Sunday, 29 April 2012

David Hockney in my Back Yard.

In the winter before my first visit to Turkey, I went to a David Hockney exhibition in Manchester and fell in love with the artist's work, especially the "The Bigger Splash". I'd just spent the summer in Greece and Italy and knew that if I couldn't get to the blue sky and pools of  Los Angeles, the Turquoise of the Aegean would do very nicely. Fifteen years later, when I finally managed to sit by my own blue pool, the image of the Big Splash was never very far away. 

This year we left England just before the Hockney show at the Royal Academy started so, regretfully,  I have only been able to look longingly at the coverage on the computer.  I was especially taken by the above Yorkshire landscape and I think it has replaced the Splash as my favourite. So I might be employing a surfeit of imagination here, but when I went to survey the land just beyond our garden wall, I found that we have the inspiration for another Hockney woodland scene right on our door step.

With a little help from an ipad.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Eggs in Samphire Nests

Market day again: The weeks are racing past and we've been back in Bodrum for almost a third of a year.  I expected time to drag a bit when I gave up my job but the opposite is true. The days fly by in a way they never did while I was clocking up my 50 hours a week in paid employment.  As we had several commitments today, I decided to cook a really quick lunch. My parents are staying with us and they hadn't been very keen on the samphire we had in Bodrum last week so I attempted to Anglicise  a recipe. The Samphire (sea beans in Turkish), that grows in Turkey is sturdier than that sold in the UK and it has to be separated from its fibrous skeleton.  The easiest way to do this is to boil it for 5 minutes, then plunge into cold water to keep it bright green. When cool, hold the stalk in one hand and use your finger and thumb of the other hand to squeeze and pull the green flesh from the stems. 

Butter individual heat resistant dishes, divide the now tender and juicy greenery between them, make a shallow well and break an egg into each and finish them with a teaspoon of butter and a little white pepper.  Place the dishes in a deep frying pan and fill the pan with boiling water to about half way up the sides of the dishes. Cook until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny.

The egg on the left I cooked uncovered and the other one had foil loosely covering it.  The right one cooked more evenly but the left one looks better. They are delicious eaten like this but can be re-Turkified by covering with dried red pepper flakes in melted butter, or kept very European with a big dollop of Hollandaise sauce.

If you are looking for a more exciting method of cooking eggs I recommend the following technique from Alan at the Archers of Okçular

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

23rd April

Ambridge celebrated 23rd April, St George's Day, with a peal of church bells. In London, 23rd April, Shakespeare's birth and death day was marked by giving away free books. In Bodrum, I started 23rd April by being blasted from my bed by a man who shouldn't have been let anywhere near a microphone, shouting the Turkish equivalent of "testing testing one two three" at 7:45 in the morning.  This made for a grumpy start to the day and I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about Turkey's National Children's Day. I like the principle but not the practice.  "Practice" being the main problem.  Rehearsal after rehearsal with the poor children marching round and round the football pitch, banging their drums and tooting on their one note-horns for a couple of weeks before the event. As each child will hear exactly the same tune (Can I call it a tune if it has only one note?) every year for at least 8 years, is this much rehearsal really necessary?  When my daughter was small, her first school had very big ideas for Children's Day, involving complicated outfits and dance routines. Unfortunately, the costume didn't include a hat and no matter what the weather is like for the rest of the April, the 23rd will be baking hot and the the littlest ones will be drooping with heat exhaustion after the march from school, never mind the parading inside the stadium and the walk back. Mothers are exhausted from staying up all night trying to finish sewing the 100 ruffles on skirts and sleeves (maybe that was just me - I glued them on one year and lost a lot of brownie points in the best-mother stakes). Teachers are all anxious that their class is not marching in time but trying to push each other into the path of oncoming cars and fathers just turn up and look uncomfortable and worry that their cars will be towed away by the traffic police. So nobody really enjoys it except those who have a very hazy recollection of their own school days and the odd passing tone-deaf tourist.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Bodrum's Last Sponge Diver

"Parası pul. Karısı dul" The poignant truth about sponge divers .  "Lots of money but their wives end up widows".  Luckily for Bodrum, this diver is still in strapping health and last week we went along to watch the premiere of "The Last Sponge Diver" a documentary by Savaş Karakaş about the life of Mehmet Baş.  When Bodrum was just a small fishing village, the sponge boat captains would go into the surrounding villages to recruit young men to be "Mancorna", deep sea divers. Compared to a poor life working the land this was a chance to share in the lucrative sponge trade but they would be away from home for months and some would not come back.  Mehmet is the last of this bunch. He is also the epitome of fitness, not succumbing to the bends like the ex-divers I used to see around the village harbours in the 1980s and 90s, hobbling on crutches or in wheelchairs because they had come to the surface too quickly without decompressing. Mehmet's nick-name is "Aksona", which is the stop divers make on the way up to the surface to avoid decompression sickness.
These photos were taken in 1992  on a day out on Mehmet's 12 meter dive boat.  He is also a poet and as a tribute to a fellow Bodrum writer, Donald Carroll, Mehmet had commissioned a marble plaque (white, not blue) engraved with Donald's name which, after christening with champagne, he took down to the seabed as a permanent memorial.  I have to point out that Donald, at this time, was in fine fettle and apart from the champagne, Mehmet treated us to sea urchins with just a dash of lemon juice and  barbequed sea bass.  This was an unusual excuse for a party but typical of Aksona Mehmet's great enthusiasm for all things literary and marine.

