Monday, February 25, 2013

Tarhana - Turkish Chips

Close up on the distinct texture of tarhana chips
(Photo by Turklish)
Tarhana: paper-thin, jagged edges, specks of wheat floating in an almost transparent, tangy concoction.  No matter what time of year you will find these interesting chips taking up a prominent spot on the dessert table.  The young will eat them while they are hard and crispy, the older generation might add a few sprinkles of water to soften the edges and go easy on their gums.  Along with ice cream, tarhana is one of the most common items you'll see in boxes coming off the baggage claim from a Maraş flight.

Tarhana on the dessert table - right in the middle so everyone can grab a few.
(Photo by Turklish)
Yep, I'm back to finish up the Maraş themed posts on a savory note.  Tarhana - you may have heard of it, but the tarhana known throughout the rest of Turkey is not the same as the tarhana chips adored in Maraş.  These chips are unlike anything else I have ever tasted.  They are not sweet, but not really salty either.  They are tangy, with that particular flavor that comes from Turkish yogurt.  They are addictive, you can't stop munching once you try a few.  I guess this is probably the only thing Tarhana chips have in common with the typical potato chips - "betcha can't eat just one". 

While I'm still a little unsure of the details of the entire cooking procedure, I can tell you that tarhana is made from a combination of cracked wheat, yogurt and then flavored with some spices, such as thyme.  It is cooked in a large copper pot and stirred with a large wooden spoon, which the Kahramanmaraş travel guide lovingly calls a "Tarhana Shovel". 

You can see how the tarhana is prepared in this video below, and if you know Turkish, you'll hear these ladies explain it in more detail than I can provide:

When the mixture is ready, the thick paste is spread on reed mats and laid out to dry on rooftops, in open areas, and even in the city on the sidewalk in front of shops.  If the tarhana dries from morning to dusk it will be "Fresh Tarhana" and retain a limp texture, which is a delicacy savored in those lovely, early summer days.  After drying for two full days, the tarhana is crisp and can be stored for the rest of the year. 

The tarhana goop before it is spread on the mats.
(Image from Market Maras)
 This winter we were enjoying stashes of stored tarhana and came upon a white, crusty blob in the middle of the chip.  I looked at H. and giggled, "It's bird poop." 

"Tarhana is 100% natural."  He grinned back at me.

Yes, it is all natural and dried with the grace of nature, with a few presents from the local avian population mixed in.  Don't let that discourage you - it's part of the experience.  To be honest, I just put that piece off to the side and kept on eating.  A little poop won't hurt anyone.

The tarhana drying on mats in the fresh air.
(Image from Market Maras)
Unlike the Kahramanmaraş ice cream, there is no one selling tarhana on the street corners or playing fun games with an ice cream cone.  It has not won worldwide awards for its unique flavor or texture, and as a tourist you may not even know it exists unless you were invited to a home for dinner, or happened to be in town during the few weeks when the tarhana was hanging out to dry in the streets.

Tarhana is like many beauties of the Turkish culture, it is soft-spoken and unknown to the rest of the world, but deeply loved by its owners.  If you happen to stop in Maraş  I recommend you find a shop* selling tarhana and try a few chips - I betcha can't eat just one! 

A Question for the Readers: Have any of you heard of this type of tarhana before?  I'm curious if others know about it or have ever tried it.  Share your comments below!

*In Maraş there are a variety of shops selling tarhana, they will usually advertise this on their shop front window or awning.  Your best bet is to ask around to find a shop close to where you end up in the city.  There should be quite a few.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Books, Books, Books: My Turkish Book Collection

“Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.” 

Today the weather and I had a lot in common.  This morning it was bright and warm, but at the edge of town I could see the dark clouds moving in.  By mid-afternoon it was cold and grey, with large bursts of wind throwing me off balance as I trudged along the near empty campus roads.  I like it when the weather matches my mood.  It adds some cohesiveness to the day, and it is in fact comforting to let a dark mood simmer in a dark day.  As a child I always loved a rainy day when I didn't have anywhere particular to go.  I would sit inside, get cozy, and read, read, read. 

