Thursday, 31 May 2012

Highland Tea

You’ve probably noticed that since returning to live in Turkey,  I’ve become partial to a thistle. Three posts so far on cooking and identifying them. This post comes to you from Scotland, a country proud of its national prickly flower. I haven’t actually seen one growing yet but I was chuffed to find in Inverness Tesco, a box of Thistle tea . It went straight into my trolley and although it tastes pleasant enough, it’s a bit bland and I can’t help feeling I’ve been mildly deceived. There is a big picture of a purple flower on the front of the packet but in the very small print on the side the ingredients list just 4.5% thistle to 95.5% black tea.  When I get home I’ll be drying the flowers to see if I can get a better ratio.  This is my first time in Scotland since the late 1970’s  and all I can remember about my first trip was the non-stop rain and bouncing  through the highlands in an ancient Land Rover Defender with wooden bench seats, sharing the already cramped vehicle with a long dead seal in a black plastic bag. This week’s trip coincided with the best weather Scotland’s ever had, (well for a long time). It was 27 degrees when I landed, which was about 5 degrees hotter than Bodrum and cruising along in Range Rover with defunct air conditioning,  I was thankful that there were no dead aquatic animals in the back.

Monday, 28 May 2012

School Ties.

Alan of Archers of Okcular has recently posted an interesting account of his fund-raising success for the  local village school.  The teachers and parents in his village are obviously very  grateful for his generous efforts.  My connections with Turkish schools ended in 2000 when my daughter left to join the British education system and I stopped teaching English.  Recently, I was enjoying a coffee and cake in Bodrum with an old friend when he took a call on his mobile from “Mudur Bey”.  As the friend is self- employed, I was wondering to whom he was being so deferential and he explained that the call was from the headmaster of his children’s school and there were outstanding bills to pay.  As chairman of the parents' association, my friend was expected to come up with the cash.   The government only provides the teachers’ salaries and pays the electricity bill for this state school.  Cleaning costs, photocopy inks and toners, repairs to the building and all the other incidentals have to be found elsewhere.  This past winter was so cold that the electrical heating wasn’t sufficient and fuel had to be bought for the wood-burning stoves.  His kids’ school’s only extra source of income is the tuck shop so the parents are asked for “donations”. Some schools can use their playgrounds in the summer break as paid car parks but this isn’t an option for most villages.  A lot of effort in the ex-pat community seems to be directed at charities looking after street animals, which is a very worthy cause, but I’m more inclined to follows Alan’s direction and see what help we can be to our local village school, which looks considerably more dilapidated now than it did when we left 12 years ago. I was looking forward to volunteering to teach some English when schools open in September, but this now seems a rather naive offer in view of the financial difficulties the school must be operating under.  I don't think I'll be up to writing a book like Alan, but am open to suggestions.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Strawberry Jam.

Generally I’m a great fan of Turkish food, but there are a few things I’ve had to grow to like. Sour  green plums (erik) threw me at first but I now celebrate their arrival in late spring. Their tart juiciness is perfectly complemented by a dousing in sea salt.   I was a late convert to ayran; yogurt, water and salt didn’t seem obvious bedfellows but now I drink little else during the sweltering July and August days.   I have alas, never warmed to Turkish jam. I find it annoyingly thin and syrupy and almost impossible to eat without needing a shower afterwards.  Seconds after I have spread, spooned or dripped it on to toast, it has run over the edges on to fingers and sleeves.  It’s impossible to have a sneaky late night jam sandwich (guilty secret) without the evidence leaving a sticky trail for the next morning.  This year I’m making my own jam and I’m aiming for almost solid fruit that has to be forcibly shaken from the spoon.  The strawberry has gone really well so far so here’s the recipe.
2 kg of strawberries
1.7 kg sugar
2 juicy lemons
1 packet (10 g) pectin  ( reçel yap )  (Optional, but makes the jam really thick and well set)
If  you don’t used pectin, try to find preserving sugar.

