Lessons Being Learned

I have many half-written posts for this blog.  Some will eventually make it to these pages…this time, though, I’m borrowing from another blogger…

Ten Important Life Lessons You Learn From Living Abroad (http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/12-01/10-important-life-lessons-you-learn-from-living-abroad.html) got me thinking.  I love living away from my country and wish I’d done it a long time ago. Here is my experience from the perspective of Whitney Cox’s 10 important life lessons…

1.  How to get used to almost anything.  Whitney mentions cultural littering in Vietnam…also a habit here.  There is a big seaside park across the street and three stories of steps below our apartment. It is a mess of trash each evening, with the municipal workers out each morning cleaning up.  The trash pickup does employ people.  And, in fairness, there are few trash receptacles available.

Despite the scofflaws in the US, picking up after one’s dog is understood to be required. Not here.  Jim and I are religious about it, just to set the example.  Maybe because of the Olympics bid, parks are being refurbished, including numerous trash bins.  I’ve also noticed many smaller new trash cans on the streets – they come in handy when I am setting my good example. Being unable to read newspapers, I may be unaware of a scolding campaign in action.

The lesson’s point is about stretching one’s comfort zone.  It is not a stretch living in Moda, life is easy for us here. Less so for Lucy who is traumatized by the mean street dogs. We’ve also had a very mild comfortable summer weather-wise.  Moda is like a non-yuppie Carmel, California.  People stream in during the weekends and evenings to dine, saunter and slurp ice cream cones.  Lucy and I get in our 10,000+ steps in the evenings just wandering around Moda and Kadıköy.  Shops are open late, restaurants later, and the streets are full.

Gözde Şarküteri -- the name means favorite delicatessen...and it is.

Gözde Şarküteri — the name means favorite delicatessen…it is ours.

2.  How to cook.  We miss having an outdoor grill, but we’ve adapted.  This summer our go-to meal is meze…little plates of appetizers that fish restaurants (and others) present on a huge tray for you to choose from.  We’ve found our favorite “deli” in the Kadıköy Çarşısı for meze to take home. We know what we like to order… Sos Hamsı–pickled fresh anchovies in an olive oil tomato sauce, and Patlıcan Salatası–smoky, roasted mashed eggplants. We have a few other favorites, and then we are always handed forks of something new to try.  I wasn’t too keen on the chunk of cooked liver I popped in my mouth the other day.

We are of a different mind than Whitney Cox.  We aren’t trying to recreate foods we miss; we are trying to use the ingredients we have here to make foods we like.  I’ve cheerfully substituted my favorite California summer lunch of Insalata Caprese for Çoban Salatası (Shepherd’s Salad).  Çoban Salatası is ubiquitous, consisting of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet green peppers (not bell), and sometimes onions and parsley. Mine includes the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, plus fresh basil and mint from my window garden.  I’m very happy using Nar Ekşili Sos instead of balsamic vinegar, although Italian balsamic is available and in my pantry.  Nar Sos is a sweet/sour pomegranate sauce…SO good in salad dressing.

The food category zeytinyağlılar — cooked vegetables like green beans, eggplant, artichoke hearts, zucchini, in various combinations and mixed with olive oil served room temperature — is our other summer staple. There are many local places that prepare them beautifully, so we take out. We love to cook, but don’t have to here.  Our kitchen is hot in the summer too.

Our samovar and cezve.  We are prepared to serve tea to a group for hours, and make Turkish coffee.

Our samovar and cezve. We are prepared to serve tea to a group for hours, and make Turkish coffee.

3.  The importance of sharing a meal.  Yes.  Given that there are 6, maybe 12, restaurants per block, sharing meals is what we do.  I am looking forward to creating a Thanksgiving meal…it won’t taste quite the same as it does at home, and that will be the fun of it!

4.  How to ask for help.  This is one of the most humbling (in a good way) parts of living in culture where I don’t speak the language.  Turks will often see a perplexed look on our faces and step right in and help us in English.  Frequently, no English is spoken.  Jim, somehow, gets what he needs by plunging in with English, even to non-English speakers.  His stubbornness, however, has also had him bring home margarine instead of butter – literally and figuratively.

