Sunday, December 11, 2011

Where Did I Come From?

It's not a metaphysical question - it's one I'm faced with every time I double down in the kitchen to cook dinner for me and a group of friends.  My mother, who it must be said is an excellent cook herself, nonetheless absolutely hates any activity reminiscent of cooking.  When my childhood home was being renovated, she tried to convince my father to turn the kitchen into a library (it had great south-facing windows and got lots of light) and to put a small wet bar at the end of our den.  "What more do we need," she asked.  "Mini-fridge, microwave, and a small freezer.  That's perfect!"  Needless to say, I didn't get a lot of practice cooking when I was growing up.  Moving to a boarding school at age 16 just compounded the matter - four years in a dorm, followed by two years as a broke-ass, stressed-out grad student did not do wonders for my cooking skills.  And in Saudi, I was too tired at the end of the day to make myself dinner - after three months of eating once a day in the embassy cafeteria and consequently losing 30 pounds, I finally paid someone to cook me a week's worth of meals every Monday so that I wouldn't starve (further).  

So my mom and the rest of my family view my recently acquired interest in cooking with confusion and no small amount of suspicion.  I'm not sure what caused it - perhaps the realization that Indian food is nearly impossible to find in Istanbul, perhaps finding plentiful and cheap produce right outside my door.  Maybe it was an attempt to impress Eric, or maybe I was trying to channel my aunt Gail and keep the baking traditions alive.  Whatever the cause, I like being able to make something that people want seconds and thirds of.  I find some small bit of zen satisfaction in slicing up onions and ginger and tomatoes after a stressful day at work.  I've gotten to the point where I don't always feel hidebound by recipes: I add spices that I think will go well with something, or I fiddle with the amounts listed to suit my tastes.  I'm not quite ready to create my own recipes, and I still need a few friends to whom I can direct all cooking questions.  (Aside: one should always have a friend who is willing to look over the recipes you find and tell you how to improve them.  Recipes in magazines can always be improved by someone with a master's touch.)  But last night, I posted my first recipe onto a website affiliated with a community website I use, and having noticed a sad lack of Arab and Turkish dishes on there, I think I can tell what my contribution to the site will be.

At the end of the day, no matter how much I confuse my family, I've noticed that they ask for seconds when I cook dinner for them.  That's a compliment I'll take to heart!


  1. Is Tandoori (the Indian restaurant in Macka) still there? It used to be pretty good. (I don't think you know me, but I was in Istanbul 2002-05 and we have FB friends in common.)

  2. It's undergoing renovation right now - been closed for a while. There's a place in Talimhane that's not bad, but nothing there is spicy enough for me. Were you here when Alicia was in Istanbul? That's as far back as my institutional memory stretches here... Cheers!

  3. I knew I should have laid off the wine when I was carrying you.

  4. The 'Zen satisfaction' in cooking should not be underestimated! Nor should the vicarious anger-dump occasions when pounding on a lump of dough in making bread!

    My brothers (not the one born without taste buds, just the other ones) and I learned to cook in self-defense. Mom, of Irish extraction, was not a great cook, though she tried and had a few decent things going. It wasn't until I was 16 or so -- actually, while living in Turkey! -- that I learned that 'green bean' was not a euphemism; they were always grey when they hit the plate before that.