Have your roses and drink them too

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I was talking to my mother as I weighed the sugar to add to the rose sherbet. We will be visiting her in NY in a month, so there always seems to be plenty to talk about.
“Okay,” I said, “the sugar is weighed and I can add it with the water.”
“Are you going to taste it??”
“Oh wait a second, mom, I can’t find the camera. Maybe I left it in the truck…”
I got Kaya and went out to the truck, but no camera.
“Aren’t you going to taste it now? Oh, we’ll have to serve it in tulip-shaped tea glasses.”
“Sorry, can’t do it now. I have to take pictures.”
(The camera appears to have been left behind in the garden, but I did manage to find the iPod.)
After week one, with the rose petals steeping in lemon juice, I ended up with about two cups of ruby juice, redolently rosy. I strained it into a ceramic pot and added half a kilo of sugar. Then it sat for another week.
It was a bit warm here, so I put the liquid in the fridge once in a while. Probably nothing would have happened if I hadn’t, though.
So now it was time to add yet more sugar:

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A liter of water also went in, and after much stirring I managed to get it all to dissolve. Then, the moment my mother had been waiting for. Mixed with cold water, the sherbet became pale pink. Its flavor was sweet of course, but the lemon juice gave it a pleasant acidity. I think the proportion of syrup to water is quite important- too much syrup, and it would be too sweet.
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The rose flavor literally bloomed in my mouth as I drank it. Have you ever smelled a rose and wished you could put it in your mouth so the smell could fill your head? Well, get out your glass jars and dig out the lemon squeezer; this is a way to smell your roses long after the last bloom has faded.

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Roses and a recipe

Spring is wonderful because it is full of flowers that are brave enough to push up and bare their faces to the chilly days. They dare us to forget the dark winter months, and how could we not in the company of daffodils? Some flowers, though, wait until the season is well underway, even turning slightly sultry. When I see roses, I know that things have finally started to heat up and Summer is on its way.Image

Then I begin to panic at the number of seedlings still in the greenhouse, and I wonder how much longer I can grow lettuce without it wanting to bolt immediately.

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We have a more or less year-round gardening season, because our winters are quite mild. The summers, however, are relentlessly hot and dry, so they are the real challenge. There are many plants that will just grind to a halt when it gets much over 90 F, and lettuce won’t even germinate once the soil gets too warm.

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Now that we have daytime temperatures in the 80s, it feels like the clock is ticking. In a couple of months, we’ll be hoping for anything under 100! These days are a bit of a scramble.
When we’re very busy in the garden, I like to make food I don’t have to think much about. Curried Beef and Tomato Noodles is a great favorite of Baki and Ali’s, and it’s a great way to stretch a small amount of meat (as I discovered when it turned out I had one small steak to feed three people). My mom used to make it all the time, and I’m pretty sure this is more or less how she taught me to do it.
You need:
Noodles- wheat flour noodles, egg or not. (if you’re in the Pacific NW, you can get my family’s all-time favorite, Rose Brand noodles)
Neutral tasting oil for frying
Soy sauce
A steak
A bunch of green onions
1 cup chopped tomatoes (I used canned because tomatoes are meaningless at this time of year)
1 to 2 T curry powder (I like Sun Brand)

Here’s what you do:
1. Put the steak in the freezer.
2. Cook the noodles. If you can do this in advance, it helps- a few hours us fine, and overnight works too. Rice and noodles fry better when they’re not all hot and starchy.
3. Stir fry the noodles in batches in a big hot wok. To do this, get the wok hot and add about 2 T oil. Put in a third of the noodles and stir to coat in the oil. Let the noodles sit a while, so they get a bit browned. Stir them up again and then let them sit. Repeat a few times, then add about 1T soy sauce and stir it in for color. Put the noodles in a big bowl as you finish cooking them.
4. Get your steak out of the freezer and slice it really thinly- freezing it first makes this easy. Then toss it with the curry powder.
5. Chop the green onion into 1/2 in slices, greens and whites. Chop up your tomatoes too.
6. You are about ten minutes from done now. Get that wok hot again and add 1T oil. Stir fry the onions and add them to the noodles.
7. Put 1/3 of the seasoned meat in the wok and cook. Don’t forget to let it sit a little to brown it. Add to the bowl and repeat with the rest of the meat, adding oil as necessary.
8. By now the wok is probably a bit crusty. So tip in the tomatoes and stir them around to get all the bits off the wok. Let the tomatoes cook until they are saucy, then tip the whole big bowl of noodles and meat and onions and all back into the wok. Stir it all up and you’re ready to eat.

These instructions may be a bit verbose, but it’s easy and it goes fast (frying the noodles is the longest bit).

Kaya made a lunge for one of my noodles at the table, so I gave it to him and he frantically opened and closed his hands when he had finished. Baki took more than he could eat, so I let Kaya have his bowl. When he was done meticulously picking every noodle out, he stuck his whole face in.

