Market day – Thursday


A friend of mine recently commented that although I am living in both the city and the garden, our city life is underrepresented in these posts. Of course, I began writing here when I was only living in the garden, and it has remained my focus but I see now that it is quite true that as a portrait of our daily lives, this blog is fairly unbalanced. This month is as good a chance as any to rectify that, and I wanted to start out by profiling one of the weekly markets that I visit.

I would love to say that we grow all of our own food but sadly that is not the case (although it is our objective). For the time being, then, I visit the weekly vegetable markets around town to fill in the gaps. When Ali joined me in China way back in 2001, he was surprised that there was a daily vegetable market outside the university gates. It ran from about 5 to 730, and was frequented mostly by the neighborhood retirees. I used to go out and do Tai Chi at 530 with a group of retired teachers, and then we would all head out the gate to peruse the market. The predawn hours in Harbin were the domain of the elderly, lining up to buy milk from a man on a tractor, or haggling with the doufu-sheet man, selling his wares off the back of a motorcycle. In the winter months, vegetables were displayed under thick cotton quits to keep them from freezing, or else inside styrofoam coolers.

When I entered the Thursday market in our old neighborhood of Sirinyali, I was struck by how fresh and lively everything looked. Here in Antalya, it is not the cold that zaps produce, but the heat. All summer long, the veg look beleaguered and parched. Now, with a few good rain storms under our belts and temperatures barely lifting out of the 80s, there seems to be a collective sigh of relief and feeling of weightlessness. And there is so much great veg to be had!

I apologise for the photos — I know they aren’t great. I was using my phone, and if you can believe it the memory was all used up (I think I had better check and see if Kaya and Baki have been taking large sets of photos…) but I get to this market so rarely, I thought this might be better than nothing. I’ll take the real camera next time.

At the entrance to the market, there is an area where people come to sell stuff from their gardens. It is far less formal than the market itself, which is neatly lined up on tables along the side of the road, but I like shopping here better because it is all local and in season and from gardens as opposed to the stuff from the wholesalers.


Under the olive trees, there is milk for sale, home made butter and cheese, eggs and nuts as well as the usual market offerings. The white corn in the photo above is an unusual sight — I usually only see yellow in the markets. There are usually folks selling offbeat finds like fresh pecans, or medlars, and in the spring you might come across wild asparagus or morels. I’ll visit a few more local markets in the coming weeks so that you can see how they differ from neighborhood to neighborhood.


Beans just got more interesting

The other day I stopped at a roadside meatball place to grab a bite on my way to buy a few trees. Meatballs, or kofte, are sort of their own food group here, and one thing you can count on is that if a place specialises in grilled kofte, piyaz is probably on the menu too.
I never understood why people got so excited about piyaz because in Istanbul it is basically beans, onions, olive oil and vinegar (at least it was like that every time I ate it up there). Boring. But down here in Antalya, it’s different:

Here in Antalya, piyaz is served swimming in tahini. It is seriously good. So if you have some white beans handy, here’s what you need to do: add some chopped white onion, chopped parsley and tomato if you have it (this being the land of poly tunnels, tomatoes are always served with it but do what you will – I don’t buy tomatoes out of season myself). Then give the mixture a good splash of wine vinegar and olive oil. Drench the whole thing in tahini and top it with a hard boiled egg, salt and pepper. If you ask me, the meatballs become superfluous at this point – all you need to make a meal of this is a hunk of good bread.

In My Kitchen, December 2012

Signs of the season — a two-kitchen edition!

In My Kitchen is a neat series that started out at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial. To find more, go to the mother lode.

In my kitchen this month, there are signs of the season.

1. Solidified olive oil in the A.M.

olive oil


When I went out to the kitchen in the garden to make breakfast, I discovered that the olive oil had solidified. (Those are both olive oil; the one on the right is extra virgin.) This is always a sure sign of winter; apparently it happens at about 40F, so you can see that we are not talking about arctic winter here. Conversely, I have a bottle of coconut oil in the kitchen as well, and when that goes all liquidy I know it’s really hot out.

2. A duck on a hook


This year, we are making a Peking duck for Christmas dinner. We have been hanging it out to dry for a few days now. I am sitting in the city kitchen and it is in the oven as I type this, popping away in the oven and turning a very deep and seductive shade of mahogany. It does need to dry out thoroughly, though, so we took it out to the garden with us.

