A Turkish Food Primer: Mezeler

On our return Stateside we’ve been cooking all our meals from scratch – partially because we don’t have a lot of money right now, we’re sick of eating out at restaurants, and we wanted to try to make some of the dishes that we’ve eaten on this trip. We’ve been reflecting a lot on Turkish food in particular because generally it doesn’t require any crazy ingredients or specialized equipment. So for the next few posts we’ll share what we observed about food while we were in Turkey and present some recipes.

One aspect of Turkish food that I fell in love with is the meze (plural: mezeler). Mezeler consist of small plates of food, similar to tapas, that are eaten at the beginning of lunch or dinner as appetizers, or can make up the entire meal if enough dishes are ordered. At many restaurants, the waiter wheels out a cart loaded to the brim with dishes wrapped in saran wrap for you to ogle, prod and salivate over.


at Değirmen Restaurant

Continue reading

Standard

We’re back. Now what?

It’s been a little over two weeks since we returned from our trip. The first few days were a bit cloudy in our heads. Despite transitioning to the west by way of Ireland and Germany coming home was not an easy thing to do.

For weeks now this question had been running through our minds: “Now what?” But the thing is, coming back to one of the busiest cities in the world is an adventure unto itself.

Sure we have big plans and we’ll continue to write and hint at what we’re working on in the “real world” pipeline but our immediate thoughts when we landed were: What will we need to do when we get home to get it ready to live in? When can we get the cat from Tracie’s Mom? What is there to eat? And who’s around in the dog days of summer to say hello?

Once we made the epic trip from JFK, via the Airtrain and then the A train, we were spit out onto the boiling hot pavement of Fulton Park. When we’d left over five months ago the trees were barren of leaves and the ground was slick with slush and black ice. The green enveloped us and welcomed us home.

It was Thursday and the neighborhood was fairly quiet. I mean why the hell would anyone in their right minds be out in this weather? It was a sit under the shade and sip an ice cold lemonade kind of day.

We lurched down our fair streets and found our landlord and upstairs neighbor Tim and our neighbor from across the street Ray hanging out on the stoop.

We were home. Despite the adventures it was a good feeling seeing friendly familiar faces. Ray and Tim were almost as excited as us to have us back. We spent a little time catching up and headed inside to assess the afternoon’s work ahead.

Continue reading

Standard

Shades of Green

We’ve spoken with loads of people about Ireland and they all say “It’s really green!” Having come off a week of traveling there and visiting with friends we can confirm the rumors are true, it is really green! Of course there is more to Ireland than shades of green, but one of the things that really drew me into the place while we were there was being surrounded by it all the time.

As you may have noticed a running theme in our travels, we really have utilized our friend and family network on this trip. Down to the wire it has been the case. We’ve moved legs of the trip around, changed direction, got new ideas about things to do, and really remained flexible. Well, we made friends with a lovely woman from Northern Italy named Alice on the Sustainability Study Trip in Thailand. Alice having read our post about us visiting Francesco in Italy dropped us an email saying how nice it sounded to visit with him again and it was a shame we weren’t heading to Ireland on this trip as she had space and time at the moment to show us around a bit. Well, we emailed her right back and told her we probably could make it happen since we had recently finished our time on the farm in Turkey and were looking forward to a bit of a cooler climate.

Besides not putting Ireland on our original agenda, since it was geared towards mostly Asia based traveling, Ireland had never really crossed our minds as a place to visit. Way back I have Scottish roots, but as far as I can recollect, NO Irish. Tracie even remarked on our way back to Germany, that it had never really even crossed her mind as a place to travel. The thing we both knew was whenever Ireland has come up the recollection that it is a really green place always sends visions of rolling hills, spring rivers and frolicking sheep through the head. One month after scorching hot temperatures in Turkey and a “yes, please” wasn’t so hard to come up with to Alice’s invitation to come visit.

It turns out, Alice’s boyfriend, Paul hails from a small West Cork Village and knows a crap load of fun and interesting facts about Ireland and Cork County, where they live and we spent the bulk of our time traveling around with them. You could spend weeks just in Cork County and not see or do everything that sounds even a hint interesting.

Alice and Paul know the skinny on all things about food in the area and in just a few days time, in between seeing the countryside and stuffing our faces we were starting to feel that the country was so rich it deserves another three or four visits. “Mom would love Ireland.” became the mantra. So, Mom we have to come back with you and show you around.

