New Page Under American and Turkish Fusion


We have all been there.   You are craving a certain dish from home, or want to make some food in your recipe repertoire but are lacking ingredients.  Maybe they are not sold in the local market, or you would have to sell a kidney on the black market to afford it.  I will keep adding substitutions as things I have done in the past occur to me.


Phone Debacle

GAHHHHH!  (Insert more inarticulate sounds here!)  I have been having some phone issues lately.   In August I bought a Samsung Galaxy SIII to replace the four year old Apple IPhone 3GS my cousin had given me as a wedding present.  I liked the IPhone but it just wasn’t running very fast which was compounded by the fact for it to work in Turkey it had to be jail broken and I couldn’t update the operating system with out re-jail breaking it each time.  So I decided, as I haven’t bought a new phone since 2008, I would get one I really liked.


In Turkey you can register a foreign phone every two years.  I thought I had registered my last phone in August of 2010, so no problem.  HAH!  I had forgotten that I had actually registered my IPhone in February of 2011, however, my registration application did not bounce.  If they had told me I couldn’t register it at the time, I could have asked Bülent to register the phone.  Instead one morning in November my phone stopped working.   It had been shut off as “unregistered” even though I had tried to register it and had received no communication that there was a problem in the process. 

I called the government office which does the registration and they told me I could re-register the phone in January of 2013.  I was leaving the country (you need a stamp showing entrance to the country less than 30 prior to register the phone) and coming back on December 26th for my trip to Vienna.  So no smartphone for 2 months, fine.

Well, not so fine.  When I called to double check the registration issues on January 2 it turns out my entrance to the country has to be after January 1, 2013 , as well.  Which means I will not be able to register my phone until after I return to the U.S. in February.

I borrowed a friend’s extra phone for the duration.  It is a basic phone will calling and texting, and it has been interesting.  Did I die without my smartphone? No. Have I been lost and wish I had the Google Map app? Yes. 

While I like smartphones, and will be using one again in February, in some ways I think we are over reliant on them.  While I always was careful not to abuse my phone, I have been more sensitive to the way we use them.  Checking Facebook while talking to each other, using it while at restaurants—keeping on top of what is happing online does not keep us in the present.  Rather it distracts us from the experience we are having, keeping us from fully living in the present, in the now.  When your attention is on your smartphone you are not really there.   I will definitely be careful to stay in the present once I have my smartphone back.  Though it will be nice to have Whatsapp back so I can text my mother and brother again- but that is a kind of in the present thing too. 


For the details on phone registration in Turkey, check out Adventures in Ankara’s post. 

Hoşgeldiniz to 2013

Welcome to the New Year!  I hope everyone had safe and happy New Years celebrations.  Bülent and I have been so busy lately that we welcomed the New Year from bed, where we had been snuggling and watching movies.  It worked for me!  Start the New Year as you mean to continue right?  I am sure many people are thinking about New Year Resolutions and how to make changes.  I think I am just going to continue the journey I started several months ago, trying to appreciate the good, and live a more balanced life.

It has been a difficult year.  This day last year I was packing my bags to go back to the U.S.  I  had taken a leave of absence due to my father’s health and was supposed to head back at the end of the semester in late January.  I had spoken to my family a couple of days before and I had decided to change my plane ticket on December 30.  It was expensive to change a ticket two days before the flight, but it was the best decision I ever made.  My father’s funeral was on the original date in January on which I was supposed to arrive. 

I had taken the semester off and my school had hired someone to take my place, so I stayed in N.H., grieving and healing with my family.  It was difficult to be separated from my husband for six months, but has changed our relationship for the better.  We are stronger and more united, we know there is nothing we wouldn’t do to help the other…been there, done that.  We have now had bad and trying times and just love each other more for our individual responses to them. 