Hull the strawberries and chop into quarters. Put into a preserving pan (or the largest, solidest saucepan you have) with the sugar. Use a potato masher to squash the fruit and sugar together.  Leave for 2 hours to allow the juice to run.  Cut 3 thick strips of peel with the pith from each lemon and add to the pan with the lemon juice and pectin. Stir well to make sure all the sugar is dissolved.  Then, using your strongest burner, bring up to a rolling boil for about half an hour.  While it’s boiling put a plate into the fridge or freezer.  After 30 mins, put a small blob of jam on to the cold plate. Do this  every 5 minutes until the blob wrinkles when you push it with your finger.  While your jam is cooling, wash 2 large, 4 medium or 6 small jars and lids and put into the oven at just under 100 C for 15 mins. When the jam is cool enough, fish out the lemon peel.  I potted up while both jars and jam were still on the hot side of warm and popped the lids on straight away.
This makes a very well behaved conserve that stays put on top of your scone and won’t leave you with sticky fingers. 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Bargain Booze in Bodrum

If you're looking for a cheap drink in Bodrum, all you need is a time machine. Whizz back to the 1980s and have yourself a ball.  There wasn't a lot of choice: two types of beer,  (Efes and Tuborg), rakı, votka, gin, brandy and garish fruit liqueurs but there was lots of it and it was amazingly cheap. Foreign spirits were only available in the duty-free shops and the Turkish gin and brandy more akin to paint stripper so we made the most of Turkish vodka. It was great injected into fruit and made getting your five a day much more entertaining, not that we knew we were meant to have five a day then.  We also kept bottles of lemon and strawberry vodka in the freezer. One third juice, one half vodka, topped up with sugar and left to mature for a week or two.  It's surprising those of us who lived here then have any livers or brain cells left. I've been tidying up my store-room and came across a set of beautiful crystal cocktail glasses and a shaker. I think my husband bought the glasses in Portobello market over 30 years ago. As I washed them I realised that we probably won't ever use them for their proper purpose again, spirits are just too expensive here now. I also found some shot glasses. Luckily they are the right size for tea light candles so at least they will be useful. My drinking days may be over, but my daughter's generation have their own drinking recipes. I'm told  that their version of my fruit vodka is to put a Mars Bar into a bottle of vodka and put it in the dishwasher on full cycle, to make an alcoholic chocolate drink.  Says it all really, doesn't it.

I haven't mentioned wine. That deserves a post of its own.

Friday, 18 May 2012

A wash out

It's pouring outside and I think we may be to blame. After a month of warm, sunny weather, we decided the house had dried out enough to paint the exterior. As I've mentioned before, our poor Bodrum home has been neglected for over 12 years and was in need of an update. The inside has been finished for a couple of months but we put off having the outside done in case it rained.  The ladders went up two days ago and just as the last brush strokes went on, the heavens opened.  Luckily, the new fangled paint available these days in Bodrum stayed put and didn't dissolve into a white lake as the old fashioned whitewash would have done.  We went to bed listening to the wind, rain and thunder, happy that the roof was water-tight and our expensive paint was where it should be.  I was woken at 4 am by hubby asking me why the kitchen floor was wet. (He obviously has some in-built sensor that wakes him when any untoward damp action is in progress).  I had no idea and, at that hour, couldn't have cared less. My daughter was similarly unimpressed at being woken to be asked this question. The rugs were busily soaking up the excess so, after denying that I'd been indulging in late night sloppy floor cleaning (as if), I went back to sleep. The next morning the guilty party was unmasked.  The painter had taken off the gutter pipes before painting and hadn't had time to put them back on. Water had run down the wall and managed to find the gas bottle pipe entrance into the kitchen. If I'd attempted to get water to fall down a sheer wall and pour through a 1 cm diameter hole, almost completely blocked up with a rubber tube, what would the odds have been on success?  I've now lost count of the number of places water has appeared where it shouldn't be this year. Surely this has to be the last time.
In retrospect, I don't know why we didn't wait to paint.  The tourist season always used to start in mid-May and no matter how nice the weather was in April for all visiting friends and family, a good downpour could usually be guaranteed for paying guests. Never underestimate Sod's law where the weather is concerned.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Perfect Day