All I wanted to do today was read, read, read.  I wanted to head home, curl up on the couch, make some tea and read.  Reading isn't a great option for me right now, with this serious eye problem that has plagued me in the last few days, but the desire to read was still there.  To appease my soul I went to the bookstore instead.  I looked at books, I scanned through the pages.  I told myself not to buy one.  (Books are so expensive these days.)  Yet, I savored the aroma, the texture and the feeling of being surrounded by books.

You see, I love books.  Books are to me what shoes are to many other women.  I find myself buying them, even though I don't particularly need any new reading material.  Sometimes I buy them because I'm in a bad mood, sometimes I'm feeling particularly nostalgic for my childhood, or I just feel like I NEED to buy that book.

My collection of Turkish books began this way.  I started with one or two, just to educate myself about Turkish culture and history.  Then I found a few more that satisfied my desire for travel writing, then a few more that spoke to the culture junkie in me, then a few that would help me learn Turkish, a few to give me new recipes and tips for cooking Turkish cuisine, then a few more…you get the picture. 

I now have around 30 or so books that are somehow related to Turkish language, travel, culture and cuisine, this is not including the many books I have stored electronically on my Kindle.  Yes, it is becoming a source for my nerdy pride - so I must not get out of control - must keep my nerdy pride in check.

However, I want to share this collection with you all.  I am adding a new page to this blog, called "My Turkish Book Collection".  At the moment this list in incomplete.  I have a partial list of titles for now and I'm adding reviews and book information as I read through my list.  You see, with my obsession I have bought far more books that I have been able to read and now I'm trying to get through them all. 

I would love to have suggestions for books that I am missing - if anyone knows of a relevant book that they feel fits with the collection - please leave me a message - either here or on the "Collection" page. 


Trying to avoid this:

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.” 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hulkiye's Turkish Fruit Cake

When I was in Turkey this past January I did my best to learn some Turkish recipes.  I wanted to be able to re-create some of the savory meals, creamy soups, oh-so-delicious pastries and scrumptious cakes that we enjoyed in Turkey.  I would eagerly hang around in the kitchen when meal-prep or baking was underway.  H.'s mom knew that I wanted to learn, so she would call me in and explain to me what she was doing, by showing and using some words that I could understand. 

In this way I learned how to make an incredibly tasty chicken with roasted almonds, and I now know the secret to an intensely rich and creamy soup, without using even a drop of cream.   Perhaps I'll share these secrets soon (although many may already know them, they were news to me).  

However, one of the recipes I was most eager to learn was the famous fruit cake.  Ever since I first began dating H., I heard about this incredibly tasty cake that his mom would make for him and send in packages while H. was away at university.  This cake was the favorite of the dormitory and won H.'s mom cake-baking fame among college friends.  I'm sure it is famous in many social circles in Maras as well.  Now it's fame has come to the USA - and I am eager to replicate this delicious treat.

The first slice!
This cake could be spruced up with a little sugary syrup drizzled on top , if desired.
 As is, it is a nice, no-too-sweet, treat that goes great with tea.
Replicating a Turkish recipe is not always an easy feat.  Yes, there are recipe books that lay it out nice and clear, step by step.  However, most recipes are not written, ingredients do not conform to standard measurements, and in fact, many beautiful creations are based on what is on hand at that moment, without any extra trips to the local grocer.

H. has collected many of these recipes from his mom while living in the US.  When feeling homesick, a meal from home would help ease the soreness and bring an indescribable joy.  A while back, H. had collected this recipe for Turkish Fruit Cake.  So today I asked if he could share it with me so I could whip up a tasty cake and use up some of the Cuties (mandarin oranges) drying out on my counter.  So here is the recipe - Turkish measuring style and all.

