Sunday, 18 October 2009


Not long after I arrived in Turkey a friend of mine, Gonul, was showing me how to make stuffed cabbage leaves (which, by the way, are one of the most mouth wateringly delicious little things I've ever eaten). After we were done we had quite a lot of cabbage left over. If you've ever seen a cabbage here, you'll understand why. Anyway I said (or at least kind of tried to say... I used a lot of hand motions during this phase of my life), "What should we do with all this extra cabbage?" I must have communicated somewhat effectively because she looked at me with a smile and a sparkle in her eye, raised a finger in the air as if to say, "Ah ha!" and then started making pickles.

Gonul found a large jar, chopped the cabbage into wedges and stuffed it in. She opened my refrigerator and started pilfering the contents and throwing them into the jar - carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley, bell peppers. Then she grabbed my vinegar, dumped it in along with water, salt, some garlic and lemon juice, and screwed the lid on. Next Gonul pointed to my calendar and showed me that I needed to wait at least a week and then (pointing to the strange assortment curing in the corner of my kitchen and motioning with her hand to her mouth) I could dig in and eat it up, and (patting her tummy, smiling, and saying "mmmmm") I would like it.

What Gonul couldn't have known is that I'd already tried a similar concoction of pickled vegetables at a neighbors house and absolutely hated it. It was, let's see, how can I put this delicately, well, it was absolutely disgusting. But I ate it. I ate a whole lot of it. After choking down one bowl of pickled who-knows-what in order not to offend my hostess, she assumed I loved it and served a second even bigger bowl.

Back to Gonul's pickled assortment. I let it sit for a week so that when she came over she'd see I hadn't just tossed it, then I put it in the refrigerator and every day threw a little bit away. Yep, in order to keep from offending, I basically lived a big fat lie until the giant jar was empty.

Since that time I've learned to speak Turkish and become less scared of offending. Whenever anyone offers me a bunch of pickled stuff I kindly explain that I don't care for pickled stuff. Then, without fail, they say, "Oh, that's because you've never tried MY pickled stuff" As if their recipe is so very very different from everyone elses.

They serve me up a big bowl and wait eagerly while I try it. And without fail, I plaster a fake smile on my face, say, "Oh, you're right... this is better." Then I try my best to choke down at least half of it before lamenting about how full I am and how I can't possibly eat another bite. I lie, I know it's bad, I know I shouldn't, but at least I'm being honest for you, right?

Now I feel like my world has turned upside down. I feel like I've become the thing that I once detested. I've entered a dark and confusing phase of my life.

I make my own pickles. Not only that, I feel really really cool making them, like a pioneer, or a pilgrim, or at least a really homey domestic make everything yourself kind of gal.

It makes me feel so cool that I want to fit it into conversations, just to let people know how crafty I am... but I don't find the opportunity very often.

I keep hoping that one day a friend will be complaining about the price of pickles, and I can say, "Oh really? I wouldn't know... I make my own pickles... from scratch." Or maybe someone will say that they can't decide which brand is best, and I'll say, "Oh, you mean store bought pickles? I wouldn't know. I make my own."

It started with my friend Kim giving me a pickle recipe and a jar of pickles she'd made. This was the first and only time I've ever experienced homemade pickles in Turkey and actually enjoyed it. It probably had to do with the fact that she only pickled cucumbers. She didn't venture into the vile world of pickling vegetables that the Good Lord never intended to be pickled.

Thanks to my new inspiration, I made some pickles too. First I bought cucumbers. Do you see how cucumbers here are much smaller than cucumbers in the States? These are sold in grocery stores as pickling cucumbers.

I tried to take a picture of a cucumber in my hand so I could show you the size, but then I looked at it, gasped as I realized how badly I need a manicure, and immediately deleted it. Here's Marie demonstrating the size for you instead.

I washed these babies up, and threw them in a jar, like so....

Then I put a couple of cloves of garlic (they're called teeth, not cloves, in Turkish... thought you might enjoy a bit of Turkish language trivia). I poured a mixture of boiling vinegar, salt, and water over the top, then tossed in a few sprigs of dill. Last I put on the lid, put it in the fridge, let it sit a few days, and wa-lah! I had myself a jar of pickles. Easy as pie. Or really, it's much easier than making pie.

Sadly, I've now become one of those annoying pickle pushing people I once tried to stay far away from. If you come to my house it wont be long before we're having this conversation:

"So, do you want some pickles?

What? You don't like pickles?? Oh, well that's because you haven't tried MY pickles. Give them a try (pointing at the bowl of pickles that I've shoved in front of your face and motioning hand to mouth) and you'll find they're delicious (saying "mmmmmm" while I smile and pat my belly)."

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Third time's the charm

When a baby is born in Turkey, friends and neighbors bring gold. At least that's what I was told and what I read in books about Turkish culture.

