In My Kitchen (August and) September 2013

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.


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.


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.


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.


And finally, in my kitchen there are jujubes.


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.

summer reading

ImageI have been reading a lot of posts lately about summer’s end. It doesn’t feel much like summer is ending here, and in truth the heat will not abate until late September, but we may have rain before then, which will mark a great shift.
Summer here is hot and bone dry, and all thoughts are of water — water for the plants, water for the chickens, water for the cat and the dog and water for us. When water falls from the sky again, we let these thoughts go, slowly at first and then abandon them for other concerns. Rain boots will be dusted off, the earth will beckon us to dig again, and we will marvel at how the rain waters everything at the same moment. What a generous gift.

We are still a ways off from that day, though, and its unforgettable smell of the parched earth drinking at last. Until then, we are keeping everyone watered and endeavoring to keep the boys entertained. Baki, newly back from what seems to have been a hectic and wildly enjoyable month away, is bursting with energy that needs to be burned off. Luckily, the sea is about 15 minutes away by car, so we gather bottles of water to drink and cups and big yogurt tubs to play with, and trundle down to Cirali to spend some time letting our thoughts drift out to sea. The boys have a lovely time, burying each other in the pebbly sand and splashing in the water.

I suppose that this is where I am meant to do that Summer Reading that we always hear about. I read all year round, naturally, but somehow Summer Reading is a separate entity in my mind. There are summers that are defined by what I read (like the summer that I spent buried in the five books of Game of Thrones) and there are summers where one book just leads to another. I sometimes prepare for summer, stockpiling books, and other times, like now, the books drift in and I immerse myself.


I’ve read plenty this summer, though never at the beach — I read in the heat of the day when it is too hot to go out to the garden, even with a hat on, or late at night after my chores are done and everyone is asleep. And I wanted to share three books with you. I thought of writing what I thought of them, but I think I’ll just type out the opening passage of each book and let them speak for themselves. Well mostly, anyway!

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time bring is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.
A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be. As for me, right now I am sitting in a French maid cafe in Akiba
Electricity Town, listening to a sad chanson that is playing sometime in your past, which is also my present, writing this and wondering about you in my future. And if you’re reading this, then maybe by now you’re wondering about me, too.
[Ruth Ozeki is one of my all time favorite writers. Her books are cozy like tea and toast.]

City of Bohane by Kevin Barry

Whatever’s wrong with us is coming off that river. No argument: the taint of badness on the city’s air is a taint off that river. This is the Bohane river we’re talking about. A black water surge, malevolent, it roars in off the Big Nothin’ wastes and the city was spawned by it and was named for it: city of Bohane.
[Kevin Barry’s writing is as lean and muscular as a snake. He’s got a collection of short stories being released in the US in the fall, called Dark Lies the Island, that is dynamite. Really. Smoke comes out of my ears when I read them.]

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell

Before our first encounter with the bear, I had already finished building the house, or nearly so.
In the hasty days that followed, I feared we moved in too fast and too early, the house’s furnishings still incomplete, the doors not all right-hinged – and in response to my worries my wife said that was no trouble, that she could quickly finish what I had mostly made.
Beneath the unscrolling story of new sun and stars and then-lonely moon, she began to sing some new possessions into the interior of our house, and between the lake and the woods I heard her songs become something stronger than ever before.
[I find this book’s tale difficult because it is a story with an ugly streak, but the writing is so beautiful, I keep coming back to it.]

My dad agreed with the conventional wisdom about judging books by their covers, but he always said that if a book couldn’t grab you in some way by the time you turned the first page, it wasn’t doing something right. (Actually, he put an enormous stake on first sentences, as a writer.) Did any of these grab you?

Bye bye, baby

A couple of days ago, Kaya woke early, at about 6. I had things to do, so I carried him on my back in the baby carrier while I did some chores and got breakfast together. He fell back asleep, lulled by the constant movement and by being so close (he’s going through a clingy phase lately). I put him back down on the bed and he slept until close to 9, which is probably unprecedented.
Baki woke at around 8, rubbing his eyes, and my mom came up the hill shortly afterwards. She couldn’t believe how quiet it was – she had even heard the sound her phone makes when she took a photo on her way up. “Kaya must be the noisy one,” she said.
Today, we all got in the car and took my mom and Baki to the airport; Baki is going to day camp in New York for a month, and he’s staying with Grandma. We had to get up early to make it on time, but the boys were still thrilled to be at the airport – all of those big, flat spaces just call out to them, “Run amok on our smooth even surfaces!” Luckily, they also found time for staying still.

