The Cranberries

My family grew up with an Aegean Turkish kitchen culture. “Ege Mutfağı,” if you will. This involves copious amounts of vegetables, beans, rice, and fruit. And then some more fruit, chased with fruit. Fruit after breakfast, after lunch, as an afternoon snack, then right after dinner, before dessert (unless fruit is the dessert) and just before coffee/tea service. It’s easy to be a vegetarian (or a frugivore spider monkey) in Western Turkey. Everything grows here, much like the Central Valley of California. Dishes like Zeytinyağlı Barbunya (Cranberry Beans stewed in olive oil) are relatively unknown outside of the Aegean region, and that makes me have sad-face. A majority of the Turkish culinary culture that has been exported and consumed by foreigners is kebap-centric, unfairly bolstering a stereotype of unhealthy drunk food. (It’d be as if my opinion of Mexican food was gleaned from eating post-bar-close burritos). The rich seasonal produce is bolstered by ubiquitous farmer’s markets, street corner grocery stores, and even donkey-pulled bahçevan carts that call out their wares. “Bahçevan! Karpuuuuuuz, kavuuuuuun, şeftaaaali!”

IMG_0952

The organic market is still in its nascent stages in Turkey, but the emphasis on locality and the human element are present everywhere. I’ve seen customers in Turkey scold their manav (greengrocer) for selling them a dud watermelon. If you got a sour peach, some mustachioed-man was going to hear about it. Sure, these purveyors use pesticides, but their farms are small and their product is way better than the grocery store. Not to mention you can get a kilo of peaches for something absurd like 4 TL (about 2 bucks). I’m too scared to scold the North Berkeley farmer’s market vendors, since they’re surly assholes. (Great produce, though, guys!) Michael Pollan shops at the same market; I should ask him if he gets the churlish vibe. HOLD ON LET ME JUST PICK UP THIS NAME THAT I JUST DROPPED.

It’s an interesting perspective on the praxis of Slow Food: in California, I was always interested in how my food products were raised. Are they organic? Heirloom? Did the cows get to watch DirecTV and sip amontillado dry rich sherry after their evening graze? By eating like a food asshole, I’m consciously acting in a way that authenticates my food choices and sets my actions apart from the other – the industrial system. When it’s written like that, of course it seems elite and holy-shit-this-guy-thinks-his-shit-don’t-stink-ish, but I can easily argue that the industrial food system is broken. I can also argue that organic/local/insert trendy adjective tastes better. Hell, I can even make the argument that big agro’s latest GMO monstrosity can barely be called “food.”

In the same vein, although I don’t have a neat bookend for how Turks generally practice their Slow Food, my initial impression has been a focus on provenance as an indicator of quality, as well as a love of eating at home. Kids are often tasked to shell beans, the stove is usually working, and there are always dishes to wash.

IMG_1372

Generally, I’m recipe-averse. I turn sysdelxic dyslexic in the face of a recipe. I hate reading fractions, steps, and the chore of having to read the whole thing multiple times to ensure success. I’d rather apply a few fundamental cooking practices while worrying about the salt/fat/acid/heat. If you fuck it up, who cares – tomorrow it’ll be shit; literally. Having said that, this is a dish worth making; it’s really flexible, you don’t need exact amounts, and the variation I’ve encountered from different cooks is staggering. I’ve seen it with almost no liquid – like a bean salad, without any parsley, with carrots, and so on. I like to make mine rather soupy, because the olive oily bean broth is ideal for swabbing your plate clean with some crusty bread. Serve cold, preferably the next day, with a large glass of ayran, and you’ve got yourself a complete meal.

Shamelessly taken from:

Algar, Ayla. 1999[1991]. Classical Turkish Cooking: Traditional Turkish Food for the American Kitchen. New York: HarperCollins.

2 pounds fresh cranberry beans in pods. Or buy a 1 pound dried bag of beans. I’ve made this with pintos, good mother stallards, and rio zape beans, since I can’t always find cranberry beans. They all work great. If you use dried beans, use Rancho Gordo.

1.5 cups finely chopped onions

½ to 1 Cup olive oil. (Use some good, green, grassy stuff, as this dish is one of the cornerstones of Turkish olive oil-stewed dishes).

1 Large tomato, chopped. I’ve noticed that Turks peel all of their tomatoes, and I’ve gleaned that it’s a combination of taste preference and getting rid of pesticide residues. I like the way the tomato skins curl up like wood shavings in a dish, so I never peel ‘em, pesticides be damned. I’ll probably be sterile in a month.)

