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Posts Tagged ‘family’

I was in the kitchen and went to grab an avocado from the fruit basket only to encountered a bumble bee (these things happen when your kitchen is outside). Then a few minutes later I went up to the road to cut a sprig of rosemary and saw honeybees in amongst its purple flowers. “What’s going on,” I thought, “have I been asleep?” The weather is changing and everything around me is waking up – I’m just a few steps behind. I resolved to spend the rest of the day being a little more observant/productive than usual, and this is what I came up with:

eggs

I love the colors of eggs. I’ve decided that if I ever paint the walls somewhere, I will just use the colors of different eggshells and possibly the color of good butter from a grass fed cow, too. That top right egg is the very first egg from one of our Copper Maran hens – we hatched those chicks last summer. What a lovely, rich chocolate brown! I am still waiting on the Ameraucanas, hatched at the same time,  who will lay bluish eggs – another lovely wall color…

daphne

This is a box of Daphne odora Aurea-marginata (a.k.a. variegated daphne) cuttings. As you can see, they are flowering and the smell is heavenly. You don’t even have to stick your head in that box to smell it — the whole greenhouse is deliciously scented. That would be enough to make these special, but there is a story behind these particular cuttings.

Outside my aunt and uncle’s house in Portland OR, there is a variegated daphne. It’s right in front of the porch and it’s huge. When my aunt died way back in 1998, we started to  flap ever so slightly about the daphne. Would it survive? My aunt had been the gardener, after all. But the daphne proved that it could take care of itself, as did the cosmos that sprung up along the side of the house. Other plants didn’t fare so well, but my uncle gradually took over the back yard and grew Chinese chives and tomatoes every year. daphne1917

That’s the daphne behind me, to the left. Incidentally, that photo was taken in 1980 when I was 5. It was the year of my first unaccompanied  trips on an airplane (although I did have a traveling companion in Blue Bunny, also pictured above). I flew from NY to Portland and back – a not insignificant 5 1/2 hours of air time. Back then, your parents could come right on to the plane with you to get you settled in, which seems hard to imagine now. I asked my mom how she didn’t completely freak out just putting me on a plane and she shrugged and said, “Your father said you’d be fine.” And I was, of course. I mention it because it looks like this year might be Baki’s first solo trip – from NY to Istanbul, no less. I’m not sure how I feel about it just yet, but Baki can’t wait. I tried to break it to him gently, but he was whooping it up when I told him. But I digress…

When my uncle died, the flapping over the daphne began in earnest. My mother had gone out to visit him a few years back and brought a cutting, but it struggled and didn’t make it. The house was going to be sold, and I hated the thought of losing our connection to that daphne. So my mother appealed to my cousin Pamela to send some cuttings to her in NY, and she received a package of them, each with its own little capsule of water attached. My cousin Elaine has some of them, and the rest my mom brought out to Turkey and that is what you see in that box. So that smell is a sweet one, indeed, and for more reasons than one.

veg bed

And lastly, it is the time of year when I haul out my early spring allies — the plastic bottle cloches. I’ve got lettuce and bok choy under those ones. On the periphery of the bed there are shallots and garlic. This is my new method of planting alliums — I’ve got them dotted along the edges of all the beds. I thought it might be a bug deterrent. We’ll see how that goes.

Well, that feels a little better. I’ve got my ears to the ground at last, and it’s humming with activity. It makes me buzz with excitement a little myself.

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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.

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Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial hosts the In My Kitchen series, and it’s a lot of fun to read, so head over there and check it out!

This month I have been blogging in slow motion because I haven’t got the Internet at my new apartment, strictly speaking. So this month’s IMK has some things that were in my kitchen last week but aren’t there any more…

In my kitchen there is:

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This beautiful and very effective ginger grater that my cousin Elaine sent me. I love how deep it is, and I have to concur with her opinion that it is the best one she has been able to find. Isn’t it nice to have good looking things in the kitchen!

In my kitchen there is:

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This photo of my grandparents. I always hang this picture up in my kitchen, no matter where I am. I never met them; they died before I was born. But they have loomed large in my upbringing, like mythological figures. My mother has always told me stories about them, and one of my favorite things about when we would have family get-togethers was to hear my mom and my aunt and uncles talking about when they were all growing up together. I think of them a lot at this time of year because of the next thing in my kitchen this month:

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Every year at Chinese new year, my kitchen becomes host to a little swamp of dried ingredients in bowls of water. Lily buds, tree moss, “tree ear” fungus, mushrooms, doufu sticks, lotus seed, peanuts — these are some of the building blocks of Jai, a Buddhist (hence vegetarian) dish made to celebrate the new year. Making this dish is an act that makes me feel the narrative thread between my life and the life of my grandparents in the most tangible and enjoyable way. The first time I made it, I was 22 and living in a tenement apartment in New York, on Allen St. I had a board balanced on the bathtub in the kitchen to host the swamp, I remember. Making Jai is just a “little bit of this and a little bit of that” process — you cook everything together and add fermented red doufu and slab sugar until you reach a balance that is pleasing to you. The fermented doufu has a very particular smell and a pungent and salty flavor. My kitchen was filled with familiar smells and as I looked up at that same photo of my grandparents, I knew I was smelling and tasting something very similar to something they had enjoyed themselves, long before I was around.

