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…)


  • 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


  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

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


“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. 


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.


The Great Kabak TatlIsI


Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year because it’s the season of the pumpkin.  I love carving jack-o-lanterns, toasting pumpkin seeds, making (and eating) pumpkin pie, and smothering my face in a yummy, tingly pumpkin mask (does anyone remember The Great Pumpkin Mask that Sephora made some years ago?  Heaven in a jar…).

Some years ago, my mother-in-law gave me yet another reason to delight in the season with a recipe for kabak tatlIsI, a Turkish pumpkin sweet.  It’s easy – and its sweetness can be easily tailored to your own taste.

Here’s hoping the Great Kabak TatlIsI makes it to your pumpkin patch this year!


  • ~3 pounds of pie pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 tea glasses of sugar (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 glass of water (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 glass of crushed walnuts (about 1/2 cup)
  • whipped cream (optional)


  1. peel and slice the pumpkin into thick wedges; set seeds aside for roasting, if desired
  2. arrange wedges into a shallow saucepan
  3. add sugar, add water to pumpkin
  4. cover and simmer for ~30-40 minutes – pumpkin should be tender but should not break apart at the least provocation…
  5. plate, pour over sugar syrup, sprinkle with walnuts…and enjoy!

My own mother likes to add a dollop of whipped cream before the nuts…and since it’s a holiday, anything goes!

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).



  • 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


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



  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


  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.

A Fig Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Turkish Figs with Walnuts & Hazelnuts (Incir TatlIsI)

In May of 2006, my in-laws took us on a road trip from Ankara to the Aegean.  The morning of departure was beautiful – warm, cloudless, dry…and far away from the realities of my infertility waiting for me back home in New York.

My brother-in-law bid us farewell and hurled the contents of his Hacettepe University water bottle at the car as we were leaving. It’s customary in Turkey to splash water on a car embarking on a trip to wish a speedy return, like the ebb and flow of a tide. And while typical to use a bucket – an instance in which more is better, or, at least more accurate to this example – his choice of vessel demonstrated his modernized, waste-not urban take on the tradition.

For the first couple of hours, the car window framed a rocky, semi-arid Anatolian terrain. On the stereo, Turkish/Arab hip-hop belly-dancing from an old cassette tape blasted over the soft roar from the open windows. “These are Tolga’s favorites,” his father shared with an inaccurate paternal pride.  The conversation then segued into why my husband wouldn’t shave his beard, why wouldn’t we consider buying a summer place in Turkey to be closer to the family who, of course, weren’t getting any younger (insert whatever medical test results his parents received the week before…), and then shifted to a bride – any bride – for Tolga’s happily-single younger brother. A few minutes later, a small herd of sheep waddled across the road, and Anne (mother) began poking Baba (father) to slow down.  “Yavas, Oktay! YAAAAHVAAAHSH!!!” (slow, Oktay, slow)  My father-in-law, who was already exceedingly cautious and uncomfortable behind the wheel, having had a government chauffeur for most of his working days, and, otherwise, a car without power steering, narrowly escaped a ditch on the side of the road.

We stopped to refuel – a couple of ounces of Turkish tea. Blazing sun cast an amber glow through prismed Turkish tea glasses nestled in small gold-painted porcelain plates, and warm proprietors served us in the traditional hospitality for which this country is known. Smiles beckoning us to linger, they offered pieces of sweet lokum, or Turkish delights, made with carrot and coconut, as a welcome gesture for the family with the touring American, who, glancing at her watch and counting the New York minutes, seemed to not quite grasp the concept of vacation. A quick stretch at a Garden State Parkway rest-stop with a Starbucks latte seemed to me a more suitable way to layover and not lose time…but it was early in the vacation, and I hadn’t yet understood that I wasn’t losing anything at all.

Almost to Marmaris, in a daring gesture that tried my road-trip-patience, my husband detoured to Aphrodisias, an archaeological site southeast of Izmir, which was not on our prescribed agenda and would take us at least two hours out of our way. He grinned at me and turned off the main road toward the ancient city.

AphrodisiasBaba, assuming his position as appointed tour guide and master of Turkish history, art, and architecture (and making up whatever he couldn’t conjure from memory…), shared details in his broken English about the site and its significance.  But his voice faded into the background as we came upon a towering structure – a tetrapylon, a magnificent gateway into the ancient town in front of the Temple of Aphrodite.  Evidently, it survived multiple earthquakes, including ones from the 4th century and the 7th century. The stone archway, stationary and steadfast, seemed also alive in a magnificent, upward stretch. On the ground, tiny purple flowers burst through the stone cracks of amazingly preserved intricate etchings, juxtaposing possibility amidst the harshest of conditions. This was going to be my sign. And I’m not about signs or fated moments. I’m pragmatic, task-oriented, even slightly cynical in deep-down places. But this was going to be the symbol of something transformative, something that is created, regardless of situation or environment or innate ability. And Aphrodite was going to be my patron goddess of fertility.

Fig TreeAnne found a place to sit under a large, green fig tree – larger than any I’d ever seen. Figs have always had a special place in my family. My mother’s family have shoots of a fig tree that came from my grandmother, who transported it down to the Jersey Shore from the Bronx, and before that, from Brooklyn (ostensibly, it may have come over from Italy during one of my great-grandfather’s many travels across the Atlantic, but, for lack of confirmation, we leave it as having originated in Brooklyn…). Fruits from the tree’s descendants are enjoyed by my family every September, so it was unusual to be in a place where they were ripening in May. The fig – in its abstract a symbol of fertility, and in its familiar a personal harvest ritual – was rolling around in my mind as I stroked the soft, furry leaf within reach. Aphrodite, a tremendous force for change, was beckoning me to inhale the air, drink in the soil and surroundings, and move beyond the fears and frustrations and evidence-based in-vitro success rates under which I’d been trapped for months.

At the time, I still didn’t know if I’d ever be able to have a baby, but in that moment, intoxicated by some semblance of a Dionysian and ancestral sensory overload, I felt myself surrendering…giving up a tight grip on how my life was going to unfold. Can figs and ancient temples do all that?  Well, I find that surrendering is helped along in no small part by something called incir tatLIsI (fig sweet or dessert)…and a ton of whipped cream… incir_tatlIsI


  • 2 cups of dried Turkish figs (fresh figs work *beautifully*, too, and require less water, if you can get them)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts and hazelnuts
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • fresh lemon juice


  1. Simmer figs in water for 20 minutes, drain water, let cool
  2. Chop nuts – however you wish! (This recipe originally came to me with a 20-minute debate on the best way to chop nuts: Baba painstakingly sliced each nut by hand citing nebulous Turkish elders as his authority, Anne secured them in a zip-lock bag on the counter and then whacked them with a ladle on the kitchen counter…all with a little too much pleasure, I might add…and, then, being a geek with kitchen gadgets, I took out my trusty food processor to loosely grind them on a low speed)
  3. In a bowl, mix the nuts, half the sugar, and cinnamon
  4. Take each fig and gently remove the stem tip with a sharp knife; the figs will be fragile, so proceed slowly
  5. Stuff the figs with the mixture
  6. Place into a wide saucepan, aligning them like cozy relatives, until the pan is full, then add ¼ cup water and the remaining sugar and squeeze fresh lemon juice over the lot before covering and placing back on the stove over medium heat for 15 minutes.
  7. Enjoy with whipped cream