Peeling chestnuts … Painlessly

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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!

Market day: Tuesday

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 .

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The market is held in a cavernous space, but it’s not as crowded or chaotic as other markets, so I can be more relaxed with Kaya.

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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.

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You can even get a new rug or a teapot:

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If it has all proven a bit much and you need a quick boost, there is even a tea guy outside the market.

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Tuesday market in Yesilbayir is the little market that has everything !

Pork chops

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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.
Silence .
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!

Still wild

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.

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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!

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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.

Face to face with our own silly selves

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Do you ever find yourself running up against something that you have thought or said? This happened to both me and Ali today.

Ali went up to Istanbul a few weeks back to see his mother and was seized by the thought that she ought to get Digiturk (satellite TV). He has been more preoccupied lately with thoughts of how she might be filling her day; she lives alone, and is unable to walk very well, so she very rarely leaves the house. He will say things to me like, “You know, your mother should really come live here. I keep thinking about how my mother is alone all the time.” (My mother is not alone all the time, and keeps very busy in New York, but it is a nice thought…)

Ali’s mom called me up one day while I was at the playground with Kaya and told me that Ali was after her to get satellite TV, but she would rather buy a DVD player. I didn’t have much to add to the debate, so instead provided a short blow by blow of Kaya on the slides. When I mentioned it to Ali, he rolled his eyes about the DVD player and made a bitter comment about how her neighbor was talking her out of Digiturk. I overheard the topic brought up a few more times and then nothing. A few days ago I called Ali’s mother and before we hung up, I asked her what the latest was on the Digiturk/DVD debate. “Well, I ordered Digiturk,” she said, “then the neighbor talked me out of it, but I think I will order it again. Let it be a surprise for Ali when he comes up again.”

That will be sooner than you think, I thought to myself. We had noticed after Ali’s last trip to Istanbul that his passport had expired, and he received a message from the Chamber of Guides that he needed to file a petition to have his license renewed, so last week I booked him a flight to Istanbul for this coming Monday. Ali was quite breezy about the whole thing as I was buying the tickets, but as the day has approached he has become less and less enthusiastic about going. Finally this morning, he seemed to have resolved not to go after all; the guiding license could be taken care of online, and the passport could be renewed in Antalya. And off he went to the garden to feed the chickens.

This afternoon, he called and said that his mother had called him to announce that she now had Digiturk and had even had it installed in his bedroom. He could watch TV programs to his heart’s content when he came! As she merrily chattered on, Ali’s resolve not to go to Istanbul crumbled, undone by his own insistence over that satellite TV. So that’s him off to the big city next week, returning just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

As for me, well, I have been thinking grumpily about how hectic life can be when you are living in two places at once, and how I always seem to be coming or going, and sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I am not sure where I am. I think to myself, “Did I close the coops? Is there water running anywhere? Or is it a school night? Does Baki have PE tomorrow?” until I can figure out which bed I am in. (That, and I inevitably end up seraching for things that are in the *other* house…) This weekend it has been pouring rain, so we did not go out to the garden; Ali came to us instead and went out to the garden for the day to let the chickens out of their coops and close them in at sundown. And the day yawned before me, empty and aimless. I did a bit of shopping with the boys, we watched a movie, I tidied up around the house. But always with the thought that I really ought to have been weeding, clearing old beds, sowing lettuce seeds, or some other such thing. So I will try to remember that as crazy as it can make life seem to be splitting it between two places, things don’t feel right any other way.

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mission accomplished

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I often refer to our flat in Antalya as being “in town” but actually, it is right outside of the Antalya city limits, just off the highway that heads north to Ankara and Istanbul. It’s not super convenient for going into central Antalya, but we don’t have much cause to do that – we prefer to skirt the city and head straight out for the garden. And our location means that we are near a small, agricultural town with a population of about 10 thousand.

Dosemealti has two weekly markets (Tuesday and Friday), three post offices (go figure) and a utilitarian aesthetic (or lack thereof) that reminds me of China. I immediately took a liking to the place.

Unlike a neighborhood in the city, this is a place where you can easily find such elusive items as canning jars and firewood. And they have a good feed store. That’s where Kaya and I were headed yesterday evening. On Tuesday, as we were leaving the garden to go back into town, our neighbor flagged us down and asked if I might pick up some feed for her goats. I was afraid of forgetting, so thought I had better not leave it until Friday.

Kaya got excited when he saw where we were going. He loves the chickens or quails that are often for sale there, and the cats that prowl among the sacks. Today, he found an electric bike to sit on, and its owner kindly turned it on so that he could beep the horn. This seemed to cause some consternation among passing motorists, though, so I made him stop.

With the sack of feed in the back of the car, the chickens admired and the cats left unpursued, we headed back to the flat, where Baki would be joining us shortly and our evening would begin.