Thursday, November 29, 2012

Planning for Two Weddings: The Cross-Cultural Couple's Dream (or Nightmare?)

I have started prepping for my upcoming trip to Turkey, and besides buying gifts, I'm starting to make a list of all the things I need to accomplish before I get on that plane, as well as everything I hope to do while in Turkey.

Besides work and school requirements that consistently hover in the background and foreground of my life, for the past several months wedding planning has really gotten underway.  I have many 'party-planning' duties (or decisions) I need to take care of here in the USA, and in Turkey as well.

Many little girls dream of their wedding day.  They may draw pictures of themselves as a bride in a beautiful, white princess gown, or imagine all the special moments, or start collecting items for their future home. 

I was not one of those little girls.

The only time I can recall my younger self dreaming about a wedding was after a trip to India.  "I want an Indian wedding!"  I told my mother after I came home.  The colors, the music, the procession, the henna night and the celebration - I loved this idea of a wedding.  But my destiny was not to have this type of wedding.  I am an American and thus American wedding it is (and now, a Turkish wedding as well - so I get my henna night after all!)

When I actually became engaged to H. and the prospect of planning a wedding became a reality, I told everyone "I just want a simple wedding".  Little did I know that my idea of a "simple wedding" was an oxymoron.  A true simple wedding would be driving to city hall and saying "I do" with two witnesses and a couple of signatures (which I have often contemplated doing in recent weeks). 

My false hope of simplicity was having a family affair, in an outdoor setting, with tasteful food and a informal attire.  It seemed so simple - as in "not fancy" - but the reality is "not fancy" does not equal simplicity.  There are so many details, so many decisions and so many expectations that come with a wedding.  Unfortunately, all of these many different components, along with my ill-defined concept of simplicity, have led to several explosions in the wedding planning process.

At this point I have come to terms that my wedding will not be simple, and I will have to compromise with family wishes for certain traditions and details that they feel are important.  I also have to accept that I am not so simple and that my family is not so simple as well - differing world views and values are at the core of many of our complications.  They are who they are, and I am who I am - but, in the end we all love each other and hopefully that is enough to accept was is.

Throughout this mentally-challenging American process I have held the hope that wedding planning in Turkey will be different.  (See we will be having TWO weddings…not so simple at all.)  As I have learned through H. and his family, wedding are typically at a local salon and that there are far fewer decisions that have to be made (as compared to American weddings).  The wedding is fairly standard with some minor personal details.  You see - I don't think they have The Knot, or all the thousands of wedding websites that explain just how important it is for you to personalize every wedding detail down to the cocktail napkins.
Cocktail napkins like these...

With a Turkish marriage there is more focus on "opening" a house or apartment.  The couple are moving in together and they need to create a home.  This home is prepared with all new furniture, appliances, curtains and all the appropriate accessories in advance of the wedding.  The night of the wedding, the couple arrive exhausted to their new home with a full fridge and all the details in place.   In Turkey, the real money is spent in prepping the house for a lifetime and not on flowers that die the next day or little matchbooks that say your name and wedding date for all the guests to take home and remember the special day. 

Well I guess I am blatantly showing my bias here (and overstating some of the details a bit, if I may). 

Through my experience thus far, I am realizing that the 'typical' American wedding is primarily a reflection of our consumer culture and an exaggeration of etiquette and tradition (the average cost of an American wedding is around $27,000!!!!!!).  But, but, but...perhaps it doesn't have to be so.  By trying to keep our purchases local and straightforward, H. and I are trying to needle out some of the blatant consumerism.  We are trying to keep the day real and true to ourselves, which means a little Turklish, with a combination of American customs and some added Turkish details. 

To be fair, our Turkish wedding may not be as easy and simple to plan as I am envisioning - I shall soon find out.

