Some of my favorite posts to read (and write!) are In My Kitchen. Pop over to Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for a list of posts, and perhaps you’d like to join in too?
I thought I wouldn’t be posting this month, but things kept catching my eye, so here I am again with a few things to show you.
In my kitchen there is:

a skull! We went out for a walk last week and Kaya found this half a skull and wanted to take it home. It is in the kitchen because I have become the mediator in a silent war between Kaya and Lulu. Lulu wants to chew on the skull, and Kaya wants to scrutinise it and pull out its teeth. (That is why it looks a bit dishevelled.) And it turns out that it once belonged inside the head of a wild boar.
In my kitchen there is:

kombucha in various stages of fermentation. The one on the right is a second fermentation with ginger and turmeric to make it fizzy (and delicious), and the one on the left is a new batch that I fermented with osmanthus oolong tea. I was extra excited about that one, since I really love osmanthus tea. Because I took this photo almost a week ago, I can now report that the tea retains all of its loveliness when fermented with a kombucha culture. Interestingly, the Domestic Man posted a profile of an interesting business in Portland OR called Salt Fire and Time. They seem to make exceptional bone broths (which can be purchased online, if anyone’s interested) but also deal in flavoured kombucha, including osmanthus! I first encountered these flowers in Hangzhou, where they burst into bloom in early autumn and perfume the entire city. They don’t look like much (think daphne flowers) but they have a sweet fruity scent that is hard to forget. It’s the stuff of Proustian flashbacks to be sure.
(Kombucha is a yeast and bacteria colony, by the way (the mothers are often referred to as SCOBY – a Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) that you add to sweetened tea. The scoby digests the sugar and ferments the tea so that you are left with a slightly sour, slightly fizzy drink rich with beneficial bacteria. Each fermentation produces a new little scoby, which is why it is so wild and wooly up on top of that new batch – there’s a stack of scobys in there!)
I have been reading and using Nigel Slater’s lovely little book, Eat, a lot lately. Sometimes a cookbook will become the source of all knowledge for a spell, and this one helped me out of a few jams recently. Ali brought home a whole quarter of a lamb not too long ago and I ended up with a few cuts of meat (after a crash course in lamb butchery) that I am not accustomed to cooking, like lamb belly. There was a wonderful recipe in Eat for it, and one for lamb fillet, or loin, as well. Then, while reading through, I noticed a recipe for a Spanish tortilla that called for “banana shallots.” I thought that sounded appealing and a little humorous, and wondered if they were something that I could grow. Imagine my surprise when I caught sight of these elongated shallots among the alliums at the market not too long afterwards!

They are very delicious, and since Ali is away for a few days I have been subsisting on Spanish tortillas.
Thanks for stopping by my kitchen!

Do you ever feel like you are the thing that is keeping something running smoothly? Like if you walked off everything you left behind would fall apart without you? Because I am sure that’s how Ali is feeling right now. He drove up to Istanbul on Thursday to meet Baki at the airport, flying in solo from New York and will drive back with him tomorrow. And since he left, one rooster has flown over the fence into the forest and although he looks longingly at all of his friends on this side, he will not be convinced to fly over and flees into the thickets when he catches sight of me climbing over the fence (on a ladder, not in the manner of a superhero or felon).
But the thing that really cried out for Ali’s attention is the generator. Now, our water comes directly from a spring a short walk away. One sweltering summer day, we went out with a coil of pipe and ran it from a place where the spring bubbled out of the ground all they way back to the garden. The top end of our garden, however, is higher up than the water source, so the water will not flow there. To water this part of the garden we use an electric pump. But since the only electricity that we have is what we get from our solar panel array, we have to use a diesel generator to run the pump. (When I describe all of this it sounds ridiculously complicated…)
But the generator won’t start. It could be because it ran out of fuel and we filled it and now there is air in the fuel line but for the life of me I can’t figure out what to do about it. “Water with buckets,” Ali offered, unhelpfully.