Hulkiye's Turkish Fruit Cake

3 eggs at room temperature
1 water glass of sugar*
3 water glasses of flour
1 heaping TURKISH teaspoon of baking powder**
1 water glass milk OR orange juice
(we like to add the orange juice to make the cake fruitier, fresh-squeezed is the best option)
1 water glass oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract(my addition because I love vanilla)
15 or so dried apricots, cut into 6 pieces
A handful of raisins
A handful of chopped walnuts (or whatever other type of nut you have on hand)
Zest of small orange
The few handfuls of dried fruit - this is what makes the cake! 

Cuties - so bright and cheerful!

Preheat oven to 350F or (180C)
In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs and add the sugar, mixing well.
Add vanilla extract at this point if you want to add it .
(NOTE: if you want to use the Turkish powdered vanilla, add that the flour mixture instead)
Add oil and milk or juice to egg and sugar mixture, mix well.

All the liquids together.

In a separate bowl, put the 3 glasses of flour and stir in the heaping teaspoon of baking powder.  Add the apricots, raisins and walnuts and coat them in the flour (this will help prevent them from sinking into the cake as it bakes).  Add the orange zest.

Now, add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix by hand.  Batter will be fairly thick.

After the flour is mixed in the batter is quite thick and you might need a good silicone spatula to get the last drop out. 

Grease and flour a bundt pan.  Add batter to pan.
Bake for 1 hour - you want the cake to be a little crispy to keep the moisture in and stay fresh longer.

Just right!

* Water glass can mean whatever you want it to mean - the basic idea is you use the same glass to measure everything so the proportions are the same.  That being said - I used a coffee mug that was about 1 cup and that seemed to work well.
** Turkish teaspoon is not the same as a measuring teaspoon- but probably similar.  When the Turks say "teaspoon" they mean the tiny spoons used to stir sugar into tea.  So if you use a measuring teaspoon - make sure to make it heaping!

 I'm sure other dried fruits could be easily substituted for the apricots and raisins - and as I mentioned, I didn't actually use orange juice, but a similar citrus fruit and the result was the same - delicious!  So the moral of the story is be creative and bake with love, and the taste will show it!

It took all those little cuties to make a cup, but it was worth it and I used up some fruit that was at the end of its prime and would have spoiled otherwise.  Win-Win.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Kahramanmaraş Dondurması - The Ice Cream that Seemingly Defies Physics

Many Turkish towns and cities are known for what they produce -Malatya for its apricots, Gaziantep for baklava, and Adana for its kebabs.  Kahramanmaraş is famous for its ice cream.

Just a regular, ol' slice of Maras ice cream - served plain and simple with a sprinkling of pistachio and some fruit syrups. 
 In the summertime you can find Kahramanmaraş ice cream sold by vendors in the popular tourist destinations in Istanbul.  They perform and entertain as much as they sell dondurma.  Their job is to make the ice cream do the seemingly impossible - pull it like taffy, spin it around like a rope and then play tricks on the tourists with the sticky mass that doesn't easily leave the spoon. 

This is ice cream unlike anything you have experienced. The traditional serving is plain ice cream with a sprinkling of powdered pistachio, served with a fork and knife, for it is not easily scooped with a spoon.  While it may sound unappetizing to eat such a hard, frozen mass it is in fact very smooth and melts like butter as soon as it hits the warmth of the tongue.  No need to greedily gulp down a cone of ice cream to prevent a sticky mess of melted syrup down your arm - Maras ice cream sits patiently in its cone, allowing  you to leisurely savor each creamy bit.

The rope-like texture of Maras ice cream needs to be cut with a knife, but why did they give a cleaver to that little girl?!?
(Image found here)

 The secret to Kahramanmaraş ice cream is the salep - or the dried, powdered root of an orchid that grows in Southern Turkey.  Salep is what gives this ice cream its incredible creamy flavor, and also these gravity-defying, melt-resistant qualities.

