Friendship and FIstIklI Revani

FIstIklI Revani is a sweet Turkish cake with a lovely gritty texture made from ground pistachios and semolina and served with a syrup that gets absorbed into the cake.  My mother-in-law first showed this to me over 15 years ago…and last night was the first time I flew solo on this recipe, which isn’t inherently difficult but requires some attention to balance. IMG_9631Here’s what I learned:  it’s all about the special relationship between cake and syrup – that which is absorbing needs to be able to take in moisture, and that which is absorbed needs to have the right viscosity to permeate.  If the syrup is too thick, it won’t absorb into the cake, and if it’s too thin, it’ll just run all over the plate.  And the cake needs (borrowing the next phrase from my emergency-ready husband) to be ready for all contingencies – to compensate for any syrup flaws by providing the environmental conditions for ideal moisture absorption.

This absorption balance is how a book repels moisture or how skin remains supple or wood doesn’t warp.  And it occurred to me there’s also a magical absorption element to family and friendship – the right dynamic between people helps to absorb the difficult things in our lives, thereby mitigating the stings, and also helps to soak up our in-the-moment joys, thereby extending our smiles. The devil is in finding the balance between cake consistency and syrup viscosity – the wrong dynamic won’t satisfy the conditions to allow absorption, but the right one makes being connected seamless – and scrumptious.

A special thanks go out to the seamless and scrumptious family and friends who took my sticky-note recipe for a taste-test drive last night – Tolga, Muzzy, Marilywn, Maureen, and Freddie (- who, through his own ingenuity, decided it was also dunk-worthy in his Earl Grey tea).

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 1 cup unsalted shelled pistachios, finely ground (food processor works great)
  • 1 cup semolina
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 tbspns lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp orange extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Syrup:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • ~2-inch vanilla bean, split open

Instructions

Cake:

  1. preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. butter and flour 9 x 13 inch pan, put into fridge until ready to use
  3. grind pistachios in food processor – set aside 1/4 cup for garnish at the end!
  4. mix dry ingredients – pistachios, semolina, all-purpose flour – by hand (this is a very specific directive from Anne herself…) in large bowl
  5. in a separate bowl, beat eggs, sugar, zest, vanilla and orange extracts on a high speed until frothy like egg nog (about 5-7 minutes)
  6. combine wet and dry and pour into pan
  7. bake for 30 minutes

Syrup:

  1. boil syrup ingredients – sugar, water, lemon juice, split vanilla bean
  2. simmer for another 10-15 minutes

Slice and pour syrup over sliced cake in pan – or alternatively slice and serve cake, pouring syrup over each plated square – and garnishing with the extra ground pistachios.

Beach Snacks – Tepsi Boregi

My car always has sand in it.  Regardless of season, it’s obvious to the naked eye where I like to spend my spare moments.  As my three-year-old and I pack up our towels and toys, she is quick to remind me to pack beach snacks.  For her, this can be anything from pretzels to chips to grapes, but because she is not too picky and gives me some latitude, more recently I’ve been substituting boregi into our stash of beach snacks.

Getting knocked over by the foaming surf, hiding “gold doubloons” in the fortresses of a newly-crafted sandcastle, collecting shells and stones scattered on the sands, watching the fishing boats come back through the inlet from a long day – there are layers upon layers of activities in this simple setting.  And that’s kind of like boregi – a simple food with added dimension, created by layers upon layers of yufka and savory filling.  Just like trying to mold sand, it’s beautifully imprecise and incredibly forgiving.  So if your yufka has a jagged edge, don’t fret!  The imperfections all get lost in the layers and come together to make the best savory beach snack imaginable.

Ingredients

Filling:

  • 18 oz pack of yufka, or phyllo dough
  • 2-3 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled
  • 1 small onion
  • 1/3 cup spinach or kale
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbspn olive oil

Mix for brushing on yufka:

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. finely chop potato and onion in a food processor
  3. sautee potato and onion on medium heat with olive oil, salt, and pepper until slightly golden brown
  4. add chopped spinach or kale, sautee for another 5 minutes
  5. brush/spray a 9 x 13-inch pan with olive oil
  6. layer one piece of yufka, covering the entire bottom of the pan
  7. generously brush the milk/egg/olive oil mixture over the yufka
  8. then do another 2-3 yufka/milk mixture layers, ending with the mixture
  9. next, layer the filling, spreading across the entire pan
  10. then do another 2-3 yufka/milk mixture layers
  11. spread the remaining milk mixture on top
  12. sprinkle with black cumin and bake for about 30-40 minutes, until pastry is golden brown and puffed up (it will shrink back down after it cools!)
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before…

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…after

Yayla CorbasI – a comfort food

My first pregnancy was ticking like a time bomb waiting to implode.  Until finally it did.  Here’s what happened…

My husband and I waited to have children – and found ourselves on the brink of having waited too long. I sat in the doctor’s office, anxious for the results of our fertility tests. Dr. Patrizio pronounced prescriptive words and foreign concepts – unfamiliar even before they rolled off his thickly-accented tongue. “IVF…ICK-zeee…COH…CVS…” I scribbled on a piece of paper, hoping I caught enough of the acronyms to look them up later, and tried to keep up as he hurled terms toward me like a spelling bee massacre. The gist was that, while not impossible, it was improbable we could conceive without intervention.

The following week, we met with a nurse assistant who shared with us an entirely different, yet equally strange, set of vocabulary and instructions. She pulled out visual aids, a wad of scripts to fill, and a photocopied diagram of what appeared to be an eight-year-old rendering of a female human body, with dotted-line arrows veering off to various fleshy body parts, ripe for injection. With broad, demonstrative strokes, she went back over the arrows with her ball-point pen, as if the emphasis somehow made everything clear.

