If Rilke Made Rice Pudding

Becoming a writer is one thing (see Christine Marie Attardo’s fantastic blog for inspiration on becoming a creative human being). Trying and waiting to get published is something else – extremely distracting from, while being inextricably dependent on, the first thing.

Ever read Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go? It’s a traditional graduation gift, I never usually make it beyond page 5, but after having recently read the book in its entirety, I suddenly noticed an eerie inner resemblance to the zombie-like characters in The Waiting Place. Waiting to hear back from editors about manuscript submissions can be a long linger of checking email, pacing floorboards, sitting by the phone with a “happy meal” (a feast of stupor-sized with a side of bleary-eyed). It blocks brainstorming and all the creative channels – nothing comfortable about it. Yet I’m wondering now, after returning to my Rilke, if this is a part of my comfort zone – to linger in a place, laden with inertia, not expecting much of myself, and not being surprised when others don’t expect much either.

So it’s time to make that heroic Seussical jump-from-the-slump and say, “NO! That’s not for you!” – walk right out of The Waiting Place and continue in accordance with this necessity – I must write. It is especially for those times when I’m slumped and stuck that I need to dig into the depths of my own creative reserve. Comfort zone can be cozy, to be sure, but it can also be stagnant and stale and confining.

And speaking of getting out of one’s comfort zone, I decided it was time to try rice pudding again, as a good-faith culinary gesture of my new resolve. Anne taught me to make sütlaç over twenty years ago, but I allowed my early attempts, which all ended in gooey disaster, to keep me confined to my culinary comfort zone of easier dishes. Happy to report, I tried it last weekend and found the strength of ten-grinches-plus-two! (or it was just the sugar rush…)

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cup water
  • ½ cup broken rice, kΙrΙk pirinç
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ rice flour
  • 2 tbspns corn starch
  • 1 tbspn vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Bring to a boil 1 cup of water and ½ cup of rice, cover and simmer until all the water is absorbed, ~20-25 minutes (this step can be done in advance and put into refrigerator overnight)
  2. To the cooked rice, add milk, sugar, salt, bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring frequently
  3. Add vanilla extract
  4. In a separate bowl, mix ¼ cup water, warmed, rice flour, cornstarch; add to rice and milk mix
  5. Continue to simmer and stir frequently for about ~20-25 minutes, until it starts to thicken
  6. Pour into dishes (oven-safe dishes, if you want to broil the tops of the pudding, which makes for fun fΙrΙn sütlaç!), cool in refrigerator

broken rice, kΙrΙk pirinç

New Year’s Resolution Vegetable

For 2018, I hereby resolve to write more and eat less (cookies).

Last time I blogged, it was 100+ degrees outside, and I was writing about cucumbers. Today it’s 17 degrees, so it’s time to move into the realm of winter vegetables…and one of my new favorites is celery root. If ever there was a vegetable to embody the importance of not judging a book by its cover, celery root would surely be the poster child.

Anne’s celery root salad (kereviz kökü salata) is a refreshing turn from my holiday stockpile of gingerbread and pizzelle. To brighten, I’ve substituted her orange carrots for purple ones, which remind me of the pink in the winter sunrise that warms my window during the cold months…and because my kid will sooner eat a food that is pink than any other color.

Ingredients

  • 1 celery root
  • 3-4 purple carrots
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2-3 tbspns lemon juice
  • 2-3 tbspns olive oil
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • parsley or olives for garnish

Instructions

  1. wash and slice off or peel outer part of celery root, rub root with generous amount of lemon juice; wash and peel carrots
  2. grate celery root and carrots using the large hole side of your grater (this part is laborious – and, you know me, I’d put it into the food processor without thinking twice…except with this, texture does make a difference, and you’re not cooking it to soften, so Anne’s right:  it’s best to grate to get those thin shavings)
  3. add yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic that’s been minced or pressed
  4. mix well and serve with garnish of fresh parsley or olives

CacIk for Summer Heat


It’s been HOT.

Dashboard doesn’t lie.

And, until it cools down, that’s all the narrative I can swing…

Turks use cacIk (pronounced JUH-juk) as a refreshing soup-able side or with additional water and ice and mint as a yogurt drink. I’ve used it also as a salad dressing. And thanks to my Uncle Joe, I had the sweetest garden-fresh cucumbers for this recipe!

Ingredients

  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and grated
  • 1 tbspn olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed

Instructions

  1. peel, seed, and grate cucumber; lightly salt and put aside
  2. mix remaining ingredients in separate bowl
  3. mix together and chill
  4. serve with sprig of fresh mint or dill

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For thinner cacIk (drink, soup, salad dressing), use a non-strained yogurt. For thicker, use a strained yogurt.

