Category: Memorable Meals


This is a series called Memorable Meals, about meals that have stuck to my mental ribs;spicy memories and comfort recipes. ~ Kim

I am thinking about mom a lot lately because she’s traveling out to California to visit for the month of August. She wants to see me, escape the relentless Texas heat and boredom because she’s not allowed to drive any more. She’s almost 93 years old and still a pistol. She’s been getting it in her increasingly dotty mind that she’ll just walk up to church since she can’t drive, forgetting that someone will take her. Thing is, the church is about 10 miles away and her knees aren’t that great, so she flags a car down or asks someone who is innocently pottering around their garage to give her a lift. They are always “very nice!” but my brother and I freak out and she waves away our concerns with a snort. It’s hard to let go of one’s independence after so long. I feel like a parent must feel admonishing a teenager not to hitch-hike and the kid rolling their eyes and thinking that I’m being an idiot because they would obviously not get into a car of a person who “wasn’t nice!”.

Recent photo of Mom with her signature rosé wine.

It’s impossible to teach her new things as her short-term memory is shot, so she’ll promise not to walk to church and say she knows someone is going to take her, then do as she pleases, totally forgetting. Yet there’s a lot she can do quite well. She can have a conversation with you if you speak clearly and annunciate and make sure her hearing aids aren’t clogged. She makes balanced meals albeit simplified, still dresses like a fashion plate, keeps the house tidy, does jigsaw puzzles and watches the news. She has two to three glasses of wine around dinner and goes to bed early. It’s actually about the wine with dinner that I set out to talk about as a memorable meal.

Click on image to view close up, then click again to zoom in after it loads.

Mom and I have a long history of traveling together. I went with her and a friend to her homeland of England when I was 2 and a half. Dad joined us later. It was the first of many summers in the British Isles. When I was 16, Mom and Dad decided we’d go to Greece for an international symposium on Montessori teaching to be held in Athens. (Mom started and still owns a Montessori school.) Families were encouraged to come and they had lots of activities for us in between the talks. We went to ancient Corinth, Mycenae, and Epidaurus, out on a boat to the islands of Hydra, Poros and Aegina, and saw lots of things along the way like the Corinthian Canal and the Peloponnesian Peninsula. We were all over Athens when we weren’t at the hotel swimming pool and went out to dinner somewhere new every night. I had a blast.

Bouzouki guitar

One night, Dad wasn’t feeling well and decided to stay at the hotel while many of the Americans at the symposium boarded a bus to go to the outskirts of Athens for an organized dinner and entertainment at a large outdoor restaurant. We sat at tables for about 8 people and were given food and Greek retsina wine, and listened to Greek band, featuring a bouzouki guitar. [Click here to hear a snippet of a bouzouki.] It was very lively and we were encouraged to dance in these long chains forming circles, our arms flung over the shoulders of the persons to the left and right of us to form the chain and help keep everyone upright I’m sure! By then the retsina was flowing pretty well and mom had let me have some. Britain lets people start to go into pubs at 16, and mom also espoused the French style of allowing children watered down wine with dinner occasionally, so this special night wasn’t much of a stretch.

The waiters were a bit chaotic with all the people there. One said we were allowed two bottles of retsina per table, and my devious 16-year-old mind quickly realized that we could hide bottles under the table, snag a different waiter and point to our empty table, shrug and say “retsina?” with a big smile and they would scurry off to oblige us. We accumulated about 8 wine bottles this way and everyone was pretty sloshed. At the end of the evening I had built an imposing temple of empty wine bottles, two columns of four as our table centerpiece. My homage to the Parthenon! Mom had a giggle at that.

The Parthenon temple to Athena, the patron saint of Athens, sits atop the Acropolis hill in the center of the city. It is now being painstakingly restored using the original techniques. I think my bottle technique was probably more fun.