Early on in our travels Tracie’s sister Lannie had sent us a link from The New York Times’ website about an interesting sounding farm and restaurant called Ballymaloe, “Reclaiming Ireland’s Culinary Heritage, One Roast Lamb or Sponge Cake at a Time”

Ballymaloe and Darina Allen are to Ireland what Alice Waters is to the United States both have all but single handedly lead the movements in their respective country to save the food cultures of their countries. Alice lead the flag and brought Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food movement to the U.S. And Darina heads it up in Ireland.

We skimed over the article and said amongst ourselves, “wow, cool…too bad we don’t know anyone in Ireland…” and headed into Singapore and then Thailand. Eventually, over conversation at lunch or dinner one day, Ballymaloe came up and we asked her if she knew where it was. She said it was near her home in Ireland. We put that in the back of our mind and somehow, when Alice suggested we come visit, it came rushing back. Ballymaloe was one of the last places we visited with Alice, but one of our favorites.

It’s not the easiest place to find. Signs appear and dissapear and the Irish roads are meant to be navigated only by locals like Paul. But Paul was bringing home the bacon and Alice an Italian ex-pat and two Americans were left to find our way. When we were nearly there we took an accidental detour to explore the glimpse of what appeared to be a lighthouse and seashore rising up out of the barley fields. We head down the road to investigate.

The Beach of Ballycotton

After being mesmerized by the lovely view of the shore and lighthouse, we felt a bit lost so we pulled over and asked a young man working in a lawn near the road. He sent us in the right direction and after another stop and request for directions we were on our way.

The road down to the Ballymaloe House, restaurant and cafe took us through a long green abutted driveway, over a small cattle guard into view of the Ballymaloe House a Norman Castle from around 1450. A Castle as a restaurant and hotel overlooking a stunning view of Ireland’s rolling hills and dales. Not a bad place to spend a few days or share a nice lunch and with grumbling bellies we set off for their cafe, tucked behind a general store loaded with Irish goods and a cook’s dream of culinary tools and resources.

The menu, a chalkboard of the days specials hadn’t even been posted and we sat patiently, placing our drink order, to see what delights awaited. Just behind our table the counter struggled with a load of homemade goodies. Alice settled for a sampling of those while Tracie and I opted for more savory options. Hers was a salad of Smoked Mackerel over a bed of freshly picked field greens and mine was the most elegant rendition of a quiche, a Leek and Cheddar tart, I’ve ever had. That’s right Thomas, Ireland has kicked your ass.

My tart quivered with Irish cream, milk and the finest farmhouse cheddar with rustic perfectly braised stalks of leeks careening into every fork full. At Ballymaloe, I could tell, it’s all about the ingredients. I was delighted to see Chef Keller’s Bouchon cookbook resting in their bookstore and chuckled to myself seeing how the finest and freshest ingredients could trump even the most revered chef’s attempt at the best quiche in the world.

Tracie’s salad held forth more subtle surprises as the flakes of locally caught and smoked mackerel crumpled into the greens which were delightfully evenly dressed and seasoned simply with oil and lemon. Alice’s sampling of desserts disappeared before I had a chance to nibble so we settled for a few for ourselves.

As usual my first pick was ordered by my lovely wife so I settled for simplicity in a cake, a cupcake topped with a fresh field strawberry. Coming from the home of the cupcake battlefields brought a little bit of New York back as I sunk my teeth into a slightly drier than I’d have preferred attempt of a vanilla cupcake. Perfection in one thing a day is good enough for me and the best cupcakes back home would be there waiting to fill the void left that day. Tracie’s apricot vanilla custard was as much a quivering success at a pie as my own tart and we all left with full bellies and warm hearts as we headed down the road to check out the Ballymaloe Cookery School, Garden and Farm.

In Ireland, signs lie. Ours said that the farm and cookery school were only a two miles down the road. The road was a narrow meandering jaunt that was peppered with cars swerving to avoid us as we tried our best to stay out of there way. Tracie and Alice plodded ahead as I lingered behind snapping off a few nice looks at the farms and fields that smashed us up against the road.