Illustrations  of the salep producing orchid, Orchis mascula
Image from this website, where you can buy harvested salep.   
 Salep is also used to make the warm, creamy drink sold around Turkey and many Arabic countries in the winter months. 
The orchid in the wild, Orchis mascula
Image via

Perhaps the orchids grow exceptionally well in the mountains surrounding Maras, or perhaps it is the famous ice cream maker, Mehmet Kanbur, who created the Mado ice cream brand, that makes Maras ice cream remarkable.

This video demonstrates how the ice cream is made by hand and in the factory, including an interview with Mehmet Kanbur, the owner of Mado.

 Whatever the reason, anyone from Maras will tell you that there is no other place in all of Turkey (and many will claim - the world), where you can get the same quality ice cream.  Some even claim that the Mado ice cream sold in the Istanbul cafés is not the same as the Mado ice cream savored in Maras.  It must be true because at the Maras airport you see just about every other passenger checking on a bag full of Styrofoam boxes packed with dry ice and - you guessed it - Maras ice cream.

The Mado store in the Maras airport - for those last minute, desperate ice cream purchases. 

Mado is by far the most popular brand, but there are several other cafes in Maras that sell similar ice cream.  Mado, however, has become a famous symbol of this amazing ice cream around Turkey and around the world.

Mado does not only sell ice cream, but also a wide variety of savory and sweet treats.  Just a glance into their many cafes will cause your blood sugar to peak and send your head spinning with so many options to try.  To make it easy on yourself, you can try the famous Mado brunch at their restaurant next to the Mado factory.  The price is a little steep (~27 TL per person) but you can try a variety of pastries, börek, homemade breads, jams and everything else and more that you would expect with a Turkish breakfast.

Very rustic and cozy ambiance at the original Mado Cafe.
For a smaller treat, we like to head to the several Mado cafes in the central part of Maraş.  There you can find the first Mado shop and it is full of memorabilia, old newspaper clippings, and antique Turkish housewares.  I tried out künefe for the first time in this café - cheese coated in small pasty threads, fried and covered in a sweet syrup - served, of course, with Maras ice cream on the side.

nefe at the downtown Maras cafe

If I haven't convinced you that Maras ice cream is some of the best in the world, then I've failed miserably.  But it's your loss!  I know come June I'll be enjoying scoop after scoop - or more like - slice after slice of this delicious dondurma. 

To read more, here is an interesting article from a Turkish language website that highlights Maras icecream:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Kahramanmaras: A Tale of Many Cities

I imagine that some of you out there have heard of Kahramanmaraş (especially in relation to Maraş dondurması), but I'm sure very few of you have ever been.  Maraş is not a tourist destination, and I think the locals like it that way.  Maraş is located in between two regions of Turkey - the Mediterranean region and Southeastern Turkey. 
Photo from

Which region does it truly belong to?

The different regions of Maras, and location of the Maras municipality within Turkey
Photo from Wikipedia

I've been told this is a popular question on Turkish game shows - so I'll give you the official answer - it's the Mediterranean Region.  However, I'm sure an anthropologist could argue that culturally Maraş is more like Southeastern Turkey than the coastal towns along the sparkling blue Sea. 

Maraş has a long history that dates back over 4000 years to the Hittites, when the city was named "Maraj" after a Hittite commander.  The city was known as Gurgum during the reign of Sargon, an Assyrian king.  The Romans called it Germanicia and the Byzantines followed suit.  Then, when claimed by the Arabs it went back to the original name, which in Arabic was "Mer'ash".  The Seljuks and the Zülkadiroğullari also lived in this area before the Ottomans finally became the keepers of the land.   As a city on both the Silk Road and the Spice Road, many feet from many cultures have worn a path through Maraş and most likely shaped some aspects of the culture that remains today. (Information from the Tourism Guide of  Kahramanmaraş)