I am lucky not to have Ms. Cox’s problem of too-big feet. Turkish shoes are beautiful, and I love buying them.  Unfortunately, some of my American guests size-out.  It is hard to find larger than a Turkish 40, a US 9-10.

Our Turkish isn’t good enough to solve problems by phone, so we found our window screen guy, for example, by walking by his shop and seeing that he offered what we needed.  I’m in need of a glass table top, and watch for a cam (glass) shop in my travels.

There are really good expat networks here, especially for women.  I’ve made friends, and can pose questions on the listservs.

Acquiring stuff, see #6.  This kitsch belongs in Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence.  I couldn't help myself.

Acquiring stuff, see #6. This “antique” kitsch belongs in Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence.  It was a moment of weakness.  If Jim had been with me, it wouldn’t be on our shelf now.

5.  How to question the status quo.  Ms. Cox says all is culturally relative.  True.  Some of what we’ve had to get used to is delightful.  Like, why do all of the waiters DISAPPEAR when it is time to bring the check?  If you’re an American in a hurry it can be annoying…but I always found being pressured by an establishment trying to turn tables way more unpleasant.  Here, one can nurse a glass of çay all night if they want to. There are too many goodies on the menus to stop at çay.

Another amazing thing…if you don’t want to just split a check…the waiter will patiently walk to each person with the overall bill and total up an individual amount.  Imagine!  I’m always cool with splitting the check, but often a large group doesn’t want to do that.

Another thing I like…kuruş means cents…little change.  If the total is 10.12 TL, the shop doesn’t collect the 12 kuruş.  For 51.25 TL, the shop may not collect the 1.25, especially if they know you.  If the total is 9.93TL, they keep the 7 kuruş.  I remember noticing in New York when the bill was $x.98 and a restaurant automatically rounded up on my credit card.  It seemed sneaky to me, and it never went the other way.

There are the it’ll-be-funny-later humiliations…we visited a new friend in a lovely apartment with a large marble foyer.  She met us at the door, casually but fashionably dressed from head to toe.  It wasn’t until I crossed that foyer ¾ of the way through our visit that I realized Jim and I HADN’T TAKEN OFF OUR SHOES!  It dawned on me when I saw shoes of other guests (we had arrived first), and a basket of little blue shoe baggies sitting near the door.  Aargh.  I apologized profusely, and I hope we get invited back.  Our hostess’ shoes matched her outfit, and were indoor-only shoes.  This city is very dirty and dusty…I’m sure the homes stay cleaner leaving street shoes at the door.

A problem with taking off shoes is wearing the slippers you are offered. That night, rectifying my faux pas, I stepped out of my cute little beaded sandals into big black chunky mules.  The look was a “Glamour Don’t”.

It’s also humorous…our Turkish guests know we don’t remove our shoes…so when they come we tell them they can if they want but don’t have to.  One of them laughed and said she wasn’t prepared to, because she knew she wouldn’t have to…holes in socks maybe, or maintaining the integrity of her outfit? Or maybe they think our floors are so dirty they don’t want their feet on them?  I laugh.

There is  a laundry list of un-good things; particularly done by the cuckoo leaders which prompts questioning the status quo as well. I automatically compare what I see (but maybe don’t understand) to practices in my country.

Standing back and taking the long view of the US is illuminating.  I think what I see here wouldn’t occur in the US until I see a crazy example, like the Californian who may receive a JAIL sentence for vandalizing the sidewalk in front of B of A in protest…with chalk!?

6.  How to have fun anywhere.  Istanbul is a capital of fun.  However, Cox’s point is when no longer on vacation, we have to look for fun in a new place…because being unmoored from our home culture and friends; it often doesn’t come to us.  Jim and I stayed busy studying 3 months of intensive Turkish and setting up our home.  We had to shop a lot.  We worked at making friends, but were distracted by our to-do lists.  Then we had about 8 weeks of non-stop US visitors.  Then Ramazan and summer arrived and people, including some of our new friends, left Istanbul.  Our apartment building is very quiet – ½ of the families have gone to their summer homes.  So here we are, on our own, finding new things to do.  It is pretty easy and fun, and we look forward to when people return to town.

The results of our "nesting" adds up to stuff, unfortunately.