The funniest moment was when we were herded back on the bus and were all buzzed, happy and waiting for the hostess who had been assigned to us for all of our outings in Greece. She spoke beautiful English but with a strong accent and had little mannerisms in her speech that were familiar to us since she would talk about places we were going to see while on the bus. My crazy mom decided to turn on the microphone and give us an impromptu, spot-on rendition of the lady in question. “Well, I can say…(pause),” a favorite opener for the hostess. The group immediately recognized who she was imitating and howled with laughter. Encouraged, Mom launched into a whole improvised spiel detailing our evening and the hangovers that awaited us tomorrow, while the busload cheered her on. I was so proud of her zaniness. The lady finally arrived and Mom surrendered the mic with a smile, no harm done and the woman went along with it as the simple fun it was. I don’t think anyone on the bus that night could hear her start a sentence with “Well, I can say…” after that without a little grin. In my family, the phrase entered our lexicon and was pulled out on many occasions to this day. If there’s a pause in the action and you want to fill the gap, “Well, I can say…” in a thick Greek accent will always make us laugh.

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Twice now I’ve taken someone’s dinner. Shocked? That was how I felt at the time when I realized what I had done. It was not what I set out to do nor would I ever. Well, in a post apocalyptic world who knows what they’d do to survive, but there were no extenuating circumstances like that.

Let me put you at ease to say that they gave me their only dinner willingly, in fact as a matter of pride. A cultural pride that probably has deep roots. I can easily imagine early neolithic traders entering a strange tribe’s camp and being offered food as a matter of courtesy and reciprocity. Or similar to the idea behind the original pot luck, a mispronunciation of ‘potlatch‘ practiced by Pacific Northwestern native peoples who displayed their wealth by giving it all away to the other tribal members in one gonzo party, trading possessions for high regard.

Early Neolithic peoples. Click on image to enlarge.

Today, when most of the westernized world’s policy is a consumer frenzy of ‘those with the most toys wins’, and ‘what’s in it for me?’ it was a bit of a jolt to travel to a part of the planet that still manages to hold on to values of hospitality. I’m not saying we, as westerners, aren’t hospitable, but would you give a stranger the only food in the house? At best, honestly I think I’d split it with them. So these experiences humbled me.

The first time was in Czechoslovakia, six months after the ‘Velvet Revolution‘ of 1989, after the Berlin Wall fell. (An interesting travel adventure I will write about some time.) I was given dinner by a woman who spoke no English, but accepted that her husband had sent me and knew that he would be arriving a little later. It was only when he arrived and she fed him the same as mine and ate nothing herself did I realize that I had taken her dinner. Instead of splitting it up three ways, she had selflessly just given me her share.

Cyprus (with Greek names. The Turkish are different) Click on image to enlarge.

The second time was in 1992 when I travelled to Northern Cyprus, with two Australian friends. One was a first-generation Australian, her parents being from this Turkish side of Cyprus. Cyprus has a long history of conquest and is still in dispute between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, backed, respectively, by Turkey and Greece. We were in what the United Nations considers occupied territory since they recognize Greece’s claim to the island, and maintain a no-man’s-land demilitarized zone between them. All was calm normally and the only inconvenience we experienced as tourists was that we had to have the customs official stamp a piece of paper instead of our passports so we could remove it easily and get back into Greece. A sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” falsity that satisfied everyone.

Pinning money to the celebrants is the tradition. I lifted this couple off someone’s blog on the Internet. Sorry! It came up on Google Images. 🙂

Besides visiting her family’s old homeland and relatives, my friend was commissioned with visiting a distant cousin who was getting married not long after we were leaving. As I understand it, to the Turkish people, there are three occasions when villagers and family pitch in with money and gifts. The first is when you are born, to help the new parents; the second is when you come of age (but this may be just for boys when they are circumcised, to assuage the pain); and the third is when you get married, to help you get established. We were going to visit this young woman to give her the Australian branch’s monetary marriage gift.

On the way to her home where she lived with her parents, we stopped to explore the ancient ruins of Salamis. Excavation had been suspended during the fighting between factions of Greeks and Turks in the 1970’s and never resumed since Northern Cyprus still has an embargo against it. I believe we were the only people there. Some guy opened the gate for us. It was a bit eerie walking around the partially excavated town. Ultimately far better than crowded Greek or Italian sites with tourists and gaudy souvenirs. Here you could quietly sit in the weedy old Roman baths and listen for the ghosts of ancient peoples in peace.

