26 November 2012

Thanksgiving in TURKEY...taking traditional Turkish food to the next level

Thanksgiving in Turkey.
turkish garden
hmmm, and where might you be going?
As exciting as that statement was upon arrival to this strange and fine-smelling country, the thought made me a bit homesick. Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday, and the one on which I tend to see the majority of my immediate family.

And to state another obvious reason as to why it's a favorite: it's completely centered around eating. And maybe you didn't know this about me, but I like eating.

So not only would we miss out on our plans to meet up with my Mom and Dad in Israel for turkey day, now we would be in a completely new country with no family and absolutely no idea what we would be doing come Thursday.

But plans happen in an instant. After about 50 e-mails to various hosts signed up with Workaway.info (a website that sets up work opportunities for volunteers in exchange for room and board), I finally heard back from a permaculture farm just north of Istanbul, near the Black Sea.

After reading their profile, what hooked me was one simple sentence, "We will live all together in the farm and we will eat organic delicious Turkish food from the experimental cuisine of Nar."
ground hummus
Radish "hummus" (more on that later)

traditional turkish pasta
Turkish pasta with lentils, yogurt, a spicy olive oil glaze, and fried noodles to garnish
Pan fried potatoes, eggplant, and peppers smothered with lightly sauteed fresh tomatoes and ground cherries
Bulgur pilaf, a fresh red chile paste, and flatbread stuffed with sauteed greens

We landed in Istanbul from Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning, and we were seated at the large wooden picnic table in Nar's garden by lunchtime.
This is going to be a little awkward, but when I said "we were seated," I wan't exactly meaning to invite you...
Nar, it turns out, is the farm's feisty "grandmama," and yes, the woman can cook. With a team of two to three other Turkish women at any given moment, these ladies go to town in the kitchen.

And by "go to town," I mean they take us all to the town of Heaven.
The magic cabinet

Another view of traditional Turkish pasta with lentils,
yogurt, a chili olive oil sauce, and fried noodles to garnish
The farm is one of the larger ones we've worked on and sells at farmers' markets in Istanbul two days a week, so the first two days consisted of five to six hours picking, planting, and cleaning vegetables...However, the work always seems like a blur because really all you're thinking about is the meal that is soon to follow.

On the third day, to celebrate Thanksgiving for the sake of John and me, Nar and her husband Ahmet gave all the volunteers the day off. I chose to spend this free time in the kitchen, because a Thanksgiving day where the majority of my time has not been spent near ovens and cutting boards is fundamentally wrong in my book.

Since there were already three to four women moving in and out of the kitchen throughout the day, I tended to stay huddled in the corner, nodding my head vigorously at intervals and pointing at things while saying "yes" in Turkish and probably annoying everybody by taking too many pictures.
White bean stew flanked by radish hummus and cauliflowers being readied to be floured, egged, and fried

Fresh parsley, mint, lettuce, apple, ground cherry, green onion, tomato, and pomegranate salad. EVOO, lemon juice, and salt  for the dressing--and that's all ya need.
Somehow, in stumbling upon this small farm in northern Turkey, we had found traditional Turkish Slow Food at its finest and a group of people who value food for the way it feeds the soul and not simply for its functionality.

Jackpot. Jackpot of Turkish soul food.
edible green weeds
Using a natural weed (?) that grows all over the surrounding land as the filling for the traditional Turkish borek
Cooking borek in a wood burning oven while the ever-present black tea awaits perched atop another kettle of water
The beautiul borek, made with sauteed greens and onions layered in phyllo dough

But back to the festivities. We planned on a large holiday dinner, but the ladies made a big lunch anyway, because that is simply what they do.

Two huge meals on Thanksgiving? I can be thankful for that.
Farm fresh vegetables fried in olive oil and garnished with parsley and a lemon, EVOO, and garlic sauce
Our pre-Thanksgiving dinner lunch spread

We had yet to have any meat during the two days up to this point, and I was admittedly a bit saddened at the idea of a vegetarian Thanksgiving.

And then Nar and Ahmet decided to kill one of their backyard chickens for us.
Soaked in boiling water for ten minutes, feathered, and waiting for the gutting

The finished product, Turkish style: stuffed with sauteed onions and peppers, sewn up, boiled, then pan fried to crisp the skin
It wasn’t a turkey, but it certainly did the job.
John helps while Fatma sews up our Turkey Day chicken
Here Fatma runs the feathered chicken over a
live flame to remove any stubborn feathers
I also made my first pie crust, which was frustrating, experimental, and somehow fruitful. John used it to make a vegetable tart with all fresh things from the farm, and I made a Pecan Pumpkin Pie hybrid, except with hazelnuts and walnuts instead of pecans.