The results of our “nesting” adds up to stuff, unfortunately. The ornament on the top of this lamp represents a stylized Ottoman lale (tulip).

7.  How to throw stuff away.  Uh oh.  See #6 above.  We didn’t do a good job of tossing things in California…except into storage.  Our 8 initial suitcases and stuff we shipped wasn’t enough.  Furniture, dishes, lamps, and rugs from the Caucasus and Çanakkale…We love indigenous ceramics from Palestine, from Iznik in Seljuk and Çanakkale styles. We have Suzanis from Uzbekistan, pillow covers from Palestine — we have done it again! Turkish homes we see of people our age tend to have formal European style furnishings.  Our younger friends like more unadorned neutrals, or IKEA contemporary. We love the faux Ottoman inspired colorful lights and inlaid tables.  I’m dismayed at how American-ly acquisitive I am.  Now I have a house AND an apartment of stuff!  Help me.

Stuff: rugs (this one from Çanakkale), ceramics, and those colored mosaic lights found in the tourist shops in the bazaars…yabancı (outsider) decor. The big coffee table is our landlord’s. Tape on the sofa is protection from Rita, see #8.

I’m not thinking about leaving, but do like the author’s idea of giving things away as “something to remember me by”.

8.  How to talk to strangers.  This is the most fun of being an expat.  And, I’m counting on a lack of understanding of cultural references in my blog, so if I am being watched for comments critical of you know who, here and on Facebook, it will be lost in translation. (sounds paranoid, but locals are being jailed for what they write on social media)  Turks often act like we are a novelty — Americans living in Kadıköy– and love to engage with us, and we feel the same.  While all may not be understood, that both sides leave smiling is enough for us.

Our kedi (cat) got out, and the kapıcı (doorman) rang our apartment one night asking if the gray cat that flew out the main building door was ours.  Rita is outrageously shy and spent 24 hours hiding outside.  We found her 3 buildings away crouched behind a prickly hedge, only because she answered Jim’s call.  The day we were looking for her I saw Doḡan on the street and said “kedi yok” (no kitty).  Today I saw Doḡan and updated him, “kedi var, kedi mutlu” (we have the cat, the cat is happy).  He laughed and called the good news in to his wife.  It is the little things.

An original rooster pitcher by Adil Can Nursan of Iznik, based on Seljuk designs. I want to return and buy the hen pitcher.

9.  How to handle peer pressure. Cox talks about becoming aware of what you really feel/believe by being able to compare your home values to what the norms are here. Subversive behavior amuses me sometimes, and I find dumb rules annoying. I assume (erroneously?) here that if Turks aren’t following our laws, those laws don’t exist, and while maybe they should, it feels freeing that they don’t.

Like litter laws, see #1 above.  And traffic. Istanbul traffic signs are mere suggestions.  Jim has driven once here, I haven’t yet.  He was stressed at the inattention, the phoning/texting while driving, the lane creeping, etc, etc.  The street in front of our apartment is marked one-way, but Lucy was clipped (gently, thankfully) by a car going the wrong way. Turkey has high accident rates. I think non-texting laws here are needed and should be enforced.

I loved the pan banging at 9pm at night as political protest.  It has stopped. Laws can be put into effect within 24 hours here. Laws were written making it illegal.  People have been fined $5,000 for doing it.  Surreal, no?

New wide, easy to walk on sidewalks.  The side the man is walking was all angled parking before.

New wide, easy to walk on sidewalks. The side the man is walking was all angled parking before.

Recently the belediye (municipality) dug up what looked like perfectly good streets and replaced them, widening sidewalks and removing parking spaces as they went.  Cars are kept off the walks by 2 foot high barriers spaced 5 feet apart.  I joked that the bureaucrat who ordered this project must own the parking garages (he might).  Parking is a big problem, so a number of those stanchions have been removed and temporarily screwed into place to SAVE a parking spot (on the sidewalk) until later.  Many have been backed into and broken – they are made of a composite which breaks.  The new sidewalks are really nice, smooth and I trip a lot less. The stanchions look pretty ratty already.