The Erik(calla lilies) are in Bloom Again…

The erik (a small, green, tart Turkish plum) are in bloom again…it’s that time of year. But this year their arrival is bittersweet. I feel like Katharine Hepburn’s character in Stage Door. “Now I place them here in memory of some[one] who has died…I’ve learned something about love that I never knew before…help should come to people when they need it…” And, thanks to my father-in-law, Oktay Ergunay, who for years until his retirement served as the Turkish government Director of Disaster Affairs and also the General Director of Turkish Red Crescent, help came to countless who suffered under the rubble and rebuild of earthquakes, who were left homeless from floods and landslides and every sort of natural disaster in Turkey, and who suffered neighboring regimes and migrated to Turkey with nothing but the clothes on their backs, children in their arms, and the hope of a better life. Baba devoted his life to loving and serving people through his scholarly earthquake engineering research and teaching, his smart and strategic disaster management, and his huge heart – steadfast in his insistence that every life is worth living, every life is worth saving.

And my father-in-law had a thing for green fruit – kiwi, green apples, and these tart little green plums. This spring, quite unexpectedly, he left this world, much to the devastation of my husband, my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, our uncle, aunt, cousin, and all the family, friends, and colleagues who dearly loved him. And he left me with an entire climate-controlled refrigerator fruit drawer of erik that had been awaiting his summertime arrival.

I miss him terribly – his voice, his humor, his fatherly reassurance, the boundless love he had for his granddaughter – and start crying (again) when I see these things sitting in my fridge. And here’s the irony: I’m not exactly nuts about these plums. So what do you do when life tosses you erik? Maybe…erik salatasi? This will be the first of hopefully a handful of creative culinary #erikendeavors to help me keep my chin up. Will let you know when I come up with more…

iyi geceler, Baba.  (…iyi geceler, canIm.)

Ingredients

  • ~15-20 grape tomatoes
  • ~2-3 mini cucumbers
  • ~15-20 erik
  • ~12 Turkish olives
  • 1 fistful of Italian flat-leaf parsely
  • 1 tbpsn fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbspn olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  • dash of apple cider vinegar

Instructions

  1. slice both tomatoes and plums in half (erik have pits, slicing will be imprecise, so my workaround was to munch on the middles while I made the salad)
  2. slice mini cucumbers in rounds
  3. coarsely-chop parsley
  4. toss ingredients with olives
  5. in a small ramekin, whisk lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, and salt; add to salad
  6. toss and serve

Fractals All Around

Today marks the anniversary of my kid’s first big-screen movie, Disney’s Frozen. In the days following, she (then 2) ran around in circles – and in a tutu – singing, “fwozen fwactals all ah-wound…

It’s marvelous and inspiring when lyricists and children’s writers aren’t afraid of using more challenging vocabulary, like the word fractal. Kids are sponges – they can get it, we just have to give them a chance. And thanks to the writing team, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, my kid had a new and unlikely word in her vocabulary…and she wasn’t afraid to wield it.

So here’s an unlikely segue – cauliflower is a fractal, an object with the incredible attribute of having its large-scale pattern continuously recur at progressively smaller scales. Now there’s something to chew on – and so I bring you Anne’s cauliflower stew, karnΙbahar musakka.

Ingredients
  • 1 large head of cauliflower, rinsed, soaked, and broken into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1/4 lb ground beef
  • 2 cubanelle peppers, diced
  • 2 small tomatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 tbspn tomato paste
  • 2 tbspn olive oil
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c hot water
  • egg sauce

Instructions

  1. sauté olive oil and diced onion on medium heat, until they are pembe (=pink, caramelized)
  2. add chopped meat, continue to sautee over medium heat
  3. add pepper, tomatoes, and tomato paste
  4. add salt
  5. cover, simmer, 5 minutes
  6. add cauliflower
  7. add 1/2 cup of hot water
  8. cover, simmer, 20 minutes
  9. make egg sauce
  10. turn off heat of cauliflower
  11. slowly add hot juice of cauliflower to the egg sauce, and then pour and mix into the big pot

Love Letter from the MVC

So after a frazzled day of work, a kid practicing independent decision-making on just about everything from dinner to bath to bed, a shocking shortage of wine in the house, and then (yet another) rejection from an editor for one of my manuscripts, the unthinkable presented itself in my mailbox:  a love letter from the Motor Vehicles Commission.