Making Jai is also something that joins the people in my family who are still around. My cousin Elaine sent me the ingredients to make Jai this year (by prevailing upon my long-suffering friend Meltem who was visiting NYC to take them back to Turkey and send them to me. Thanks Meltem!). And I can’t make Jai now without remembering the year that Elaine and I made it together at her house and she spaced out while we were gossiping and cooking and put a whole jar of fermented doufu into the Jai instead of one cake of it. We washed it out and started again (I kept the jar and use it to hold my chopsticks in the garden kitchen).

Happy year of the Snake, everyone!

There’s a reason that Chinese new year is also known as Spring Festival; in my kitchen there is:

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a makeshift potting station that comes out after the boys go to sleep (you don’t want to know what happens when they get their hands on potting soil). I have been starting nightshade family veg (well, tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, anyway) in black bags at the apartment; I thought the bags would be good since they are bigger than paper pots, so I can just let the seedlings grow in them until they are big enough to be planted out. I have paper pots in the greenhouse in the garden with some greens, and will start direct sowing a few things under cola bottle cloches. It is nice to have a bit of garden life in the apartment. I don’t keep houseplants here because I tend to kill them — I don’t know why it is, but I can’t look after indoor plants at all. I always thought I had black thumbs and was like plant kryptonite, but it turns out all I needed was a little bit of earth to plant my feet in and put my plants in and I could look after them just fine.

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This year I have my own tree for the very first time. In the past, I’ve spent Christmas under other people’s trees — my parents’ or my cousin Elaine’s, or I’ve been abroad on my own somewhere and improvised. I feel a bit ambivalent about having bought a fake tree, but there it is. I was going to try and find a cedar tree that we could plant in the garden afterwards, but time was running short — Baki had a cookie decorating party today, and I thought we ought to have a tree up for it. (And now that the party is over, I have this wonderful, light and liberated feeling. I feel exhilarated by parties in the same way that I am by running. That is to say, I rejoice when the deed is done.)

I stayed up late one night last week to unpack Fake Tree and straighten out all the branches. Then I wound a string of lights around the center of the tree, since that’s what my cousin Bill always says to do (I might not seem to be paying attention, but I am).  Now, I might not have had a tree, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have any decorations. My Auntie Ga used to send me an ornament for Christmas every year. This is the first one I ever got from her:

nut

Then, after she died my cousin Elaine sort of picked up where she left off, and this is one from her:

mirror

Then there are a few other oldies, like my old Tusker earring, made out of a bottlecap from Kenya’s fine lager:

tusker

And an opulent, gold leafed egg that I am always amazed has made it through another year:

egg

And an ornament that is especially precious this year for having a message in Uncle Herbie’s precise hand:

heart

At the end of the night, the tree had all of my old ornaments on it and I thought it looked pretty good:

tree before

But this is also the year that I was reunited with all of the ornaments that I grew up with, and the following day while Baki was at school, my mother and I put them up, including Auntie Ga’s snowflakes:

snowflake

And our Roman angel, which my mother just told me she got at the Vatican, so I guess it deserves its lofty perch.

ange;l

And we added a new ornament this year, as well; Baki chose this one in Abu Dhabi:

abu dhabi

So that in the end, the tree looked like this (and seemed to me quite unashamed of not being real):

tree after

I hope you will forgive me if I am stating the obvious, but this is the first time I have done this. And it seemed somehow significant that these little symbols of my past had been united for the first time. I was struck by how some ornaments’ significance has changed with the death of loved ones, and was happy to be adding a new memory to the collection. It makes me wonder how the boys will react to these ornaments in years to come, and if they might one day be decorating trees of their own.

At the moment, it seems the furthest thing from their minds.

bye

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Impermanent address

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I’ve been listening almost obsessively to the King Creosote and Jon Hopkins album, Diamond Mine. It is so gorgeous that after playing it for the first time from start to finish, I was so bereft at having to stop hearing it that I just went right back to the beginning. It’s very much about King Creosote’s home of Fife, in Scotland, which got me thinking about why I write these letters. It is, I believe, a way to pin this garden down in time and to let it last. We do not have a title deed for this land, after all; technically the land is the property of the treasury. What we bought was the right to use the land. This may change (in fact it is likely to, as laws concerning this type of land have been changing) but I have become comfortable with the tenuousness of our hold on this place. It seems almost strange to think of owning land. And although we work hard to shape our garden and, especially during these hot, dry summer months battle the elements to do so, I know full well that when we lay down our tools, the forest will reclaim our land. The garden, it seems, is on loan.
It is not unlike the way it is with children. I sometimes surprise myself by looking at Baki and feeling no sense of ownership; he just seems like a little person who has taken up residence with us for a while. Then I realize that this us the truth of it. Our children are no more ours than the garden. It’s an odd shift on the way I think about having a family (and, incidentally, I have come to think of our garden as our middle child, now in its third year). It is like the day I realized that having a child did involve unconditional love, but that I’d be giving it, not receiving it.
Expectations, it seems, are best kept flexible.

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