During our trip this December-January we will be making decisions with regard to our upcoming wedding - what food and beverages will be served, what invitations we will order, who will play the music, and more.  The "more" will hopefully not be too difficult.  At least I can sit back and ride through this one - my Turkish is in no condition for negotiations.   I'll let conventions be what they are and I'll keep the decision making easy and straight forward.  Or so I hope.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gift Giving and Packing for a Trip to Turkey

In about three weeks I will be getting on an airplane and heading to Turkey for a month-long trip.  Although I've already planned out (in  my head, of course) most of what I will bring, there are still some loose ends to tie up regarding gifts.

Tis' the season for gift giving so it shouldn't be all that difficult, right?  Black Friday was just a couple days ago and with Cyber Monday knocking on the door there are plenty of "super deals" out there to be had.  I've never played into these big shopping days and I'm fairly certain that it is all a scam, but the reality is that I do need to do some shopping fairly soon and I'm looking for ideas.
I love this!  Kudos to Owen Good at Kotaku for finding an old movie poster that seems to truly reflect the essence of the shopping Black Friday - "man-made monster is on the loose!"

"Why do I need to bring gifts?"  You might wonder. 

While some people in Turkey might celebrate Christmas (like Christians and ex-pats).  H.'s family does not.  Christmas will be just like any other day for them - except that H.'s nephew is turning two, so that should make it a fun, special day.

Gifts are not to celebrate any particular holiday, but instead are given as a response to warm hospitality.  Typical Turkish etiquette involves bringing chocolate or flowers to the host when invited for dinner.  On our last trip H. and I were invited to many, many dinners and breakfasts and afternoon teas and even for midnight fruit….    I loved it!  Meeting relatives and spending time eating good food with laughter all around - what's not to love.  Even though I only understood about 50% of what went on (and that was mostly due to H.'s translations) I enjoyed the atmosphere. 

I was prepared on that last trip with some local-themed gifts, but I did not expect to be getting gifts as well!  As our trip winded down and we were getting ready to leave, H.'s relatives surprised me with the most generous presents - many different locally made Turkish handicrafts - the best possible gifts for a girl like me.   I was taken aback by all the generosity - and this was aside from the overflowing hospitality I received throughout the entire trip. 

Now I am heading back to Turkey where we will attend wonderful family dinners and breakfasts and teas.  I am planning to head back with my arms full. 

I'm still brainstorming some good gift ideas.  Here is what we have so far: Ghirardelli chocolates, a combination of souvenirs that we have purchased on several trips in the past 18 months, some locally handmade gifts and toys for some of the young kids.

Despite the Italian name, Ghirardelli's is a true American company
(or as far as I could tell)
(Image from Ghirardelli Website )

I'm looking to fill up my suitcase - any suggestions?  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Finding My Motivation Again at "The Everyday Language Learner "

Studying a language can be an exciting, exhausting and exhilarating experience.  There are days where it feels like it will be impossible to become fluent or to even be able to communicate well enough to buy a bottle of water.  Then there are days when you are feeling the rush as you understand a full conversation for the first time or you are able to communicate without doing simultaneous translations in your head.

When I began my Turkish language learning journey I started scanning the internet to find free or cheap resources that I could use to teach myself.  It surprised me how much I found.  There is quite a bit out there and in varying different forms to satisfy all types of learners.  I am putting together a list of these resources, which is posted as a separate page called "Turkish Language Resources" on this blog.

For now, I'd like to bring your attention to an excellent language coach.  Aaron Myers has created an amazing resource for self-directed language learners over at the Everyday Language Learner Blog, which covers a wide range of  language learning methods and self-directed language learning tools.  Aaron also spent some time living in Turkey and has a particular expertise in Turkish language tools

The blog banner for the EDLL site
(Copyright: Aaron Myers)

What I like about Aaron's writing is that he makes very clear recommendations for both starting and continuing the language learning process.  He does not sugar coat the difficulties or shy away from discussing the pitfalls - he gives an honest overview of his journey and what has and has not helped him and he provides some excellent guidelines for setting goals and planning your language learning activities.

In his most recent post, Aaron discusses how to make a plan that will lead you to your end goal.  He lays out the first few phases to get a learner on the right track. 

Stage 1 involves exploring available language learning resources, finding your learning style, working on immediate language needs and connecting with a native speaker.

