Friday, December 31, 2010

Reverb 10

In my morning perusing through foodie blogs over coffee, I came across an interesting writing opportunity called the #reverb 10 project. I only found it today, on the last day of the year, but it came at a good time.

I bent the rules a little and decided to pick one that spoke to me instead of answering the question of today. The is the one I chose: "Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?"

The word that would sum up my 2010 is without a doubt the word growth. The year 2010 offered up to me many opportunities for growth in the form of challenges and loss. This past year I decided to change my mindset and look at challenges as opportunities to grow. Now that the year is over, I feel a change deep within that really feels good, and solid.

As for this time next year, I hope that my word will still be growth, because life will always throw out challenges, and my new perspective is still a work in progess. So maybe it would be more apt to say that the word(s) I hope will define 2011 for me are continued growth.

Take a minute, even if you don't write it down, to think of your response to this question, or any of the other questions really. It is a good way to end the year, and start fresh with the new.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pork, Leeches, Beavers and Burgers: Christmas in Istanbul

Christmas in Istanbul is nothing like it is back at home. In some ways it is a good thing, the commercialism and greediness of the holiday can be disheartening. However, I do miss the decorations, treats, piped Christmas music and festive feeling that lasts all month. In Istanbul, the Christmas tree and decorations have morphed into a new year tradition, so we still see lots of Christmasy type of stuff especially with the grocery stores full of imported chintzy Christmas decorations. Starbucks doesn't carry the Christmas drinks, but they have a Christmas blend, and all of the take away cups are red and cheery. Every now and then we will even hear the faint tune of a dancing Santa. So even though St. Nick was actually from the south of Turkey, it is kind of like bizarro Christmas over here.

The week leading up to the 25th, the neighborhood seemed abuzz with holiday cheer. We were busy with caroling, winter solstice yule log burning, and cookie baking. The big event for the boys was the faculty Christmas party; with all of the talk of a gift-bearing Santa Claus, who could blame them? So even though we had to work, it didn't take away from the merriment of the season. Having the boys at the sweet age of nearly five, the Christmas spirit was full on this year. Our house has been deep in holiday cheer all month, decorated with all the usual fixings, an overload of twinkly lights, and even a homemade advent calendar. With little ones, Christmas is all about the magic and story of St. Nick, as it should be.

On Christmas Eve, Koray and I got out for the day to buy some Santa gifts. Our main goal was to buy a Wii for Ali and Omer, but an e-mail from a friend quickly set me on another path: a Greek butcher in Istanbul. Greek means Christian, and Christian means pork, well in my logic at least. After a phone call and some e-mail exchanges with other pork loving expats, I narrowed down the location of this pork butcher. Christmas Eve was looking even better.

We found the place quite easily. Upon walking in, we were greeted by friendly faces, a display case full of pork, and little pig figurines all over the place. Bacon, sausages, prosciutto, sliced ham, even pork chops were laid out in front of us. Sampling this and that before deciding, we walked out of the joint with a bag bulging with fresh pig meat and were happily on our way. The Christmas dinner menu changed quickly from sweet and sour chicken to pork chops.

The next stop was Nisantasi, the shopping district in Istanbul. All outdoor shops along tree lined streets, Nisantasi was hopping with holiday cheer. Most of the people out were gearing up for the New Year gift exchange, so the steep, curvy streets were bedecked with decorations and lights. The main street was draped in bright red bolted down AstroTurf. Every tree along the cobbled red road was decorated with fairy lights and red, glass ornaments.

While Koray set off in search for the gifts, I took an hour and had a pedicure and manicure at the California Nail Bar an uber cool shop owned by an equally cool American lady. Soon after I was primped and polished, Koray met me for lunch. Ambling down the busy streets laden with a Wii and its paraphernalia, we headed into a diner called Egg and Burger. Being an American who knows and loves burgers, I have been disappointed one too many times by the promise of an American style burger. I was skeptical. Don't get me wrong, I love a good islak burger or kofte, but it is always a bummer when my taste buds gear up for the unencumbered taste of beef, sauce, lettuce tomatoes and bread, and the burger doesn't deliver. Being on a pork-buying high, I wasn't sure I wanted to risk exchanging that for pseudo-burger disappointment on Christmas Eve. But this place had all the signs of a good burger joint: silver round tables, red bar stools, retro coca-cola ads, and cooks decked out in white paper cook hats, slinging burgers just next to the dining area, so I decided to throw caution to the wind. Much to my delight, the burger delivered, and was even tastier then some of the burgers I had eaten back in Washington this summer.

Bellies full and wallets empty, and after a thorough search for a toy beaver (more on that later) we headed home to get ready for Christmas Eve dinner (leg of lamb) and small presents.

Christmas morning started for us at 5:45. Ali got the monster he asked for and Omer got his beaver sanctuary, minus the beaver. He asked Santa for "a beaver house, next to a river with an apple tree." He mentioned it several times after writing his letter to Santa, so I knew it wasn't a passing fancy and also knew it really would take Santa Claus to produce this unique request. I looked all over here, as did Koray when he was in Sweden, but nothing even remotely close could be found. We gave up, settling on plan B. But as Koray was walking out of a store on Christmas Eve, he spotted a tree house and immediately snatched it up. We spent the rest of the day on a fruitless mission, trying to find a toy beaver to live in the sanctuary. Luckily I had bought some beaver stickers and we put those on the "beaver house" in hopes it would work.

After it was all said and done, everybody was happy with their gifts from Santa. We feasted on a Turkish breakfast after cleaning up the shredded wrapping paper, and then headed into the city on another mission-- this time in search of leeches.

Eminonu, a part of the city perched on the Golden Horn, is home to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and well as the animal bazaar, which sells amongst many other odd and exotic animals, big jugs of leeches used for medicinal purposes. As the man fished out five leeches with his bare hands, Ali and Omer squealed "we're getting a pet!" After that idea was quickly squelched, we meandered through the crowded streets before heading home.

(Why leeches? We are teaching Stand By Me to the 9th graders and I thought I would maximize the abhorrent leech scene by bringing in a bucket of leeches and getting them to write a poem about it. I can almost hear the shrieks now.)