Clay oven on Cyprus, but the ones I saw were rougher and plopped in the dusty front yards.

We had worked up an appetite scrambling over the ruins so we stopped and had a nice lunch at a lonely café overlooking the coast before heading over to the cousin’s house. She lived in a flat, rural area where tiny houses were separated by small fields so that they were a few hundred yards apart. There were cone-shaped ovens in many front yards, ostensibly to cook bread and such outside and keep the houses cooler and safe from fire, as there were not many trees and it looked a bit dry and barren. Evidence of an old way of life carried on to the present day. We would experience the old ways again once we arrived at her house.

We were greeted outside by the young woman and her much older looking mother and father with much ado of crying and laughing, my friend being the distant relative come back from so far away in another life, so different from their own. Stepping into the small home subdued us three instantly. The common room was neat and tidy but bare of anything but a single ladder-backed wooden chair. The only decoration was their wedding photo and a picture of Turkey’s national hero, Atatürk , on the wall. We looked at each other uncomfortably before being ushered into the kitchen, the smiles and Turkish flying around us.

It too was neat, if sparse; a formica table, four chairs, stove, sink, refrigerator, counter and cupboard. We sat and the two women stood and began to engage my Turkish-Australian friend in a conversation that seemed to involve a mild disagreement that the local women were determined to win. Puzzled, we waited until our friend turned to us and said that they insisted on feeding us and she couldn’t get out of it even though she had told them that we had just eaten a big meal. Apparently it was courtesy to offer food to any visitor to your home and it would be a bit of an insult if we didn’t let them do so. What could we do but smile weakly and comply?

Fierce hospitality

The refrigerator was opened and I was able to glance inside. It was bare. Completely bare, except for two potatoes, which were taken out and put on the counter. Next, the young bride-to-be was sent out back and came back with three fresh eggs, straight out of the nest. The mother proceeded to fry the potatoes and eggs for us, but my god, it was one of the hardest meals I ever ate. Not because I wasn’t hungry, but because I realized we had just eaten their dinner. There was nothing else to eat, or else they would have pulled that out, too. I guessed this because the cook set the food in front of us with much apologies at the poor fare, wringing her hands and fretting. Maybe that was part of the ritual, but it felt genuine, especially backed up by the empty fridge.

The rest of the visit was unmemorable. I just know we left not long after. It’s kind of awkward to chat when you are sitting and they aren’t. The whole scenario left us a bit moody. A wake up call for westerners used to our corresponding opulence. Even our poor have way more than they did. But they had fierce pride in doing what they did and I respect that. There is also a definite charm in the whole idea of selfless hospitality. It draws out the better side of humanity, the possibility of focusing on others instead of always ourselves. I like that. I really like how travel has opened my mind to other ways of living, the billions of different lifestyles enacted every day on this earth. It’s good to understand bits of the big picture. That’s how I get out of myself.

***If you liked this post, please click above in the banner for more Memorable Meals, and check back for new ones! – kim***

Türkiye

Türkiye

“Oh man, that was a trip,” I gingerly whispered to the world at large. I was in Marmaris, Turkey, recovering from a horrible reaction to some red liqueur I drank on the Greek Island of Rhodes the day before. Luckily, I was twenty-five and bounced, or shall we say, gently rebounded back into much better shape the next day, determined to enjoy my first ever visit to Turkey, or Türkiye, as they spell it. Wouldn’t it be cool if we all called a country by the way its peoples did? Show respect for their right to call themselves what they want?

I wish I’d of had one of these amulets against the evil eye when I drank that red liqueur!

I had heard that Turkey was inexpensive and it’s beaches were a popular vacation spot for budget-conscious Europeans and back-packers like me, along with the coast of Yugoslavia (this was in 1988, right before the war that broke up of the Balkan States in that country). As an American, Yugoslavia was still an Iron Curtain country protected by the USSR so I wouldn’t go there for a beach. I hadn’t planned to go to Turkey either at that time, but the recently cobbled-together foursome of women I was part of who had met in the Greek isles got a wild hair and decided to go.