Tolga returned later that day with the pharmacy’s version of Bloomingdale’s BIG brown bag, filled with all sorts of individually-wrapped IVF accessories and medications, some needing refrigeration. I cleared out the leftover lasagna to make room for the “new tenants” and stood in front of the bag, unable to fathom how ANYONE would allow non-medical professionals to go home with these implements – to say NOTHING of actually putting them to the prescribed use. I had a slight complicating factor – a childhood cancer that, after etching into me various physical scars, also bequeathed a reactionary fear of injections. I cried for 3 straight days. And Tolga smoked countless sympathetic cigarettes.

Took some getting used to, but eventually, and true to the advertised odds, on our third cycle we were pregnant. We started to think of names. Then, one night after moving a box, a stupid box of trains, the ground on which I stood started to shift. I was desperate to get out of Connecticut, where we’d been living temporarily, and get back to New York City. I had started packing months before the actual move and I lifted a box of old HO-scale model trains, heavier than anticipated. Almost immediately, from deep within I felt an intense, trembling ache. I put myself on the couch, pretended to be listening to my husband talk, and panicked in silence that my relentless inability to sit still may have harmed my pregnancy. It was the first time I hadn’t turned to Tolga for comfort.

The next night at tap dance class, I felt the same ache. And later that night, at a friend’s apartment in the city, I started to bleed. Frantic, I called Tolga, then I called the doctor.

The morning’s ultrasound revealed a pool of blood hovering over our kidney-bean-sized baby. Dr. Patrizio looked over the photos, shook his head, and uttered, porca miseria… – a familiar Italian phrase to me, as I had heard my grandmother use it dozens of times, usually reserved for moments of more-than-mild catastrophe. I was bed-rested at 8 weeks.

The next couple of months were a blur of bleeding, Google-ing, hospital stays, and worry. I understood now the inner workings of torture: break the spirit by providing a constant level of anxiety and uncertainty, while simultaneously depriving of food (during each hospital stay, in case emergency surgery was needed) and sleep. In the winter of my annual February discontent, I went especially stir crazy – on the bed, on the couch, in the hospital. I had long hours of fear, of feeling trapped, and of an acute guilt for the predicament in which we now found ourselves. At 20 weeks, we knew we were having a boy. He seemed perfect in every way, except for the threat – quite literally – looming above him.

I prayed for my son’s life, I prayed for resolution – one way or another, I prayed for forgiveness.

During those months, we moved back to New York. I was home again. And despite the noise and the crowds and the air pollution, I could breathe easier. Then, one afternoon, resolution came. Lying on the couch, reading nothing of consequence, I felt a rush of fluid. I was bleeding again, or so I thought. I called my new doctor – my college friend and maternal fetal medicine specialist – who cradled me in her care at Cornell as soon as we moved back. At the hospital, I learned the blood clots had weakened the gestational sac to the point that, likely, it had been slowly leaking amniotic fluid until it finally ruptured like a water balloon. And at 23.5 weeks, he could not survive, his lungs hadn’t yet fully formed. It was too soon. Just a little too soon for him. Adding searing insult to this egregiously painful injury, I had to physically go through labor and childbirth – but without the tremendous prize at the end.

I was discharged two days later – on Mother’s Day.  From the passenger seat, I mused sardonically about the coincidence as we pulled out of the hospital’s parking garage. The sun shone brightly against a brilliant, blue sky. Weather knows nothing of heartache or sympathy. Finally, in the privacy afforded to me in our own car – privacy otherwise unavailable during the last 48 hours of my hospital stay, I broke down in tears and wept the entire way back to Morningside Heights.

I can’t recall a single moment in my life that left me so bereft, so empty as that sequence of events – being in the delivery room, giving birth to my baby, and then leaving without him. A pregnancy so difficult to achieve, so long in the making, was lost cruelly and unceremoniously.

It’s been six years now. Six years. I wish I could say it no longer saddens me – or that I’ve forgiven myself. Parts of me have healed, other parts not yet reconciled are usually buried in the flurry of current-day activities. Sometimes my idle mind wanders to him, wondering who he would’ve been, what bedtime stories would be his favorites, what his hugs would feel like, how he’d feel about his little sister. And I am reminded of the great harm – albeit unknowingly – I am capable of inflicting.

Good things don’t necessarily come to those who wait. Sometimes you get lucky, despite yourself, and sometimes you don’t. And to ease miserable moments, I make Yayla Corbasi, Eastern Anatolian yogurt soup – my favorite go-to Turkish comfort food. It is yet another wonderful way the Turks use yogurt for savory nourishment. If you’re in need of comfort food, and want something different than mac-n-cheese, this won’t let you down.

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups water
  • 1 ½ – 2 tsp salt
  • ½ cup Arborio rice (Note: White rice is what Anne uses, and what seems to be generally used in Turkey, but, for my Italian origins, I find Arborio with its creamy texture especially suited to this soup)
  • 3 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 tbpsn white rice flour
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 2 tbspn melted butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1 tsp dried mint

Instructions:

  1. Bring 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil; add Arborio rice, cover, and cook over medium heat for 30-35 minutes, until the rice is tender. Then, maintain a low simmer…
  2. In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, egg yolks, and white rice flour until smooth. Slowly add 1 cup of cold water to the yogurt mixture.yayla corbasI
  3. Add the yogurt mixture to the soup, passing the yogurt mixture through a sieve. Stir and cover for an additional 10-15 minutes, cooking the egg yet being careful not to boil.
  4. Melt the butter in a small saucepan until it gently sizzles, and add the dried mint, crushing it as it is added to the butter. Stir, and then slowly add to the soup along with additional salt, to taste.

This soup not only stays well in the refrigerator but also freezes well. If it thickens the next day, simply add water, heat, and serve.