In the early and late 1900's Maraş became the focus of several important modern historical moments, and depending on your viewpoint, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…"

In the winter of 1920, the first major battle of the Turkish War of Independence took place in Maraş  which forced the French to retreat and astonished the Allied forces.  This was an important turning point for Turkish independence, and in 1973, the city of Maraş was transformed to  Kahramanmaraş by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, ("Kahraman" meaning hero)  to commemorate the victory against the French in the Turkish War of Independence. 
The statue near a main road entering the city that proudly displays the award given to Maras to commemorate the battle won during the Turkish War of Independence.
(Photo from

However, it wasn't all joy and celebration for everyone, as many Armenians that were living as refugees in Maraş were caught and targeted in the crossfire of this battle, and retreated with the French to suffer a long, cold march that ultimately took many more lives.

Then in 1978,  Kahramanmaraş fell into the spotlight with a dark deed - the massacre of leftist Alevis, that left 105 dead.  We were actually in Maraş this winter during the anniversary of this day.  The news portrayed peaceful meetings and reconciliation of the Sunni majority and Alevi minority, which are still present in Maraş. 

There is obviously much more to these time periods and to these historical events - but that's 4000 years of history summed up into a couple paragraphs.  I barely scratched the surface with these tidbits of history.  However, the events of the last century are the ones that I had heard about specifically, and now I'm fact checking on Wikipedia (I probably should find a more reliable source).  Yet, from what I can tell, they have played an important role in the way the Maraş people view themselves, and also how the rest of Turkey thinks of this growing city of now over 400,000 people. 

Even though I have now spent a total of 5-6 weeks in Maraş, I can say that I do not yet really "know" Maraş.  We have not explored all the historical and natural sites that would typically attract the tourists.  With these overlapping layers of history, it seems that they are still unearthing old mosaics and ancient buildings that were painted and built over in time.  You can learn more about this at the Maraş Archaeological Museum (where we happen to know the mosaic expert in residence :-) ).

Instead of exploring, our trips have been spent with family, which has introduced me to an entirely different Turkey and a wide array of modern and traditional Turkish customs

Yet, little by little, we have sampled some of the best spots to enjoy a nice tea, a sampling of sweet and savory pastries, a sizzling köfte, and a traditional Ottoman-style meal. 

The best place to enjoy tea - from the Teras Restaurant on top of one of the many mountains surrounding the city. They have many outdoor tables and areas to sit and enjoy a tea.

Inside the Teras restaurant you can still watch the city below out of the large windows that cover an entire wall of the building.  In summer they open them for a nice, fresh breeze.  The prices aren't bad either!
Mezes at Turaç Ocakbaşı- a restaurant in an old-restored Ottoman-style home complete with copper plates, cups, an old Ottoman stove, and antique decor.

The main dish of mixed grilled meats at Turaç - grilled over charcoal - yummy. 

 We've toured the local bazaar, where one can enjoy the beautiful creations from the famous coppersmiths of Maraş  or be dazzled by the blinding yellow light reflecting from the many gold shops.  We've enjoyed nargile and tea at the top of the Maraş castle.  We've tasted the local salep and enjoyed many, many scoops of the local ice cream- the best in Turkey.

The Maraş market - dried eggplants and peppers, sheepskin and floral dresses. 

A local Maraş coppersmith, sadly a dying tradition
From HakanIrfan's Flickr

The BEST Ice Cream in the World!  More to come about Mado in the next post. 

We've also hit up the city center, where you can find just about anything you need in all the modern stores and also enjoy traditional Turkish fare and décor at the original Mado restaurant. 

So I guess we have done a lot.  Yet, when I look at the Maraş Tourism Guide Book that I was given, I realize we haven't even begun to explore the Maraş region and all that it has to offer.  While watching all the beautiful winter sunsets I pondered what was beyond the city and I watched the sprinkling of lights come on in the mountains realizing that there are surely many beautiful things hidden in those folded hills, and maybe, just maybe, one day I'll get to see them.