By the time we reached our destination, we had taken on the dull headed worn fatigue of those that have bitten off more than they can chew and grabbed a bit to drink before we paid the small fare and headed to explore the lovely English styled gardens and impressive organic greenhouse.

Legs tired from the “two mile walk” we managed a ride from a lovely couple visiting from Los Angeles, U.S.A. And winced and held our breath as the gentleman meandered from left to right forgetting from time to time that the Irish drive on the left. As oft repeated, we said to ourselves as we drove away “My mom would really love Ireland.”

Ballymaloe House, Farm and Cookery School

 

Standard

You were always there waiting.

You could have just came out and told us …

You could have,
If you had it in you…
If you had it in you,

You would have told her you loved her.
If you had it in you…

You would have thanked her for her love.

When we left you feeling dejected.
She took you in and loved you, kept you feeling protected.

You loved her and took her in when she least expected.

You could have waited a bit longer.
Perhaps we’d have made you stronger?

Just a little longer…

We would have waited if we’d known.

We would have waited if we’d known.

If we had known you would slip away.
That the days would slip away.

We would have waited if we’d known.

Because we went away.

We would have waited if we’d known.
Postpone.

And we liked to think you were ours…

Sitting there waiting…
Watching the cars.

Acting like it’s your throne,
Our little home.

We used to think you acted like us.

You pouted and sighed at us.

You walked around and sat and stared at us.
Sometimes in mock imitation of us.

And while scratches that you’ve made in our skin will cover over and disappear.
The scratches that you rent in our hearts leave us here in tears.

You will always be there waiting.
We would have waited if we’d known.

You can’t take time back.
We can’t bring you back.

A life with distinction in character…
Our little man Dexter.

http://www.flickr.com/groups/dexterthewondercat/pool/show/

Standard

Doric, Ionic, Corinthian

One of the reasons why we picked Turkey as one of the countries on our itinerary was the fact that it has such a rich and long history. Wayne and I both have wanted to see classical ruins for a long time, and then we realized, duh, there are plenty of classical ruins to visit in Turkey! It’s super close to Greece and was part of the Roman empire.

After we ended up at Değirmen farm, we discovered that we weren’t far from Ephesus (Efes in Turkish – also the name of Turkish beer!). It was the second largest city after Rome during the Roman empire and was an important trading port. It had an enormous amphitheater, a network of aqueducts, large public baths and a beautiful library. After a few centuries though the city fell from prominence because the river gradually silted up the harbor and it became unusable. The history of Ephesus and the amount of remains that have been dug up/restored seemed quite impressive, so Wayne and I put on our tourist hats and joined the crowd.

The amphitheater. This place is ridiculously huge. And yes you can hear people murmuring on the stage rather clearly.

A view from about halfway up the steps in the amphitheater, looking out down the avenue. The port would have been farther into the distance. The sea is now about 5 kilometers away from Ephesus.

Continue reading

Standard

Two Lumps, Please

One of the things I am missing the most since we've left Turkey is çay – pronounced “chai”. Çay at its most basic is black tea, but at the same time it's so much more than that. If there's one thing I had to pick to represent Turkish culture as we've experienced it, it would be çay. 

To make çay, a double boiler consisting of two stacked pots of differing sizes is employed. The bottom larger pot is filled with water and brought to a boil. Some of the boiling water is poured into the smaller pot on top that contains the tea leaves. The heat is kept high as the tea leaves steep and the water continues to boil. After a few minutes this thickened tea liquor is poured into small tulip-shaped glasses, and the strength of the tea can be adjusted individually by adding more hot water from the bottom pot. Çay is served extra hot, always in small glasses, a ceramic dish and a spoon, with sugar cubes on the side, and never with milk.

People drink çay all the time. At five in the morning on the farm we'd be greeted by the clink-clink-clink of a spoon being stirred in a glass in our next door neighbor's kitchen. You can while away the hours on a one lira glass of çay in a cafe while playing backgammon with a friend or reading the paper, we saw scores of old men in every town passing time that way. We'd drink it with lunch, breakfast and dinner. We'd drink it at in between times, and were offered it every time we visited someone's house. We'd watch men with trays filled with those tulip-shaped glasses weave their way through the crowd in the bazaar in Istanbul, delivering it to each shop. We drank it (yes, in tulip-shaped glasses) on the twenty minute commuter ferry past the Golden Horn while watching the sun set.