So that is what I did. And I have to say that bucket watering is a nostalgic sort of thing for me because when we first came here and we had just brought water to the garden, that is how we
used to water. Or how I used to water, because that summer Ali’s back went out so I used to climb over his sleeping body every morning before sun-up and haul buckets of water about.
And one of the nice things about watering this way is that you encounter little surprises like this one:

I always forget that the only cannas that we have are purple leaved, so I thought these were cannas, but they’re turmeric. Ali got a hold of some turmeric roots and planted them and they were thriving in the greenhouse so he tried one outdoors. The flower smells faintly, medicinal.
While I watered, Kaya climbed up on the rocks and brandished pieces of firewood as weapons. This kept him happy for a very long time.

And as I worked, it began to rain . Not enough to stop me or even give me pause , but enough to release the sweet smell of dried grass and dust being reacquainted with water.
It took me over an hour to finish, but I managed to water everything and felt very pleased with myself, albeit a little flushed and sweaty.

(That is my very first selfie – the
result of an Instagram overdose I am sure.)

Who doesn’t love to eat salad all summer long? I like to have raw vegetables somewhere on the table at any meal, but in the dog days of summer, not cooking your veg and eating it too is just too good to pass up.
Lately, we have been obsessed with Shepherd’s Salad, or Coban Salatasi as it is known here. It is an odd salad for me because it can be so unremarkable when encountered while eating out. And I have finally put my finger on why – it is full of ingredients that ripen in the heat of the summer, but are commonly grown in greenhouses year-round. Everybody knows what tomatoes are like in December, right? But when everything is in season and ripened by the sun, it is a fantastic combination of flavors.
The salad is simple enough. Take these:

chop them all up, salt liberally, squeeze a whole lemon and dump it in and then add a generous amount of olive oil and you’ll end up with this:

It’s the perfect summer salad because it is full of things that thrive in this weather. (I don’t know about you, but my lettuce swoons a bit in the heat of summer.)
Anyway, here’s a written recipe for those who are so inclined:
Coban Salatasi (Shepherd’s Salad)
3 or 4 large ripe tomatoes
an equivalent amount of cucumbers
a green (or red) bell pepper
half a sweet onion
a handful of parsley
2 or 3 green onions
one lemon, squeezed
olive oil

Mince the onion and parsley finely, slice the green onion into rounds, and chop the rest of the veg. Mix it all with a generous pinch of salt, pour over the lemon juice, and glug in some good olive oil. Stir it around and you’re ready to eat!

We have been having this with everything. The other night we spooned it on top of bowls of rice and broiled salmon, this morning we ate it alongside our eggs. You can throw in a diced avocado, too, if you’ve got it.

It is also sour cherry season, and that means it’s time for liqueur! I have made a new batch, but with two minor adjustments to the original recipe that I posted, which I wanted to mention here. 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.

Well, I’ve just blown back in to the garden from Rome, with spoils to show for it. Only we demolished a lot of it before it even occurred to me that it was a new month already (the boys have made fast work of a hefty chunk of Parmesan).
Do you enjoy poking around on other people’s kitchens? If so, head over to Fig Jam and Lime Cordial and join the fun.
So here are a few things that survived the onslaught. In my kitchen there is:

this beautiful slab of pancetta. And there is a bit of a story to it, as it happens.
Months ago, I received an email from my good friend Tuba that I ought to check out a blog called Rachel Eats. I consider her an authority on blogs worth reading, so I immediately complied and was subscribed by the end of the first paragraph. There’s good food, and also great stories and photography in her pages, and I’ve learned some invaluable things by reading her.
When I planned to go to Rome, it was in the back of my mind to write to Rachel. It feels a bit creepy to email someone out of the blue, but I did it once before and had a blast (thanks, Daisy of coolcookstyle!) Anyway, long story short we did manage to meet up over coffee and cornetti (very, very good cornetti, I might add, at Barberini on Via Marmorata). It is an odd feeling to meet up with someone you’ve read – a cross between meeting a pen pal and a matinee idol (dated references, I know). But what’s lovely is that there is so much to talk about. Rachel took me and Kaya on an impromptu tour of her neighborhood, Testaccio, and since everything was closed that day (Sunday), she took me to her butcher’s the following day to buy a bit of cheese and some pancetta to take home. It was a lovely little shop, clean and simple and full of cured meats of every description. I could have gotten carried away if I hadn’t been keeping one eye on Kaya the whole time.
Unwrapping the pancetta at home and slicing it (to be enjoyed alongside some fried liver and onions on Saturday, a.k.a. Liver Night), I felt my trip and my daily life collide, and had to smile.
In my kitchen there is:

a black truffle sitting in a box of eggs. This is also thanks to Rachel. I was flying home on Monday, so I wanted to get a sandwich for the plane. Rachel took me into Volpetti, a pungently scented temple to fine foods. “It’s a bit like a jewellery store,” she said as we entered and she breezily greeted the woman behind the counter and set her to the task of making me a sandwich. As this was happening, pizza bianca sliced and being laden with burrata and prosciutto, I spied a basket of black truffles on the counter. My mother had said she would like to have a truffle, so I plucked one out of the basket and held it to my nose. It smelled like an ambassador from the realm of dirt. Dizzied by the mushrooms hanging above, the rows of olive oil and vinegar, the cheeses and salami, I stumbled out clutching my prizes to find Rachel and Luca playing at the water fountain outside. And the sandwich was an absolute treasure.
Oh yes and about the eggs. My mother wanted the truffle to make scrambled eggs with, and she read that we ought to let it sit among the eggs overnight. Well who are we to argue? We tried it and the eggs, once cracked into a bowl the next morning, did seem to have an earthy perfume. Aided by generous shavings of the truffle itself, we were treated to a plate of eggs that tasted, in my mom’s words, as if they contained “a million mushrooms.”
In my kitchen there is:

this beautiful brick of salt. My friend Jessica, whom I shared the flat in Rome with, presented me with this surprising gift one night. The boys have had their tongues all over it, crazy for salt as they are, so if you come over I wouldn’t advise touching it. But that doesn’t bother me much so I enjoy ritualistically shaving salt off my salt lick and adding it to my food.
So this month I am drinking, with gratitude, to the generosity of friends both old and new.

Chin chin!

When I was in high school at St. Stephen’s School in Rome, we had an annual “treasure hunt” in which groups of students would be sent to all corners of the city, led by obscure clues. 21 years later, on the occasion of the school’s 50th anniversary, I found myself setting off on a treasure hunt mission once again.
(Please forgive the length of this post; submitting a report on our progress is the final, crucial step of the hunt and I am using this post as the group’s official submission.)
Our team, Team Purple received these clues:
1. Find the nostalgic antique shop at Via di Ripetta, 49. What seems to be its specialty? Photograph the display windows. You could price an interesting object or even buy one. One wonders what the shopkeeper thinks of the new Ara Pacis “container” by Richard Meier.
2. Go to Piazza Santi Apostoli. Admire the palace facing the church. Which family owned it? Note their “stemma” (family crest). Then enter the church and find a spectacular floor mosaic witht this same stemma, with additions showing where this nobleman fought for and against whom. Birds, sheep and banners. Then quietly enter the crypt. Who are the two apostles and who is buried in the chapel to the left (father of Pope Julius II) and at the opposite end is a fake catacomb grave. She is a girl with wo fish called __________. What room with frescoes has recently been opened to the public?
3. Go to the Ufficio della Provincia opposite the Piazza Santi Apostoli. What can one do below the building? If you are so inclined, you might want to do it.
4. You have seen the tombs of the two apostles. There is another, besides Peter, who is buried in Rome. Go to the Tiber Island and find wehre the apostle is buried. What is his name? How did his remains get to Rome? What ancient guild also has a space in the same building where the apostle is buried?
We retreated to the terrace to strategize, and decided to tackle clue 4 first, since the Tiber Island is close to the school, From there, we would continue to Piazza Santi Apostoli and finally on to Via Ripetta, not far from the Spanish Steps. “Remember,” Mr. Brouse had warned us as he handed out clues, “the churches close from 12 to 4.”
When we arrived on the Tiber Island (where I once had to go for a tetanus shot after stepping on a rusty tack), we found a wedding party pouring out of the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on the Tiber Island. Could this be where our apostle was?
As it turns out, it was. The body of St. Bartholomew has been laid to rest in this enormous porphyry bathtub:

This seems a fitting vessel for such an important saint, though St. Bartholomew travelled in a somewhat less illustrious manner. His remains were apparently conveyed to the church in this bowl:

Exactly who brought them there and why was less clear. Rifling through one of the books for sale in the church, I found two possible stories. One was that King Otto II brought them with the intention of later transporting them to Germany, and another suggested that King Otto III had built the church there in order to honor St. Bartholomew and a martyr by the name of Adalbert.
As for the ancient guild, it is only fitting that at a time when grain mills were often water powered, the guild of millers would have a space in a basilica on the Tiber Island.

We were feeling quite pleased with ourselves as we left the church, our sights set on clue #2.

It wasn’t a very long walk to Piazza Santi Apostoli, and it was easy to tell we’d found our mark when we were greeted by a line of saints looking stately stop their perches.



We hadn’t kept a very vigilant eye on the time, however, and ended up staring hard at the front door to the church through heavy and resolutely locked gates. Still, the palazzo across the way was still there to be admired.
The stemma proved easy to find

20140629-081857-29937647.jpg Though there was still the matter of the family’s name. The massive doors of the palazzo were open, so Lizzie and I wandered over to see what we could discover. I was just getting ready to propel Kaya forward into the cortile of the palazzo so that I might follow him in when a spectral figure stepped out to greet us. Lizzie asked her politely whether we might enter, but we were informed firmly that the interior was private and for us to go in was quite out of the question. Lizzie pressed her for the name of the family and she said xxxx…schacchi. Confused, we tried several times to repeat what she’d said to her satisfaction, but she tired of us, bared her teeth, and walked in to the private interior of the palazzo. “I don’t think that she told us the actual name of the family,” said Lizzie as we crossed the piazza to share what we’d discovered.
We needn’t have worried – this sign was displayed on the street for all to see:

This all called for a coffee break. We cooled our heels for a while in a nearby bar, over coffee and sandwiches, while plotting our next move.
We had spotted the Ufficio della Provincia before our break.

20140629-083337-30817889.jpg We wondered what it might be possible to do below the building. “I bet you can get married,” guessed Matt, and no one could top that.
Well the answer turned out to be quite different. About 6 weeks before our trip, a Leslie had written us about a museum that hadn’t been there when we were in Rome. It was apparently some sort of reconstruction of a Roman home that you could join tours to see. The only upshot was that you had to book in advance, and this we failed to do. Imagine our surprise to find ourselves brought to the door of that very museum, which is housed beneath the Ufficio della Provincia, by the hand of the treasure hunt. Matt and Leslie went in to see if we might not be able to secure last minute tickets and emerged with a reservation for the 3 o’clock tour.
It was 1:30. On to clue 1.
Evelyn fell asleep as we walked towards Piazza di Spagna, so Matt sat in the shade with her while we walked on in search of Via di Ripetta. It announced itself with the presence of the Ara Pacis museum.

I couldn’t imagine the proprietor of a fusty antique shop having much good to say about the gleaming white museum, but unfortunately we will never know what they might have thought. For although we walked the length of Via di Ripetta, we could find no sign of the shop in question. We thought this might have been number 49:

but it was hard to tell because the numbers jumped from 44 to 60 to either side of it.
Thankful that we hadn’t dragged a sleeping child on a wild goose chase, we headed back to regroup and catch our tour.
The museum was very interesting. The highlight for me was a narration of all of the events depicted on Trajan’s column which the Roman houses we visited would have looked out upon. During the section of the tour in the ancient homes, they used lots of light effects to illustrate how the houses might have looked, including one particularly striking one where they used light to complete a mosaic floor.

