Not exactly a back porch, but…

Celi, beloved chronicler of the Kitchen’s Garden , posted a challenge last week asking us what we see from our back porches. I’ve been turning it over in my mind ever since (no doubt helped by the wonderful views that have been popping up in her posts). We don’t have any back porches or even back doors, but I found myself paying attention to views that I don’t usually stop for and thought I’d share a place and a plant with you.
We are on the mountainside, which means that we spend a lot of time running up and downhill. There is always something to fetch and one of the places I run to and from the most often is the Shed. We keep our tools here, as well as shade netting, staple guns, saws, wire, spare potting medium, sprinklers, pipes, valves, faucets, paint and probably about two dozen other things that I have forgotten to mention (like screws, nails and staples!)

Ali has a jasmine habit that needs to be constantly satisfied, so we have star jasmine in various spots around the garden including, cannily enough, in this most frequently used space. (That whitewashed window off in the corner is a bit of the greenhouse.)
We have a palm growing here, with an amaryllis to keep it company, and we’ve got some white pomegranate trees that Ali is growing from cuttings that a neighbour gave us a few years back. White pomegranates, as their name implies, are much paler in color than the regular ones, both inside and out, and they are much sweeter in flavour.
Although it is not so visible in the photo, we have shallow beds on the roof of the shed. It was on a whim. The first year, we threw wheat that we feed to the chickens up there so that something would grow, and grow it did. Upon seeing the lush green wheat grass, one of our neighbours, a villager experienced in garden matters, gently suggested that we might like to plant our wheat in the field next time! We scattered wildflower seeds the following year and they still come up in the spring.
The plant that I wanted to share with you is an acanthus that grows by the stairs. It is directly below a massive lavender shrub, and I think it might be slightly overlooked for this reason.
Initially, I was attracted to the idea of growing acanthus because it is the inspiration behind the Corinthian column. I have come to appreciate the plant for its less historical qualities, not least its lovely dangerous looking spikes of purple flowers. Here it is, with no lavender in sight to steal its fire:

Just two things that caught my eye as I hauled buckets of “chicken poop sherbet” to our hungry plants!

Hi Mom!

Happy Mother’s Day!

We celebrated the way we do every year — by doing precisely nothing to mark the day. However, the weekend was full of nice surprises. It poured rain yesterday, for instance, and I took a nap with Kaya. It felt so decadent to be lying in bed listening to the rain and dozing off. The temperatures dropped dramatically (it is now in the low 70s after a week in the 90s), so blankets are back, which is just delicious. I even woke up and read awhile before getting out of the bed. Bliss.

The grass and weeds in the garden are shoulder high in places, and you know that our pathways are very narrow, so when the garden is wet, it is difficult to navigate without getting soaked at least to the knee. I put on a pair of shorts this morning before venturing out to do some garden work and marveled at how nice it felt to have wet grass brushing up against my legs. Feeling a pair of jeans becoming progressively more sodden until they are clinging to your legs in a cold embrace is depressing. Feeling the leaves against your skin and the water beading up and rolling down your legs is a celebration of the good parts of being outdoors.

Osman and Dudu slaughtered a goat this weekend and offered to sell us some of the meat. Ali went off while I was napping yesterday and returned with a 3 1/2 kilo haunch! It is nice, clean meat and I am grateful to have it. I cut the meat from the bone, leaving a leg and a shoulder the way they were. They’re in the freezer waiting for you to arrive! I’ve got a pot of stock from the bones, too, that I think will be nice for soup noodle.


The mulberry tree is fruiting, and pretty heavily at that. Between the fruit and the rain, some of the branches drooped all the way to the ground. Of course, this is the nice thing about young trees — they are still small enough to be able to reach up into them with your feet on the ground. We had two big bowls at the end of our picking session, even with Kaya on my back, eating every other one. I made a mulberry cobbler with creme anglaise (Ali has been collecting eggs but not eating them, so we have about 20. This made 7 egg yolks seem not like an extravagance, but a blessing. I will be making meringues for Baki tonight with all of those whites). This reminded me that last year we discovered together that they somehow get tastier when you cook them. I hope that you will make it here in time to have some — there are plenty more still on the tree.