To be honest I didn't get it at first. I thought, “it's so hot, why would you want to drink tea?” And the first time I tried it, I wasn't thrilled with the taste. Because it's been steeped for so long the tea ends up being rather bitter. And ran counter to everything the tea lady in Beijing told us about making tea! But çay is everywhere, you can't avoid it. Two sugarcubes seemed to mellow it out a bit, and after a while we got addicted. It's actually refreshing when it's hot out, and I always looked forward to having some çay with a meal, especially breakfast. (Have we talked about Turkish breakfast yet? Bread, cheeses, olives, honey, cucumbers tomatoes, boiled eggs? Still my favorite.) Perhaps we also got hooked on the ritual as well. We'd get mesmerized by the clinking of the spoon and watching the sugarcubes dissolve into the tea. It's a social glue, a way to kill time while waiting for the dolmuş, stretching out dinner just a bit more, an excuse to people watch, a moment of relaxation.

We ended up liking çay so much that we stuffed an entire “crystal” tea set into our backpack. Next time we'll have to figure out how to bring one of those double boilers home.

Standard

The hidden ones are best.

Ten days after arriving at Değirmen Farm, the day we are leaving in fact, we take a walk with Tarik, the farm manager, and the agricultural students. The afternoon was a hot one and we had been lounging around since lunch hoping to see something else besides the hours we had already spent toiling in the fields. And it was the hottest time of the day, too hot for our old bodies we decided. Much to our delight our hopes would bear fruit.

I had a suspicion that Tarik and the group were spending the majority of the day talking about techniques and methods used on the farm because after we came back to the staging area. We had seen Tarik and the students returning from the fields with a bag of soil, so after lunch I asked them what the bag of soil was all about.  

Turns out that the group had spent the morning learning about how Tarik tests and monitors the soil and the bag of soil was to be taken to the University for analysis. We didn’t learn how Tarik tests his soil or what the group learned as a whole that day as our Turkish and their English just weren’t that good. But it got me thinking I could at least tag along on the rest of their excursions that day and see what I could gain from watching. When I saw the group head to the fields I knew it was our last chance.

We headed out to the vegetable fields that are just beyond the staging barn (draw a map of the farm). We had been to this area of the farm a few times. We’d harvested zucchini (kabak) and cherry tomatoes there just a few days before. This field sits between another vegetable field, divided by a row of fruit and nut trees  to the left (southwest) and grapevines and fig trees to the right (northeast). The rows that we harvested were between what looked like rows of vegetables gone to seed and weeds to the left and beyond the fruit trees and other vegetable field and the fig trees to the right.

One day when we’d nearly exacerbated the supply of zucchini from the main weeded rows I noticed that there were some in the weeds. I poked my head and hands in there and retrieved a nice one and noticed that there were other plants mixed in. It wasn’t the usual organized group of vegetables that I’d become accustomed to. I saw tomatoes, eggplant and melons. I thought they were abandoned and put it in the back of my mind to ask about it when I found a chance. The Turkish beckoning of “Gel! Gel! Wine!” turned me back from further investigations that day. So, when we headed directly into that field with Tarik and his students I got excited.

Up until that moment I had started to lose faith that the farm wasn’t interested in finding alternative ways of growing vegetables and that they were primarily focused on increasing yields of their organic fields from some fairly traditional and conventional practices. While Değirmen Farm is certified organic and obviously following biological ideas and processes for raising fruits, vegetables, grains and animals,  they sow large fields of the same vegetable. They have nice organized rows and try to maintain that through tilling, hoeing and weeding. They don’t really use straw to cover the earth. They irrigate all their rows with drip hoses. The use lots and lots of heavy machinery. They use hired hands that they work very very hard and I doubt pay very much.  It is a 300 Hectare farm. I just counted 103 fruit and vegetables that they grow on the farm and that doesn’t even include the products they produce from those.

Backbreaking Work

What they grow…

In general, while in awe of their production output, I was starting to think they weren’t looking or researching into any of the methods that we had seen in use or read about in theory during our travels. I was getting judgmental and thinking that our visit was never going to yield us any new information about organic farming. I was thinking that was it was a nice reality check on what the work on a farm can really be like, it isn’t at all like anything I would want to do myself. Nor will it ever be, but at least it could use some ideas I cared about.