So, even though we only had three days, this Christmas was a good one. I feel full in all senses of the word.

I hope yours was just as good and merry.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Those Fleeting Moments

This is my 10th year here in Istanbul, and even though it has become home and the newness worn away many years ago, this city still enamors me, especially when I get a weekend away in it with my husband.

We technically do not live in Istanbul, but in a developing suburb with fat-tailed sheep roaming in the village-dotted hills. And because we have full lives raising Ali and Omer, as well as full-time jobs, more often than not Istanbul the destination eludes us.

Istanbul is an amazing, beautiful, pulsing city, which I feel is even better experienced from its heart, Beyoglu. For the four of us, we usually enjoy Istanbul from nine am to about noon, and on the weekends. We do this because of the traffic, which starts getting heavy around noon, and to avoid the painful experience of being trapped in gridlock traffic with two active pre-schoolers; you can only listen to so many Curious George or Skippy John Jones audio books that melt into a seat-belted wrestling match in the back seat, followed by a series of empty warnings and threats (what can you really do in a car stuck in traffic?) before you start to go a little crazy.

Needless to say, we miss the pulsing beat of Istanbul by night.

But this weekend, Koray's childhood friend got married, so we decided to take full advantage of doting grandparents and the beautiful city whose far reaches we inhabit.

Once the grandparents arrived, we kissed the boys and happily hopped in the car, reveling in our newly found but limited freedom. The weekend started off with a monthly meeting I try to attend of professional women living in Istanbul. The snow flurrying outside distorting the view of the gray Marmara Sea, I sipped a cappuccino while talking and listening to a group of interesting and innovative women who have made their way here in Istanbul. It was a good start to a weekend that enabled me to re-charge and remember who the person is that sometimes gets buried under the identity of mommy and teacher.

As soon as the meeting was over, we made our way across the Bosphorous Bridge to a historical hotel in the heart of Pera. With a few hours to kill before the wedding, we treated ourselves to a Thai lunch. Soon thereafter that I indulged in a warm, sudsy hamam. Freshly scrubbed and refreshed, we headed into the old city for the merriment. It was the ride across the Galata Bridge that I was struck for the hundredth time--which always seems like the first time--as to how beautiful Istanbul is.

There is something about this city that cultivates a love-hate relationship with its inhabitants. The traffic, the over-population, the crazy drivers, all make me yearn for a quieter life back in North America. But then there are moments, or weekends, like this, and I wonder if I can ever go back to a life without the glitter and intrigue of a city like Istanbul. The sky line, the vibrancy, the city's texture and warm, lively people, it wins my heart over and over again.

So this is all this post is really about, that single moment in the weekend that I was struck by the beauty of this city reminding me that my wildest dreams of living abroad come true time and time again each time this magnificent city reveals itself to me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The End of Poverty. Period.

One of the many things I love about being a teacher is that I am constantly re-evaluating what I know, how I do things, and sometimes, who I am. I also love the privileged opportunity we have as teachers to the precious relationship with young people. But the thing that I love the most is that I learn as I teach. Students have a lot to teach me, just as I have a lot to teach them. The way I see it, teaching is the much sought after fountain of youth.

I knew I wanted to be a teacher in my senior year of high school. Each year at my school the 6th grade students went for a week to Camp Wooten, a quintessential school camp, dotted with cabins full of bunk beds, nestled deep in the Blue Mountain range of Washington State. The counselors were always 12th grade students, chosen by the high school teachers. The year I was a senior, I badly wanted to go, mainly because all of my friends--all stellar athletes and good students, obvious choices for role models--were chosen to be counselors. I was so desperate to go that I offered to go even as extra help in the kitchen. I don't know who, but someone decided that I would go, and not only that, that I would get a cabin full of chirpy 6th grade girls. I was thrilled. And it was this event that set me on my career path as a teacher. By the end of the week, it was obvious to me that I found joy in working with young kids. Leading them, guiding them, talking with them, I dug it all. Soon thereafter, I enrolled in education courses in college, setting the wheels in motion.

17 years later, and I still love that relationship. While my 9th graders are squirrelly and drive me nuts, my seniors suffering from senioritis, I still enjoy being around them and listening to what they have to say, helping them to navigate this complicated world as they unknowingly help me navigate mine.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this post, poverty. Our goal in grade 12 for the month of December is to define poverty, understand why it exists, identify why some people can't get out of it, help students to know ways that global poverty can finally come to an end and what they can do to make a difference.

The UN has set a goal that by the year 2015 extreme poverty will be eradicated from the world. Currently, there are 1 billion people sharing our world who suffer from extreme poverty. Extreme poverty is defined as not having access to the basics like food, clean water, shelter, basic clothing articles, let alone health care and education. At present, the world is producing enough food for each person to have 2, 224 calories a day, each day. But because people do not have a access or means, the food is not being distributed evenly. In Sach's book, I read about a mom in Malawi, who has a family of six, and when asked by a visitor what she will make for her family to eat, she reaches into her pocket and pulls out a bug infested handful of millet which she will take and mix with water to make a porridge to feed all of them. Roughly, a handful of millet is about 450 calories, divide that by 6, and that is how many calories a day she and her family will be eating.

So when I set out this past weekend to plan for my lessons this week, I was hurrying since that evening Koray and I were attending the Teacher's Day party, a lavish event thrown by the school each year to honor teachers. I had been eating carefully all week so that I could wiggle into my shiny new purple off-the-shoulder party dress. And then I read about the mother in Malawi, and it stopped me in my tracks.

In a season where we are thankful for all that we have and eat our way through November and December, consuming thousands and thousands of calories, followed by a strict regime to shed the holiday weight, I suddenly felt very, very aware of how very lucky we are. I am a grateful person, I am grateful for all that I have, and I think about it often, even when it isn't the season to be grateful. But this information made me see my fortunate life in a different light.

I felt moved to do something. But what? What could I do to stop a global problem? Stop shopping at the Gap? Stop overeating? Donate money? Eat leftovers? Stop worrying about the pudge in my waistline? What?

