Friday, 19 September 2008

Baklava Overdose

There's a holiday coming up. Kids will go door to door and get candy. People will eat sweets and drink cola until they've had enough to keep them on a sugar/caffeine buzz for days to come.

I'm not talking about Halloween.

It's Seker Bayrami... the Sugar Holiday!!

At the end of the month of Ramazan, people celebrate for three days straight by getting together and eating. Isn't that what you'd like to do after a month of fasting? I know I would. Kids get new clothes, sometimes ridiculously nice clothes, like pristine white suits for a 7 year old boys. Women spend the last week or so of the Ramazan cleaning their homes from top to bottom and cooking up all sorts of delicious treats, especially baklava. And then the day finally comes. No one goes to work. Kids get up early, wondering what time they can start knocking on all of the doors to collect candy. All the men go to the mosque for the early morning prayers, and a few hours later the fun begins.

Turks dress in nice new clothes and begin making visits by order of importance. They'll start with their oldest relatives then work their way down. By the second and third day they're visiting neighbors and friends.

The last few years we've taken part in the festivities by visiting scores of friends and neighbors. I always half dread /half look forward to it, and James always LOVES it. The Sugar Holiday is one of James' favorite times of year because: 1) He loves baklava. 2) He loves cola. 3) He loves baklava, and 4) He loves cola.

Here's a picture of what a typical day of making bayram (holiday) visits looks like:

6:30 am: wake up (not by our choice but because our kids absolutely can't sleep past 6:30)
7:00 am: breakfast of fresh bread (delivered to our door that morning by the building door man), tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, olives, and tea. This is the typical Turkish breakfast, eaten by all Turks every morning of every day. We don't eat it every day, but for some reason we always eat it on Turkish holidays.
8:00 am: We all start getting dressed up in nice clothes. James wears slacks, a nice shirt with a tie, and shiny shoes that he'll complain about the rest of the day. I wear a skirt, blouse, nylons, nice shoes that I'll complain about the rest of the day, and gold jewelry (gold is very very important to Turks, I talk a little about it here, and I'll put a whole post up about it in the future). The girls wear dresses and we tuck a change of clothes into a diaper bag for each of them because we know they'll soon be covered in chocolate.
8:30 am: The early bird building kids are up ringing doorbells and collecting candy. We open the door to be greeted by a bunch of nicely dressed smiling kids yelling "Iyi Bayramlar!" (translation: Happy Holidays!) and holding out their little sticky sugar covered fingers for some candy (or money... but we never give money).
9:00 am: We can hear neighbors stirring - going in and out of homes and up and down the elevator, so we venture out as a family for our first visit of the day. We always go to the old woman in the apartment below us first. I don't know her name. Everybody calls her Haci Anne. That means mother who has gone on the haj (the trip to Mecca that all Muslims are supposed to take at some point in their life). It's not that she's actually gone on the haj. It's just that she's so old that she probably could have. Since she's the oldest, out of respect we visit her first. Here's how it goes: Haci Anne's granddaughter Tuna (yes, her name is Tuna. She's my age.) opens the door to let us in. I kiss her on each cheek and James shakes her hand. We're shown into the salon (the nicest and most richly decorated room in the house, saved just for when guests visit), where Haci Anne is waiting for us. We say "Iyi Bayramlar!" (Happy Holidays!) and kiss her on the back of her hand then touch it to our foreheads. She says "Hos geldiniz! Hos geldiniz yavrum!" (Welcome, welcome my little baby animals! - kind of like saying my dears) and then we all sit down. After a few rounds of how are you and how are all your relatives, her granddaughter brings a bottle of lemon cologne around and douses our hands with it. We rub them together and then they're all clean, disinfected, and lemony fresh! Then Tuna brings out the baklava and the cola. The baklava is homemade (made by Tuna supervised by Haci Anne) and the cola is served in a wine glass.
This time we're also really lucky because in addition to the baklava, there are also stuffed grape leaves (I'm salivating as I write this... my neighbor's stuffed grape leaves are absolutely sublime! I don't know what sublime means, but I can't think of any other word to describe the succulent deliciousness that these stuffed grape leaves embody.) There are also some hard cookies and some other sort of soft syrupy cookie with a hazelnut in the middle. Haci Anne goes all out for bayrams. We eat up all our food, say thank you, chat a little longer, then say, "With your permission we're going to get up now." She says, "But we were sitting so nicely!" (These are the set sayings that everyone says at the end of a visit.) And then she motions to Tuna who brings out some more baklava, and a beautifully wrapped chocolate for each member of our family. James eats his, I put mine in the diaper bag to save it for later. Elise is covered in olive oil from devouring stuffed grape leaves. Since she's grown up in Turkey, she senses good stuffed grape leaves when she gets them, and she goes into vacuum cleaner mode, eating as many as her little belly can hold, and only stopping when someone gives her a piece of chocolate. Elise unwraps the chocolate, and eats it up (all the while I'm cringing and wiping her as quickly as possible because she has olive oil and chocolate covered fingers and is sitting on a white sofa). I forgot to mention that Marie also gets handed a piece of chocolate. Never mind that she's only 3 months old. It's a holiday, so she's given a chocolate too. I generally say thank you and put it into the diaper bag, but sometimes if a neighbor or friend is holding her they actually unwrap it and try to feed it to her!
9:20 am (That's right! That whole sugar and stuffed grape leaf eating fest was only 20 minutes long!): We again ask permission to go, and this time we get it, although it's always given reluctantly. We make our way out into the hallway then up one flight of stairs to ring our next-door neighbor's doorbell. They open the door, we all yell "Iyi Bayramlar!" And the whole baklava-and-chocolate-eating-cola-drinking-frenzy starts all over again. We repeat this process over and over throughout the morning. The same greetings, the same questions, the same almost everything. Sometimes we're only offered baklava and cola. Sometimes we're offered an assortment of other Turkish goodies alongside the baklava, but the basic visit is always the same. Bayram visits are almost always just 15-25 minutes long. You pack them in. It's more of a courtesy than a time to really get to know somebody.