3. A Christmas cake


My father loved Christmas cake and always insisted that we coat it in marzipan, cover it in royal icing and then stud it with silver balls. I am not sure why he loved those silver balls so much  because they are not even that nice to eat (I can totally understand the marzipan bit, though). But after all these years, a Christmas cake just wouldn’t seem right without them. We added Darth Maul afterwards:

darth maul

4. An angel

glass angel

My mom got this angel from a glass blower in her neighborhood, back when her neighborhood was Cihangir, Istanbul. She was new to me this year, and has witnessed a lot of baking and other kitchen madness. I’ll miss having her up when all the ornaments are packed away until next year.

So that’s what’s in my kitchen this month. Merry Christmas, everyone!


A truly surreal day

So we are shuttling between the city and the garden again with school back in session, and for the past 5 days or so I was without an internet connection. It feels good to be back! Tonight we will go back to the garden for the weekend, but Baki has had a good first week at school, and I have fully recovered from the ordeal of the first day which was, oddly, much more difficult for me than for Baki.
We use the term surreal when we find ourselves in a situation that makes no sense. In an incongruous situation, reality seems to wobble. On Monday, I found myself in such a situation not once, but twice. But the thing is, surreal is a broad term. It can mean dreamlike, or it can evoke Kafka.
I drove the boys in to the city on Sunday and we went to school on Monday morning for his first day of second grade. We walked past all the first grade classrooms, and the nervous parents and thought, “My, how we’ve progressed!” Baki was the first student in his class to arrive. His teacher, the same teacher as last year (they stay together until grade 5), was happy to see him, and the next student to arrive was a girl that Baki likes, so when I left him, all was well.
Then I dove into the trenches of first day business, jockeying lines of irate parents with Kaya riding on my back in his carrier. I won’t lie — I was not equal to the task.
The school bus line was bad enough, where every other parent’s sparkling wit and charm seemed to grant them a place before me, even when I was standing right in front of the line, waiting. Okay, I am not assertive enough, and this was not a line in the classical sense that we are talking about; this was more like a human wall and the object is to be the brick in the wall that attracts the most attention because then you get helped. So that took forever.
I was soon to have my fill of old-school queuing, though. I went to the gymnasium, where the school uniforms were being sold in the shop on the right hand side of the building, and the text books were being sold from the basketball courts on the left hand side of the building. I knew it was going to be a zoo, because it had been last year, and why would it change, but at least this year I had all the uniform stuff, so all I would have to do was get the books. We waited in the queue for about 25 minutes, and Kaya was good as gold. I told the man behind the desk Baki’s name and class, and he added up how much I would need to pay and wrote Baki’s name in a ledger. Then he told me that the credit card machine wasn’t working, so I would have to go and pay at the uniform shop. He handed me a slip of paper. So I went over to the uniform shop and found an even longer queue. Deep breath. Okay, I thought, I only have the truck for a few days, so I may as well get this done. Of course, as I waited, I began to actually think about how stupid this whole thing was, which is a mistake. The key in these situations is to not think about them, just jump through the hoops.
That is when the heat started to get to Kaya and he started to wail. I didn’t blame him — I think most of the parents there felt like wailing, too. So then the moms at the end of the line with me told me that I ought to just go to the front of the line since the baby was sweaty and miserable. I really hate to queue jump, but at the same time, Kaya was miserable, and I can’t pretend that I was dying to spend another half an hour in the line, sweating it out with a crying child. So I went up to the front of the line.
At the front of the line, someone was paying for a skirt and another woman was paying for some books. The woman behind the desk finished ringing up the skirt and then turned to me and said, “Weren’t you just in the back of the line?” I explained that my child was getting really hot from all the waiting, and I was sorry but could I just pay for these books? She refused to even look at me, saying that if she helped me, all the parents behind me were going to give her a hard time or ask her for favors. Meanwhile, the mother who was buying the books said to me, “Never mind, just pay for the books. We’re all parents here.” The woman behind the counter kept on talking, and I tried to ask her when they open so I could just come first thing, then the guy at the register took my slip of paper and rang me up. I took my receipt to the other side of the building, got the books and ran out of there as fast as I could. I loaded them in the car and just about made it away from the school before I started crying. I think I will entreat upon Ali to accompany me to the first day of school next year — I need allies in the trenches!
It was only a half day, so I had promised Baki I would take him out after school and we ended up going to a new place called Snow World. Now, it was a very hot day out — about 35C/95F. And when you go to Snow World, they give you fleece lined pants and jackets and snow boots. Kaya, Baki and I were all bundled up and I was sweaty and tired, and about to get crabby when they opened the door to let us in and we walked into… snow. The temperature is kept at -5C/23F, and there is snow everywhere. There were funny little igloos that Kaya took a shine to (he loves little houses):