The latter stages involve daily conversations with native speakers, reading some interesting material in the target language, developing vocabulary, working with a tutor and writing journal entries. 

I've been on the Turkish learning path for about 2 years now - at times spending around 10-15 hours a week studying and attending classes.  Now it's down to about 2-3 hours a week….

It's time for me to me to re-evaluate my progress and start taking action.  Aaron has a lot of posts that provide ideas on quick and easy language learning activities that, when combined, create an effective plan forward, for example:

Also, for a great overview article of Aaron's strategy and useful links, check out:

So what is my action step today?

I signed up (for the second time) for Aaron's Ten Week Journey course that consists of a series of emails that come each week and provide useful tips and encouragement for language learning.
(Which you can sign up for by clicking on "the ten week journey" image on all of his blog pages)

Just go to The Everyday Language Learner Blog and
click on this image to get signed up for Aaron's Ten Week Journey and get ready to be inspired!

I'm also going to spend some time this weekend putting together my plan for the next few weeks before I head to Turkey.  I plan on taking advantage of the month in Turkey to tune up my Turkish and expand my vocabulary, but first I want to be ready to go there.  Some review is definitely in order.

Do any of you have any ideas to help guide the language learning process?   Feel free to share ideas and experiences in the comments below.

A New Addition to Our Saturday Turkish Breakfast

I love weekend breakfasts.  Eggs, paninis, salads and sauces - they are all so delicious and the combination often keeps me full until dinner.  Last week I learned to make a Turkish potato dish at the Turkish Cooking Class to add to the spread - Potato Cake or Patatesli Kek (although I should note that H. does not agree that it should be called "Kek" because it is salty and not sweet, he thinks it should be called Patatesli Börek.  Maybe he is right and Patatesli Kek is the Turklish name - with the cake part being influenced by our English/American confused idea of what cake is.  Anyways, I say…let us eat kek.)

Right out of the oven!
Potato Cake consists of root vegetables like potato, onion and carrot encased in a salty batter.  It bakes for about 45 minutes and the result is a crispy, salty delicious dish that is reminiscent of a potato casserole but without the cheese.

First thing first, get together your ingredients:

1 cup yogurt (we used homemade - recipe to come soon)
3 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1.5 - 2 cups flour
Heaping teaspoon baking powder
1 onion 
2-3 carrots
2-3 potatoes

Mix the yogurt, eggs and oil with a spoon or whisk.  Next add the flour little by little while stirring continuously.  Then, this is where baking instinct comes into play, add flour until the batter is sticky but still falls from the spoon.  Add the baking powder and stir.

This is the batter before adding the baking powder (just to clarify - batter in the bowl and baking powder on the spoon).

Next, chop all the vegetables into little pieces….bu gibi (like this).  In fact, we decided after a couple bites that they could have been chopped smaller and perhaps the result would have been even better.

Mix the vegetables into the batter and stir to cover all the pieces.  Add a little bit of salt, and pepper if you like, and mix it up.

Next, add the entire mixture to an oiled pan.  I chose to make it in a circular pan so that it would resemble a cake and thus I would come one step closer to proving to H. that it is indeed patatesli kek, but a square pan would do as well (and with retrospect, the square pan might have helped the mixture to cook faster and more evenly - our circular pan was a little too narrow and deep).

Bake for about 45 minutes at 350F or until brown on top.  I added some sesame seeds to the top after it had baked half way to add a little to the presentation. 

Thoughts after eating: I like this recipe - I think it could be modified in many different ways depending on what vegetables are on hand.  Also, this makes a nice lower-fat version of potato casserole as compared to the crazy high-fat versions with lots of cheese, butter, and sour cream that are common American fare.  That being said - I do love cheesy casserole!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Turkey Day inspires a linguistic research frenzy…

While learning languages and traveling to different countries, I have always been alert to the meaning behind the meaning of words.  I'm not a linguist by any means, but innate curiosity often drives many small research projects.
What a Turkey really looks like
(Image from:
The word "Turkey" is a prime example.  Now, here in the USA, Turkey might more popularly be known as the large bird that is roasted and carved every forth Thursday of November - rather than a country in the Middle East.  Although, with recent news the popular awareness of Turkey as a country has improved. 