At the very dinner celebrating what we do as teachers, sitting amongst whirls of waiters carrying bright white plates full of artistically stacked food, sparkly glasses brimming with fresh water and wine, another teacher and I were asking ourselves this very question. Racking our brains, we concluded that what we could do to make the most difference was to teach young people. Helping them to understand the multi-faceted nature of poverty and giving them solutions was our only hope. It is a hope that at least one of them will be moved as we were and go out there and make a difference. And this makes me feel hopeless because I wish I could do more. But if everybody did what they could do within their power, maybe the problem would come to an end. In fact, I am sure it would make a difference.

What I have learned is that over-shopping, and overspending, and all of the cheap clothing and items I love to buy actually do contribute to the problem of poverty. I have learned that charity isn't enough, that micro-loans are better since it gives people the empowerment to better themselves. I have learned that we are close to the UN's goal of eradicating poverty and that there is hope, but we all must do our part.

There are many ways to give back out there, but two of my favorites are Oxfam and These are organizations where you can buy capital in the form of goats, cows, or seeds, or give a micro-loan to an entrepenear. Through I loaned some ladies in Nicaragua the rest of the money they needed to buy some chickens for their butcher shop. The cool thing about is that you can loan as little as 25 dollars and once it is re-paid, continue loaning to another person. 25 bucks. Nothing. Click here to watch the dynamic lady who started this amazing program.

There are also many resources you can look into about poverty. "The Story of Stuff" shows us how consumerism is directly linked to the exploitation of poor countries, which directly contributes to poverty. The United Nations web site on the Millennium Development Goals shows a road map for how they plan to eradicate poverty. For a film, check out The End of Poverty? (with punctuation) by Philippe Diaz and for reading, The End of Poverty (no punctuation) by Jeffrey Sachs, of which Bono wrote the forward.

So, after all of this, am I taking a vow of poverty, giving up the lifestyle that I lead? No, I am not that good. But what I will do is be more aware of my impact on the earth and try to change what I can, and try to teach youngsters, including my own, that we do not live alone and are responsible for each other.

I also hope this this post will inspire you to give back this holiday season and help those less fortunate.

If you do, drop me a line, I would love to hear about it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Ode to Tuna

For those of you who know me, know that I love to eat and that I love to cook. Koray mentioned once that since he has known me, I have rarely repeated a recipe twice. And this is true. I love combing web sites for new recipes, or pouring over my favorite cookbooks for dinner. Sure, I make the staples over and over: lamb chops, roasted chicken, meatloaf, grilled cheese, brown rice risotto and dal, but otherwise, I like to try new things. However, there is one recipe that I keep going back to. The star ingredient isn't really a star at all, but mixed with basic ingredients like eggs, cheese, and onions, your run-of-the-mill can of tuna fish is transformed into a delicate and delicious meal with a fancy french name: bouchons au thon.

The recipe comes from the first food blogger I came across that began my foodie blog obsession, Molly Wizenberg's Orangette. She also published a autobiography/cookbook that was a joy to read, and one that I highly recommend picking up. Based in Seattle, Molly has lived in France, hosts a radio blog, owns an uber-cool pizza restaurant in downtown Seattle and publishes this great foodie blog that I follow religiously. She has an honest, funny, self-depreciating sense of humor and is down to earth. My kind of gal. My good friend K. went to a book signing in Seattle and got me a signed copy of her book. Yep, I am that obsessed. But once you taste these tuna treats, you will see why.

These savory morsels of heaven are a show stopper. From finicky four-year-olds to a hungry post-PEI crowd, bouchons au thon will feed the masses and make them swoon. I usually serve them with a simple salad of thinly sliced red cabbage tossed with fresh garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper. This is a delectable combination. This week I made it with Molly's French home-style carrots; also a good combination.

So, if you are looking for a tasty, easy main dish to make, check these out. You won't be disappointed.

note: you can use yogurt in place of the creme fraiche, sour cream would also probably work. I use any kind of cheese I have on hand, and these still turn out delish.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Recently it was the death anniversary of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, known to Turks as the father of modern Turkey. Every year on November 10th, the country comes to a halt for a moment of silence, cars stopping on the roads, students in auditoriums standing tall and proud, shopkeepers taking a minute away from bustling commerce, all to mourn his passing and remember what he did for Turkey. He is important here, and from the biggest cities to the smallest villages, you can find a bust, statue, or picture of Ataturk. His image graces every classroom and business in the country and his face adorns all of the money.

His death day is also the reason why Koray and I were brought together. Nine years ago,the death anniversary fell on a Saturday, so the entire school gathered for an assembly to commemorate the day. Some mutual friends threw a party the night before, and it was there that Koray and I locked eyes. The rest is history.

This post is kind of two fold. It is about something Koray did the other day at school, which also ties in very closely to why I love him.

As I mentioned previously, on Ataturk's death day, schools across the country gather for an assembly where the national anthem is sung, speeches are made, poems recited, music played and the students sit quietly in the audience. This has been the practice for tens of years. A similar scene also happens for the six or so other mandatory assemblies the ministry of education requires of all schools in Turkey.

But this year at our school is different.

Koray and the deans decided that things needed to change. We are educating our students to be critical thinkers who question and interact with the knowledge and content present in our curriculum in hope that they will bring this skill out into the world with them. This doesn't match with the passive ceremonies conducted year after year. So it was agreed that the ceremonies would change from the students sitting passively, to something where the students are more active in the process.

So as the head teacher, Koray decided to conduct the last passive ceremony by giving a speech that spoke to this very sentiment.

When he first told me about the idea, I admit I was initially nervous. Saying anything but positive statements about Ataturk is frowned upon, and ceremonies that celebrate the man as a hero is the status quo. Koray of course wasn't planning on saying anything derogatory, but what he planned to say was something that could be open to misinterpretation. Koray assured me that he was drawing on the core of Ataturk's principles, saying something that was a long time coming. Once I saw the look of determination in his eyes, I knew that this was something he needed to do not only for himself, but for the students at our school. Whatever happened would happen; it needed to be said and he needed to say it.

