Market day – Thursday


A friend of mine recently commented that although I am living in both the city and the garden, our city life is underrepresented in these posts. Of course, I began writing here when I was only living in the garden, and it has remained my focus but I see now that it is quite true that as a portrait of our daily lives, this blog is fairly unbalanced. This month is as good a chance as any to rectify that, and I wanted to start out by profiling one of the weekly markets that I visit.

I would love to say that we grow all of our own food but sadly that is not the case (although it is our objective). For the time being, then, I visit the weekly vegetable markets around town to fill in the gaps. When Ali joined me in China way back in 2001, he was surprised that there was a daily vegetable market outside the university gates. It ran from about 5 to 730, and was frequented mostly by the neighborhood retirees. I used to go out and do Tai Chi at 530 with a group of retired teachers, and then we would all head out the gate to peruse the market. The predawn hours in Harbin were the domain of the elderly, lining up to buy milk from a man on a tractor, or haggling with the doufu-sheet man, selling his wares off the back of a motorcycle. In the winter months, vegetables were displayed under thick cotton quits to keep them from freezing, or else inside styrofoam coolers.

When I entered the Thursday market in our old neighborhood of Sirinyali, I was struck by how fresh and lively everything looked. Here in Antalya, it is not the cold that zaps produce, but the heat. All summer long, the veg look beleaguered and parched. Now, with a few good rain storms under our belts and temperatures barely lifting out of the 80s, there seems to be a collective sigh of relief and feeling of weightlessness. And there is so much great veg to be had!

I apologise for the photos — I know they aren’t great. I was using my phone, and if you can believe it the memory was all used up (I think I had better check and see if Kaya and Baki have been taking large sets of photos…) but I get to this market so rarely, I thought this might be better than nothing. I’ll take the real camera next time.

At the entrance to the market, there is an area where people come to sell stuff from their gardens. It is far less formal than the market itself, which is neatly lined up on tables along the side of the road, but I like shopping here better because it is all local and in season and from gardens as opposed to the stuff from the wholesalers.


Under the olive trees, there is milk for sale, home made butter and cheese, eggs and nuts as well as the usual market offerings. The white corn in the photo above is an unusual sight — I usually only see yellow in the markets. There are usually folks selling offbeat finds like fresh pecans, or medlars, and in the spring you might come across wild asparagus or morels. I’ll visit a few more local markets in the coming weeks so that you can see how they differ from neighborhood to neighborhood.


Morning ramble

Ali and I sat  on the porch for a moment this morning, enjoying the cool of the morning. “We would be watering now,” he said. I can’t recall if he bothered trying not sounding smug. After watering our potted plants and the greenhouse this morning, I went down to the bottom terrace of the garden to pick some tomatoes that had ripened, weeding as I went. I have been hopping from foot to foot waiting for a bowlful of tomatoes (as opposed to a handful).

On the way down, I stopped to say good morning to the chicks, out for their morning scratch-around (we let the chicks out in the morning because the bigs stay in the coop all morning and come out in the afternoon after they have laid). Yes, we finally have some chicks. I kept thinking and thinking that the hens were broody but they never were, and finally after I had given up all hope one of them sat down for three weeks and the result is 8 chicks, hatched in the dead of summer.


I got my tomatoes (a heavy bowlful — yay!), as well as a few sprigs of basil, and headed back up to the kitchen. On the way up, I noticed that the beans are flowering (and beaning) again. This is Trionfo Violetto, a purple pole bean.


And I took a peek under the eggplant leaves and was encouraged by what I saw.


My mother and I are in the midst of a mild polenta obsession, so I thought we could have some polenta and eggs for breakfast. I had some leftover corn stock and my mom had brought a little chunk of Pecorino Romano with her from her fridge, so this is what we ate:


To follow suit, this is what I did:

Polenta and Eggs with Tomato:

1 cup polenta

2 cups stock (or water)

1/2 cup milk

pinch of salt

1/4 cup grated cheese

poached eggs

Bring the liquids to a boil and pour in the polenta while whisking. Cook slowly, whisking to avoid lumps, for about 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir in grated cheese and spoon a generous amount into a bowl.

Add a cut up tomato, a poached egg, some basil, and a generous drizzle of olive oil.

That’s a Brandywine tomato, which I am growing for the first time this year. I know, Brandywines are Heirloom Tomatoes 101, but for some reason I never tried them. Well, they are firmly on the roster now. Now I see what all the fuss was about.

Ali was dismayed to catch my photographing his breakfast; it nearly put him off eating it. He relented, though — and then announced that he was getting a little tired of polenta.

On to the next thing…

What’s up

A little while back, the amazing Celi at the Kitchen’s Garden wrote this post about what’s what in her garden. And in her typically generous manner, she invited us to show her what we her readers are up to.
It’s not all that grand and I shot these with my iPod because I hadn’t found my camera yet (but I found it today, at a baby’s birthday party, while rummaging in the deepest recesses of my bag for a diaper) but even so, here’s what’s coming up round us. We are on a mountainside, so our garden is on a steep slope that is terraced (not our doing), and each terrace has a (not very poetic) name.

That’s the strawberry patch in the foreground with the pea trellis behind it. (This is the cucurbit terrace because I grew cucumbers and squash here the first year we were here.) As you can see, if you are familiar with the trellis, there’s a lot more going on there now.

I’m especially excited about the purple ones. They’re snow peas. The others are shelling peas, a southern variety called Wando that is apparently on the heat resistant side.