My time in the U.S. last year was very precious to me.  It allowed me to spend time with my mother while she needed me, and while I needed her.  I was able to get to know my brother as the man he is now, as opposed to the boy he was when I left.  I was also able to get to know his long time girlfriend, who is as lovely inside as she is out.  I went to my college roommate’s wedding and celebrated her happiness with her, and our college friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in five years.   I drove from Texas to New Hampshire, meeting Bülent’s dearest old friends, and visiting mine along the way.   I also went to BlogHer ‘12!

My oldest and dearest friend made me an Auntie—albeit in a terrifying way.  Due to her daughter’s insistence to make a (extremely early) entrance I was able to meet her in the NICU before I came back to Turkey.  

Health wise: Bülent and I went vegetarian (almost six months now) and I joined a gym a few months ago.  The breast lumps have been vanquished—well not vanquished but at least identified as benign.  To top it all off, our dog, Butterfinger, is not letting cataracts get her down.   

The year has been challenging and rewarding.  I am hoping that this next year will be easier, because we kind of need a break.  But we are starting the year off right.  Last year my dad wanted to take our family on a last vacation, a cruise, due to his limited mobility, but he died before we were able.  

Well, we are taking that fucking cruise.  Come January break, my mom, brother and I are going to go.  We are going to celebrate what was, what is and what is to come, because that is what life is all about.  So 2013—bring it on!

My hump, my hump, my hump, my lovely little lumps—Check it out!

Fergie says it all.

December is usually a busy month for most people.   It is the holidays, between parties and other things the month seems to fly by.  In addition December is exam month for my students, so there is a lot of prep, as well as grading.  Bülent had a business trip to Prague for a week and then after that we had a trip to Vienna planned for Christmas, WHEE!

So that made the health issue that popped up inconvenient, as well as unwelcome.  Several weeks ago, I found a lump in one of my breasts.  Well, actually, Bülent found it, as he tends to be more vigilant in investigating them.  Considering the history of hormonal cancers in my family, neither one of us was pleased with the development.  I called my gynecologist and she sent me  to the lab for a sonogram.  If the sonogram did show any issues she told me she would refer me to a general surgeon, which is the typical protocol in Turkey.  She was very helpful, she offered to make the lab appointment for me if I was concerned about language barriers.  I also have her cell phone number, since her secretary doesn’t speak English.  If I have questions or concerns or need to make an appointment I am able to call my doctor directly. 

We were eager to get the situation resolved.  However, we did feel relieved when other symptoms popped up, which indicated it was not a serious health risk.  One of my breasts was sore and swollen.  It was twice the size as the other and looked like a lopsided boob job.  It was very uncomfortable.  Poor Bülent, the week before he leaves on a business trip, the playground was closed.  We hurried to arrange all of the appointments and tests to be done before Bülent headed off to Prague, in case I needed support and translation help.   

So the day after we found the lump, Bülent and I headed to the lab. He was great, made the appointment for me, then came in the exam room and translated for me.  Turns out it was not just one lump, but several in both breasts.   They told us most likely they were just cysts, but the lab recommended sending me to the general surgeon since one of the lumps was so large.   The surgeon had a great reputation, and seemed to deserve it.  He reassured me it was  fibrocystic breast syndrome and nothing to worry about, though he did send samples to the lab just to make sure.  Actually I was really impressed.  He aspirated it with a needle, I did research and in the U.S. it says that they numb the area with lidocaine, then guide the needle in with a sonogram.  However, my doctor just covered the whole area in iodine, explored a little bit with his fingers, and slid the needle right in.  I was a little surprised at his nonchalance, but then was more surprised that it didn’t hurt AT ALL!  Clearly the man knew his stuff!  It was a big needle, but no pinch or sting the whole time!

The tests all came back clear, but he wants to see in a few months just to check.  I have to say, I was very pleased with all of the care I received, from the gyno returning my call at 7 p.m. on Saturday night, and the lab, fitting me in after work, and the expertise of the doctor.   We were both relieved that the lump turned out to be nothing.  It made our upcoming vacation seem all the more special, a celebration of Christmas, love and health.  Especially love!