Both were amazing.
garden vegetable tart
John prepares the vegetable tart with eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onion and garden herbs
garden vegetable tart
Doesn't this just make you crave french fries?

The layer of pumpkin pie over a thick, syrupy, and nutty filling faithfully did the job of making us feel like we had had a real Thanksgiving.
Beginnings.

A little rough looking, but everything becomes beautiful when you see the inside
Battle to the finish
Why don't all pecan pies use hazelnuts?
Since I used a wood burning stove and an extra large pie pan, I’ll have to perfect the recipe for normal measurements once I get to Greece (three weeks and counting!). Brace yourself.
Thanksgiving lunch spread 
Thanksgiving dinner spread 

So despite the absence of my loved ones, we evaded too much heartache with a table full of loving people and an endless supply of lovingly-cooked food.
Looks like that hand in the bottom left corner is getting a little antsy
And then we were made tired and slept. Contentedly.
kitten sleeping on person
One of the 18 cats sleeping on you? Completely normal.
sleeping retriever
Even his tongue was too tired to function properly


Happy Turkey Day, y'all.
sleeping cat baby
Thank you, Ahmet, for being the coolest man in Turkey

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24 November 2012

Bittersweet Endings in Israel

Israel is over. It's still sinking in. 

Like a sudden, if expected, breakup. 
Wait, you're leaving me? No no, I'm leaving you.
That I nearly reached a solid three months living in Israel is something I never expected myself to be able to say. It is one of many surprises I expect to encounter on this voyage of mine.

Staying in the less-than-desirable town of Eilat the almost whole time and nearly going crazy? Not so surprising.

Even so, my time was cut a bit short in that strange and sometimes forceful country, and I'll have to go back sometime to see the northern half.

Sometime when they're not toying with the idea of war.
Our friendly local bomb shelter
I will remember it as the only land whose people go out of their way to let you know that "you are not alone in Israel."

In no other country has a native gone out of his way to tell me, a foreigner, this comforting statement. Yet in Israel, it happened to John and me at least five times.

"You are not alone in Israel."

Makes me feel all warm and bubbly inside.
Goodbye, desert road...
Being as we had to remain out of Europe's Schengen Group due to visa requirements, our next stop was Turkey; the proximity was close and the price was right.

We left November 20th, which means....we had Thanksgiving in TURKEY.

But before we move on to our Turkish Thanksgiving coverage, I’ll end with a few photos of some of the things I’ll always remember about living in Eilat...


The Red Sea.
Sure the tankers marred the view a bit..but it was a view
nonetheless 
That's Jordan across the way, if you were wondering.


Walking in the desert at night.
Sometimes this weirdo followed me
Getting amazing Bedouin lafa bread (like pita but flatter and bigger) made fresh for $1.
Here, we try to convince the Bedouin man to
make us some stuffed Lafa Bread
He consented.

Putting the Lafa dough on the hot
surface
And a chocolate-filled Lafa is born

Hanging out and learning how to free dive (er, beginning to learn) at the Aqua-Sport beach where John worked.
John coming out of the water with his class
Bar dog, you're cool
The Bedouin area for smoking hookah or riding a fake camel
And oh, the sunsets...
  

Cheap, home-cooked meals that never failed to satisfy.
Classic roasted vegetables with an Israeli pita and cottage cheese twist.

The cats. Obviously the cats. They were everywhere.
cat on a dumpster
I've been spotted
cats in eilat
Four. And that's not even the bulk of 'em that walk this alley
evil eye cat
This one is casting a spell on John

cats in israel
Who doesn't love a good kitty dumpster dive?
(Yup, that's three sets of eyes you're seeing)

The cheese. Oh, the cheese. Who would have thought that Israel has the most amazing fresh cheeses maybe in the world? The cottage cheese here is a whole different animal. Rich, thick, and smooth, it beats the American stuff by a landslide. A landslide of cheese. What's more, most of their fresh cheeses come with at least three different options of fat content, usually ranging from 5-15%, but sometimes from 3-25%. Yeah variety.
israel cottage cheese
Top left: cottage cheese, then a pepper-studded semi-soft cheese, and finally a traditional cream cheese.


So, here we come, Turkey. Judging by the amazing smells that somehow waft from everywhere I've been so far in this country (that being an airport, two bus terminals, two buses, and a farm), I can tell we're going to enjoy the food here...

Stay tuned!

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