The red rose is mostly finished, but there are lots of other flowers popping up everywhere. And when I say popping up, I do mean that they are emerging in unexpected places. There are the sweetpeas that self seeded again, and snapdragons are also opening up everywhere. And look what I saw when I went to pick a sprig of rosemary from that plant we put up by the pecan tree (which is very big now, and will meet with your approval I am sure):


It looks like someone found that passion flower before I did and took a bite.

There was a sad sight waiting for me when I got back to the apartment — one of the new chicks died. They are a week old now, and down to 17 in number. I am not sure what killed that one — the others look pretty healthy as far as I can tell. We’ll see how they fare.

Still, I hope that there will be more good news when I call Ankara tomorrow to ask about your visa. It is high time you joined us and enjoyed all of these pleasant surprises alongside us!


When in doubt, cheat.

On Sunday night, it was the eve of the lunar new year, so I got busy and made us a new year meal. While I was in China, I learned to eat boiled dumplings for new year (and at any other opportunity that I could find). There was a great restaurant that Ali and I used to go to in Harbin called Eastern Dumpling King that had a whole menu of dumplings, with some dishes on offer to go on the side. It was 40 minutes away by bus from the remote agricultural university where I taught, but we happily sat on the clanking bus and dreamed of the fat dumplings that awaited us. The place was always packed and very noisy, with waiters wandering around carrying kettles of dumpling water for anyone who fancied it.

These boiled dumplings are not something I grew up with, either as a daily meal or as holiday food. We had other dishes that we made for new year, and with some luck I will be making those later in the week (one thing I love about Chinese new year is that you get to celebrate the heck out of it). But I did grow to really really like boiled dumplings, so I thought I would take a stab at making them.

I used lamb since we can’t really get pork here (not in Antalya, anyway, though we do get the odd wild boar)n and I don’t like using chicken instead of pork — it feels too much like a compromise to me.

I had planted some loose leaf Chinese (napa) cabbages using seeds from Kitazawa Seed Co. that I was very excited to find — heading Chinese cabbages always bolt on me before they form decent heads, so I am eager to see if I will have better luck with these. I needed to thin them out, so I thought I would use the ones I pulled in the dumplings, along with a few daikon from the root vegetable bed.

ImageI was being guided in this enterprise by Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe for boiled dumplings, and she advised salting the veg and squeezing out the water, which I did and was glad of it — lots of water came out! I made the filling using ground lamb, hua tiao wine, a bit of sesame oil, some salt, ginger and some stock. And I followed the instructions about wrapping in the book to the letter, making a plain flour and water dough and then rolling it into logs, cutting bits of dough and rolling them individually before filling and pleating. This was all familiar from when I had made dumplings with friends. The only problem was, I was horrible at it. My dumpling wrappers were huge and malformed so that when it came to filling and folding, they turned out really wonky. The resulting dumplings didn’t taste that bad, they just looked horrible. And I thought that the filling had turned out a little on the bland side.

All was not lost, though. I only made it through about half of the filling on Sunday night because we had fish and veg and steamed egg cakes to eat as well. So I decided that tonight was time for take two.

First, I added a little Tianjin cabbage to the filling. This stuff is mighty — salt, cabbage and garlic. Stinky, salty heaven. ImageThen, I took a cue from my good friend Maia. She is an insanely good cook who makes these amazing Georgian dumplings. Everybody goes insane for the,  so much so that she makes them to sell. This is a woman who can make a thousand dumplings in a night, and does she roll each disc out individually? No! She gets a drinking glass out and cuts them out.

Image(That’s a toy rolling pin, by the way — for some reason I have never gotten around to getting my own, so I steal the boys’.) I know that there are “advantages” to rolling them out the right way, the way that Chinese women have been rolling them out for thousands of years. But I never once stopped while eating a plate of Maia’s Georgian dumplings and thought, “The edges of these dumpling wrappers are not thinner than the middles.” So I decided that if the drinking glass was good enough for Maia, it was definitely good enough for me.

After that, it all fell in to place. Just remember, I told myself, don’t be greedy with the filling. Just a little bit.

ImageThen pinch,

Imageand pleat.