stanchionssm

10.  How to empathize. “Living abroad puts you on the outside looking in.”  I recently realized that this is my first experience of being a minority.  I’m privileged, but I don’t know the boundaries of my rights.  I watch the violent repression as the paranoid current party scorches the earth trying to double down its power.  As a white educated affluent person in my own culture, although of ‘lesser’ gender, I was not marginalized.  I don’t feel marginalized here either in the day to day…unless I’m reading the inflammatory statements made by politicians about foreigners.  It may be as a foreigner I will be treated better than a Türk…not sure.  Certainly, as someone over 40 (++), I am treated better than I would be in the US.  Here, I am offered a seat on all public transportation.  I’ve come to count on it   🙂

Another Adil Can Bey design.  His atölye (workshop) in Iznik is a place of wonder.

Another Adil Can Bey design. His atölye (workshop) in Iznik is a place of wonder.

We chose Moda to live in through research, not luck.  We have learned of additional benefits, however.  It is the center of the opposition party’s supporters, very secular, and there haven’t been any TOMA (water cannons) or brutality at the protests here.  That is a relief, even though we aren’t protesting.  Here in Moda, during the long days of Ramazan, restaurants continued to serve food, people who weren’t fasting were enjoying their meals in public…it is comfortable.  I wouldn’t have minded experiencing the challenges of a broadly fasting society, it is part of why we live in a foreign place…and I’m getting a workout  just trying to speak Turkish!

My relationship with Turkey and Istanbul was like the romance where early on you are thinking maybe this can be forever.  There were many unanswered questions, and I wasn’t sure how I could cope without my friends of 30 years from Northern California…but it was enticing.  While we were in the police state of Israel in May, I felt separated from and was yearning for the beauty and freedoms of Istanbul.  I was happy that for the first time I could leave a place in the Middle East for home and still shop in an “Oriental” souk.

And then, the object of my affection, Turkey, showed a different, deeply disturbing side. The place didn’t, but the government did.  Just two weeks after I joyfully returned home, I was reminded of the type of discomfort I felt in Israel. Turkey might yet be forever, but my disappointment has been sobering.  It doesn’t change my appreciation for the experience, nor my enjoyment of the place (too much), but the extra dollop of blind honeymoon excitement is finished.

Another sunset on the Marmara Sea.

Another sunset on the Marmara Sea.

I still love what I love:  the cultures that are mashed together over the eons, the people, and their music, and their food, and their art. It is one of the beautiful places on earth.  It has the best weather I have ever lived in.  I am depressed about the violence and misuse of power, not only here, but in the region.  I’m glad I traveled in Egypt while I could, and hope to return. I didn’t realize the extent to which the craziness was here in Turkey too, even though I had heard all about it. Time will tell how it plays out…meanwhile; I’m continuing my dondurma (ice cream) research.

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A House is Not a Home…

Until you figure out how to use the stove.  What is not straight-forward is how much propane remains in the tank. The flame sort of sputtered and I hoped I’d be able to finish cooking.  We’ve got to “speak” with Doḡan, the kapıcı (building superintendent) who is a lovely man, to know how to gauge the tank and get it filled when necessary.  He laughed with me when I wrote a sentence using Google Translate about transferring the electricity account to our name, but it got the job done.

Cabbages on steroids.

Cabbages on steroids.

 

A friend online mentioned cabbage soup, and the cabbages I’ve seen here popped into my head. It was raw and gray today, and I’m sick with a cold, so wanted the comfort of homemade soup.  I went to the store and crafted a cabbage soup.  We have at least another month to go before our shipment from California will deliver our big stock pot, knives, ladles, and other things that will give us a functional kitchen.  Right now we have a few kitchen furnishings to get by— pressing every piece into creative use as circumstance requires.  We’ve been using our glass food storage containers for soup/cereal bowls.  It works, but sets a weird table.

 

Easily 3x the size of California green cabbages.

Easily 3x the size of California green cabbages.

The scale and embellishment of our apartment and the furniture left here by the owner gives the place a bit of an Old (Europe) World feel.  Our matched paper towel placemats and napkins contemporize the formal dining table.

 

We might grow very fond of these extremely comfortable dining chairs.

We might grow very fond of these extremely comfortable dining chairs.