Turkey - the country (above) vs. turkey - the bird (below)

 The coincidence of terms, "turkey" for a bird and "Turkey" for a country, sparked all sorts of cheesy jokes at last year's Thanksgiving celebration with my family.  The jokes were so bad they were good - so we all had a good chuckle. (Just a snapshot - "See, I can speak Turkey too 'gobble, gobble'.")

In all seriousness though, when and how did the bird native to North America come to be named Turkey?  And why in Turkey, is turkey (the bird) called hindi (which seems to be derived from the word for India, which is Hindistan)?

After doing a little research, I came to a blog, the hot word, that has a pretty good explanation... and since I have "Turkey Day" preparations to get to, I'll just re-post here:

"The former center of the Ottoman Empire isn’t exactly a breeding ground for the bird that we most closely associate with Thanksgiving. In fact, the turkey is native to North America.

So why do they share the same name?

First, let’s get the facts on the two turkeys.

Meleagris gallopavo is an odd-looking bird that is known for his bare head, wattle, and iridescent plumage. Like many species, the feathers of the male turkey are brighter than the female.

The republic of Turkey straddles Asia and Europe and has coastline along the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean. Its capital city is Ankara.

Here’s how they are related. In the 1540s, the guinea fowl, a bird with some resemblance to the Thanksgiving avian, was imported from Madagascar through Turkey by traders known as turkey merchants. The guinea fowl was also nicknamed the turkey fowl. Then, the Spanish brought turkeys back from the Americas by way of North Africa and Turkey, where the bird was mistakenly called the same name. Europeans who encountered the bird in the Americas latched on to the “turkey fowl” name, and the term was condensed simply to “turkey.” Turkeys have fared better than their guinea fowl relatives on the international scene, perhaps explaining why you probably have never heard of guinea fowl until right now.

The Turkish name for the bird is hindi, which literally means “Indian.” This name likely derived from the common misconception that India and the New World were one and the same."

Thus, I have my answer for both the English word "turkey" and the Turkish word "hindi".  

Wow - isn't the internet just wonderful sometimes?

Hope everyone has a happy Turkey Day tomorrow - whether to you that means Thanksgiving or just another day living in Turkey...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Unlocking My Heart to the Powerful Rules of Love

"East, west, south, or north makes little difference.  No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within.  If you travel within, you'll travel the whole wide world and beyond."
*The 10th rule in "The Forty Rules of Love" by Elif Shafak*

In the absence of physical travel, a journey through literature is an excellent alternative.  I am an avid traveler - whether I have a backpack on my back or a book in my hands.  In fact, for the past few days I have been on a wild journey that has left me both calm and thoughtful.  This journey happened on the page, where I visited Konya in the midst of political and religious turmoil of the 13th century and witnessed a story that deeply touched my soul and stirred my consciousness. This journey also happened in my heart, as in my own life I struggled to find peace and understanding with a loved one.  It is fitting that the book is titled The Forty Rules of Love,  as the lasting impression I will carry with me are the rules that make so much sense, yet that I lack sorely in my own life.

This book is not yet cold in my hands and I'm planning to read and re-read it until I've had my fill.
(Image by Turklish)

The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi is another jewel created by Elif Shafak.  The novel tells the story of Shams of Tabriz (Shamsi Tabrizi) and his relationship with Rumi that shaped the poet we all know of today.  Shams was the true companion of Rumi and challenged him to not only succeed as a scholar of religion, but to deeply practice his faith, and to let go of the ego in order to understand those who suffer and to become closer to God.

An Illustration of Shams of Tabriz - it quite matches the mental image etched in my mind's eye - dark eyes and unruly, wavy hair
 (Image from Wikipedia:
I won't tell too many of the details, for this is a book that must be savored completely- no Cliff Notes could ever recreate the pure pleasure of reading such a story. 

