Thursday, 28 February 2013

February Finishes - Time to warm up.

The last days of  February signal the end of winter. We'll still get some cool days but can expect more warm than cold weather to come. We've been lucky this year, the wind has blown mostly from the South and kept the temperatures generally in double figures. Last winter, our first back in Bodrum for 12 years, was one of the coldest on record and as one mega electricity bill followed another, we wondered if our dream of semi-retirement was going to be over before it got started.  Our meter was read yesterday and our February 2013 bill is almost exactly half of the same month in 2012, despite price hikes. So either we have become considerably hardier or we've not needed the heating much. 

It's easy to imagine summer's on the way when all the fields are full of anemones and daisies and the citrus blossom  is beginning to release its heady perfume.

February is the month for the grapevines over our courtyard to get a short back and sides, leaving only three buds left on each branch. This should ensure a good crop of grapes through July and August and provide enough greenery to block out the sun.  In March and April, the new leaves will be just the right size to stuff with rice, or deep-fry in a tempura batter. 

By June, the vine will hopefully look like this again. 

The pruner's mate wasn't much use. He kept bringing back all the discarded branches. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Fishy Fingers

Despite cooking for a living for over 30 years, there are a couple of techniques that I have never properly mastered.  When faced with a kilo of hamsi my heart always sinks. I know it's traditional in Turkey to treat these anchovies as whitebait;  fry them whole and eat in in one bite, but I find the bones too crunchy and the guts too sour, so I have to clean them, and this always causes me a headache. I end up with a pile of fish mush.
When I read that Aslı at Erenler Sofrası was organising  a cookery demonstration by world-renowned gourmet,  restaurant critic and writer Byron Ayanoglu, I was keen to get my hands dirty with this chef to the famous.  The proposed menu had my two bête-noire; hamsi and cuttlefish.

Marinated Hamsi, Mackerel and Salmon
Mixed Wild Greens Salad

Grilled Octopus
Spinach-Leek-Feta Pie
Cuttlefish Risoto-style Pilaf

Almond Tort with Fruit Coulis

I almost missed the preparation of the hamsi, having headed off to wash my hands and getting completely perplexed by the state-of -the-art taps in Erenler Sofrası's new venue.  When I finally got back to the table everyone else was on a roll.  Byron kindly gave me a second demonstration and after two or three butchered anchovies, I was producing perfect filets.   I now know that like all things, it's just technique. Pinch off the head and pull down taking the guts with it and use the thumb to flatten the fish and pull out the backbone.  No knife needed. The fish were layered with salt, lemon and grapefruit juice and left for 3 hours to marinade.  I was on safer ground with the salmon, having spent the summer in Sweden, land of raw fish, although I would never have thought of using mandarin juice in a souse. I can remember exactly when I last prepared cuttlefish. I was cook aboard SY Sinbad Severne in 1981. The resulting risotto tasted fantastic, but the galley and I were covered in ink and I couldn't show my black fingernails in public for a week.  I vowed then to learn how to prepare this sea beast properly and 32 years later I have.  It's just as messy as I remember it and I will not be attempting this dish at home.

Byron's new book Istanbul to Montreal is being published in Turkish by İsbankası Yayınları and will be in the bookstalls in April. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Does city living dehumanise?

The last two Sundays have seen heavy rain in Bodrum and by heavy, I mean torrential.  Imagine a bath  upturned on your head.  On days like this I'd rather stay on the sofa with a good book, but our newest family member  has to venture out a few times a day.  I try and live by the line "there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing" and have the full wet weather gear; rain hat, long mac and high boots and thanks to a great buy from Amazon, Jake has a waxed jacket to keep some of him dry. Because we spend the winter in the centre of Bodrum, to get to any pedestrian or green area we have to negotiate the town's original narrow roads.  In the past, these roads would turn into rivers as the water from the surrounding hills funnelled down to the sea. Floods are rare now, but the new drains struggle to cope and when it's really pouring, six inches of water sits on the road surface.   We have no choice but to use these narrow lanes and as I walked along last week I conducted my own anthropological  survey.  32 cars drove by us as we walked along  Turgut Reis Caddesi,  29 slowed down before reaching us and passed without a big splash.  3 cars made no attempt to slow down and sent an impressive wave up  and under my mac, and over Jake's head.  The considerate drivers were all 48 plates, i.e. from the local area. The other 3 were from Izmir and Istanbul.  Not a scientific study I know, but one that unfortunately confirms the stereotype of city drivers that we all believe anyway.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

One billion rising

This is my neighbour giving it her all in protest against violence towards women. Despite an improvement in women's rights in the first 10 years of this century, there now seems to be a backslide in Turkey, with increasing numbers of domestic violent acts  and murders being recorded.  Women in Bodrum today were  vocal  and energetic in their condemnation of these acts and put on a pretty good show in support of the world-wide One Billion Rising campaign.

We were lucky with the weather, rain threatened just before the 1pm deadline for the main dance but held off just long enough for us to keep our pink and purple togs dry.  

An hour later, the heavens opened and we had a spectacular hail and rain storm that battered the roof of the market so loudly that I think a bit of divine participation in the general outcry against violence could be inferred. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Walking with Spice

The "Strictly Come Dancing" craze has completely passed me by  so I can't tell a Rumba from a Samba. I last went to a dance class when I was 14 and I learnt how to "strip the willow", a technique I haven't found an opportunity to re-use in the intervening 40 years.  When I was a teenager,  admitting to having watched Come Dancing of a weekend was social suicide, but I must have done it a few times because the phrase "... and Doreen has sewn on every single sequin herself"  is embedded in my memory.  So did I go along today for Ballroom Fitness at Gym and Jam? Yes I did.  As a lure, Charlotte, the boss, sent me some research maintaining that dancing is the only physical (rather than mental) activity which offers protection against dementia and then, when I claimed to have two left feet, she threw in the line that "dancing is just walking with spice". Described like that, how could anyone refuse to give it a go.  I know I promised photographs, but I was so fixated on Charlotte's bottom half for the whole 60 minutes that I didn't have chance to take any good shots, so you will just get a picture of what I watched.