Forget CEOs! Teachers Get Bonuses!

In Turkey, November 24th is Teacher’s Day.

Inside and outside of one of my cards. (We are still practicing articles.  There are none in Turkish. My kids think they are tricky—clearly.)

20121205_190831 (1)20121205_190809

  Teacher’s day is a serious business in Turkey.  To understand why, a little history is necessary.     It was only 90 years ago, in 1923,  that five years of primary education became compulsory and publically funded.  It was not until 1951 that middle schools were introduced and eight years of education became available to the public.  It was only in 1997 that it became compulsory to complete 8th grade. 

Comparing it to the U.S., it may seem strange that children have only been required to finish 8th grade for 15 years, however it is a matter of  when and where education began.  In 1923, when Atatürk created the public education system, only 10 % of the population was literate. 

He had big goals and wanted his country to be modern, to do this he knew literacy was needed, at the least.  However by 1926 there were only 200 teachers in Turkey and to accomplish his goal to provide publically funded education to children until the 5th grade he needed about 3000.  There were simply not enough teachers in the country. 

Teacher Education programs were quickly established, though the dearth of teachers  is one of the reasons for the tradition of large class sizes (in recent times about 4o or 50 students in a class in public schools, 30 in private).   For all of the challenges, from 1923 to 1999 the official illiteracy rate lowered from 90% to 14.3%, a tremendous drop in about 75 years (Karakaşoğlu, 2007, p. 790).

Due to the historical context of education in this country, teachers are greatly valued.  The term “Hocam” (my teacher) is an honorific and a very respectful salutation .  There is no difference in terminology for a university professor with a PhD from a primary school teacher—they are all considered equally important and are all “Hocam.”    On Teacher’s Day in Turkey, students present their teachers with chocolates and flowers, sometimes other presents too.  In the past, in addition to the lovely home-made cards and sweet letters, I have received a set of towels, scarves, mugs, and even sweaters!  On Teacher’s Day our school gives bonuses based on how many years you have been at the institution.  For some of the older teachers the bonus is equivalent or exceeds a month’s salary.  For me, it was a meaningful gift ( almost $300).   Some students even visit their former, retired teachers at home on Teacher’s Day.  It is very interesting to me that as a “Developing” country Turkey is able to financially reward teachers to such an extent.   I worked in the U.S. as a teacher and was never even wished a “Happy Teacher’s Day,” let alone a gift from your employer! 


P.S.There is a Teacher’s Day in the U.S., it is on Tuesday during Teacher Appreciation Week, which takes place in the first full week of May—Who Knew?

Forks Over Knives

So in June Bülent and I watched the documentary Forks over Knives which promotes unprocessed foods and veganism.   It advocates a plant based diet with no refined oils and lower ingestion of oily foods, such as avocados and nuts.  We were quite struck with the documentary.   While Bülent mostly focused on the health benefits, what struck me was the sustainability.  I was amazed how the amount of livestock we require in developed countries affects global warming (10 % of human based carbon dioxide emissions), deforestation, water pollution and soil erosion.  According to a 2006 University of Chicago study, if an average American meat eater reduced their intake of animal produce to 25% of their total calories it would reduce their carbon footprint by approximately one ton.   However, the largest impact on me was that if that if we ate the produce we grew, rather than using it to feed to farm animals that we will eventually eat, almost every one in abject poverty could be provided with more than they need to survive.  When I worked in San Diego it was the first time I dealt with real hunger.  Children who were so hungry they couldn’t concentrate in class.  I used to carry granola bars in my purse, and had an unlocked file cabinet filled with them.  If there is anything I could do to end hunger, I would work towards it, and so have given up meat for the most part.

While we have not adopted a true “plant based” Forks over Knives lifestyle, we have altered our diet.  I love a good raw steak , and though I haven’t mentioned it previously, we have been living a mostly vegetarian lifestyle since July.  Occasionally we slip (mostly when I am hormonally challenged and crave a steak rather than chocolate) , but for the most part we are vegetarians.  We have also cut back our lactose and egg intake by at least 75 percent.  Usually the milk in my coffee is the only milk product I eat each week.  Occasionally I bust out the non-fat yogurt, especially if I have  a funny tummy, but that is an exception.