Apart from the joy derived of a carefully crafted novel, the many messages within the pages of Forty Rules -  especially the rules themselves  - provided ample fodder for my brain to chew on. 

Lately I have been developing some bad habits, like indulging my critical nature and savoring shallow, gossip-driven, conversations.  In fact, I was driving my love crazy with my incessant simple conversations that seemed to search for all the minuscule problems of life instead of realizing the solutions.  Saturday morning I was reading to heal after a long fight on Friday night.  Not even a minute after I picked up the book,  I read one of Sham's rules that caused me to draw in a sharp breath, and then after I read the passage again, let out a deep sigh:

 "The world is like a snowy mountain that echoes your voice.  Whatever you speak, good or evil, will somehow come back to you.  Therefore, if there is someone who harbors ill thoughts about you, saying similarly bad things about him will only make matters worse.  You will be locked in a vicious circle of malevolent energy."

How true!  I thought of myself for the past several years, constantly fretting about what other are thinking of me, while allowing myself to be instantly critical of others.   I thought of the "release" I thought I experienced when I allowed myself to speak ill of those that made my life more difficult at work, or family members that I felt were constantly pestering me.  The "release" of negative energy was momentary, but followed by a longer period of anger and sadness that I often could not shake for days (if not weeks).  How unhealthy this is! 

I realized this past weekend that it is due time for me to reverse my outward gaze and to take a more difficult and painful journey within.  It is time to evaluate the actions I take and cross-check them with the mental picture I have of who I am (or who I want to be).  It will not be easy - habits are burned into our mentality and our motions - like a smoker trying to give up the stick, and being unable to stop the hand to mouth motion that echoed his every morning sip of tea - I open and close my mouth like a guppy fish, swallowing my own words so that they do not poison the air. 

Again, another of Sham's rules can guide me here as well. 

"Fret not where the road will take you.  Instead concentrate on the first step.  That's the hardest part and that's what you are responsible for.  Once you take that step let everything do what it naturally does and the rest will follow.  Do not go with the flow.  Be the flow."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Shameful Dinner

The subject of Turkish class tonight was a favorite topic of Turkish visitors, expats and natives alike - FOOD! 

While Turkish food is a beloved subject for me, it was close to torture to sit through an hour and a half of pictures and descriptions of Turkey's most famous dishes with an empty stomach at 7pm!  I couldn't control my deep sighs and watery mouth.  I winced through the building stomach pains that my brain was sending to remind me it was dinner time.

Turkish food is one of the many highlights of Turkish culture, but perhaps because it is the most easily "digestible" element of the culture - it gets most of the attention when people report back home on their trip.  The savory, sizzling kebab, the melt in your mouth bulgar pilaf, the crisp börek, the creamy sütlaç…ahh, I'm torturing myself again!

Börek - just looking at this right now is painful. 
(Image from

Kebab - I'm not really a big fan of steak - but this still looks good to me. 
(Image: from

 The instructor asked "Açktın mı?" Are you hungry?   "Tabi!!!"  Of course!  I replied, almost hysterically.

When I left class, after all the discussion of delicacy after delicacy, I didn't know what to eat.  Do I go home and try to whip up a dinner at 7:15pm??  Do I go to a restaurant and get something quick?  I wanted Turkish food, but unfortunately - olmaz (impossible). 

So what did I do?

I did a very shameful thing.  I did a very typically American thing.  I drove to the nearest fast food restaurant and ordered a burger and fries.   Thankfully, the nearest place wasn't McDonalds - I went a little more upscale (or more realistically, a horizontal shift) to a lesser known chain.  As I waited and waited (at least it was somewhat fresh…) I started to feel worse and worse.  Why was I eating this junk?  This clogging arteries, diabetes inducing, flash-frozen and flash-fried, so-called food.

The greasy evidence
(Image, sadly, from Turklish)

(To my defense, I left my house at 7:30am to drive to an internship in another city and went directly to my Turkish class after commuting back into town.  So from 7:30am to 7:30pm I was away from home - a long day.)