Then Tarik started picking tomatoes and passing them around. Not ten feet away were organized staked and tied traditional rows of cherry tomatoes, but right here in front of me was this snaking mess in four feet of weeds and somewhere in there he had plucked these delicious orbs and handed them to us. I bit into one. Sweet, sunny, tender, light snap, melting flesh. I looked at Ebru, one of the agricultural students, and said “It’s better than those…” and pointed to the regular rows. She looked at me seeming to not understand. “The same…” she said. “No, they’re different…taste again…hold on…” So, I walked over to the regular organic rows of tomatoes and found the ripest one I could find. Then I walked over to the buried treasures and found one of comparable size and color. I didn’t have a knife so I bit it in two and handed her the rest. I did the same with the other. I told her to taste them side by side. She smiled. It is better. Wow.

Heirloom Varieties of Tomatoes

Hungarian Variety

This is what I’d been looking for. Did I have to go half away around the world to find it? No, in fact I’d first seen it back in California nearly 6 years ago at Bob Cannard’s farm in Petaluma, California. Beautiful, perfect vegetables growing amidst the weeds. What a concept I’d thought back then and proceeded to spend the next six years cooking my brains out unable to find that delight in taste in the basic form again. So, finding it here in Turkey after several weeks of working in what seemed to be very conventional ways of growing organic vegetables I found my hope and delight again.

It turns out that this was Tarik’s experimental field. He was testing new seeds and new techniques, his lab to test ideas for future plans for the farm. Now we’re getting somewhere, I thought. In this field he had at least eight varieties of tomatoes, several varieties of zucchini, coriander, melons, cape gooseberries, tomatillos, and more than I could find out from my limited Turkish. Tomatillos for God Sake I said. Tarik asked me what I knew about them and what we do with them and I tried my best to explain through our little phrasebook, his dictionary, and Ebru’s limited translation ability how to make a Salsa Verde (need to write my recipe up for that eh?). He was growing something he didn’t even know how to use. That is adventurous and the kind of risk taking that could lead to good things.

We walked back to the staging barn and I took a few photos of the varieties of tomatoes and Tarik began sorting them and splitting them open to seed save. Here we had the end of our trip and it wasn’t by speaking the same language that we ultimately figured out some of the most interesting workings of Tarik and the Değirmen farm, it was simply by observing. Only by paying a little more close attention did we discover that even in Turkey farmers are looking for new and different ways of producing organic vegetables. No one thinks they have it right. No one settles for what they are doing. As a farmer, you are constantly looking at your fields, your yields and your practices to see what works.

Tarik Seed Saving

That’s why it is so surprising to me still that all around the globe farmers continue to turn to big businesses and large universities to tell them what works in their fields. Sure they have lots of money and land to conduct vast experiments and intensive research on increasing yields. But the real knowledge comes from working in the field and paying attention to what you do and how the land responds to your actions and what yields the best result for your farm. After several weeks I hadn’t seen any evidence of Tarik doing this in the fields of Değirmen farms. From the field workers’ perspective, their method was still very hard and intensive on the worker and the land. Working on the farm is backbreaking and seemed like there was no hope for change on this farm.

But after seeing that one test patch of vegetables I know Tarik is headed down a hopeful path. I can envision that there is hope even on large scale organic farms to do something different, something that can make healthier food, richer soil and open doors to new kinds of work on the farm.

Seeds drying

After our jaunt out to the fields Tarik let me walk through his seed saving storage area and showed me the variety of seeds that they saved and some of the Organic “products” they use on the vegetables to ward off pests and increase fertility. I saw a bottle that I’d seen dumped into a large water tank and sprayed on the fields earlier in the week and asked what it was. He rifled through his dictionary to no avail. He said a word that sounded sort of like “..neem?” Yes. Neem. Neem was and is used in some farm by nearly every organic farmer I’ve ever met. One farmer in Thailand chopped the leaves of the living plant and mixed it directly into the composting process to ward off pests.

Next, he handed me a cryovac’d package of pepper seeds and said “..you take, we trade…” Of course, even on a farm as large as the Değirmen farm, the farmer recognizes there are other ways, other seeds, other places and other things to learn and the best way to do that is by sharing and trading knowledge. Full circle from Jo’s field in Northern Thailand we come back to the same idea, that diversity benefits from conservation and conservation arises out of the desire and will to see another species grow and thrive and foremost to pay attention to what is going on in the world around you. Farmers like these are saving the world one seed at a time.  We look forward to adding our seeds to the world.