2-3 long green peppers. Nothing too crazy spicy; 1 fat jalapeno also does the trick. If using skinny peppers, seed and chop into rings. If a jalapeno, give it a fine dice.

2 chopped handfuls of parsley.

Salt
Sugar
Lemon

Shell the beans. If using dried, soak them for a couple hours. Or don’t; it really doesn’t matter. I’ve made this dish with no soaking and with the oh-balls-I’ve-had-beans-soaking-for-three-days method. Just adjust your cooking time!

Cook the onions in the olive oil until softy and translucent. Medium to medium low heat. It should look like you’re cooking the onions in too much oil, but keep in mind you’re adding water and beans later.

Chuck in the chopped tomato and cook it until broken down and soft. (The tomato, not your penis).

Stir in the beans, peppers, a healthy pinch or five of salt, a pinch of sugar, and 2-3 cups of water. Cover and simmer until the beans are soft, but not mushy. Could be thirty minutes, could be an hour and a half. If you’re unsure of cooking time, check after 20 minutes and go from there. Make sure there’s enough liquid to cover the beans. If the water is too much for your taste, simmer with the lid open for a spell.*

Tamar Adler has forgotten more about beans than I will ever know, and I recommend her method for tasting at least five beans for doneness before you’re sure.

Toss in one handful of parsley and let it cook for a few minutes. If your beans are done or near-done, squeeze in at least one lemon’s worth of juice. Adjust your salt and acid at the same time. Keep in mind that you’re going to sprinkle a bit more lemon from the garnish, as well as adjust the seasoning once it’s cooled.

Sprinkle the remaining fresh parsley on top after the beans have cooled. Drizzle with olive oil, and serve with lemon slices, bread, and tangy yogurt.

*Important time saving note! Pressure cookers seem to have been invented for the sole purpose of bean cooking. You can skip all of the “to soak or not to soak” discussion if you prep the recipe exactly as above, and “simmer” the dish in a pressure cooker for about 8-12 minutes. Proceed with the lemon and parsley as above.

Advertisements

King Ding-a-Ling

Early September is the end of summer, and around İzmir, everyone clears out of Çeşme and goes back to school/work in the city. It’s also high-time for circumcisions (sünnet), as no boy between ages 3-11 wants to be the only kid in his school still rocking the hood!

In the last few weeks I’ve seen five weiner-snipping processions pass by, which involve a convoy of honking cars with people hanging outside of the windows like a Saudi Arabian drifting video. The little man of honor with the freshly cut little man is usually dressed in an outfit like this:

sunnet kiyafetleri5-cf

“Not now, mother, I’m busy ruling my realm.”

The little penis prince waves to everyone, and for the life of me, I could never seem to snap a picture in time. I didn’t want to sit and wait like a pee-parazzi, either, so just take my word for it. Circumcisions are increasingly common in hospitals, but the celebration and party remain. Group circumcision parties are also common, with families inviting almost everyone they know to the celebration. I bet the Evite template looks like this:

COME CELEBRATE ERDEM’S TRADITION TO MANHOOD! LET’S HOPE HE DOESN’T “LOSE HIS HEAD” IN THE EXCITEMENT! STARTS PROMPTLY AT NOON FRIDAY. WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? CHOP CHOP!

–       Bismill-lop that skin off; I’m there!
–       Sorry, gotta cut ‘n run
–       I’ve got a bris later, but I might make it.

I think this picture has more of an “official” look, so I’d definitely include it in Evite:

sunnet

“Bring me tea and a bag of ice, father!”

In fact, I have the dubious honor of remembering when I was circumcised. Being the eldest and the first Durgunoğlu to be born in the U.S., my parents wanted to give me the traditional trial by knife. For all they knew, they’d be moving back to Turkey after they wrapped up their grad school, so why not be as traditional as possible?

IMG_4686

Topkapı Sarayı, 2013

SMASH CUT to me at five years old. I came to in a cold hospital room in Urbana, Illinois. There was another naked person, a grown man, laying supine ten feet away. Had I woken up in the pedophile Matrix? My penis hurt super badly, like I had just slept with Lindsay Lohan. I wish I were making this up.

But at least I didn’t ever have to wear this little number:

sunnet underwear

Jeeesus, this kid’s packing a serious sucuk!

What is Slow Food?

You heard me, what is this Slow Food business you keep yapping about?

Well friend, I’m so glad you asked! First it’s important to consider that sometimes the simplest answer has the longes-

I’m out, bitch, ain’t no one got time for that!