After I grabbed a few handfuls of fries from the bag perched on the passenger seat and greedily shoved them in my mouth, the hunger hallucinations subsided, and I came to reason with myself a little.   This hamburger, these crispy shadows of french fries - this memory is for later…for those moments when I will be living in Turkey at some point in the future and perhaps wishing I could have a hamburger, when surrounded by cuisine perfected by hundreds of years of cultural experimentation.

 If I ever whine, "oh, I just want some American food," I'll come back and read this, and remember when I was dreaming of Turkish food, and then I'll go make some köfte.

Köfte - Turkish version of a hamburger 
(much better seasoned and without the bread and piles of toppings)
(Image from:

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Art of Panini Making

Most of us in the USA are familiar with paninis.  They are those tasty, toasty Italian sandwiches sold for $10 at local restaurants and chains like Panera.  H. and I are a little thrifty  (as grad-students we really don't have a choice) so instead of spending our hard earned cash on breakfast or lunch out at a restaurant, we prefer to stay home on the weekends with our own version of brunch.

Paninis are also really common in the Turkish tradition.  They are sold on street corners, roadside stops, at restaurants and made in kitchens around the country.  In Turkish, paninis are called "tost".  Typically, they are just cheese cooked between bread.  Tost may be served as part of a larger Turkish breakfast, complete with bowls of olives, jams, different types of cheese, and pastries - as well as sauce.   What type of sauce?  In my experience it's a combination of tomatoes, green pepper and onion, but could have other vegetables cooked into it as well. 

Sometimes on weekend mornings I'll whip up a veggie sauce to eat with our Turkish tost and eggs.  However, most of the time we do things a bit differently.  H. has perfected the art of tost making over his years of living in the States and he came up with a simple, yet amazing version that combines the sauce and the tost.

It's really quite simple.  Yet, surprisingly, each time we put together a batch for family or guests they are delighted and ask for the recipe.  So here it is:

  1. First, we recommend buying good quality tomatoes.  We prefer tomatoes fresh from the farmer's market.  When that option is not possible, we try for organic store tomatoes (you can see the difference in the color between the two below). 
Guess which one is the local tomato and which is the organic Mexican one? (I'll clue you in - the redder the better) Image: Turklish

  1. Heat 1-2 tbs of vegetable or olive oil in a frying pan.  Once hot, add the tomatoes and hear the pleasant sizzling sounds of the melting tomato.

  1. Chop a little bit of garlic and add to the cooking tomato after 1-2 min.  At this point the smell of delicious tomato-garlic sauce will start to waft through the house and anyone still asleep will be draw out of the bed and into the kitchen.

  1. When the sauce is done it should look something like this:
Image: Turklish

  1. Now spread it onto your bread of choice.*  Our secret ingredient to the perfect panini is bread from the local bakery - so delicious and always crisp after toasting.

  1. While the sauce is cooking you can slice some mozzarella cheese.  I'm not very good at it and tend to form piles of cheese slivers of varying shapes and thicknesses.  It doesn't really matter - it all melts anyways.
Image: Turklish

  1. Add the cheese on top of the tomato sauce and replace the top slice of bread.
Image: Turklish

  1. Cook in a panini maker or a George Foreman, or whatever other grill or griddle you have.  I like to cook it until I can hear the cheese sizzling out of all the holes in the bread.  The cheese that melts on the griddle gets crispy and adds this oh, so delicious extra level of flavor and crispiness to the tost.  You can also add some butter to the bread in the last several minutes of toasting to get an extra amazing crisp.
These are almost done - the leaking cheese is a good sign.
Image: Turklish

  1. Enjoy with a glass of Turkish tea, of course.  For a full brunch, we eat fried eggs or an omelet to even out the meal.  In the summer we also make a Turkish salad of cucumber and tomato with oil and lemon to accompany our tost.  Çok güzel!

Afiyet Olsun!

