking about how much we missed one another. It is certainly a lot noisier with him around, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

He was pretty busy at day camp, and had cousins to visit on the weekends, but he and my mom did manage to fit in a few museum visits (Baki is really into museums lately). He got me these beautiful magnets at the gift shop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he was most impressed by the Arms and Armory exhibit. What good taste he has!

In my kitchen there are Jordan Almonds.

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There almost weren’t any almonds, but my mother-in-law protested. “I told her, it wouldn’t be a wedding without the almonds!” she said as we sat in her living room the day after the weddings. The almonds had been duly ordered, and the wedding was beautiful. Ali’s niece Zulal got married last month and we went up to Istanbul to attend (the boys, my mother and myself, that is — Ali stayed behind to mind the garden).

Zulal is Baki’s favorite cousin.Image

The wedding was in a beautiful old mansion on the Bosphorous. We were out in the garden, overlooking the water, with a lovely, sometimes very lively breeze keeping things cool. After the wedding ceremony, we all headed up to a large terrace with tables around a dance floor. I kept looking for where Zulal and Serhad were going to sit, but there didn’t seem to be any seats empty for them. That’s because they never sat down! They danced the first dance while we ate appetizers, made the rounds to every table, and then spent the rest of the night dancing — they even cut the cake on the dance floor! Once he had eaten his wedding cake, Baki hit the dance floor too and was a complete party animal. We dragged him home at 1 a.m., just as the after party was getting underway.

The next morning, I had a funny feeling in my face. I rubbed my cheeks and remembered the last time I had felt that way — they day after my own wedding. Ali and I just went to the registry and had a meal out with our families, but I remember that we were grinning like idiots the entire day. The following morning, I woke up with a sore face! I must have had the same silly grin on my face the whole night, watching Ali’s beautiful niece and celebrating with our family. Ten thousand years of happiness, Zulal and Serhad!

In my kitchen there are mooncakes!!Image

While we were in Istanbul, we met up with an old friend of ours. We got to know Mun Wei while we were living in Nairobi. She used to come over and we would cook all sorts of crazy dim sum nostalgia fare — dan tat, cha siu bao, and all manner of dumplings. Those were some heady kitchen days. She and her family moved to Istanbul after that, funnily enough, and eventually settled in Australia. So it was quite a coincidence when it turned out that she and her daughter Sarah were going to be in Istanbul right when we were.

Moon festival is on September 19 this year, so mark the date. That is the night to get out your teapot and admire the moon’s brightest night of the year. I am not sure why it is so, but on the 15th day of the 9th lunar month, the moon really does shine more brightly than on any other night.

Of course, moon cakes are the appropriate treat to have alongside your tea and they are impossible to come by here in Turkey. I love moon festival, and moon cakes, so I was all set to make my own this year. I even bought mooncake molds on eBay. I may still use them, perhaps to make some snow skin mooncakes, but I am delighted to have these big fatties that Mun Wei brought us all the way from Singapore, where her parents live.

We did the obligatory photo taking at the end of our reunion and Mun Wei sent us her shots. My mother and I were amazed that we actually resemble one another in them! So even though I am not too keen on photos of me, to celebrate finally having grown into my mother’s face, here is a shot of us with our dear friend and food ally.

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And finally, in my kitchen there are jujubes.

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Anyone who is familiar with Chinese cooking will have come across red dates, but may be (as I was) unfamiliar with the fresh incarnation of these fruits. Ziziphus jujuba, a thorny tree (and they are very nasty thorns when they catch you) bears these smallish apple like fruits. They are crisp when they are green, and sweet with a light perfume. As they get browner, though, their sweetness intensifies and they are like crunchy honey by the time they get to be mottled with deep brown spots. Leave them on the tree and they will go totally brown and eventually shrivel. They retract into the sweet, soft, slightly spongy fruits that we know as Chinese red dates when they are dried. We pretty much gobble them as fast as they ripen, so I have never managed to dry any of my own. One of these days.

And that’s what has been and is in my kitchen these days! Thanks for stopping by.