The pumpkin is cooked and the chestnuts are peeled; the turkey is dry brining in the fridge; I’m getting ready for Thanksgiving!
It’s my favorite holiday – loved ones around the table, good food atop it, and a chance to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for.
In my family, we are all about chestnuts in our stuffing. Unfortunately, coaxing said chestnuts out of their shells can be a painful experience. Just the word “chestnut” is enough to remind me of the burned fingertips and that horrible feeling I get when the fuzzy skin stabs me under my nails. Ugh. Sharp as knives. Well, one thing I remember about last year is that my mom discovered an amazing new way to peel chestnuts. There is a quick little video here but no audio and not much explanation so this is what I did:
1. Cut the chestnuts in half with my biggest sharpest kitchen knife. While bringing a pot of water to a rolling boil.
2. In batches, parboiled the chestnuts for two minutes.
3. Used pliers to squeeze the chestnuts out if their shells.
It is worth looking at the video to get a sense of what you need to do (it is less than a minute long).
4. Finished cooking the chestnuts in the oven.
It was so easy and, most importantly, painless!
I only found this market a little while ago, but it’s really close to where we live. It’s a small market held in a big space, but it’s one of those places where you can find almost anything.
It starts before you even enter the marketplace; you can have your watch battery changed, or find a new belt right by the entrance .
That cart of Kaya’s didn’t stay empty for long; he is always showered with free fruit.
We were there to shop for some greens and chestnuts, but there are a few trucks selling pretty much anything you can think of.
Living in Turkey, we very rarely run across pork. Stories circulate about the guy who got a suckling pig for new year, or the suitcase full of bacon that someone brought back from Greece. My mother brings us bacon when she comes (you will soon learn that there is nothing that my mother does *not* bring us in those suitcases of hers) and it’s a rare treat. And after awhile, I learned to stop thinking about it as anything else.
Back in late March, we had a birthday party for Baki. This was after he had transferred to the international school, so there was quite a diverse crowd around the parents’ table. And there was the following brief exchange:
A: I sure do miss pork once in awhile. (Sigh)
B: I prefer lamb anyway.
C: You know, there’s a pig farm near Antalya…
And that was it. I didn’t do anything with that information for months, but when summer came I happened to recall that comment and I looked online. Sure enough, one of the three pig farms in Turkey is located in Manavgat, about two hours away from Antalya. But the weather was so hot, I couldn’t think about moving meat around, so I dropped it again.
Well the weather is cooler now and we’ve got a deep freezer to boot, so I finally called up that farm. I ordered some minced pork, pork chops, pork belly and assorted bits with no bone , plus bones for stock and skin for cracklins. There was a flurry of emailing and phone calls, I sent the money and then had to go to the bus station to meet the bus that our meat was on, packed in two styrofoam boxes.
Pork chops for dinner then, I thought. And then it occurred to me that Baki hasn’t ever eaten a pork chop. Would he go anywhere near it, I wondered? He’s just about the pickiest eater on Earth, so it seemed unlikely.
Baki came home and immediately ran to my computer to play Minecraft. I rolled my eyes. Stupid game. Eventually, he noticed the huge boxes of meat that I was dispensing into bags for the freezer.
“What’s that?” He asked.
“Pork,” I said, “and a lot of it.”
“Hey, does that mean we’ll eat pork chops for real?”
Of course, I though to myself – there are pork chops on Minecraft ! (That’s Baki up there in his Minecraft Cut Chart shirt – all the cuts are “pork chops”)
Baki ate his pork chop with enthusiasm, and asked for seconds. And I ate my unkind words about Minecraft.
Dinner, saved by a video game – it’s the last thing I would have expected!
Having two young kids has made me a reader of children’s books again. And of course by reader I mean that I read these books out loud, over and over again. There is nothing that lets you really get inside a story the way reading it 50 or 100 times does, and there frankly aren’t many books that can stand up to it. A few do, though.
50 years ago today, Where the Wild Things Are was published. That’s my copy from when I was a kid, and I read it to Baki and now read it to Kaya. I love the simple intelligence of the story, and the rich illustrations; there is plenty of space in the story for your imagination to roam. So many children’s books seem to believe that children are idiots who don’t know when they’re being spoken down to or spoon fed pap. Well, maybe they do and maybe they don’t, but I sure do!
Maurice Sendak wrote so many wonderful stories, and they are great favorites of mine (In the Night Kitchen is my very favorite, but it’s in the other house, of course…). He did a great interview on Fresh Air, and there’s an illustrated excerpt here that is very sweet (and very sad – have a hanky ready…).
Here’s to one of the greats, still wild after all these years.