More Cooking With Sureyya or… It Takes a Village

I know what you want.

You want uncomplicated blog entries about food with a few recipes thrown in, rather than musings about art and architecture and the paths we choose in life.  Unless, of course, there are recipes.  Turns out, Frank Lloyd Wright is not an SEO-friendly tag.  Chicago-style hot dogs probably is.

I’m going to give you what my readership statistics tell me you want, but I’m going to sneak in my favorite blog ingredient – food for thought.

Just over a year ago, we were in Turkey as an early celebration of my 50th birthday.  Everything about the trip — the months of planning and anticipation, the experience itself and the months-long afterglow exceeded my expectations.

We stopped in Paris en route, a city I hadn’t been to since I was a student at the American College in Paris in 1979.

The food is just as good.

That’s where my Slice of Mid-Life gravatar came from.

And the city is just as beautiful.

But instead of an international array of backpackers with “No Nukes” patches in various languages sewn onto their backpacks, as there were in my day,

there is an international array of break dancers who perform at the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe.

Turkey is a special place with warm, wonderful people.  There is something special about their food.

Could it be the ingredients?

So now that I’m back home, I jump at every opportunity to relive that trip and to cook and eat Turkish food and take classes from the wonderful Sureyya Gokeri, whom I’ve told you about before.

During last month’s class, we learned how to prepare a Turkish wedding feast.

The menu:

Yogurt-infused Turkish wedding soup

Maklube (Upside-down Spicy Pilaf with Lamb and Vegetables)

Dag Salatasi (Mountain Salad with Walnuts and Pomegranate Molasses)

Ispanakli Borek (Phyllo pastry with Spinach and Feta)

It melts in your mouth.

Kerevizli Yogurt (Celery Root and Yogurt Dip with Garlic) and

Gul Tatlisi (Rose Dessert)

While we were cooking, Sureyya regaled us with stories of village life.  On wedding and other feast days, women gather early in the morning to cook and while they do so, they talk.  The same thing happens within the Turkish community of Seattle and, I’d venture to guess, within Turkish and other tightly-knit communities around the world.  Even though they don’t cook (though they are intimately involved with lamb procurement and slaughter), the men talk too.

I’m sure it’s not all Borek in the Sky and that talk sometimes turns to gossip which sometimes turns to passing judgment about someone’s soggy baklava, their choice of spouse or their political opinions. A lot of that is probably going on in Greece right now.

But the thing about cooking together and celebrating together is that, whatever your differences, these are shared, face-to-face experiences.

Much has been written about the Internet, our faceless global village, and its power to connect as well as to alienate.  It seems that every time I read an intriguing opinion piece online, I also read several vitriolic and often anonymous responses to that opinion.

I know I’m not alone in lamenting how uncivil public discourse has become and how closed we’ve become to the ideas and experiences of others.  I recently wrote an article about it and received several favorable responses and a few uncivil, anonymous ones too.

So, since I know you like recipes, and since I believe you catch more flies with rose water- infused syrup than with vinegar (except perhaps, Balsamic), here’s Sureyya’s sweet ending to a community gathering.  You can find more recipes on her website.

 Gul Tatlisi (Rose Dessert)

3 cups water

2 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 capful rose water (optional)

In a deep saucepan, boil sugar and water for 20 minutes on medium heat.  Add lemon juice and boil for two more minutes.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Pastry:

1 egg

1/2 cup yogurt

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup semolina

1/2 cup canola oil

1/2 teaspoon orange zest

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 to 4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.  Mix all ingredients except flour, baking power and walnuts in a bowl.  Add baking powder and flour a little at a time. Sureyya says you’ll know you’ve used enough flour when the dough is as soft as an earlobe,

Roll out half the dough to 1/4 inch thickness on a lightly floured surface, making sure it does not stick.  Cut out two-inch circles.  Lay four circles overlapping each other.  Roll the circles together and cut them in the middle to make two “roses.”  Put a walnut piece in the middle of each rose.

Place the roses on a greased tray (or use parchment) 1/2 inch apart.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until they are browned.  As soon as you remove the tray from the oven, our the syrup over the roses and set aside for 20 minutes.  The, turn roses over to evenly absorb syrup.  Ideally, the roses should soak in the syrup for two to three hours.

Finally, as a former Jersey girl, I got a kick out of the following article and I hope you do too.  But be forewarned.  There are some snarky comments afterwards.

Me, Bruce and a Colonoscopy

Seeing the World in a Grain of Rice

Last week was one of sugar highs and lows.  Halloween on Monday, resulting in way too many Snickers bars lying around the house in plain sight,

disheartening presentations on education reform Tuesday and Wednesday, and the early morning discovery of a dead rat at the bottom of the stairs,

The guilty party

an exhilarating Thursday (culminating in a satisfying European Chicken Night featuring a simple recipe for Chicken Dijon, courtesy of the October issue of Food and Wine magazine) and a dismal, rainy Friday in which we learned of the passing of our dear friend, Kim.