Turkish Delights

We explored the city and markets with the unusual goods, foods and twisting alleyways full of shoppers. It’s always fascinating to check out what kind of groceries other peoples have to live on day to day. It’s one of the great pleasures of traveling for me. There was also the obvious ancient history in the architecture and archaeology but unlike Europe, which embraced modernity more firmly, in Turkey the ancient still had a grip on many cultural practices and beliefs, even if those were slowly adapting to the modern world.

The muezzin calls to prayer from the minaret, but now it’s blared out of a loud speaker. The women along the more touristed coast and cosmopolitan areas are western in dress and employment, but by going just a short way into the heart of the country I would see women in the skirts and blouses of yesteryear bending over in the fields tending crops, while many menfolk sat in the village drinking tea and shooting the breeze with other men in all-male establishments. In one small fishing village I met a chic couple from Istanbul, down for a seaside holiday, but he still refused to play backgammon with me because I was a woman. Western women traveling without men are commonly viewed with suspicion and contempt for their revealing attire and liberated attitudes. We are still seen as harlots without an accompanying husband. But this is not uncommon in most places outside the westernized nations and, sadly, still simmering in those as well.

Back breaking labor.

Backgammon labor.

I was with two Australians and a Canadian. One of the Aussie women flexed that western attitude of liberation and surprised us by declaring she had met a handsome Turkish carpet salesman and was going to hang around awhile. Her friend, another Aussie, took off on her own agenda. After some initial fretting about the Aussie’s safety with the salesman, the young Canadian gal, Michelle, and I decided to head south for the beaches of the beautiful southern coast, nicknamed the Turquoise Coast from the luster of the Mediterranean. The Atlas Mountains veer straight down to soft sand crescents tucked into small bays housing little fishing villages and small resorts. They were mellow back in the late 1980s, but who knows what they are alike now almost 30 years later.

Our destination was Ölu Deniz. Researching photos of the village for this post revealed to me that it is now considered one of the top beaches in the world, and an aerial map shows tons of development. Travelers everywhere have to go farther to the fringes now to find tiny paradises, and just by being there it gets ruined from word of mouth! I’m a gate-closer I guess. I want to go, but no one should come after me.

Ölu Deniz recently. I don’t remember a lot of the construction in the lower right in 1988. It was along the hillside mostly.

We rode in small mini-buses called “dolmus,” which means “stuffed,” a very effective public transport always with an attendant who performed little duties like pouring a refreshing mixture of lemon, water and a touch of alcohol in your cupped hands. You proceeded to splash it on your face, neck and arms and it quickly dried, leaving you feeling cleaner and cooler. Very nice. Some larger, cross-country transports had this and complementary packets of water or a divine sweet cherry juice.

A jaunty, little “dormus” to whisk you along the highway.

As we finally switch-backed down the mountain to the double cove below, the jewel-like waters glittered in the sun. Tucked into the narrow tree-filled canyon were tiny bungalow hostelries, a few shops and cafés which led to a boardwalk lined with more cafés and a few disco joints that would blare in the night, but there weren’t many and it was still a pretty small village. Not a lot of tourists around. It was mostly residents of Istanbul down for a beach holiday, but it was early October, well past high season, so maybe the tourists were gone.

Michelle and I settled into one of the bungalows far enough back from the boardwalk disco blare, and just big enough for two narrow cots and a small table separating them. We were famished and went back up the canyon a bit to a recommended restaurant and sat outside in the balmy, late summer night, practically the only ones there. I love Turkish food. The tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, lamb, yogurt, etc., etc., is fabulous. But I’m getting to the memorable part.

A set of Turkish tea glasses survived my backpack!

The waiter asked if we wanted some tea. Now, you have to understand the prominent position mint or apple tea holds in Muslim (read: alcohol is frowned upon) Turkey. Beer has become more accepted along the tourist corridors, but the national favorite beverage, bar-none (heh-heh) is plain mint tea or apple tea mixed with spices and maybe black or green tea.