Wait wait, I was just trying to say that the food discussion, especially in the United States, often falls prey to oversimplification, nutritionism, and the false dichotomies of –

/falls asleep
//head bashes against table
///wakes up

Hey, welcome back, let’s keep it simple, OK?

Fine, but I’m warning you…

OK OK, as my friend Mario once put it; “Slow Food is the opposite of Fast Food.”

That’s it?

Not all of it, but most of it. Cultivating an herb garden, making a meal from scratch, brewing beer, leisurely drinking moonshine in the park with your inappropriately young trophy wife; these are all under the umbrella of “Slow Food.” Fast Food is not just burgers and fries; it’s purchasing and eating food of unknown provenance, unknown worker conditions, unknown nutrition, in an unengaged manner. To eat “fast” is to eat passively, to consume processed and commodified items that often barely resemble food.

So all Fast Food is bad, gotcha.

Well, not necessarily, but more often than not, yes. Everything in moderation, including moderation, right? Sometimes you wake up from a bourbon bender, and you just want a 20 piece nugget meal with a liter of cola. Yes, you know that chicken nuggets are made from pulverizing horrendously-raised chickens into a pink schmear of sadness, but just as there are no atheists in a foxhole, there are no food snobs in a hangover.

Why should I care about Slow Food? Isn’t it some hippie dippie elitist supper club?

Great question, friend! In Anthropology it’s crucial to ask yourself daily “Why is this important? Why should the average person care about this?” Too often anthropologists go down the hyper-specific-specialization rabbit hole endemic in academia and lose focus as to why anyone should care.

Answer the question, shithead.

Sheesh, OK, my simplest answer is that everyone eats, or at least hopes to. What we call Slow Food nowadays is simply rebranding and reclaiming the way humans have eaten for our entire history. Food lends itself to infinite cultural variation and beauty depending on geographical and cultural factors, and the quickest way to connect with someone (outside of soccer and getting drunk) is to eat and enjoy their food. In the aforementioned examples, many things are considered “Slow.” Hell, even THINKING about where your food comes from is participatory, kind of like the way a lawyer can bill  you $200 for merely THINKING about your divorce case for five minutes while your Babylon whore of a wife goes around sucking off every truck driv –

We’re getting off topic here. Need a moment?

No I’m good. Where was I?

Elitism,Slow Food, your whore of an ex, etc.

Right. In terms of our history, I think the US will never shake its Puritanical roots. Anything epicurean is somehow perceived as a slippery slope towards pee-pees and hoo-hahs thrusting together, laziness, and the kind of secular humanism only those faggots in Europe participate in. (Just think of the townspeople in Footloose, crossed with Ron Swanson’s value system.) This attitude extends to Americans not taking sick days with a perverse pride, having only two weeks of vacation, and not spending very much time preparing and eating meals. On top of all that, the prepared food industry has done a remarkable job convincing people that cooking should be quick, easy, and outsourced to corporations. Soooooo, in a culture that sees time as money and applies business ideologies (even the global-bankrupting ones) to politics, education, and food, spending MORE time to make LESS food is seen as profligate.

So what should I do? Go back to the old ways? Hunt and fish? I have a really douchey friend that does paleo…

Well, we all have douchey friends that do paleo, but the simple fact is that most humans have had about 11,000 years to “learn” to eat cereal crops, and we’re pretty good at it now. Plus, there would be no beer or booze without the grain surplus afforded by agriculture and a sedentary (used in the non-nomadic sense, not the fat-people-being-cut-out-of-their-trailers-sense) lifestyle. If you feel like being pedantic while earning a richly-deserved beating, point this out the next time you see a paleo-cross-fitting-Tough-Mudder crushing a beer at the finish line. Slow Food is not synonymous with being a Luddite; on the contrary, it embraces technology and the ease of communication nowadays to shine light on marginalized food systems and traditional ways of life that have less value in the aforementioned commoditized food system. But by all means, hunt and fish more, cure your own bacon, and learn some basic butchery!

Can’t you say it simpler? It’s just food, for chrissakes.

I’ll let Slow Food speak for itself. It defines itself as such: “Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world who are linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment. Slow Food believes that everyone has a fundamental right to the pleasure of good food and consequently the responsibility to protect the heritage of biodiversity, culture and knowledge that make this pleasure possible. A non-profit member-supported association, Slow Food was founded in 1989 [in Italy] to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”

Waaaaay better than how you were describing it, bro.

