In My Kitchen February 2013

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.

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

duck

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

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!

 

In my kitchen November 2012

With school back in session for a few months now, we have settled into the routine of moving between the garden and the city. This month, I am in my city kitchen, not our outdoor garden kitchen. In this kitchen, there is …
A tea cozy

Before I lived with chickens, I used to think they were cute. I guess I may have been influenced by the histrionic mother hens in the cartoons, but I got warm feelings when I thought about them. Then we got chickens and I saw what they were capable of. Before long, I came to view them as dinosaurs in disguise. I won’t go into details, but let me just say that it was a few years before any chick hatched in our coops lived much past the age of a month or two. Those motherly, nurturing cartoon hens weren’t real!! Not to mention the horrific damage they can inflict upon the vegetables with their tireless scratching.
I still like the way chickens look, though, and I am a sucker for chicken shaped things (I have chicken shaped egg cups that I find very satisfying to set upon the table), so when I saw this tea cozy I was thrilled. Never mind that it is hard to find a proper tea cozy anywhere these days, this is a cozy with some serious personality. And when I am away from the garden, I still have a chicken at the breakfast table — and this one is very well behaved.

Lebanese Coffee

Where on the planet Earth could I have possibly found such a thing? Why, in Abu Dhabi! A few years back, some dear friends of mine moved from Istanbul to Abu Dhabi. I saw them again on their visits back to Turkey, but we always talked about me and the boys going there (Ali doesn’t leave the garden). It was just talk for a long time, until one day Tuba and I were talking and suddenly it was time; I found myself booking actual tickets to visit her and her family. Her daughter, Ella, is Baki’s very first friend and in spite of her being almost 3 years older than him, they remain fast friends. And Ted is a fellow gardener. Plus, Tuba and Ted love to eat and cook (and do both well), which makes them excellent company.
We had a wonderful time there, catching up on the chats and coffees that we had come to miss and in the mean time taking in a bit of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In the glittering malls, it was easy to forget where in the world we were. Of course, in a mall you expect to see the same stores that you recognize from every other mall you’ve ever been to, but in the Dubai Mall there were stores from so many different countries that it was like the whole world was there. I was reminded of Hong Kong, where it sometimes felt that you could traverse the entire city by going from one mall to another, and your feet would never touch the ground.
The evening that Tuba and I spent in downtown Abu Dhabi, then, was an interesting change. After an exhilarating romp through Lulu Supermarket (I love to visit markets and supermarkets when I travel), she took me to a Lebanese restaurant among dated looking high rise buildings. The place was doing a roaring business,and no wonder — the food was great. Afterwards, we went next door to buy coffee at the Lebanese Roasters. Tuba marched me straight to the back of the store where a row of coffee grinders was rattling away and the rich smell of the coffee filled the air. It is lovely, dark coffee, roasted until it is just this side of black. And in the store, with its white paneled ceilings and fluorescent lights that looked like standard issue 70s office building decor, its wooden drawers with glass window filled with nuts, the steel shelves stacked tightly with tea and the linoleum underfoot, I felt as if my feet were touching the ground at last.

Banana Pink Jumbo

There is always something from the garden in the kitchen and this being November and all, naturally there is a squash. I got the seeds for this squash, named Banana Pink Jumbo from Territorial Seeds the year before last, but the seedlings came to a bad end last year. This year though, we had two plants that flourished at the feet of some tomatoes and today I baked one in order to make a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. (I guess most pumpkin pies in the US aren’t made of pumpkins at all; I read somewhere that Libby’s canned pumpkin is made of butternut squash.)
The minute I cut the Banana open, I could smell its kinship to melons. There was such a sweet, fresh smell to it, and the raw flesh was lovely, crunchy, and just slightly sweet. I set aside a wedge of it to make a pumpkin cake that I read about at Rachel Eats (it’s cooling right now and I can’t wait to have it with tea tomorrow morning).
And that’s what’s happening in the kitchen right now. I hope that everyone out there who will be celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday has a good one, with plenty of leftovers for sandwiches the next day.

If you liked peeking into my kitchen, you ought to check out some of the other blogging kitchens out there. Celia at <a href=”http://figjamandlimecordial.com/in-my-kitchen/”>Fig Jam and Lime Cordial</a> has a list of them all!