When Koray gave the speech, you could hear a pin drop in an auditorium of 1005 teenagers. I was proud and inspired by him.

I will witter on no longer and let Koray speak for himself.

Here is the transcript of the speech:

Good morning,

It was 72 years ago today that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk passed away and we are here to remember him and voice our appreciation and respect for him. However in this year’s ceremony there will not be the traditional sequences of the usual ceremonies, like poems cited or documentaries to be watched. If you allow me, relying on your good reason and conscience, I would like to tell you some things that my reason and conscience dictate. I have been almost regularly attending these ceremonies since 1979 and I feel it is time to share a few notions of my Ataturk, if you like. I hope I manage to say what I mean and I hope you find them appropriate and meaningful and I hope this officially becomes the last ceremony in which you are passively involved.

The year must have been 1981 because I remember being in 3rd Grade at a 10th of November ceremony. Hundreds of us were lined up in the long but narrow courtyard of our school in the neighbourhood. At around 09:05, the hour that Ataturk passed away, the school principal called all of us to attention and a moment of silence started, accompanied by the wailing of the sirens. That’s when it got a bit messy, especially for me. On one hand there were the little first graders who started crying and calling for mommy because they were probably scared by the sirens, on the other hand a group of teachers hurried away to calm the little ones down, at the very expressive facial commands of our principal and the worst of worst things happened.

I started giggling and laughing.

I don’t exactly remember what I found funny but I do remember seeing our principal staring right at me and I knew I was in trouble, a state I was quite familiar with. Later on after the ceremony, as the principal was slapping me quite hard on my head, he was yelling “Do you think Ataturk founded the republic for punks like you? What would he think if he saw you, what would he think?”

That very question has never left me ever since; what would Ataturk think if he saw these ceremonies we were running? What would he say? What would this man, who spent most of his life fighting with dogmas and struggling for individuals’ and peoples’ right for self-determination, see in these ceremonies? What do you think he would think about the expectation laid on students of memorizing bits and myths about him, as a leader who did away with sultanate and caliphate because they base their power and authority on an unquestionable divine source?

Seriously, what would he think?

These ceremonies in the way they are still performed have a set structure and ironically, even though some of these ceremonies are for days which are called “bayrams” (festivals) the structure still does not change. The connotations of bayram like celebration, getting together, having fun somehow never make their way into the discourses of these ceremonies. It is hard for me to be convinced that a leader like Atatürk, who dedicated two national days for children and for the young with the hope of them understanding what he and his principles stand for, would necessarily be happy with what he would see. You see, the Atatürk that I like and take as a role model at times, is very different from the Ataturk my principal tried to bang into my head, literally.

I was told a lot of things about Ataturk and was asked to memorize a lot of things about Ataturk throughout my school years. However, I have a personal understanding of Ataturk based on things I figured out by what I have read, watched and as well as the conversations I have had with people, in whose conscience and reasoning I trust. The most remarkable and essential quality of my Ataturk is that he was a man of action and inertia was not an option for him. Standing from our present context and reality, it is rightfully possible to be critical of some of his practices in his own time and realities. Even when doing so, it is fair to realize that we are talking about an individual who did not accept status quo, a person who actually did something about what he was not happy with.

Many of us today are driven to live lives where making a difference and taking a stance are regarded as out-of-date dispositions and maybe we have good reasons for that. But how honest and consistent is it to seemingly pay our respect and show our appreciation 4 or 5 times a year in exactly the same kind of ceremonies for someone whose portraits and pictures are everywhere we go, whilst refraining from exhibiting the very quality of him that I believe has made all the difference? A question for all of us to take a few seconds to ponder:

“When was the last time you took a risk in order to make others’ lives better, even when you knew what you did would have no direct benefit for you?”

I do not mean to say we all have to be Ataturks, we all have an essential obligation of being ourselves for ourselves and others. My point is that as opposed to paying lipservice in these ceremonies, it is more important and valuable to notice his determination to be himself against all risks and odds. Otherwise, organizing and attending these ceremonies exactly like we have in the last 30 or 40 years run the risk of standing in the way of developing our own unique and individual understandings of such an important man and of creating a lack of response and sensitivity, through mindless repetition.

One example of such confidence is very visible in a letter Ataturk wrote to his mother, as early as 1919, at the very beginning of the movement he started.

“Dear mother,

Ever since I’ve left Istanbul, I know I could send only a few telegrams and I can guess that you are worried. In order to do what I think must be done I have had to take my uniform off and start working as a civilian. That is what I did and I am starting to get results. Soon, the whole world will see the results. Do not worry and let me know if you need anything. Please send some clothes with the person who’s brought you this letter. Do not worry over things you hear. You know very well that I know what I am doing. Had I not been sure of its results, I would not have started this movement.”

One of the surest ways of avoiding these risks would simply be to work harder and meaningfully in our areas of impact. Ataturk’s main approach to laying the foundations of a new identity for a brand new nation was simply formulated with the following advice of his:

“Be proud, work hard and have self-confidence.”

It is of utmost importance that we check our understanding of this statement. Maybe it is now time to spend more time on working harder than on being proud or bragging, in order to have the kind of necessary confidence in ourselves, in our identities and in the main principles of democracy.

While reading the memoir of Hasan Riza Soyak, Ataturk’s personal assistant, one comes to a very profound realization. When we take away the very human qualities of people like Ataturk, or anyone for that matter, not only do we develop a misconception of the person but we also throw them in the pangs of loneliness and depression. Below are Ataturk’s own words, describing his state of mind in 30s, long after having established the republic:

“It is almost like the life of prisoner. I am alone during day time. Everybody’s away attending to their work but I do not have anything to do to fill an hour, let alone a full day. That means I either have to sleep or read a book or write a few things. If I feel like a change of air, maybe I will take ride into the city in the car. And then? Then I will return to this prison, where I will try to kill some more time playing pool maybe, waiting for dinner time. If only dinner time brought about a change…same faces, same names, same words over and over again. In a nutshell, I am fed up.”