There was a cafe, and a weird little cabin marked “private rooms,” but the best thing of all was that there was a pair of curving slopes and plenty of sleds and inner tubes to use to plummet down them. Baki did not hesitate:

He ran up the stairs, whizzed down the slope, ran back to the stairs and repeated… endlessly. Kaya and I enjoyed the lovely cold weather, and stared up at the huge fans keeping the place cold:

It was so cold that eventually Kaya and I ducked into the cafe and had a warm drink. How bizarre to be warming up like this when only a little while earlier we were sweating in the afternoon heat.
When I was finally able to convince Baki to leave, we stumbled out into the heat feeling as if we’d been dreaming. And in a way, we had been part of a dream. The place, as ridiculous as it is, feels like someone’s fantasy (“Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were a place where it snowed every day?”) made real. More importantly, it had managed to erase the insanity of the morning. And we all slept marvelously that night.

literally lousy

When we woke up this morning, the plume of smoke that had been rising steadily from the hills had dissipated, so we had breakfast and headed home. Things seemed more or less normal when we got back, save the seething smoke above us. We soon noticed, though, that the fire was not out yet.

There were four fires that started yesterday, actually, all around this area. Unfortunately, one of the fires was apparently close to a village, and destroyed people’s homes. In the papers, they say that arson is suspected. That is certainly the theory being bandied about on the porches and through car windows. There are theories about who might have started the fires, but for the moment it’s all gossip and speculation.
And while all of this has been unfolding, a smaller crisis has been brewing. I sat in the kitchen trying to get Baki to do his journal (his summer homework), and something about the crown of his head made me pull him closer and start rooting around in his hair.
I should mention at this point, that I had lice enough times as a kid to I remember it all in vivid, painful detail. I always had long hair as a school girl, and the dreaded metal comb was my mortal enemy. That, and the stinky shampoo poison. Lice is a pain, and with Baki now in school, it is never far from my mind. So as I went leafing through Baki’s hair, I knew exactly what I was looking for. To my chagrin, I found it; Baki has lice.
I immediately got Baki to wash his hair while I went to retrieve that very same metal comb that for some reason my mother never threw away and that I then kept as a grim trophy. (So in case you were wondering what it’s like to be a person who never throws anything away, there’s one answer.) Combing revealed irrefutable evidence. I hate the way lice look.
Ali and I immediately got creepy crawly itchy heads, of course. He read in the invaluable Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine that cider vinegar is effective against lice, so I doused all our head and we felt a little better. (Bartram’s also listed a traditional Russian remedy whereby the head is doused in vodka, which is then left to dry. This sounded exciting, but unfortunately, we didn’t have any vodka on hand.) Then Kaya and I went off to town to get something to kill the lice.
When we got back, and Baki was doused, we spent the rest of the afternoon watching the helicopters passing overhead.

They continued until nightfall, and the fire above us seems to be more or less out. We’ll see in the morning. The wild birds aren’t taking any chances; as I planted out some brassica seedlings, there were fleets of them descending from the hills above, stopping to rest in the big old pine in the middle of the garden before continuing downward.
And we read that tea tree oil is also used against lice, so I made a spray with cider vinegar and tea tree oil. The spray bottle I used had been holding eucalyptus oil spray to repel Lulu’s fleas, so we all smell like cough drops now.
Good night!

Not so quiet a Sunday

Ali heard it before he saw it. And then he said three words that changed our day from any other uneventful Sunday into, well, an eventful sort of day. It was around 10:30. “There’s a fire!”
I was just getting some kitchen work done, having put Kaya down for a nap. I went out into the garden and looked up into the hills and saw this:

Which was ominous enough a sight, but when I looked harder at the area out beyond the wild pear tree, I saw this:

And my heart gave a lurch. Forest fires break out every summer, and we are always as careful as we can be. The shepherds around here, I am sure I have mentioned in the past, spit into their hands to put out a cigarette, never leaving it up to chance. We always hope that when they break out, they won’t be too close.
We always said that we would leave if there was any sign of a fire, so that is what we prepared to do. Not knowing what to take, I grabbed our passports and birth certificates, and Ali took the papers for our application for a title deed to our land and I got Kaya out of bed and we all went to the car. Ali had called one of the neighbors who told him that the forest fire department said they’d be around in five minutes or so, and we could hear the plane approaching as we left. We saw the first plane as we stood talking to the neighbor on the road:

Then we took one last look before we headed down:

We went down to Sundance Camp where our friends were waiting. They had seen the smoke from there. We had some tea, Baki played with a new friend, we eventually had lunch, and I took the boys to the sea, thinking that it would get our minds off things. Not so much, though, since the first thing we saw when we got to the shore was the smoke:

Every ten minutes or so, we heard the planes or the helicopter approaching the sea to get more water:

Ali went up to check on things while we were at the shore, but I had left my mobile phone behind when we left, so I had no way of reaching him. So I waited. He finally came back down at around 5, saying that the fire was still spreading. We decided to go back up together, but thought that we would probably stay the night at Sundance, just to be on the safe side. When we returned, things didn’t look too different from a distance:

The garden was fine, if a bit smoky. We watered the greenhouse, made sure the chickens were fed and watered and that Damla the cat and Lulu the dog had bowls of food. The animals were all calm, which was reassuring. We took some toothbrushes and clothes, and headed back down, leaving matters in the hands of the foresters:

It doesn’t look like we are in any immediate danger, and if our luck holds out things should be back to normal soon. We’ll go back up tomorrow morning, at any rate. Luckily, the area where the fire broke out is not populated; I think we are the nearest people to it. Still, it has been a heck of a day, and a stern reminder not to take anything for granted, especially not things like uneventful Sundays!

write it down


Well, the storage space us empty, as are the bookshelves on our old house (in fact, I took the shelves too). The movers were just about able to close the truck, and then they had to tie the bed on to the back of it.

I arrived in Antalya with the boys yesterday at noon, Baki with two teeth filled and a two minute egg-timer from his dentist in his pocket. The truck arrived last night, and now all of the stuff is in the flat, having been marched up a flight of stairs by three very determined movers. The flat is a maze of boxes, which threw me into a bit of a panic.

Thankfully, my mother was there and she was perfectly calm. She reminded me of how many times we have packed, moved, and unpacked (six big moves in my lifetime alone) and she assured me that there was hope. All I could see was total chaos. One room in the flat has been completely devoured by boxes. The photo above is one my mother took of Kaya in the mess this morning.

Still, moving is always full of little surprises. While I was gathering books that Ali and I had left behind, I came across some old papers of my dad’s — there were three files that he had written, assignments for work; and there was a sheaf of his poetry, a work in progress, with lots of corrections and scribbling on it. I stopped for a moment to read them and was immediately thrust directly into my father’s mind. His voice, not the physical one but the written one, was right there. I felt for a moment that my father, who is so resolutely gone from this world, had been momentarily revived.

Nothing can fill the deep chasm that is left when you realize that you will never, ever see someone or speak to them again, but to be able to hear them speak, even if it is not in dialogue with you, is a remarkable, potent thing. It reminded me of how precious a few written words can be. Forget reliquaries full of bits and pieces, the most powerful remains I can think of are words.

If you have something to say, for the sake of those you leave behind, write it down somewhere. Write it by hand in a notebook while no one is looking, type a blog post, send a letter. You can direct your words at everyone or no one.

Think of Sei Shonagon’s pillow book, completed in the 11th century in Japan. Here’s a little excerpt:

Elegant Things

A white coat worn over a violet waistcoat.
Duck eggs.
Shaved ice mixed with liana syrup and put in a new silver bowl.
A rosary of rock crystal.
Wisteria blossoms. Plum blossoms covered with snow.
A pretty child eating strawberries.

Things That Should Be Large

Priests. Fruit. Houses. Provision bags. Inksticks for inkstones.
Men’s eyes: when they are too narrow, they look feminine. On the other hand, if they were as large as metal bowls, I should find them rather frightening.
Round braziers. Winter cherries. Pine trees. The petals of yellow roses.
Horses as well as oxen should be large

Things That Should Be Short

A piece of thread when one wants to sew something in a hurry.
A lamp stand.
The hair of a woman of the lower classes should be neat and short.
The speech of a young girl.

(Translation Ivan Morris – The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon – Penguin Classics)

I think it’s remarkable how much there is in those three short lists; I feel as if I know her.

Your words are a gift, why not be generous with them? The people who mourn you and miss you will be grateful. And the ones who like you now might, too.