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Another noodle fan in the family.

New neighbor

SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/siobhanwilde/Documents/cigdem.doc

Finding a new apartment is one of my least favorite things to do. It just brings back visions of all of those horrible, horrible tiny smelly flats that I would find myself standing in, with a real estate agent intoning that this was the last apartment available on the planet Earth, so I had to make my mind up in the next five minutes. Antalya, being a complete unknown for both Ali and myself, was no better. We spent one soul-killing day looking at depressing places and it was enough to make me wonder if we should just forget about the whole thing and let Baki’s education go down the drain. Was it really so important that he go to a good school right away?

 

Then Ali remembered to call in his cousin, Cigdem, who moved to Antalya after she retired a while back. Within the day, she had found us a place to look at just a few blocks away from where she lives. I drove in to see it with Kaya, and it was such a far cry from the places we’d seen, I never looked back. We moved in on the first day of school, September 12 and Cigdem became out neighbor.

 

Since then, we see Cigdem often, and she has been an invaluable source of information and support. Hooray for extended family!

 

The Friday before last, after Baki had gone to school, Cigdem called. “We’re making helva. Come over and I’ll teach you.” She and a friend were making a wish, she explained, and they had to make helva to seal the deal. This was flour helva we were talking about. As far as I know, flour helva and semolina helva are kitchen work, while the sesame helva is left to the professionals. Still, flour helva is nothing to be sneezed at. I don’t know anyone who would turn it down, not even Ali, and he is certifiably lacking a sweet tooth. Flour helva is pure evil, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That is to say, it is comfort food that is horribly bad for you.

 

Cigdem and her friend have on occasion, they told me, appealed to Aceleci Baci. You can ask him for favors, they said, if you promise to make him helva when they are granted. The helva can also be made up front, as they were doing, in which case, for good measure, you could think about your request while stirring. This makes flour helva a good match for the task of concentrated wishing, as there is plenty of stirring involved.

 

Cigdem’s recipe is simplicity itself:

 

UN HELVASI

1 part sugar

2 parts flour

½ part olive oil

½ part butter

 

The oil and butter went straight into the pan with the flour. Then the stirring began – in order for the helva to taste the way it ought to, the flour needs to be toasted in the fat until it is a nice biscuity brown. Don’t stop stirring, or it will scorch. The smell is a tip off – when it has a lovely nutty smell and is the color of a roasted peanut, you’re there. We took turns. Then Cigdem poured off about a third of the sugar and replaced it with water. She stirred it to make a sugar slurry and poured that into the flour. Stirring briskly to mix it all evenly, she then added the remaining dry sugar “to pull it together,” she said, stirring all the while. A few more turns of the spoon to melt the sugar, and the helva was ready. Cigdem took soup spoons and pressed the helva between them one spoonful at a time to make little egg shaped morsels. Then we sat for Turkish coffee and helva.

 

(Ali contends that without pine nuts, un helvasi is only half the pleasure it ought to be. If you use them, toast them first.)

 

It’s a pretty sweet deal (in all senses of the word) that you get to make a wish and eat the helva yourself. And as it turned out, I had a wish of my own. After years of absolute freedom, Baki was having a little trouble adjusting to life in the classroom. He came home every night with piles of homework, mostly due to the fact that, according to the terse notes that I received from his teacher, he was not doing any work at all in class. In addition, he was demonstrating his lack of classroom experience by leaving the room through the window. In short, he was behaving as if he had been raised by wolves. Homework sessions were torturous, and were driving me to madness. The minute that he sat down in at the table, Baki was suddenly bone tired, or starving hungry, or his back was itching. It was honestly the first time since Baki was born that I regretted becoming a mother. So I made a silent wish for Baki to settle down just a little and apply himself ever so slightly to his work.

 

On the following Monday, Ali and I went in to talk to Baki’s teacher and the guidance counselor at his school. I went feeling pretty defensive and expecting the worst, but it was not a bad meeting at all. His teacher could see that Baki wasn’t misbehaving because he was an animal. As we discussed the matter, it became clear that Baki just didn’t have the patience to sit and do the work, and we would have to slowly acclimate him to it. Last week, I changed my homework tactics and let him take more breaks so he wouldn’t burn out so fast. The homework still took ages, but while he was working he was far more focused.

 

Then on Friday he came home and he had done so much of his classwork that he barely had any homework at all. Thank you, Aceleci Baci! So on Sunday night when we got back to Antalya from a weekend in the garden, I made a small batch of un helvasi. As I was breastfeeding in the bedroom, I heard Ali offer Baki a piece. Baki was hesitant until Ali explained that it was dessert. “Oh…” said Baki. Silence. “This stuff is awesome!” he said. Another fan is born.