The not so distant mountains of Maras - hoping one day I'll get to hike to the top. 

*More to come about Mado in the next post!*

To get to the Teras restaurant - you can use this location in google maps (37.60142861058348,36.912736031804016) - it will take you up a steep hill past a large forest and up to the top of the mountain/hill where the restaurant is located.  

The Turaç Ocakbaşı restaurant is located at Sait Zarifoğlu Bul. Dumlupınar Mahallesi, Orman Caddesi No:101
Phone number: 0344.214.14.83

Better yet - ask your hotel, local host or taxi driver to take you there.  It is near the city center and should be well known.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hot off the e-presses: Activities and Strategies for Everyday Language Learners

Hot off the e-presses!  It's Activities and Strategies for Everyday Language Learners by Aaron Myers . 

I've been following the Everyday Language Learner blog for the past nine months or so, and it has had a profound effect on how I view the language learning process.  Aaron has a seemingly endless well of new ideas to improve language learning and to keep the drive to learn going strong.   As a subscriber to his regular emails and posts, I was offered an early opportunity to check out his new ebook Activities and Strategies for Everyday Language Learner on the Kindle.  It just released today live on his website and you can get the PDF version for FREE - yes, for FREE!  Check it out here

Aaron has compiled 55 tips, ideas and activities to help the self-directed language learners.  About a third of these ideas are for solo learning, another third will require the help of a native or expert speaker, and the remaining third are a combination of some general tips to create a language learning plan and stick to it, as well as some tips to take you out into the community and learning. 

The timing of this book could not be better for me.  I have been evaluating what I need to be doing to take my Turkish to the next level, and I recently decided to sign up for some private lessons with a Turkish tutor.  Now I am armed with 20 activities that I can bring to these lessons with a native speaker and get the most out of my para ($$).

The best part is, it doesn't matter if you are studying Turkish, Arabic, Spanish or French - these lessons are for anyone studying any language and they can work for many different levels.  Aaron's ideas and tips are universal, but his strong background in Turkish is definitely a bonus for us Turkish learners.

I know that it can seem overwhelming to put all that effort in, to really take hold of the reigns and lead yourself through a new language.   However, I think Aaron has that covered as well.  Here are some of my favorite posts of his related to making the time, finding the motivation and sticking with a plan.

Don't we all wish there were 25 hours in a day?  Well, unless the earth starts spinning slower, we're stuck with just 24.  Aaron has some ideas for making more time with the time we think we don't have enough of:

I just love the face of the kid on this post, he really does not want to read that book!  I feel that way sometimes.  I scowl at my Turkish textbook as it taunts me from the top of the dresser.  Some days we just can't do it - but here are some ways we can still keep touch with the language, even though we may not dare open a book:

I don't do resolutions, but I guess my goal this year is to really improve my Turkish so that I can finally have a real conversation with all of H.'s relatives.  I try to make myself accountable with Google calendar, but I think these three might work a little better - Ask Me Everyday, Lift, and Language Learning Log:

  I let most days go by without a word of Turkish, yet after reading Aaron's new ebook, I've realized I have no excuse to offer anymore.  He has many, many ideas for filling the small gaps in our days with language learning and with a little up-front effort, creating loads of materials to keep improving.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Keeping a Balanced Perspective with "An American Woman's Letters to Turkey"

As a lover of literature, travelogues and the written word in general, much of what I know and understand of the world comes from a paperback (and these days, often an e-book).  With all the recent bad news seeping out of Turkey - such as the tragic death of an American woman in Istanbul, and the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, today seemed like a fitting day to discuss a book that I recently read while I was in Turkey: Yes, I Would Love Another Glass of Tea: An American Woman's Letters to Turkey, by Katharine Branning. 