Saturday morning was brighter than expected. I headed to Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood to Book Larder, a new community cookbook store, to see Adam Gopnik, long-time New Yorker writer, and author of the new book The Table Comes First  Family, France and the Meaning of Food, a book he says is about how food comes to us from our hearts and minds.

Book Larder has gotten a lot of well -deserved press since it opened last month. Born from the passing of another Kim, Seattle book impresario Kim Ricketts, it’s a place for people who love food to come together and is an important addition to our city’s independent booksellers.

Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon is one of the books that transformed me. I’m not sure whether Gopnik or one of his reviewers said it first, but his writing is about seeing the world in a grain of sand.

The book came out in 2000, when I was the mother of a toddler and soon-to-be- mother of a new baby and the way I viewed the world was already in the process of transformation. On our refrigerator hangs a Get Out of Jail Free Card, Good for a Reading by Adam Gopnik, placed there by my husband Jeff, who was watching me struggle to navigate the passage from world-traveling career woman to stay-at-home mother, and noticing how the small moments in life suddenly meant the world to me.  I’ve made use of the card every time Adam Gopnik has been to Seattle ever since.

You should know that Adam Gopnik comes across as a genuinely nice guy. Earlier in the week, I had attended a book presentation by another erudite East Coaster, who was arrogant and insulting to his audience.

Though Gopnik has been criticized for the denseness of his prose and smugness of his lifestyle and was even the subject of a New Republic book review with the opening sentence, “I sometimes wonder if Adam Gopnik was put on this earth to annoy,” in Book Larder’s intimate setting he confessed to reading recipes in bed (there were nods of recognition from around the room), admitted his kids eat junk food, and made it possible to believe that he, too, might possibly confront a dead rat at the bottom of the stairs and eat a Snickers for comfort afterwards, though he would then probably write about the origins of comfort food and reveal that the concept was the brainchild of Louis XIV.

The Sun King’s perfect Saturday included chocolate, shopping for shoes and kicking back with some chick lit.

Our friend Kim was a ruminator too, not the neurotic New York variation, but an outdoorsman, teacher and world citizen. After he was felled by a stroke and confined to a wheelchair, in near constant pain and with compromised vision and speech, eating was a chore for Kim.  One meal could take hours and no sooner was it cleaned up, then it was time for the laborious process to begin again.  Yet eating became one of Kim’s pure pleasures.  He cut a dashing figure in the serape he wore because he was always cold, wheelchair anchored in a patch of capricious Pacific Northwest sunshine, reaching with his good hand into a pouch around his neck where he kept a stash of chocolate.

When we visited Kim and his wife Judy, we would often bring food, and the ceremonial meals we shared became the highlight of our time together. At the table, Kim’s irreverent wit and keen intelligence trumped his physical incapacities. The essence of our friend remained unchanged.

The last time we saw him, we dined on smoked salmon, bialys, blueberries, Judy’s brownies and Kim’s favorite — oysters. Jeff reminded me that oysters were also the last food we shared with Kim shortly after he and Judy returned from doing peace mediation work in Africa, and a week or so before his stroke of lightning, four years ago.

Tomorrow night I will participate in an international potluck dinner at my daughter’s school, an event I conceived eight years ago, after a chance conversation with a Mexican father about chilaquiles, one of my favorite comfort foods, reminded me that food (like children) is the great equalizer.

The above link will take you to a recipe by Marilyn Tausend, author of the fantastic book Cocina de la Familia, and to whom I owe a huge public apology for never returning the back issues of Sunset magazine that she lent me many years ago.  I hear Ms. Tausend is working on a new cookbook.  I hope when it comes out, she’ll be hosted at Book Larder and I can make the proper amends.

I’ll be making Sri Lankan Love Cake for the international potluck, in honor of Kim and everyone else I’ve shared meals with.

You may feel about Adam Gopnik the way some people feel about oysters, but there’s no accounting for taste.

The important thing is that the people around your table touch your heart and your mind.

Rest in peace, dear friend

By now you’ve probably noticed that I don’t create my own recipes, I just collect them (think of me as the Arianna Huffington of the recipe world).  I am happy to have found a way to share my favorites.

I’ve added two new food-related sites to my blogroll:  The Garum Factory (check out their method for separating kale leaves from stems.  It was the most fun I had all week) and Food 52, Amanda Hesser’s online food community.  I got a good look at the new Food 52 cookbook and several other enticing food tomes and am hoping that anyone in my family at a loss for what to get me for Christmas, will give me a gift certificate to Book Larder.