In My Kitchen, October 2012

The clouds had been gathering all day, but when the first fat raindrops began to fall, it felt like a surprise. Within about five minutes, the rain was coming down in sheets; Kaya and I were making dinner in the kitchen, and I wasn’t sure how we were going to get it to the house without getting soaked. (Umbrella to the rescue.)
When we woke up this morning, the air felt as if it had been scrubbed clean. It was the first morning that had the air of an autumn day, redolent with the smells of damp leaves and soaked earth. Everything seemed clearer and brighter, and the kitchen seemed particularly inviting. So, without further ado, I offer the first glimpse of the kitchen this fall. (To see what’s happening in the mother lode of kitchen glimpses, head over to Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.)
In my kitchen…

…there is the distinct feeling that the maximillian sunflowers are about to stage a world takeover. They are great because they explode into bloom at the very tail end of summer/beginning of fall when everything else is swooning from the heat. Another sign that fall is here at last.

… there is a bowl of popcorn from the garden. Baki and I planted some Dakota Black popping corn and we harvested it a few weeks ago from skeletal, dried out plants. Out of the blue, Baki asked for popcorn this morning right after we ate breakfast, so we tried it out. After much energetic popping, I am pleased to report that it is unbelievably tasty — I swear, it tastes buttery! I like, too, how it looks burnt, but it’s just the hulls and kernels from the corn.

… there are quince, ready to be eaten. These might look green and unappetizing, but they are sweet and fragrant once you get them out of their fuzzy peels. Ali picked them from the tree, which was bent almost double under the weight of the fruit, and we’ve eaten plenty of them already. I will be making quince jam this week, and will post the recipe. It’s my mother-in-law’s no-fail easy-peasy pressure-cooker quince jam.

So these sights, smells and flavors of fall have gotten me well and fully appraised of the change of seasons. Summer is but a sweaty memory. I’m digging out the wellies and the sweaters. Hooray for fall!

In My Kitchen, August 2012

I’ve been an enthusiastic follower of the In My Kitchen series that Celia, over at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial does for a while, so I thought I’d have a go. (My kitchen is outdoors, hence the lack of walls.)

This month in my kitchen there is:

A bottle of chili oil

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This is an easy thing that I just learned how to do from the inimitable Fuchsia Dunlop’s cookbook, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province. I’ve had the book for a while, but never tried this. When I found some chili peppers from last year in a paper bag, I knew it was time.

This is how you do it:

Ingredients:

1 cup dried chili flakes, seeds and all (If you grind your own in a food processor, do it in the open air so you don’t breathe in the spicy dust!)

2 1/4 cups neutral oil (She uses peanut, but I can’t get that so I used canola, to good effect.)

1. Heat the oil to 350 F/177 C. (This cooks the oil, so it tastes better.)

2. Let the oil cool until it reaches 225-250 F/107-121 C (This is when having a candy thermometer is fun.)

3. Add the chili flakes and let it settle for a few hours. Then it is ready to go. It will take on a deadly red hue and be lovely and spicy. (I put a spoon in the jar, poured in the hot oil, and then added the chilis. I never removed the spoon again because it was so satisfying to always find it there when I need it. And I dip into my chili oil at every chance I get!)

There is a loose bundle of lemongrass knots:

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Every year, our friends at Sundance Camp host an international juggling festival where they have stalls for people to sell things. Ali likes to make lavender bags, little muslin bags filled with lavender from our garden, to sell there. This year, we’ve got loads of lemongrass, and Ali just keeps planting more, so I have been tying blades of lemongrass into little bundles to sell as lemongrass tea. It’s a nice job for the heat of the day, and they are very handy — you just drop one in your cup and add hot water. A minute or two later, a lovely cup of tea is ready.

And there is a cup of flowers from the garden:

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I spend most of my time tending the vegetables, but we do grow a lot of flowers as well. I never get around to cutting them, but my mother always does, and unlike me she can also arrange them nicely so that they look just right. She is leaving this Sunday for NYC, and I will miss having her here. Actually, we all will. She fits into our life here so easily, and while she is here it is hard to imagine how we managed. Luckily, she plans to be back soon, at the end of October. Thanks for all the help and support, mom! I hope you had as much fun being together as we did.

(Baki is licking brownie batter out of a pot back there. They were brown butter brownies, a recipe my mom found online at Bon Appetit. The brownies were very tasty, you might even say evil, and that recipe can be found here.)

And those are a few things in my kitchen. Thanks for joining me!