Have a look at Mehmet's website.

He now has an 18m yacht available for charter. 

R.I.P Donald Carroll 
1940 -2010

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Come fly to me.

I've been to Bodrum airport 3 times this week and each time I relished the easy journey to and from town.  It has not always been so. When I first arrived, the nearest airport to Bodrum was a military base on the North side of Izmir. Advertised in the holiday brochures as 5 hours from Bodrum; in reality the journey took 7 hours. The roads were narrow with very few dual carriageways and there were plenty of ancient lorries and tractors to get stuck behind. We also had to drive through Izmir's marshy wetlands and its accompanying aroma of raw sewage; which was always a talking point in a coach full of first-timers to Turkey. Luckily for the poor reps, Adnan Menderes airport soon opened 18 km South of Izmir, cutting over an hour off the journey to Bodrum. Dalaman got an airport soon afterwards. Operating out of a glorified shed for the first year, it speedily acquired a modern (for the eighties) glass and steel structure. But, still 3 hours from Bodrum in brochure speak, i.e on a night run with a driver who should have been working for McLaren.  Rumours of a Bodrum airport circulated for years. The yearned for crock of gold that would bring untold riches to the peninsula.  In 1987, Fuat Imsık opened the first private airport in Turkey,  35 kms from Bodrum. At last we all rejoiced...until we tried it out. The runway was so short that planes had to come over the hills and belly-flop onto the runway. Not for the faint hearted.  As travel agents, we had a deluded idea to run trips to Pamukkale by private plane. On the inaugural flight, Mr. Imsık insisted on coming with us.  He also called the press who wanted to film us taking off and landing....and taking off and landing again and ... you get the picture. Pity the press photographers didn't get their pictures the first time.  It was the scariest flight experience of my life so the Pamukkale idea was abandoned and I never flew at Imsık again.

Bodrum finally got its own airport in 1997.
It's third terminal building is well on the way to completion. 

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Meals on Keels - Kitchen Memoir No. 3

Not a kitchen this time but a galley. I spotted a tiny advert in The Times looking for a cook on a 71 foot ketch based in Rhodes. I had no formal training in cookery so wasn't very hopeful, but went along to the interview anyway.  When the skipper/owner asked me about my experience all I could offer was cooking in a muddy farmhouse in Shropshire and a village in Greece; although I had sailed all my life so I was confident that I'd know which end was the stern.  I also threw in, as an after-thought,  that I knew 20 ways to cook an aubergine. To my surprise, he gave me the job on the spot.  He'd had several years of Cordon Bleu trained chefs who would throw a wobbly if they couldn't get the correct ingredients and he was willing to go with my aubergine recipes and familiarity with Greek yogurt. The galley was tiny and the oven similarly twee so I developed a few techniques that won't be found in your average cook book.  Cooking lamb involved a rubber dinghy, a beach and a stick with an olive oil soaked rag tied to it.   The guests were suitably impressed when I rowed back with supper sizzling in the bottom of the tender.  Cooking a joint  in subsequent kitchens has seemed a bit tame. The skipper wasn't too happy with my knots though and had to give me several lessons in tying a bowline. But when faced with doing this knot quickly I always got confused and the residents of Kos and Symi harbours must have wondered why an angry South African was yelling at his flustered crew member, "The rabbit goes up the hole, round the tree and back down the hole".  If you don't understand this, you don't know how to tie a bowline either. 