When Elise was born 4 months after we arrived in Turkey, I sat at home and waited for the gold to roll in. Well, not really. I sat at home and watched her breathe, sure that she was so fragile and tiny that she would die at any moment. But somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered the gold. Instead of gold...

I got a little vest someone knitted, kind of like this:

Those were nice and all, I mean I was really impressed with a neighbor taking the time and effort to knit Elise a little vest, but inwardly I was a little disappointed that no one brought gold. I decided I didn't get any gold because we didn't know anyone very well. We didn't even speak Turkish yet. I mean if someone had brought us gold, I wouldn't even have been able say, "Thanks for the gold."

Two years and five months later we spoke Turkish, we had friends, knew lots of our neighbors, and had another baby, Marie. This time I was fairly confident that at least a little gold would come our way. So again, in between nursing, watching the baby breathe, and wishing my belly fat would disappear, I wondered when we'd get our first piece of gold.

But this time, we were given about 5 little vests, several boxes of milk, a few baby outfits, and a pair of underwear for Elise.

I thought through the possible reasons why we weren't given any gold. Here's what I came up with:
1. Nobody really liked us very much. Hmmmm, I hope not...
2. All of our good friends were too poor to give us gold. No... we had some pretty wealthy neighbors.
3. Gold is only given to relatives. Maybe
4. This whole gold thing was just made up by somebody. It's a myth. But I've seen the little baby charms in the stores...
5. Giving and getting gold is more of a community savings thing than a no-strings-attached gift. Ah ha! I think I've got it!

I think there's a more official name for it, but it basically community savings has a goes around/comes around type of meaning. Like, we all live together... for the long haul. So, when my baby is born you give me gold, knowing that when your little squealer comes along I'll give you gold. Then, when my daughter says "I do" you give her gold, and when your daughter walks down the aisle I give gold to her. So, we all help each other out, but come out even in the end.

James and I are foreigners so even though we live next door, we're not really a part of the community. We are outsiders. If you give us gold, unless you're on the verge of giving birth yourself, you can't count on getting it back.

This theory made perfect sense to me and made me feel a little better about being shut out of the gold circle. Oh good, I thought when I came up with the theory. People do like me. It's just my foreignness that keeps them from giving me gold.

Two years and three months later, when Clara was about to come along, we had only lived in our neighborhood for about a month and didn't know any neighbors well. We were definitely NOT an established part of the community, so for once I laid my gold wanting greediness aside and had absolutely no thoughts about it. I was sure that as foreigners we were just shut out of that part of the culture. But then this happened:

And this:

Shiny little gold charms. One for me and one for Clara.

Mine says Allah in Arabic. At least that's what I think it says... I don't know arabic, but think "Allah" is more likely than "Congratulations on your new born baby girl!"

Clara's is a little blue eye bead... to protect her from the evil eye.

The other English teachers at James' school chipped in to get them for us. There goes my theories about community savings... guess I'm not as smart as I thought I was.

Unless I give into the whole "people don't like us" idea, the best I reason behind who gets gold and why that can come up with now is third time's the charm. Do you get it? Third time... charm....

Oh, we also got a box of milk and a little vest a neighbor knitted. I think the books on Turkish culture shouldn't go on and on about gold when babies are born. Instead they should emphasize the obviously fashionable and wildly popular baby attire - hand knitted vests. And boxes of milk.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Things I LOVE about Turkey - The Pazar

Do you see this?
I LOVE it!
Almost every neighborhood in Turkey has a weekly fruit and veggie market. It's kind of like the Farmer's Market that I used to go to in my college town in California. Except on steroids. It's really really really big. Speaking of big... can you see that pile of veggies in my picture? No. . . it isn't the camera angle. . . those veggies really are piled about 12 feet high.
The pazar in our neighborhood happens every Saturday in a big covered concrete lot about the size of a football field. It's chalk full of colorful, fresh, delicious fruits and veggies. Turks are amazing at arranging things in an attractive way, and the result is that you (or at least I) want to visit every booth (and there are rows and rows and rows of them) and buy a little of almost everything.

Don't those carrots look delicious? And did you see the size of the cabbages? They're bigger than watermelons! I've always wanted to buy one of those big cabbages, but I have no idea what I'd do with the 4/5 of it that would be left over after I made coleslaw.
My parents came to visit and I took them to the pazar. They just stood and stared in awe. . . Or maybe it was jet lag. . .
The thing about the pazar is that you have to buy most things in bulk. . . I usually ask for a kilo or two. The first time James and I went to a pazar, he tried to buy one apple. The seller just looked at him then rolled his eyes, muttered something, and handed it over. Apparently it wasn't even worth going to the trouble of weighing it.
Yumm! Apples and grapes. And can you see those super red tomatoes in the background? I wish I had taken a shot of them. They are so so so sweet and delicious, they don't even resemble those tasteless things I would buy at the supermarket in the States.
I love it!

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