12:00 noon: We have completed 5 or 6 bayram visits, our teeth our covered with sugary sweaters. We decide to go home for a lunch break and to give the kids naps. The only problem is that we don't want lunch. We're stuffed. We try to feed Elise something somewhat nutritious to counter-balance the sugar she's consumed all morning (Haci Anne's stuffed grape leaves were the only non-sugary thing we've eaten all day). Elise is stuffed too. She doesn't want cheese or sandwich. She's exhausted, but high on sugar. We try our best to get her to take a nap anyway. Every time she's almost asleep our doorbell rings and we open it for kids yelling "Iyi bayramlar!" and holding our their hands for candy.
1:30 pm: James and I decide who else we'd like to visit. Some people we visit because they're our friends and some people we visit because they'd probably be offended if we didn't. We're about to leave the house and press on in the visits when Elise finally falls asleep. We tape a bunch of napkins over our door bell ringer so that the sound is muffled and pretending not to be home, we don't answer the door when kids or neighbors come knocking.
4:00 pm: We've taken naps too. Now we're ready to hit the streets again and make more visits. We change the kids clothes and head out.
10:30 pm: We get home from our final visit of the day and carry our sleeping kids to their beds. We brush our teeth, but it just doesn't seem to cut it. Everyone goes to sleep and has strange dreams about floating on pieces of baklava in a cola sea.

The next day looks very similar, and by the third day we're at home more. The third day of the holiday some friends and neighbors come to visit us. Since we're young, and we're not any body's relative, we're pretty low on the totem pole when it comes to visiting order. I serve store-bought baklava (I have no idea how to make the stuff), some homemade cookies, and cola to our guests. We douse their hands with lemon cologne and give them fancy chocolates.

By the end of the three day holiday, I don't want to see another piece of baklava for the rest of my life. When James and I first moved to Turkey we were in the habit of going to a shop and buying baklava for dessert every couple of weeks. After our first Seker Bayrami (our first experience overdosing on baklava), we didn't buy any for an entire year. Now we usually go a few months after Seker Bayrami trying our best to avoid the stuff and then we start buying it again when guests come over.

Since we're in America right now and far far away from the feeding frenzy that's going on in Turkey, James is dying for some baklava. Anybody know a good recipe?

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