Why this book?  What does it have to do with these incidents?  Well, to start, the book has nothing to do with these incidents.  It has everything to do with spreading cultural understanding, open-mindedness and an honest appeal to English-speakers about the people and nation of Turkey. 

Katharine has been travelling to Turkey since the 1970's, spending a few months or a few weeks travelling back roads, visiting forgotten places, and chatting with the locals.  Katharine is a librarian and therefore also has a deep love of the written word and research, she also was born and raised in the Midwest, USA - so I find myself relating to her on many levels.   Yet, what I find most appealing about Katharine's writing is her honesty, her ability to describe cultural differences without criticism, without negativity towards either culture, and without the "Western hegemonic eyeglasses". 

"When you are confronted by an unexplainable situation, you must take a deep breath and stand back from it, and then remove your Western hegemonic eyeglasses.  Then, and only then, can you start to analyze what is theirs, yours, and the truth.  Opening your eyes to the value of other people and other countries and societies unlike yours has a reward beyond price.  And no other country in the world makes this encounter so gentle and as colorful as Turkey."

Her book is organized in letters that she directs to Lady Mary Montagu, a name which may sound familiar as Lady Mary has authored her own book of letters from her time spent in Turkey during the era of the Ottoman Empire, titled "The Turkish Embassy Letters" (another book I plan to get around to reading soon).

Portrait of Lady Mary Montagu by Gervase Spencer from

Katharine mostly travels alone in Turkey.  She has visited many big cities and small villages in the East, West, North and South of Turkey.  Katharine realizes that this is not customary in Turkey for "Islamic tradition states that no woman should travel for more than three days unless her husband or an appropriate male family member accompanies her."  Yet, she does not follow this tradition.  However, she does maintain appropriate dress, manners and demeanor that respect Turkish culture, which she maintains is how she remains so safe and well-cared for while traveling. 

While I find myself questioning if I would ever have the guts to do the same, Katharine explains WHY she goes alone:
"The best part of traveling alone is that it is possible to do so, for Turkey is a very safe country.   I never feel afraid in Turkey.  My fate is entrusted to the good care of the 72 million pairs of hands at my service.  Another reason I travel alone is that quite simply, I have experiences I would never have if I were travelling with a man or in a group.  In Turkey, a woman alone is showered with all kinds of attention and kindness, for Turks just do not want you to feel alone."

And Katharine shows many examples of these unexpected moments when she is gifted with hospitality, warm gestures and the kindness of strangers - such as a shared birthday cake, or an invitation to dinner, or to stay in a local village house, not to mention the thousands of glasses of tea she has been offered throughout the years.

Katharine Branning from

Katharine's book may not be for everyone - she has an extremely optimistic hope that the many cultures of the world and the world's religions may one day cohabitate in peace, and this optimism may grate on the realists out there.  As I find myself spastically jumping from realist to peace-loving optimist, I found her enthusiastic calls for peace idealistic, maybe a little improbable, but very encouraging.  I echo every sentiment she expresses in this fervent call for us all to remain open to the traditions of others, in whatever way we choose to connect:
 "The truth is more layered than one religion can provide answers for, so the more a human beings learns from traditions other than those of his own upbringing and culture, the more he will be able to carve his own meaning and truth.  These meanings can indeed be found in religion, but also in art, philosophy, nature, in work, in private and intimate self-dialog, in science, or in service to others.  There is not one path, one voice, one text.  The world is too big for that."

This book may be preaching to the choir for all of you already living and loving Turkey.  For those that carry their "Western hegemonic" and may I add "xenophobic" eyeglasses with them at all times - this book will probably never be opened, and a word will not be read.  For those that are somewhere in the middle, this book may open a door to you - a door to Turkish culture and customs and a way of experiencing that distant land that has won the hearts of many around the world.  If you are ready for such an experience, I recommend you turn off the news and open this book and open your mind.

Further reading about Katharine Branning and her book:

Katharine's website about the Seljuk Han's of Turkey:

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