Now you do!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Young Bones at Old Stones

From before she could walk, my daughter has been a regular at most of the ancient sites in South West Turkey. The older she got, the more she complained and I completely failed to infect her with the enjoyment I feel when I'm left to my own devices wandering around Iassos or Priene after all the tour buses have gone home.  The only odeon she feels happy in, is the one that over charges for popcorn and pick'n'mix.  If I ever dared to take her to two sites in one day she'd wail, "Mummy, not more stones".  I didn't feel too bad about this as I once went to Avebury with one of my lecturers and his young son. The eminent archaeologist was trying to enthuse his child by sweeping his arm over the view of massive standing stones saying; "Look at what ancient man achieved thousands of years ago with only rudimentary tools." To which  Sebastian replied, "God, they must have been bored".
So it was quite a surprise when my now 19 year old girl said she would accompany us on a tour of Bodrum castle, the Mausoleum, The Myndos Gate and Myndos all in the same day.  I almost fell over backwards when she told my friend, Jane that she was enjoying the visit and .....that she found it interesting! We were on our way to Gümüşlük and were discussing all the sites we'd visited over the years and I was just beginning to think that maybe all those childhood visits had in fact made an impression after all and Jane asked my daughter her favourite place in Turkey.  She thought for a bit and then answered.......Ikea.

Monday, 9 April 2012

A Kilo of Snails?

I've been enjoying having a friend stay for the past few days. We met 35 years ago while studying archaeology in Birmingham and have a shared background of dodgy student accommodation, damp caravans, abandoned school buildings, soggy tents and back-breaking Land Rover trips; thus, she is the ideal companion with whom to visit ancient sites when the sky is grey and a thunder storm is forecast. We finished up at Peçin Kale just outside Milas. The rain, which we'd been unsuccessfully dodging all day, held off while we climbed up to the fortress but came down in buckets as we wandered around the ruined houses. I was trying to operate my camera while holding an umbrella so not really looking where I was walking, but very quickly became aware of a crunching under foot.  Lots and lots of snails. A forgotten fact jumped back into my mind: snail collecting had been a popular and lucrative side-line in Milas. Dealers would buy them by the kilo and ship them off to France.  A quick look on the internet shows that there is still one snail dealer listed in Milas. Another search throws up the information that these little fellows have been over-collected and are now rare and protected in some parts of Europe. No shortage of these juicy escargot today.

Edible snails, also called Roman snails as the Romans introduced this tasty snack to many parts of their empire. 

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Most Useful Recipe in the Aegean (and possibly the world)

It's market day again and time to cook another wild vegetable. I'm gradually working my way through the various greenery that sprouts up in this region in Spring and as you can see from the picture, it all looks like the weeds we would usually throw on the compost heap. You are probably getting a bit bored reading about ways to cook thistles so I thought I'd throw in a traditional recipe that can be used for cooking almost everything. In Greece it's called avgolimone or egg and lemon sauce and in Turkey it's called terbiyeli, which means well-behaved. I welcome all suggestions as to why egg and lemon sauce makes for a polite dish as I haven't been able to find a reason on the internet.
Take any vegetable ingredient of your choice, it could be leeks, celeriac, broccoli, thistle, cabbage, artichoke hearts or anything else that you have to hand.  Cut into what ever size you like but the smaller it is, the quicker it cooks. Put into a deep frying pan with a diced onion or two and a smashed garlic clove or two and a glug of olive oil. Cook on a low heat until everything has softened and then add a cup of stock, (a stock cube  in a cup of boiling water is fine).  In a bowl add the juice of two lemons to two beaten eggs yolks. When everything in the pan is soft, turn off the heat and take a ladle of the stock out of the pan and add to the egg and lemon bowl, mix well and tip it all back into the frying pan.  Then serve with rice, pasta, mashed potato or a chunk of bread.  If you prefer soup,  start off in a saucepan and add three cups of stock instead of one and add two or three ladles of stock to the egg and lemon before you tip it back in the pan. This is one of the easiest and most useful recipes in the world as long as you remember to NOT pour the egg and lemon mixture directly into the hot stock. (Unless you like lemon-flavoured soggy scrambled eggs)

Monday, 2 April 2012

Fooling About in April.

I had a friend in the 80's who was a bit of a prankster, I'll call him Dave. When I knew Dave, he was at a loose end and had volunteered to be a rep for a holiday company; a job he didn't take very seriously.  In those days the holiday season started in early April and Dave used this as an excuse to try out his practical jokes on his unsuspecting clients.  On one transfer back from Dalaman airport, he got the driver to gradually reduce his speed, at which point Dave leant forward from the rep's seat, exchanged a few words with the worried looking driver, then grabbed the microphone and announced:  " Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid we have a problem. The driver has informed me that we have a slow puncture on the right side of the bus and has asked if all the passengers on the right can lean to the left please." To his delight, they all did and they would have carried on for several more miles like this, had the driver not got a fit of the giggles and given the game away.  His best idea has passed into travel rep mythology.  The first airport in Dalaman resembled a large shed and the luggage collection area had two exit doors. Dave had prepared two large signs and he stuck one above each exit door. He then donned a white coat,  held his clip board in one hand and a pair of dressmaking scissors in the other and waited on the other side of the doors.  As clients retrieved their bags and walked towards the exit they were faced with this choice CIRCUMCISED or UNCIRCUMCISED.