Maybe I am wrong in what I am saying, maybe you would disagree. However, one disposition which I have based largely on him as my role-model is to stay true to what my mind and conscience dictate and then to take action.

So at this point, I would kindly invite you to a moment of actual silence, unaccompanied by sirens. During this minute, I encourage you to think about how we can make our ceremonies and celebrations of national days more meaningful and effective in terms creating a better understanding of people like Ataturk and the values and principles they operate with.

Finally I have two people to thank.

First one is to the then principal of the elementary school I went to. I don’t think I learned whatever he intended me to learn but he made me ask a very important question at a very early stage. By the way, this does not imply that I suggest my dear colleagues use the same strategy as his to raise individuals who ask questions.

The second person is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who has largely provided me with the freedom to speak these and other words and who has also been a role-model for me to speak my mind and take action as my mind and conscience dictate.

May he rest in peace.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Still Series: Installation Bir

I have decided to shamelessly copy one of the mommy blogs that I follow by adding a wordless blog every now and then. The purpose of the wordless blog is to give a glimpse into our life by the use of images, and your imagination. So this will be the only wordless blog installation, with, well, words.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Spiderman and Batman Meet the Customers

All Hallows' Eve was a big hit this year with the boys. Last year they were still a little unsure about the whole thing, and the year before they wanted to stop trick-or-treating, mid treat.

The kres has been talking about fall and Halloween lately, so Ali and Omer were fully ready and amped for the holiday this year. Decked out in a Spiderman pajama set and a Batman rain jacket, they were ready for the onslaught of sugar and Halloween fun.

Some of our cool neighbors on campus organized a low-key, yet fun event for the little ones that started the week before with pumpkin carving. The event ended last night in a meet-n-greet, check-out-my-costume twenty minutes of fun and giggles before the herd headed out into the inky wet night in search of free candy. Parents following dutifully behind for crowd control and pictures, the lojman gang invaded the doorways of those brave enough to leave their lights on. All told, there were 16 houses giving out the goods.

Ali and Omer were troopers, running usually in front of the other kids, eyeballing the bright porch lights in search for more "customers" handing out candy. Their spoils were plenty.

The evening concluded with a kid-friendly ghoulish movie at the social center where parents scarfed down black and orange sprinkled cupcakes and speculated on the insulin levels surging through the childrens' bodies surmising what it would do to sleep patterns that night.

I know mine had lots of sugar pulsing through their veins, but after a bedtime story of Stone Soup, they were out like lights.

It was a sweet and precious evening.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Weekend

This weekend has been a good one. Nothing over-the-top or glamorous, how can it be with twin four year olds? But we spent some much needed time together as a family. And it was great.

A tradition has emerged in the Ozsarac household that is both healthy and tasty, and has nothing to do with my Catholic upbringing, really. On our weekly trips to the grocery store, Koray is lured by the siren song of the fish monger and ends up buying a tasty sea bass or mackerel. Since this shopping trip usually happens when school is out for the week, Friday nights have turned into "family fish night" and it is something we all look forward to. I get to kick back, usually with a glass of beer and watch Koray maneuver around the kitchen chopping this, salting that. We missed our family fish night last week since Koray and I were both gone, and Koray has missed a number of family dinners with trips to the capital and abundant after-school meetings, so a fish feast was well overdue.

This Friday Koray had to work late again so, so instead of fish from the monger, we ordered dinner from the new fish restaurant in the village up the hill. Even though it arrived late (8:30), the fish was tasty with a hint of the smoky coals it was cooked over and accompanied by a "we're sorry" salad, fresh, crispy and vibrant with the abundant greens and vegetables of the season. To our surprise and delight, the price was better than when we buy and cook it ourselves. The opening of this restaurant is timely as busy days are far from being behind us.

Another fun event was family movie night. Our new convertible couch transformed our living room into a swanky home theater for a viewing of Toy Story 3. Tucked in and snuggled together, we whiled the evening away warm and happy.

The cherry on the sundae, or the kaymak on the quince, was the delivery of a huge winter squash by our ultra-cool and thoughtful neighbors. I squealed in delight when I saw it emerge from the back of the trunk, orange and bumpy in all its winter squash deliciousness. I will spend some time today to cut, cook and freeze that bad boy to use for all things that are fall and fabulous. Curried squash soup and spice bread are on the dinner menu for tonight.

So, all in all, it was a great weekend, and we have a lot to be thankful for.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chocolate Induced Ruminations

I am not trying to turn into a foodie blogger, really I'm not. Everything I cook is a rip-off from someone else and I don't have a knack for taking pretty photographs. My second-in-a-row food focused post is due to the fact that nothing has struck me recently that is really substantial enough to write about. And niggling the back of my mind is that I have at least two groupies who look forward to my blog, which I appreciate, though I think it is only because they are genetically obligated. Nevertheless, I don't want to disappoint.

The past week has been pretty low key and usual. We did spend a night away from the boys for a team-building work function, which was great fun and well worth it (I work with some cool people), but still work. Koray has been working with the ministry of education, something that makes me admire and respect him even more, and is making headway, but nothing conclusive just yet. So work is work, still loving working with surly teenagers and the teaching gig and A and O are growing and thriving. I will mention a fun installation in the series of O's mis-pronunciation of "L." The current obsession and nightly battle over who will wear the the lizard jammies led to a question and answer session in which we cajoled O to say "yizzard" over and over without him knowing that we were trying to get him to say it. It really is cute and since we have heard him pronounce a proper "L" sound we aren't worried about it and are therefore relishing the final and precious remnants of his baby boyhood. Yobster, yoyipops, syug, pyay, yeech, yike, ayi, yambchops, yasagna...the fun never stops.

So the only substantial thing to dedicate this blog to are these amazing dollops of chocolate goodness that I whipped up today. They are from one of the real food blogs that I follow religiously. Named chocolate chocolate chip cookies, they come from a blog titled "Savory Sweet Life" written by a cool Seattle mom who has some great recipes that we have enjoyed eating on many occasions.