I have never stared so intently at another lady's rear in my life. 
We started with Rumba steps, moved on to Cha Cha Cha,  Tango and finally Waltz. I can't pretend that it all went swimmingly, but I don't think I disgraced myself too badly.  It was an amazing work-out and I'll be surprised if I don't have a few aching muscles tomorrow morning but I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be back again next week to  see if I can get my hips swinging in time to the music, rather than two beats behind which I was managing today.  

Saturday, 9 February 2013

To B-fit or Not to Be Fit.

At the beginning of December, I was contemplating giving up the battle of the bulge and resorting to elasticated waistbands. In a fair world, brisk walking for a couple of hours each day should give me a figure like Kate Moss, but in reality, the spare tyre around my middle was causing a sartorial crisis. Once winter set in and I had to abandon my comfortable linen trousers, I found I couldn't get into any of my warm clothes. I'm too mean to contemplate buying a new wardrobe so something had to be done.  "Eat less" you say, and I agree with you, but I'm a bit of a foodie and get miserable the minute I restrict my calories so the only answer was to get fitter.  A quick look around the peninsula offered a plethora of fitness choices. This is very different to my first foray into keep-fit.  In the 1980s, one woman was almost exclusively responsible for femail fitness in Bodrum.  Betül Hanım, a trained gymnast, had us going for the burn a la  Jane Fonda,  then cooling down with half an hour of yoga,  (she'd end the lesson with a perfect  headstand while we'd be grateful to be horizontal).   With no dedicated sports hall,  Betül's sessions took place in the  "Public Education Building" (Halk Eğitim) in the centre of town, where we would routinely sweep away the fag ends before we started and occasionally be interrupted by groups of taxi drivers or students looking for a public health lecture or English exam.    By the early 90s,  Betül had moved to Sporium, Bodrum's first fitness centre, where we had the luxury of changing rooms and those who looked good in leotards and leg warmers could enjoy the mirror-walled exercise studio, but maybe not the attention of the five-a-side footballers who would be waiting their turn to play on the astro-turf. 

Betül and my daughter 1996

b-fit Bodrum

With these past experiences in mind, what a joy it was to walk into the spotless Bodrum Gym and Jam fitness centre in the middle of Bodrum.  I signed up for 4 months of b-fit;  a 30 minute work-out consisting of short bursts of aerobic exercise interspersed with muscle toning machines.  The bi- or tri-lingual instructors are "in the circle" constantly to give guidance and encouragement and everyone can work at their own pace.  I've just completed my first 5 weeks and I can already fit into several pairs of jeans with a bit of room to spare.  Next week I'm going to try out some of the other exercises on offer; starting with ballroom fitness. As I've got two left feet, I don't think I'm the ideal candidate for this but I'll report back, with  photos, on Tuesday.

Sorry gentlemen!

21-09-2014  Update.  Unfortunately this b-fit is no longer open in the centre of Bodrum. We are awaiting news of its new venue.  There is a b-fit in Konacik. 

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Carian Trail

The Carian Trail was officially opened this week. A 800 km route through the counties of Muğla and Aydin, this trail passes through villages, countryside and mountains and aims to spread some of the income from tourism presently concentrated on the coast, to the inland areas.  As you can see from the Karia Yolu map above, Bodrum is not on the main route, but it does branch off to encompass our Carian history and take in  Theangela and Ceremos. 

The finished way will have international path signs every 50 metres and 220 signposts  to keep travellers from getting lost.  It's an exciting project which has been relatively low key up to now.  A guide book to the route is being published and should be available in 2 months. 
This initiative is presumably inspired by the The Lycian Way made by Kate Clow, which runs along the Mediterranean Coast.  In the past couple of months,  part of the Lycian Way has been bulldozed to make way for a large hotel, so finger-crossed the Carian Way doesn't open up our so far unspoilt interior to the developers diggers. 

Saturday, 2 February 2013

From Rags to Riches

One rainy Sunday in November 2010, I spent a very pleasant afternoon in Mayfield Scout and Guide hut learning how to make rag rugs.  If a square of hessian, old tee-shirts, sharp scissors, a carpet hook and a bit of wood with a groove in it  were all it took to produce the masterpieces that our teacher, Debbie,  pulled out of her carpet bags, then I was in. After endless cutting, wrapping, cutting again, prodding and pulling, that afternoon we each managed to produce a small cushion cover at the end of the 5 hour session. I was inspired and vowed to create a masterpiece, an heirloom for my daughter's bedroom.  I started that week and then.....
Fast forward 26 months:  My daughter asks if we have any spare rugs for her small apartment.  A great guilt washes over me. Her "heirloom" lies abandoned and unfinished in my "craft box." (Inverted commas very necessary in that last sentence.)  Luckily, the whole caboodle had been shipped over from England, and my carpet hook and dressmaker's scissors are still shiny from non-use.  I've spent every spare moment in the last two weeks cutting, wrapping,  pulling etc and I can now shine my halo and announce that  the slightly wonky rug is finished.  The pattern is not what I originally envisaged because I ran out of old sky blue and pink tee-shirts, but have made use of tracksuit bottoms, pyjamas, Christmas ribbon and an old Santa suit.  In a country of carpets, this may not seem a very accomplished offering but I FINISHED IT.

Debbie Siniska's Rag Rug Art