Standard

Map update

Since I woke up early today (finally got used to waking up at 5 am working on the farm and now we're back in a city!) I decided to update the Google map that Wayne and I had made before we even started our trip. It just has the major points we visited and there's so much more detail that we can add, but before we go crazy with it I wanted to know if anyone could make recommendations for an app/plugin/widget/whatever: we want to tie our photos on flickr and our blog posts to a map somehow but realize that it may be a rather daunting task after four months of non-geotagging going on. Any ideas?

Standard

Crazy and Wine

For the past two weeks we’ve been working on an organic farm in Kuşadası – it’s a summer resort town on the Aegean coast of Turkey close to Izmir. Yerlim farm is the largest organic farm in Turkey, and in part supplies Değirmen Restaurant which is on the grounds of the farm. We’ve been helping and observing the team with their daily tasks, like picking tomatoes and eggplant or collecting mulberries. The team consisted of small groups of mostly teenaged girls led by an older (usually male) foreman. One of the most frustrating things was the language barrier, seeing as we didn’t know any Turkish and nobody really speaks English. So it was really difficult to ask anything beyond rudimentary questions and just straight observation.

At the same time, it gave us an opportunity to learn some Turkish, more than we had been since we had mostly been spending time with English speakers. And it gave us (and the farm team) endless hours of amusement, as we often tried to pantomime what we wanted to communicate. Best of all, our names were “Crazy” and “Wine” – at least that’s how it came out whenever anyone was trying to get our attention. “Crazy! Gel!” meaning “Tracie! Come!” What’s even more hilarious is that it was usually a teenaged girl saying it. And whenever they wanted to talk about me amongst themselves my nickname was apparently was “japon”. Probably meaning “that asian chick who says she’s american”. Mehmet, one of the farmhands, would randomly shout across the field: “Wine!” to get Wayne’s attention. I’d snicker but no one else got the joke.

Img_0900

Did Wayne just kill someone? Oh wait we were picking mulberries.

We accepted our new names and tried to learn as many Turkish words as possible in the meantime. (Please don’t ask us to conjugate any verbs.) We had probably the most crappy dictionary for doing farmwork seeing as our dictionary was actually a phrasebook geared towards tourists. At least Turkish is relatively straightforward to pronounce once you know the rules, it’s very regular so at least we could sound it out from the phrasebook. We also used lots of hand and body gesturing to get our point across, and luckily one of the interns spoke enough rudimentary English that she was able to help us figure out more words. The teenaged girls were a bit more mischievous, as they’d try to get us to call each other names or tell each other to shut up when we had no idea what we were saying. We wised up pretty fast and turned the tables by telling them to “sus”! “Shut up”!

(can anyone tell us what “çani başi” means? I think that’s how it’s spelled, and means “how are you?”. and apparently the reply is “başim tu çani”. please correct us if we are wrong!)

Img_0989

The girls at work.

One of my favorite Turkish phrases is “çok güzel”. It literally means “very beautiful”, but Turks say it all. the. time. Once we learned the phrase I could hear people saying it across a restaurant, on the beach, on the dolmuş, basically everywhere. It seems like you can use it to describe the taste of something, the beauty of a place, the weather, a girl (not boys though!!), an experience. And often a hand gesture consisting of putting your fingers pointing upwards, with your palm facing you, and your thumb touching your forefinger, accompanies the phrase. I think it’s the earnestness with which it’s said that really appeals to me.

çok güzel!

We even surprised other Turks with the amount of Turkish we had picked up. Last night we were trying to get back into the center of Kuşadası to move on to Selçuk but the dolmuşes kept passing us by because they were full. So just for kicks we put our thumb to hitchhike. And a car actually stopped! Three Turkish college students were super nice and gave us a ride into town. And as we were chatting and telling them about our experiences, we listed off a whole bunch of Turkish words for various fruits and vegetables and describing what the farm was like. (“çok sıcak” – “too hot” – was an all encompassing phrase.) They were like, “uh, wow you know a lot of random words in Turkish. And by the way why did you want to be on a farm??”

More about that next time.

Img_0918Img_0770

Standard