20140629-085308-31988482.jpg And although they were a tiny bit heavy handed with the “going back in time” narrative and the tour proved slightly too long winded for the children, we had a good time.
Back outside in the blazing sun, we decided to take another crack at the church.
CLUE 2 continued
We found the crest in the floor

20140629-085638-32198657.jpg but failed to interpret it.
We found the saints in the crypt (which smelled of the underworld)

20140629-085754-32274865.jpg but lacked the energy to chase down the rest of the bedfellows.
The room that had recently reopened turned out to be a recently restored chapel

20140629-085912-32352868.jpg that we were unable to enter. It was after 5 and we were at the ends of our ropes. So we parted ways, not exactly victorious but certainly feeling that we’d had a few adventures and uncovered a gem or two. And it brought back to me how much I’d always enjoyed St. Stephen’s treasure hunts. There’s the puzzle of it all and the putting our heads together, but most of all I think it’s something that shows you how rich the obscure at destinations in the city can be and it reminds us to unearth these hidden gems wherever we may find ourselves.

Go Team Purple!

The first time I visited the land that was to become our garden, I remember walking past a tall pine tree with a wild grape clambering up its side. There were red grapes on the vine, ready to eat, and we picked some. It seemed like such a lovely, generous thing to be presented with. I remember the heat of the day, the chanting cicadas, the sweet grapes.

We have planted a number of grape vines since we moved to the garden, mostly vitis vinifera (the variety of wine grapes, hence its name) but also one vitis labrusca (ours is a seedless Concorde grape). That one, also known as fox grape (which will make sense to anyone whose botanical Latin is ticking along nicely), was not very happy for the first few years, which is not so surprising considering that it is a native of the Eastern United States. It seems to be coming into its own this year, though, which is good news for me because those grapes are my favorites, since I did some growing up in their native land. In addition to the ones that we have planted, there are wild grapes springing up all over the place, and as our watering routines have improved, they seem to have proliferated further.

I have mentioned before that Ali is very interested in the scents of our plants, and we love to sit on the porch and breathe it all in. Recently, we noticed a new smell, a slightly sweet and yet also sharp scent that we hadn’t noticed before, that was distinct from the honeysuckle, the mock orange, and the jasmine that were also in bloom. Lying in the garden bathtub, staring up into the tangle of wild and cultivated grapes overhead, Ali put his finger on it — we were smelling the grape flowers.

grape flowers

I’d never given much thought to what a grape flower looked like, let alone that it might be scented.

At around the same time, I noticed that a lot of people were selling grape leaves in the market and this made me want to make stuffed grape leaves. There are two kinds of stuffed grape leaves that I am familiar with. One is the olive oil dish, grape vines stuffed with rice, currants and pine nuts. These are eaten cold at family gatherings, most notably at new year when my mother in law will put a button in one and a coin in another – eating one of these ensures good fortune in the new year. Every year I stuff my face with grape leaves and come up empty, but they are very tasty, so it is hard to have sore feelings about it. The other kind of stuffed grape leaf is filled with meat and eaten hot, with garlic yogurt. That’s the one I wanted to make.

I called up my mother in law and told her about the leaves and she said, “Oh well it’s very easy. Just get your minced meat and add some salt and pepper, roll it up and cook!” I hung up the phone and waited. About 30 minutes later, she called. “There’s a bit more to it. Let me explain.”

Etli dolma (meat stuffed grape leaves)

1/2 kg. minced meat (it should be fatty or the dolma will be too dry. My mother in law recommends lamb, and I have to say I agree)

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 tomato, 1 onion1 Tablespoon each chopped fresh dill and mint

1 Tablespoon rice

1 Tablespoon olive oil

grape leaves


1. First, you boil the leaves. This makes them pliable, and also starts the process of cooking them. You just need to blanch them for a minute or so. Their color changes to a dull green:


2. Grate your onion


and then grate your tomato. You will end up with a nice, wet slurry:


3. Add this to the meat, along with the salt, pepper and herbs, throw in the rice and oil and knead it until it is all mixed in.