Skip the Trip, it said! Renew your driver’s license by mail! No day-long trip to Zootopia’s Flash, no clearing work schedules or arranging extra child care. The Garden State MVC dropped a touch of unexpected sweetness into my day, which made me think of iç pilav – a rice pilaf with a hint of sweetness from currants, pine nuts, tomato paste, and cinnamon.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion, diced
  • 2 1/2 cups water or chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups bald rice (a short-grain rice, similar to arborio), washed, soaked with a tsp of salt, and drained
  • 4 tbspns olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 tbspn tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbspns finely chopped fresh dill
  • fresh Italian, flat-leaf parsley for garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste (Anne uses 1 tbspn of salt and 1 tsp of black pepper when preparing with water…if preparing with chicken broth, which is already salted, go less…)

Instructions

  1. soak currants in warm water for about 15 minutes
  2. in medium-sized saucepan, saute diced onion, pine nuts, and olive oil on medium heat for ~7-10 minutes
  3. add tomato paste
  4. drain currants
  5. add rice, currants, cinnamon, sugar, salt and pepper, continue to stir
  6. add water or chicken broth and bring to a boil
  7. lower the heat, cover, and simmer for ~15 minutes; all the liquid should be absorbed and rice should be tender, so add additional water if needed
  8. stir in dill
  9. mold and plate using a small glass dish…remember your sand castles? same idea! pack it in, plop it upside down on the plate, tap with a wooden spoon to release
  10. garnish with parsley and enjoy!

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Bulgur Pilaf for Twelfth Night

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh…not too shabby, but, just for a minute, consider what marvelous food could’ve been made for all the visitors if the three wise men brought onions, chick peas, and bulgur?

Buona Epifania! High in potassium, protein, and dietary fiber, you simply can’t go wrong with bulgur pilaf – nohutlu bulgur pilavi – for dinner tonight. I’ve yet to see anyone who doesn’t enjoy this dish, and it pairs well with meats, fish, tofu, or is fabulous on its own.

Ingredients

  • 8 tbspns olive oil (substitute a couple of those for butter, if you’re not trying to be heart-healthy!)
  • 2 medium-sized yellow onions (~2 cups)
  • 2 cups dried bulgur
  • 2 cups chick peas (approximately 1 ~15 oz can)
  • 4 cups chicken broth (can substitute vegetable broth, if you’re vegetarian!)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Mince onions in a food processor and sauté in olive oil on medium-hight heat for ~10 minutes
  2. Add bulgur, and coat-and-toast, as if you were cooking up risotto; coat bulgur and turn for 2-3 minutes
  3. Add chick peas
  4. Slowly add chicken broth
  5. Cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes
  6. Serve warm

David Keown’s Holiday Egg Nog

Hold on to your knickers, I’ve got a special guest blogger to help you ring in the New Year with his family recipe egg nog! Twenty years ago, David Keown was a part of my work family. And nothing felt more like family – in that basement-level dwelling with the soft whirring of CPUs, the snow-white glow of fluorescent lighting, and the intense collegiality of friends who had your back at every server outage and script run amok – than Columbia Business School’s IT department with David at the helm. Every year during the holidays, David lovingly entrusted his grandmother’s culinary legacy to us – a legendary egg nog – and combined it with a holiday open house to spread good cheer within the school (and in so doing reassured our community, again and again, that computer geeks can froth with the best of them….).

So without further ado, here’s David…

I don’t remember the first time my parents made this recipe, or where it came from, but it’s always been “the family eggnog recipe.” I have many “growing up” memories of sneaking back to the Santa eggnog bowl at our family holiday parties to have another cup because it was like a thick milkshake…with alcohol!  

When I went away to graduate school, I claimed the tradition as my own, and introduced the experience to my community of friends. Years later at Columbia, we hit upon the idea having an open house right before the holiday break, when all the students had gone, as a way of connecting with our constituents. Everyone in the group contributed to a potluck, and I mixed up a super-sized batch of eggnog. The event was a hit, and we made it an annual party.

The key to the recipe is whipping the egg whites and the cream. It transforms the nog from the thin stuff you get in the grocery store to an irresistible treat that gives you a white mustache with every sip. And that keeps people coming back years later asking for the recipe.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ingredients

“leaded” (=alcoholic)

  • 7 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 pt milk
  • 1 c whipping cream (if making multiple batches, could do 1.5c)
  • 1.5 c bourbon or whiskey
  • 1/4 cup rum

“unleaded” (=non-alcoholic)

  • 7 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3.5 c milk
  • 1.5 c whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla

The following original method does not cook the eggs. If you’re nervous about raw eggs, you can follow the alternative directions for Phase 1 where everything is cooked. 