These cookies are show stoppers. And if you add some instant coffee (I use the Starbucks variety, it really is the best out there) they become even more over-the-top deliciously spectacular. I have witnessed them silence a room of chatty teachers for at least two minutes. They are that good. I made them last year with mint chocolate chips. Words cannot describe how good those were. But I cannot get those here in Turkey, so today's batch consisted of regular chocolate chips, and they were still simply amazing. I do have one more cookie recipe that is a universal hit, but I will save that for a post during the Christmas baking season. Ginger and spice just doesn't seem right when the weather outside isn't cold and frosty.

So make these suckers, they are wicked good.

Afiyet Olsun!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When Not in Rome.

I have been dreaming of the pizza Koray and I gorged on during our weekend work trip to Rome last spring. I have tried to re-create that orb of heavenly-garlicky-tomatoey goodness, and have failed. Each time. But it wasn't from lack of knowledge or ingredients. I searched into the bowels of the internet to compare the best recipes to recreate the Roman pizza pie. I even found some pork salami at a specialty shop in Istanbul and made a pizza sauce any Italian grandmother would coo over. But I just couldn't get it right. The pizzas we ate were tasty, no doubt, but nothing like the crisp, clean taste of a rose-golden weekend in Rome.

Letting go of the goldfish, I have vowed to stop chasing the elusive Roman pie. Instead, I have opted for something entirely different: a barbecued pizza.

It ain't Rome, but is it ever tasty.

I added a new foodie blog to my reading repertoire last weekend and found a recipe for barbecued pizza. Too be honest, it wasn't the first time I had seen this type of recipe, and in the past it never really caught my eye. What was different about this particular one was her secret step of brushing the grilled pizza dough with fresh garlic and olive oil before adding the pizza toppings. I realized at that moment I had stumbled onto something.

As I sit here with a belly full of BBQ chicken barbecued pizza (A and O couldn't quite get their heads around that name)I will admit that not having a pizza peel did make the process a little sloppy, but on the second crust I worked out a system that included two spatulas and a cutting board which worked. My timing and the heat of the grill left a lot to be desired. I managed to burn a couple of black crispy spots onto each crust, a rookie mistake easily remedied with a good pizza cutter. I will also admit that I used my bread machine to make the dough, so the process was quite easy. The result? A delicious can't-wait-for-husband-to-get-back-from-his-meeting-till-I-eat-this-thing mixture of chicken, red onion, smokey BBQ sauce and fresh cilantro heavenliness. Finally putting an end to my obsession, this pizza pie has managed to fill the void of the crusty, delectable Roman version.

And she was right about the garlic and olive oil base layer, it did rock that pizza.

So, if you are interested in this recipe, go here. You can use any toppings, but I think the BBQ Chicken Pizza is spectacular.

As for the other pizza, I guess we will just have to go back to Rome, which wouldn't be so bad.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Autumnal Yearnings

I love living in Turkey. It has been my home now for going on ten years. I love my job, the food, the travel opportunities, my friends, my students, the shopping. For most of the year, I never really think about the fact that I "live abroad" or that I live in a "foreign" country, but when fall turns, my yearning for the home of my childhood and early adulthood is strong and severe.

Lately all of the foodie blogs that I follow have been including recipes that are autumnal in their origins, commencing my three month lament over not being back in my homeland for fall. One of my oldest and closest buddies taunts me every year (it has become a funny tradition) where she, on e-mail, takes a break to have a "sip" of her pumpkin spice latte, and even adds a "ahhh" before getting back to her message, leaving me in the throws of fall withdrawal. Starbucks is all over Turkey, yet they don't do the seasonal drinks that the states has. When I was home last fall, she promptly put a pumpkin spice latte in my hand and bought me a Starbucks gift card, carefully tucking it into my bag when I wasn't looking. Upon finding it at when reaching into my wallet to buy some coffee, I was so touched by this gesture that I threw my arms round her right there in front of everybody. Every time I reach for my original Starbucks mug, loamy brown in its color, I am whisked back to that brisk fall morning at Pike Place Market with my oldest and closest friends.

Soon after we were married, Koray went to Philadelphia for a conference in October and was mesmerized by the vivid reds and oranges that blanketed and painted the campus. He was finally able to see for himself why fall has such a special affect on me. Knowing I was missing this seasonal splendor, and much to my joy and surprise, he brought back a grocery bag full of bright red maple leaves and threw them all over. The earthy smell made me dizzy. I framed a few of the leaves to display when it finally turns brisk and golden here in Istanbul.

It was just about this time last year that my yearning for a North American fall was at its peak. I couldn't stop taking about it and thinking about it so Koray encouraged me to book a ticket to spend a week back across the Atlantic. The draw of the seasonal change was unbelievably strong last year and through my dad's illness I was brought back to my homeland and reunited with many people that I love and hadn't seen in a while and I was able to experience my beloved Washington fall. Being back in the US for Halloween was a bittersweet treat on its own. The colors were seemingly technicolor in comparison to the muted yellows and browns of an Istanbul fall. The air was brisk and people were bundled up, leaves blanketed the streets and I was home again. The crisp, clean, cold Seattle air invigorated my lungs and helped to clear my head after spending days with my dying father in the hospital. For the earth, fall is the season of shutting down and hibernation, last fall was for me a season of connection and growth, regeneration of spirit and of healing old wounds. In fact, it always has been something to me. It is my season.

And my season isn't here yet. Summer still lingers and heavier layers still wait upon the shelves in my closet. The nights, though, are chilly, and I did see the harbinger of fall, the white crocus, shooting up in our front yard today, and fresh chestnuts are beginning to make an appearance, so I do have peace that cooler days and re-birth are not far away.

If you are in North America, send fally thoughts my way as you kick through the sanguine splendor of the seasons' glory.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Golden Days of Late Summer

It is September but summer is still in the air here in Istanbul. The weather has been holding steady at about 24 degrees in the afternoon and the salmony-pink golden evenings have been delicious.