It wasn’t long before it was time to go and Ali, Kaya and I stood at the bottom of the escalator watching them go up. Ali and I smiled widely and waved, even as we silently wondered what on earth we were thinking. And Kaya called out to Baki, disliking the fact that he was not following him, as he so enjoys.

We came straight back to the garden and busied ourselves with watering, playing with Kaya, and all the usual daily business. But I kept stopping and noticing how very quiet it was. Kaya, although he spent a fair amount of time calling for Baki today, is not the noisy one at all. It’s the combination of the two of them, like baking soda and vinegar, that creates their wild froth of laughter, bargaining, bickering and wailing.
Happy trails, Baki – we miss you!

Fill-in-the-blank cake


When we first moved down here, we brought along with us two scraggly little lavender plants. They were so small and insignificant that we planted them together, side by side, in front of the house. Four years later, they have cascaded down the hill, a formidable hedge of silver and purple. Ali doesn’t like to make wide paths, and with the lavender asserting itself in spite of being cut back rather severely, we now have to lean into it in order to walk down the path into the garden. This results in heady perfume, and finally my mother came to the only possible conclusion — we had to make a lavender cake.

I was going through a moment of butter fatigue, so we found an olive oil cake recipe on Saveur magazine’s website and adapted it to our needs. I used a souffle dish with a ceramic cup in the middle, but a bundt pan would also be fine.

Fill-in-the-blank cake

You will need:

butter and  flour for cake pan

3 c. flour

4 eggs

3/4 c olive oil

2/3 c milk

1 T baking powder

2 T lavender, stemmed and finely chopped

Heat your oven to 325 F. Butter and flour your cake pan. If you are using a cup, butter the outside of that as well.

Beat the eggs and sugar until pale yellow, about 1 minute. Add the flour, oil, milk, and lavender and stir to mix. Add the baking powder and mix again.

Pour into your pan, with a finger on the cup to keep it from shifting (and use a heavy cup — I tried with a stainless steel one and it wandered during the baking).

Bake about 40 minutes.

It’s a lovely cake that really tastes like lavender through and through. It’s a bit on the dry side, not a gooey thing, so it’s just right with a nice cup of tea.

I call it fill in the blank cake because it converts very handily into any kind of cake you like. I will be posting some variations in weeks to come, in which I have used this cake to recycle some by-products of making beverages!


Damla enjoys a cool evening, feline style — on a nice hot rock.

The week started off full of promise and ticked merrily along. We went marketing on Monday and I found some nice green Summer apples (or at least that’s what they’re called here). On Tuesday I juiced them with the steam juicer, thinking I would make them into jelly the following day, but I had forgotten that Kaya had a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday, so the apple juice sat around in cola bottles until Thursday while we made a trip into Antalya. When I opened them on Friday, I found that things had gotten pretty lively and the apple juice was more a bubbly cider. Never mind. I made it into jelly anyway. I use apple jelly to thicken jam made with fruits not high in pectin, like sour cherries, or to make rose jam. I used up the last of my stock of apple jelly making sour cherry jam a few weeks back, so it was high time I replaced it. It’s simple to make — you just take equal weights of juice and sugar, add the juice of one lemon, and bring it up to 104.5 degrees Centigrade, the setting point for jams. Then you can bottle it in clean jars and you are ready when a basket of rose petals, pears, or cherries comes your way. The juice made perfectly good jelly, so if there is anyone out there with fermented juice on their hands, fear not — it sets just fine.

I was feeling quite pleased with myself for this and other industrious tasks, and then came yesterday. I am not sure what it was, because we have certainly had hotter days (I think the temperatures really only got up to 37 C/98 F), but I was completely steamrollered by the heat. It just seemed to go right through me. Usually, I don’t mind cooking in the heat of the day because it’s hot anyway, and I have to get dinner ready in the afternoon because I work in the garden after 6, but even the most rudimentary kitchen work was beyond me. Laundry hung on the line, forgotten. I put Kaya down for a nap and fell fast asleep myself. I woke up disoriented and stupified.

Finally the heat lifted, as it always does, when the sun slid behind the hills at 6 and gradually I began to fill a bit more alive. My mother and I had prepared a turkey pot pie for dinner (I somehow managed to make and roll a pie crust, which on this day was a major achievement). Guilty for having achieved nothing in the garden, I made apple dumplings for dessert.

The boys were also feeling sparkier in the evening, and they got interested in a hole Ali was digging to plant a palm tree. It turns out that Kaya finds the hole digging process fascinating, and Baki was quick to spot a wriggling worm.