I love meat, but really haven’t missed it.  I feel lighter, and healthier.  The grocery bill is also significantly lower.  Now that we are eating only veggies and beans, I spend a little more time and energy finding the best and juiciest of whatever I am looking for.  The most expensive organic beans are still way cheaper than meat.    If I do buy eggs or milk I buy from smaller producers, free-range and organic.  Since we are eating less of it, it hasn’t jacked up the bill either.    It has definitely been interesting adapting our normal recipes to a vegetarian style.  However, it is usually pretty easy and Bülent swears that the vegetarian version of Hünkar Beğendi  I made was better than any other he has EVER had.  (Secret: for a rich taste—instead of lamb: lentils and chipotle)  I will have some vegetarian recipes coming to Close to the Kitchen very soon!

An Early Gluten Free Thanksgiving

Last night my friends hosted an early Thanksgiving.  They normally go to Austria for Thanksgiving holiday and celebrate  it the week before.   My friend’s husband was diagnosed with a gluten allergy last year and is still being tested for Celiac disease.  They have transitioned to gluten free living pretty easily, but he has been missing bread.  We also wanted to make sure we could have all the traditional dishes for Thanksgiving, that were safe for him.   My friend is a wonderful cook, but does not think of herself as a baker, so I wanted to test out the recipes before we did it together. 

So a couple of weeks ago I started practicing for Gluten Free Thanksgiving.  I made a loaf of bread using the local Turkish gluten free flour mix.  Thankfully the flour mix also includes xanthan gum.  The bread turned out really well, it was a little eggier than regular bread, but tasted great.  It was also fairly easy to make, I found this recipe to be one of the simplest and was very pleased with it.


My friend and I got together on Wednesday to bake bread for stuffing.  As it had the time before, the bread came out nicely.  While we were baking she asked me to bake the pies for Thanksgiving as well.  I took on the challenge of the GF pies.  However, I have to say, it turned out to be much more difficult than the bread. 

I have been making pie crust from scratch for years, but really had trouble with this.  Perhaps it was the flour.  Many of the gluten free websites specify a mix of certain types of flours, but I only had one option available in the store.  Whatever it was, it was not working.  I could not roll it out.  Different recipes said rather than to roll out the dough, to extrude it, by rolling it between wax paper.  that worked well enough but then I couldn’t get the dough off the wax paper.  It was SOO sticky.   I finally pressed the flour into the pie pan itself, for the pumpkin pie.  I had been planning on making an apple pie as well, but since I could not roll out the dough, I decided on making an apple tart.  I “extruded” the dough using baking paper and managed to scrape it off one of the papers using a sharp knife.  Woot Woot!  Step 1 completed!

Then, using the gluten free base, I followed the recipe from Smitten Kitchen for Apple Mosaic Tart with Salted Caramel.  It came out really well.  I loved the salted caramel with the apples.  I think I will try it with the puff pastry base suggested in the recipe next time. 

We brought both with us last night, and had a delicious and traditional gluten free Thanksgiving.  As always, my friends cooked a beautiful meal, and the company was great!  We had such a lovely time.  This year I am not hosting Thanksgiving, much to Bülent’s relief, but I am very lucky to have such wonderful friends.  I was invited to 3 Thanksgivings this year, unfortunately 2 of them are are at the same time.  We so enjoyed Gluten Free Thanksgiving  last night, and are looking forward to celebrating with a different group of friends next week.

Aegean Weekend

Last week Bülent had to go to Çeşme for the Turkish Economic Association conference.  It was at the Altin Yunus, a five star hotel.  Unfortunately it rained for most of the week.  I joined him on Friday and it rained the whole hour drive from Izmir to Çeşme.  But when we woke up on Saturday morning the weather was beautiful. Bulent went off to some meetings and I enjoyed the hotel.