Image: Turklish

* If we are in a rush or out of tomatoes, we also use Turkish red pepper paste to spread on the bread instead of sauce.  With a little sprinkled basil and garlic - it's pretty good.  Red pepper paste is much stronger, so use sparingly.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Breezy, (Should Be) Easy Saturday

I woke up to the sounds of wind rattling the blinds and papers flying off the desk.  It seems crazy, but it's the 10th of November and we can sleep with the windows open.  Here in the middle of the country we should be starting to take winter coats out of storage and buying new hats and gloves for the season.  Instead, it feels like spring - except it doesn't look like a season of renewal - many of the trees are bare and any remaining leaves are orange and brown. 


 H. and I found the weather disorienting and not prime for having a productive day.  We had hoped to spend a cozy day at the coffee shop getting work done and then a cozy night at home with a warm meal and a nice movie.  Instead the coffee shops were packed, and with no place to sit inside with our joe, we tried to enjoy the park on this balmy day, but the wind threatened to blow our cups off the table and put grit in our eyes.

As I sit inside now, with my tea to my side and the wind howling at the dark window, I want to open my arms to the wind and let it pick me up and take me across the ocean.  I want to leave behind the work and deadlines that stifle our weekends and gnaw on our consciences and just hit the road.  This time of year in the academic calendar it feels like we all are just trying to get by and get it over with.  Just keep afloat a couple more weeks and then we can all be rewarded in our own way with a few weeks of peace (there will still be work, but there at least is peace). 

This should be an easy Saturday for me - I have no impending deadlines, no test to study for, and no paper to write.  In fact, I am already half checked out.  I no longer can inspire myself to get much research done.  I keep thinking of that glorious day in December when I will get on a plane and wake up 12 hours later in Turkey.   I hope that a month of vacation in Turkey will be what I need to come back renewed and ready to work.

I also hope that some time away will give me more clarity.  Lately, I wonder about the usefulness of spending so many years in school.  Yes, I love classes and I would love to teach at the college level (or so I think), but is all of this worth it?

I remember those days when I felt so inspired to work and I felt that what I was doing was important and that I could make a difference in this world.  That feeling is fleeting.  Now I realize that even though my research could be important, most likely it will not make a difference.  The people that should be filling me with inspiring words and pumping me up are instead making this all seems like a game of "publish or perish", like that's all that matters.  

Trust me, I'm not feeling sorry for myself - these are my choices and I take full responsibility for them.  I'm just practical - I don't want to waste precious time and effort.

Perhaps this intense wind that seemed to change the season in the span of a day is causing me to think of the seasons changing within myself.  Spring has passed and I am moving into the "summer" phase of my life when decisions are made, families are created, and careers begin.  It's exciting, but daunting at times to be standing at the edge of your life looking out into the unknown.  Yet, if there is one thing we all know, just as we cannot stop the wind from blowing, we cannot stop the march of time.  Decisions will have to be made - right or wrong - life will go on.  All I can hope for tomorrow is that the winds outside (and in my soul) will quiet for a while and allow me to move forward with a little less resistance. 


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Making Manti

Turkish cuisine had me from my first taste of yogurt and mint - two ingredients that are very common in Turkish food and, for me, were not obvious plate-mates.  (Who knew yogurt and mint could be such a tasty combination?) 

I had my first real Turkish meal on my forth date with my now fiance.  In his tiny university apartment, with an economy-sized stove, he made me Yayla Çorbası (Yogurt Soup), rice pilaf, sautéed meat and vegetables, along with a crisp green salad dressed with lemon and oil.  We ate sitting on the floor leaning against an old couch his friend was "storing" there for the summer with our plates propped on the coffee table.  It was very grad school romance.  I loved every second of it. 

Yayla soup involves this surprising , and very Turkish, combination of yogurt and mint.  The ingredients are fairly simple - a small bit of rice, water, and then the base is yogurt, egg and flour.  The mint and Turkish red pepper are heated in a bit of butter and then added last minute to the soup as a sauce.  (The idea that soup has sauce was also a new idea for me - I remember thinking "how can soup have sauce? They're both liquid!" - it was incomprehensible until I saw it in practice).
A beautiful version of Yayla Soup

Yes, I am very lucky.  My Turkish man knows how to cook - and pretty gourmet at that.  In the past year or so, I have increasingly had the desire to boost my own culinary repertoire.  I've bought Turkish cookbooks, I follow several blogs written by expats in Turkey (see below for links), but there is nothing like face to face learning. 