Composing my soup as I shopped, I bought the cabbage, potatoes, canned tomatoes and beans, eggplant, onions, and garlic.  This, however, was not going to interest Jim.  I’d had a sausage/cheese tost (like a grilled sandwich) for breakfast yesterday that I’d enjoyed.  So, I bought a packaged sausage from the meat section, having no idea what it would taste like, but deducing it was 100% beef.  I shopped at Migros, a Turkish grocery chain now owned by international private equity.  Their fresh spinach and other greens were unappetizing, so my soup is of limited hue (and corresponding nutrients).

Our pots look different here, but these actually cook well, as do the very hot burners.

Our pots look different here, but these actually cook well, as do the very hot burners.

I sautéed all ingredients, using some fresh tomatoes and carrots we had in the refrigerator, and ignored the beans I’d bought. Spreading it between two of our four pans, I added some dried herbs, and then my newest favorite replacement for Balsamic vinegar, Nar Ekşili sos – a sweet/sour pomegranate sauce.  At the end I added a little water and brought it to a boil, turning it into a stew.  The sausage is flavorful and quite spicy, while the cabbage and carrots retain crunch.  It was a healthy cold weather meal that inaugurated our kitchen.

Kadiköy çarşı is nearby everyday...I need to make its acquaintance.

Kadiköy çarşı is nearby everyday…I need to make its acquaintance.

I’m going to back-burner Migros. It is easy to fall into one of their many stores and I’ve been lazy. Shopping at the wrong place is a poor excuse to leave green out of my soup. It is time to familiarize myself with the everyday Kadiköy çarşı, and visit the Salı Pazarı (Tuesday market).  Within easy walking distance is magnificent food – no more Migros, except for whatever they do best.  I feel the same way about IKEA and Starbucks.

Old time candy shop.

Old time candy shop.

Many young Türks like the western stores; they are global and seem modern. They do offer a different experience and aesthetic.  IKEA products, for example, are dissimilar to those offered in Turkish stores.  American expats have told me they also like IKEA because it is cheap and familiar. We are looking for a solution for our guest room, liking the space usage of a sofa-bed, but wanting something comfortable for our friends.  IKEA seemed to have a good option, although not cheap, but it was unacceptably difficult to purchase because of the way they do business.  “Good, Cheap, Fast – Pick Two” is one way I judge value.  IKEA is 0 for 3 so far.  TepeHome our Turkish find continues to be 3 for 3 (see https://2istanbul.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/of-the-season-shopping-part-1/ ), but a limited group of their products suit our taste.  We’ve about run the gamut of their offerings.  One of my friends hates the dishes we chose (https://2istanbul.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/shopping-for-basics-in-istanbul-part-2/ ), but she hasn’t seen how we are integrating it.  When she does see our place, she’ll understand, and we are liking them as we use them.

The Turkish friends who visited our temporary place in Cihangir which, like many tourist holiday apartments, was furnished broadly with IKEA products commented that the place looked very contemporary.  White on white on white is very popular here, at IKEA and in Turkish stores.  White isn’t our “color”.

I'd rather go Turkish!

I’d rather go Turkish!

Rather than continuing to meet people at Starbucks, I’m going to see what Kahve Dünyası (translation Coffee World) is like.  It’s a Turkish chain with many locations and if they’ve got good filtre kahve, that’s going to become my meeting place.  I’ll report back.

 

 

 

Of the Season….Shopping, Part 1

We have been here since Dec. 5.  Eight days ago by crossing the Boğaziçi Bridge, Jim, Lucy, Rita and I moved from Europe to Asia, from Cihangir to Moda.  In reflecting on the past month, mainly what we have done is shop.

Symbol for Turkish Lira since 2012

New symbol for Turkish Lira in 2012. Replaced TL.

Arriving in Istanbul, we first had to find pet supplies.  Our landlord had just lost her cat, so she provided a cat box and ran around the corner to buy litter that first night.   We had pet food with us, so we gratefully addressed our travel exhaustion.  With Lucy in the cargo hold of the plane, I didn’t have a restful flight.

A very fat cat  in the souk-- NOT Rita...though staying inside is making her bigger.

A very fat cat in the souk– NOT Rita…though staying inside is making her bigger.