I know, I know. In essence, Slow Food is a no-brainer to love: environmental awareness, cultural preservation, and tasty food to boot. It’s hard to profit from local systems that have disconnected from the industrial food system, which is why prickish corporations like Monsanto sue, sue, and then sue some more in order to-

You lost me at the Commie bullshit. Let’s go grab a beer.

*Sigh* OK.

Slamb Dunk

Lamb Basketball

I’m pretty sure this is a three-second violation.

That picture. I’ll come back to that picture. Soak it in! Have a laugh! Say “MY WIFE” like Borat!

Istanbul recently lost out on the chance to host the 2020 Olympics. It was competing with Tokyo and Madrid, with Tokyo winning in a landslide. Turkey got more votes than Madrid, so silver lining, etc. etc. In the aftermath of losing the vote has come newspaper columns asking why Istanbul didn’t get the bid. Was it the Gezi Park protests? The potantial Syrian kerfuffle? The poor level of disability access? Recent doping scandals? Islamophobia? The fact that the PM is errrrrrr… “less than ideal”? Let’s just say “hmmm, OK” to some aspect of all of the above.

Istanbul is a vibrant, unbelievably interesting city, but I don’t think it would have done well with the Olympics. It’s perpetually gridlocked, has no extensive or easy-to-use underground transportation, and can often feel gritty and paved over.

Of course, these things that make Istanbul a poor fit for hosting the games also make it one of the greatest cities to visit. It weeds out the fair weather tourists, the ones who cite their trip to Mazatlan as an example of international worldliness . You need to get used to being occasionally uncomfortable: air conditioning, when offered magnanimously, often feels like no more than a two degree temperature difference with the blowing power of a mouse queef. Almost no one speaks English. The kapali carsi (covered marketplace) is a decidedly unsexy meatmarket of jostling and negotiation. I had a guy follow me for a block inside the market once after I told him his skewers were waaaaay overpriced (which was true), and he was really ANGRY. When driving, the expression is “yol verilmez; yol alinir,” or “one doesn’t yield the road; one takes the road.” Sounds straight up Dothraki. As a pedestrian you’re like an undersized NFL wide receiver going across the middle with a shitty QB: you gotta keep your head on a swivel, otherwise you will be smashed in to tiny little pieces. In a nutshell, Istanbul still has its hipster traveler street cred, without giving a shit as to what that is, exactly, which cyclically translates into even MORE hipster traveler street cred.

I saw the above picture pop up on my facebook feed from myriad Turkish friends and acquaintances, with the caption: “The REAL reason Turkey didn’t get the Olympics!” My own meat-centricism aside, it highlights why food, and especially meat practices, are such a powerful lens for looking at a culture.

Why is this picture absurd? A man is carving a lamb outside in public in order to eat it, or perhaps to give away the meat during an “adak” (more on this later). Maybe it’s kurban bayrami (the Feast of the Sacrifice, also very Dothraki-sounding), and he’s about to share the meat with the less fortunate. In the industrial food system, closeness to animals and their death is an entrenched taboo. Having a chicken coop or backyard livestock was considered the sign of an agrarian, unrefined poor person. Going to the supermarket, with shiny aisles and sanitized displays, was seen as the epitome of an ideal of cultural evolutionism. (Such thinking haunted Anthropology, in which cultures that discovered the bow and arrow, e.g., would ideally evolve to gunpowder, agriculture, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo reruns, etc. Tacit in all this was that most of the “evolved” cultures were white, and these whiteys wrote these definitions. This is really simplified, and this isn’t a History of Anthropological Theory course, but it’s good to acknowledge past and present ideologies).

This man in the picture is also performing his own butchery. His garb would indicate that he’s not a professional, nor would the workspace indicate a brick-and-mortar place of business. Archaeological landscapes are not always buildings, per se, not to mention my own business-as-building bias, but this guy is cutting on a basketball hoop that he himself did not build, most likely. Industrialization loves a uniform; an indicator of specialization. Just take a moment to think about the stress caused by “business casual,” “black tie optional,” and “Sir, you can’t wear a blazer with assless chaps.”

Your average Berkeley/Portland/Brooklyn Slow Food aficionado no doubt appreciates a neighbor’s chicken eggs, urban rooftop heirloom tomatoes, and curing their own bacon, but this image still seems jarring. There’s no refrigeration. There’s no apron, no hand sink (blue tub on ground notwithstanding), in essence, none of the artifacts that signify it’s OK to get dirty, since you’re going to get clean pretty shortly. Most of all, it’s not in a pastoral setting that indicates to the West that it’s acceptable to roll up your sleeves and get a little muddy. This guy could be on his lunch break for all we know.  (“Lunch break” being a nice butchery pun here, since you “break” meat down).