Those are the first tomatoes I planted out, and the early ones are fruiting, though hard as rocks and quite resolutely green. This is what we call the “vegetable bed terrace” because there are seven veg beds on it (only one raised bed) with a lotus pond in the middle. It’s a bit wild and wooly because of all the rain we’ve been having.

This is Baki’s garden. It’s on the keyhole bed terrace, so called because there are three round beds there with another lotus pond in the middle. Right now the keyhole beds are pretty empty because I was letting a few things set seed and I just pulled them up. In Baki’s garden, we planted cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, with some marigolds (for color and bugs) and also something called fur balls. We’re not sure what those are, but Baki liked the sound of them.

Down at the bottom of the garden on the old water tank terrace there’s a raised bed full of onions and these two: a mixed bag of greens and roots and behind that a tomato bed. That’s a red plastic mulch that I was curious to try. Ali is vehemently opposed, so I waited until he was in Istanbul to lay it down (though I told him I would, so it wasn’t subterfuge). That way, he needn’t feel any sense of complicity. Anyway, the red mulch is supposed to increase tomato yields as well as suppressing weeds and retaining moisture. Worth a try, I thought, in the spirit of inquiry.

That’s one of the artichoke patches (there are three at the moment). Artichokes are one of the few vegetable plants that Ali favors, largely because they are perennials. If you are also interested in perennials, there’s a great book called Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier that’ll get you all worked up.

This is the first of three corn beds that I planted. This one is Country Gentleman sweet corn and that’s the asparagus gone crazy behind it. On the right side is the Maxmillian sunflower hedge. They are real survivors, those guys. It’s a perennial sunflower that blooms at the end of summer.

Our potatoes are growing on the site of our compost heap from two years ago. It’s a little shady, but they seem happy enough.
And that’s a look at our vegetables! When there’s more going on in the lotus ponds, I’ll take some pictures. At the moment, there are mostly frogs in the ponds now, and this may be why we’ve had a sudden explosion in the snake population in the garden. Ali and I have seen vipers slithering off in the vicinity of the ponds, and Baki encountered a garden snake on the stairs. And so I leave you with this deeply enjoyable poem by Emily Dickenson full of surprising pleasures (“unbraiding” just kills me, it’s so deft). It sums up the shivery thrill of our encounters.

The Snake

A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides;
You may have met him,—did you not,
His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb
A spotted shaft is seen;
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn.
Yet when a child, and barefoot,
I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the sun,–
When, stooping to secure it,
It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.

Spinach from top to bottom

Our summers are relentlessly hot and dry, so I adore spring. We still have enough rain not to do much watering at all, and the temperature is mild enough for all the plants to be quite relaxed and cheery. It’s the season that makes me feel like gardener of the year because everything just won’t stop growing. (Then it all grinds to a halt in the dead of summer and I feel like plant kryptonite.)
After some good showers last week, there was a growth spurt in the garden and the spinach in particular seemed to have ballooned. Thus, I ended up with a bucket of spinach.
The leaves I cooked in the water left on the leaves after washing, in a big pot. I squeezed the water out and made them into balls because my mother taught me that you can never go amiss by having cooked spinach at hand.

That left the bottoms. This is a part of the plant that Turkish cuisine treats quite lovingly. It is part of the great category of dishes known as olive oil dishes. I am always hesitant to wander into this territory, as I have a very capable cook as a mother in law, and an unreservedly critical audience in my husband, but with the help of both of them and a good friend, I was able to brave it.
So for anyone out there with spinach to consume, here’s something you can do with all those tail ends once you’ve dispensed with the leafy bits.

Wash them well because all the dirt hangs out in these regions:

Then comes a crucial step. You’ve got to dry them really well. You can put them in a salad spinner or shake them out, or even towel dry them, but get the water off those ends! My mother in law even recommended squeezing them out.

Put a goodly amount of olive oil in a pot or pan with a lid (no less than 3 T, I’d say) and in it, gently cook a chopped onion until it is soft but not browned. (I happened to have pulled up a carrot, so I added that too.)

Add the spinach ends and stir. Cover it to let it steam a bit in its own moisture, but keep lifting the lid to give it a stir once in a while. Stems are sturdy things, so it will take about ten minutes for them to cook properly.

My friend Meltem gave me this sterling piece of advice:
“The spinach should glisten with the olive oil.”
This, I think, illustrates perfectly how dry everything ought to be kept, and also that it won’t do to be stingy with the oil. (Which can also be added after cooking, and some would say it must be.)

My husband’s (curtly delivered) advice, “lemon juice,” is equally instructive: squeeze a bit of lemon over the top before serving, for a sparkly flavor.

The result is a lovely, simple dish that tastes like the very essence of the vegetable, which, I suppose, it is.


What’s growing

A friend asked me on the phone what we’re eating from the garden lately, so I was moved to take few snaps while I was out weeding and manuring yesterday.
One of the most productive beds at the moment is this keyhole bed with salad material on one side and then brassicas (mostly bok choy with some nascent broccoli) interspersed with peas:

There’s a fennel plant that has overwintered and is sending up nice fat bulbs, seen here with some savoy cabbages that are sloowly heading (there’s some arugula in there too)

And this is a new favorite of mine, and a great fan of the cooler months, “confetti” coriander. It actually dares pretty well in warmer weather too. Isn’t it unusual looking?

Sadly, not everyone thrives in winter; our ground cherry is a shadow of its former self, and will need to be cut way back:

As you can see, the sunny weather did not hold. Still, the days have not been without their cozy moments:

Now it’s off to market day in Kemer; we’re celebrating the new year again tonight, with Jai, the vegetarian new year specialty, and other treats. Details will follow!