In Cihangir and Moda, there are many pet shops, but they all carry the same limited supplies. Rita, was an outdoor cat, and needs exercise – but we haven’t found aerobic pet toys.   She used tree trunks as scratching posts, now we need to train her to use the cat condo inside – so we went looking for catnip yesterday, hoping she’d attack the indoor twine wrapped post instead of the furniture.  Google Translate called it catnipli, which didn’t work to explain what we wanted….then we added “like grass”…it became catnipli ot gibi.  Still, no catnip.  Google Translate isn’t perfect…but usually it is close enough to get the idea across.  So, I guess, no dried catnip exists.  I’ll try a nursery next and try to grow it on the kitchen window sill.  Catmint is indigenous to this area.

New Year's Eve Santa in the souk.

New Year’s Eve Santa in the souk.

Four days after we arrived, we started shopping for apartments and grabbed the first place we saw in Moda on Mühürdar Caddesi.  In the year leading to this move I’d done a lot of surfing of Turkish real estate listings.  I knew two things, Mühürdar Caddesi was the place for a view, and rentals didn’t happen often on that street.  Now that we are living here, we feel unbelievably lucky that it was available, it was we who found it, and they would accept our pets. There is one kiralık (for rent) sign on the street, for a basement apartment.  I had assumed we would live on one of the many interior streets of Moda, and just determined it would be a quiet one.  It is reaffirming when things work out so well.

The stall for disco mirror balls.

The stall for disco mirror balls.

Apartments here come in various states of undress.  Often they are simply shells, with the tenant being responsible for adding appliances, even doing some renovation.  Prior tenants take their kitchen cabinets, closets — which are wardrobes they have purchased,  most or all appliances, light fixtures, even electrical outlets and air conditioners, leaving holes in the walls.  Our apartment, fortuitously, is partially furnished.  We began power-shopping for move-in necessities around mid-December.

The little prince -- a costume for the ceremony of circumcision.

I like his looks.  I think this is the costume boys don for their circumcision ceremony.  The souk was SO crowded I had to keep moving and didn’t get the context of the shop.

We needed to know these Turkish words, buzdolabı (refrigerator), bulaşık makinesi (dishwasher), çamaşır makinesi (washing machine), mikrodalga (microwave), elektrikli süpürge (vacuum cleaner), sebil (dispenser for bottled water).  Visiting a Siemens store in Kadiköy, we priced appliances, but there were no English-speaking salespeople.  After totaling the list, Jim asked for a discount.  Another man appeared, who spoke some English and Jim did some first level negotiating. Thanking them, we walked down the block to the Samsung store.  There, standing in the door, wearing a Samsung vest and saying “hoş geldiniz” (welcome) was the man who had just helped Jim negotiate at Siemens. Jim laughed and told him he knew the price he had to beat.  We bought all the appliances, plus a TV and they were delivered on Christmas Day, about 4 days later.

Here's the alley for bubble wrap.

Here’s the alley for bubble wrap.

To move in, we also needed a bed.  Two days before Christmas we selected some furniture, a bed and mattress at TepeHome, due to be delivered January 2.  In both cases, the goods came exactly when they said they would.  The customer service here, the short time frames and reliability amazes us!  The delivery people show up, they quickly install, they breakdown the packaging and cart it away.  Done!

Baking cupcakes?

Baking cupcakes?

Christmas Eve, our guests discussed internet and cable television options with us.  As we ate sweets from Elif’li and Hafiz Mustafa 1864 we called the provider, got an English speaking rep and ordered a package.  They said it would be delivered in eight days.  Two days later, Jim was at the apartment and the installer showed up.  It would have been completed, but we learned then that we needed our ikamet (residence visa) to set up the service.  It will take until 23 January for me to have the ikamet in my hand, so we bought Turkcell surf sticks (USB modems) for the interim.

Or cookies?  Stalls loaded with baking supplies.

Or cookies? Stalls loaded with baking supplies.

So, this is shopping in Turkey.   I find dragging around to malls and shops to be exhausting, but the actual transactions have been unbelievably easy. We made a number of research excursions to a few of the malls around to see what was available.  That, plus searching the web, helped us decide where to buy, and we did one-stop shopping for our white furnishings (appliances), white goods and for our furniture.  The people we interact with also make the tedious task of shopping a fun experience, see Shopping, Part 2.