This streak of good weather has played an important role in my afternoon adventures with A and O. This week a colleague of mine reminded me about the terrapins noting he had seen at least twenty, and a baby duck. This tickled me because I was sure the pond had been bull-dozed by all of the construction on campus and I knew A and O would be up for a turtle-seeking adventure. The next day, on an afternoon walk with the boys and our neighbor friend C, I asked them if they wanted to go and see the terrapins. To my delight, they squealed and chortled at the idea and then stopped and asked, "but what is a terrapin?"

"Well, it is a turtle, but it lives in the water."

(insert long pause and far off looks)

"Ya! let's go see the terrapins"

So we made our plan that after C asked her parents for permission, and if they said yes, she would be at our door as soon as she changed out of of her school clothes the very next day.

So the terrapin adventure began promptly at 4:35 with a definite knock at our kitchen door. We geared up and headed out.

It had been about 5 years since I had seen the terrapin pond, and there are new roads being built, so I wasn't sure where to go exactly. Unfortunately, we went to the wrong water run off which was murky and overgrown by cattails, so even if there were terrapins living there, we couldn't see them. Much to the kids' disappointment, we had to head back with only a view of the diggers and dump trucks doing digger and dump truck things. A way up the road we tried for about ten steps to walk across the field, but O 's leg got scratched with blackberry brambles, so when giggles turned into tears, I decided the terrapins could wait for another day.

And another day was the next day. Soon after school was over on Friday, we again put on our shoes and headed out in search for the water dwellers. After going down another wrong road, and answering two dozen variations of the question "but where are the terrapins?" we finally laid our eyes on the much sought after, and talked about, terrapin pond. In the inky water we saw black pointy heads poking out of the water, ducking under each time one of the littles shifted in the grass or made a noise. I got a good work out from lifting each of them up to get a better view and they were satisfied with finally seeing the elusive terrapins.

On our way back, ensconced in the golden-warm summer evening, we nibbled on wild blackberries, chased butterflies and chatted about our favorite animals, foods and colors.

It was a good adventure with some cool little people.

Monday, August 30, 2010

B's Zucchini Relish

School has started, for teachers at least, and I have been as busy as expected. But with good things. And because all of those things have been so good, but busy, I need some time to process it all. But I will say that the year is off to a good start and I am looking forward.

But to look backwards for a moment, I want to write about my maternal grandmother's zucchini relish, something I mentioned in my last post. It has been quite a hit with the people I have shared it with so I figured it was worth mentioning here again.
This isn't your average relish, one that is reminiscent of a dill pickle. This is a heavenly concoction that is sweet and sour at the same time, that goes on just about anything you are whipping up for dinner. We recently ate it with grilled burgers, but you can also put it on chicken, mix it with cream cheese for a tasty spread for crackers or fresh bread and you could even use it for curry, which I think I will try this week.

I don't know where the recipe originated or if it goes back any more generations than my grandmother. What I do know is that it is tried, true and tested, year after year, by my mom's family to be a tasty recipe worth making in the hot summer months. I don't have any special memories of it really, but it has always been there in the fridge, ready to dollop on this or that. This summer it was a nice surprise to discover it again, next to the fixins' for a burger (which included the most delectable sweet onions) at my aunt and uncle's house in Lebanon, Oregon.
And that is really all I have to say about it. It is damn tasty and I encourage you to make it as well because the recipe is a cinch to make, especially if you have a Cuisinart or mandolin (which I don't). The recipe here is not for canning purposes, but you can easily can the relish after it is cooked. The recipe follows.

B's Zucchini Relish

10 cups of grated zucchini
4 cups onion, grated
1 red pepper, grated
1 green pepper, grated
3 tablespoons of salt

Combine in glass bowl and let sit over night.

Drain in the morning and add:

2 1/4 cups of apple cider vinegar
4 cups of sugar
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Bring to a boil then simmer for 40 minutes. Taste for salt and spices and adjust to your liking. My mom says cinnamon, garlic and celery seed can be added as well.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

August Back in Istanbul

Having been back for a week now, we have settled into a summer routine that will luckily continue for another week before I have to go back to work. It has been good and surprisingly restful after a busy summer.

The weather has been unbearably hot and humid, but I think we are finally acclimated to it. We toyed with the idea of getting air conditioning installed, but it would take at least a week's wait to have it installed as we aren't the only ones with the bright idea, but by then, we would all be back at work and school, where we have air conditioning. So we decided to have it installed in the off season in order to arm ourselves in the event next summer is a steamy as this one, and get it at half the price.

So, how do you stay home all day in the heat with two four-year-olds? A schedule. The first thing is breakfast followed by a trip in a gloriously air-conditioned car to the store, or the nursery for flowers, or Starbucks. Then we come home for some quiet toy play, followed by lunch and then a nap. Then the fun begins with water play. Take two boys slathered in sunscreen armed with two buckets, throw in a couple of bath toys, turn on the hose and you have at least an hour of water fun. Ali and Omer have also been enjoying an afternoon glass of chocolate milk, made excitedly by their own little hands. We also whipped up some popsicles, a summer treat that is always a big hit with the under five crowd. When the day slowly turns into a cooler evening, we enjoy an alfresco meal, something grilled with a salad and Ramazan pide. Each meal is followed by a trip to the park for some twilight swinging, then a hose down before the bedtime ritual begins. Then is starts all over again.

On my end, I decided not to have the cleaning lady in for the two weeks I will be home, so I have taken charge of all the domestic tasks. Going back to basics has been good and character building. It also makes me appreciate more the ladies who are usually here doing these jobs. I tackled the mountain of laundry, which was followed by a mountain of ironing, in the evenings after the boys went to bed, when the temperature dropped to a slightly less steamy 27 degrees. This week it will be the floors, changing the sheets and cleaning the bathrooms. I have also been going through all of the closets and drawers and purging the house of items we haven't used in over a year.