During my stay this coming December and January in Turkey I hope to learn tips and tricks from H's mom and sister.  Until then, I'm taking advantage of Turkish cooking classes offered in my town. 

This past weekend I learned to make two Turkish staples:  lentil soup (with the red lentils), and baklava.  I already had experiences making both, but as with everything, there are many different variations and I learned a new way to make the Turkish-style lentil soup.   Though the star dish of the day was the very traditional Turkish dumpling called Manti.  There were six students in the class and two Turkish ladies instructing - and good thing, because we needed all the hands we could get to make these teeny, tiny Turkish dumplings (or also called "Turkish ravioli"). 

Piles of Turkish Manti!
(Source: Turklish)

We watched as the dough was kneaded and kneaded, with small spoonfuls of flour added until the dough bounced back when punched.  Then, after it rested, we watched as it was rolled again and again with a rolling pin about two feet long and the width of a broom handle.  The rolling was definitely an art - and none of us became artists on that day.  

Work in progress...
(You can see the small rolling pin in the middle of the table)
(Source: Turklish)

The experts did the rolling and we then cut the dough into one inch little squares and then added a small speck of meat-onion-parsley and pinched up the dough around the filling to make hundreds and hundreds of the tiny manti.

Lots of pinching meat and dough
(Source: Turklish)

Manti is traditionally a dish served during Ramadan.  Women get together in the weeks before Ramadan begins and spend the afternoon chatting and laughing while rolling and pinching little dough balls.  Then they save the joys of their labor in the freezer until the manti is brought out for a hearty meal to break the fast.

Manti is boiled in water and then the steamy plate of tiny dumplings are served with yogurt-garlic sauce, with a dash of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of mint and sumac.

Ta da!  A beautiful meal.
(Source: Turklish)

The results are as pleasing to the eyes as each savory little bundle is to the taste buds.

If you ever feel like taking on this culinary adventure - the recipe is below.  I recommend you at least recruit some fellow hardworking friends and family to help you with the manti making or you may be in the kitchen all day!

Turkish Manti:

For the dough:
4 cups flour
2 eggs
1 cup warm water
2 tsp salt to taste

·        Mix ingredients together and continue adding flour and water until dough bounces back when punched

·        Divide into 4 sections and roll out each section until uniform and thin

·        Cut into squares, about 1”

1/2 lb ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped/shredded
1/2 tsp salt to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper
chopped parsley (flat Italian)

·        Put small bits of the mixture onto the dough squares and pinch closed to make the dumpling

·        Sprinkle the dumplings with flour to keep them from sticking to each other

For cooking:
8 cups water
1 tsp salt

·        Cook the dumplings in the boiling water until water is absorbed (~20min)

4 cups yogurt
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt to taste

·        Mix and add water until sauce has smooth, thin consistency

3-4 tbsp butter/oil
3 tbsp tomato paste 2 tsp paprika
2-3 tbsp water

·        Cook paste in oil and add water to make a sauce

Dried mint

·        Spoon each of the sauces over the drained dumplings

·        Sprinkle the dried mint and sumac on top

Here are a couple blogs with great recipes for both Turkish and non-Turkish food:

My Turkish Joys - A blog written by an American expat and professional pastry chef living in Istanbul

Ozlem's TurkishTable - A website with recipes, and information about Turkish ingredients, cooking classes and culinary tours offered by this Turkish chef living in England. 

A Seasonal Cook inTurkey -  A blog by with regular updates of both Turkish and non-Turkish cuisine - lots of tasty looking cakes I would like to try!

Almost Turkish Recipes - Recipes by a Turkish student living in the states and providing her favorite Turkish and Almost Turkish recipes.

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