Waking without an alarm clock  to find husband has prepared breakfast.
The temperature outside is warm but just cool enough to merit a bike ride to the weekly market.  
A piece of elastic unearthed from the workshop is exactly the right length to fit an extra basket on the back of my bike.
The grader has been down our track and got rid of all the rocks that usually unseat me. 
The breeze gets up just enough enough to stop me breaking out in a sweat but doesn't blow off my hat. 
The only pollution is the olive blossom blowing in my face. 
The only sound is the click of my peddles, birdsong and a distant children's game in the next village. 
Big bottoms in baggy trousers are bent over their fields planting pepper seedlings.  
A few late poppies and daisies straddle  the road and last year's forgotten onions are blooming purple globes. 
A distant neighbour yells out my name laughing as I ride by to remind me how ridiculous I look in my lilac floppy hat. 
I manage to find first gear for once and actually cycle up the hill into town rather than push my bike in. 
All my vegetables fit into my panniers and new basket. 
It's down hill almost the whole way back.

Appreciating an exceptional day as it happens is one of life's rare occurrences and can set one up for weeks of mediocracy 

Lou Reed's "Perfect Day". 

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

If you have been reading my posts for a while, you'll have gathered that I've spent over 30 years, (on and off), earning my living wielding a whisk, so it's always a joy to find a new ingredient or learn a new cooking technique. I managed both in one day last week attending a cookery demonstration at Erenler Sofrası Restaurant, at Yarbasan Stone Houses in Ortakent.  I've been on quite a few day courses in attractive surroundings but the view from this kitchen has to be the most glamorous.

I'd seen onion flowers on market stalls but didn't have any idea how to use them and many gardeners think that letting onions go to seed counts as a failure, but thanks to Aslıhan Mutlu, the patron of Erenler Sofrasi, I shall now be waiting for my spring onions to flower before I dig them up. Aslı showed us a simple way to cook artichoke hearts using the whole onion flower.

Put as many artichoke hearts as you can in a single layer in a deep, wide-based pan. Brush with lemon juice to stop them going brown. Roughly chop a bunch each of spring onions, onion flowers and dill and mix in a bowl with half a cup of rice and a handful each of salt and sugar.  Mix with your hand for 5 minutes to make the onion juices run.  Then rinse well and cover the artichoke hearts with the mixture, a cup of water and a cup of good olive oil.  Season, cover and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes then serve either warm or cold.  I'd used sugar and salt to kill the bitterness in onions for a salad but never instead of frying to soften at the beginning of an olive oil dish.  I tried it the next day with a couple of my tried and tested meze recipes and it definitely gives a fresher flavour.  

If cooking isn't your thing, visit the restaurant for the best meze I've tasted on the peninsula or if you're looking for a holiday rental, check out the Yarbasan web site for a collection of high quality, quirky but elegant villas.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Opportunity knocks

This photograph encapsulates the Turkey I remember and love and I'm cheered to see individuals like this still around.  Why invest in restaurant premises when all you need is tables, chairs and something to cook on.  As long as the sun shines, he's in business. The complete disregard for health and safety (on so many counts) is also refreshing after 12 years in a country where window cleaners tell me they are no longer allowed to climb ladders. His absolute faith that nothing untoward can happen to him is so intrinsically hard wired into his identity, that he decides lighting a charcoal barbeque grill on top of his car's petrol tank is a good move. Should he inadvertently detonate his diners, the event will be described in terms of extreme bad luck and no blame will be apportioned to the unlucky proprietor. Not so much a pop-up restaurant, more a blow-up café.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Ören. In Search of Paragliders.