4. Now comes the fun part! Get your dull green leaf and lay it, ribbed side up (smooth side down) on the table. Make a small meat log and place it on the leaf:


Then fold up:


fold in the sides:


and roll it up:


You may notice that these are not the elegant, long-fingered shape of the rice dolma. This is partly down to my beginner status, I expect, but I have usually encountered etli dolma as a more substantial, thumb-like parcel. It’s up to you how you fold yours, of course.

5. Pack all of your dolma tightly into a pot:

in a pot

Dot them with some butter, add water to the pot to just cover the parcels, and cover it all with a plate:

plate on top

Since you’ve gone to all the trouble of finding a plate that will actually sit snugly inside your pot, be a good fellow and weigh that plate down or you will end up with floating dolma buoying the plate in a most dismaying manner. I used my meat pounder, but a big tin of tomatoes or beans would also do the trick.

6. Cover the pot and cook the dolma until the grape leaves soften. In my limited experience, this takes no less than 30 minutes. Only your mouth can tell you if they are ready. It is an arduous but necessary task to sample the dolma after 30 minutes and then again in 5 to 10 minute intervals until you are happy with the results.

If you like, serve them with garlic yogurt (which is just garlic pressed into a bowl of yogurt with a pinch of salt thrown in for good measure – a wonderful, instant sauce) or plain yogurt.

I love this dish because the leaves are slightly sour and tannic, and I have read that grape leaves are very nutritious. Plus, it gives us something to eat off those vines until the grapes ripen. Then we’ll have other jobs to do!

I’ve missed a few months, in both senses of the word. I know that we all have busy lives and it is just a matter of claiming the time to do things like sit down a write. Happily, it is pouring rain in the garden today, so I am sitting in the outdoor kitchen listening to it, smelling it and savoring it, because although we will probably have the odd shower in the weeks to come, this is likely to be the last real storm we have before our long, hot and bone dry summer.
There are loads of interesting kitchens to visit; if you’re interested, stop by Celia’s blog, Fig Jam and Lime Cordial which is Command Central for IMK posts.0
This is a bit of a May and June mash-up, but never mind. In my kitchen there are:


Cut flowers! And since I never bother to cut flowers from the garden, this can mean only one thing: my mom is back in town. She spotted the snapdragons and was busy with her secateurs in no time. They are a particular favorite of mine. Ali is more concerned with scent when considering plants, and he has filled our garden with fragrant plants. But I love my showy snapdragons because they are a feast for the eyes (the variety is Madame Butterfly. They are hybrids, but these ones have come back for three years in a row, so I forgive them). And besides, if everything were scented it might become a bit much.
My mother went to Paris to visit some friends shortly after she got here, and came back bearing gifts. In my kitchen there is:

this beautiful egg basket that she found at a flea market. Who knew that such beautiful things even existed? Well, plenty of people I am sure, but not me. It is nice to have something pretty to keep our eggs in, since the ladies put hard work into producing them.
On the subject of eggs, we’ve received an exciting gift from our neighbour:

Do you see those smaller eggs in the front? They’re from his Guinea fowl! He heard we have an incubator, so he gave us 10 eggs. We’ll give him a couple of the hatchlings in return. I am very excited to have Guinea fowl, not least because I have heard that they are quite aggressive around snakes; we’ve got lots of snakes here. I like the black garden snakes just fine, but we’ve got vipers too, and poor old Lulu (our dog) just got bitten on the nose by a big one. She is at the vet, attached to a bag of serum. She seems to be getting better, but it has been a pretty miserable few days for her. She’s always been aggressive around snakes, but I bet she’ll tone down her attitude now… Anyway, hopefully the Guineas will take over the snake patrol before long!
On Friday, Ali wandered into the garden and came back with this:


We’ve been here for six years now, and the trees that we planted in those first few years have started bearing fruit in earnest. Not all of them, of course; I am pretty sure we will only eat a handful of our own cherries. But we’ve got plenty of apricots! I’ll have to think of something to do with them all, since I am sure we can’t eat them fast enough.
And that’s a quick look at some of the things in my kitchen this month! While we’re on the subject, here’s the view from where I am typing — if I stand up, I have a clear view of the tub in the rain:

Thanks for stopping by my kitchen!