Prelude to Entertaining for the First Time in Turkey

 

Photo op at Cevahir Mall. Turkey is the home of St. Nicholas, who apparently didn't have a beard.

Photo op at Cevahir Mall. Turkey is the home of St. Nicholas, who apparently didn’t have a beard.

When we were together nine days earlier, I had impulsively invited Emre, his wife Serpil and his aunt Kamer to an American Christmas dinner.  My family’s tradition is to cook the same menu for Christmas as Thanksgiving.  The menu includes as appetizer, Jim’s boiled shrimp and homemade cocktail sauce.  Roasted turkey stuffed with a bread oyster dressing (including mild Italian sausage, apples, celery, onions, canned oysters, water chestnuts, raisins and walnuts); gravy; mashed potatoes; minced sweet potatoes baked with marshmallows, lime and ginger; fresh green beans with sautéed onions and bacon; and cranberry sauce follow.  Dessert is freshly baked pumpkin pie with whipped cream, augmented by whatever sweets our guests have brought along.

Poinsettia at IKEA, the majesty of this bush is lost in translation.

Poinsettia at IKEA, the majesty of this bush is lost in translation.

I thought the challenge would be fun – and it will be, NEXT YEAR.  After all, we had 5 chairs, 5 sets of dishes and flatware…it could work!  We had nine days to find a turkey – they can be found, but not everywhere – and other substitutes.  Maybe we would find turkey Italian sausage but not bacon; celery root, but not the stalks is available, and I quickly realized seeking out canned oysters and water chestnuts felt overwhelming, since I’m still looking for a comforter to sleep under.

Zzzz?  The big yellow bag holds all of our sweaters and coats -- the mall is HOT!

Zzzz? The big yellow bag holds all of our sweaters and coats — the mall is HOT!

In these same nine days we also had to source, shop and buy “white furniture” – a dishwasher, washing machine, refrigerator, vacuum, microwave and TV for our newly leased apartment in Moda, in the hopes of moving over there right after the New Year.  A later blog post will deal with shopping, but a couple of comments here…imported goods are expensive, buying Turkish is the way to go.  IKEA, which is underwhelming is more expensive than the much more impressive and better quality TepeHome, a Turkish home furnishings store.

IMG_4325

Mall food courts are fancy. Stick to the Turkish shops for a good meal.

We are seriously motivated to leave Cihangir, because on January 2 we begin Turkish lessons M-F from 9am-1pm in Kadiköy, and we’ll be commuting an hour each way until we move.  Also necessary to move in is a bed and internet.  All of this is straightforward, unless you have no idea which stores have stuff you like, and their locations.

Shopping for lights...

Shopping for lights…

These were in a pretentious store where they wanted no photos!  How can one shop without photos?

These were in a pretentious store where they wanted no photos! How can one shop without photos?

One night about six days before our début, we were at the American Women of Istanbul Christmas party and I was telling Joy (http://myturkishjoys.blogspot.com/) my worries.  She’s worked out a lot of the substitutions and shared how to cook pumpkin in lieu of Libby’s canned.  She told me to find a Turkish tatlı (sweet) pumpkin, cut it up and roast it in a plastic roasting bag called a fırın torbası .  About all I got of that was the sweet pumpkin part (I did know the word tatlı).  My brain did not compute roasting in plastic, or how I’d ever find those bags in the grocery where I’m always on my smart phone trying to figure out what something is, or its Turkish name.

Jim loves meeting new people.

Jim loves meeting new people.

We were looking for baggies, and I did see the fırın torbası.  By that time, I’d decided that what I was making for our Christmas Eve dinner was reservations – or rather, paket (takeout).  On Christmas Eve morning, worried that I’d sold the American theme too convincingly, I texted our friends telling them we were looking forward to seeing them and the menu was Turkish.  It wasn’t just the ingredients, it was what we had, or didn’t, in our kitchen to cook with, including a cook top and oven that uses propane—and was the tank even full?  In another post, I’ll talk about gas tanks.

All this Santa and Christmas stuff is for New Year's celebrations.

All this Santa and Christmas stuff is for New Year’s celebrations.