About 16 years ago, at an age when most fathers are investigating the cost of Stannah stair lifts, my dad took up paragliding. He's still at it today and is always on the look-out for sites abroad that his flying mates can visit. Fifteen years ago we took Mum and Dad to Ören; a small town half way up the Gulf of Gökova, about 60 kms by road from Bodrum, and discovered a nascent flying-holiday business set up by keen paragliding German Turks.  We all went back last week-end, hoping to see this small endeavour thriving, only to find the hotel shut. Considering how popular throwing yourself off a cliff is in Ölüdeniz, this was a surprise but it may be because poor Ören doesn't have the best initial vista - on its approach either by road or sea, the first thing you see is a massive power station chimney. In its favour, Ören is the home of ancient Keremos and the pebble beach itself is charming - long and clean, and backed by plenty of small cafes where you can still eat at 1995 prices. (i.e under £5 a head).

Having lost the fliers, I'm not sure which market the Ören council are trying to attract. The pastel parasols are photogenic, but what's going on with the rubbish bins?

The Sunday we visited,  it was popular with local bikers who, after lunch, were about to drive to the top of the cliff. Fearing for our suspension, we didn't.

Environmental groups have campaigned long and hard to have the power station closed, but it was still puffing out it's smoke the day we arrived.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Perking the Pansies in Hospital.

Don't panic -Liam and Jack are fine.  I spent 3 hours this morning in the Bodrum State Hospital with my daughter who had a suspected appendicitis.  The system is very efficient in a chaotic way. One gets seen quite quickly and test results come back in less than half an hour, but all manner of humanity is bubbling around and there are a lot of non-sick relatives milling about which makes the place look frankly untidy.  I was  impressed that the staff don't allow queue-barging. Up to a few years ago, this was a Turkish National Gold medal sport, but today the ladies in charge of the computerized appointment system politely told every chap pushing in front to join the end of the queue and wait to be given a number. They looked almost as astounded as I did.  My daughter has not fully integrated back into Turkish society yet, and finds these situations rather overwhelming. Not helped by the entrance to the morgue being next to the X-ray queue and  a shrouded body is not a sight for an empty tummy.  So while waiting for the results I was desperately trying to lift her mood when I remembered I had my Kindle in my bag. I whipped it out and started reading her Jack Scott's novel "Perking the Pansies".  In less that a paragraph she was smiling then giggling.  Sometimes you're never too old to have your mum read you a story.

p.s. Her appendix are O.K. 

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Carry on Tweeting

I'm not refering to the 140 character message service. I have no experience of this sort of tweet and being a late adopter in all things, will probably have lost the use of my digits by the time I decide to try it.  I'm writing about our feathered friends. I was concerned about the affects of the air-force display team on the bird life of Bodrum. The roar of the jet engines so close overhead made my ears ring and left a shudder in the air as they passed over so,  I was worried that the birds might fall out of the sky in fright. In fact the opposite was true. We watched the show from our roof, about level with the top of the fir and pepper trees which are home to a diverse colony of sparrows, pigeons and blackbirds.  As the jets roared overhead, these birds carried on their daily life totally ignoring the monsters in the sky. They didn't even stop singing.  Research shows that male birds adapt to noise polution by singing at a higher pitch than they would normally do. Female birds are more attracted to deep voices so it's thought that breeding patterns may well be altered by too much noise. On Saturday the boys must have been tweeting like castrati and as it's mating season, more than one male bird must have had his chances ruined.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Aerial Antics

F-16 Fighter Jet in mid-display over our roof in Bodrum on Saturday.

When we're in the village, our nearest town is Mumcular. An unassuming, working conurbation  that serves the many villages and hamlets on the agricultural plane of Karaova. It doesn't have much going for it aesthetically and what little charm it did have 30 years ago, is swiftly being eroded by the many apartment blocks that are going up to serve as housing for the public sector workers of Bodrum. As a new 3 bedroom flat is selling for the equivlent of £25,000, it's one of the few places in the South West that fixed income workers have a chance to buy property. Plain-Jane Mumcular however, had a little glow of pride about it at the weekend.  One of its sons, born and bred in the town, has recently risen to become the Chief of the Airforce in Turkey. No mean feat for a small town boy. So while the denizens of up-market Bodrum were enjoying the dazzling show provided by The Turkish Stars; the air force display team,  Mumcular residents were quietly proud that it's their boy who's in charge.