ImageWhen I went to my friend Yang Ya Li’s house in Harbin to learn how to make dumplings, I remember her saying conversationally, “… and if your dumplings don’t stand up, it means you are lazy.” I hastily tried to prop up my swooning specimens alongside her upstanding examples. Blush. I was gratified to see that this batch passed muster:


All I had to do was cheat!

p.s. — I wanted to show you what they looked like cooked, but the camera battery died on me. I ate them with black vinegar, soy and lots of chili oil. They were dreamy.


My father took it almost personally when it turned out that I was not so great at taking photographs, and this in turn made me not want to take them so much. Then one day I decided that I would just take snapshots and not worry so much about it, and just like that I started to enjoy taking pictures a whole lot more.

Now, it has been ages since I wrote a post, so I thought I would share some snapshots to shake off that burdensome accumulation of things I ought to have been sharing over the past couple of weeks.

Ali and I were driving out to the garden from the city and we ended up behind a truck carrying a huge rock:

ImageWhere were they taking it? What on Earth would they do with it? How would they move it? I’ll just have to be content now knowing.

We stopped at Sundance and Kaya was delighted to see this excavator (wheel loader? I ought to know these things because I read a lot of picture books about vehicles…)


The following day, we drove in to Kumluca to get a wood stove for my mom’s room. Ali knew about a place where we could buy one from a truck on the side of the road, and lo and behold there was one, with a wooden staircase leading up into the back of the truck and chimney pipes hanging everywhere. (I know, where was my camera then, right?) On the way back, we passed the graveyard, which has this amazing gate with a pair of giant, praying hands above it:


In garden news, I have started harvesting the first of the bok choy, although as you can see some other garden inhabitants got to it first. The cabbage whites are still at large, and I patrol all of the brassicas regularly.


The broad beans that I planted a month ago or so are coming up in neat, optimistic rows:


And although I always complain that we do not get much fall color since we live in an evergreen forest (Boo Hoo…), the pomegranate orchards out by us are ablaze with bright yellow foliage and the odd split pomegranate burning deep red here and there.


Whew! That feels better. Now I can get back to writing on a regular basis. Thanks for stopping by.

Cola bottle cloches

It has been longer than usual since I last posted, and for all the usual reasons that people don’t write — hectic times, and no wherewithal to bring things to a standstill for long enough to put anything down. I dislike it when the days get away from me, and every day that goes by without writing feels a little heavier than the last. When the boys are asleep, time seems to slow back down though. So instead of turning in early to get those extra hours of sleep (since they never get added on at the waking up end of things) I thought I’d put myself out of my misery and put a few words down about what’s up in the garden.
We are well and truly in the northern hemisphere, but autumn is still not quite a done deal here. Our daily highs are in the 80s/20s and although it has started to rain now and then, we are not in the soaked earth days of winter.
With the temperatures still so high, there are lots of grasshoppers and other hungry characters at large in the garden. All of my winter veg seedlings were getting devoured before they could grow much; even the chicken patrol has its limits (and lately the chickens have been invading the veg beds, too, leading to reinforcements of our chicken wire perimeters around the beds).
Before I go any further, let me point out that I know no self-respecting person would admit to having enough cola bottles to hand to do what I am about to describe. Any plastic bottle will do, of course — water bottles, which even the best of us end up with from time to time, would also work. This is just my way of putting the things to use.
So anyway, Ali pointed out that cloches might help matters. This is how I acted upon this useful bit of advice:
I sow our veg seeds in paper pots on trays that hold 24 pots, so I armed myself with that many bottles, cutting them just below the middle with a bread knife, and grabbed my favorite transplanting hoe. I was going to need short stakes, and it just so happened that there were lots of dried out asphodel stalks about (they grow wild here), so I gathered those.
I dug a hole and placed the stake:

added a seedling:

and once I’d gotten the seedling settled in, sat the bottle top onto the stake:

I started using the bottle top cloches about a month ago, and those first seedlings are doing really well. After about ten days under the cloche they got big enough to be liberated and the majority of them are still going strong. Being sheltered just gave them time enough to get big and tough enough to withstand the attacks inevitable in an organic garden. I bet they would be nice little shelters against frost when the time comes.