I was a little surprised by the Altin Yunus.  It is advertised as a 5 star hotel, but the rooms are pretty basic, something you might see in a Motel 6.  However, the location was fabulous and totally made up for it.  This pool on one side…

2012-11-03 12.51.43

and the beach was on the other.  The food was also included in the price and was quite nice. 

2012-11-03 12.56.30

The conference ended Saturday afternoon and we spent the day exploring.  We went to several secluded bays in Çeşme.  It is off season, and so was not crowded.  It was a lovely way to explore the area.    We also went to one of my favorite places in the area, Alaçatı, a former Greek town.   The old section of town is full of cobble stone streets and stone houses.

2012-11-03 16.51.57

The old houses have been transformed into cafes, restaurants and shops.


We were lucky enough to stop by on Pazar day when the streets were filled with vendors.  All sorts of fruits and vegetables, homemade olives and olive oil. 


One of the things I love about the Aegean is the secularity.  People there are very strong Atatürk supporters and very secular.  Women might be “closed” and wear headscarves, but it is not a political stance but a choice.  Walking though the pazar I saw these boys playing soccer.  If you look closely you might notice the architecture.  The terrace of the mosque made a perfect soccer pitch, so their ball didn’t get away from them.  No one minded, no one even looked.  This might not happen in many communities.  Honestly, I don’t think it would happen in my neighborhood.   


We ended the day with a night time walk on the seaside in Çeşme.  The next day we spent the day exploring coves and köys. 

2012-11-03 17.54.16

We have been able to travel quite a bit this year.  So far we have been to Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Québec, Marmaris twice, now Izmir.  But the year is not over yet!   We have a trip planned to Vienna for December, and I suspect another impromptu one will be scheduled soon for an as of yet unannounced family event. 


Feeling so drained.  I have been working on the Cooking Page revision project, and if you have noticed, there are some shifts and changes in my blog.  Comments and suggestions are appreciated.  While I am not done yet, the structure is coming along, I am pleased with it.   I have a lot work on, and blog about but THAT is not going to happen today. 

I have been fighting a sore throat for a couple of weeks on and off, and it has evolved into a full on cold.  Pretty typical to get ill in the first 6 weeks of the semester.  Thankfully the worst of the sore throat is gone, but in its place it left congestion, a cough and fatigue.  Honestly, I am just waiting for my cleaning lady to finish ironing so I can pay her and then take a nap.  If that wasn’t the whiniest, #1st world problems, annoying sentence I don’t know what is.  Seriously, reading that sentence again I want to smack myself. 

But lets talk about fatigue.  I know that today it is mostly coming from a cold, but I have been having issues sleeping lately so it is becoming more of a standby state.  For the last few months I have been waking up in the middle of the night.  While that is pretty standard for me, NOT being able to fall back asleep is not.  I often wake up 2 or three times a night, starting around three and will be awake for an hour or so.   I have to say the winner was last week when I went to bed at 11p.m., woke up around 3 a.m. and then fell back asleep at 6.  Half an hour before I had to get up.  That day was awesome.  Thank goodness my students are sweet and reasonably well behaved.  It could have been an ugly day.  I have been taking melatonin and hot showers before bed, and started to work out 3 or 4 times a  week at new gym I joined, but it does not seems to be resolving itself. 

How about you all?  Any remedies or approaches to sleep through the night?  I am getting really tired of just watching my husband do that. 


Revised Cooking Page!

A while back I created an Ev Yemeği/Home Cooking page, which has been sadly neglected, thought I cook all the time.  When I post recipes, I have been doing so in a haphazard way.  So over the next few weeks I will try to dedicate some time and energy to both posting more recipes and organizing the page itself.   I spend a significant amount of my time cooking, and eating, as evidenced by this blog.  So here is the beginning of this new branch of Far From the Sticks:

 Close to the Kitchen: Ev  Yemeği