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.

Advertisements

Warning: Food Porn

Friday was Jim’s 65th birthday.  Just in front of the tram stop at Fındlıkı station is this shop:

Elif'li Pasta and Cafe

Elif’li Pasta and Cafe

and, it provided our takeout dinner.  Pasta means this:

He could "eat a whole tray of that stuff and not blink an eye"...

He could “eat a whole tray of that stuff and not blink an eye”…

So, pasta (pastries) was our main course, topping off the signing of our lease on an apartment in Moda.

It got very cold as the sun dropped in the afternoon, our realtor was talking snow, although there is none in the forecast so far. Istanbullus LOVE the outdoors.  In our new home town of Moda (as of January 1) people dine al fresco in mid December, aided by establishment-provided pashminas and patio heaters.  I wonder what it will take to get us all inside?

Our visitors will need to ride the glorious ferry to see the tourist gems of the ages, but when they work their way back to Anatolia, they will revel in Moda and Kadiköy’s charms too…

Basically, we took the first flat we looked at…we did look at another in Kabataş/Beyoğlu, which we really liked, and in some respects was more suitable, but the Moda place has a wide open view of the Sea of Marmara, facing west.  That means big boats and daily sunsets.  The street in front is very quiet, the Kadiköy/Moda Tramvay is 1/2 block away if for some reason we don’t want a 10 minute stroll along the water to the ferry, and directly down steps is a big park on the corniche for our athletic water dog.

Beyoğlu is charming in an old European way, with very narrow, VERY steep  cobblestoned streets and long sheer stairsteps.  There are tiny groceries, several to a block, but none of the goods inside have inspired us to step into the kitchen.

On our reconnaissance trip in May, we walked many of the streets we do now. We ranged all over Beyoğlu, up along the Golden Horn to Fener and Balat, we scaled the Asian cliffs of Kuzguncuk, ruling it out because it felt a bit far away from the center.  Taking Istanbul’s traffic into consideration, we chose against Beşiktaş because we would have been reliant on street-bound buses   We learned the hard way one long Sunday afternoon, when every bus that stopped was full and we walked all the way home, that rail and water were desirable. Were it not for an American friend who was living in Moda, we may not have made our way over there, but the minute we stepped off the ferry in Kadiköy, it felt more “us”.  It was a bit more “beachy”, lighter, more open.  It is still very urban, and today it felt like a smaller town in Europe.  Moda (a neighborhood) in larger Kadiköy has enough going on to be interesting and yet seems small enough to be personal.  We were Upper West Siders in Manhattan in the early 80’s when hookers worked Broadway above 84th street and beyond 96th Street was the DMZ. I chose my NY apartment, partly because I could hear birds over the street noise.

So, here is a sampling of what caught our eye as we roamed our future neighborhood just before we signed our rental lease.

IMG_4113sm

This'll get us in the kitchen!

This’ll get us in the kitchen!

IMG_4140ltnsm

From the marzipan garden

From the marzipan garden

How about a mushroom omelet?

How about a mushroom omelet?

Türks love sweets...for a minute I thought I was in Paris.

Türks love sweets…maybe more than Jim does.

Eat those fruits and veggies!

Eat those fruits and veggies!

This is available in December!

This is available in December!

Türks have been uniformly welcoming to us.  We really need to speak the language to live here, but when we are standing on the street perplexed, trying to communicate in our only language, English, a local who does speak English always steps in to help out.

And, consumerism is alive and well…all customers are welcome…

"A nice bath for junior, don't you think?"

“A nice bath for junior, don’t you think?”

"I'll play bad cop..."

“I’ll play bad cop…”

Sonra görüsürüz!  (see you later)

Learning Turkish

I love the whole experience.  The language is cool.  Our teacher, Hande, is adorable.  The class is even located in a great spot, Rincon Center in San Francisco.  We meet in a glass conference room jutting above the atrium.  Hande tries to converse with us about the weather, one floor above, and the public four floors below.  A sparkling day in March was Bugün hava çok güzel.  The next week, the answer to Bugün hava nasil? was yağmurlu.

 So you will know how I feel, as an illiterate,  I am not translating most of the Turkish I write here.

Some good news:  there are no genders in Turkish.  There are not a lot of grammatical exceptions.  The accenting is straightforward.  Roman letters are used, not Arabic script as it was pre-Atatürk.  There are many European loan words, like biyoloji, bisiklet, kaktüs, reservasyon…The Turkish alphabet has 29 letters, 23 of which we already know, and the remaining six are easy.  Music and food are great in Turkey, and the people are wonderful.

After that:  sentence construction does not resemble English. Sometimes it can be reverse of English, as in Istanbul’da köpek bakıcısı bulmak kolay mi?  The literal translation is: Istanbul in dog sitter to find easy is it?

We want to know the answer to this question because we are planning to take Lucy (our dog) and Rita (our cat) with us when we move to Istanbul at the end of this year, for two years, inshallah.

Inshallah is an Arabic word, meaning, “God willing”.  We are very aware that we don’t know the ending of this year, much less that of three years hence, but these are our plans.

We will need a dog sitter, because we want to travel within Turkey and the region.  Of course, our travel will be constrained by our ½ day Turkish lessons once we get there.

So, while I love this process, Hande, the classroom, the sound of Turkish, and even the way it is vaguely beginning to make some sense, my brain is exploding.  As I was digging into my Turkish homework for this week, and the textbook was taking us into vowel harmonies — of the “e” and “i” types,  and personal pronouns… complicated subjects that Hande has already broached with us…I hit a wall, one that seemed impossibly high at the moment.

I have the problem of not remembering – or maybe never knowing very well – English grammar.  Like, I had to look up what a preposition is…and when Hande talks about “present continuing tense”, I’m lost.  So, bilmiyorum – “I don’t know” – is really “know-not (or negative)-am knowing-I”.  This comes from my notes.  It might not be correct, although if I say “bilmiyorum”, I’m sure I’ll be understood.

Flexing my 60-year-old brain is a good thing.  I just hope I can untangle the knots I’m making in time to ask for kahvaltı when the time comes.

Before Jim and I arrive in Istanbul for our first reconnaissance trip in May, we need to get some more conversational phrases under our belts.  And, we need to learn how to construct sentences, so we won’t be mute bobble-heads, bouncing our smiling faces around, unable to speak.  🙂

Back to the homework.