Food has also played a role in my domestic holiday. Our neighbor brought over a huge zucchini from his garden and it had "relish" written all over it so I whipped up a batch of my grandma Prince's zucchini relish. This summer part of my mom's family and I feasted on burgers with this relish, something I had forgotten existed. One taste and I was transported back to her 100-year-old kitchen in Gold Beach, Oregon where one summer my mom and aunts made a winter's supply. I was surprised at how easy it was to make. The color was a little more caramelized than the original version since I burned the bottom (gas stoves can really kick out some heat) but the taste is still the same. Another tasty dish comes from a blog that I just found titled "Kiss My Spatula." You can find it here. She has a recipe for zucchini crudo, an ideal summer dish because it requires no cooking. Perfect. For this weekend I will attempt to make zeytinyagli dolma, or stuffed vine leaves, a cool, cinnamony, lemony dish that is actually pretty easy to make. Iced tea and ice cream have also made repeat performances in my attempt to keep cool and the cooler evenings are always celebrated with a cold, crisp glass of beer.

So, that is what I have been up to. School starts on the 23rd, and I am sure the expression "hit the ground running" will apply. I will no doubt miss the lazy dog days of summer with the boys.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Friends, Family, lobsters and burgers

The title refers to what I was focused on most of the summer, which went by too quickly. I wish I could say I was feeling less busy and had more free time, but traveling with twin 4 year-old boys is many things, and relaxing isn't one of them.

We just arrived in last night from our trans-Atlantic flight, from a cool and pleasant, and often chilly and foggy, Nova Scotian summer to a steamy Istanbul summer. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, and luckily there is a breeze to cool the beads of sweat that form on my upper lip. At least the sweating will help me to shed some of the eating I did over the summer.

We were all awake at 2 am today, so we feasted on the leftover airplane snacks like blueberries, chocolate covered granola bars, gummy bears, and 30 Rock. Luckily, we did fall asleep and got a decent night's rest. Koray is back to work today, so Ali, Omer and I are at home re-adjusting. There is literally a mountain of suitcases waiting to be sorted through, but that may wait until tomorrow.

So, with all of that to do, I will write more about our North American holiday at a later date and post some pictures. At the moment, I have a date with two little boys and a family of teddy bears.

Enjoy the rest of summer.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Calamari, Beer and Istanbul Views

I don't have a lot to post today, because it has been work work work, but last night we got out of the house, leaving A and O with their grandparents, to do some shopping in the old city.

Shopping made me hungry and thirsty, and the weather last evening was so vexing in its rosy golden glow, so we found our way to a breezy spot under the Galata Bridge and sipped ice cold beer and nibbled on mezzes and fried calamari. Delish.

What is it about cold beer on a summer evening?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

V Day

Even though I have been so tired lately that I have thrown in the intellectual towel, putting that ambitious book list aside opting instead for zoning out by watching episode after episode of Seinfeld, I did manage to find a book that has sparked my interest, even after 8:00 p.m.

The book is titled I am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World by Eve Ensler and it is really interesting. It reads like a journal, but it is actually fiction. After Ensler's celebrated The Vagina Monologues became a sensation, she went traveling the world again meeting with young girls from all walks of life. I haven't finished her book yet, but it is an engaging read because she gives voice to so many silenced and voiceless girls in countries around the globe, including the U.S.

Ensler celebrates women's sexuality and condemns its violation*. Her message to stop violence against women and to encourage women and young girls to embrace who they are as emotional creatures is admirable, moving and crucial.

I came across Ensler on a Ted Talk, 20 minutes of video I highly recommend checking out. The passion and humor she brings to the table was engaging and inspiring. She speaks candidly about the ways in which so many women are viewed and treated. I was so captured by her presence that I bought the book not only because I am a woman but because I come into contact with so many young, impressionable girls as a part of my job. She covers many topics in the book, but they are all connected by the plight of being a young female in today's world. It transcends culture, even though parts of the book are culturally specific.

I wish that all young girls and mothers and fathers of young girls would read this book because it is important.

Check out Eve's work. She is a cool chick for sure.

*paraphrased from the book review

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Due to the end-of-year craziness I mention below, I haven't had the time or energy to write a full blog post, but two half posts. I have been trying to spend what free time I have hanging with my three boys as much as possible. It has been grand. So this is a short one, and probably needs more time to rest since it feels a little stiff, but the nagging guilt of not writing a post in a while has gotten the better of me. Hopefully after school is out I will have more free time and energy to write something more cohesive especially since this summer is shaping up to be quite a lovely time seeing lots of people I have missed all year.

Until then here is the most cohesive of the two posts.


May 19th, 2010

The end of every school year is filled with the excitement of summer just around the corner and a little bit of crazy. This year is no different in that sense, however, this past week has had an added element, teary farewells.

This week we have had to say farewell to three people who mean the world to us. And even though one of them is moving just up the road to work for neighbors and the other two we will see in just over a month, the good byes were weepy.

The first heart breaker was to Leyla, the wonderful individual who has been here with us since the day after we brought Ali and Omer home. She has helped us raise our boys into the neat little individuals that they are and when they went to kres (pre-school) she was the lady of the house, looking after everything from the laundry to picking up the boys from school to organizing my closet. We listened to L's sage advice and kept Leyla on for this school year, and we are glad we did. Since dad died, it has been a tough go and having Leyla around to pick up the slack has been a life saver. Lucky for her though, a neighbor who is ripe with twins has snatched Leyla up, so she will still be around campus and in our hearts, just not in our home.

The next day we waved farewell to a yellow cab that whisked Roger and Lorraine (Rogit and Nan) away through Ortakoy on its way to the airport, and back to Halifax where more people we love are waiting for them. R and L have also been in our lives since the birth of A and O, before even. They were here and in Syria for just about three weeks, the second time since they moved back to Halifax that we have been lucky with a spring visit.There are too many things to write here about why they are so special to us, as the list is long. Their second son, JE said it best. In his blog, he wrote about the way they focus their attention on he and his wife saying, "We describe it in terms of a deeply loving embrace that guides toward increased awareness of what we are trying to communicate." At a meal after their departure, Omer also said it well when he said, "Rog and Nan are part of our family because we love them."

I couldn't have said it better myself, nor could I agree more.

Lucky for us, these special people will not be very far away as they will always be in our hearts.

p.s. One of the photos is of Rog and Omer doing "Rock a Bye Baby" something he has done with them since they were little, which they still love and insist on him doing. The other is Nan and Ali giggling about something on the beach.