Wherever we had walked into a shop to say, look at a carpet or something more than basic food and staples, quite often the proprietor offered us a spot to sit and then stepped outside to signal for glasses of mint or apple tea. I say glass because they always serve them in little hourglass shaped glasses nestled in a small saucer. A cube or two of sugar awaits you on the saucer, too. The tea arrives from special tea shops nearby which are closed to the general public. Usually delivered by a young boy or man swinging them precariously on a round tray held up by three chains and a connecting hoop about 18 inches above the tray that the boy holds as he trots to the shop keeper. It is an acquired skill to keep from spilling any tea.

The chains seem to have been replaced by sturdier stuff today.

The old-world, Mediterranean hospitality kicks in and you sip and chat, asking questions about each other and generally having a very civil, almost ambassadorial conversation. When curiosity is satisfied on both sides, then you proceed to discussing the items in question you wish to know about and possibly purchase. This freaks many Americans out, I think, who are used to quickly wandering in and out and abruptly asking how much something costs without even acknowledging the humanity of the sales clerk. Perhaps it is something we need to relearn. Some of the old ways are better.

Our waiter in Ölu Deniz must have been a tea jockey once because he arrived with our two glasses and saucers on a lovely silver tray and then astounded us by swinging it back and forth beside him in an arc. He then quickly extended the arc to fly the tray in a complete circle above his head so it was literally upside down for a second before descending to a graceful arc again and then gently brought it to a stop, never spilling a drop! He grinned at our open disbelief at what just happened and flourished our teas onto the table. I will never forget it. It just added to the magic of that spot. Sometimes memorable meals aren’t about food at all.

Elma Çay (Apple Tea)

Elma Çay

8oz. sliced dried apple
(Opt.) 4 cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks
6c. water 
Sweetener
Bring water and apple to boil. Reduce heat, add spices if using and simmer 15 minutes. Strain by pushing on solids to extract all flavor, sweeten. 

Some people mix it with green or black tea, and these are common if you buy commercial apple tea in tea bags. Just don’t overpower the apple flavor. You can also find imported apple tea powder to reconstitute, but I’d suggest experimenting yourself until you find your perfect cuppa tea.

[This is a series about meals that have stuck to my mental ribs; spicy memories and comfort recipes. If you want to read more, all posts in the series will be under the category Memorable Meals listed under the Memoir category at the top of my home page ~ Kim]

Dangerous Food

[This is a series about meals that have stuck to my mental ribs; spicy memories and comfort recipes. All posts in the series will be under the category Memorable Meals listed under the Memoir category at the top of my home page ~ Kim]

Dangerous Food

Recently my partner came home with wild mushrooms that an unknown friend of a trusted co-worker (uh-oh) picked by hand up the coast somewhere. They looked good, but don’t they all? We nibbled a tiny bit. Tasted ok. I had a vague memory of reading how early peoples and explorers would nibble a piece of unknown food and wait a day to see if there was any ill effects. I shared this with Lindsay and we shrugged, unwilling to wait a day to see if we keeled over. We decided to live dangerously, risk dying a horrible death and fried them up. Yum. No gut wrenching spasms crippled us after dinner. No allergies puffed us up and cut off our airways. The next day dawned. We were smug, and emboldened.

Mushies
A mess of fresh mushrooms (don’t use dried as they are still somewhat chewy after reconstituting. Discerning grocery stores carry fresh mushrooms that are fancier than the usual button type these days, but those are fine, too.)
Butter (only butter! New studies show margarine sucks, which I’ve said all along)
Salt and Ground Pepper
Gently fry up the ‘shrooms in butter and add S+P. When they are nice and brownish, eat them. OR if you want to kick it up a notch, add a good splash of Bragg’s Amino Acids (kind of a vinegary, salty liquid that should live in your cupboard) OR some balsamic vinegar, OR one of my favorites, a generous dose of heavy cream stirred in and allowed to warm and mingle with the mushrooms. You can serve the latter in little ramekins as a starter with little bits of toast to soak up the wildly yummy liquid.

