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.

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

A (carrots) Rainbow of My Very Own

Once upon a time…before baby, when “date nights” were plentiful and leisurely meals were savored without a second thought as to what we’d owe the sitter if we linger another 15 minutes, we regularly frequented our neighborhood Turkuaz on the Upper West Side. With its warmly-lit, tented ceilings and its vast array of hot and cold small plates (and a spouse who could order in Turkish, which worked rather well for me…think Jamie Lee Curtis’s character in A Fish Called Wanda…), Turkuaz always delivered a delicious escape from the bustling city.

When Turkuaz first opened, at the start of the meal, they served a dip of carrots with yogurt – yogurtlu havuc salatasi – with warm pide bread. Loved it so much I had to run home and duplicate. And today I’m duplicating with rainbow carrots to create 3 different colored carrot dips.

Ingredients

yogurt sauce:

  • 4 cups of plain Greek yogurt
  • 3-4 cloves of minced/crushed raw garlic
  • 1 tsp salt (less or more, as desired)

carrots:

  • 3 pounds of rainbow carrots, separated by color
  • 5-6 tablespoons of olive oil

Instructions

yogurt sauce:

  1. in large mixing bowl, mix yogurt, garlic, and salt
  2. set aside

carrots:

  1. separate carrots by color (e.g., yellows, purples, oranges) – you’ll be making 3 separate dips, so have 3 small mixing bowls on-hand
  2. start with the orange carrots; in a food processor (another example of my culinary laziness – Turks would grate the carrots…but when I grate, I eat skin), finely chop orange carrots
  3. saute finely chopped carrots in 1 ½ – 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat to soften
  4. put aside in small mixing bowl to cool
  5. repeat for purple carrots…
  6. repeat for yellow carrots…
  7. after carrots have cooled, blend yogurt mixture to each of the softened carrot bowls, add additional salt to taste as needed
  8. garnish with fresh dill (my dexterity for garnishing was never…well, just see below…but these dips are so pretty, they can withstand even the clumsiest hand!)

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Turkish Coffee (when sleep isn’t on the menu…)

IMG_3278My kid didn’t sleep through the night until she was three…years…old. Sounds somewhat amusing, but, for anyone who has ever experienced similar long-term sleep deprivation, this is far from funny. Losing one’s cell phone because it’s in the fridge next to the cheddar cheese (what, isn’t that where you keep yours?), pouring orange juice into morning coffee, walking into walls, bursting into tears when the local pizzeria is out of fresh garlic topping, because, let’s face it, no one’s putting mercimek in the oven that night anyway (the lens of exhaustion makes one’s mild-mannered husband resemble the antichrist), and, oh, the blunder to end all sleep-deprived blunders: calling your boss, “mom” – all of these require some years and some distance to conjure an appropriate chuckle.  For these, and countless other “finest” moments, a Turkish coffee gets the job done.

This coffee is made of finely-ground, powder-like coffee, water, and sugar, and prepared in a special Turkish coffee pot, called a cezve, usually made of copper and with a long handle. It’s also customary, after drinking the coffee, to turn the cup upside down on the saucer, and then use the settled grounds in the cup to tell the drinker’s fortune.

Ingredients

  • 3 espresso/demitasse cups of water
  • 3 heaping teaspoons of Turkish coffee
  • 2-3 teaspoons of sugar for a “medium-sweet” coffee (remember how James Bond took his Turkish coffee in From Russia with Love?)

Instructions

  1. Simmer the ingredients in a cezve – the idea is to froth the coffee, without boiling it
  2. Serve in espresso cup (or, just take all 3 cups you brewed and put into one big, American-sized coffee mug!)

Really Bad Eggs…

Actually, menemen, the recipe I’m sharing today, is a delicious egg dish. The really bad eggs are my own…

So how do you know when your family is complete? Our “only” is quite an energetic and vivacious handful, and yet there’s a tremendous force from within – something resembling my intense morning coffee thirst…one cup, then another, then another… Thou shalt procreate. Again.

It’s a difficult question. And exceedingly personal. My head’s been going back and forth between two paddles in a game of table tennis. The first to “serve” were the old images of big Italian families, surrounded by bunches of children (all well-behaved, of course)…but then those images were volleyed back by my own need for individual pursuits and meaningful engagement in the world…which then got whacked back by the guilt of not providing my daughter with the sibling I perceive her to want more than the brownie in front of her…which then was blocked by the logistical mobility and financial flexibility that having one child affords…and then smashed by previously-dormant-but-now-fully-panicked inner stereotypes of onlies being selfish, unable to share or play well with others, never learning how to compromise…and finally counter-smashed by my defiance to keep from blindly bending toward any cultural or societal stereotype. No clear winner. Just a headache.

It seemed like a prudent course of action to return to the fertility clinic and see if I’ve still got game. The disappointing, although not surprising, truth: barely. And while that doesn’t render all the aforementioned musings moot, it puts a few extra obstacles in front of me.

It’s hard to let go sometimes. For so long, and with so many in vitro attempts, I weighed myself in eggs. But now it’s time to appreciate that I’m more than a mere carton of really bad eggs. Since it’s the season of Easter and renewal, I’ll just close with an egg hunt metaphor: if I persist in loving more fully those in front of me and in delving more deeply into the relationship I have with myself, I’ll find new life in places I didn’t even expect.

Here’s how to make menemen, eggs with tomatoes, onions, and peppers.

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 eggs
  • 3 peeled tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cubanelle peppers, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped

IMG_9971I throw everything to be chopped into a food processor because I’m lazy and a little clumsy when it comes to chopping, but Anne insists it’s better to chop otherwise the juices come out in the food processor instead of the pan.  (NOTE:  my daughter’s knife is a child’s knife…never put a sharp blade into the hand of a tiny person…although one could say the same for me…)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 – 1 ½ teaspoons salt

 

Instructions:

  1. In large skillet, sauté onion in olive oil on high, about 5 minutes
  2. Add peppers, continue to sauté
  3. Add tomatoes and salt and turn to medium heat for about 10 minutes until most of the water is evaporated
  4. Make little pockets within the veggies to rest the eggs and crack open an egg to each pocket
  5. Cover and cook on low heat for another 15 minutes, or until the eggs are fully cooked

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