Instructions

Phase 1:  Preparing the egg mixture

  1. Separate eggs.
  2. Beat yolks, gradually adding 2/3 of the sugar.
  3. Slowly add alcohol, beating all the while. (If you’re really ahead of schedule, you can cover this and let it stand in the refrigerator for 1 hour to eliminate some of the “eggy” taste.)
  4. Add the milk to the egg yolk mixture, whipping all the while.

Phase 2:  Whipping and blending

  1. Whip the cream.
  2. Beat the egg whites until stiff, adding the remaining 1/3 of the sugar slowly. [NOTE: Less is more. Don’t beat things TOO stiff, or they don’t fold together well. This is particularly true for the cream. They should not peak, but you should be able to scoop it out of the whipping bowl with a spatula.]
  3. Fold everything together.

Phase 3:  Sprinkle with nutmeg when serving


…Alternative directions for Phase 1:

  1. Combine milk and 1/2c sugar in medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Remove from heat and let mixture steep for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Return the mixture to the stove over low heat.
  4. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.
  5. Separate eggs.
  6. Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl until pale yellow.
  7. Slowly whisk the warm milk into the yolks, then return the mixture to the saucepan.
  8. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it is slightly thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. (10-15 minutes, temperature must reach 160 degrees. Do not let it come to a simmer.)
  9. Stir in 1c of boubon then remove from heat.
  10. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and nestle it in the ice bath.
  11. Whisk until the mixture is chilled, about 5 minutes, then stir in the remaining alcohol. Can be kept in the refrigerator for a day.

 

Pizzelle per Natale


Today is the Festa di Santa Lucia…and, now brace yourselves, I’m certainly still in a bit of shock:  my Turkish husband is actually comprised of almost 35% Italian ancestry. He spit into one of those test tubes, sent it to an ancestry.com DNA lab, and…BAM! Seventeen years later, like something out of a fable from the Roman poet, Phaedrus:  things are not what they seem! (Of course, thankfully no one’s rolling in flour, awaiting a tragic ending…but perhaps that’s for the eighteenth year of marriage…).

The best way to embrace this unexpected curve is to insert un po’ d’italiano into the blog today, turning temporarily from Turkish food to nibble one of my family’s per natale traditions: pizzelle making.

Combining my insatiable appetite for cookies and my intense love affair with rum, these rum-and-orange-flavored pizzelle are a delicious variation from the anise mainstay – and Santa’s quite fond of them, too.

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar (I usually do ½ cup raw, ¼ cup white)
  • ½ cup melted butter, cooled
  • ¼ cup rum!
  • 2 tbspns orange juice
  • 1 tbpsn vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp fiori di sicilia extract
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • 1 tbspn orange zest (lemon can be substituted)
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbpsns baking powder
  • ½ cup milk for thinning, as needed only

Instructions

  1. Beat eggs and sugar
  2. Slowly add cooled melted butter
  3. Add rum, extracts, and zest
  4. Add sifted flour and baking powder
  5. Batter should be gooey but should drop easily on to maker, pizzelle should be light and crispy; thin with milk as needed and bake according to your specific pizzelle-maker instructions
  6. Cool on wire racks, dust with powdered sugar for fun!

I am fortunate to have a sister who would stop at nothing to make me happy, so I have a painstakingly acquired “vintage” cookie jar (a story for another time…) that perfectly fits ~5″ pizzelle rounds. But tupperware works well, too, and these keep beautifully for a month…even longer…by the time you take your Christmas tree down…in late February…

Sehriye CorbasI

Now let’s use the lemon-egg sauce you’ve just mastered in something called sehriye corbasI – a vermicelli soup with lots of opportunity for creativity!  Anne (=Turkish word for mom) taught this recipe to me with a beef base, but you can also use chicken and chicken broth, carrots, celery, etc. – the sky’s the limit!img_3257

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup ground beef
  • 3 tbpsn olive oil
  • 2½ tsp salt
  • 6 cups water
  • ½ cup vermicelli (broken up angel hair works well, too, and gives the kid something fun to do in the kitchen!)
  • lemon-egg sauce ingredients

Instructions

  1. in a large sauce pan, break beef and sauté in olive oil and 1 tsp salt on high until pink is gone
  2. add 1 tbspn tomato paste, incorporate into the beef, sauté on medium heat for another minute
  3. add 6 cups water, 1 to 1½ tsp salt, bring to a boil
  4. add ½ cup vermicelli, cook pasta just until al dente
  5. in a separate bowl, prepare the lemon-egg sauce
  6. warm the lemon-egg sauce slowly by adding/whisking small amounts of soup to it, then add it all back to the soup
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(sous chef not included)