A couple of days later, faced with leftover chicken, rice and some veggies, but out of ideas, I heard a faint, tinny voice from the back of of the pantry. It was a can of concentrated, creamy poblano soup, patiently waiting for an apocalyptic future or a turkey tetrazzini, which ever came first. Obviously neither, because Linds said we’d had the can since living in L.A. But wait, that’s not right because we moved in 1995 and the can was dated 1997, so it wasn’t THAT old. Please ignore the fact that it is now 2012, the can has moved twice now to live in our cupboard, and Campbell’s doesn’t even make this soup anymore. We did.

The thrill of having another dangerous meal appealed to us in a whacked out way. Was it part ennui and laziness, or a misguided desire to be thrifty and not chuck out food? Did we have an overly inflated sense of our diagnostic skills in assessing the risk factors? We opened the can. Ugly oil slicked water had gathered at the top, the concentrated goo had shrunk a bit from the sides of the can, but we stubbornly clung to hope. “Huh. Separated a bit. Just pour some off and give it a taste? Seems okay. It’ll be fine once we mix it with a bit of milk and water,” said Lindsay with growing assurance. “Hmm. Living dangerously this week,” said I with a snorty giggle.

I’ll try a Mexican Grocery next, ‘cuz they still make it for Latino markets.

I supposed if we had died we could have engaged the services of a medium and wrote this from the Beyond, but you’ll just have to take my word for it that we survived. And it was delicious. The only upset I experienced was that this soup was discontinued in the USA. Why? It was tasty and had super longevity! C’mon people. Why is it that when we find a good thing, they stop making it? I should have bought more. Just like that favorite pair of shoes I have that they don’t make anymore.

Anyway, apart from mystery food one encounters at school cafeterias and street vendor food in foreign countries, I’ve had dangerous food by default when I’ve blithely gone into crime-ridden areas, craving a fantastic bit of culinary comfort food at 2 am to soak up the beer I didn’t burn off at the dance club. However, sometimes we can discover we’ve been somewhere dodgy only after the fact, when suffering the effects.

Rodos, Hellas

One of the worst nights of my life began curled up in the fetal position on a warm, metal hutch situated over the engine of a boat plowing through the Mediterranean. I had been doing some backpacking in the Greek Islands and ended up on Rhodes with some Aussies and a Canadian gal I’d met on Mykonos. We were going to catch an early evening ferry to Marmaris on the Turkish coast and decided to have dinner at an outdoor cafe before we embarked. After a nice meal, the host offered us all a small glass of red liqueur as a complementary digestif. I’m not a big drinker usually, and prefer sweet liqueurs like port, but manners, curiosity and youthful greed at free booze won out. It was only much later I found out that red liquors are best avoided.

Marmaris, Türkiye

About an hour later I began to feel woozy, nauseous, and my head had an invisible vise grip slowly racking tighter until all I could do was shiver and suffer, hence the contact with the warm hutch, being spattered with soot from the smoking boat engine exhaust funnel. I was  only able to grunt at my mildly concerned companions. Upon arrival they somehow dragged me and my backpack to customs where the official took pity on me and let me defer all questions and passport stampings to my friends while I lay crumpled on my backpack. We splurged for a taxi and arrived at a relatively empty youth hostel where they poured me onto a bed and went off to have fun and try to find me some aspirin. Because by this time I was in my first ever migraine, where any light, sound or movement is excruciating and you can’t rub your temple to make it go away. I don’t know how I finally managed to pass out. Maybe there is a god. A Turkish one, since the Greek one nearly slew me.

Fugu, or Puffer fish. Enough poison to kill 30 people. Well, of course with eyes like that!!

Dangerous food and I normally are, and should be, ships that pass in the night, and I’m happy to keep it that way. I will never seek out puffer fish at Japanese restaurants because sometimes dare-devil is a euphemism for stupid. As with most things in life, moderation is the key. Know your source, use your head to make informed decisions, but then live a little, eh? All the carefulness may mean that you’ve built up some karma, like buying clothes at a thrift shop so you can splurge on a great pair of Italian shoes. Too much safety and you have a boring life. Can’t have that! Peaceful, yes; boring, no.