Just as important to consider, is that this picture came to me from a Turkish audience, a sample size that I can say is definitively Western-centric. It’s akin to me posting a picture of a redneck cooking a hot dog on his engine block, and cracking wise.

This guy probably finished breaking the lamb, tossed the parts into a Renault hatchback with aforementioned mouse-queef air conditioning, sat in traffic, got out, hauled the meat upstairs, had his wife pan fry (“kavurmak”) the ever-so-perishable offal, and froze the rest.

And I bet it tasted fucking delicious.

Moving Animals

Outside of the stress of packing up our entire apartment in Berkeley and planning on an international move to Turkey, we had to plan for a cross-country move to Minnesota, wherein our two kitties (George and Stamos) would be pawned off on my brother Bengi for the year. With the confluence of these MAJOR LIFE STRESSORS, Mary and I were running on about four hours of sleep per night during our last week in the Bay Area. Let me preempt all of the parents out there by saying yes, you all got waaaay less sleep than us for an entire presidential term, but keep in mind we were going to bed after many, many, moving beers each night.

I’ve done the cross country move from MN – CA once before with the kitties, and they were pretty well-behaved. Other than Stamos getting a wicked case of pinkeye in Little America, Wyoming, it was smooth sailing. *

This time, we left Berkeley at 6am, destination Mormonopolis Salt Lake City. We had a crate for the cats, but I opted not to use it, since the cats had been free to roam in the car on previous car trips. I thought nothing of their incessant whining and moaning until Stamos started to foam at the mouth. Like, Ol’ Yeller, long, syrupy strands of muzzle lather. George wasn’t drooling, but kept putting her stupid face up to my ear and screaming.

Since Mary can’t drive a stick, I was doing all the driving, while she was wrangling pussycats. Three hours into our fantastic voyage, cruising on I-80, Stamos abruptly stopped pacing in the limited space left in the car. She turned away from us, as if to look homeward wistfully, braced her legs, and shat feline soft serve all over my suitcase. Mary saw the whole/hole thing happen. At the same time, a deer decided to sprint to the median on the other side of the freeway, pause, and make a move like it was going to jump right into our path. I had white-knuckle adrenaline shakes on top of the poo-nami happening in the backsteat. Mary contorted her body in order to climb back and clean up the mess. As soon as she squirmed back to the front, Stamos began barfing everywhere. Being geniuses, we said “Hmmmmm, she must be car sick.” We pulled into a pet store somewhere around Lake Tahoe and bought pet mess spray, cat calming drops, a cat calming collar, and put the cats in the carrier. It was a bit more settled down after that, but we soon realized that Stamie had stress-peed little puddles all over the floor mats in the back, like when a lady jumps on a trampoline. The car smelled really amazing for the rest of the drive.

I still miss those cats (except for George…she’s the worst). You know what kinda sorta assuages the cat pangs? The millions of street cats in Turkey. They. Are. Everywhere. On cars, under cars, in trees, in bushes, under stoops, on balconies, at restaurants, in your windowsills, everywhere. It’s considered a positive character trait to feed street cats, and there are even designated cat feeding troughs around cities. My aunt gets street cat food from the vet when her cat has to go for an appointment. Sadly, many people will just abandon their housecats to the outdoors when they move away or go away for the summer. (Cue Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.”) You can tell these cats by their nice grooming and general cleanliness. Street cats tend to be really lean, a bit mangy, and many have krusty kitty konjunctivitis, like what Stamie had.

Dogs are everywhere, too. Really healthy mutts abound. They’re all partially Anatolian Sheep Dogs (the dog breed Hugh Jackman’s character had to take care of in Kate & Leopold) along with general muttiness. Local city organizations (manned by Turkish Leslie Knopes) tag and vaccinate the dogs and you don’t have to worry about a pack of angry dogs ripping you to shreds, Django-style.

*I had some amoxicillin tablets purchased in Turkey the year before, because you can buy all sorts of awesome pills over the counter. I’m not one of those horrible people that doesn’t finish their course of ‘biotics and creates supergerms! Honest! I had picked up a few packs in case I got strep or something in the US. My dad suggested I give Stamos a weight-adjusted amoxicillin dose. If an average person weighs 150 pounds (outside of American red states, of course), and Stamos was about 15, then you’d just have to crush up the pill, halve it, halve the halves, and then halve the half-halves that to get pretty close. PET PHARMACIST! Thursdays on CBS!